Be the Best That You Can Be! Learn to Set Goals in LifeTopix

Goals are the best way to set yourself up for success. To achieve goals, you must establish a plan and create steps to help you get there. It’s necessary to build specific and measurable goals, make yourself accountable and visualize your progress to motivate yourself to keep going. Thankfully, the LifeTopix app provides an effortless way to set goals and build a plan to turn your dreams into reality.

LifeTopix is an extraordinary all-in-one app for organizing work and life. It is smart, simple and powerful. Parents, real estate agents, freelancers, contractors, business owners, students, teachers and others use the LifeTopix app every day to manage their busy lives. 100,000 users and growing!

Watch the Video to Learn How to Set Goals

Watch this video to learn how to create goals with the LifeTopix app and how to follow a plan to achieve those goals.

A New Beginning: A Personal Story of Minimalism and De-cluttering Bootcamp

Minalimism

This is a story about minimalism and how it relates to productivity and happiness. At LightArrow, we often provide tips for becoming productive, organizing your life and living a happy, stress-free existence. We regularly remind our readers that they can be productive by doing less. Seems counterintuitive, right?

Simply put, everything you own or bring into your life must be cleaned, stored, fed, trimmed, serviced, refilled, watered, powered, etc. You get the picture. Taking care of all this stuff takes time and effort. The more possessions you have, the less time you have to enjoy life. Consequently, minimalism translates into more time to dedicate to you — not your stuff.

Today, I’m sharing my personal journey with you. Over the last three months, I shed more than half of my belongings; sold a house in less than a week; and moved from the booming and rapidly growing city of Austin, TX to the beautiful town of Boulder, CO, which is located at the base of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Why Boulder?

My husband, a seasoned veteran in high tech, was presented with an exciting and fulfilling job opportunity in Colorado. With careful consideration, we decided to embark on this journey after 10 years in Austin, TX. As they say in Texas, this is not our first rodeo. We’re practiced movers, as we’ve lived in the Silicon Valley, Portland Oregon and other cities.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas

My personality is eclectic, with the unusual combination of right-brained tendencies with an affinity to logic, organization, order and consistency. I’ve always considered myself to be deeply organized. Everything has a place in my home, usually neatly labeled, stacked, grouped and color-coded.

What I didn’t realize until preparing my house for sale was there were nooks and crannies in this 4467 square foot, 1.24 acre home that contained unorganized messes that were pushed away like an ex boyfriend. Out of sight. Out of mind. The more space you have, the more you use. Something had to be done – and fast.

It was December 2014 that we decided to put the house on the market. It officially went up for sale on January 29, 2015 and was sold five days later. Prior to sale, a considerable de-cluttering and organizing journey was completed within 6 – 8 weeks (which would take most folks a year). How did we do it? I’ll get to that.

Embracing Minimalism

Over the years we accumulated lots of stuff. Frankly, stuff we don’t need. For me, shopping was always a form of recreation – an escape mechanism, retail therapy or a pacifier for a bad day. There was always a good excuse to buy a new pair of shoes.

I’m making the transformation. I’m on a journey to continue to shed many of my unnecessary possessions that burden me to focus on healthy and fun life experiences. I’m not saying that I will have only 50 or even 100 total things and live out of a backpack. I’m not saying that I won’t replace things that no longer work with new things. This is unrealistic for my family’s lifestyle, but the change is still profoundly significant.

Now, I find myself repeating this mantra, loosely quoting Voltaire or Stan Lee,

With more stuff there must also come great responsibility.

With any purchase there is prodigious consideration to the responsibility of owning it and its effect on the environment.

The Storm Before the Calm

If you’ve ever worked in the startup world, you know that deadlines can be crazy and you sometimes have to make the impossible, possible. This is exactly what we needed to do. Apply the startup mentality to what I would call “extreme de-cluttering, purging and organizing.”

I wouldn’t suggest this swiftness to the faint-hearted. Without a deadline, these steps can be spread over several months or even years, depending upon your urgency. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting.

You might ask. Does de-cluttering and organizing ever actually end? For now, the flood of activity still continues, but the urgency has diminished. Essentially, I’m now basking in the satisfaction of a job well done — “the calm.” However, maintaining the lifestyle continues.

The Roadmap

A good plan is like a road map: it shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. -H. Stanely Judd

By now, you’re probably wondering how we accomplished this transformation. First, I started with a SMART goal and then prepared a plan or roadmap.

SMART Goal: Achieve a non-cluttered and minimalist home environment with focus on a quick home sale within 4 – 6 weeks.

Time is money. Every day a house is for sale, you’re losing money. In order to reach this goal, we built a plan to get there. We recorded every task imaginable including repairs, painting, purging, organizing, cleaning and staging. We also established a budget and arranged the finances.

What Were the Rules?

We decided if we haven’t utilized a household or personal item in 5 -10 years, it would go. Exception – photos, things bonded with the sentimental and snow skis. Some items were easy to purge. For example, how many laptop bags from trade shows does a person really need? And some items were difficult — a basketball signed by Magic Johnson and a Schwinn almost-vintage bike? My husband wouldn’t budge on those. Some battles aren’t worth fighting.

Road to Success

We tackled the house room-by-room and started with the most cluttered and noticeable rooms with emphasis on the home sale. For example, we started with the great room and ended with the attic. We cleared countertops, removed personal items and stowed and grouped items. If you want to learn more about organizing and grouping, visit If You Want to be Organized, Learn This One Simple Concept.

Every night after work, I scheduled hours on my calendar dedicated to these tasks. We spent sixteen or more hours every weekend. My family moved away a month before I did, so I tackled much of it alone. Like I said, this plan is not for the faint-hearted. This was de-clutter bootcamp.

myhouse

Photo from Sotheby’s Reality

We divided everything among donate, trash, recycle, sell and give away. What wasn’t sold was given away. After approximately 30 SUV-loads of items purged, we achieved the clutter-free environment for which we had hoped. As a small example, I donated 100 pairs of shoes and fifty percent of a three-tiered closet of clothing to Goodwill. We dug deep.

How and Where Did We Get Rid of All This Stuff?

If you wish to embark on this satisfying but challenging journey, the essential places, websites and apps are listed below:

A garage sale or yard sale is also a good option. If you’re on a tight deadline like us, a yard sale might be unrealistic because of time constraints. And don’t forget to ask your friends if they want your stuff. Your trash can be someone else’s treasure. It’s amazing what they’ll take. For example, a friend who manages several rental properties took our cleaning supplies and other items that were prohibited by the moving company.

How Do I Feel Now?

It’s heartwarming and satisfying to sell (at a very low price) and give away things that you don’t use or need. The hugs and appreciation that I receive are gratifying beyond belief. We’re now living comfortably in a house that is half the size of the previous home. We are almost unpacked and we continue to donate and purge items daily. The environment is non-cluttered and feels peaceful. We know where everything is and the work involved in maintaining the home is next to none.

What I learned

If you’re someone who’s just starting out and entering the “acquiring years,” take this advice seriously. When you have too much stuff, it weighs you down. It negatively affects your energy level. It doesn’t allow you to have the time you need to get things done and experience life like you should. I feel as if a weight has been lifted – a monkey off my back. For example, I have the freedom to take a hike with the dogs after work instead of raking leaves out of the pool or sweeping the patio. Your time is priceless — guard it.

I honestly don’t miss those things and I don’t think I ever will.

Please Share Your Experiences with De-cluttering and Minimalism

We would love to hear your experiences with de-cluttering and minimalism. Please share or write a post.

Set Yourself Up for Success with These New Year’s Resolutions Tips

MyNewLife

Two of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions are getting organized and getting in shape. Reaching these goals requires goal setting, planning and commitment, which seem overwhelming for many of us. If you don’t want to be one of the 92 percent who abandon their New Year’s Resolutions, read this quick and easy guide for setting yourself up for success in the new year.

Our goal at LightArrow is for you to accomplish success and productivity in 2015 and beyond – whatever your dreams might be.  This post will help you formulate a plan to accomplish the life changes you dream about. It focuses on goal setting, planning and execution – whether your goals are for business or personal life.

Setting “S.M.A.R.T.” Goals

Clearly set, firm goals are necessary for meeting objectives in personal life or at work. However, many of us have vague, squishy goals such as “lose weight”, “organize house” or “start new business.” Ambiguous goals such as these examples are usually abandoned if the goal is unspecific, unrealistic and doesn’t include a deadline. Firming up these goals by making them “S.M.A.R.T.” is key for success.

Many businesses set goals by using “S.M.A.R.T.” goals, which is a mnemonic acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable or Assignable, Relevant or Realistic, and Time-Based or Time-Related. “S.M.A.R.T.” goals have been used successfully for years for personal development, project management and performance management. “S.M.A.R.T.” goals are most effective when written down. Write them in the present tense and phrase them in a positive way. They also include a time period. An example of a “S.M.A.R.T.” home organizing goal is:

I have an organized and clutter-free house in 90 days by minimizing unnecessary possessions and categorizing necessary objects through the use of organizing solutions. I practice uncluttering 60 minutes daily.

An example of a “S.M.A.R.T.” weight loss goal is:

I’m in shape and weighing 24 fewer pounds in 90 days by eating 2000 calories daily, doing 5 hours of cardio weekly, doing 90 minutes of strength training weekly, and practicing 60 minutes of yoga weekly for three months.

Recording your goals is important for reaching them. In fact, a study about goals performed by Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University of California found that those who write down and share their goals are 33% more likely to achieve them.

For those on the go, using a smartphone app, such as LifeTopix is a great method for recording goals. The following example shows how a goal appears in a smartphone app. With this app, you can also log metrics against your chosen goal. Other ways to record goals include using a paper journal or diary, spreadsheet or word processing program.

Complete SMART Goal App

LifeTopix

It’s also important to refer back to your recorded goals often to remind and inspire you to continue.

Make a Plan to Achieve Goals

In business, embarking on a new project always requires planning. In business and in life, creating a project to help you reach your goals is an excellent method for launching anything new – whether it’s an organized house, healthier body and mind, new business or product, or creative endeavor. Once you’ve recorded, stated and shared your goals with family, colleagues or friends, start making plans to set yourself up for success. For example, perhaps your goal is to get in shape. Getting in shape requires significant planning and commitment, which can be accomplished through project planning.

A project plan requires a list of specific tasks and in some cases, appointments and/or meetings. For example, to execute your goal to get in shape, there are a number of tasks and/or appointments that are necessary, such as attending exercise classes, menu planning, grocery shopping, purchasing a gym membership, etc.

Build and schedule a list of these tasks and appointments that are realistic in your life, and schedule these tasks on your calendar in order to stay accountable and remain on track. To accomplish this, use a basic paper planner or a smartphone app, such as LifeTopix to plan these tasks and appointments as shown in the following example.

Complete Calendar and Organizer App

LifeTopix

Using a mobile calendar on your smartphone helps you balance your new time commitment with your current, and possibly already busy, schedule. In addition, the advantage of using a mobile, digital planner or calendar over a paper calendar is you receive both visible and audible reminders, which ultimately keeps you on track. Also, mobility is key when you’re someone who’s constantly on the go. Flexibility is a huge advantage of mobile apps over paper for project and goal planning. The ability to easily make changes to your plan anytime and anywhere keeps you productive and on task.

Log and View Your Progress

Keeping a log of your goals helps you achieve success because many people don’t realize that progress is being made because the changes are very small each day. For example, losing two pounds might not seem like much, but when this weight loss happens week after week, the lost pounds add up.

In addition, keeping a log of past successes helps you make these successes repeatable. It’s helpful to look back at logged items, journals or notes to motivate you based on past diet, household or business changes or other factors. Smartphone apps such as LifeTopix, paper journals, spreadsheets or other software are excellent methods for tracking workouts, healthy eating, and inches lost or other statistics. For example, with the LifeTopix app, you log all these types of items against your goals and watch your progress each day, week, month, etc. as shown in the following example.

Complete Goals Log

LifeTopix

Keeping notes and associating them with your project helps to trigger memories about what’s working and what’s not working. For example, in the following example, notes associated with the “Get Fit in 90 Days” project include important diet information, which impacts future weight loss success.

Journal for Goals

LifeTopix

Your Turn

I hope you learned something new today about “S.M.A.R.T” goals and achieving personal and business success in 2015. What are your New Years’ Resolutions and what are your tips, tricks and tools for achieving them? Please share and comment!

7 Tips for Staying Productive When Life Throws You a Curveball

How do you stay productive during tough times?

Sometimes just when you think you have a good read on life, you’re blindsided with a difficult issue or obstacle – what many refer to as “a curveball.” At one time or another, just about everyone will face a curveball. Whether it’s a breakup, job loss, family issue, financial problem, health setback or other issue it’s hard to stay focused and productive when your personal life is in turmoil.

Maintaining professionalism at work or school is difficult when you’re facing personal problems — especially when negative thoughts are consuming you. But, allowing your personal life consume your work life can result in poor productivity, mistakes and bad choices.

Today, I compiled a list a strategies that I personally use to help me stay productive during rough times. I hope you find these helpful in your life.

1. Set Priorities and Stick to Them

When life gets rough, you need more time and energy to deal with your personal crisis. At work, understand what’s essential and most important. Limit the time you spend on non-essential tasks or busywork. Keep a prioritized to-do list and stick to it. Communicate your priorities with your supervisor often. Delegate tasks when possible.

2. Leave the Drama at Home

Have you ever had a coworker confide in you about a breakup or other personal issue? Did you find the situation awkward or did the coworker become a nuisance or burden — sapping your productivity? It’s okay to confide in others in whom you trust, but beware of sharing too much at the office. Eventually, you can become a workplace scapegoat and could be a target of blame for mistakes due to your “public” personal crisis.

Instead of discussing your issues with others at work, seek guidance or support from a personal friend, counselor or family member outside of work. Knowing you have a scheduled time to consult with a friend or counselor will help you resist the urge to over-share with coworkers.

3. Schedule Your Work in Time Blocks

In times of personal crisis, it’s important to be very diligent about properly managing your time. Good time management practices help you feel more in control and reduce your stress level.

An excellent time management strategy is to organize your work into blocks or chunks of time. Many of us have different types of tasks to complete such as meetings, phone calls, generating reports, creating budgets, etc. When you schedule similar tasks together, you use your time more efficiently because you’re not regularly shifting contexts. Constantly shifting contexts results in poor concentration and depletes you of energy.

To use this method, make a list of all your necessary tasks and then use a digital calendar to group them according to the type of task. For example, schedule meetings together; return phone calls in blocks of time; and schedule budgeting activities together. And don’t forget to schedule time to just think. It’s important to reflect and plan – not just “do.”

4. Take it Day By Day

One of my favorite adages is “This too shall pass.” I think about the times that I’ve faced challenges, family crises, illnesses and other life trials. They seemed traumatic at the time, but I’ve always emerged stronger and more resilient afterward.

Not everything is under your control, but when you can change the situation take positive steps to ensure a good outcome. Write down or record your goals that will set you up for success. Don’t dwell on the possibilities of a negative future. Take each day one at a time. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but you can make positive change happen over time.

5. See the Situation from a Different Point of View

When you’re blindsided by a crisis, it helps to get some perspective on the situation. Step away from it and see it from a different point of view. It might not be as bad as it seems. Consider your history and learn from the past. Has this situation ever occurred in your life before? How did you handle it? Was the outcome a success? What can you do differently this time?

If you’re feeling rattled, focus on your strengths and the things that matter; and prioritize accordingly. Build a plan to set yourself up for future success and happiness.

6. Take Care of Your Health

Staying healthy plays an important role in being productive. During stressful times it’s even more important to take care of your health and well being because your immune system becomes weakened. Channel your stress and anger into healthy activities that you enjoy. Yoga, meditation and aerobic exercise such as walking, running or cycling are great ways to relieve stress and make new friends. Ensure that you get at least eight to nine hours of sleep every night and stick to a healthy diet. Make yourself accountable by keeping an exercise and nutrition journal.

7. Don’t forget to Ask for Help

Seeking help from family, friends and therapists during difficult situations is a great way to heal and take your life back. Sometimes we take the burden all onto ourselves when others are ready and willing to help. Keeping feelings to yourself and taking on too much can lead to more stress, depression and anxiety. Imagine yourself as a friend in need. What would you do for that person? Most likely, your friends and family would happily do the same for you.

Your Turn

How do you stay productive when you’re dealing with a personal crisis? Please share your ideas and experiences!

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.

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.