MONEY Workplace

How Your Coworkers Can Help You Succeed

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Building better work relationships can raise your visibility—and your salary

To nail that big promotion, you might want to get to know your colleagues better. Studies show that workplace friendships not only can increase job satisfaction and decrease stress, but can also boost productivity and job commitment. “Top employees don’t produce results in a vacuum,” says Marie McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics. Take these steps to cultivate valuable, authentic relationships—and turn co-workers into co-conspirators.

Move in the Right Circles

Avoid aligning yourself too closely with poor performers. “You want to build your brand and reputation by associating with hard workers,” says Philadelphia executive coach Julie Cohen. Better yet, says McIntyre: Create an “influence map”—a short list of employees within and outside your department who could have a positive impact on your career. Assess which of these relationships need nurturing and target your efforts. Cozying up with a peer in HR, for example, can be very valuable; though he may not have decision-making power, he’ll know when a high-profile job opens.

Take It to The Next Level

Attending the happy hour will help you build camaraderie, but meet with key co-workers one on one to establish deeper connections, says Peggy Klaus, executive coach and author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills. Start with lunch or coffee. For those you don’t know well, you might say, “I’m interested in how your division works. Do you have 15 minutes to chat over a latte?”

Since misery loves company, commiserating about work can also solidify a relationship. After a tense meeting, you might say, “That was a rough one! Do you have time for a debrief?” The trick is to avoid person-specific critiques and to steer the conversation in a positive direction, says Cohen.

Additionally, since helping others builds their loyalty, offer to cover for your pal when she’s on vacation. And make sure you sing her praises in front of VIPs after a major win (“Did everyone notice how sales took off since Mary’s campaign launched?”).

Leverage the Relationships

By having high performers as pals, you’ll know early about their high-profile projects. Offer to assist when you have relevant expertise so you can join in their successes.

Your friends can also help you nab the title and pay you want: Ask them to role-play negotiation conversations with you, suggests Spencer Harrison, professor at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. The office stars are likely to know best what the boss values.

Finally, keep in touch when your buddies move on, says Harrison. They might go work for a desirable employer one day, which will give you entrée there too.

TIME Business

Optimize These 3 Areas in Your Life for Highest Productivity

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Optimize your environment, mind, and process

Answer by Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of Asana, on Quora.

I’m a software developer, designer, and entrepreneur. I’m the co-founder of Asana, team productivity software that many great companies (e.g. Uber, Pinterest, Dropbox) use to run their companies. Back when I was an engineering manager at Facebook, I designed the internal team productivity tool that the company still relies on.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been obsessed with productivity for a long time.

Here are the tips that I’ve found essential to my creative output. Each tip relates to optimizing one of three areas: your environment, your mind, and your process.

Optimizing your environment

Turn off all distractions. The verdict is clear: “multitasking” makes people feel more productive, but research shows that it makes us less productive. The temptations of email are strong. But frequent interruptions make us dumber and it takes much longer than expected to get back on task. So when it’s time to focus,

  • Set your phone to Do Not Disturb. On iPhone: swipe up from the very bottom of the phone, and then hit the Moon icon.
  • Close all browser windows that aren’t directly related to the task at hand.
  • If part of your work is composing emails, get into a state where you can write them without seeing new ones come in. In Gmail, bookmark Gmail (filtered to show nothing)
  • Turn off email push notifications on your computer.
  • Log out of chat.

Find your flow time. If your day is constantly interrupted by meetings, it’s very difficult to get into flow, a state where you’re really jamming and go deep on complex tasks.

  • Add 3-hour “meetings” to your calendar where you’re the only attendee. Coworkers will schedule around these busy times, and you can get uninterrupted work done.
  • If you can, get your whole company to agree to a day per week where there shall be no meetings. At Asana, we have No-Meeting Wednesdays.
  • Track what times of the day work best for you for different activities. Do your hardest work during your “Superman time.” Here’s the process I used to determine that mine is from 10:00a-noon: Finding Your Superman Time.
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Justin Rosenstein

Master your tools. If you use a computer all day, every time you reach for your mouse, it slows you down a little, and you lose a little bit of flow. You want to interact with your computer at the speed at which you think. Doing so requires learning the keyboard shortcuts of the software you used most.

  • Every time you find yourself using your mouse, see if there’s a keyboard shortcut. Usually it will appear right next to the menu item, or on the little tip that shows up when you put your mouse cursor over a button. On a Mac: ⌘ means Command, ⌥ means Option, ⇧ means Shift, and ⌃ means Control.
  • Use SizeUp to quickly rearrange your windows without a mouse.

Optimize your mind

One of my favorite books on this topic is Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Even the book’s name is a powerful reminder.

Take regular breaks. Common sense tells us that the more time we spend working, the more work done we’ll get done. But that’s just not true. Humans are not robots. Our minds need time to recharge. Research suggests that a 15-minute break every 90 minutes is a good rule of thumb for accomplishing more by doing less.

Meditate. Here’s how I picked up a daily habit.

Take care of your body.

  • Hydrate. At the beginning of the day, I put 5 tall glasses of water on my desk. I drink them all by the end of the day. Seeing them sitting there is a good progress indicator.
  • Eat well. A carb-heavy lunch is often a disaster for afternoon energy.
  • Take supplements. According to the book Power Up Your Brain:

• Vegetarian DHA: 1000mg daily
• Olive oil: 1tbsp daily
• Alpha-lipoic acid: 600mg daily, 30minutes before meals
• Coconut oil: Virgin, organic; 1 tbsp in morning
• Pterostilbene: 50mg morning & evening
• Sulforaphane: 30mg morning & evening
• Curcumin: 200mg morning & evening
• Green tea extract: 200mg morning & evening

  • Fast. One day a month to one day a week.
  • In short, make sure you’re using your time outside of work to get nourished, so that you have the energy to give it your all when you’re at work.

Overcome procrastination by facing discomfort. I don’t procrastinate because I’m lazy; I procrastinate because my highest priority task makes me subtly (or not-so-subtly) uncomfortable. When this happens you should:

  • Be honest about what’s making it uncomfortable. Explicitly, compassionately write down (or share with a friend) the exact source of the discomfort. Why does this feel so dreadful?
  • Identify one easeful next step.
  • I’ve written more on this technique at How to Overcome Procrastination by Facing Discomfort.
  • If you don’t have the energy to face the fear right now, then at least do the second-highest-priority thing on your list, rather than switching to Facebook. Prolific Stanford professors John Perry calls this “Structured Procrastination,” and attributes most of his success to it at StructuredProcrastination.com.

Optimize your process

Get clarity of plan. A lot of un-productivity arises from a lack of prioritization. It being unclear what you actually need to do to achieve your goal, and what’s highest priority.

  • Don’t do any more work until the next steps are 100% crystal clear to you, and agreed upon by everyone on your team.
  • Start by grounding in: What is our goal? Why do we want to achieve it? What are all the steps required to achieve it? Who’s responsible for each step? What order must they be done in?
  • Here’s more on how to get clarity of plan.

Buddy up. Some people love working alone, but, for complex tasks, I generally find it painful and prone to distraction.

  • Find a teammate who would enjoy collaborating. Sometimes tasks that would have taken me 2 days can be completed in 2 hours with the right partner. “Pair programming” is common in software engineering, but it works for anything.
  • Alternately, you can have a conversation with yourself by buddying up with a text editor or journal: start asking yourself the big questions and write out your answers. I’ve had long, strategic, and productive dialogues with my computer by simply writing out questions and answering them in free-flow form.

Publicly commit to a deadline. Harness peer pressure to your advantage. If an important task doesn’t have a natural deadline, I’ll tell people confidently, “I will send you a copy by end of day Friday.” Now I don’t want to look ridiculous in front of my teammates, so I will naturally make damn sure it’s ready for them by Friday.

Use software to track your work. Unsurprisingly, I believe Asana is the best place for this. Not only does it keep track of your own to-do list; it also manages the flow of work among the entire team, so you don’t need endless meetings to stay on the same page. And it keeps the conversations alongside the work, so you’re not constantly wading through emails to get the information you need.

Take time to reflect. Budget just a few minutes at the end of each day, and consider what went well and what went less well. Are there improvements you could make in your workflow next time? If every day you could get 1% more efficient, then by the end of the year you’d be 15x as productive.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some little-known productivity tips from various professions?

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TIME Careers & Workplace

This Is the Most Productive Time of the Day to Answer Emails

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Get email out of the way first thing in the morning

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Based on the research, life-hacking and entrepreneurial tips that are out there, you may have started to build negative associations with email. After all, it’s just a convenient organization system for someone else’s agenda for your day, right?

We do have to keep in mind that different things work for different people. If everyone achieved productivity and success uniformly, there wouldn’t be so many recommendations out there about how to do it. Of course, you don’t want all of your creative energy and decision-making willpower to be wasted on email. However, there are several reasons answering email first thing in the morning can help you to get your day off to a better start.

Let’s take a look at why starting your day off with email could be a wise move.

It’s On Your Mind Anyway

If you’re not checking your email first thing in the morning, you could be wasting your precious willpower in attempt to stop yourself from checking. When you think about it, that’s really the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish when you’re putting email on the back burner.

If you’re deliberately putting off email, it’s usually for the sake of getting something more productive done. If that’s not happening, or you keep catching yourself thinking about your growing inbox, then your efforts are likely in vain. For these reasons, email can become a major distractor and begin to cause you anxiety. If not checking your email is going to erode your energy, you might as well check it and process it earlier rather than later.

Email Is Mobile-Friendly

Thanks to mobile devices, email is easier to manage now than it ever was in the past. For example, if you take the train into work, you can use your commute time to get caught up on all of your important communication. When you arrive at work, you’ll be ready to tackle whatever projects you need to for the day.

Imagine arriving at your desk with no pending communication to handle. Would you feel freer to give your best to your current assignment? Alternatively, you could arrive early to work, and take the first 15 to 30 minutes to get your emails under control.

There are a variety of ways to get on top of things if you’re willing to problem-solve. The point is to structure your day so that you can always give your best. You can set up the game to make it winnable.

You Could End Up Becoming the Bottleneck

Before you know it, the workday can fly by and be over. Everyone on the team has a specific role to fill, and it can be hard for them to do their job without your cooperation. This can also mean unwelcome interruptions and disruptions throughout your workday. Co-workers may have to come by and ask questions or talk to you while you are busy working on other things.

If you are slow to respond to their requests, it can really slow down the completion of the pending projects, and it can end up reflecting badly on the entire team or department. Being the bottleneck in the operation is never fun. By giving your team members what they need to act, you can proceed with your day without unnecessary distractions.

There are all situations where checking your email sooner in the day can make your job life more manageable and predictable. It’s important take a look at your current situation and see where lack of efficiency is holding you back. Answering your email first thing in the morning might just be the answer that gets you off to a better start.

Jason Shah is the founder of Do.com, formerly of Yammer and INeedAPencil.com.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME psychology

How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the ‘Paper Clip Strategy’

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James Clear writes at JamesClear.com

Paper clips create a visual trigger that can help motivate a consistent habit

In 1993, a bank in Abbotsford, Canada hired a 23-year-old stock broker named Trent Dyrsmid.

Dyrsmid was a rookie so nobody at the firm expected too much of his performance. Moreover, Abbotsford was still a relatively small suburb back then, tucked away in the shadow of nearby Vancouver where most of the big business deals were being made. The first popular email services like AOL and Hotmail wouldn’t arrive for another two or three years. Geography still played a large role in business success and Abbotsford wasn’t exactly the home of blockbuster deals.

And yet, despite his disadvantages, Dyrsmid made immediate progress as a stock broker thanks to a simple and relentless habit that he used each day.

On his desk, he placed two jars. One was filled with 120 paper clips. The other was empty. This is when the habit started.

“Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar.”
—Trent Dyrsmid

And that was it. 120 calls per day. One paper clip at a time.

Within 18 months, Dyrsmid’s book of business grew to $5 million in assets. By age 24, he was making $75,000. Within a few years, outside firms began recruiting him because of his success and he landed a $200,000 job with another company.

Habits That Stick vs. Habits That Fail

When I asked Dyrsmid about the details of his habit, he simply said, “I would start calling at 8 a.m. every day. I never looked at stock quotes or analyst research. I also never read the newspaper for the entire time. If the news was really important, it would find me from other ways.”

Trent Dyrsmid’s story is evidence of a simple truth: Success is often a result of committing to the fundamentals over and over again.

Compare Trent’s results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to be consistent with our workouts, but struggle to make it into the gym. We know we should write more Thank You notes or eat healthier meals or read more books, but can’t seem to find the motivation to get it done. We’d like to achieve our goals, but still procrastinate on them.

What makes the difference? Why do some habits stick while other fail? Why did Trent’s paper clip habit work so well and what can we learn from it?

The Power of a Visual Cue

I believe the “Paper Clip Strategy” works particularly well because it creates a visual trigger that can help motivate you to perform a habit with more consistency.

Here are a few reasons visual cues work well for building new habits…

Visual cues remind you to start a behavior. We often lie to ourselves about our ability to remember to perform a new habit. (“I’m going to start eating healthier. For real this time.”) A few days later, however, the motivation fades and the busyness of life begins to take over again. Hoping you will simply remember to do a new habit is usually a recipe for failure. This is why a visual stimulus, like a bin full of paper clips, can be so useful. It is much easier to stick with good habits when your environment nudges you in the right direction.

Visual cues display your progress on a behavior. Everyone knows consistency is an essential component of success, but few people actually measure how consistent they are in real life. The Paper Clip Strategy avoids that pitfall because it is a built-in measuring system. One look at your paper clips and you immediately have a measure of your progress.

Visual cues can have an additive effect on motivation. As the visual evidence of your progress mounts, it is natural to become more motivated to continue the habit. The more paperclips you place in the bin, the more motivated you will become to finish the task. There are a variety of popular behavioral economics studies that refer to this as theEndowed Progress Effect, which essentially says we place more value on things once we have them. In other words, the more paper clips you move to the “Completed” bin, the more valuable completing the habit becomes to you.

Visual cues can be used to drive short-term and long-term motivation. The Paper Clip Strategy can provide daily motivation, but you start from scratch each day. However, another type of visual cue, like the “Don’t Break the Chain” Calendar that I described in my article on the Seinfeld Strategy can be used to showcase your consistency over longer periods of time. By stacking these two methods together, you can create a set of visual cues that motivate and measure your habits over the short-run and the long-run.

Creating Your Own Paper Clip Strategy

There are all sorts of ways to use the paper clip habit for your own goals.

  • Hoping to do 100 pushups each day? Start with 10 paper clips and move one over each time you drop down and do a set of 10 throughout the day.
  • Need to send 25 sales emails every day? Start with 25 paper clips and toss one to the other side each time you press Send.
  • Want to drink 8 glasses of water each day? Start with 8 paper clips and slide one over each time you finish a glass.
  • Not sure if you’re taking your medication three times per day? Set 3 paper clips out and flip one into the bin each time you swallow your pills.

Best of all, the entire strategy will cost you less than $10.

  1. Grab a box of standard paper clips (here is a cheap set).
  2. Get two standard paper clip holders (here you go).
  3. Pick your habit and start moving those bad boys from one side to the other.

Trent Dyrsmid decided that success in his field came down to one core task: making more sales calls. He discovered that mastering the fundamentals is what makes the difference.

The same is true for your goals. There is no secret sauce. There is no magic bullet. Good habits are the magic bullet.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com about building better habits and improving your mental and physical performance. For more useful ideas, join his free weekly newsletter. This piece originally appeared on JamesClear.com.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Be More Productive When Working From Home

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Dress for the job

Many entrepreneurs, especially those in the startup phase of their companies, have a home office. While working from home certainly has its perks – the office space is free and the commute is short – it can also have its downsides. Constant distractions, lack of interaction with coworkers and undetermined working hours can interfere with your productivity.

Follow these tips and don’t let your home office interfere with your business’ success:

Set boundaries.

As much as possible, avoid answering personal phone calls or doing your laundry during the workday. Ask yourself if you would do this activity if you worked in an office. If not, then don’t do it while working at home. Jill Celeste, a work-from-home marketing coach since 2011, had to set boundaries with her mother who used to call during the workday to chat. “[Now], her call goes to voicemail and I return her call in the evening,” says Celeste.

Take a lunch break.

One of the disadvantages of working from home is the lack of a communal space (also known as the “water cooler”) where you can take breaks to recharge and refocus your energies. The good news is you can still get this recharge break while working at home. Take your dog for a walk around the block or go for a short run around lunchtime so you return to work feeling re-energized.

Dress for the job.

Your office may only be steps away from your bedroom, but that doesn’t mean you should show up to your desk in the same clothes you wore to bed. “If I work in my pajamas or sweatpants, I feel less productive and less serious about the work,” says Brian Dear, CEO and cofounder of the online-therapy startup iCouch. “It’s easier to get distracted because there’s not a mental separation between working and just being at home relaxing.”

Have a routine.

Create a workday routine just as you would in an office. “When working from home, I’ll make myself a coffee and small bite to eat before starting work, knowing that I will not stop until lunchtime,” says Simeon G. Howard, director at City Office, a worldwide virtual office and office-space provider, who regularly works from home. When working from home, it’s easy to give in to the temptation to finish work early or take an extra long lunch, but sticking to a routine is key to ensuring your home office doesn’t turn into an excuse for slacking off.

Remove home distractions.

“It’s important that your home workplace is just as serious as an office,” says Dear. Treat your home office as your office – meaning no kids toys on the floor or TV in the room. Find a place for your home office that is removed from family distractions and surround your workspace with work-related things rather than family calendars, recipe books and stacks of laundry – things that remind you of all the personal chores that need to be done. If possible, dedicate a separate room in your house to be your home office and shut the door while you’re working so everyone else in the household knows not to disturb you.

Get out of the office.

Working from home can get lonely. And when you live and work in the within the same four walls, you can easily get bored of your surroundings. Debra M. Cohen, president of Home Remedies, says she tries to devote one hour a day to doing something relaxing outside her office. “The change of scenery and social interaction helps me think more creatively and I’m much more productive when I’m back at work,” she says.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

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TIME psychology

The Myth of Multitasking: Why Having Fewer Priorities Leads to Better Work

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James Clear writes at JamesClear.com

We need to say no to being busy and say yes to being committed to our craft

The word priority didn’t always mean what it does today.

In his best-selling book, Essentialism (audiobook), Greg McKeown explains the surprising history of the word and how its meaning has shifted over time.

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.

Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things.

People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of this experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.

–Greg McKeown, Essentialism

The Myth of Multitasking

Yes, we are capable of doing two things at the same time. It is possible, for example, to watch TV while cooking dinner or to answer an email while talking on the phone.

What is impossible, however, is concentrating on two tasks at once. Multitasking forces your brain to switch back and forth very quickly from one task to another.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if the human brain could transition seamlessly from one job to the next, but it can’t. Multitasking forces you to pay a mental price each time you interrupt one task and jump to another. In psychology terms, this mental price is called the switching cost.

Switching cost is the disruption in performance that we experience when we switch our attention from one task to another. A 2003 study published in the International Journal of Information Management found that the typical person checks email once every five minutes and that, on average, it takes 64 seconds to resume the previous task after checking your email.

In other words, because of email alone we typically waste one out of every six minutes.

While we’re on the subject, the word multitasking first appeared in 1965 IBM report talking about the capabilities of its latest computer.

That’s right, it wasn’t until the 1960s that anyone could even claim to be good at multitasking. Today, people wear the word like a badge of honor as if it is better to be busy with all the things than to be great at one thing.

Finding Your Anchor Task

Doing more things does not drive faster or better results. Doing better things drives better results. Even more accurately, doing one thing as best you can drives better results.

Mastery requires focus and consistency.

I haven’t mastered the art of focus and concentration yet, but I’m working on it. One of the major improvements I’ve made recently is to assign one (and only one) priority to each work day. Although I plan to complete other tasks during the day, my priority task is the one non-negotiable thing that must get done.

Here’s what my current weekly schedule looks like…

  • Monday – Write article.
  • Tuesday – Send two emails (one for networking, one for partnerships.)
  • Wednesday – Write article.
  • Thursday – Write article.
  • Friday – Complete weekly review.
  • Saturday – OFF
  • Sunday – OFF

The power of choosing one priority is that it naturally guides your behavior by forcing you to organize your life around that responsibility. Your priority becomes an anchor task, the mainstay that holds the rest of your day in place. If things get crazy, there is no debate about what to do or not to do. You have already decided what is urgent and what is important.

Saying No to Being Busy

As a society, we’ve fallen into a trap of busyness and overwork. In many ways, we have mistaken all this activity to be something meaningful. The underlying thought seems to be, “Look how busy I am? If I’m doing all this work, I must be doing something important.” And, by extension, “I must be important because I’m so busy.”

While I firmly believe everyone has worth and value, I think we’re kidding ourselves if we believe being busy is what drives meaning in our lives.

In my experience, meaning is derived from contributing something of value to your corner of the universe. And the more I study people who are able to do that, people who are masters of their craft, the more I notice that they have one thing in common. The people who do the most valuable work have a remarkable willingness to say no to distractions and focus on their one thing.

I think we need to say no to being busy and say yes to being committed to our craft. What do you want to master? What is the one priority that anchors your life or work each day?

If you commit to nothing you’ll be distracted by everything.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com about building better habits and improving your mental and physical performance. For more useful ideas, join his free weekly newsletter. This piece originally appeared on JamesClear.com.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

20 Simple Productivity Tricks Anyone Can Use

Use your mind for thinking, not remembering

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Even though we all want to be more productive, it’s hard to make major changes. Small changes are easy– and can be incredibly powerful. That’s why the following 20 tips are simple enough you can immediately incorporate them into your daily routine. Some tips will help you better use your time. Others will help you harness your energy. Others will help you stay more focused. No matter what, they all work. So try a few – or try them all!

  • Create Systems, Not Goals

    Commit to a process, not a goal. Don’t just set a goal of creating better customer relationships; commit to calling at least two customers a day to ask how you can better serve them. Don’t just set a goal of landing new clients; commit to cold-calling at least two leads every day. Commit to a process that leads to a goal and you’re much more likely to achieve that goal. Focus on what you will do, not on what you want to happen.

  • Make Temptations Hard to Reach

    Call this the “pain in the butt” technique: when something is hard to do, you’ll do it less. Store sodas in the refrigerator and keep bottles of water on your desk. Put the TV remote in an upstairs closet. Shut down your browser so it’s harder to check out TMZ. Use a “productivity” laptop that intentionally doesn’t have a browser or email, leave your phone behind, and move to a conference room to get stuff done. Convenience is the mother of distraction, so make it a pain in the butt to satisfy your temptations.

  • Maximize Your Most Important Tasks

    All of us have things we do that make the biggest difference. (For me it’s actually sitting down and writing.) What two or three things contribute most to your success? What two or three things generate the most revenue? Then eliminate all the extra “stuff” to the greatest extent possible so you reap the benefits of spending time on the tasks that make you you.

  • Purposely Allow Less Time for Key Projects

    Time is like a new house. We eventually fill a bigger house with furniture, and we eventually fill a block of time with “work.” So take the opposite approach. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to complete an important task. You’ll be more focused, more motivated, your energy level will be higher… and you’ll actually get more done.

  • Chunk Housekeeping Tasks

    Even though we’d like to focus solely on our most important tasks, we all have stuff we still need to do. Instead of sprinkling those activities throughout the day– or, worse, taking care of them when they pop up– collect and take of them in preplanned blocks. Better yet, schedule that block for when you know you’ll be tired or in need of a mental break. That way you’ll still feel (and be) productive even when you’re not at your best.

  • Just Say No

    You’re polite. You’re courteous. You’re helpful. You want to be a team player. You’re overwhelmed. Say “no” at least as often as you say yes. You can still be polite while protecting your time. And you should protect your time – time is the one asset no one can afford to waste.

  • Start Small So You Won’t Mind

    Say you decided you should cold-call 20 new prospects every day. Great idea – but sounds daunting. Sounds really hard. Sounds almost impossible… so you won’t. Instead, start small. You can call 2 people a day, right? That sounds easy. That you will do. Then, in time, it will feel comfortable to increase the number. Whenever you want to create a new habit, start small so you will actually start – and stick with it through that tough early time when habits are hard to form.

  • Build In Frequent Breaks

    Small, frequent breaks are a great way to refresh and recharge. Like the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management strategy where you work on one task for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. (To time yourself you can use a kitchen timer or your phone…) The key to not burning out is to not let burnout sneak up on you. Scheduling regular short breaks ensures that won’t happen.

  • Follow the 2-Minute Rule

    Here’s one from Getting Things Done: when a task takes less than 2 minutes, don’t schedule it, don’t set it aside for later, don’t set a reminder… just take care of it. Now. Then it’s done. Besides, don’t you have enough on your schedule already?

  • Actively Schedule Free Time

    Free time shouldn’t just happen by accident. Free time shouldn’t be something you get around to if you get a chance. Plan your free time. Plan activities. Plan fun things to do. Not only will you enjoy the planning – and the anticipation – you’ll also actually have more fun. And the happier you are, the more motivated and productive you will be over the long term. Which, of course, is what personal productivity is all about.

  • Exercise First Thing in the Morning

    Exercise is energizing. Exercise will make you healthier. Exercise can make you smarter. Plus exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours after you work out. So there you go. Work out for 20 minutes first thing. Feel better. Be smarter. Be less stressed. Have a more productive day. Can’t beat that.

  • Eat a Healthy Lunch Every Day

    We’ve all eaten a heavy lunch that seemed to kill the rest of the day. So take a different approach. See lunch as fuel for your afternoon – and as one meal you knowwill be healthy. Plan to eat a portion of protein that fits in your palm and a couple vegetables or fruits. Make it easy and pack your lunch and then you won’t waste time driving to and from a restaurant.

  • Drink a Lot More Water

    It’s extremely likely you don’t drink enough water. That’s too bad, because feeling good sparks motivation and effort. Plus if you drink water first thing in the morning you’ll boost your metabolism. Drink more water throughout the day and you’ll be less hungry, feel more energetic, decrease your chances of contracting certain diseases… and you’ll have to get up more often to use the restroom which ensures you’re more active throughout the day.

  • Take a Productivity Nap

    A quick nap can improve creativity, improve your memory, and improve your ability to stay focused. Besides that, neurologists tout the learning benefits of mid-day siestas.Silicon Valley companies compete to see who can design the the coolest napping rooms. Napping is not just napping anymore; it’s a skill. And it’s a skill that can super-charge your productivity. (Here are some great tips for productive napping.)

  • Make More Time For Your Favorite People

    Think about the people you’ve met recently. Who left you feeling more motivated, more excited, more energetic… who made your life better? Then seek to spend more time with them. Surround yourself with people who can improve your life and your life will naturally improve. Sounds obvious – but is also something we all too often forget.
  • Count Your Blessings Before Bed

    Take a second before you turn out the light. In that moment, quit worrying about what you don’t have. Quit worrying about what others have that you don’t. Think about what you dohave. You have a lot to be thankful for. Feels good, doesn’t it? Count your blessings every night and you’ll start the next day in a much more positive way.

  • Use Your Mind For Thinking, Not Remembering

    Here’s another Getting Things Done tip. Don’t clutter your thoughts with mental to-do lists or information you need to remember. Write all those things down. Then you can focus on thinking about how to do things better, how to treat people better, how to make your business better. Don’t waste mental energy trying to remember important tasks or ideas. That’s what paper is for.

  • Turn Off Alerts

    Your phone buzzes. Your email dings. Chat windows pop up. Every alert sucks away your attention. So turn them off. Go alert-free, and once every hour or so take a few minutes to see what you might have missed. Chances are you’ll find out you missed nothing,but in the meantime you will have been much more focused.

  • Be Inspired By Small Successes

    Change is tough. Habits are hard to form. If you want to learn a new skill, don’t decide you’ll become world-class. The goal is too big, the road too long. Instead decide you’ll learn to do one small thing really, really well. Then build on that. Success, even minor success, is motivating and creates an awesome feedback loop that will motivate you to do another small thing really well. One step at a time you might someday become world-class… which, after all, is how that works. Start small, stick with it, and someday your big dream will be a reality.

  • Stop In the Middle

    Take it from Ernest Hemingway: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day…you will never be stuck.” His advice applies to all kinds of work. When you stop in the middle of a project you know what you’ve done, you know exactly what you’ll do next, and you’ll be excited to get started again.

    This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

TIME psychology

How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the ‘2-Minute Rule’

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James Clear writes at JamesClear.com

Every goal can be started in 2 minutes or less

Recently, I’ve been following a simple rule that is helping me crush procrastination and making it easier for me to stick to good habits at the same time.

I want to share it with you today so that you can try it out and see how it works in your life.

The best part? It’s a simple strategy that couldn’t be easier to use.

Here’s what you need to know…

How to Stop Procrastinating With the “2–Minute Rule”

I call this little strategy the “2–Minute Rule” and the goal is to make it easier for you to get started on the things you should be doing.

Here’s the deal…

Most of the tasks that you procrastinate on aren’t actually difficult to do — you have the talent and skills to accomplish them — you just avoid starting them for one reason or another.

The 2–Minute Rule overcomes procrastination and laziness by making it so easy to start taking action that you can’t say no.

There are two parts to the 2–Minute Rule…

Part 1 — If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.

Part I comes from David Allen’s bestselling book, Getting Things Done.

It’s surprising how many things we put off that we could get done in two minutes or less. For example, washing your dishes immediately after your meal, tossing the laundry in the washing machine, taking out the garbage, cleaning up clutter, sending that email, and so on.

If a task takes less than two minutes to complete, then follow the rule and do it right now.

Part 2 — When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.

Can all of your goals be accomplished in less than two minutes? Obviously not.

But, every goal can be started in 2 minutes or less. And that’s the purpose behind this little rule.

It might sound like this strategy is too basic for your grand life goals, but I beg to differ. It works for any goal because of one simple reason: the physics of real life.

The Physics of Real Life

As Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is just as true for humans as it is for falling apples.

The 2–Minute Rule works for big goals as well as small goals because of the inertia of life. Once you start doing something, it’s easier to continue doing it. I love the 2–Minute Rule because it embraces the idea that all sorts of good things happen once you get started.

Want to become a better writer? Just write one sentence (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself writing for an hour.

Want to eat healthier? Just eat one piece of fruit (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll often find yourself inspired to make a healthy salad as well.

Want to make reading a habit? Just read the first page of a new book (2–Minute Rule), and before you know it, the first three chapters have flown by.

Want to run three times a week? Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just get your running shoes on and get out the door (2–Minute Rule), and you’ll end up putting mileage on your legs instead of popcorn in your stomach.

The most important part of any new habit is getting started — not just the first time, but each time. It’s not about performance, it’s about consistently taking action. In many ways, getting started is more important than succeeding. This is especially true in the beginning because there will be plenty of time to improve your performance later on.

The 2–Minute Rule isn’t about the results you achieve, but rather about the process of actually doing the work. It works really well for people who believe that the system is more important than the goal. The focus is on taking action and letting things flow from there.

Try It Now

I can’t guarantee whether or not the 2–Minute Rule will work for you. But, I can guarantee that it will never work if you never try it.

The problem with most articles you read, podcasts you listen to, or videos you watch is that you consume the information but never put it into practice.

I want this article to be different. I want you to actually use this information, right now.

What’s something you can do that will take you less than two minutes? Do it right now.

Anyone can spare the next 120 seconds. Use this time to get one thing done. Go.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com about building better habits and improving your mental and physical performance. For more useful ideas, join his free weekly newsletter. This piece originally appeared on JamesClear.com.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

Warren Buffett’s ‘2 List’ Strategy: How to Maximize Your Focus and Master Your Priorities

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James Clear writes at JamesClear.com

Eliminate ruthlessly and force yourself to focus

With well over 50 billion dollars to his name, Warren Buffett is consistently ranked among the wealthiest people in the world. Out of all the investors in the 20th century, Buffett was the most successful.

Given his success, it stands to reason that Buffett has an excellent understanding of how to spend his time each day. From a monetary perspective, you could say that he manages his time better than anyone else.

And that’s why the story below, which was shared directly from Buffett’s employee to my good friend Scott Dinsmore, caught my attention.

Let’s talk about the simple 3-step productivity strategy that Warren Buffett uses to help his employees determine their priorities and actions.

The Story of Mike Flint

Mike Flint was Buffett’s personal airplane pilot for 10 years. (Flint has also flown four US Presidents, so I think we can safely say he is good at his job.) According to Flint, he was talking about his career priorities with Buffett when his boss asked the pilot to go through a 3-step exercise.

Here’s how it works…

STEP 1: Buffett started by asking Flint to write down his top 25 career goals. So, Flint took some time and wrote them down. (Note: you could also complete this exercise with goals for a shorter timeline. For example, write down the top 25 things you want to accomplish this week.)

STEP 2: Then, Buffett asked Flint to review his list and circle his top 5 goals. Again, Flint took some time, made his way through the list, and eventually decided on his 5 most important goals.

Note: If you’re following along at home, pause right now and do these first two steps before moving on to Step 3.

STEP 3: At this point, Flint had two lists. The 5 items he had circled were List A and the 20 items he had not circled were List B.

Flint confirmed that he would start working on his top 5 goals right away. And that’s when Buffett asked him about the second list, “And what about the ones you didn’t circle?”

Flint replied, “Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”

To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

The Power of Elimination

I believe in minimalism and simplicity. I like getting rid of waste. I think thateliminating the inessential is one of the best ways to make life easier, make good habits more automatic, and make you grateful for what you do have.

That said, getting rid of wasteful items and decisions is relatively easy. It’s eliminating things you care about that is difficult. It is hard to prevent using your time on things that are easy to rationalize, but that have little payoff. The tasks that have the greatest likelihood of derailing your progress are the ones you care about, but that aren’t truly important.

Every behavior has a cost. Even neutral behaviors aren’t really neutral. They take up time, energy, and space that could be put toward better behaviors or more important tasks. We are often spinning in motion instead of taking action.

This is why Buffett’s strategy is particularly brilliant. Items 6 through 25 on your list are things you care about. They are important to you. It is very easy to justify spending your time on them. But when you compare them to your top 5 goals, these items are distractions. Spending time on secondary priorities is the reason you have 20 half-finished projects instead of 5 completed ones.

Eliminate ruthlessly. Force yourself to focus. Complete a task or kill it.

The most dangerous distractions are the ones you love, but that don’t love you back.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com about building better habits and improving your mental and physical performance. For more useful ideas, join his free weekly newsletter. This piece originally appeared on JamesClear.com.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

4 Strategies for Keeping Your Inbox Empty

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Choose the strategy that works best for your work style

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No matter how much time we spend trying to optimize our inbox—from batch checking messages to adding bells and whistles—email takes over our lives. Looking at my stats from last month, I received and processed over 10,000 emails (eek!), so finding the right way to manage all this online correspondence has been critical for my day-to-day sanity.

Turns out, though, the “right way” to manage email depends a lot on your own personal style. I’ve rounded up some of the most popular and successful strategies so that you can decide which one is best for you:

1. LIFO: Last In First Out

This technique is predicated on letting the old stuff deal with itself. It’s the most common way that people deal with their inbox, reading through email top-down (a.k.a., starting with the most recent email received).

This is highly convenient and intuitive, but there are two primary risks of this strategy. The first risk is that you’ll likely end up with inconsistent responsiveness. On days that you have a lot of time to spend on email, you’ll reply to contacts lightning-fast. On days that you’re busy and in meetings, you’ll have messages pile up and get buried under newer emails.

The second risk is that you may miss out on good opportunities because you didn’t follow up in time. If you choose to use this strategy, but want to mitigate these risks, I would recommend blocking an hour or two once a week during which you switch to the reverse chronological approach (conveniently outlined below). This way, you’ll clear out anything old that might be important.

2. Reverse Chronological

The opposite of LIFO, taking a reverse chronological approach means dealing with the oldest emails first. If you use Gmail, you can switch the sorting of your inbox, by just clicking the email counter in the top right corner.

With this strategy, you’ll often be confronted with harder emails you’ve been putting off, which is great for any chronic procrastinators. However, there is one downside to this strategy. If you work someplace where you constantly receive urgent emails that really do need to be answered right away, it might be risky to take a reverse chronological approach. With that said, you can definitely combine this strategy with LIFO during the actual workday if that’s the case.

3. Yesterbox

Famously used by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the Yesterbox technique focuses on dealing today with all of the email you received yesterday. Hsieh explains:

“Your ‘to do’ list each day is simply yesterday’s email inbox (hence, ‘Yesterbox’). The great thing about this is when you get up in the morning, you know exactly how many emails you have to get through, there’s a sense of progress as you process each email from yesterday and remove it from your inbox, and there’s actually a point when you have zero emails left to process from yesterday. There is actually a sense of completion when you’re done, which is amazing.”

This is a great strategy for anyone who feels like they’re constantly drowning in email. While I recommend reading his entire how to, the best part is definitely the amount of control you’ll regain over your inbox. Unlike other methods, your target remains the same as the day goes on, and you’ll find over time that you get a better handle of how long email will take you to get through. Did you receive 25 emails yesterday? OK, that might take you a little over an hour. Have a big day with 70 emails coming in? You can plan ahead and block additional time to manage the volume.

4. Inbox Zero

A term coined by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero is an email strategy by which the goal is to always keep your inbox 100% empty. There are some big benefits to this: Everything is always handled, and you don’t waste time re-reading an email for the third time before actually taking action. This strategy is good for Type-A list-makers (like me!) who like to have complete control on their inboxes. But from my experience, it’s easy to let your inbox dictate your life if you take this too far. Pro tip: Couple Inbox Zero with Boomerang for Gmail, an app that lets you file messages out of your inbox until the date and time of your choosing, so you can decide between actually answering and delaying for later, as need be.

If you’re trying it for the first time, I recommend checking out Lily Herman’s week-long challenge to stay at Inbox Zero before you start.

After trying each method, I can say with certainty that choosing a strategy is all about matching your personal preferences with any habits you’d like to encourage (or discourage). You may find that mixing and matching works best for you. I went a long while at Inbox Zero and have decided that the stress of getting those last few done wasn’t worth it. But I do keep my inbox under 20 emails by the time I go to bed each night—just short enough that I can see all of them on my screen for a quick check that nothing fell through the cracks. As long as you’re not a slave to your inbox and anyone who needs to hear from you is getting an answer in a timely manner, who’s to judge?

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article above was originally published on The Muse.

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