TIME

This Is the Easiest Productivity Hack in the History of Work

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You can literally do this in one second

To learn better, hit control-s and “outsource” your remembering.

In a new study, scientists found that people tackling a mental challenge on a computer did a better job if they saved the previous work they had been doing beforehand.

“Saving one file before studying a new file significantly improved memory for the contents of the new file,” the authors write. “Saving has the potential to significantly influence how people learn and remember.”

In a series of experiments, participants were instructed to study two PDF files and remember words it contained. Subjects did a better job remembering material from the second file if they successfully saved the first file before proceeding onto the second one.

“Saving allows us to maintain access to more data and experiences than would be possible otherwise,” says says Benjamin Storm, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead author of the study. “Memory now works in concert with technology, and by saving information we are able to keep that information from interfering with the learning of something new.”

The act of saving something digitally gives us a sense of reassurance that the information is there when we need it, which psychologically frees up our mind and allows us to focus on the next batch of information we need to learn. Essentially, we’re reallocating our mental resources.

“To maximize memory and productivity we need to be able to set stuff aside and move on to other matters,” Storm says.

In earlier research, he found that thinking of new things makes it harder to remember old thoughts. If you’re worrying if or when you’ll need to refer to earlier information in the future, hitting the “save” button or shortcut is a quick, easy and low-risk way way to virtually hang onto that information without forcing it to occupy the forefront of your mind.

“Saving may protect us from this type of thinking-induced forgetting by allowing us to think of new ideas while keeping our old ideas safely saved and out of the way,” Storm says.

Storm points out that his experiments just looked at what happens when someone saves a file before closing it and starting a new task, but he says it’s not a bad idea to save your work on a regular basis anyway.

When new information crowds out older thoughts, people can even forget their own ideas, Storm says. “Save or write down good ideas as soon as you get them,” he advises. “Even if you think you’re going to remember them, chances are that you won’t, especially if you continue to try to think of new ideas.”

MONEY Tech

8 Free Apps Guaranteed to Make You More Productive

chickens in a coop. one has a pile of eggs underneath it
Gandee Vasan—Getty Images

Looking for a quicker way to burn through your to-do list? Try these tools to amp up your efficiency.

I feel fortunate to be in my thirties. In my opinion, it’s the sweet spot for all things related to technology. I’m old enough to remember life before computers took over entirely. Yet, I’m young enough to quickly adapt and learn new things that make my life happier and more productive. No matter your age, however, you could be using your computer (and time) more effectively and efficiently.

Here are some free applications you can download today to do just that.

1. Inbox Tamer

There’s no greater distraction than those little email notifications popping up at the bottom of your screen. I used to waste a lot of time checking email whenever I’d get anything new. Eventually, I tried closing the application entirely, only to find I’d forget to check and miss important messages. Well, now there’s Inbox Pause, which delays the notifications so they won’t interrupt your workflow.

2. Social Director

There are a lot of tools out there to block social media and other programs while you work, butCold Turkey happens to be free. You can even customize the settings to block certain pages during certain activities through specific groupings. There are upgraded versions with scheduling capabilities, the power to identify certain users (for parents), etc. — but the basic version gets the job done.

3. Blue Light Blocker

I downloaded f.lux just last month, and I already see it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship. The software makes the colors on your screen adapt to the time of day. If it’s late and nearing bedtime, it’ll filter out the blue light, which can disrupt sleep patterns, and replace it with an amber glow. You can customize how little or much you want your display to shift, but I’m already falling asleep much faster after firing off articles before my head hits the pillow.

4. Message Wrangler

If you use Gmail, Boomerang is your new best friend. It lets you draft messages now and schedule to send later. It reminds you if you don’t hear back on that important email you sent last week. And it even lets you clear out your inbox — and mind — temporarily and return the messages when you’re ready to read them.

5. Time Tracker

Do you know how you’re spending your time on the computer? RescueTime can make it a lot easier to track. The Lite version (it’s free) enables you to record your time on websites and in different applications and set goals for yourself. The application also provides you with a weekly email report of your progress (or lack thereof).

6. Program Launcher

Have you ever wanted to open your programs with just a few keystrokes? Launchy lets you do just that. You’ll forget about your menu, the icons cluttering your desktop, and even your file manager with this smart application. With over 120K users, I’d say it’s working well for the masses.

7. Image Manipulator

Can’t afford the leading image manipulation software? Try GIMP for your photo retouching needs. You can paint, add text, create layers, rotate, scale, and much more. This application will save you time on creating images for your presentations and give you some powerful tools for personal use as well.

8. Password Keeper

Over time, all those passwords can get quite hard generate and remember. And keeping them in a book next to your laptop isn’t exactly convenient — or safe. Enter LastPass — the last password you’ll need to remember. The application manages all your login information for different sites and autofills for you. You can even streamline your online shopping experience by setting up secure payment accounts. Best of all, LastPass helps create unique passwords that follow the best security practices.

Read more articles from Wise Bread:

10 Critical Steps to Protect Your Data in the Cloud

10 Self-Improvement Apps to Make You Smarter, Stronger, and Happier

10 Ways You’re Wasting Time Without Realizing It

 

 

TIME productivity

For a Better Life, Do This Simple Thing Every Week

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A better you isn't that hard to achieve

Inc. logo

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 at Inc.com.

In recent years, walking has gone from a generally healthful mode of transport to a public health crusade. Why? Lately, science has shown sitting all day to be the newest public health menace, right behind Big Macs and cigarettes on the list of things that will shorten your life and damage your body. The silver lining to this evolving line of research is that fighting back seems to be as simple as getting up and wandering around for a few minutes every hour or so (standing desks are another option).

An occasional stroll, therefore, has become akin to a morning vitamin or regular cancer screening–something you know you really ought to do. There’s no denying the truth of the necessity of adding a bare minimum of movement to our days, but there’s another side to walking that may be getting lost in the rush to remind people of its salutary effects.

Walking might save your life, but that’s far from all a good wander has to offer.

Traveling by foot isn’t just medicinal. It’s also a meditative pursuit with a long and storied pedigree that can lift your mood, improve your creativity, and give you the space you need for life-changing self-reflection.

Less Anxious, More Creative

The first couple of items on this list are the simplest to prove. Again we can turn to recent studies that reveal being outside in natural settings is powerful anti-anxiety medicine. Blog Wise Bread summed up the new findings this way: “The sounds of birds chirping, rain falling, and bees buzzing are proven to lower stress and evoke a feeling of calm.”

Similarly, science attests that getting out for a walk can spur creative thinking. Stanford News, for example, reports on studies out of the university showing that “the overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking than sitting … creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when the person was walking.”

Walking to Find Yourself

It’s clear, then, that walking has short-term utilitarian uses–if you need an idea to finish that work project, a spin around your local park might help shake one loose. But there’s also lots of anecdotal evidence that longer walks can yield a deeper sort of creativity. The mental space created by long rambles offers the stressed and scattered the time and brain real estate needed not only to solve specific problems, but also to gain perspective on their own lives and rebalance out-of-whack lifestyles.

When blogger David Roberts decided to fight his profound burnout with a year-long digital detox, for example, he soon settled into a daily rhythm of long hikes. “Reliably, after about a half-hour of walking, ideas start bubbling up,” he reports in a fascinating writeup of the experience for Outdoor magazine. The wandering had other effects, too. “I spent hours at a time absorbed in a single activity. My mind felt quieter, less jumpy,” he says.

Roberts is far from the only thinker to notice these deeper effects of longer walks. On Medium recently, writer Craig Mod composed an ode to long walks, unearthing a treasure trove of historical figures and great thinkers who celebrated and dissected the benefits of walking. The common thread running through these accounts isn’t just that experiencing a place on foot offers a unique perspective and plenty of unexpected details to delight the walker, but also that “walking moves or settles the mind–allowing for self discovery.”

If you’ve lost touch with the art of the long ramble, it’s a must-read piece. And it begs the question:

Will you take time for a long walk this week?

MONEY Workplace

3 Ways to Keep Your Workload From Crushing You

For salaried employees, the typical workweek now totals 49 hours. lucas zarebinski

Feeling overwhelmed and overloaded at work? Here's how to take back your time.

So much for 9 to 5. The average full-time salaried employee is now putting in nearly 10 hours a day, according to a recent Gallup poll (up slightly from a weekly average of 47 hours in 2007). Even grimmer: 25% say they’re regularly working a 60-hour week.

Feeling overwhelmed and overloaded? There are some simple tactics that will help you keep your workday in check.

Get your priorities straight. “Do the most important or most difficult task first,” says Mitzi Weinman of professional development firm TimeFinder. Starting with the quick, easy jobs is tempting, but delaying the thornier tasks just increases the odds that you’ll need to stay late to finish.

Plug productivity leaks. Try tracking your activities: Write down everything you do in half-hour increments. You may discover that you’re spending more time, say, browsing social media than you thought. Set a limit for how long you can spend on any time-sucking activity and stick to it.

Manage messages. Email, while necessary, can be a distraction, says Patricia Thompson, a psychologist and career coach. Decide how often you need to check messages, then shut down your email program between checks (mute smartphone alerts as well).

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Horrible Habits You Need to Stop Right Now

Author Tim Ferriss suggests some common bad habits you should definitely add to your not-to-do-list


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 at Inc.com.

For the full list, click here.

TIME productivity

9 Apps to Help You Completely Organize Your Life

The Google logo is seen at the company's offices on August 21, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
Adam Berry—Getty Images

Google—and some rivals—want to tame your inbox, calendar and more

Email was supposed to make our lives easier. Instead it’s become a dumping ground for travel itineraries, receipts, social-­media updates, work documents and ­invitations—to say nothing of actual spam. (According to a recent study, most professionals spend almost a third of their workweek just wading through email.) Tech companies have made a sport of vying to tackle data ­deluge—not just in email but in everything from your calendar to your to-do lists—as consumers increasingly complain about information overload.

The latest entrant: Google, which set the standard for streamlined email with Gmail a decade ago. On Oct. 22, the search giant unveiled Inbox, a free smartphone app that acts as a kind of intelligent filter for the unending tide of emails. The app automatically separates receipts, social updates and promotions into distinct categories that can be tackled separately (or ignored completely). Users can “snooze” emails to complete them at a set time or when the user arrives at a designated location—home, for ­instance—as indicated by the phone’s GPS.

(For TIME’s full review, click here.)

“People were trying to run their lives from this email inbox, but that was really a lot of work,” explains Alex Gawley, product director for both Inbox and Gmail. The resulting software is a lot like a cross between the old Gmail and Google Now, the company’s digital personal assistant.

Google’s new app is hardly the only option, though. Here’s a quick look at several others trying to become your digital assistant:

To tame email…

Inbox; iOS, Android
Google tries to streamline email—again. The app highlights information like flight-departure times and friends’ changes of phone numbers. It’s free but currently available by invite only.

CloudMagic; iOS, Android
Searching for emails on a phone can be a grindingly slow process. CloudMagic replaces built-in email apps to provide speedier search.

Boxer; iOS, Android
Boxer applies the interface of popular dating apps like Tinder to email, allowing users to run through messages using gesture-based controls. Swipe to delete messages or send automated responses.

To subdue your calendar…

Sunrise Calendar; iOS, Android
This app has an easy-to-use interface and allows users to add thousands of unique calendars, like sports teams’ schedules. It uses a three-day view rather than the typical weeklong span to cut down on clutter.

Tempo; iOS
Tempo is aimed at people who have to attend a lot of business meetings. It automatically culls details from email threads and the Internet to provide briefings for upcoming rendezvous.

UpTo; iOS, Android
Switching among various digital calendars can be a hassle. UpTo allows users to easily choose the most pertinent events from the calendars of friends and brands (TV schedules, for instance) to add to their own schedules.

And for everything else…

30/30; iOS
This simple task manager lets users divide their days into small increments of focused work (30 minutes by default) punctuated by regular breaks.

Any.Do; iOS, Android
Simple task lists can be accessed across devices with this service. The app encourages users to plan their day and set time or location-based reminders each morning.

Asana; iOS, Android
A task manager built with collaboration in mind, this app allows up to 15 members to collaborate on projects, assigning specific tasks and due dates.

Read next: The 5 Best Smartphone Apps You Should Try This Week

TIME Careers & Workplace

The 1 Spot in Your Office You Need to Avoid at All Costs

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Want to get things done? Avoid this spot if you can

Want to have a productive day? Stay away from the printer. A new survey finds that printer and copier stations are basically a black hole for productivity. Office technology company Brother International Corporation says workers waste an average of 13 hours a year dawdling at their company’s printer and copier stations.

“Movement toward centralized printers has unintentionally created a new employee gathering spot,” says Jeff Sandler, director of marketing for solutions and content at Brother. Workers waste time schlepping to and from printer stations, waiting for jobs to be completed and shooting the breeze with colleagues. It’s only a few extra minutes a day, but those minutes add up and make it harder to get back into a focused frame of mind.

While productivity experts say that it is important to take breaks during the day, unscheduled interruptions can derail your momentum. “Since printing devices are widely dispersed across offices, long trips to the device are a given. And social conversations have become the norm,” Sandler says.

Brother’s survey finds that more than 60% of workers say they chat with co-workers at print and copy stations, and many of those conversations aren’t about work. Those non-work conversations make people 98% more likely to stop by a colleague’s desk to talk about non-work topics.

Sandler suggests tackling the problem by adding printers closer to work spaces (he does, after all, work for a company that sells printers). Other increasingly common options are the use of electronic file-sharing and cloud-storage services that eliminate the need for so many hard copies.

If the printer is sapping your productivity, try working in an area of the office that naturally delivers better productivity. The physical space you’re sitting in can have a significant impact on well you work, says Bob Best, executive vice president of energy and sustainability services at commercial real estate company JLL.

Access to sun and natural light is “like magic,” Best says. Studies have shown it energizes people and even makes them less likely to take sick days. Beyond that, the most productive space in your office will depend on the task you’re trying to accomplish.

If you need to focus intensely or complete a project within a firm deadline, find a place that’s quiet with high walls and minimal outside distraction. Conversely, if you need to troubleshoot or generate ideas, an open cafe or lounge-type environment will give you the stimulation you need to get your creative juices flowing.

Read next: 5 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Work Harder

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Surefire Ways to Write the Perfect Email Subject Line

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Doing it right is not as obvious as it might seem

No matter how well an unsolicited email is crafted, the cold reality is that it’s likely to end up in the recipient’s trash folder, unread, if the subject line falls flat. We asked executives who receive hundreds of emails on a daily basis how they decide — at a glance — which ones they deem worth a few seconds of their time to open and skim. Here’s what to put in your email subject lines to elevate them to click-worthy status.

A personal reference. “Jim Smith suggested I contact you” — this is the gold standard for unsolicited emails. Mentioning a mutual acquaintance the recipient knows and respects paves the way for you. Yes, this requires that you have a connection in common, so it’s not the easiest threshold to cross. But some busy execs suggest it’s worth the trouble to seek one out, because that’s the only prayer your email has of making contact with them.

“The people you most want to reach are the people who, by default, delete emails,” says Seth Godin, an author, entrepreneur and blogger who maintains that a mutual reference is the only way to crack a top prospect’s inbox.

A specific reference to them. “Ideally, it mentions my company, products or projects, proving that it’s actually specifically meant for me rather than a generic blast,” says Chris Anderson, the former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine who went on to lead tech startup 3D Robotics. “[Make it] something specific and relevant to what I do.”

An introduction to you. “When cold contacting someone I like to specify who I am in the subject line,” says Cal Newport, a Georgetown University assistant professor of computer science and author of four books about excelling at school and work. “For example, a common subject line of mine is ‘a note from a Georgetown professor,’” he says.

A reminder that you’ve met. Even if you’ve met the recipient before, a nudge to refresh their memory can keep you out of the trash folder, especially if it was a fleeting encounter or a long time ago. “I tend to steer people away from ‘great to meet you’ or ‘follow up’ email titles,” says Deborah Asseraf founder of experiental marketing company Popcorn Productions. “Instead, it should be ‘met you at event x’ — something that’s clear, concise and gets the intention of the writer across.”

What you want. “I appreciate a subject line that specifies what action if any is being asked from me,” Newport says. “This calibrates my expectations for an email and makes it less daunting.” If you’re looking for a data point, email address or some other request, say so upfront rather than making the recipient wade through your email looking for it.

Pertinent details. “In an age when we are all so strapped for time and used to text messages, I like to view my subject lines as a text message,” says LisaMarie Dias, who owns a new media marketing company. This works especially well if you want to remind somebody of an upcoming event or appointment, she says. “Even if they don’t open the email… they have seen the full reminder.”

Plain English. Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, says “obviously commercial emails, spam or boring headlines” go straight into his trash folder. If your email subject sounds like a sales pitch, is stuffed with jargon or overwrought prose, your recipient isn’t going to take the time to parse your message — they’re just going to ignore it.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Exact Perfect Amount of Time to Take a Break, According to Data

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Sam Diephuis—Getty Images/Blend Images RM

The right amount of mental detachment now and again can actually make you much more productive

A lot of productivity gurus advise taking breaks during the day to keep from burning out. But how often should you take breaks, and how long should they be? That’s not as easy an answer.

Until now.

Productivity app DeskTime lets employers see if their people are working or goofing around on Facebook or Buzzfeed. It sifted through the computer activity data of its 5.5 million daily logs to come up with the 10% most productive workers, then it took a peek at how they spend their time during the day.

The result: The most productive workers engage in job-related tasks for 52 minutes, then take a 17-minute break. That 15-to-20-minute window is productivity’s “golden hour” (or quarter-hour, as the case may be). It’s long enough for your brain to disengage and leave you feeling refreshed, but not so long that you lose focus and derail momentum on what you were doing.

The key to getting the most out of those breaks is to throw yourself into your work during those 52-minute increments, since you know there’s a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

“The notion that whatever you do, you do it full-out,” DeskTime says on its blog. “During the 52 minutes of work, you’re dedicated to accomplishing tasks, getting things done, making progress. Whereas during the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing – you’re entirely resting.”

Giving your brain some down time to avoid losing focus and making sloppy mistakes that slow you down has proven benefits. Wharton School doctoral student Hengchen Dai, discussing her new research, tells the Harvard Business Review that breaks make people more diligent. “The more relaxed and disengaged from work people feel during a break, the more likely they will be to benefit from taking time off,” she says.

In a study of doctors, Dai and her co-authors found that those at the end of their shifts washed their hands less frequently — a mistake that could put themselves and patients at risk.

So don’t feel guilty about taking a walk around the block or checking your fantasy football stats. As long as you jump back into work with both feet, that physical and mental disengagement makes you more productive.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Ways to Stop Feeling Overworked and Overwhelmed

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Johner Images—Getty Images/Johner RF

Everybody feels that way--so why not do something about it?

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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 at Inc.com.

After reading an early version of a new book, I decided to do a quick survey during a speaking engagement. I asked the audience, “How many of you feel overworked and overwhelmed?”

As far as I could tell, every hand was raised.

That’s what I expected. We all feel overworked. We all feel overwhelmed, at least some of the time. (Even if by other people’s standards we have it easy, we still feel overworked.)

Effectively managing our professional and personal lives is a problem we all struggle with. Maybe that’s because we look outside ourselves for solutions: software, apps, devices, time management systems, etc.

All of those can help, but as Scott Eblin, author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, says, “The only person who is going to keep you from feeling overworked and overwhelmed is you.”

So how do you pull it off? It starts with making one overriding commitment: You must commit to intentionally managing your time so you have a fighting chance of showing up at your best–your most inspired, your most productive, and your most “in the flow.”

So how do you do that? Here are Scott’s tips:

1. Recognize and overcome the tyranny of the present.

People who are always “in the moment” don’t look ahead and make plans to pursue their goals and dreams. Though there are certainly things you need to do every day, much of what you think you need to do isn’t particularly important–especially where your long-term goals are concerned.

That’s why you should…

2. Ask, “Is this really necessary?”

Challenge your basic assumptions about your regular habits. Do you need to have that meeting? Do you need to create that report? Do you need to respond to that email? In many cases you don’t, but you do anyway simply because that’s what you’ve always done.

Eliminate as many “nice to do” tasks as possible–not only will you have more time, you’ll also have more time to be effective where it really matters.

3. Push reset on your calendar.

Sometimes the answer to “Is this really necessary?” is “Yes, but not right now.” What is the most important thing you need to do today? What tasks will keep you from getting that done?

The same is true if something important pops up: Immediately reset your calendar and reprioritize. Getting stuff done is fine, but getting the right stuff done is what really matters.

4. Understand and set your operating rhythm.

We all work differently. Some like to hit the ground running. Others like to start the day by reflecting, meditating, and thinking. Some like to work into the night.

The key is to understand not just how you like to work but also how you work best. You might like to work late at night, but if you’re tired or frazzled by a long day, you won’t perform at your best.

Do some experiments to figure out what works best for you. While you won’t always be able to stick to your plan, you will always have a plan to return to.

5. Schedule the most important tasks first.

What are your priorities for the month? The week? Today? Determine what they are and do those things first.

Why would you work on less important tasks when the truly important items are where you create the most value–whether for your business or your life?

6. Give yourself time for unconscious thought.

Giving yourself time for unconscious thought is key to making smart decisions when you face complex problems. Research shows people tend to make their best decisions when they have an opportunity to review the data and facts and then focus their thought on something else for a while.

How? Take a walk. Do a mindless chore. Exercise. Do something where your body goes on autopilot and your mind does too. You’ll be surprised by the solutions you can dream up when you aren’t purposely trying to be creative.

7. Set boundaries.

No one can or should be on 24/7. Yet you probably feel you are–because you allow yourself to be.

Set some boundaries: the time you’ll stop working, certain times you’ll do things with your family, certain times you won’t take calls, etc. Then let people know those boundaries.

Other people won’t respect your time unless you respect your time first.

8. Be strategic with “yes” and “no.”

You can’t say yes to everything. (Well, you can, but you won’t get everything you say yes to done–so in effect you’re still saying no.)

Sometimes you simply need to say no. Other times you can say, “No, unless…” and add stipulations. The same is true with yes: Saying, “Yes, but only if…” creates guidelines.

Always consider the effect of a request on your most important goals. An automatic yes also automatically takes time away from what you need to get done.

9. Tame your distractions.

Most people are distracted over 30 times an hour: phone calls, emails, texts, office drop-ins… The list is endless.

Schedule blocks of time when you’ll turn off alerts. The only way to stay on schedule is to work on your own schedule–not on that of other people.

10. Remember your impact on other people.

If you’re a leader–and since you run a business, you definitely are–you naturally impact other people. You set a direction. You set a standard.

You’re a role model.

Be a great role model: a person who gets important tasks done, who stays on point, who focuses on achieving goals and dreams … and who helps other people achieve their goals and dreams.

That’s reason enough to manage your time so you’re consistently at your best.

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