8 Tips and Resources to Help Small Businesses Thrive

Small-Business-Thrive

Starting and owning a small business can be demanding. At LightArrow, we have first-hand knowledge of the challenges that entrepreneurs, founders and startups face. Today, we’re sharing some of the top 8 problems that small businesses face and tips for overcoming these challenges.

1. Grow On a Shoestring Budget

No matter what type of business you’re in, marketing is essential to grow your business. Plus, having a website and a social media presence is crucial for small business success. A website is the core of your marketing efforts and social media builds credibility, generates leads and improves your website’s rankings.

Many startups and small businesses are on a shoestring budget, but this shouldn’t stop them from effectively marketing their products and services through a website. Building a website without a web developer on staff may seem daunting to non-technical entrepreneurs, but it can be easier than you think.

To get started with a website, research content management systems such as WordPress to find one that’s appropriate for your skill level. Take advantage of resources such as Lynda.com to learn how to properly set up a website. Research effective information architecture techniques to ensure you’re delivering material in a way that’s easy to consume.

Once your website is built, add new content to it regularly through a blog or forum that’s suitable for your audience. Drive traffic to your website through Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and Social Media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Quora and LinkedIn.

Investing time and energy into social media is crucial, but many new business owners believe that it isn’t necessary for success. However, social media is vital for building brand and awareness. And in fact, according to Hubspot, 71% of people are more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals.

2. Improve Your Working Capital

In order for a business to thrive, it needs working capital and proper money management is among one of the top qualities of successful businesses. It’s important to calculate your working capital needs by finding the difference between current assets and liabilities.

In some cases, you might find your sales are not what you expected and working capital might be an issue in order to keep your business running. Or, your business is able to use cash on hand to fund operations, but it needs more cash to invest in advertising, product development, software, inventory or other resources in order to grow. If working capital is an issue, consider using an online provider of business loans, such as Kabbage to grow your business. They offer loans ranging from $2,000 to $100,000 for small businesses.

3. Build Good Customer Relationships

80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers. -Gartner

Never underestimate the power of your satisfied customers. Happy customers are your best salespeople. And, just like in any type of relationship, communication is the key to success. Timely follow-ups after purchases to check customer satisfaction, to offer free content for customer empowerment and to provide rewards through programs can increase customer satisfaction.

However, managing these types of follow-ups can be difficult so many small businesses use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. If you’re a freelancer, real estate agent, single entrepreneur, or if you run a microbusiness, you can utilize LifeTopix to manage your follow-ups with customers. You can learn more at: Successful CRM Recipes for the Small Business Owner.

If you require an automated and cost-effective way to communicate with existing customers, you can utilize an email marketing platform suitable for small businesses, such as MailChimp, Aweber or Constant Contact.

With email marketing software, you can create personalized welcome programs for new customers and nurture programs for potential customers. If you use Ecommerce, you can automate customer retention programs by integrating your email marketing with your Ecommerce platform.

4. Use Time Management Techniques

When you become an entrepreneur or run a small business, you say goodbye to the 40-hour work week. You’re on call 24×7 and good time management is vital for success and it also prevents burnout. Goal setting, planning, prioritization, delegation and focus are time management tactics that are vital for a successful small business.

When setting goals, they should be S.M.A.R.T. For example, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Once you’ve decided on your goals, record them and put an action plan into place.

An action plan or follow-through strategy should include projects, tasks and the necessary resources. Define the work that’s required to reach your goals. Break the work down into tasks and assign those tasks to the resources who are available.

Effective entrepreneurs and small business owners have mastered delegation. They understand that some projects and tasks don’t require their supervision. They’ve learned that they can delegate these tasks to others in order to focus on strategic goals, relationship building and priorities.

Finally, focus is very important for entrepreneurs. Customer requests, advice from investors and advisors, employee demands and changing markets are just a few of the distractions that leaders balance every day. It’s important to stay on a clearly defined path and to avoid running off of course. Take advice from lean startups and get laser-focused your priorities and eliminate what’s not essential.

5. Hire the Right People

Hiring the right people for your small business or startup can be challenging. It takes a unique personality and set of skills to thrive in a lean, small business environment.

Consider that the people you hire will be working close together so they need to fit your company culture like a glove. They need to be willing to push up their sleeves and do the work themselves. It’s best to hire people who know how to do the job, not just how to manage the right people. Generally, they should have a wide variety of skills, rather than to be focused on a specific, niche area.

Startup and small business hires need to know what to do and when to do it without being asked. Hire senior employees and team them up with junior personnel.

Most recruiting firms are cost prohibitive for small businesses. Stay lean by taking advantage of your own informal and formal networks, LinkedIn and local job boards to find employees. Attract new employees by offering incentives that larger companies cannot, such as flexible work schedules, work from home days and stock options.

6. Improve Your Online Reputation

Online ratings can make or break a business. How often do you check Yelp before you visit a restaurant, salon, yoga studio or other business? Do you check the rating of an app or other product before you download or purchase it? Consumers regularly use online reviews to check the quality of a business or product before purchasing it.

The best way to avoid negative ratings and reviews is to have open communication with customers and solve their problems before they write negative comments. You should always provide a way for them to easily get in touch with you and subsequently deliver exemplary customer service.

No matter how wonderful your product or service might be, there will always be someone who won’t like it. It’s just the nature of doing business. When a negative review surfaces, it’s important to do everything possible to win that customer over.

Monitoring and responding to reviews is essential to keep ratings up. For example, I left a 4 star review on Yelp for an establishment that provides food and mentioned that the quality of the food had decreased. The manager contacted me directly and asked me specifically about the issue, provided coupons for free food and his note was friendly and kind. After this, I raised my review to 5 stars.

Check review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Reviews, and Yahoo Local reviews regularly. Respond to every review for sites that allow it, including both negative and positive reviews. In addition, you can set up Google Alerts to notify you of any online activity about your business.

7. Compete with Larger Companies

Many small businesses are competing against the big guys, who have enormous marketing budgets, connections with top public relations firms and can hire the best talent. Nonetheless, you can still succeed if you maintain focus. Focus on a specialty that the bigger companies are spread too thin to cover. Devote your time and resources to that niche and grow when the timing is right.

As a small company, focus on your pricing models. It’s possible that you can provide better products and services at a lower price than the larger companies if your company is running lean.

Above all, big companies tend to lose touch with their customers. Be a customer-centric company. Go above and beyond to ensure your customers are satisfied. Like I said before, your customers are your best salespeople; therefore, this strategy will pay off.

8. Optimize the Supply Chain

Recently, I discovered the small clothing company, American Giant who became an overnight success when Slate ran the article, “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made.”

What’s exciting about American Giant is they have redefined the supply chain by selling their products directly from the warehouse to the consumer, thus, investing in the quality of their clothing and passing the savings to their customers. Essentially, they’re shadowing the same model that software manufacturers have followed for years, which is direct-to-customer. They’ve removed unnecessary steps in the supply chain, which eliminates overhead costs associated with most clothing manufacturers.

The lesson learned? Don’t be afraid of creatively solving problems related to your supply chain. For small businesses to thrive, it’s vital to deliver quality products or services to your customers in a timely way. By identifying, reducing or eliminating non-value added activities in the supply chain; you can optimize profits and gain a competitive advantage.

Your Turn

What are the biggest challenges facing your small company? How have you overcome these problems? Please share your story or ideas in the comments below.

10 Amazing Quotes and Lessons Learned from Successful Entrepreneurs

Business Leadership

Nobody ever said that entrepreneurship is easy. Customer acquisition, fear of failure, building a brand, money management and balancing quality and growth are just a few of the challenges that small business owners and entrepreneurs face every day.

One method to follow when you get frustrated or think you’ll never succeed is to research the strategies of successful entrepreneurs, start-up founders and inspirational leaders. Here, we compiled 10 quotes and lessons learned from some of the most successful modern entrepreneurs and leaders.

Eric Ries

Eric Ries is the author of “The Lean Startup,” and is one of the founders of IMVU.

Eric Ries

Ries’s quote reminds entrepreneurs that sometimes it’s necessary  to take a “test and learn” approach. Experimentation is a valuable tool for determining the efficacy of a new product or service. Don’t be afraid to perform business experiments. Some experiments might pay off; others might fail. Nonetheless, you’ll gain valuable insight and data.

Aaron Levie

Aaron Levie is one of the founders of Box, launched in 2005. Box is a file sharing and cloud content management service.

Aaron Levie

I discovered this quote when reading “The Way I Work: Aaron Levie, Box” at Inc. Magazine. It reminds me that startups must move at the speed of light. They don’t have time for bureaucracy, politics and pontification. Entrepreneurs must invent simple solutions for complex problems. When nonsense slows them down, strong leadership prevails.

Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. He is the CEO of the clothing and shoe online retailer, Zappos.com.

Tony Hsieh

Zappos is known for their incredible culture and happy employees. What I find inspiring about Hsieh’s quote is that he understands and embraces the intangible value of happiness. This quote is a great reminder that employee happiness and engagement leads to profits and success.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is an entrepreneur, investor and engineer. He is the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors.

Elon Musk

Success takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. Many entrepreneurs are innately impatient, and this can actually be an amazing quality because they push their employees to success. However, if entrepreneurs are too impatient, they might give up before seeing the success they deserve.

Bel Pesce

Bel Pesce is an accomplished author and has launched several startups, including Ooyala and Lemon Wallet. She is the founder of the FazINOVA school, a private business school founded in 2013.Bel Pesce

This quote is from Pesce’s TED Talk entitled, “5 Ways to Kill Your Dreams.” It’s a great reminder that it’s human nature to become complacent when you’re experiencing success. Pesce’s quote reminds entrepreneurs that it’s necessary to keep pushing even after they’ve reached their initial goals.

Chip Conley

Chip Conley reached success by building Joie de Vivre Hospitality, which is a boutique hotel and restaurant company based in San Francisco. He is an accomplished author and inspirational speaker. I encourage you to watch Conley’s TED talks. They are both inspiring and educational for business leaders or anyone else who wants to find joy in their lives.

Chip Conley

Conley has discovered the importance of emotional intelligence and how it enhances leadership ability. This quote reminds entrepreneurs to examine emotions when making decisions — data, facts, risk and complexity are not the only factors to consider.

Reid Hoffman

Reid Hoffman is best known as one of the founders of the social networking site for business people, LinkedIn.

Reid Hoffman

This quote reminds business leaders that at times it becomes necessary to re-invent to stay relevant. The competitive landscape changes, the market shifts or new opportunities present themselves, which makes transformation inevitable.

An example that immediately comes to mind is the shift from print to digital media. The Atlantic is a great example of a company that successfully made a transformation. The magazine was founded in 1857. They embraced a digital-first strategy to stay relevant in a dying print magazine industry and are currently successful, reporting revenue highs in Q1, 2015.

Sara Blakely

Sara Blakely is the founder of Spanx a highly-successful hosiery company.

Sara Blakely

This quote is a great reminder that entrepreneurs can learn from anyone. Business owners and leaders should take every opportunity to learn from customers, mentors, employees or peers and to embrace the knowledge that’s gained. Being open to a new point of view or perspective can be gold.

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales is most well known as one of the founders of the Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales

I first heard this quote when watching a 60 Minutes Interview. Morley Safer asked Jimmy Wales why he passed up billions by making Wikipedia a nonprofit. I was intrigued by his humbleness and by how he’s embraced the meaningfulness of his work. The lesson learned? Never lose sight of why you created your business. Find meaning in your work.

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is most well known as the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. She is a successful author and speaker.

Arianna Huffington

In her book, Becoming Fearless, Huffington discusses the challenges of being assertive and aggressive, specifically for female leaders. This quote is a great reminder for business leaders — especially those who are introverts. When it’s the right time, speak up, be assertive and conquer your fears.

Make the Leap

As an entrepreneur or business leader, what’s holding you back? The next time you need inspiration, think about the ten ideas you read about today.

  • Test and Learn
  • Move at the Speed of Light
  • Embrace Happiness
  • Be Patient
  • Push to a Higher Peak
  • Tap into Emotions
  • Constantly Re-invent
  • Never Stop Learning
  • Don’t Lose Perspective
  • Be Fearless

Is there something you liked about this story? Is there a quote that inspires you? Let us know in the comments.

10 Secrets of Highly Productive People

Productive PeopleTo some, it’s a mystery why many people are driven to action, while some people have a difficult time getting things done. Research indicates that genetics might play a role in motivation (specifically for exercise); however, there are secrets that productive people know that keep them in the fast lane. Keep in mind, these methods can be adopted by just about anyone.

If you want to get more done, without jeopardizing your health or well being, get to know the secrets of productive people that we’ve outline for you today.

1. Productive People Establish Routines

A routine is a daily recipe or roadmap — a guide to follow every day the same way. Productive people, who are juggling work, school, children, a household or other obligations, follow a daily routine. A daily routine is essential for becoming efficient and productive.

Productive people first establish a routine for the simple things, such as brushing their teeth and making their beds; then they make routines for more complicated activities, such as making a to-do list each morning for work or school that outlines each day’s obligations.

Why it Works

When you establish a consistent schedule, you’re less likely to encounter the unexpected. Unexpected activities are the things that slow you down. For example, imagine you can’t find your keys in the morning. If you have a routine of placing your keys in the same place every evening, you’ll know where to find them every time. The action becomes automatic.

2. Productive People Use Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).

Some researchers believe that Emotional Intelligence is innate, while others believe it can be developed. To improve EI, take note of others’ body language, voice patterns and other verbal and non-verbal cues as to their state of mind and feelings.

Why it Works

People who use Emotional Intelligence information make better decisions based on emotional information from themselves and others. Emotional Intelligence can be used to prioritize life tasks, problem solve, and to lead and communicate effectively.

Comprehending and recognizing your own emotions can motivate you to work toward the accomplishment of your goals. Understanding the emotions of others helps you empathize and prioritize by taking into consideration emotional cues. For example, when making decisions regarding tasks that are important to complete at work, considering management’s feelings can guide you in the right direction.

3. Productive People Read Books

In the modern days of on-demand television, online books, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, reading books might appear old-fashioned and passé. However, highly productive people never stop learning, and they make time to read books — regularly for leisure and for learning. Books provide a new perspective and allow individuals to escape.

Why it Works

There are several productivity benefits of reading books. Reading provides stress relief, improves vocabulary, improves sleep, keeps your mind sharp and improves focus.

Making reading a nighttime ritual can set you up for a good night’s sleep, which increases productivity. However, make sure that your reading material is made from paper because lights from electronic devices actually inhibit sleep. Light exposure before sleeping suppresses the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep.

4. Productive People Listen to the Beat of Their Own Drum

Everybody is different. Some people are morning people. Others are not. Some like to work in spurts, while others keep a steady pace throughout the day. Some like to work in a quiet room, while others thrive in a busy coffee shop.

What’s important is knowing what works for you. Keeping a diary of productive times and places helps you harness the power of your own rhythm and personal style.

Why it Works

Self-awareness is the ability to have an understanding of your personality – and in this context, your work style. Becoming aware of what works and doesn’t work empowers you to alter behavior to set yourself up for success.

5. Productive People Work With Passion

Productive people wake up each day with a passion for their life and work. Their day gives them meaning and purpose and they cherish every moment of it. They’re motivated by their goals and the tasks they’re taking to accomplish them. Passion doesn’t come naturally; productive people go out and search for it.

Steve Jobs once said,

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.”

This doesn’t mean that you should immediately quit your job to pursue your passion of becoming a golf pro or polo player. It’s important to love what you do — not necessarily to do what you love. Focus on what is meaningful about your work and you’ll feel satisfaction from it.

Why it Works

Those who feel truly successful are proud of the work that they’ve accomplished. There’s always something to feel good about at work — appreciate your achievements. Being delighted about your accomplishments motivates and encourages you to keep going.

6. Productive People Don’t Let Others Tell Them What They Can’t Do

Limitations are something that unproductive people know well. Self-imposed and external limitations squash productivity. Productive people don’t let others hold them back from the greatness that they can achieve. They see their goal and keep going no matter what others might say.

Don’t let the naysayers impose limits on you. Distance yourself and keep your eye on the prize.

Why it Works

It goes without saying that focusing on the positive, rather than the negative fosters success and productivity. Those who focus on the goal and are passionate about it are likely to achieve it.

7. Productive People Practice Self-Restraint

Self-restraint is one of the most difficult practices to achieve, and learning self-control is challenging for many. Productive people know that limiting temptations, such as time wasting activities, can lead to enhanced productivity.

It’s important to recognize when self-restraint is an issue. Keep a diary of wasted time. There are practices that can help you learn self-control. Software and apps can block and limit distractions. Practicing yoga and meditation increases self-awareness and control. Eventually, self-control becomes automatic or a habit and it comes naturally.

Why it Works

Reducing time-wasters, such as television, video games, unhealthy snack breaks, etc. shifts attention to the important tasks at hand. When self-control is no longer an issue, focus becomes easier and time becomes free to do the things you really want to do — without guilt.

8. Productive People Experience Life

People who are productive get out of their comfort zone and experience all life has to offer. They crave new experiences, travel, pursue education and socialize often. Every new life experience is an opportunity to learn something new. Powerful, exciting and new life experiences provide important memories that people reflect upon for years.

Why it Works

It’s simple. Interesting life experiences foster joy, learning and contentment. Happier people work harder and are more productive. Productive people make better decisions based on past life experiences — whether those experiences are good or bad.

9. Productive People Say “No”

One of the most important skills to learn is to say, “no.” Management consultant, educator and author, Peter Drucker, once said,

“Efficiency is doing the thing right. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.”

Productive people know when requests don’t align to their personal goals or professional goals. They understand how to prioritize and which tasks and activities to focus on. They know what can be deferred or ignored. They know when it’s the right decision to say “no.”

Why it Works

When time is limited and demands are insurmountable, prioritization becomes more important than ever. Saying yes to everything wastes time, sacrifices quality of work and can be overwhelming. Learning to say no to meetings, invitations and projects that don’t move the needle is hard to do, but advances productive people to meet their most important demands.

10. Productive People Schedule and Record Everything

Do you get anxiety about forgetting your daily obligations? Many of us do. Holding too many items in our heads creates excessive stress and anxiety.

According to studies, most people are only able to remember three to four things in the mind at once. If you’re the average person and not a master of memory, use a paper calendar or mobile app to manage schedules and obligations.

Why it Works

Recording commitments, ideas and goals ensures that you won’t miss appointments and other obligations, but also reduces the anxiety associated with forgetting those items. A reliable mobile calendar or personal organizer provides you with audible and visible reminders to keep you on track.

Your Turn

What are your secrets for success, motivation and productivity? Please comment and share!

8 Best Life Hacks to Beat Procrastination

LightArrow Stop Procrastination

No matter how brainy, ambitious and gifted you are, if you lack the willpower to get things done it’s difficult to achieve success. Before you give up on yourself, understand it’s natural to procrastinate. Everybody does it – some more than others.

To help you stop procrastinating and to get things done, we compiled a list of our favorite life hacks for slaying the procrastination monster.

1. Don’t Get Stuck in Analysis Paralysis

Don’t overthink a project or task before you get started on it. If you dwell on it, no action will be taken – hence paralysis. Planning projects is important, but if you get stuck in the planning phase before you have every unknown answered, it’s impossible to move forward. Set a time limit for project planning and just get going. Answers will become apparent and blockages will be resolved as time passes.

2. Beware of High Standards

Have you ever heard the quote by Voltaire, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good?” If you fall into the trap of failing to get started on a project because you have the fear that it won’t be perfect, you’ll never get moving. I always remind myself, especially in creative endeavors, that perfection is subjective. My perception of perfect is completely different than your perception of perfect. Let go of your fear and move forward. Forget perfection and focus on progress.

3. Work Against the Clock

Sometimes we procrastinate on starting a project because we think we have a long time to do it. Have you ever heard of Parkinson’s Law? Cyril Parkinson, a British historian, identified this scientific law in 1955. Essentially, it identifies that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. For example, if you give yourself a week to write an essay it will essentially take the entire week instead of a more appropriate time period, such as a few hours.

You can beat procrastination by setting a deadline for all your tasks and by determining the appropriate amount of time to complete them. Set aside the proper amount of time for your tasks at hand and stick to the schedule. Schedule these projects and tasks on your calendar or place them in a to-do list with an appropriate time limit.

4. Find Value in Your Projects or Tasks

Often times we procrastinate on tasks because we don’t believe they have any value. If your tasks aren’t aligned to your goals in work and life then it’s difficult to get motivated to get started. Examine the value of the task. For example, perhaps you’re on the high school football team and you’re focused on becoming a professional football player. In your situation, studying for your Algebra exam might seem like a low priority; however, passing grades are required to stay on the team. Focus on the value of good grades to get started and stay motivated.

5. Break it Down

In work and life there’s always tasks and chores that we find mundane. It’s just a fact of life. Whether it’s doing laundry, working out, creating your weekly status report or making dinner – there’s always tasks that you can’t escape. Of course, many of us tend to procrastinate on these humdrum tasks.

Breaking chores and tasks into smaller chunks is a great way to tame the procrastination beast. The task or chore doesn’t seem as daunting if you break it down. For example, don’t create your weekly status report one hour before it’s due on Friday afternoon. During the week, add your accomplishments to the status report as you complete them. This way, you can reward yourself with a less stressful Friday afternoon at the office, and also make it home on time.

6. Get Started When Your World is Asleep

When I’ve given into procrastination, a trick that I personally use to get back on track is to shift my schedule and complete daunting tasks late at night or early in the morning when everyone else is sleeping. This way, I’m completely uninterrupted by phone calls, barking dogs, email, meetings or other distractions. This strategy helps me to laser focus on the task and finish it well before the deadline. I recommend using this strategy sparingly because lack of sleep can be a significant deterrent to getting things done.

7. Control Impulses

Sometimes it’s difficult to control impulses or urges to do something more entertaining than the tasks we know we need to do. For example, how often do you find yourself watching videos, playing games or reading Twitter posts instead of getting started on an important project or task?

WebMD explains that some of us tend to give into impulses easier than others due to the coordination between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the right orbitofrontal cortex. Furthermore, studies concluded that teenagers with less volume in the right orbitofrontal cortex might be more susceptible to lack of impulse control, such as alcohol abuse. The same article explains that it’s never too late to improve impulse control. Marc N. Potenza, MD recommends that you give yourself a small, healthy reward that will lead to a bigger payoff later when you don’t give into your impulses.

8. Work a To-do List into Your Daily Routine

If you’re prone to procrastination, creating a to-do list should be automatic as brushing your teeth every day. Working a to-do list into your daily routine can be key to getting things done. I recommend that you create your to-do list the night before so you’re ready to get started each morning without delay. A daily to-do list usually consists of approximately three to five tasks to complete every day. Immediately start with the most difficult task on your list. This way, you’re working on the task that requires the most energy when you’re fresh.

Our starter productivity app, My.Agenda, is a great way to get started with making a daily to-do list in a digital format with an iPhone or iPad. You can find it for .99 cents at the Apple App Store.

Your Turn

What are your favorite tips for slaying the procrastination monster? Please share!

8 Common Myths and Fallacies About Productivity

LightArrow Questions

What if I told you that the things you think are true about productivity are actually detrimental to getting things done? Let me guess. You’re doing all the right things that you believe will help you get the stuff done that you really want to do, but it’s not happening. You’re frustrated, burned out and simply tired.

If you’ve been following the rules outlined below, consider shifting your perceptions and adjusting your work habits. These different ideas might enhance your productivity in ways you never thought were possible.

1. Myth – It Pays to Work Hard – Keep Your Head Down

Do you believe that working harder, better and faster is the Holy Grail for getting things done? Do you think that if you could just focus better, keep your head down and “push through” then you’ll magically produce more and more each day? If you believe that you’ll be an instant success when you eliminate breaks, get to work earlier and stay later, you’re fooling yourself.

Are you the person who realizes that after a long day at work you sat at your desk or in meetings all day and never took a bathroom break? Admit it, we’ve all done it. If this is you, keep reading. Working harder and “pushing through” is a vicious cycle that leads to burnout. It takes a toll on you emotionally, psychologically and physically. Recently, a tweet caught my eye that compared prolonged sitting to cigarette smoking, stating, “Sitting is the new cigarette.” This is a powerful statement that led me to research how prolonged sitting affects the body and mind.

An article from the Mayo Clinic indicates that adults in a study that spent more than four hours a day sitting while watching a screen, had a 50 percent increased risk of death from multiple causes and a 125 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease. If this doesn’t convince you to get up and moving, then my message isn’t compelling enough. Keep reading.

Earlier I wrote a post about Ultradian Rhythms and the science of why taking breaks enhances productivity. Taking breaks is truly a little known and surprising method for boosting problem solving, creativity and productivity. Set a timer for 90 – 120 minutes. Then, take a 20-minute break after that time period ends. Experiment with this method and observe if you’re achieving the productivity benefits you’re hoping for.

2. Myth – Procrastination is Bad

I’m certain that during your life, you’ve come to the conclusion that procrastination is a trait that’s considered undesirable – an unwelcome guest that sneaks up and steals your productivity right out from under you. Change your perception about procrastination. Make it your friend, but not your BFF.

The key to making procrastination work for you is to first recognize it for what it is. Is there a task that needs to be done, but you’re dreading it so it’s been put on the back burner? Is there a daunting project looming that you don’t have the time or energy to complete? Consider how important and urgent this task or project really is. Rank it in importance of all the other projects and tasks that are present in your work and life. How will avoiding this task or project affect you?

Align your goals, tasks and priorities. If the task you’re putting off isn’t going to move the needle toward your most important goals, then put it aside – go ahead and procrastinate and stop feeling guilty. It’s not worth your energy. If you simply don’t have time given the other priorities in your work or life, set this task aside, outsource it or delegate it. As long as your making progress on what YOU believe are the most important or urgent tasks, then you’ve mastered the art of procrastination.

3. Myth – All Multi-tasking is Harmful

In the recent past, multi-tasking was considered a trait of highly effective people. It was a characteristic to brag about to friends and coworkers. Recently, productivity experts and researchers have flagged multi-tasking as a habit that reduces productivity and impairs intellectual ability. I agree, rapid multi-tasking is detrimental to productivity. If you’re shifting back and forth from many tasks or getting frequently interrupted, you lose focus and ultimately efficiency suffers.

On the other hand, I never believe in extremes. A limited amount of multi-tasking can make you more efficient, depending on the type of tasks you’re executing. For example, imagine you’re a teacher and you also have children who play baseball or soccer. While you’re waiting at their practice, spend time grading papers and you’ll have more quality 1-on-1 time with your kids when you return home. Discover which tasks don’t require a lot of thought and those are the tasks that can be done in the background. Think of your brain like a computer. If you have too many processes going, it will eventually impair the performance and sometimes it shuts down. You know your limits; use common sense when it comes to multi-tasking.

4. Myth – Paper Lists Work Better Than Digital Lists

LifeTopix ToDo List

LifeTopix App

I’ve heard time and time again that many of you are unconvinced that a digital to-do list has its productivity advantages over old-fashioned sticky notes or a moleskin day planner.

With an old-fashioned paper to-do list you’re required to erase items when you re-prioritize or make errors, which is arduous. With a digital list, re-prioritization is usually as quick and easy as a tap and drag action. It’s nearly impossible to share a paper list with someone who’s not at the same location when you’re delegating or sharing tasks. It’s challenging to save and reuse a paper list; these lists inevitably get thrown away or lost. Completed tasks or to-dos that are written on paper or whiteboards cannot be searched for history purposes. Your smartphone is compact, always with you — and ready while on the go. Save your time and some trees; a digital productivity app can boost efficiency and productivity with several benefits over paper methods.

5. Myth – You Must Get Up Early to be Productive

Most of us have heard the old idiom, “the early bird gets the worm” – meaning those who rise early reap the benefits. Do you believe if you rose earlier you would accomplish much more? This is another myth that needs busting.

Everyone is different. Some of us do our best work in the morning, while others flourish at night. In fact, researchers at Germany’s Aachen University determined that early birds and night owls may have structural differences of their brains.

Don’t focus on switching your natural rhythms. Learn your natural tendencies by listening to what your body is telling you. Log the times that you get the most done and feel you have the best focus. If getting up early depletes your energy and your schedule allows the flexibility of starting your day later, then go with the flow. Take advantage of when your energy is at its best and schedule your most difficult tasks during those times.

6. Myth – Caffeine Makes You Productive

It’s a proven fact that caffeine increases your alertness and may help you focus. However, becoming reliant on a caffeine boost to increase your productivity might be a crutch worth kicking.

Ultimately, caffeine can affect your wellness in ways that can be detrimental to productivity. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. In fact, it increases catecholamines, which trigger changes in our bodies that allow us to prepare for flight or fight responses. Catecholamines increase our heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

Have you ever consumed too much caffeine to keep you awake so you can study for a final or finish a big project and it left you with a sleepless night? The result – you’re too tired to perform at your best. Or have you ever stopped drinking caffeine for a few days and felt the pain of a headache resulting from withdrawal? Caffeine withdrawal can include other symptoms as well, such as lack of concentration, depression and muscle pain. These withdrawal symptoms can result in days of lost productivity.

A great strategy for caffeine use is to limit it to the times you really need it, instead of making it a habit. And consider your caffeine source. Green tea is a great source because it also contains EGCG, which researchers believe can improve cognitive function. If you’re thinking about kicking your caffeine to the curb, there are many brain foods you can try to boost concentration. Blueberries, avocados, fatty fishes such as salmon, flax seeds, nuts and foods rich in B12 are good choices to boost energy and/or concentration.

7. Myth – Social Media is Killing Your Productivity

Pro.Inbox App

Pro.Inbox App

Social Media can destroy your productivity. However, it depends on how you use it. Do you check social media several times a day? Do you spend endless hours looking at your friends’ photos on Instagram or Facebook? Do you read every article that pops up on Twitter? If this sounds familiar, you might rethink how you’re consuming social media information. Scheduling a few minutes each day on your calendar to check social media during breaks can actually be a great way to recharge. You just need to use an ounce of self discipline.

Social media is valuable for finding information that you’re researching. It’s also valuable for keeping up with friends and business associates in one central location. For example, consider LinkedIn. Before LinkedIn, you might have spent endless hours collecting business cards and putting information into a Rolodex. Now, all your business contacts are found in one central location – just a few clicks away, which is an amazing productivity booster.

Social media is incredible for locating and collecting information when researching any subject. There are several apps and applications that help you locate and curate this information. For example, our app Pro.Inbox is a great app for this use.

With Pro.Inbox, you can create information feeds from Twitter and Facebook and customize these feeds with keywords for any subject for which you’re interested. For example, imagine you’re focused on finding information about Clutter, CRM, Goals, GTD and other subjects. You can simply create feeds for all of these subjects and find all relevant information quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, you can convert the tweets or posts you discover to notes or calendar items to ensure that you have a record of an article or other information for your research. Converting posts and tweets to calendar items is an excellent time-saving method. When you’re ready to follow up, you’ll easily be able to find the saved information. And, in fact, if you schedule these items on your calendar, you certainly won’t forget about them.

8. Myth – Socializing at the Office is a Waste of Time

Have you ever got the stink eye from your boss when you were discussing important things at the office such as the latest episode of “Game of Thrones?” Many managers believe that socializing and laughing at the office is a huge time waster. In some cases, your boss is right; socializing can be a time suck.

But, with a little common sense, socializing can also build friendships, which can lead to better team relationships. When you have good relationships with co-workers, they’ll enjoy working with you. And perhaps, help you out when you need it. We spend 40 or more hours a week at our jobs. A happy worker is a productive worker. Go ahead, find some friends and laugh a little. Just properly manage your priorities and don’t overdo it.

Your Turn

What common productivity myths would you like to bust? Please share in the comments below.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety – 3 Things That Work For Me

Over the years, probably brought on by being a startup junkie and always having poured myself unreservedly into work my entire professional life, I’ve developed several bad habits or things that are harmful to health, and perhaps also to relationships.

On the one hand, there is this insatiable passion and seemingly endless energy to take on challenges, get stuff done, being an engine that is always on. Sadly, on the other hand, there is fatigue, irritability, loss of focus, and low quality sleep. Undeniably, according to both ancient wisdom and modern medical know-how, the latter set of things affect one’s health dangerously. And with equal importance, the closest relationships are exposed to occasional bouts of irritability and other forms of negative energy. Broadly speaking, there is a general feeling of stress and anxiety as a result.

Three things I have either changed or started recently are personally helping me a lot without taking away from my productivity, and seem to be helping cut out the bad set of things.

RelaxPool

1. Turn off all audible alerts and lock-screen notifications on devices. (Except calendar reminders and text messages.)

This was a surprisingly welcome change. Sounds simple, but do you really need to be suddenly interrupted from your flow or zone, with a ding and a lock screen message that “Your Facebook friend so-and-so just joined Pinterest.” – and other irrelevant, unnecessary crap? I started going into my iPhone’s Notifications setup each time anything came up (Mail app alerts, Google alerts, Facebook, Twitter, CNBC alerts, and perhaps 10 others), and turning them off. I left Calendar and text message alerts on as I control the reminders I put on my calendar items, and also I am not a defocussed incessant texter – especially when I work, so most texts I get are important. On the same note, during work hours, I only make myself visible to the group of people I am working with on messaging apps. I still check my email and look at my agenda frequently, but on my own schedule, when I am in-between focussed tasks – kind of like waking up in sync with natural sleep cycles. Which leads me to my second thing – sleep.

2. Sleep well. Instead of an alarm clock, use an app like Sleep Cycle.

I started using this about a couple of months ago instead of using a regular alarm. It is ingeniously simple. You turn it on, put it next to your pillow facing down. It tracks your sleep cycles, duration and quality by tracking motion (whatever it detects from your tossing and turning, etc.), and perhaps from movement noise since it asks for access to the microphone. You can configure a window of time to wake up in, and it detects a stage when you are either awake or your sleep is in the waking part of the cycle during that time window, and wakes you up. Also, it measures your sleep quality and gives you a score and a graph of sleep level over time – that way you can correlate various pre-sleep activities with quality of sleep – for example, does sipping some tart cherry juice an hour before going to bed actually help with sleep, does deep breathing right before sleep give you some golden deep sleep cycles, etc. As my friend Chip had said 20 years ago: you should measure things that you care about. Inducing positive energy and a calm disengagement via pre-sleep deep breathing, and cutting out sources of negative energy seem to help in my case – which takes me to the third point.

3. Add positive energy (many choices). Cut out negative energy (namely TV news channels, and social media complainers).

Points 1 and 2 take zero time investment and give heavy positive returns. So that’s golden for the ROI (return-on-investment) fanatics. Point three is also a net positive – consuming about 30-60 minutes of time every day for adding positive energy (meditation / deep-breathing / quiet-time / simple yoga / reading / praying / reflecting / being grateful – look up Positive Psychology when you have a minute), but freeing up much more than that by subtracting sources of negative energy that steal time both directly and indirectly, and negatively affect every aspect of life. I am talking primarily about TV “news” folk, political talking-heads and other assorted villains – kings and queens of ignorance on TV and the internet constantly furthering their narrow agendas by stepping on your gentle minds. They come from the right and the left – ignore them, and instead look straight at what you value – there’s much better stuff there. The negative energy sources are plentiful in our social circles, in person, and more so on social media since it’s a much larger set. Cut. Them. Out. Hide them from your feeds, unfollow them, walk-away, change the topic, do whatever it takes to cleanly disengage. There are always tons of important things that require immense energy, constructive debate, championing ideas, defending values, and much effort without all the shallow and shrill things stealing our precious time. Any issue that is important to you can be engaged with constructively without subscribing to a buffet-line of fast-food class negative sentiments. That frees up more time to embrace positive things. Things you admire. Things you learn from. Things that leave you positive. Spend time with people that enrich you, and take a vacation every now and then!

What are some of your favorite positive energy sources? What kinds of negative energy sources have you successfully cut out? Please share.

A Mom’s Guide to Making Brilliant To-do Lists and Getting Stuff Done

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In our modern world, we’re busier than ever — especially when raising children and running a household. We’re rushing from one activity to another, and we struggle to find the time to get everything done that we plan to do. Important tasks fall through the cracks leading to embarrassment and other consequences, such as an unpleasant phone call from a teacher. Sound familiar?

I fully relate to how crazy life can be for parents. I have the unique and fortunate experience of working outside of the home and being a stay-at-home mom. For five years, I focused on parenting — juggling school-related activities, volunteer work, household chores, and equestrian hobbies. Outside of those five years, I’ve worked in the technology industry on teams using cutting-edge project management and software development techniques.

Over the years, I’ve gained invaluable experience in several project management methodologies that you can easily apply to running a household. I’m never a purist – I choose techniques from various methodologies to develop my own time management style.

Specifically, I learned techniques for managing my to-dos in smarter ways, which I’m excited to share to help parents who might be struggling with managing their busy lives and schedules.

The Basics: Why Keep a To-do List?

Studies show that most people can only remember 3 to 9 items at a time. If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing you have more than 9 items to do. If not, I’m jealous. Trying to keep all those items in your head consumes energy that you can put to better use.

David Allen, the founder of the Getting Things Done® (GTD) method for managing life and business suggests that you capture anything and everything that has your attention. Why? Because your head is not a calendar, whiteboard, computer, or notebook — it just can’t hold all of this information efficiently. Capturing everything you need to do will free your mind of trying to remember to pick up snacks for baseball practice or preparing for a PTA meeting.

Studies also show that keeping a to-do list can lead to high self-esteem. Crossing off your to-dos gives you a sense of accomplishment and gratification. If you don’t complete everything, you’re still seeing progress. My mantra is — “progress, not perfection.”

The Basics: What’s a To-do?

When you first make to-do lists, you might blend goals, projects, tasks, and events/appointments — consider they’re all different, which I explain below.

Goals – Big things that you want to accomplish, such as “Have an efficient cooking environment before the holidays“ or “Lose 10 pounds in 5 weeks.”

Projects – Large undertakings that you can break down into tasks, such as “Organized Kitchen” or “Triathlon Training.”

Tasks/To-dos – Smaller items that help you to achieve goals and/or complete projects, such as “Remove expired food from refrigerator” or “Run three miles.” In this post, I’m using the terms “to-dos” and “tasks” interchangeably.

Events/Appointments – Things you must perform at a designated time and/or place, such as a parent-teacher conference. Events can result from goals, projects, or tasks — such as an appointment with a professional organizer.

When making to-do lists, focus on tasks — not projects, goals, and events. Ensure they’re actionable things that you can accomplish in a session. Don’t be afraid to break tasks up into smaller tasks. With practice, you’ll understand how large or small your tasks should be.

You Have a Colossal To-do List. What Now?

You’ve captured actionable things that you can accomplish in a session, and now you have a monster to-do list and you’re more stressed than ever. This is when you tame the beast by putting prioritization into play.

Consider that your to-do list is essentially a list of requirements and think of your family as a high-performing team who prioritizes and delivers various things — homework, shopping, meals, balanced budgets, etc.

In business, the Product Manager of a team typically prioritizes requirements into scales, such as “Critical,” “Important,” and “Desirable.” For example, in the case of a household, “Schedule Carpool” and “Feed the Dog” might fall into “Critical,” while “Vacuum the Office” might fall into “Important.” Also, consider using a “To-Don’t” list for anything you’ve decided is just not important or do-able.

Instead, you might choose to prioritize using the Covey Quadrant, which is described in depth in the book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey. The quadrant identifies four categories for prioritization, Quadrant 1 (Important and Urgent), Quadrant 2 (Important and Not Urgent), Quadrant 3 (Not Important and Urgent), and Quadrant 4 (Not Important and Not Urgent).

Choose a tool for categorizing your to-dos — paper, whiteboard, mobile app, or other software. Divide your to-dos into the above categories or sections of your quadrant.

Help! What Do You Do Next?

Figuring out the jobs that you work on each day or week is unique to you. It hinges on the type of work you do, your family’s priorities, your available time, and special needs that your family might have. When you choose your family’s to-dos, evaluate the time and resources you have available, and the priority of the tasks.

For me, my work and life is very deadline driven. When I don’t have a hard deadline, I establish one for myself, and this method prompts me to get things done. I schedule hard commitments and deadlines on my calendar and fit the other items into the gaps in-between.

I suggest that you trust your intuition. Be fearless about breaking your rules if things aren’t working for you and your family.

How Can Your Family Help?

Sharing is caring. Getting the family to share household priorities can have a profound effect on success. To accomplish this, I look to Agile software development.

Agile software development is one of the most popular methods for creating software in an iterative and incremental way. It was developed by a group of software developers about a decade ago. And it’s become one of the most popular methods for creating software in an iterative and incremental way. Applying this methodology to family life has become a popular trend.

One of the principles of agile is a “self-organizing” team. In a self-organizing team, a group works together to accomplish a goal — and they choose their tasks — instead of waiting to take orders from “the boss.” Yeah, that’s right. You have to relinquish some of your control.

In Agile, the team attends a planning meeting at regular intervals. For families, I recommend the same technique. At this meeting, the family reviews the tasks in the “backlog” (the items you captured and collected) and decides what to do in the next “sprint,” which is a period of time determined by the team. This technique empowers the family to agree on the goals and tasks, and it encourages the family to participate.

Another method to adopt from Agile is the “daily standup.” This is a short session where each family member communicates 1) What I accomplished yesterday, 2) What I will do today, and 3) Is anything blocking me from getting stuff done. A quick, casual “daily standup” gets the family on track and identifies any issues, such as unfinished homework.

What’s the Right Tool for the Job?

For families with children who are old enough to use computers, tablets, and smartphones, I suggest finding technology, such as a personal organization application, that works for your family.

Encourage family members to add commitments, such as travel plans, homework that’s due, carpools, soccer practices, piano lessons, etc. to the calendar so the entire family understands when and where these items are taking place. Find a personal information organizer that enables you to manage the family calendar and task lists in one place. Take advantage of audible and visible notifications to make sure you never miss an important meeting, task, or appointment.

With a mobile personal organizer, your family has access to a shared calendar and task lists at any place or time. For example, when you’re at baseball practice and you’re assigned snack duty; you can instantly add this commitment to your calendar and the items to buy to your shopping list. This way, there’s no excuse for showing up empty handed.

Your Turn

Please comment and share your ideas for organizing your families’ crazy schedules and commitments. Thanks!

Five Ways to Start and Finish Tasks and Responsibilities

Many of us believe that some people are naturally highly motivated to complete tasks while others are not. This may or may not be true, but I believe that there’s always ways to improve your ability to get things done.

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A study published in the American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology indicates genes might play in role in whether or not a person is productive. In the study, rats which were selectively bred to run were over 10 times more likely to run than their more lazy counterparts. In my opinion, as this might explain that some species may be bred to exhibit some characteristics, human motivation is much more complex and you must consider many varying factors. In other words, don’t blame your genes for laziness. Instead, learn tactics to motivate yourself to start and finish tasks.

If you believe you fall in the less motivated crowd, trust that you can become a more productive person who starts tasks, and finishes them within deadlines. If you understand the reasons that you might not be motivated and if you learn a few simple time management skills, you can improve your ability to get things done.

1. LEARN WHAT MOTIVATES YOU

We’re all different. Learn what motivates YOU. Is it wealth? Is it winning? Do you want to help people? Is it attention from others? Positive reinforcement? Meaningful work? Take note of what motivates you to complete tasks and projects and focus on these areas. Become an expert in the areas that you care about.

For example, you might be motivated by meaningful work. Seek out opportunities that support your desire to help the poor, express your creative side, or teach children – it’s up to you. Focus on these opportunities to boost your motivation. When you’re feeling good about a job well done, your self-esteem soars, and you’ll gain confidence and inspiration when completing the less desirable tasks.

2. VISUALIZE POSITIVE OUTCOMES

Worrying about the consequences of not finishing projects and tasks leads to more and more procrastination. It’s a vicious cycle. Focus on the reward and visualize the positive outcomes. Think about how good you will feel when you accomplish the goal.

For example, you might prefer to sit on the couch and watch TV night after night instead of attending workout sessions. From my own experience, I reduced my number of workouts and noticed my waistline expanding and my blood pressure rising, which is a bad combination. To combat this, I visualize fitting into my smaller jeans and the blood pressure numbers going down. This motivates me to schedule and show up for my workouts to reach better health and wellness. So far, the method is working and I’m back in smaller jeans, and I continue to improve my health.

3. PLAN YOUR TASKS AND PROJECTS

Sometimes it’s difficult to get started on tasks because you feel like there’s too much to do and you get overwhelmed. You have several balls in the air, and then you simply shut down and search the web for funny cat pictures.

Having a clear picture of all the items that you need to accomplish and having an understanding of what’s urgent and what’s not urgent will actually put your mind at ease. Recording and managing your tasks gives you an idea of what can fall off the list and what can wait until a later date. Using a mobile task management app or other software makes it easy to re-prioritize and keep track of your to-dos, projects, tasks, appointments, goals, and events.

There are several methods and task managers for managing the things you need to do. We recommend our app, LifeTopix and it’s little sister, My.Agenda for keeping track of your ever-growing task lists.

4. FIND MOTIVATION IN A FRIEND

If there’s a task that you find unpleasant, find a friend who enjoys the task and team up. For example, I don’t love yoga. I understand the benefits of yoga, such as healing pain and improving immune function as well as improving health overall, I just don’t enjoy practicing it. I’ve made a resolution this year to change my workout plan to focus on yoga. Therefore, I found a friend who’s a yoga instructor and she’s willing to attend classes with me. I know she will help me stay accountable for keeping up with my practice and maybe I’ll learn to love yoga through her enthusiasm and the benefits that it provides.

5. TAKE STEPS TO IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH

Nothing crushes motivation more than feeling sick, tired, depressed, or in pain. If your health is limiting your motivation, seek help from traditional or alternative medical practitioners for acute or chronic conditions. If you have a condition that’s difficult to treat or if you just want to improve your general health and fitness, you might consider learning about the Quantified Self movement.

The Quantified Self is a movement that advocates measuring characteristics of your daily life such as calories, blood pressure, exercise, diet, heart rate, and other aspects. The purpose of measuring these aspects of your life is to gain knowledge about yourself, which can lead to insights for improving your health and happiness and for reaching personal goals. Quantified Self is also referred to as self tracking or self quantifying.

When your goal is to improve your health, keep these things in mind – never give up, get support from professionals, be patient, exercise your mind and body, and keep a positive attitude. A positive attitude can take you a long way. Also, just completing one or two small tasks when you’re not feeling well can give you a great feeling of accomplishment. You might have limitations, but accepting them is not giving up. Be thankful for what you can do!

YOUR TURN

Please comment and let us know how you find ways to start and finish tasks and to improve your motivation.

Understand Your Brain Dominance for Better Productivity

Brain Dominance

Sometimes people are described as right-brain dominant or left-brain dominant. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize winner and Neuropsychologist, described right and left-brain dominance in 1981 when researching the split brain. According to his findings, the left side of the brain controls logic and focus, and the right side of the brain controls creativity.

Corresponding to Sperry’s theory, people who are left-brainers excel in project management and they’re inclined to follow productivity systems. Those who are right-brainers are more artistic, and they decide their course of action as they go along. In reality, most people have both left-brain and right-brain characteristics. However, they might have more characteristics associated with one side or the other.

We typically associate prioritization and planning with left-brainers. However, the right-brainers use intuition and big-picture thinking to manage their time so don’t discount their valuable skills. Being conscious of the less dominant side of the brain can help strengthen it. This understanding can be useful for productivity goals. Learning balanced thinking skills (using both sides of the brain) can boost productivity.

Are You a Right or Left-Brainer?

Right-brain characteristics include imagination, artistry, and intuition. People who are right-brain dominant tend to be more passionate, empathetic, and impulsive. They choose professions in marketing, fiction writing, teaching, sales, art, and design.

Left-brain characteristics include language skills, logical thinking, and math and spelling skills. People who are left-brain dominant tend to process information linearly when solving problems. They are usually good planners and tend to make to-do lists. They choose professions in science, legal, programming, engineering, non-fiction writing, and health care.

If you want to learn if you’re a right or left-brainer, you can take a quick test online. This short quiz from Eterna helps you determine your brain hemisphere dominance. I personally took the test, and it determined that I’m right brain dominant which was not a surprise for me. My intuition told me where my dominance falls.

Messy and Clean Desks Play Roles in Productivity

Messy desks can be associated with creative, right-brainers, while clean desks can be associated with the more orderly left-brainers. This is a generalization, of course.

I recently discovered an article “Why You Should Have a Messy Desk.” The article states that many of the most successful people in recent history have or had messy desks – including Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Tony Hsieh, and Mark Twain. What do these successful CEOs such as Hsieh and other leaders have in common? They’re creative visionaries and big-picture thinkers — most likely, right-brainers. My theory is that they’re heavily involved at the beginning phases of the creative process — the stage that new, innovative ideas develop. And after they’ve designed the new concepts, they hand over the project to the team members who plan, implement, and develop the final products under their creative guidance.

After research and thought, I concluded that messiness AND neatness play a role in productivity. A study from the University of Minnesota determined that an orderly environment activates a mindset of following convention and a disorderly environment promotes exploring new ideas.

Visualize effective brainstorming sessions in messy offices or conference rooms — ideas flowing freely in an unstructured way. Imagine a creative war room at an advertising agency – think Mad Men. These unstructured spaces are where ideas flow. On the other hand, picture times when you’re getting things done. In my case, I clear my desk of clutter so the things around me aren’t demanding my attention. I’m a right-brainer who employs practices of the left-brainer to boost my productivity.

To encourage productivity, consider your task at hand and your brain dominance. Messiness promotes the creative process and neatness encourages the implementation of projects in a conventional way. If you’re a right-brainer, don’t be afraid to tidy your workspace when you’re in the execution phase of a project. If you’re a left-brainer, go with the flow of a messy environment when you’re brainstorming and generating new ideas.

Exercise the Less Dominant Side of the Brain

You can greatly improve your productivity by complementing your thinking with thoughts and behaviors that don’t come naturally to you. You can also perform brain exercises to develop the less dominant side of the brain.

If you’re a left-brainer, you probably believe you don’t need advice for being productive because you have an excellent system in place. However, you might lack big-picture thinking. Do you get bogged down in the details and tend to lose sight of the big picture? Do you analyze the numbers, but lack intuition about the direction you should take? Is finding creative answers to problems difficult for you?

Understanding the above weaknesses of the left-brainer can help them to improve their decision-making, problem solving, and productivity. This type of thinking might not come natural; however, the left-brainer can benefit from brain exercises such as drawing, playing an instrument, and playing sports to strengthen the right side of the brain.

If you’re a right-brainer, you probably don’t use a productivity system because you intuitively know how much time it takes to complete a project or task. Do you keep your agenda and your ideas in your head and easily visualize your projects and tasks? Do you get your projects done (sometimes at the 11th hour), but forget to pay your mortgage? Do you ignore the numbers and make decisions based on creativity and intuition? Are you late for meetings because you don’t make appointments and use reminders?

Using a productivity system or software with projects, appointments, reminders, and tasks can greatly improve the right-brainer’s productivity. The right-brainer can also improve their focus by working in 90-minute intervals with 10-20 minute breaks. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, coding, writing, and reading (without skimming) can exercise the left side of the brain.

Your Turn

Did you take the test to learn your brain dominance? Do the ideas and notions in this post ring true for you? Do you use a productivity system? Comment and let us know!