TIME Workplace & Careers

There’s a Reason You Work Better Some Days

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

By Alex Honeysett

During a session with my business coach earlier this year, I was explaining that even though I had a million things to crank through, I felt like doing the opposite—I wanted to stroll around in my own thoughts, quietly observe, and write things down only as they came to me, rather than fight to get things done, like, yesterday.

And my coach said, “Well, that makes sense. It’s part of your process.”

Uh, what process? I know I have a process for doing laundry. I have a process for organizing my desk. I have a process for doing my taxes. But I never considered that I had process for the way I approached work—or life, for that matter.

But in the months since, she has helped me understand that I do. We all do! And the more we can recognize and take ownership of our own unique process, the less frustrated and guilty we’ll feel when we’re in the middle of it. And ironically, the more we’ll get done.

So how do you figure out what your process looks like? For most of us, our process is a mix of “curation mode” and “creation mode.”

When you’re in curation mode, you may be feeling what I described above—more introspective, more observant, and more thoughtful. In this mindset, you’d probably be more interested in digging into some meaty research or a great book and less interested in giving a presentation to a room packed with people. During this part of the process, you’re taking in.

Creation mode is the other side of the coin: You’re hitting the pavement, excited to get things done. Whether you’re growing your business, writing plans, or bringing in new clients, you’re doing it with ease. You’re not dragging your butt out of bed to write that proposal—you’re at your desk early, coffee in head, ready to get it done. Here, you’re pushing out.

Once you identify these processes in your own life, you’ll see how they affect your productivity. For example, I realized that I always feel great writing these articles when I spend a few days paying attention to what’s happening in the industry, tapping into my network, and recognizing what I’m experiencing in my own life—in other words, when I’m in curation mode. I don’t force myself to write anything; I just take a look around. Then, on the third or fourth day, I snap into creation mode. A topic will hit me and I basically need to find a computer that instant to get it all down.

In the times that I haven’t let myself do that initial observing, I often end up staring at a blank screen for hours, writing the same crappy sentence over and over and getting increasingly cranky.

Before understanding this was part of my process, I just thought that some weeks it was easier for me to write than others. Now that I understand how my brain works best, I know that I need to give myself that space to curate—ideas, themes, and experiences—before I can jump into creation mode.

To identify your unique process, start by digging into what you like to do when you’re in curation mode: What do you need to do before you get things done? Take a long walk? Keep a journal in your pocket for any thoughts that pop up?

Then, do the same for creation mode: What’s the ideal environment for you to actually get those things done? A super-organized desk? A noisy coffee shop?

Next, spend a few weeks being mindful of which mode you’re in. Sometimes, we can circle through them both several times a week—other times, we may sit in one for a few weeks before we switch to the next.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that you can’t always map out the balance of your internal process in a perfect 1:1 ratio. There will be some days when you’ll be on a deadline to finish a presentation when you’d much rather be curled up on the couch with a stack of research learning quietly.

On those days, your focus should be on bringing the balance back. If you’re in curation mode and need to be creating, for example, what activities or experiences do you most enjoying when you’re curating? Are there any of them, however brief, that you can bring into your day? You may find that going for short walk or drinking a quiet coffee before you begin may put yourself in the right mindset to start creating.

That may be all you need to snap back into getting things done, like, yesterday.

More from The Muse:

TIME advice

The 3 Best Ways to Tackle Procrastination

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Answer by John Chan, designer and founder of Dayboard, on Quora.

1) Write a daily to do list
Long to do lists don’t get done. They make us feel overwhelmed and even guilty if we know we’ve been putting them off.

So instead of staring at 30 or 40 items at a time, make your to do list super short but turning it into a daily to do list of 3-5 items.

Having only 3-5 items does a few mental tricks:

  1. It makes us prioritize based on what we feel we can accomplish in a day
  2. It’s much more likely to be achieved
  3. Makes us feel like we’re making a lot of progress every time we complete one item (you’re crossing off 20-33% of your list off at a time!)

2) Turn your to-do into a 2-minute task to get started
We often dread getting started on a task sounds when they sound daunting in our minds.

Here’s a few examples of stuff we would have a hard time getting started on:

  1. Get a job
  2. Write a book
  3. Write a 40-page paper
  4. Build a website
  5. Eat healthy
  6. Create a portfolio
  7. Go for an hour long run
  8. Go to the gym 4 times a week

It sounds like a lot of work because it is a lot of work. Yuck.

Instead, break it down to a two-minute task. Here’s the new list:

  1. Find one job opening on the web
  2. Write a chapter title
  3. Write one sentence
  4. Create a blank web page
  5. Drink a glass of water
  6. Take one photo
  7. Put your running shoes on and go outside
  8. Do 10 push ups

It’s not our final outcome but once we get started, we’re much more likely to keep going. This helps us break the pattern of stalling or dreading our work. See Zeigarnik Effect.

3) Interrupt your distractions before they occur
Often times, we don’t realize we’re procrastinating until it’s too late.

Distractions starts from one, seemingly harmless distraction, but quickly spiral out of control.

Say you’re working on something. Here’s a few scenarios for how things can go wrong:

  1. You go on Facebook/Reddit/Tumblr to quickly check what’s new. You open an interesting link in a new tab, or two, or three. You read something that leads you to Google more about it. You stumble upon a Wikipedia entry. Twenty tabs later, you realized you forgot what you were working on.
  2. Your phone buzzes. You check to see who’s looking for you. It’s a text message/email/reward for 20 gold coins. You drop what you’re doing and start responding/reading/collecting. Another notification comes in, so you switch apps. You’re toast.
  3. A song comes on and you forgot the lyrics so you go look it up. Then go on YouTube to look up the music video. Then come across related songs. Which prompts you to look up photos celebrities. Then you find out about their latest scandal/breakup/movie trailer. Next thing you know, two hours have gone by and you got nothing done.

We’ve all been there.

Instead of hoping to catch yourself in the moment (which rarely happens), it’s much more effective to prevent it from happening in the first place.

  1. Use a browser add ons like Dayboard or StayFocusd to interrupt unproductive web browser (bonus points: Dayboard also happens to be a daily to do list)
  2. Turn on Airplane mode, or Do Not Disturb, or disable notifications on your phone temporarily as you spend periods of time to focus.
  3. Listen to music without lyrics (e.g. classical, accoustics, meditative), or my personal favorite, musical podcasts that last an hour long. Or try ear plugs to tune out distracting sounds.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the best life hacks to tackle procrastination? More questions:

TIME psychology

10 Ways to Turn Yourself Into a Productivity Dynamo

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You’re only productive at work three days out of the week. How can you improve that?

Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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 Jobs

A Leafy Office is a Happier Office, Study Finds

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Green begets green

The world’s first study of the “long-term impacts of plants in an office environment” suggests that a simple arrangement of a few plants around the office can pay huge dividends.

Researchers measured a 15% increase in productivity after “lean offices”—or workplaces with a desert-like aesthetic—were spruced up with leafy, green plant life. Over the course of several weeks, workers in three commercial spaces in the U.K. and the Netherlands reported higher levels of air quality, improved powers of concentration and a general increase in workplace satisfaction.

“It appears that in part this is because a green office communicates to employees that their employer cares about them and their welfare,” said study author Alex Haslam, a psychology professor at the University of Queensland. “The findings suggest that investing in landscaping an office will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity.”

Researchers also noted the findings contradicted a movement among interior designers towards severely stripped down and unadorned workspaces. “Sometimes less is just less,” Haslam concluded.

 

TIME Internet

59 Free Twitter Tools and Apps to Fit Any Need

Twitter Says 23 Million of Its Users Are Not Actually Bots
A user scrolls through a Twitter feed. Bloomberg via Getty Images

Twitter is a fascinating adventure of relationships, entertainment, education, and fun. Now imagine layering on a few dozen powerups.

That’s how it feels sometimes when you find just the right Twitter tool. And there’s a tool for practically every desire or whim.

Tools for productivity, for efficiency, for research, and so much more. With such a generous API, Twitter tools have become legion—and we social sharers are better off for it.

At Buffer, we tend to come across a fair share of social media tools. We’ve collected a great bunch to share with you! Here are all the tools we’ve found helpful and many more that we’re excited to try. If there’s a free Twitter tool out there, you’re likely to find a mention here in our list.

(If we missed any good free Twitter tools, let us know in the comments!)

The big list of 59 free Twitter tools for marketers

Navigate this list fast

Looking for something in particular? Try clicking one of these categories:

Analytics | Chats | Discovery | Follow/Unfollow | Mentions & Monitoring |Scheduling | Timing | Trending Topics | Twitter Clients | Other

Twitter Tools for Analytics

1. My Top Tweet: Your Top 10 list of tweets

Find anyone’s Top 10 tweets, ordered by engagement.

2. Wildfire: Follower growth analysis

Compare your follower growth to your competitors’s follower growth. Simple, helpful, enlightening.

3. SocialBro: Analytics, optimization, and more

A nearly all-in-one platform for all things Twitter. The free plan comes with analytics, best time to tweet, follow/unfollow tools, and community segmentation.

4. Riffle: Data visualizations for any Twitter user

This browser plugin reveals vast insights into any Twitter user you choose. Discover statistics, popular hashtags, most shared links, connected profiles, and much more.

5. Twitonomy: Detailed analytics on users and tweets

A dashboard of analytics for whichever Twitter user you choose (even yours). Analyzes profiles, tweets, engagement, and more.

6. Klout: Twitter scores

Track your influencer score (on a scale of 1-100) and use the Klout dashboard to create and schedule new tweets.

7. SumAll: Email reports for Twitter stats

Sync your Twitter to SumAll, and start seeing daily or weekly emails on how your followers are growing, your mentions, and your engagement.

8. SocialRank: Follower analysis to find your most awesome fans

Receive a sorted list of your best followers, most influential followers, and most engaged followers. Useful to track the important people to engage with on Twitter.

9. Twtrland: A Twitter resume

Plug in your Twitter account to see a snapshot of who you follow, which demographics you fit, who’s in your close network, and more.

10. Bluenod: Community visualization

Type in a user or hashtag and see a detailed map or visualization about the community around the user or the people using the hashtag.

Twitter Tools for Chats

11. Beatstrap: Team liveblogging

Cover live news, sports, and events through Twitter, via hashtags, and collaborate with your team on the coverage. Completed “Beats” come with an embed code.

12. TweetChat: Twitter chat management

Log in to follow a specific hashtag, hang out in a room that collects the hashtagged tweets for you, and reply as you like (with the hashtag added automatically to your tweet).

13. Chat Salad: A calendar of Twitter chats

See upcoming Twitter chats and when they’re scheduled, as well as the hashtags they use (so you can follow along).

14. Twubs: Twitter chat homepages

Register a hashtag for your chat and collect/view the tweets from one location.

15. Nurph: Chat planning and organizing

Nurph channels let you plan and organize your chat, complete with follow-up stats and replays.

16. TwChat: Real-time chat rooms for Twitter chats

Submit your hashtag. Enter your chat room. Have fun!

Twitter Tools for Discovering Fresh Content and Fun Users

17. BuzzSumo: Find influencers, topic-by-topic

Type in a keyword to see which voices get the most shares on Twitter. Find influencers, sniff out headline ideas, and learn what works on Twitter and who’s working it.

18. Nuzzel: Discover what your friends are reading

As described by Twitter’s Joanna Geary, “find out what’s trending among the people the people you follow follow.” Make sense? Translation: Content discovery from friends and friend of friends.

19. Swayy: What your followers are interested in

See the content that your followers recommend plus the topics they most enjoy. View it all via the dashboard or from a daily email digest.

20. Twipho: Searchable Twitter feed of photos

Search by keyword or by location to find photos shared on Twitter.

21. Sonar Solo: Discover keyword-related content

Search any topic to see a visualization of the related topics, trends, and Twitter profiles connected to your search.

22. Topsy: A search engine for social

The most recent and most relevant tweets (and other social updates) based on a keyword search. Also shows keyword volume, sentiment score, and other analytics.

23. Digg Deeper: The best stories from your friends

An algorithmic display of the top articles and links that your Twitter followees have shared. Pair with News.me: a daily email newsletter of what your friends share on Twitter.

24. The Latest: A museum for the day’s best Twitter links

A real-time, constantly updated list of the most interesting links on Twitter, culled from the accounts of interesting people

Twitter Tools for Following & Unfollowing

25. ManageFlitter: Follow/unfollow in bulk

Segment your followers according to a number of factors: last tweet, follower count, location, language and whether or not they follow you back.

26. Tweepi: Tidy up who you follow

Cleanup inactive follows, flush those who don’t follow back, and reciprocate someone else’s follow—all done in bulk and with a few clicks of a checkbox.

27. Unfollowers: In-depth follow/unfollow

Get a complete breakdown of those you follow, and unfollow with ease.

28. DoesFollow: See who follows whom

Does A follow B? Does Bill Gates follow Skrillex? Does Guy Kawasaki follow Jay Baer?

Twitter Tools for Hashtags

29. Hashtagify.me: Complete analytics into any hashtag

Enter a hashtag to discover related tags, recent conversations, usage patterns, and influencers.

30. Rite tag: Hashtag recommender

Plug in a hashtag and see feedback on the tag’s reach and popularity as well as suggestions for some alternatives to try. Complete with pretty colors to see at-a-glance which hashtags are best.

31. Seen: Hashtag-based curation

Collect the media that was shared with a certain hashtag, then rank the results. Share your curation with friends and followers.

Twitter Tools for Mentions & Monitoring

32. Keyhole: LIke Google Alerts for Twitter

Ask Keyhole to notify you whenever a particular keyword, hashtag, or URL is mentioned. Helpful to track mentions of your own name or your company’s blog or campaign.

33. The One Million Tweetmap: Geolocated, real-time tweet monitoring

Track and follow keywords as they’re tweeted in real-time and at real places. Zoom in to a geotargeted area for super fine results.

34. Twilert: Real-time email alerts for keywords

Track keywords on Twitter and receive an email notification every time they’re mentioned. Great for keeping an eye on company names, new products, and branded hashtags.

35. Mention: Monitor your mentions

A listening tool for keeping up with all your mentions on Twitter. Tracks, analyzes, and displays any number of keywords via the Mention dashboard or via email digests.

36. MentionMapp: The web of you and those you mention

Get a visualization map of you and all the people you mention (and they people they mention).

37. Twazzup: Real-time keyword monitoring

Search and track any keyword, username, or hashtag. See a results page full of relevant tweets, user accounts, and influencers.

Twitter Tools for Scheduling Tweets

38. Buffer: Schedule your tweets (plus a whole lot more)

Simple social media management. Fill a queue of tweets, analyze their performance, and find new, hand-picked stories to share.

39. Tweet4me: Scheduled tweets via DM

Send a direct message to the Tweet4me account, use shorthand and prefixes to denote when to share, and let Tweet4me schedule and send the tweet for you.

Twitter Tools for Timing

40. Followerwonk: Search Twitter bios and analyze your followers

Every analysis imaginable for your Twitter feed, your profile, your followers, and your competitors.

41. Tweriod: Find the best times to tweet

Tweriod analyzes the tweets you send and your followers’s tweets to find the optimal time for engagement.

Twitter Tools for Trending Topics

42. Trends24: Detailed breakdowns of trending terms

See trending terms from the last—you guessed it—24 hours, broken out hour-by-hour and country-by-country. Enlightening for social media campaigns and geographic/timing research.

43. Trendsmap: Monitoring for local Twitter trends

A zoomable map that shows popular hashtags and terms from anywhere in the world with easy-click buttons to hone in on My City, My Region, and more.

44. iTrended: Did it trend?

Search the past 15 days to find whether certain keywords trended or not.

Top Twitter Clients

45. Tweetdeck: The king of Twitter clients

Via the app or the web, stay on top of your Twitter stream with Tweetdeck’s organization and tracking tools. Split your stream into segmented columns to stay engaged with what’s important.

46. YoruFukurou – Twitter client

A native Twitter client for Mac OS X. Dashboard views of incoming tweets, lists, and searches, split across multiple tabs. Comes highly recommended from Kottke.org.

47. Happy Friends: Mailbox-type reader

Pick the friends you want to hear from. Never miss their tweets. View all their activity via an inbox-style layout with nested updates.

Miscellaneous Twitter Tools

48. TW Birthday: Dig up the date someone joined Twitter (even if they won’t say)

For those who omit the “date joined” on their profile, there’s still a way to discover it. See how long your new favorite follow has been tweeting or when a new profile officially landed.

49. Bio is Changed: be alerted when someone changes their Twitter bio (good for job moves)

Rather self-descriptive, this tool updates you when someone changes their Twitter bio. Useful if you’d like to track job moves and major news or even to learn from how people craft unique Twitter bios.

50. Like Explorer: See shares per article

Type in a URL. See the share numbers. Simple.

51. Tweet Beat: List management

A powerful tool for managing your Twitter lists—adding, removing, discovering, and sharing.

52. and 53. IFTTT & Zapier: Automate your tweeting

Connect multiple apps in unique ways to your Twitter account. For example, post your Instagram pictures as native Twitter photos.

54. Be Present: Track how fast you respond on Twitter

Real-time reports on your response time, response rate, and performance based on industry benchmarks. Also, really pretty to look at.

55. SavePublishing: Tweetable snippets on any website

Install the bookmarklet, and you can reveal any tweetable sentences (140 characters or fewer) from any article.

56. Tweekly: Once-a-week email of tweets you care about

Tell Tweekly which Twitter account you want to hear from, Tweekly pulls all their tweets and emails you weekly.

57. GroupTweet: Collaborate with teammates on one account

Let your teammates and coworkers share to the same account automatically with zero password-sharing. GroupTweet can even append usernames on to the end of individual tweets.

58. Storify: Beautiful Twitter storytelling

Grab any number of tweets and media elements, and place them all into a Storify collection that you can embed and share anywhere.

59. Tweet Topic Explorer: A word cloud per user

Discover the most-used words of any user you choose (even you).

Additional resources:

What are your go-to Twitter tools?

Which tools are must-haves for you with your Twitter experience?

Which Twitter tools have you already used today?

My mornings always start with a read of News.me (the email version of Digg Deeper) and a dip into Buffer to check some stats. I spend most of my Twitter time replying to others directly from the native web app. In the evenings, I’ll grab some content suggestions from Buffer, Swayy, BuzzSumo, and a couple others and fill the Twitter queue for the next day.

I’d love to hear about your favorite Twitter tools in the comments!

 

This post originally appeared on Buffer

TIME career

How to Manage Your Email Like a CEO

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Answers by David Shin, Jimmy Wales, Raul Gutierrez, Steven Walker for Quora

Answer by David Shin, High Frequency Trader

When I worked at Google in 2006/2007, Larry and Sergey held a Q&A session, and this exact question was asked of them. One of them answered (I don’t remember which) with the following humorous response (paraphrased):

“When I open up my email, I start at the top and work my way down, and go as far as I feel like. Anything I don’t get to will never be read. Some people end up amazed that they get an email response from a founder of Google in just 5 minutes. Others simply get what they expected (no reply).”

Answer by Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder and Wikia co-founder

Jeff Bezos once told me that he tells everyone that if you email him, you’ll get an answer either within 10 minutes, or never. He’s a funny guy, so this was a joke, but in my experience, only halfway a joke.

Answer by Raul Gutierrez

Slightly off topic, but I met Steve Jobs at a Paris Review party for his sister in the 90’s (Next era). I followed up via email which started a series of occasional exchanges that lasted a few years. He answered every email. Emails I sent during the day would often take many days to get a response, but if I emailed late at night (past midnight) I got an almost instant response. If I was up and would respond back, he would again respond… like modern chat. Once, I asked him about how he had the time and he said that he liked to get some unfiltered feedback and thought it was important to hear what regular people were saying.

Answer by Steven Walker

Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, handles all of his own email. One of the most efficient emailers I’ve ever seen. He uses inbox zero with Omnifocus in a highly efficient manner. In the earlier days we used to try and come up with ways to make this more efficient by setting rules in Mail that filtered emails into different boxes based on how much time they sat. Most were his ideas. Last time I knew his process is it had been simplified to simply starring emails and relying heavily on Omnifocus. He would sometimes email you back in less than a minute. If you ask anyone that has worked with Andrew they’ll note his thoughtful responses paired with his incredible response times.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How do Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey manage their email? More Questions:

 

TIME career

6 Things That Will Make You More Productive

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You’re only productive at work three days out of the week:

People work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive (U.S.: 45 hours a week; 16 hours are considered unproductive).

So how can you improve that?

Make It Automatic

The secret to getting more done is to make things automatic. Decisions exhaust you:

The counter intuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

You need to break bad habits and develop solid routines. The secret to this is to do both at the same time: replace one with the other.

The things that effect our behavior perhaps more than anything else is context:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

First step? Hang out with friends who are productive.

A morning routine can be really good. Here are steps for creating one for yourself. A good example of one is here.

Get your head right

Mood matters. Happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful. As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

…doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

Proven methods for increasing happiness are here.

Imagining the stereotype of someone who excels at what you’re attempting can improve your performance. And don’t be confident — be overconfident. Overconfidence increases productivity:

We conduct maze-solving experiments under both reward structures and reveal that overconfidence is a significant factor in increasing productivity. Specifically, subjects exhibiting progressively higher degrees of overconfidence solve more mazes.

Being overconfident often gives better results than being objective and rational:

…moderate overconfidence in a contest can improve the agent’s performance relative to an unbiased opponent and can even lead to an advantage for the overconfident agent in absolute terms.

A little self-deception is one of the keys to optimal performance. In fact, a littlesuperstition won’t hurt. Someone wishing you luck actually does increase performance. Good luck charms inspire confidence which improves performanceon a variety of tasks.

Thinking about what you need to do, Rocky-montage style, is more powerful than envisioning how good it will feel to be done. Progress motivates you more than anything else. The best methods for beating procrastination are here.

Stop Multitasking

Your brain was never designed to multitask well:

To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.

Across the board multitasking lowers productivity:

Our results show that multitasking is bad for productivity even if one is not concerned with average duration.

Neither gender is better at it:

We do not find any evidence for gender differences in the ability to multitask.

But if multitasking doesn’t work, why do you do it so often? It makes you more emotionally satisfied, even if it makes you less productive:

“…they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive – they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.”

So if you’re drinking coffee, listening to music and checking your email as you read this blog post, try focusing on one thing at a time.

Tools And Environment Matter

Use checklists. Yeah, everybody says that. And you probably don’t consistently do it.

Harvard surgeon Atul Gawande analyzed their effectiveness in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. What happens when you consistently use checklists use across in an intensive care unit?

The proportion of patients who didn’t receive the recommended care dropped from seventy per cent to four per cent; the occurrence of pneumonias fell by a quarter; and twenty-one fewer patients died than in the previous year. The researchers found that simply having the doctors and nurses in the I.C.U. make their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care to the point that, within a few weeks, the average length of patient stay in intensive care dropped by half.

What makes for a good checklist? Be specific and include time estimates.

And sometimes you don’t need a to-do list, you need a not-to-do-list. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great makes just that suggestion:

…while puzzling over the research data on 11 companies that turned themselves from mediocrity to excellence, from good to great. In cataloguing the key steps that ignited the transformations, my research team and I were struck by how many of the big decisions were not what to do, but what to stop doing.

Environment matters too. Do creative work at home and boring work at the office. A disorganized mind makes you more creative but a disorganized officemakes you less productive.

Rest

Get enough sleep:

All told, by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

You’ll probably waste less time on the internet if you get enough shut-eye. Having your sleep schedule off kilter can seriously reduce your effectiveness.

Everything you need to know about sleep is here. Naps and web breaks make you more productive too.

Keep Getting Better

How do you keep improving over time? You need feedback. Monitor what you do and what gets results over time. As Pete Drucker, author of The Effective Executive writes:

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations… Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie—and this is the most important thing to know.

Want to improve your ability to learn? Go here. Would you eventually like to be an expert? More here.

You should also review: how to set goals, be a great leader, improve teamwork, give an awesome presentation, and deal with lousy meetings.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who sorts all your email into folders? Stop it.

 

Related posts:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

 

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.

TIME Careers & Workplace

9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes

Creativity is developed; it's not a birthright

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

By Larry Kim

Modern culture often labels creativity as natural gift. Artists get showered with praise and proclamations of “you’re so talented,” but truthfully, talent has little to do with it.

Creativity is a skill to be learned, practiced, and developed, just like any other. Juggling takes practice, as does surfing, coding, and driving a car. Creativity is no different. The more you make creativity part of your daily life, the more it will grow.

So how do you make creativity part of your daily life? Here are 9 suggestions–and guess what? You can get started on them all in the next 10 minutes.

1. Doodle Something

Although we may have been reprimanded in school to “stop doodling and pay attention,” it’s time to bring back the doodle. Doodling, contrary to popular opinion, does not demonstrate a lack of focus. In fact, doodling can help you stay present and engaged during an activity in which you might otherwise find your mind drifting.

Suni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, notes that some of the greatest thinkers–from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs–used doodling to jump-start creativity. Doodling can enhance recall and activate unique neurological pathways, leading to new insights and cognitive breakthroughs. Some companies even encourage doodling during meetings!

9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes

2. Sign Up for a Class in Something You’ve Never Done Before

Creativity flourishes when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone and learn something new. Many communities offer evening adult education classes. These classes are often very casual, with plenty of beginner offerings. Try painting, pottery, or woodworking. How about learning a new language, picking up a new instrument, or taking a cooking class?

3. Create the Right Environment

The truth is that every single individual (yes, even you) can be creative. You simply require the right environment, stimulus, and support. Kids are awash with creative energy in part because they have not yet learned to fear the criticism of their peers or experienced embarrassment from failure. This is now why failure is lauded in adults–it reflects creative, risk-taking endeavors. Though not all creative ventures will work out, ultimately some will (and be very, very successful).

This is why Google goes to great lengths to provide employees with fun perks such as beach volleyball courts and free beer, a setup almost resembling an adult playground. The goal is to create an environment that lets employees feel relaxed and comfortable with vocalizing creative, even wacky, ideas. Businesses that value creativity need to do their best to foster a creative, safe space where unusual ideas are celebrated and where creativity is nurtured.

4. Pause the Brainstorming and Move Your Body

Though old-school business practice dictates group brainstorming as a powerful way to generate creativity, modern research has found that the group collective isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

Instead, try new approaches to creative problem solving. Go for a walk. Physically move your body and consider your project problem from different locations. Physical movement has been shown to have a positive affect on creative thinking, just as theater pros suggest practicing lines in different poses and positions to generate new character approaches.

5. Start a Sketchbook

Sketching is a great way to preserve memories and make constructive use of time that might otherwise be spent fiddling on a phone. Buy a small, lightweight sketchbook that can easily fit in your bag. Start sketching whenever you have even a few spare minutes–draw the salt and pepper shaker on your table while waiting for your coffee, or the crumpled pile of newspaper on the subway.

Though you may be disappointed in your sketches at first, the more you draw, the better you’ll get. Don’t overanalyze your results–simply draw for the enjoyment of the process, not the end piece. Creativity seeps across activities, so sketching just a few minutes a day can result in a major boost of workplace creativity.

6. Keep Toys on Your Desk

Many creative design companies encourage employees to keep toys on their desks–from Legos and Lincoln Logs to Play-Doh and origami paper. Building something physically with your hands, as opposed to typing on a keyboard, can be just the creative jolt you need.

7. Engage in Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is a form of writing consisting of extremely short pieces. There are many flash fiction writing groups online in which members write 100-word stories based on a provided prompt. That’s right, just 100 words. No one can say that’s out of their league.

Have your own try at flash fiction writing. Join a community online, or start your own at work. No pressure, no need to share; it’s just a chance to get those creative juices flowing!

8. Try the 30 Circles Test

This great creative exercise comes from researcher Bob McKim, and is featured in Tim Brown’s TED talk Creativity and Play.

Take a piece of paper and draw 30 circles on the paper. Now, in one minute, adapt as many circles as you can into objects. For example, one circle could become a sun. Another could become a globe. How many can you do in a minute? (Take quantity over quality into consideration.)

The result: Most people have a hard time getting to 30, largely because we have a tendency as adults to self-edit. Kids are great at simply exploring possibilities without being self-critical, whereas adults have a harder time. Sometimes, even the desire to be original can be a form of self-editing. Don’t forget–good artists copy, great artists steal.

9. Role-play Away

Role-playing isn’t just for the geeks at Comic-Con (no judgment; we love you guys). Role-playing can help you develop new solutions to existing problems by putting yourself in the shoes of a client or customer.

Even if you’ve already made efforts to enter the client’s mindset, physically role-playing situations with co-workers can generate powerful revelations and project solutions. As children, role-playing is how our imaginations thrived, from baking mud pies and playing house to fighting off baddies and exploring the jungles in our own backyards. It’s time to bring back the power of play.

TIME

This Is Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ Is Terrible Advice

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Peter Dressel—Brand X/Getty Images

Just don't do it

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

6 Surprising Reasons Eating Right Pays Off

French Fry Packaging with rolled up dollar bills
Saying no to the fries is a smart money choice. Mike Kemp—Getty Images

You know a better diet will make you fitter and healthier. What you may not realize is that replacing fries with a salad can help your finances too.

Eating healthy can make you look and feel better, but it can also be great for your wallet. Whether by reducing medical costs or helping you earn more, a healthy diet has benefits beyond a slimmer waistline. Consider these ways your diet can improve your finances:

1. You’ll Lower the Likelihood of Needing to Take a Sick Day

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that help boost your immune system so it can better fight off viruses and bacterial infections. Staying healthy during flu season means you can go to work and get that paycheck (or promotion), and you won’t have to spend money on meds and extra doctor’s visits.

Not only does consuming a lot of produce increase your immunity in the short term, but it also helps prevent disease in the long run. Notably, eating more vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, which afflicts about a third of all adults and costs about $444 billion a year to treat in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. You Can Stay More Productive

Not much is better for your finances than making more money, and one way to do that is to work harder. According to 2012 research conducted at Brigham Young University, eating healthy can help you do that. The researchers evaluated 19,800 employees at three large companies and found that eating well every day may lower your risk of productivity loss by 66%. They also found that exercise lowered the risk of lost productivity by 50%, and getting five fruit and vegetable servings lowered the risk by 39%. (Other research has found that frequent exercise is connected to higher pay.)

3. You Can Take Fewer Pills

Disease costs a lot of money in terms of doctor’s visits, procedures, surgeries, and medical devices, but a large chunk of medical spending goes toward prescriptions that could be discontinued. In fact, three of the top five most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. are for preventable heart conditions, adding up to more than 160 million scripts per year. Keeping your heart healthy and your weight down through diet will help reduce the need for these medications and the monthly expense that goes along with them.

4. You’ll Steer Clear of Complications

When you’re unhealthy or obese, you’re more likely to have complications with an existing condition. For example, obesity decreases lung performance and is thought to exacerbate asthma symptoms. But foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can increase lung performance. In addition, high blood pressure and diabetes can complicate your pregnancy, according to the CDC, and those costs can add up. Eating a healthy diet and keeping a normal body weight can help you avoid these problems.

5. You’ll Age Better

When most people think of retirement planning, they think of 401(k)s and IRAs. That’s a great start, but if there’s anything that can deplete your retirement funds, it’s unplanned medical costs. Studies conducted over the past 20 years show that plant-based and Mediterranean diets increase longevity and health, helping you work longer (if you want), save more toward retirement, and hopefully spend less on health care later.

More recently, researchers in Rome and the Washington University School of Medicine jointly published a paper that concluded that calorie restriction may be the best way to prevent disease and lengthen lifespan—even for people at a normal weight. The paper, published in 2011, took into account studies on rodents and humans. More human studies are needed, but the paper provided a basis for in-depth trials to come.

6. Your Insurer May Reward You

Employers and insurers are doing what they can to get you to eat right and work out (and need less high-cost medical care). That can mean discounts on the food you should be eating. The health-care network Harvard Pilgrim rewards workers for buying healthy food (up to $20 a month) and recently announced that it would roll out the program to other employers. Blue Cross Blue Shield offers Jenny Craig discounts, and Humana gives members a 10% discount on healthy groceries purchased at Wal-Mart.

Read more from NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care, and insurance.

 

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