Yes, You Can Be Too Happy

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The surprising downside of cheerfulness

Every workplace has one: That super-cheerful, bubbly co-worker who — if we’re going to be really honest here — probably drives you up the wall a little bit.

Don’t feel bad. As it turns out, you’re probably a better worker than they are. A new study finds that happiness makes people productive in the workplace, but only up to a point. After a certain threshold, being too happy contributes to a lack of motivation — probably not exactly what the boss wants.

Researchers surveyed hundreds of workers about how happy they were as well as how often they perceived themselves practicing “proactive behaviors” like speaking up about issues and problem-solving.

“Positive affect can reach a level such that employees perceive that they are doing well and it is not necessary for them to take initiatives, thereby reducing their proactive behaviors,” lead author Chak Fu Lam of Suffolk University writes. In other words, if you already think everything is terrific, you won’t be motivated to make improvements, which is something every workplace — no matter how good an environment or how successful a company — still needs.

As surprising as this might sound, this isn’t the first data point that suggests the perennially perky might also be lackadaisical when it comes to, well, actually getting stuff done. A 2013 survey conducted by consulting firm Leadership IQ found that at more than 40% of companies, low performers said they were the happiest and most engaged at work. (Of course, this might be because they treat their workplace like a place to hang out for eight hours and socialize over free coffee rather than a place to do their jobs.)

“Low performers often end up with the easiest jobs because managers don’t ask much of them,” Leadership IQ CEO Mark Murphy told the Wall Street Journal. What’s more, this survey showed that these workers were utterly clueless about how bad they were at their jobs. They were more likely to tell surveyors that all employees lived up to the same standards.

But this doesn’t mean you’re resigned to scowling and picking up their slack. Instead of focusing on at-work happiness, it’s more useful to set a goal of thriving at work, says Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan and another one of the study’s authors. “When one is thriving they have the joint experience of feeling energized and alive at work at the same time that they are growing, getting better at their work, and learning,” she says.

Thriving also gives you better focus than happiness, Spreitzer points out, which has a positive effect on performance. “High-focus work probably needs less activated positive energy,” she says. “If we are all hyped up, it may be harder to focus and get difficult or tedious work done.” Rather than being complacent, people who thrive at work are motivated, she says. “It is a more engaged positive emotional state than happiness and, I think, is more appropriate to think about in a workplace context.”

MONEY life hacks

This Is Why I Keep a “Burner” Email Account—and You Should Too

The email trick that protects your identity, minimizes targeted ads, and saves time.

When the news hit that Hillary Clinton had a private email account that she used in her duties as Secretary of State, I thought, “Doesn’t everyone?”

Maybe that’s my default reaction as a millennial who has picked up and dropped about 10 email addresses over the past decade or so. But it’s also because the value of navigating the online world without exposing all of your personally identifying information is so clear to me. We’re living in a post-Target, post-Anthem, post-[insert next company here] world. The reality for the average Internet user is that guarding your personal information online is getting tougher.

First, a few caveats. I’m not a security expert. I’m not an organizational guru. I’m not doing anything illegal a la “The Wire” that would require a complex system of burners to evade law enforcement (though I do love that show). I’m not catfishing anyone. I’m not creating entirely new identities in order to dupe, scam or hurt anyone. I’m just explaining a system that has worked for me personally and that could work for you.

I introduce to you the “burner email” — an email address that you use with the intention that you’ll delete it at some point down the road. Here’s how it works: I have an email address with a reputable, secure free service, with no personal information about me included in the handle — it’s entirely random and has no personal information included. I use that email address for usernames, login credentials, etc., whenever I don’t want to use my main email address. This could be for everything from writing my email address down to enter a raffle at a local lunch spot to signing up for an online service that I may not use frequently. My main email address stays separate from my “burner” account and it helps me compartmentalize my life a bit. Here are the perks.

1. To Keep My Identity Secure

When it comes down to it, your email address holds a lot of personal information about you. For some people, their name is their email address. Others include some seemingly meaningless information like their alma mater or their pet’s name in their handle. While that information may be easy to remember and seems innocuous, an identity thief can piece together answers to security questions and other details about you to get access to other online accounts you may have.

It also can help protect my main email account from hackers. For example, when a minor data breach of an online retailer where I shop exposes only usernames (and the usernames are email addresses, as they commonly are), I can rest easy if I know I’ve used my burner account. The information those hackers have unearthed may be used in a phishing attack on me, but I can “burn” that email and create a new one just as easily.

2. To Confuse Microtargeters

With many email providers skimming your ingoing and outgoing messages for clues about what you’re buying, eating, drinking, watching and talking about, a burner email account can give you a little peace of mind when it comes to ads that are targeted at you. I don’t know about you, but it gives me the creeps when I check out a dress online, then am followed by that dress for the next few days in the form of in-email ads and customized units on other websites. A burner email can help me hide from the cookies, even if it’s just for a little bit.

3. To Keep My Main Inbox Clean

I’ve found there are two types of email users: People who are OK not reading every email they get, and those who have to read everything as soon as it comes in. I’m the latter. So keeping my main email inbox free of coupons, newsletters, daily deal offers, promotional and marketing materials saves me a lot of time. I can get to the emails from my parents, friends, etc. without having to delete 20 emails from companies that I may want to browse from time to time, but clutter my inbox and drive me crazy.

It’s also helpful to use a burner email address for projects. For example, if you’re applying for a job. With all of the job hunting sites and alerts you can sign up for nowadays, you could be getting hundreds of messages a day from potential employers and hiring websites with job recommendations and interview requests. Creating a burner email account for this ensures important emails don’t get lost in the process and it helps compartmentalize your life a bit. Having a baby? A burner email could help you sign up for all of your baby-related stores, websites, community boards, etc. without exposing any personal information online. Selling stuff online? Posting to Craigslist anonymizes your email address to a point, but if you’re setting up a meeting to exchange goods, a burner email could give you a little extra protection.

Let’s be clear — this is by no means a silver bullet. Identity theft really is the third certainty in life, and a burner email won’t stop you from getting got — but it might make you a tougher target for thieves and hackers. Monitoring your financial accounts regularly can help you reduce the impact of fraud. Experts recommend you check your bank accounts daily, and monitoring your credit can be useful as well. You can get free annual credit reports under federal law at AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can get two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.

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TIME psychology

The Morning Routine Experts Recommend for Peak Productivity

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

What’s the best way to start your day so that you really get things done?

Laura Vanderkam studied the schedules of high-achievers. What did she find? Almost all have a morning routine.

I’ve interviewed a ton of top experts about their productivity secrets: Tim Ferriss, Cal Newport, Dan Ariely, Charles Duhigg, and others.

But you’re busy. You don’t have time to read all that stuff. You need a plan.

So many readers have written to me saying what my friend Jason always does: “I don’t have time. Eric, now that you’ve talked to all these people, what do youdo?”

Okay, time to round up what the experts have said and build a roadmap.

1) Stop Reacting

Get up before the insanity starts. Don’t check your email or anything else that is going to dictate your behavior.

When I spoke to productivity guru Tim Ferriss, bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, what did he say?

Here’s Tim:

I try to have the first 80 to 90 minutes of my day vary as little as possible. I think that a routine is necessary to feel in control and non-reactive, which reduces anxiety. It therefore also makes you more productive.

Most of us get up and it seems like things are already in motion. Gotta race to something. Emails coming in. We’re already behind.

So of course you aren’t achieving your goals. You immediately started with what the world threw at you and then just reacted, reacted, reacted as new things came in until the day ended or you were too exhausted to do what was important.

You need to wake up before the insanity starts. Before demands are made on you. Before your goals for the day have competition.

(For more from Tim Ferriss on what the most productive people do every day, click here.)

Okay, you’re ahead of the maelstrom. What do you need to do before things get thrown at you?

2) Decide The 3 Things That Matter Today

Cal Newport is so productive it makes me cry. He’s a professor at Georgetown, cranks out academic papers, has written 4 books, and is a dad and a husband. And he’s done by 5:30PM every day. What did Cal have to say?

All tasks are not created equal. Most of us deal with two fundamentally different types of work, Shallow and Deep:

Shallow work is little stuff like email, meetings, moving information around. Things that are not really using your talents. Deep work pushes your current abilities to their limits. It produces high value results and improves your skills.

Shallow work stops you from getting fired — but deep work is what gets you promoted. Deep work must get priority.

In his book The ONE Thing, Gary Keller applies the “Pareto principle” to the workday:

Most of us get 80% of results from 20% of the work we do. So focus on that 20%.

What really creates progress vs treading water? What gives disproportionate results? Do those things.

And don’t be vague. Specify what you need to get done. Research shows having concrete goals is correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of control.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

People who construct their goals in concrete terms are 50 percent more likely to feel confident they will attain their goals and 32 percent more likely to feel in control of their lives. – Howatt 1999

(For more from Cal on how to stop being lazy and get more done, click here.)

Okay, you know what is important. Now you need to think about when.

3) Use Your “Magic Hours” For Your 3 Goals

Just like all tasks aren’t created equal, all hours aren’t created equal either.

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist at Duke University and the New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

Dan says you have 2-2.5 hours of peak productivity every day. You may actually be 30% more effective at that time. Here’s Dan:

…it turns out that most people are productive in the first two hours of the morning. Not immediately after waking, but if you get up at 7 you’ll be most productive from around from 8-10:30.


And Dan’s findings line up with other research. I’ve posted before that 2.5 to 4 hours after waking is when your brain is sharpest. You want to waste that on a conference call or a staff meeting?

Studies show that alertness and memory, the ability to think clearly and to learn, can vary by between 15 and 30 percent over the course of a day. Most of us are sharpest some two and a half to four hours after waking.

But does this really work? In studies of geniuses, most did their best work early in the day.

Those are the hours when you should be working on your 3 goals. Designate that part of your day as “protected time.”

Maybe you know that you’re a night owl. Fine, then protect those hours. The important thing is to do your key tasks during your key hours.

(For more on the schedule the most successful people use every day, click here.)

You know what’s important today and you know when your best hours are. But maybe you’re not motivated or you feel like procrastinating. How can you get going?

4) Have A Starting Ritual

Charles Duhigg is a reporter for the New York Times and author of the bestseller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. What did he say about fighting procrastination and getting things done?

Finishing things isn’t as much of a problem as just getting started in the first place. Here’s Charles:

One way to use habits to fight procrastination is to develop a habitualized response to starting. When people talk about procrastination, what they’re usually actually talking about is the first step. In general, if people can habitualize that first step, it makes it a lot easier.

Maybe getting that cup of coffee is the signal that you’re getting down to business. Or do you have a spot where you’re usually productive? Go there.

Wendy Wood, a professor at USC explains how your environment activates habits — without your conscious mind even noticing.

Via Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore:

Habits emerge from the gradual learning of associations between an action and outcome, and the contexts that have been associated with them. Once the habit is formed, various elements from the context can serve as a cue to activate the behavior, independent of intention and absent of a particular goal… Very often, the conscious mind never gets engaged.

(For more on the fun way to be more successful, click here.)

Some days it just isn’t going to happen. You can’t get going on that #1 task. What should you do when all else fails?

5) Use “Positive Procrastination”

Yes, procrastination can be a good thing — but it has to be the right kind of procrastination.

When do you usually get 1000 things done? When you’re avoiding that one thing that absolutely terrifies you.

If you know you can’t do that scary thing right now, do not turn to Facebook or video games. Tell yourself it’s okay to avoid it — as long as you’re doing the #2 thing on your to-do list.

Dr. John Perry, author of The Art of Procrastination, explains a good method for using this to trick yourself into massive productivity:

The key to productivity…is to make more commitments — but to be methodical about it. At the top of your to-do list, put a couple of daunting, if not impossible, tasks that are vaguely important-sounding (but really aren’t) and seem to have deadlines (but really don’t). Then, farther down the list, include some doable tasks that really matter. “Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list,” Dr. Perry writes.

A similar tip is described by Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation:

My best trick is to play my projects off against each other, procrastinating on one by working on another.

Dr. Steel says it’s based on sound principles of behavioral psychology:

We are willing to pursue any vile task as long as it allows us to avoid something worse.

(To learn a Navy SEAL’s secrets to grit and resilience when things get hard, click here.)

I know what some of you are saying: Where are the bullet points? I need bullet points to follow!

No problem. Here you go:

Sum Up

Here’s what we can put together from listening to all the experts:

  1. Stop reacting. Get up before the world starts making demands so you can figure out what’s important to you.
  2. Decide what matters today. You won’t get everything done, so what will move the needle? What will let you end the day feeling like you accomplished something? No more than 3 goals.
  3. Use your “magic hours” for those three things. Your peak productivity time is probably an hour or two after you wake up. If you know your best hours are at another time, fine. Protect your “magic hours.”
  4. Have a starting ritual. Go to the place where you get stuff done. Get your coffee. Anything that tells your brain it’s time to rock.
  5. When things go sideways, use “positive procrastination.” If you can’t tackle the super scary thing, do the pretty scary thing. Designating a super scary thing in advance as a decoy can make that pretty scary thing much easier.

We’re all trying to achieve work-life balance. You’re not going to get everything done. But start the day right and you can definitely accomplish what matters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

You can do anything once you stop trying to do everything.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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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

12 Bad Habits to Abandon for Increased Productivity

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Make it a point to be proactive rather than reactive


Question: We talk a lot about daily habits and productivity. But what’s one thing entrepreneurs should STOP doing every day?

Talking About Themselves

“Entrepreneurs tend to get so wrapped up in the pitching, convincing and selling of their day-to-day life that sometimes it becomes all they ever talk about. Being well-rounded and conversational will help you have rapport with others around you. While talking about yourself and your business is important, doing so constantly comes off as being self-centered and oblivious to the world around you.” — Kim Kaupe, ZinePak

Focusing on a To-Do List

“The best leaders I know focus on building the right culture and energy in the office. Sitting in a corner and pounding out to-do items may feel productive, but don’t forget about doing the things that aren’t fully quantifiable. Helping teammates who may be having a bad morning or struggling with a project could be the single most valuable thing you do all day!” — Tyler Arnold, SimplySocial, Inc.

Eating Pizza

“When you head into the startup phase of your company, everything you used to do that was healthy is going to stop. You are going to put on weight. You are going to end up with too much stress and a back that is in constant pain. Don’t eat pizza. It will make it easier to get back in shape when you’re out of that phase.” — Andrew Angus, Switch Video

Using Social Media Distractions

“Shut down all your personal social media distractions during the work day. Facebook, Instagram, Vine and Twitter will all be there after you complete your daily tasks. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize just how much time they waste reading and engaging on these mediums and also just how much it decreases their daily productivity. To succeed, use your time wisely.” — Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings


“Multitasking has its place in the business realm, but there are also times when it should be avoided. If you multitask two separate and very important projects, you can end up with two sets of dismal results. Know when to multitask and when to focus on a single task.” — Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

Waiting for the Right Moment

“Stop waiting for the right time, and just get things done. Define the one thing you can do today that will help grow your business and not just keep you busy.” — Michael Mogill, Crisp Video Group

Attending Management Meetings

“Admittedly, management meetings are sometimes necessary and useful beasts. But a culture of meetings is ultimately just a time suck. Everyone has had that experience of waiting for a meeting to end so that real work can resume. To increase productivity, reduce management meetings and time in meetings in general. When you must meet, have a clear agenda and stick to it.” — David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

Letting Interruptions Happen

“Interruptions are just a part of life, but I take steps to prevent them. It is so hard to refocus after multiple interruptions. I don’t even want to calculate how much time I lose to redirecting my attention several times a day. If it gets to be too much, I go into do-not-disturb mode. I close the door, only take scheduled calls and tell my staff that they can email me and I’ll get to them later.” — Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media

Going out for Lunch

“The lunch hour is one of the most active times of the day and a great time to get work done. After work is when most socializing should be done. Instead of worrying about getting back to the office or getting work done before you dip out, meeting at the end of the day takes off the edge. You can drink without a conscience, leave the office behind and invite others to join to optimize your time.” — Rameet Chawla, Fueled

Working on the Fly

“One habit to break away from is working on the fly rather than with an agenda. With a startup, things will happen, and you can be pulled in different directions. Don’t make it a habit to make that the way you operate. Make it a point to be proactive rather than reactive.” — Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize

Pleasing Others First

“If you are allowing your time and energy to be diverted from your priority tasks simply to make professional acquaintances (e.g., individuals not in your inner circle) happy, then you’re not investing your time well. Focus on the people and activities that really matter, and you’ll be better off in the long run.” — Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®

Emailing Coworkers

“The biggest breakthrough at ThinkImpact has been the realization that we don’t need to email each other. We can use different tools to communicate. Our new favorite is called Slack . It allows you to communicate in one of three ways: via office-wide messages with a related subject, a direct message with a colleague privately or a private group of colleagues.” — Saul Garlick, ThinkImpact

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.

MONEY productivity

6 Ways to Maximize Productivity on a Snow Day

A woman gathers snow for a friendly snowball fight in Central Park.
Chris Hondros—Getty Images A woman gathers snow for a friendly snowball fight in Central Park.

Winter Storm Juno threatening your plans to make it into the office? These tips can help you get so much done that you'll even be able to sneak out for a snowball fight.

If you’re a resident of the Northeast, you’re probably going to be affected by the big snow storm that’s already begun hitting the area.

Your office may be closed. Your kids might be home from school.

How do you stay productive when you’re unexpectedly forced to work from home with the kids begging you to play with them? Use these strategies:

Postpone Powwows

The most pressing items are scheduled meetings that involve others. If you had a live meeting planned, notify attendees of the cancellation and work on rescheduling it.

Get Set Up in Advance

If you haven’t left the office yet, do a sweep of your desk, and bring home with you any paperwork you’ll need to continue to operate from home this afternoon or tomorrow. Particularly if you have important calls, make sure you have all of the material you need so that you aren’t the one holding up progress.

If you haven’t been set up to work remotely and don’t have access to your files, you may have to work with IT and/or your boss to gain access—this takes time so do this early.

Do Some Task Triage

Already at home? If you’re not used to working there, you may not have the best setup. You may not have all of the files you need; you may not have the best equipment; you may need to interact with colleagues who are not readily available.

Itemize what you had planned to do and categorize by what you can postpone for when you’re back in the office, what you still can do from home, and what you can do but might need some preparation (e.g., help from IT in downloading a file).

Knowing what you can do, and by when, enables you to focus on feasible activities and gives you a heads-up on how your days will unfold when you return to the office.

Eliminate Distractions

Your kids’ unbounded excitement over having a snow day can distract from calls that require quiet or deadlines that require focus.

You have a few options: Trade babysitting with a neighbor. Pay your older kid extra chore money for impromptu babysitting. Tap the electronic babysitter—extra TV or computer time—for when you need silence or uninterrupted blocks of concentration.

Take Advantages of the Perks

Even if you don’t have the best setup, you still might be more productive overall.

You’ll probably eat better, since you can fix a nutritious meal instead of rushing out for fast food. If meetings have been postponed, you now have blocks of time to catch up on another project. Even your break time can be productive, as you grab a snack with your kids or put in a load of laundry or do a quick home workout.

Start Planning for the Next Work-at-Home Emergency

If you find that you’re ill-equipped to work from home, work with IT when you return to the office to improve for next time. Plan for remote access of files, invest in a faster laptop or mobile device, and know which activities and projects are equally effective when done remotely.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

TIME Careers & Workplace

The Easiest Way to See if You’re Spending Your Time Right

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Get your paint tool or color pencils ready


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

When Info We Trust’s graphics depicting the average days of creative geniuses of yore went viral earlier this week, we were impressed like so many others—after all, it’s pretty cool to see how the masters made it work!

But more importantly, we thought this method of visualizing time was an awesome way to quickly understand what each of these masters spend their time doing—and would be something that all of us could use to get a better handle on our own time. After all, the first step in becoming more productive is understanding where your time is going now!

It’s simple—grab the visual below and then either print it out or open it up in MS Paint or Photoshop. Using the paint tool (or your colored pencils), give each activity a unique color, and then color in each hour of the circle based on the activity you usually fill that time with.

You’ll quickly be able to see how you organize your day, the things you’re doing well, and the things you could probably improve upon. For example, I filled out a Wheel of Productivity for my own days below, and can easily see that I do well on the sleep front, but could probably try and break up my big block of green work time (by taking an actual lunch break, perhaps, or going to the gym midday instead of in the morning).
Fill out your own Wheel of Productivity, and then give it a hard look: Are you devoting enough time to the colors that matter most to you?

More from the Muse:

TIME psychology

5 Simple Things That Will Make Your Life Better

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Want to be happy?

It’s more about perspective than anything else. Write down three good things that happen to you every day.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?”

(More on happiness here: Things that are proven to make you happier.)

2) Want to be more creative?

Expose yourself to as many different perspectives as possible and get them crashing around in your head.

Via Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wiser than the sum of its parts. Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. Build a tangled bank.

(More on creativity here: The four principles that will lead you to breakthrough creativity.)

3) Want better friendships?

Stay in touch every two weeks and make sure that the good moments outnumber the bad.

Via The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature:

It turned out that the fifteen high-performance teams averaged 5.6 positive interactions for every negative one. The nineteen low-performance teams racked up a positive/negative ratio of just .363. That is, they had about three negative interactions for every positive one…


Curiously, the magic number also seems to have a close parallel in the ratio of positive behaviors…and negative behaviors…among monkeys and apes. Thus the five-to-one ratio begins to look suspiciously like a basic primate need.

(More here: 5 ways to strengthen your friendships.)

4) Want a better romantic relationship?

Add some visceral excitement. Roller coasters beat counseling. It’s called “misattribution of emotions” — thrills become associated with the people we share them with — even if they had nothing to do with them.

Via Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior:

When the men who crossed the wooden bridge saw the research assistant, most of them looked at her and saw just that, a studious research assistant. But for the men who crossed the rope bridge, anxiety and adrenaline translated into a heightened romantic interest in the assistant. Their physiological reactions affected their perceptions. …The bridge’s ability to enhance the men’s romantic attraction earned it the moniker “the love bridge” within the psychological community.

(More here: This simple thing kills many relationships.)

5) Want to be more productive?

Religiously use checklists. They’re simple and they work.

What happens when you consistently use checklists in an intensive care unit? People stop dying.

Via The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right:

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.

(More here: 6 things that will make you more productive.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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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.


The Super-Simple Way to Get More Replies to Your Emails

Computers email symbol
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New data shows you how

How much of the email you send gets deleted unread? A lot of it, if you’re like most of us in corporate America. But if you switch up the times and days when you send out messages, you can improve the chances that they’ll be read and replied to.

Email tracking company Yesware analyzed more than half a million sales emails to find out when recipients are more likely to open and reply. Their main finding: Send out email when there’s less competition if you want to grab a recipient’s attention. “When there’s little else being emailed, your emails are more likely to stand out and get noticed,” the company says in a blog post.

On weekdays, about two-thirds of emails are opened, but on weekends, that figure rises to about three-quarters. Weekend days only get about one-tenth the email traffic of weekdays, which means your message has a better shot of landing at the top of your recipient’s inbox. You’re also likelier to get a reply when you send email on the weekend, but you might have to be patient. A slightly higher percentage of weekday emails get same-day responses, but roughly 46% of messages sent on weekends are returned, compared to 39% of weekday emails. Contrary to popular belief, Yesware says, there’s no inherent advantage in sending emails on Monday versus any other weekday.

The time of day when you send messages matters, too. Yesware finds that although email traffic is highest during the workday and peaks during lunchtime, reply rates are highest when traffic is lightest. For the best results, Yesware’s findings suggest that you should send emails around 6 or 7 a.m., or around 8 p.m. During these hours, 45% — nearly half — of all emails sent receive a reply.

Previous research into Yesware’s data trove finds that another good way to boost your email reply rate is to copy additional recipients. An analysis of some 500,000 sales emails shows that messages sent to two people — one on the main “to” line, one on the “cc” line — were opened around 84% of the time, and replied to in more than six out of 10 instances. Copying a second recipient rather than sending it outright to both is the key, Yesware says in a blog post. If your recipients see that multiple people are included in the message, they figure somebody else will go to the effort of responding. “When a task is placed in front of a group of people, individuals are more likely to assume that someone else will take responsibility for it,” the company says. “So, no one does.”


This Is the Easiest Productivity Hack in the History of Work

keyboard hands
Getty Images

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.”


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



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