Category Archives: Techniques

5 Ways to Train Your Brain for Maximum Productivity

brain training for productivity

The hard truth about the world is that we all have just 24 hours in which to accomplish everything we want to do.  But while it’s true that some people use those hours more effectively than others, you aren’t set at some baseline productivity level that can never change.  Just like you can train yourself to run a race with daily jogs, you can train your brain for maximum productivity with the following techniques:

Tip #1 – Try a brain training game

Though the idea of brain training might sound rigorous and dull, there are plenty of fun ways to challenge your mind with games and apps.  A few fun options include:

  • Lumosity
  • Brain Age for Nintendo
  • Brain Challenge for iOS devices

Don’t want to pay a ton for a digital program?  Pick up a cheap book of crossword puzzles, Sudoku games or logic puzzles from your local drugstore.  Though they’re static alternatives, they’re just as valuable to your mind.

Tip #2 – Learn something new

If you want your brain to be as productive as possible, you’ve got to train it to get used to processing new stimuli and filing away new thoughts effectively.  And one of the best ways to do this is to learn something new.

That something new could be anything from a new language to a new sport.  Hell, even picking up a book on a subject you aren’t familiar with can be a great way to start building new neural pathways and to get your mind used to properly managing new input.  Both of these benefits can contribute tremendously to your ability to work productively in the future.

Tip #3 – Do your hardest work first

Though most of us tend to start off with our easiest tasks, this isn’t a good habit to get into based on how our brains operate.  Because our minds require a certain amount of processing power in order to think creatively and be productive, every task that we undertake depletes these resources.

According to David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work:

“An hour into doing your work, you’ve got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning).  Every decision we make tires the brain.”

If you want your mind to work as productively as possible, train yourself to work on your most challenging tasks first, as well as those that require an abundance of energy.  It may be hard to think about diving into something serious when you’re first sitting down to work, but forming this habit will ensure that you have the mental faculties needed to get through all of your scheduled activities.

Tip #4 – Change your routines

Often times, we get into habits that prevent the brain from having to work too hard.  Take a second and put your hand up to your mouth as if you were about to start brushing your teeth.  Odds are, your hand moved automatically to the same spot it does every morning – without you having to think about it.

In some way, these routines are helpful, as they free up mental processing power to focus on more important tasks.  But they certainly aren’t challenging your brain in any way!

To train your brain to be more flexible and creative, make it a point to uncover any subconscious routines you’re currently engaging in and change them.  If you always take the same route to work, try a different path next time.  Or if you always write with your right hand, try to improve your penmanship with your left.

Changing your routines may be frustrating at first, but doing so is a powerful way to strengthen the synapses in your brain – leading to better mental processing all around.

Tip #5 – Give yourself ample processing time

In addition, recognize that periods of rest are crucial when it comes to training your brain.  While you rest or sleep, your mind is hard at work processing and assimilating all of the new information you’ve taken in.  As a result, if you don’t give yourself enough downtime, your brain training attempts may actually backfire by overloading your brain’s capacity.

So if you’re ever feeling like your mind is too full to concentrate, there’s a good chance that it is.  Take a break and give your mind time to recharge so that you can return to your activities with a fresh start and a clear head in the future.

Finally, keep in mind that brain training shouldn’t be a “one off” occurrence.  If you really want these changes to stick and to become as productive as you can, challenge your mind on a regular basis.  The results of this continued effort may be subtle, but – trust me – they’ll be powerful as well!

How to Stop Slacking Off for Good

stop slacking off

Maybe you’re one of those people who dutifully acknowledges deadlines – who works at a slow and steady pace that ensures that everything is completed ahead of schedule, with a minimum amount of rushing and panic.

If you’re one of those people, you can stop reading now – this article isn’t for you!

Instead, this post is for the procrastinators, the slackers and for everybody else who sees deadlines rushing towards them and still feels powerless to act.  If you have the sneaking suspicion that you could be doing better at managing your responsibilities, you need to take the following three steps:

Step #1 – Assess your priorities

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to killing procrastination is that it’s not always an indication that you’re lazy.  In plenty of cases, the fact that you can’t get focused is your mind trying to tell you that you aren’t working on the right things.

Can’t seem to get motivated to get to the gym on a regular basis?  Maybe the problem isn’t you – it’s the type of workout you’ve chosen to commit to.  Struggling to do the work necessary to be considered for a big promotion?  It could be your brain’s subconscious way of telling you that you’re pursuing the wrong job or field.

So whenever you find yourself slacking off, dig deeper to uncover the reasons for your lack of motivation.  While you might not be able to change your situation to eliminate slacking off entirely, you may find certain instances in which you can circumvent procrastination by changing your priorities.

Step #2 – Set strict deadlines

Once you’ve weeded out any unnecessary procrastination triggers, it’s up to you to set strict deadlines for yourself.

According to Parkinson’s Law, a task expands to fill the amount of time allotted to it.  If you have two hours to put together a 10-page report, you’ll find a way to get it done.  But if you’re given two days to complete the same task, it won’t take the same two hours to complete.  Instead, you’ll find that the project expands to fill the entire two days – leaving you slacking off until the last possible minute and feeling the stress of this work hanging over your head.

Fortunately, you can use this rule to your advantage.  To avoid slacking off, break each of your projects – whether personal or professional – into smaller chunks.  Then, assign a deadline to every chunk that you create.  Make your deadlines as small as possible.  Even if you know that you have more time that could be allotted to each chunk, creating a little bit of pressure by setting tight deadlines will give you the motivation needed to get things done.

If you find yourself disregarding your own deadlines, enlist the support of others.  At work, promise your superiors that you’ll have certain milestones completed at set times in order to give yourself extra incentive to avoid slacking off.  If your goals are related to personal activities, share them with a friend, a family member or a public blog to give yourself the impression that you’ll be letting others down if you fail to stick to your deadlines.

And if you really need some extra motivation, look into using a service like StickK, which will allow you to bet a certain amount of money on yourself for completing certain tasks.  If you fail to meet the goals you set for yourself on the website, your money could wind up going to a charity you hate – creating the extra incentive needed to prevent procrastination.

Step #3 – Optimize your environment

After you’ve created deadlines that will prevent you from slacking off and enlisted the support of an accountability buddy, the last thing you’ll want to do is to dissect your environment for any triggers that could be preventing you from getting things done.

As an example, if you always struggle to make it to the gym because your workout clothes are upstairs and you always wind up parked on the couch before you can change, find a way to store your attire closer to the door.

If you consistently procrastinate on a reporting task at work because it takes too long to gather all the data you need, develop a new system that involves collecting information on the day before you need to create your reports.

Pay attention to your own unique rhythms as well.  If you’re full of energy in the morning, but tend to need a nap by mid-afternoon, schedule your deadlines to coincide with your most focused periods.  There’s no reason to fight against yourself when it comes to getting things done!

Really, there are always going to be ways to slack off and procrastination triggers that discourage you from living up to your full potential.  While implementing these steps will go a long way towards preventing you from slacking off, only you can take responsibility for eliminating the excuses and bullshit that lead to devastating procrastination.

5 Small Talk Scripts to Memorize Now

small talk

Is there anything quite so scary as the thought of having to make polite conversation with total strangers?  Certainly, for some of the more naturally garrulous people out there, making small talk can be seen as an opportunity to connect with new people and get to know others on a deeper level.  But for the vast majority of people, small talk represents a deeply-uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking situation.

Unfortunately, you’ve got to get over this!  According to a recent Harvard Business Review article by Andy Molinksy:

“You can be the most technically skilled worker in the world, but your ability to progress in your job and move up the corporate ladder in the United States is highly dependent on your ability to build and maintain positive relationships with people at work. And guess what skill is critical for building and maintaining these relationships? Small talk.”

The secret to small talk is being prepared.  So if you feel perpetually flustered by the demands of making small talk, memorize the following scripts so that you’ll be able to pull them out at a moment’s notice whenever a situation calls for polite conversation.

Script #1 – “What do you do?”

People in the US love to talk about their jobs, which makes this small talk script a natural starting point for conversations with new people.  Though it obviously isn’t one that could be used when interacting with coworkers at a company event, it’s a great starting point to have on hand for business networking events and other social functions.

One caveat to using this script, however, is that it can backfire in situations where your conversation partner has recently been laid off or fired (as is all too common in today’s job market).  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use it –in fact, in networking situations, it can be a helpful way for the person you’re speaking with to convey his or her openness to new opportunities.  However, you should be aware of the potential for discomfort and have a few expressions of sympathy ready, should you encounter somebody who’s recently out of work.

Script #2 – “What’s new with you?”

If you’re interacting with people you know on a casual level – for example, distant family members, social acquaintances or colleagues in other departments – there’s no more natural starting place for a small talk conversation than, “What’s new with you?”

The key to using this script effectively, though, is to learn how to keep the conversation going by asking probing questions.  If you use this script and your counterpart responds, “Oh, nothing much,” it’s still on you to carry the conversation with follow-up questions like, “Any big projects at work right now?” or “Any plans for the upcoming holiday?”

Script #3 – “Did you see that news story about [xx]?”

When in doubt about how to start a small talk conversation, jump in with a recent news article or major upcoming event.  Sporting events are a great neutral territory for these chats – something like, “Did you see the new story about that Louisville player Kevin Ward’s leg?” is bound to provoke a reaction.

There are two things you’ll want to keep in mind when using this script, though…  First, it’s imperative that you stay away from highly-charged political or religious topics.  Even if you’re absolutely certain that you know your conversation partner’s philosophical leanings, these heated topics really have no place in polite, public interactions.  Save your opinions for your close friends and family members!

In addition, it’s important that you actually have some familiarity with the news story you decide to reference.  If you say to somebody, “Did you see that news story about [xx]?” and he or she responds with, “No, tell me about it,” you’d better be able to back up your small talk script with actual information!

Script #4 – “Any vacation plans in the future?”

As much as Americans live for work, we also live for the precious few days of vacation we get every year – making this a fun small talk prompt to keep the conversation going.

While I wouldn’t use it to start off an interaction with a totally new contact, it’s a great way to learn more about the people you’re speaking with in a non-threatening way.  A discussion about future family trips could open the door to further questions about their family life and structure (for example, “How old are your kids?” or “Where do your kids go to school?”).  Similarly, a mention of a dream vacation destination could prompt you to ask, “What made you choose that location?” or “Have you always wanted to travel there?”

Remember, the more follow-up questions you can ask, the longer you’ll be able to keep your small talk going.

Script #5 – “Where did you get that [piece of clothing]?”

Finally, if all else fails, complement your conversation partner on an article of clothing and ask where it was purchased.

Secretly, we all crave the approval of others – especially when it comes to our physical appearances.  Making a comment that indicates you like a certain piece of clothing or jewelry provides this all-important flattery, while also giving you an opening to keep the conversation going on local shopping and apparel trends.

Certainly, these are just a few of the different scripts you can use to initiate and maintain small talk, but they’re a good couple of options to memorize and keep in your back pocket at all times.  If you have any other go-to conversation starters, share your recommendations below in the comments!

7 Ways to Prevent Office Distractions

minimize office distractions

We’ve all been there…  On the way to work, you’re brimming with enthusiasm and great ideas – ready to hit the ground running on a productive work day.  But the second you sit down at your desk, you’re hit with distraction after distraction.  Coworkers need your immediate feedback, emails keep popping into your inbox and your phone won’t stop ringing.

How are you ever supposed to get anything done amidst all of these distractions?

The reality is, all of us face distractions – whether we work in office environments, coffee shops or home offices.  You can’t avoid distractions entirely while working, but you can take steps to minimize them.  Give any of the following strategies a try in order to amp up your productivity and prevent distractions from throwing you off track:

Tip #1 – Turn off automatic alerts

Between the notifications that pop up in response to new messages on your smartphone and the Outlook flag that appears whenever you get a new email, automatic alerts can seriously disrupt your productivity.  The simple solution?  Turn them all off!  Really, there are very few emergencies, and you’ll likely find that the amount you’re able to get done in the absence of these distractions more than makes up for any delayed responses you might be forced to issue.

Tip #2 – Schedule time for yourself

Scheduled meetings are sacred time on most people’s business calendars – so why not take advantage of the fact that most people won’t interrupt these periods in order to get more done?

First, figure out when you’re most productive during the work day.  Then, schedule a 1-2 hour long “meeting” on your calendar during which time you won’t allow yourself to be interrupted.  Teach others to respect this time by ignoring calls or in-person requests and you’ll free up a nice chunk of time to work with minimal distractions.

Tip #3 – Wear headphones

Wearing headphones while working is one of the best signals you can give to tell others that you don’t want to be interrupted.  You don’t have to listen to music with your headphones on to achieve this effect – simply wearing them is enough to dissuade most people from disrupting your productivity with their own distractions.

Tip #4 – Clean up your work environment

If a cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind, it’s possible that picking up your work environment could have a positive effect on your ability to focus without distractions.  But don’t limit your cleaning efforts to the piles of papers that have been sitting on your desk forever.  Clean up your browser icons, bookmark lists and old digital “to do” lists in order to minimize the digital clutter that could also prevent you from focusing at peak efficiency.

Tip #5 – Turn on website blocking tools

Work distractions don’t always come in the form of interruptions from coworkers.  In plenty of cases, we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to digital distractions.  Sure, you might tell yourself that you just need a few minutes of fun browsing in order to get back to work – but can you really justify this type of time-waster once you’ve blown through hours of could-have-been productive time?

The easiest way to minimize the amount of time you waste on your favorite websites and social networks is to install website blocking tools that prevent you from accessing these pages at different times.  For example, a few great options include Leechblock for Firefox and Nanny for Chrome.  Try to install a website blocking tool on every browser that’s installed on your computer in order to minimize your ability to outsmart these distraction-blocking systems!

Tip #6 – Look busy

If none of the other strategies described here have succeeded in minimizing work distractions, you can always try looking frazzled.  Even if you’re as calm as can be, act as if you’ve got more on your plate than you could ever possibly handle.  When coworkers approach your desk to distract you, give them the crazy eyes that say, “Back away slowly – I’m on the edge here!”

It sounds silly, but it’s an effective way to end distractions before they start.  Just be careful not to abuse it.  If your boss catches you looking stressed out too often, he might assume that you aren’t capable of handling your job – making you less likely to qualify for raises and promotions.

Tip #7 – Hide

One final option for minimizing office distractions?  Get out of there!  Sometimes, there’s nothing that you can do to stop coworkers from interrupting you or your boss from piling on more work than you can handle.  In these cases, do whatever you need to do to remove yourself physically from the distractions!

You could use the number of distractions in your workplace as leverage to negotiate a remote work arrangement.  If that isn’t an option, scheduling a “doctor’s appointment” could buy you a few hours to work from home in a distraction-free environment.  Again, you shouldn’t abuse this tip, but you should keep in mind that the amount you’re able to get done by “hiding” from your distractions could outweigh any concerns that your frequent absences mean you’re an unreliable employee.

Got any other tips for minimizing distractions in the workplace?  Share them below in the comments so that everybody can benefit!

Learning to Own Up to Your Mistakes

sorry note

News flash – nobody likes making mistakes!  But unfortunately, since we’re all human, there’s no good way to avoid the occasional slip-up.  As a result, it isn’t the fact that you make mistakes that matters.  What really counts is how you handle yourself when these failures occur.

Let’s say you’ve goofed up on a big project at work and – as a result – your team won’t be able to meet an important deadline.  Now that you’ve made the mistake, you have two options.  You can:

  1. Pretend like it didn’t happen and wait until somebody discovers that you’ve screwed up.
  2. Own up to your mistake and present your boss with a plan of action for dealing with any negative effects that stem from your error.

If you take the first route, you aren’t really saving yourself any hassle (although it might feel like it at the time).  Eventually, your mistake will be discovered and when this happens, your boss and your team members will all be upset that you tried to shirk your responsibility in derailing the project.

On the other hand, if you let your team know right away what’s happened and how you plan to deal with it, you’ll still face the same frustration – but that anger will be paired with a level of respect for you because you’ve owned up to your mistakes.  Neither situation allows you to avoid professional judgment completely, but one option lets you minimize damage to your reputation.

Of course, knowing that owning up to your mistakes will help you save face – actually doing it is another thing altogether!

If your “go to” move is to deflect and defer responsibility, don’t worry.  You can learn how to own up to your mistakes – even in the most uncomfortable of situations.  It won’t be easy, but it’s a valuable skill to develop when it comes to managing your professional reputation.

Here’s how to do it:

Step #1 – Assess the scope of your mistake

As soon as you’ve realized that a mistake has occurred (whether by that sinking feeling you get in your stomach or through the actions of a coworker), take a second to determine how severe of an issue you’re facing.  Is the mistake something that can be easily resolved, or will it require significant reparations to correct?

If you’re facing a small issue (like an email etiquette mistake), you may be able to correct the problem without the involvement of other parties.  In this case, owning up to your mistake may not be truly necessary.  However, if the issue is larger, take a few moments to trace out its eventual ramifications.  You can’t move on to the next step in the process – coming up with a plan of action – until you understand exactly who and what will be affected by your mistake.

Step #2 – Come up with a plan of action

Once you have a rough idea of how your mistake will affect others, it’s time to brainstorm a game plan.  As a general rule, you’ll find the owning up to your mistake is much easier – and much better received – if you also offer a series of possible action steps to resolve your issues.

Following from our delayed project example earlier, identifying this type of mistake could prompt you to develop a plan of action that includes any of the following steps:

  • Working nights to make up for lost time (if doing so will help)
  • Shuffling resources to ensure that other parts of the project can be finished on schedule
  • Apologizing directly to the customer (if necessary) for the delays you’ve caused

In the worst situations, it might not be possible to come up with a game plan if there are no actions that can be taken to help remedy your mistake.  However, even in this case, it’s important not to skip the next step…

Step #3 – Use scripts to make confessing easier

After you’ve completed the first two steps, it’s time for the most difficult part of this process – actually owning up to the issues you’ve created.

If the thought of telling others that you’ve screwed up leaves you shaking in your boots (especially if the person you need to own up to is your boss), you can make the process easier by creating a script and practicing it before you fess up.  For example, try something like the following:

“Hi [Boss] – do you have a second?  I just wanted to give you a heads up on an issue that might delay our project [or lead to some other issue].  I made [this mistake] and I expect that, as a result, we’ll have to [deal with these consequences].  I’m sorry for the inconvenience and my part in this, but I think we can make the situation right by [taking my game plan actions].”

Resist the urge to make excuses when delivering your script.  Everyone has excuses and they tend to be perceived as attempts to deflect, rather than to accept responsibility.  Hopefully, using this type of script will mitigate any disciplinary actions coming your way – but there’s no guarantee.  The only thing that is guaranteed is that you’ll avoid the humiliation of being called out on your mistake later on by owning up to it and taking responsibility from the start.

How to Leave Your Job without Burning Bridges

burning bridges

We’ve all been there.  A once-promising job that’s soured to the point where even the thought of waking up and driving to work leaves you shaking with cold sweats.  Where it’s impossible to imagine working diligently at your desk for even one more day without exploding in rage at your incompetent and/or abusive boss.

If you’re lucky enough to find an exit strategy – whether to another position or to a temporary career break – it’s tempting to use your resignation as a chance to make your true feelings known to your coworkers, to HR and to your boss.  But all the career advice out there recommends that you not burn bridges on your way out the door.  Should you follow these recommendations or make a one-time exception to the rule in order to let of a little steam once you’re able to quit your job?

Here’s the thing…  The world is a small place.  Even if you can’t imagine any possible connections between your boss and other members of your personal life or business community, that doesn’t mean that none exist.  And really, the last thing you want is to belatedly find out that the boss you just cursed into oblivion is actually second cousins with the HR manager at the company you now desperately want to work for.

The bottom line is – don’t do it.  Don’t risk your future career prospects on a somewhat-fulfilling blowout speech on your last day.  Your reputation as a blowhard will follow you no matter where you go – even if you can’t yet see the mechanisms by which this will occur yet.  In just about every case, it’s better to be safe than sorry when leaving your job.

Of course, holding your tongue is easier said than done.  Here are a few guidelines and recommended steps to help you leave a difficult situation without burning your professional bridges:

Separate the personal from the professional

To be fair, it isn’t always the best idea to bottle up your emotions and leave your current position without uttering a peep to anyone.  Not only can this be damaging emotionally, it’s also important for the human resources department of your company to know why exactly you’re leaving.  If they identify a trend – for example, a series of talented employees leaving as the result of a single bad boss – they may want to take action to prevent further losses.

For this reason, if certain on-the-job conditions have prompted your resignation, it can be a good idea to share them with HR during your exit interview.  The key, though, is how exactly you do this.

If you go into your final interview ranting and raving about your boss, your feedback won’t be taken seriously and won’t be used to promote positive changes within the company in the future.  What you need to do is to separate the personal from the professional in order to provide your HR personnel with useful information.

For example, saying, “My asshole boss was a huge jerk who never gave me enough time to get things done,” isn’t going to help your case.  Instead, telling HR that, “My manager struggled to provide timely feedback and prioritization advice in a professional manner,” is much more likely to result constructive changes for the future employees who will take up your position.

Vent frustrations through the appropriate sources

Of course, it isn’t nearly as satisfying to phrase your personal complaints in a professional manner as it would be to run through your office’s halls, gleefully yelling about how you’re finally free.

But really, that’s why you have friends.  That’s why you have family members.  And that’s why you have coworkers who have gone through the same grief that you have.  Buy these nice people a round so that they’ll indulge your frustrations periodically.  Just be careful that any coworkers – whether current colleagues or soon-to-be ex-coworkers – are the discreet type who won’t go running back to your office with news of your job bashing!

Focus on the future

Finally, if taking these steps isn’t enough to prevent you from going crazy on your last day, try to keep the future in mind.  Remember, you’re out of the bad situation.  You’ve found your exit strategy and, very shortly, you won’t have to deal with your bad boss or your company’s frustrating policies any longer.

Truly, the only way the grief of your almost-former job will continue to bother you in the future is if you allow your frustrations to cause you to do something stupid in the moment – something like burning bridges that you may need to rely on for professional advancement down the road.

So before you dish out the verbal beat-down you’ve been longing to share since day one, take a deep breath and focus on the future.  Your career’s long-term well-being just isn’t worth the risk of burning bridges in a short-lived blaze of glory.

3 Steps to Becoming a Better Leader

great leaders

Leadership is one of those skills that’s highly valued, but difficult to develop if you aren’t born with the propensity to direct and manage others.

But don’t let that stop you!  Because leadership is so highly valued in the workplace, it’s a good idea to put some effort in developing your own skills in this area.  If the thought of putting yourself in the spotlight makes you panic a little, try the following steps in order to become a better leader:

Step #1 – Identify your strengths and weaknesses

Before you begin this process, clear your mind of any pre-existing conceptions you hold on what “leadership” means.  Too many of us think of leaders as drill sergeant, attention-seeking types who get their thrills from telling others what to do – but the reality is that this is only one type of leader.

In fact, there are plenty of different leadership styles out there – including one that prefers to operate from the shadows by delegating tasks to others and only following up to ensure their completion.  So don’t worry if you don’t feel like barking out orders like some sort of commander heading into battle.  There’s a place for everybody at the leadership table!

To get started on your own leadership journey, take a few moments to identify your own strengths and weaknesses.  How do you feel when you’re placed in the spotlight?  How do you prefer to communicate and interact with others?  And how to do you handle situations in which tasks aren’t completed on time or to your specifications?

By understanding the unique skills and perspectives you bring to the table, you can begin to develop your own concept of what “leadership” means to you.

Step #2 – Lead from a “you” perspective

If you’re comfortable giving direct, sometimes critical feedback, then a more extroverted process of leadership will suit you best.  Or, if you tend to avoid conflict, a strategy that relies more heavily on delegation and teamwork will help you to get the job done.

But whatever leadership strategy you decide to pursue, it’s important to manage from a “you” perspective.

Essentially, this means that a project or objective isn’t about you, the leader.  Instead, it’s about managing the resources on your team effectively in order to ensure that the necessary work gets done.

To do this effectively, you can’t prioritize your own success as a leader ahead of the achievements of the group.  While it’s natural to want to take credit for your accomplishments, putting the potential for your own recognition ahead of your team’s dynamics is a sure-fire recipe for disaster!

Instead, take the time to get to know all the different members of your team – as well as how they operate most effectively.  If you’re working with a mixture of introverts and extroverts, you may need to adapt your management style in order to help each employee to reach his or her own potential.  Support your team members and take more pleasure in their success than in your own – believe me, your value as a manager who can balance these different challenges and still wind up with a successful project outcome will be recognized and rewarded by others in your company!

Step #3 – Solicit honest feedback

Of course, this vision of a team working harmoniously in balance is often just that – a vision of what could be, not what actually is!

Be aware that it can take time to develop your leadership skills and to embrace your own unique style of leadership (especially if your skills put you in direct opposition to commonly accepted forms of leadership).  However, the one thing you can do to speed up the process of leadership learning is to solicit honest feedback from both your superiors and the people you’re supervising to determine where improvements can be made.

This can be done in a number of different ways, from asking staff members to provide feedback throughout a project to sitting down with individuals after the fact and asking for their honest reviews.

Unfortunately, you may not always like what you hear.  Negative criticism can be difficult to accept and can bring down your confidence in your ability to lead effectively – that is, unless you choose to view this feedback as a learning opportunity.  Even if you’re truly upset about a piece of feedback that’s given, thank the deliverer and allow yourself some time to process both your immediate feelings and your later, more rational thoughts on how you can improve.

It can be a frustratingly slow process – especially if you feel that you aren’t inherently suited for leadership roles.  But by taking the time to understand the unique strengths and weaknesses that you bring to the leadership table, you’ll go on to develop both a highly valuable skill and the respect of people below you and above you within your organization.

How to Get More Done in Less Time

While we might all like to talk a big game about being more productive in the New Year, the sad reality is that far too many people say this while staring down a never-ending “to do” list of worthless tasks.

You see, the problem isn’t always productivity.  It’s entirely possible to fill your working hours with meaningless or unnecessary tasks that don’t ultimately contribute to your personal or professional goals – just to feel the sense of satisfaction that comes along with staying busy and checking off items on your many task lists.

Instead, what matters is that we’re focusing our time and energy on the tasks that truly have the potential to benefit our lives in some meaningful ways.  By getting more done in less time – using the following three-step process – you’ll free up more time and energy to invest into the goals and projects that actually matter to you!

Step #1 – Eliminate redundancies

The first step in freeing up your time and enhancing productivity is to eliminate redundant or unnecessary tasks from your life.  As an example, if you open your email messages – only to leave them unanswered and unfiled in your Inbox – you’re engaging in a redundant behavior.  After all, nothing has been accomplished as the result of your initial action – you’ll still have to go back in and deal with the message eventually.

Once you get in the habit of identifying these extraneous behaviors, you might be surprised to see how prevalent they are in modern society – and how unnecessary they truly are.

Do you copy items from a physical calendar into your digital device?  Eliminate the physical version altogether and look for programs that sync your schedule between computers and mobile phones.  Do you ever fill out worksheets or reports at work that provide no new information or serve any real purpose besides keeping you busy?  Talk to your boss about a more efficient way to handle these chores.

Be ruthless in your pursuit of eliminating redundancies.  When left to their own devices, people love to work for work’s sake – but you absolutely can’t let this behavior go unchecked if you want to get more done in less time.

Step #2 – Ask yourself one important question

After you’ve made your initial pass and weeded out as many redundancies as you can uncover, look at the rest of the tasks that remain assigned to you and ask yourself one simple question: “Is this task necessary or am I doing it to be busy?”

Keep in mind that just because a task isn’t redundant doesn’t mean it’s actually necessary.  This is especially common in corporate settings, where entire processes and procedures are kept in place, “because that’s how things have always been done.”

In these instances, though, you may not be able to be as ruthless about eliminating unnecessary work, as your specific responsibilities may be out of your control.  While you might be heralded as an innovator for drawing attention to corporate inefficiencies, it’s just as likely that the people who have been blindly following these same procedures will be threatened by your proposed upheaval.

However, if you can’t get rid of unnecessary or unimportant tasks by addressing systemic or structural inefficiencies, you’ve still got one productivity trick up your sleeve…

Step #3 – Delegate or outsource tasks

One final way to get more done in less time is to simply not do it yourself!  Outsourcing isn’t just for Fortune 500 companies anymore, and delegation doesn’t require a managerial-level title (often, a well-worded request will be enough to get others to help shoulder your burden).

Consider the following examples to see how these practices could be implemented in your own life:

  • If your job involves a tedious amount of data entry, research or other skills that don’t require your personal involvement, consider outsourcing them to remote workers found on sites like Guru and Elance.  These workers can often be hired for as little as $1.00/hour – just be careful not to outsource any tasks that involve your company’s confidential information!
  • Or, if you’d rather not outsource your professional responsibilities, allow a personal or virtual assistant take some of the burden out of your home life.  When given the right permissions, these remote workers can handle everything from scheduling doctor’s appointments to coordinating your bill payments to creating meal plans and corresponding grocery lists – saving you time that can be better spent elsewhere.
  • You can also look to others in your life to provide the same type of support.  Parts of projects can be passed on to coworkers using persuasive language and careful flattery of their individual skill sets, while household responsibilities can be shared amongst all members of the family.

Too often, it’s tempting to think that we’re the only ones who can handle our responsibilities, when the reality is that we hold on to more than we need to in order to feel more important.  It might take some “outside of the box” thinking to determine how exactly to eliminate unnecessary tasks and share those that can be completed by somebody else, but the end result of getting more done in less time is entirely worth it!

5 Strategies for Getting to “Yes”

Whether you want to experience more success in your business or personal life, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to understand how to get people to say “Yes” to you.

Obviously, this skill will come in handy in sales negotiations, but that’s not the only application for such a vital talent.  Being able to sway people to your side comes in handy when you’re seeking promotions, trying to earn special discounts on major purchases or even asking out a member of the opposite sex.

All of the following strategies are based in an understanding of human psychology, and should improve your odds of getting more “Yes” answers in your life.  Use them wisely, and you could see a major shift in your ability to get what you want!

Strategy #1 – Use the chain of affirmations

Human beings love to be consistent, which is why you’ll often find people standing up with unpopular opinions – simply because counteracting the prevailing wisdom would make them inconsistent in other areas of their lives.  You can use this internal need to your advantage.

The key to the chain of affirmation is to get people to agree to smaller statements that eventually lead up to the question to which you want the “Yes” answer.  For example, consider the following sales negotiation exchange:

Person #1: “Would you consider yourself to be someone who keeps up-to-date on the latest technology?”

Person #2: “Yes, definitely.”

Person #1: “And would you say that adopting these new solutions is a priority for you?”

Person #2: “For sure.”

Person #1: “So you’d be someone who’s interested in learning more about how my product can help you stay on the industry’s cutting-edge?”

At this point in the conversation, Person #2 has established that he’s someone who likes new technology and gadgets.  Therefore, to remain consistent in both his string of “Yes” answers and his personal conception of himself as a technological innovator, he must respond “Yes” to Person #1’s final question – opening the door for more promising sales negotiations.

Strategy #2 – Give people a reason to say “Yes”

Another interesting psychological construct to consider is that people prefer to think of themselves as rational, logical beings – even though we’re often anything but!

Take, for example, an interesting experiment conducted by Harvard research Ellen Langer, as cited in Robert Cialdini’s classic book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”  Langer’s experiment involved approaching people in a crowded copy shop and asking, “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?”

Surprisingly, about 60% said “Yes” to this basic query.  However, Langer’s results improved even more dramatically when she rephrased the question as, “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”  Even though the “reason” given in this scenario was essentially bogus, Langer’s positive response rate shot up to 93%.

If you want people to do something for you – in this case, get to a “Yes” response – give them a reason to do it.  For an even stronger impact, use the word “because” in your request, as this word alone is strong enough to trigger a behavioral sequence that eventually leads to a “Yes” answer.

Strategy #3 – Create scarcity

There’s no arguing with the fact that scarcity is a powerful motivator.  Just think about how your heart starts to race and your palms start to sweat when you’re afraid that you might miss out on a deal you’re interested in.  Hell, companies like Groupon and Living Social have made a killing on this concept by releasing only a limited number of deals on any given day.

Scarcity can be introduced to your interactions in a number of different ways, whether you limit the number of products you’ll sell, the time during which you’ll offer a special promotion or even your availability for potential dates.

However, one thing to steer clear from is introducing artificial scarcity – that is, scarcity that doesn’t really exist.  We’ve all seen sales letters online that promise “limited time offers” and “limited quantities sold,” only to come back months later and see the same sales copy listed unchanged on the page.

If you’re going to use scarcity as a tactic for getting to “Yes,” stick to your guns.  Make your promotions truly special and offer them for a limited time only.  Believe me, your buyers will respond!

Strategy #4 – Encourage reciprocity

Another technique for getting to “Yes” is the idea of reciprocity – that is, the psychological gimmick that “I scratched your back, now you scratch mine.”  Human beings tend to hate being in one another’s debt, so if we feel like someone has gone out of their way to help us, we feel naturally compelled to even the score in some way.

This is one of the many reasons that you see websites offering free products to their visitors.  It isn’t just altruism – it’s also predicated on the idea that giving a reader a free product leaves them in your debt and interested in finding a way to pay you back (preferably through actual product sales).

Again, this technique can be introduced in a number of different ways in a number of different scenarios, but it should be used carefully.  Being too obvious in the fact that you’re helping the people in your life so that you can collect on some perceived debt later doesn’t just destroy your credibility – it’s unlikely to be effective in the long run.

Strategy #5 – Offer social proof

Finally, keep in mind that humans tend to be social creatures – which means that we tend to look at what the crowd is doing before making our own decisions.

You can capitalize on this instinct in your personal and business negotiations by offering social proof.  If you’re a business owner, testimonials from past clients or contact information from references give potential buyers the social proof that others have used your products or services and liked them.  If you’re using this strategy to get a date, having a good friend make your introductions gives potential partners another reference point that will vouch for you.

Really, getting to the “Yes” answers you want in life isn’t that difficult – as long as you maintain a basic understanding of human psychology and the way these ideas can be applied in practice.  Give the techniques described above a try, see which ones come most naturally to you and then hone your skills in this arena so that your persuasive statements come across as confidently as possible.

3 Easy Tricks that Make You a Better Public Speaker

It’s no secret that the fear of public speaking is one of the most often cited phobias on the planet.  Getting up in front of an audience and giving a presentation is often deemed scarier than the highest of heights, the largest of spiders and the darkest of dark rooms.  Really, it’s no wonder that, given the chance, most of us would trade away our life’s savings for a world without public speaking!

Of course, it doesn’t matter how scary public speaking might seem.  All of us will be called on to give public presentations at some point or another in our lives, so it’s worth figuring out how to make the process more comfortable for everyone involved before you’re actually up on stage.

And although simple practice and repetition are the best ways to get over this phobia, the thought of actively seeking out additional public speaking opportunities may sound prohibitively overwhelming to people who are afraid of giving even a single presentation.  So, to bring about the same results without the hours of misery spent forcing yourself to give speech after speech, check out the following tricks that’ll make you a better public speaker right away:

Trick #1 – Speak to a larger crowd

It sounds counterintuitive, but if you’re afraid of getting up in front of people and speaking, look for even more people to give your presentation to!  Here’s why…

When you speak to a small crowd (like a board of directors or small group of potential investors), it’s nearly impossible to avoid making eye contact with every person in the room.  It doesn’t just feel like every set of eyes in the room is boring into you – they are, because you’re the only focal point in a small presentation!  As a result, it’s difficult to determine where to rest your own gaze in a small group, leading to discomfort and anxiety.

In larger settings, you can casually glance over the shoulders of your listeners – creating the impression that you’re making eye contact with others in the room when you’re actually doing anything but.  This makes the speech-giving process 100 times more comfortable, dramatically increasing your likelihood of presentation success.

So, whenever possible, try to expand the size of the crowd to which you’re speaking.  If you’re giving a single-department presentation, ask if others can be invited.  Or, if you’re presenting to a local networking group, hype up your forthcoming speech in order to build up the turnout.  While it won’t be possible to put together a large crowd for every public speaking event you encounter, the times that you’re able to do so will go a long way towards boosting your confidence.

Trick #2 – Tell a personal story

The best public speakers are those who are able to access a range of facial expressions, vocal intonations and physical movements in order to create a dynamic presentation.  But this ease doesn’t often come naturally – especially to people who are terrified of being flung into public speaking situations.

If you find yourself delivering your speech in a monotone voice with a wooden physical demeanor, one thing you can do to access your looser side is to tell your audience a personal story.  By calling up personal memories, you’ll remove yourself from the fear and anxiety – allowing you to convey information in a way that’s more natural and easy-going.

Trick #3 – Remember that everyone’s afraid of public speaking

When you’re speaking to a group of people, it’s natural to feel as if your viewers are judging your every mistake.  Certainly, you’re being hard enough on yourself for every single misstep you perceive – so why wouldn’t your audience members be judging you just as harshly?

Of course, anyone who’s ever sat through a speech given by a clearly-nervous speaker knows that it’s actually the opposite that’s true.  Most presentation attendees aren’t judging you – they’re really on your side and want you to succeed.  Since we can all clearly call up memories of our own disastrous speaking engagements, it’s natural for us to want others to avoid similar discomfort.

So if you’re struggling with nerves before your presentation, look at your audience with a fresh set of eyes and remind yourself that the people in the crowd aren’t there to judge you.  They’ve come to hear your speech with the best of intentions, and they’re all rooting for your success.  Simply reminding yourself that your audience members aren’t out to get you may be enough to allow you to mentally reframe your fears, turning the process of public speaking into something much more comfortable.

Do you have any other tricks that have helped you to get over the anxiety of speaking in public?  If so, share your recommendations with fellow readers by posting your advice in the comments section below!