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Don’t Fall Into This Trap

  Whatever you do, don’t fall into this trap. It’s one of the easiest ones to get snagged by because of all the demands on your time and energy. If you’re not careful it’ll sneak up on you and grab you.   Watch today’s video to find out what it is and the better alternative. It will make all the difference in the level of impact you’re able to make on the organizations and people that matter most to you.   It’ll only take a minute so watch it now. And, give me some feedback by entering a comment below.   Question: How are you avoiding this trap? [question]dont-get-trapped[/question]
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Three Ways Multitasking is Killing Your Productivity

Afew weeks ago I was interviewing a candidate for an important office position for one of my clients. I asked the person to describe their strengths.  
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  One of the first answers out of their mouth was, “I’m really good at multi-tasking.”   When you hear that, what’s your first response?   Mine used to be a very positive one. After all, we live in a high-demand, fast-paced, globally-connected world. Who wouldn’t want someone who is a great multitasker on their team?   But the science is increasingly making clear the dangers of multitasking. Studies are showing that multitasking actually impairs our cognitive ability and reduces the speed with which we are able to accomplish tasks.   That means a remarkable decrease in the quality and quantity of output from those who are “heavy multitaskers.” Professor Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, Rules for Focused Work in a Distracted World, tells us that even a glance at another media stream creates what he calls “attention residue,” which can significantly decrease cognitive ability for 10-20 minutes. As he put it, heavy multitaskers are regularly “working with a serious, self-imposed cognitive handicap.” When we’re multitasking we’re actually shooting ourselves in the foot. How do you feel about it now?  

A New Economy

For many of us, who are increasingly involved in a “knowledge work” economy, this could be disastrous. In this type of economy Newport states that there are two core abilities that are needed in order to thrive: 1) The ability to quickly master hard things and 2) The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.   Unfortunately, with the rise of multitasking, many of us are operating from a place of severe disadvantage and deficit that we’ve brought upon ourselves.   Here are three specific ways that multitasking is killing our ability to thrive.

Falling Into Our Own Trap

Multitasking, for our purposes, involves the rapid or (apparently) simultaneous intake of various forms of media. Imagine the scene below. Given our current environment it shouldn’t be all that unfamiliar.   You are sitting at your desk. On your laptop you have three different windows that are currently open. Just a few feet away, two of your team members are discussing a situation that involves one of your key clients. In your hand is your mobile phone with which you are currently receiving multiple texts. At the same time, notifications are popping up to let you know that the Cubs just took a 3-1 lead over the Cardinals and that a press conference regarding the latest hurricane is starting in any minute.   As scary as it is, the scene I just described above is not uncommon.   Based on the research done by Clifford Nass and two of his associates at Stanford University, here are three abilities being negatively affected by multitasking.   1. The ability to filter. This is the ability to ignore irrelevant information and focus on relevant information. In other words, the ability to avoid distractions and concentrate on what is most important at that moment.   According to Nass, for those who are highly involved in multitasking, “everything distracts them.” In another interview he said, “Multitaskers are suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant, and so the more irrelevant information they see, the more they’re attracted to it.”   Because they’re inundating themselves with so much input, they are actually training their minds to not be able to focus, even when they’re not multitasking.   One of Nass’ colleagues from Stanford added, “When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Anthony Wagner, an associate professor of psychology. “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”   2. The ability to manage your working memory. This refers to our ability to keep our memories neatly organized, including the information we gather. As a result, this relates to our ability to access that information when and where it’s needed, and then relate it to other pieces of information in ways that make sense.   According to another one of Nass’ colleagues, Eyal Ophir, “The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds.”   Nass spoke about one outcome of this in a lecture series he gave at Stanford in 2011 where he stated that writing samples from freshman multitaskers showed a tendency toward shorter sentences and disconnected paragraphs. He said that they were seeing less complex ideas expressed by the students. This was likely due to this inability to manage all the information that was being stored.   Unfortunately, in our knowledge economy, the ability to think creatively and solve difficult problems quickly is essential. This requires a high degree of skill in managing our working memory, which involves drawing upon what we’ve learned previously.   3. The ability to switch from one task to another. For the researchers this was the one that surprised them the most. This was the one thing they assumed these heavy multitaskers were good at, because it certainly appeared as though they were.   Wrong again, the study showed. According to Ophir, “They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing.”   So, while from the outside it looks like multitaskers are talented at switching from one thing to another, they’re actually not doing the next task as well or as quickly as they could if their brains were better trained to focus.   According to Cal Newport, the ability to focus is actually a skill that can be learned and mastered.  
By doing less, you might accomplish more.

Clifford Nass


A Change of Tune

Interestingly, instrumental music, seems to be the one modality that doesn’t seem to lead to problems with multitasking. In some cases, it actually improved cognitive performance.   According to various studies, the style, tempo and volume can all have an impact on your level of energy and ability to concentrate. Baroque and classical music seem to be the best for those who need to perform at high levels in the knowledge work arena.   Question: What’s your reaction to this research? [question]multitasking-killing-productivity[/question]  
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How to Add Hours To Your Day

Have you ever felt like you needed more time in the day?  
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  I know that’s a ridiculous question. Why? Because I know that’s how you feel most days. I would venture to say that you might even feel this way almost every day. I know because that has all too often been my own experience. It’s the experience of every high performer.   So, like you, I’ve tried to figure out how to become better at time management. I’ve researched a variety of avenues to identify the most effective time management philosophies and systems, and the most helpful productivity hacks and tools. And, I would say that I have achieved a good measure of success.   In my search I found three things that have really helped me a lot. Getting Things Done (GTD) , by David Allen is an incredibly effective system undergirded by an extremely insightful philosophy. Evernote and Nozbe are two software tools that I have combined with GTD to really take my game up a few notches.   But within the last two years I’ve discovered something even more important and it has nothing to do with managing time better. I still remember the first time I heard the title of the book. Actually it was the subtitle that caught my attention. “Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.”   That really came out of left field for me. I’d never thought about managing my energy in order to get more done. But that has all changed. I’m a believer.   I don’t have room in this blog post to lay it all out, but the bottom line is that an increased level of energy has an enormous impact on the gains you can experience in productivity.   Let me very briefly share with you four simple things that have changed the game for me.

Energy Creating Steps

The first three items below have definitely had the most immediate and noticeable impact, but the last one has been scientifically proven to move the needle with regards to energy and productivity.   1. Remaining deeply connected to a strong sense of purpose. This is huge for sure. The more confident I am that what I’m doing is making a difference in the world and that it’s a significant part of the reason why I’m here, the more energized I will be and remain.   This has an impact at both an intellectual and an emotional level. You want to know that what you’re doing is important. Everyone does.   Last year I revised my personal mission statement and the core values, or principles, that drive me. I also created some life goals. To keep these top of mind for me I have created a note in Evernote that has them spelled out clearly and have also created a habit of reviewing them each Monday morning.   This basic review and few moments allows me to connect what I am doing this week with a compelling vision. That sense of being on mission is deeply satisfying and energizing.   2. Taking a nap. This may sound wimpy or difficult, or both. Actually, as busy as I am, I’ve found it rather easy to work this into my schedule three or four times per week. And I’ve been surprised by how big of a difference this has made for me.   I created a playlist on my phone of relaxing music that I play almost every time I take my nap. This habit has increased the effectiveness of my nap, because as soon as my brain hears that music set it knows it’s time to shut down and rest. I only take 15-20 minutes to lie down and rest, but it has transformed my afternoons.   I used to think naps were for babies and young children. Not anymore.   3. Getting into a basic exercise routine. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years. I took positive steps last year, but have really ramped it up in the last six months. I used to think I didn’t have time for this. I knew better, but it was a convenient excuse.   I haven’t gotten fanatical about it. I’m taking measured, intentional steps forward. I work out for about 45-50 minutes three or four days a week. I’m combining interval training on the treadmill or recumbent bike with strength training in the weight room.   My older children and I leave the house about 5:45am and are home by 7:30am. We’ve all worked out, showered and are dressed and ready for the day. It used to be really hard for me to get up early, but doing it together with my family has definitely made it much easier, and now the habit is firmly established and my body expects it.   4. Creating a rhythm of sprints and breaks. There is a significant amount of science behind this, but let me give you the super duper cliff notes version. Our minds and bodies are not really made to stay engaged at peak levels for overly long periods of time. Research has revealed that doing our work in 90-minute sprints, with short (10-15 minute) breaks in between, is the best way to achieve maximum performance.   As an introvert I have an inherent ability to sit and work for hours on end. And, there are going to be times when that is necessary. But that’s not the most productive way to schedule my work. Our bodies can endure these days every now and then, but aren’t designed for it consistently.   Identify simple ways to step away from your work for short periods, like listening to music, taking a short walk, doing stretching exercises or getting a cup of coffee and chatting with a friend. Be intentional about working these breaks into your day and commit to high intensity concentration and output during the 90-minute work sprints.  

Encouraged and Anticipating

I can literally feel the difference in my energy level because of these small adjustments in my day. It’s been very encouraging. And, I continue to look at my calendar and try to find ways to build in more daily naps and a more consistent set of sprints and breaks.   There’s also more to this science that I have yet to study and implement so I am filled with a strong sense of anticipation of the productivity gains that await me as I improve my energy management.   Question: Which one of these do you think would be the easiest for you to implement and what is one step you can take this week to begin? [question]add-hours-tod-day[/question]  
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How Evernote Has Made Life So Much Easier

Do you remember where you were? I do…like it was yesterday. How could I forget? The day I met Evernote changed my life.


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Actually, I’m totally serious…about remembering I mean.  I remember that day with extreme clarity. It was at least three years ago. I was doing a training event in Cedar Rapids, IA. On a break one of the trainees pulled me aside and showed me this cool app he had on his iPhone. He had no idea what he was starting.

And in some ways it really has changed my life. I don’t want to sound goofy, or too much like a techno-geek, but this tool has made an enormous difference in the organization of my entire life, not just work.

For those of you who don’t know already, I have a wife and nine children, own my own business, pastor a small church, lead a community coalition and am on two Boards. So, I have a few things going on in my life. But, so do you.

Like you, I have an overload of input in my life. Multiple email accounts, snail mail, texts, Slack channels, conversations, meetings, projects, blogs and books I read, websites I visit, and the list could go on and on. It makes me a little tired, just typing all that out.

Evernote has completely changed the game for me. I keep everything in Evernote. Everything I can digitize, that is. It’s the most amazing, electronic filing cabinet I’ve ever found. I have very little paper left in my life except my faithful Bible and journal. I still like hardcopy versions of those, although I did journal in Evernote for a couple of years.

Here are six (6) quick ways that Evernote has transformed things for me and can for you too.

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The Five Best Things to Do When You Don’t Have Enough Time

As I have interacted with my clients and other leaders over the last eight years, one topic has emerged above all others as a primary, ongoing frustration – not enough time. So let’s examine that feeling of not having enough time.


Photo Courtesy of Workspace Creative and Danielle Trista Photography

As a busy and successful leader you are not unfamiliar with the state of being overwhelmed. The input and demands are constantly coming at you through email, text messages, phone calls, knocks on the door and notifications from your calendar, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter …and ESPN. It can be paralyzing. We all know the emptiness of “I didn’t have time” as an excuse.

People are looking to you for leadership. You need figure out how to get out of the fog and back into the game. Whenever I find myself in this situation, there are five simple things I do to get my head back on straight and moving forward again.

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