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Strategy Secrets for Powerful Productivity.

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” - Paul J. Meyer

Below, some of the most productive people - from successful investors to “always-on” executives - share their secrets on how to be your most productive self, despite the overflowing in-boxe, the constant buzz of the phone and the never-ending ping of meeting alerts.

Clear Your Mind, Define Your Focus

Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction and principal at The Chatham Group, shared two tips that keep her focused, energized, effective and productive both personally and professionally. “There are two things I do to get the energy, capacity and focus I need to not only be efficient, but effective. Personally, I take 15 minutes every morning for contemplation and to empty my mind. I take a bag full of thoughts I need cleared and each morning I pick one out, read it, and send it down the river near my house. Watching the thought float away really helps clear my mind, reorient things and increase my focus for the rest of the day,” said Lea, who successfully juggles several roles across various companies including CEO, investor, advisor, mentor and principal.

“Professionally,” Lea added, “I send an email to my team each Monday morning with the top five things I will be focused on for the week. This really keeps me on track and gives me the focus I need. These two things set the pace for me every day, both in my personal and professional life.”

Cut Back On Meetings

Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), said he keeps productive by being diligent about meetings--sticking to the allotted time and only scheduling in-person meetings when it’s absolutely necessary. “I leave meetings at their allotted end time regardless of whether they are finished,” said Komisar, who authored the book, Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Model. “I do not reschedule an appointment for a more important one unless it is an emergency. If an email will do, I don't make a call; if a call will do, I don't have a meeting; if a 30-minute meeting is sufficient, I don't schedule an hour.”

Embrace Evernote

Dylan Tweney, the executive editor at VentureBeat, said Evernote, the popular note-taking and archiving service, is his go-to productivity tool. “I use Evernote to collect everything I might possibly need to save for later, with the exception of emails--Gmail is fine for that. I store all of my important documents--from notes to interviews--in Evernote. I also use Evernote tags as a kind of to-do list: I have a set of tags that I can use to prioritize things that need to happen immediately or that I'm waiting for someone else to finish: ("1-next," "2-soon," "3-later," "4-someday," and "5-waiting"). When I get an email that I need to act on but can't respond to immediately, I forward it to my private Evernote address and then prioritize it,” said Tweney. “Finally, I use Instapaper liberally to save articles that I run across during the day, but don't have time to read during the busy hours. It sends stories to my Kindle automatically, so I always have something interesting to read on the train ride home or in the evening. That helps keep me focused on work, even when people are sharing fascinating things on Twitter and Facebook all day.” (Fancy Hands integrates with Evernote!) 

Get Tunnel Vision

Kevin O’Connor, the serial entrepreneur who founded both DoubleClick and more recently FindTheBest, a data-driven comparison engine, said he makes an effort to focus on only the top few things that really are going to move the needle. “Most people tend to focus on the 100 things they should do, which can be overwhelming and result in the failure to actually accomplishing anything of importance. I try to focus on the three to five things I absolutely have to do. I don't get distracted by those ninety-seven other unimportant things that don't ultimately contribute to my success or the success of my company.”

Get Physical 

Patrick Dolan, the EVP and COO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), said what keeps him productive, focused and energized is going for runs in the morning. “I love to run in the morning before I get into work. Running clears my mind, gets the blood flowing and ultimately makes me much more focused and productive. During my morning runs, I try to come up with solutions to any unresolved problems at work, brainstorm new ideas, and really prioritize my work in terms of the top things I want to accomplish that day. By the time I get into work, I already have a set of focused priorities, and I also have the energy to make them happen.”

Police Your Own Internet Habits: Notifications Are Evil

Fred Bateman, the CEO and Founder of Bateman Group, said he uses a tool called StayFocusd to keep track of how much time he’s spending on various sites. “To stay ‘in the zone’ and increase productivity in today's digital age, I strongly recommend blocking all audio and visual notifications from Outlook, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think all notifications are evil because they typically have both audio and visual distraction triggers, which can wreak havoc on your concentration. This extends to my iPhone, which is always, always set to vibrate with all notifications on all email accounts and mobile apps turned completely off, said Bateman. “I also have a tendency to begin earnestly researching something online with the very best of intentions and then get lost viewing irrelevant content and wasting way too much time. To limit this, I turn on a browser extension to Chrome called StayFocusd where I maintain a list of sites I can get lost on for hours--the New York Times and Facebook are my top two. StayFocusd alerts me after ten minutes have passed and then blocks the offending sites to help me resist temptation and stay focused on the task at hand.”

Put Email In Its Place

Anne-Marie Slaugher, a professor of politics and international relations at Princeton University and author of the popular article published last year in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” said basing your work day around the never-ending flow of incoming emails is a huge productivity suck. “My principal productivity tip is that if you are caught up on your email, your priorities are in the wrong place. An extra of hour of email will accomplish very little in the long run, but that hour could be spent reading to your kids before bed, cooking a meal, or taking a walk and clearing your head--all far better choices,” said Slaughter, who previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department. “More generally, email puts you in response mode, where you are doing what other people want you to do, rather than send mode, where you are deciding what you want to do and taking action.”

Delegate 

Let's not forget that most CEOs have an assistant or two to do their bidding. Having support when you're at your busiest is crucial. Can't afford to pay the salary of a full-time assistant? No problem. That's what we're here for. 

For a mere $25, this month, I've had my Fancy Hands assistants order a gift, sort out a problem with a flight I booked, get me a quote for a new phone plan with T Mobile, make my cat an appointment at the vet, find my favorite tomatoes, and get a credit from Time Warner. 

Having a Fancy Hands account keeps me focused on productivity at my job by taking the little "to-do's" off of my plate. 

(Adapted from an article in Fast Company by Grace Nasri)

6 months down, 6 to go: Finish 2013 strong.

The coming July holiday is a great time to take stock of your situation so you can set an action plan to make the rest of the year as productive as possible. Regardless of your position or status, there are actions you can take to drive forward your company, division or even your own career.  Here are seven actions to take immediately:

1. Solve at Least One Communication Issue

Nothing gets in the way of accomplishment more than poor communication. No one has perfect communication. Figure out where yours is falling short. It might be ineffective meetings, how you deal with conflict or how you manage criticism. Ask around and self assess. Chances are you'll find several breakdown issues from which to choose. Pick the one that is the biggest obstacle to your end-of-year goals.

2. Eliminate at Least One Useless Practice or Policy

Nearly everyone has daily activities that are inefficient or even unnecessary. These practices often go unnoticed due to habit. Sit with a colleague and list out the actions in your day or in a company process. Brainstorm together how to eliminate or refine the process for efficiency. The more bureaucracy you remove, the more you'll wonder why you were foolishly doing things that way in the first place.

3. Remove at Least One Useless Item From Your Budget

This is a great time to trim the fat. Go through your entire budget, line item by line item. You're bound to find some left-handed smoke shifting or bacon stretching service you really don't need. At the very least, figure out how to finally empty out that storage facility that no one has touched for five years. Then, reapportion the funds toward something that is truly useful and appreciated.

4. Commit to at Least One New Experiment

Once you complete tips #2 and #3, you'll have some extra resources. You might use these to take some new risk that could propel things forward in a big way.  Experimentation is necessary for exponential advancement. It might turn out to be a wasted effort but even failure can be valuable for learning. At the very least, you'll learn what doesn't work.

5.  Make at Least One New Major Connection

It doesn't matter whether you are focused on sales, operations or development. Adding smart people to your circle can help you grow faster. Bring on the employee you have been coveting or go engage the mentor that you've always wanted. Build the team that will take you beyond your expectations.

6. Add at Least One New Competency

There is always some skill you crave to help you advance. If you don't start getting good at it now, you may never get there. According to Malcolm Gladwell, you'll need 10,000 hours to master it; that doesn't leave you with much time. (But actually, a company can achieve the requisite hours before the end of the year by assigning 10 people to it full-time for the next 6 months.)

7. Inspire at Least One Colleague

You can accomplish far more with support from others. Find people who are floundering and help get them on track. By unlocking the key to inspiring them, you'll inspire yourself more in the process. You'll feel good about moving them from a place of mediocrity and together you can take pride in accomplishment.

(By Kevin Duam via Inc.)

Stop Procrastinating.

Procrastination is something that everyone deals with. It’s hard to place too much blame on ourselves though, as the internet offers an unlimited amount of alternatives to doing our work. Since that’s the case, what are some proven ways to combat procrastination? 

Pre-Commit

What’s the deal with "cramming"? Remember your college days, where everyone would practically brag about how they were able to pull off a miracle all-nighter? The crazy thing is, although cramming is far from optimal in terms of the quality of work that is produced, it is quite useful in getting a fire lit under our asses, isn’t it?

According to a study on procrastination, this last minute hoorah is inspired by the fact that there is no way out. Better yet, this feeling can be controlled (without the worry and paranoia) by "pre-committing" to a task before it’s begun. There are a couple ways to go about this, depending on the severity of your lethargy.

One of the more extreme (and highly creative) alternatives is a web app called stickK, which allows you to pre-commit to a goal that you must complete by a certain deadline. Big whoop, how is that going to stop me from procrastinating? Well, before you can set a goal up, you have to lay down some cash, and if you miss your deadline the money becomes locked and is donated to a charity that you hate! You can select other options and you don’t have to put in money, but c’mon, go big or go home! Also, can you honestly think of a better way to get yourself to take action than an impending deadline that will send your hard-earned cash to an organization you despise? What if you knew that $50 was headed to a place like the Westboro Baptist Church if you don’t get that new wireframe/article/logo finished? I rest my case!

Two other less dramatic ways to achieve a similar effect are to do the following:

  • Write down when and where you will complete a task (students who did this were far more likely to complete assignments).
  • Make a public commitment by sharing your plan with a friend or simply emailing someone (“I will have that for you tomorrow by 5 PM”). Leave a healthy amount of time for emergencies, but don’t give yourself a week when you really need a day or two.

Set Macro Goals and Micro Quotas

Motivation is inter-woven with what goals you make as well as the plans you construct to achieve them. In a surprising study on motivation, researchers found that abstract thinking about goals can actually help with discipline. In the most basic sense, “dreaming big” isn’t all that bad advice (though dreaming too much can be harmful, more on that later).

But there’s also the problem of setting up grandiose plans and becoming intimidated by your own lofty expectations. Since you don’t want to stop dreaming big, the best way to find a balance is to simply set “macro goals” and “micro quotas." Your goals should be the large scale things that you hope to accomplish, that much is obvious. But your quotas are what you must get done everyday to make it happen.

For instance, writer/designer Nathan Barry forced himself to write 1000 words per day come hell or high-water to get his 3 self-published eBooks done. The quota made each day approachable, and the goal was achieve because of it.

Quotas help you take one day (or even hour) at a time, so setting the bar low can actually be beneficial, as it’s what gets you started. At the same time, these quotas shouldn’t impede on your long term goals, which help fuel the fire that keeps your motivation alive.

Always Hit the Ground Running

I’ve covered a plethora of research that shows "analysis paralysis" is one of the #1 causes of procrastination. Not knowing what to do is often worse than the work itself. That’s why you should always strive to hit the ground running for new commitments, especially in terms of how you start each and every day.

The night before, create a simple to-do list (forget apps, pen and paper!) that consists of 3 big things that you want to get done, and what work it will entail. Keep it at your desk for when you sit down, or in your bag if you commute to work, and get it out right away when it’s time to get down to business. With a clear list of what to work on right now, you won’t have to stare at a long list of obligations that should get done “someday.”

The Redirect Technique

Being too hard on yourself for procrastinating isn’t healthy. In fact, this study shows that self-blame is definitely counter-productive. The study examined study habits in particular, and had this to say:

“Forgiveness allows the individual to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the upcoming examination without the burden of past acts to hinder studying.”

Now, that doesn’t mean you should just give up, but rather that you shouldn’t let the fact that you don’t want to do something make you feel bad. Hell, if you read books like Daily Rituals, you’ll see that many great writers struggled with their work ethic throughout their entire career. Instead, you should try to redirect your worst procrastination sessions into anything productive.

For instance, when I just can’t get myself to sit down and write, I will do small tasks that still need to get done, like answering support emails. While this technique can lead to ‘busybody’ work if you aren’t careful, it can also get you in the mood to work during periods where you have to do something. This research points out that it’s important to evaluate each task to make sure you aren’t engaging in "automatic behavior":

Often our behaviour is robotic. We do things not because we’ve really thought about it, but because it’s a habit or we’re unconsciously copying other people. This type of behaviour can be an enemy of goal striving. Ask yourself whether what you are doing is really getting you closer to your goal.

As long as the task you are redirecting to is still relevant to your goals, (say, finishing up some edits instead of creating a new article), it’s okay to forgive yourself and redirect your behavior.

Identify the Four Pillars of Procrastination

According to an academic study titled The Nature of Procrastination, there appear to be four pillars of procrastination that influence the population at large. Identifying which pillar is stopping you from doing a certain task may be helpful in overcoming the initial barrier in getting started. After all, research on the Zeigarnik Effect shows us that getting started really is the toughest part!

Here are the 4 pillars:

  1. Low task value: Simply put, tasks that we perceive as low value, either in terms of fun or long-term rewards. When a task in unpleasant or boring, we can attempt to tie more enjoyable activities to the task (“I’ll go knock out this project at the coffee shop while I grab my favorite drink”) as this research suggests, or we can forcefully add on artificial elements such as “no turning back” deadlines (as mentioned above).
  2. Personality: Unfortunately, personality plays a role in procrastination. Some people are just more impulsive than others. The upside is that although it’s hard to control our personality, it is far easier to control our environment. For instance, I love beef jerky, and I will literally stuff my face with it if it is in my cabinets. To keep my binges to a minimum, I put it on a high cabinet that requires a step-ladder to reach it, relying on the annoyance of getting to it rather than my own willpower. For work, I block out distractions by heading to quiet locations (like the library) and restrict myself from time-wasting sites with tools like StayFocusd.
  3. Expectations: If you expect to complete a task easily, then you are less likely to procrastinate. This pillar is a bit more difficult to hack, but the best trick is to simply realize that the first step is often the most psychologically difficult. It is usually the case that an impending ‘to-do’ will be far less horrific than we imagine it to be, so if we can just commit 5-minutes to trying it out, we can see what it’s really like.
  4. Goal failure: Fear of failure is a real thing for many procrastinators. This pillar really has to do with being confident in your abilities. For a more extensive take on that subject, I recommend this article in Inc, as well as this one in NerdFitness.

Do the “Right” Kind of Fantasizing

Fantasies about the future are generally okay to have and are all in good fun. But excessive fantasizing has been proven to be a goal killer and a huge reason people procrastinate (it tends to tie in with perfectionism). According to this study on motivation and fantasies, when you ‘build castles in the sky’ you may be sabotaging real, obtainable goals. The researchers tested subjects on how commonplace fantasizing about their future was, and followed up on their performance on a number of categories.

Take those subjects looking for a job. Those who spent more time dreaming about getting a job performed worse. Two years after leaving college the ‘dreamers’:

had applied for fewer jobs,

had been offered fewer jobs,

and, if they were working, had lower salaries.

Not good! But we also know that positive visualizations can be motivating and inspire us to push ourselves, so what’s missing? According to this study from the UCLA, the mistake is in what we visualize. Researchers found that those participants who engaged in visualizations that included the process of what needed to be done to achieve the goal (ex: fantasizing about learning another language, and visualizing themselves practicing every day after work) were more likely to outperform their peers.

There were two reasons the visualization the process worked:

  1. Planning: visualizing the process helped focus attention on the steps needed to reach the goal.
  2. Emotion: visualization of individual steps led to reduced anxiety.

So don’t fret your day dreams, just make sure you’re not solely focusing on the rewards of the “good life” without remembering the very doable steps that are necessary to make it happen!

Go Get Em’, Sport

“No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”

Wise words from the notorious Fight Club, and a final lesson on procrastination that I’d like to impart. For many of us, procrastination comes from an overload of obligations. Our ability to say “no” to things that aren’t really moving us towards our goals is a tough skill to learn, but since it becomes impossible to tackle difficult tasks when we’re suffocating under a bunch of meaningless obligations, it’s necessary that we acquire it. Productivity requires radical elimination. It may seem selfish, but you’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else!

(By Gregory Ciotti via Lifehacker

39 Ways To Make Someone's Day.

1. Smile at a stranger

2. Put change in an expired parking meter

3. Mail someone a hand-written card

4. Hold a door open 

6. Give a friendly wave to a neighbor

7. Do a simple, free, quick kindness for a charity - eight examples here

8. Tell a friend why you appreciate them 

9. Walk instead of driving, and interact with the world around you

10. Teach a group in your community about something unique you do or enjoy

11. Drop off dinner or groceries to an elderly friend who can't get out much

12. Mentor someone - a child or an adult

13. Help someone get set up on social media so that they can connect with their loved ones

14. Call your family just to say hi and tell them that you were thinking of them

15. Invite a friend you haven't seen in a while to the movies or coffee or...

16. Sign up for an unusual class at a community college and make new friends 

17. Read a book on something new to gain new perspective, and apply it to the world around you

18. Make a Top 10 (or 25, or 100) list of things you're thankful for and share it

19. Ask someone for a recipe of theirs that you love - then surprise them by making it for them 

20. Ask someone for their insight, and tell them that you value their opinion

21. Sit down with someone eldery and ask them questions about their life

22. Give a stranger a sincere compliment

23. Say "Thank You" and "I Love You" often

24. Use your skills to do some pro-bono work

25. Organize memorable photos in a virtual or paper album for someone

26. Ask someone how their day was, and actually listen attentively

27. Treat someone you admire to lunch

28. Volunteer to speak on a topic that you know about to a group who wants to learn

29. Buy a magazine subscription and have it sent to a nursing home

30. Sell some cool stuff online and give the proceeds to charity: KarmaGoat.com

31. Read these 25 amazing social good blogs and pick something to do 

32. Share inspiring quotes and stories online

33. Donate your airline miles here

34. Pick up an errant piece of trash off the ground and throw it away

35. Offer to babysit for a single parent

36. Run an errand for a busy friend

37. Give a gift of a housekeeping service (or Fancy Hands!) to a new parent

38. Tell someone you see regularly at a business how much they make your day

39. Share something without being asked

(Via Amy Neumann at HuffPost)

Take a shortcut.

Shocking but true: if you're not using keyboard shortcuts and you work on a computer 8 hours a day for 5 days a week, you're wasting 64 hours a year! That's 8 whole work days that are totally lost because you're taking 2 seconds a minute more than is needed with your old-school, mouse-driven ways of navigation.

8 Things You Shouldn't Do Today.

If you get decent value from making to-do lists, you'll get huge returns in productivity and happiness by adding these items to your not to-do list:

1. Don't check your phone while you're talking to someone.

You've done it. You've played the, "Is that your phone? Oh, it must be mine," game. You've tried the you-think-sly-but-actually-really-obvious downwards glance. You've done the, "Wait, let me answer this text..." thing.

Maybe you didn't even say, "Wait." You just stopped talking, stopped paying attention, and did it.

Want to stand out? Want to be that person everyone loves because they make you feel, when they're talking to you, like you're the most important person in the world?

Stop checking your phone. It doesn't notice when you aren't paying attention.

Other people? They notice.

And they care.

2. Don't multi-task during a meeting.

The easiest way to be the smartest person in the room is to be the person who pays the most attention to the room.

You'll be amazed by what you can learn, both about the topic of the meeting and about the people in the meeting if you stop multi-tasking and start paying close attention. You'll flush out and understand hidden agendas, you'll spot opportunities to build bridges, and you'll find ways to make yourself indispensable to the people who matter.

It will be easy, because you'll be the only one trying.

And you'll be the only one succeeding on multiple levels.

3. Don't think about people who don't make any difference in your life.

Trust me: The inhabitants of planet Kardashian are okay without you.

But your family, your friends, your employees - all the people that really matter to you - are not. Give them your undivided time and attention.

They're the ones who deserve it.

4. Don't use multiple notifications.

You don't need to know the instant you get an email. Or a text. Or a tweet. Or anything else that pops up on your phone or computer.

If something is important enough for you to do, it's important enough for you to do without interruptions. Focus totally on what you're doing. Then, on a schedule you set - instead of a schedule you let everyone else set - play prairie dog and pop your head up to see what's happening.

Then get right back to work. Focusing on what you are doing is a lot more important than focusing on other people might be doing.

They can wait. You, and what is truly important to you, cannot.

5. Don't let your past dictate your future.

Mistakes are valuable. Learn from them.

Then let them go.

Easier said than done? It all depends on your perspective. When something goes wrong, turn it into an opportunity to learn something you didn't know - especially about yourself.

When something goes wrong for someone else, turn it into an opportunity to be gracious, forgiving, and understanding.

The past is your training. It should definitely inform, but in no way define you.

6. Don't wait until you're sure you will succeed.

You can never feel sure you will succeed at something new, but you can always feel sure you are committed to giving something your best.

And you can always feel sure you will try again if you fail.

Stop waiting. You have a lot less to lose than you think, and you have everything to gain.

7. Don't talk behind someone's back.

If only because being the focus of gossip sucks. (And so do the people who gossip.)

If you've talked to more than one person about something Joe is doing, wouldn't everyone be better off if you stepped up and actually talked to Joe about it? And if it's "not your place" to talk to Joe, it's probably not your place to talk about Joe.

Spend your time on productive conversations. You'll get a lot more done, and you'll gain more respect.

8. Don't say "yes" when you really mean "no."

Refusing a request from colleagues, customers, or even friends is hard. But rarely does saying no go as badly as you expect. Most people will understand, and if they don't, should you care too much about what they think?

When you say no, at least you'll only feel bad for a few moments. When you say yes to something you really don't want to do, you might feel bad for a long time - or at least as long as it takes you to do what you didn't want to do in the first place.

(By Jeff Haden via Inc.)

Meet Karyn: Director of Communications

I haven't ever added a bio of myself to our Fancy Hands staff page because, as the company blogger and social media chick, it's more fun for me to interview other people. But one of my stock questions is always "what's your favorite Fancy Hands request?" and I just have to tell you guys about what my Fancy Hands assistant did for me yesterday. So I answered all of the other bio questions, too, and here we are. 

Banish Bad Thoughts.

Our minds are so very powerful. Anyone who has been cured with a placebo can attest to that. They're given sugar pills, but because they believe that something positive is happening, their disease disappears. 

It stands to reason, then, that negative thoughts can cause you harm. They crowd your brain with doom and gloom, when what we all need is as much light and positivity as possible in order to be happy, creative, and productive. 

If you're having trouble ridding yourself of negative thoughts, try these techniques from Corrine Pikul to banish them for good: 

Show Them The Door 

We've all had the frustrating experience of going into another room to get something and then realizing that we've totally forgotten why we're there. What's happening, say scientists from Notre Dame University, is that the act of passing through the doorway serves as a cue (an "event model" in science-speak) to your brain, telling it that it's finished with the immediate task and to move on to something else, freeing up space and energy for new memories.

You can take advantage of this mechanism in order to help you "forget" more strategically: If you find yourself getting worked up about something while you're preparing dinner, stop and exit the room. And if you happen to have an open-plan layout, keep on walking right out the front door (just come back in before the water boils and the pot overflows).

Wash That Thought Right Outta Your Head

Decisive people have no idea how lucky they are to be spared the kind of second-guessing that can lead to sleeplessness, queasiness and general obsessiveness. But the rest of us now have a secret weapon against waffling: soap. Psychologists at the University of Michigan found that washing your hands with soap and water can help you stop questioning your judgment. The study authors explain that the act of washing up serves as a powerful metaphor of "cleaning the slate" and helps us mentally wipe away doubts and misgivings.

Go To Your Happy Place

When our brain insists on reminding us of that awful thing we said at the party last night, most of us react by suppressing the thought (and perhaps groaning). This often works, found British neuroscientists Roland Benoit and Michael Anderson, who used an fMRI machine to trace the brain activity of people who were trying to forget something. In a study published in the journal Neuron, they explained that when we push a memory out of our head, activity in the hippocampus, the region of the brain critical for remembering the past, is inhibited. However, there's always the threat that the thought will pop up again... and again.

One trick that the scientists tested was thought substitution: Whenever you start rehashing the night, tell yourself instead to think about your vacation to Aruba, or reimagine every bite of a meal you enjoyed. Doing this will induce frenetic activity in the parts of the brain that need to work to retrieve memories and along the pathways to consciousness. The two thoughts will literally compete for your attention, so make the substitution memory engaging and pleasurable enough to win.

Toss Them

Those troubled souls who vent their grievances on paper are on to something, found Ohio State University psychologist Richard Petty, Ph.D., and his colleagues. In one of their studies, high school students who were asked to write down thoughts about body image and then rate their own figures were only affected by their thoughts if they were asked to hold on to their papers and review them. Those who were told to chuck the papers in the trash showed no difference in how they rated themselves, regardless of whether they confessed positive or negative thoughts.

"By physically throwing away or protecting your thoughts, you influence how you end up using those thoughts," Petty said. So write them down and then—this is key—be sure to shred them, burn them, toss them in the compactor or drag them into the trash can on your desktop—and empty it.

Squash Them With a Challenge

You're surprisingly vulnerable to negative thinking when you're doing something that's practically second nature to you, says psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding, MD, coauthor of You Are Not Your Brain. When you're in the flow - say, knitting your 24th scarf - the brain's prefrontal cortex, which handles executive function, kicks back and lets the basal ganglia, or the habit center, take over. This is when the toxic thought sneaks in and gains control, while your knitting needles continue to clack away rhythmically.

Get your prefrontal cortex to refocus by turning your attention to a challenging activity that requires your full attention, like listening to Coffee Break French podcasts, playing Words With Friends with a responsive pal or whipping up a new recipe in the kitchen. Gladding says that it's important to do this as quickly as you can when you feel your bad thoughts approaching, because the more time you spend dwelling on things, the stronger those mental pathways become. "Then every time you get anxious, you'll automatically switch into obsessive mode," she says—and that's something you definitely want to avoid.

Work Them Out 

At any road race, you'll find dozens of running enthusiasts who have successfully kicked bad habits (as well as chronic bad moods) by following a regular training schedule. And intense physical activity has been shown in studies to raise serotonin and dopamine levels and lower the stress response. But while distance running, biking and swimming can boost general mental wellness, these solitary, repetitive activities can be the worst thing when you're dwelling on something specific and unchangeable. They can provide you with uninterrupted time to obsess, and that may reinforce negative thought patterns.

Consider seeking out physical activity that makes your brain work as hard as your body, like a class (spinning, Zumba, Bikram or Ashtanga yoga), a group sport (community soccer, pickup basketball) or a team activity (rowing, a running group, a master's swim team). 

Now Feel Like Yay!

The end. 

(Adapted from an article by Corrine Pikul in O Magazine)

5 Steps to Being a Leader.

Find Purpose

Purpose is the one thing all great leaders have in common. Great leaders have a clearly defined purpose, while average leaders just show up to work. Purpose fuels passion and work ethic. It is these characteristics that afford great leaders a competitive advantage over those who don’t understand the dynamics of this linkage.

People First

Leaders are nothing without people. People will make or break you as a leader. You’ll either treat them well, earn their trust, respect and loyalty, or you won’t. You’ll either see people as capital to be leveraged or humans to be developed and fulfilled. You’ll either view yourself as superior to your employees, or as one whose job it is to serve them, learn from them, and leave them be better off for being led by you.

The best leaders don’t put people in a box – they free them from boxes. Ultimately, a leaders job isn’t to create followers, but to strive for ubiquitous leadership. Average leaders spend time scaling processes, systems, and models – great leaders focus on scaling leadership.

Develop Awareness

Great leaders are self aware, organizationally aware, culturally aware, contextually aware, and emotionally aware. They value listening, engaging, observing, and learning over pontificating. They value sensitivity over insensitivity and humility over hubris. Leaders who come across as if they know everything haven’t fooled anyone – except themselves.

Great leaders avoid the traps, gaps, and blind spots average leaders so easily step into. Leaders who choose to live in the bubble of their own thinking rather than understanding the benefits of seeking others input and counsel make things harder on everyone. The willingness to allow your positions and opinions to be challenged is a sign of strength not weakness. I’ve often said the most powerful and overlooked aspect of learning is unlearning. Leaders never willing to change their mind ensure only one outcome – a lack of growth and development.

Shun Complexity

Complexity is a leader’s enemy not their friend. Great leaders live to eliminate or simplify the complex, while average leaders allow themselves and those they lead to be consumed by it. Complexity stifles innovation, slows development, gates progress, and adversely impacts culture. Complexity is expensive, inefficient, and ineffective.

I’m not minimizing the fact we live in a complex world, and I’m not suggesting that profit cannot be found in complexity. But great leaders understand opportunity and profits are extracted from complexity through simplification, not by adding to the complexity. While many think it was Einstein who said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” the statement was actually borrowed from Leonardo de Vinci – both gentlemen were correct.

Get Personal

If I only had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say, “It’s not personal; it’s just business.” Great leaders understand nothing is more personal than leadership, and they engage accordingly. The best leaders understand a failure to engage is in fact a failure to lead. Average leaders remain aloof and distant – great leaders look to know and care for their people.

The best leaders understand it’s not a weakness to get personal, to display empathy, kindness, and compassion – it’s the ultimate strength. Peak performance is never built on the backs of others, but by helping others become successful. Treat your people as if your life depends on it, bevcause it does.

(By Mike Myatt via Forbes)

Caviar, narwhals, and fancy phone calls.

The Fancy Hands assistants clock some interesting facts while completing client tasks, and share their new knowledge with you: 

Caviar isn't always fish eggs. Vegan caviar is made from seaweed. - Mandie S. 

You can rent a school bus from a bus rental company, even if you aren't a school, doing something related to a school, or will be having kids on board! I never thought of using a school bus to transport a bunch of adults, but in most cases, it's cheaper than a more typical party bus. - Lauri E.

I learned that an ice sculpture of a Narwhal will run about $500. Then I learned what a Narwhal was (a toothed whale who lives in the Arctic). - Nicole C. 

An Australian low-rider car with an open back is called an "ute". - Sandy M. 

An American needs an International Driver's Permit to drive in other countries. It is issued by the American Automobile Association. It contains a translation of the information on your home country's driver's license into ten different languages. - Allen L. 

I'm learning so much every day, but the most helpful tip today came from my fellow assistant, Kelley. She shared a wonderful link to help with international calling. -Jackie S. 

Delegation Salvation.

Espree Devora, founder of SaveBusinessTime.com and Fancy Hands client, wrote a great post on The FoundersCard blog about all of the ways she delegates. Here's what she has to say about Fancy Hands (I added two of my own notes, in parenthesis and without italics): 

The business of email.

Have you ever wondered about the history of the email system that you likely use every day? 

How to live richly and avoid regret.

In the 1990s, Randy Pausch, PhD, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, began giving speeches about time management. Pausch cautioned listeners not to waste energy on activities that seem urgent but aren't important. Choose instead, Pausch suggested, to spend time on activities that are deeply important, even if they don't seem critical.

That was an excellent speech. It would become extremely poignant in 2006, when the then 45-year-old Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Watching another of his speeches online - the famous "Last Lecture" (now a best-selling book), in which he teaches his three young children how to make their dreams come true - I wondered if this time management expert sensed, long before his diagnosis, that he'd spend less time on earth than anyone wished.

Pausch's work and his personal story drive home a lesson we all know but frequently forget:

To live richly and avoid regret, we must give priority to things of real importance.

But in a world where everything from your BlackBerry to your car's oil filter to your grandmother is competing for your limited time, this requires deliberate, consistent choice. The good news is that we can develop the habit of choosing what's really important over everything else. Life seems designed to teach us how to do this. Pay attention, and you'll notice that even when you're under "urgent" pressure to do something unimportant, it feels discordant and wrong. Do what really matters, and your life comes into harmonious alignment. 

Randy Pausch proposed categorizing all activities on Stephen Covey's matrix of apparent urgency and ultimate importance. 

We almost always do the things in Quadrant I (stuff that's both important and urgent, like feeding the kids and paying the rent), and almost never get to Quadrant IV (like reading junk mail). That's good. However, we tend to focus on Quadrant III (urgent but not important things, like talking to a demanding co-worker about her rotten boyfriend) to the detriment of Quadrant II (no-deadline pastimes like writing a book, basking in nature's beauty, or taking time to be still). Devote less time to the dinky tasks, even those that are urgent, and more time to those things that are really important. 

Here's an exercise he proposed:

1. Get 20 or 30 notecards. On each card, write down one thing you should do, want to do, hope to do, plan to do, or dream of doing. Include everything, no matter how large or small. Keep this up until your brain runs dry. 


2. When you've written down all your goals, plans, and ideas, separate the cards into two piles: things that have to be done right this minute (or feel like it) and those that don't.


3. Now go through both of these piles, separating each into "important" and "not important" stacks. The four resulting stacks correlate with the Covey Quadrants.


4. Carefully place both your "not important" card stacks in a safe spot. This, if my experience is any indication, will ensure that you'll never find them again. If you do happen to stumble across them at any time in the future, burn them.


5. Commit to eliminating from your schedule all the activities that didn't make it into the "important" stacks. If you have time after doing your important and urgent things, use it on important but not urgent activities. No matter how pressing something may seem to be, if it's not important, just don't do it.

From Theory to Practice: Living a Quadrant II Life

Planning to live this way is one thing; changing habits of thought and action is another. You're subjected to daily pressure to do things that, while unimportant in the long run, may seem unavoidable in the middle of a PTA meeting. Congratulate yourself every time you drop a Quadrant III activity and replace it with something from Quadrant II. Here are some substitutions I made after doing this exercise:

  • Postponed promoting new book to raise money for research on Down syndrome.
  • Canceled client meeting to bake my daughter's birthday cake.
  • Blew off e-mail to chat on the phone with dear friend.
  • Blew off e-mail to volunteer at local methadone clinic.
  • Blew off e-mail to exercise.
  • Blew off e-mail to bathe.
  • Blew off e-mail to sleep.
  • Blew off e-mail to sense a theme developing here.

How to Determine What's Important

As powerful as this exercise was for me, it posed a few vexing questions. Highly effective people seem to cut through life's complexities in bold, clean strokes; reading their books or watching their lectures, you can practically hear them telling their secretaries: "No, no, Mabel, can't you see that's urgent, but it's not important? And cancel my 5 o'clock; I'll be meeting with His Holiness the Pope instead."

By contrast, my prioritization is plagued with ambiguity. Is chasing my beagle round and round the sofa important? Urgent? Many would say it's neither, but Cookie clearly thinks it's both, and who am I to say he's wrong? I might dismiss Cookie's opinion on the grounds that he's small and furry, but what about, say, the authors who'd like me to promote their books? The stack of manuscripts in my office is taller than I am, and every volume is both urgent and important to its author. If you, like me, tend to include other people's priorities in your decision-making, the Covey Quadrant exercise requires you to break that pattern. You can't differentiate between "this is due today" and "this is important" when you are (to quote the 15th-century mystic Kabir) "tangled up in others." You must untangle yourself, still all other voices, and go to the deepest place within to know what's important and urgent in your unique and singular life.

This can be difficult at first, but as you focus on it, you'll discover a beautiful surprise: Your life has been waiting for just this opportunity to help you choose what's right for you, even when other people (and the occasional beagle) are telling you that their own code-red desires should take priority. It does this like a good psychological behaviorist, by making things difficult and taxing when they're not important, delicious and relatively effortless when they are.

When I say this to new clients, they look at me cynically, as if I've promised them a unicorn.

But when they begin paying attention, they soon notice how good life feels when they're doing what thrills them, and how bad it feels when they're not. The bad feeling is most noticeable at first; a sense of awkwardness, like petting a cat from back to front. Tasks go badly. My clients forget things: their keys, their wallets, the way to the office. Conversations are stilted. Energy ebbs without ever flowing. If these clients don't change course, unease may grow into anger, depression, health problems, or total burnout.

Uncomfortableness is a wonderful incentive to begin finding out how good a life of real significance can feel. Drop what's unimportant and replace it with activities from Covey Quadrant II—things that replenish your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being—and suddenly, everything becomes much easier. Energy returns, anger disappears, you begin smiling spontaneously. The cat stops generating static electricity, and starts to purr.

To follow your life's guidance, you may have to reassign some seemingly important things to "unimportant." If you believe that pleasing your horrible boss or having a spotless house is a higher priority than playing with your children or sleeping off the flu, be prepared for a long and strenuous battle against destiny. Also, be prepared to lose. And after you've lost, go online and watch Randy Pausch's last lecture. In Pausch, who died in July of 2008, you'll see the clarity and joy of a man who chose all along to do what really mattered. That's no consolation prize; that's true victory. 

As you focus more on what's important to your soul, filling your schedule with the kinds of things that are vital though maybe not due this minute, every day will bring more enjoyment and refreshment. You'll be fascinated and invigorated.

"This is the true joy in life," wrote George Bernard Shaw, "being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. ... Life is no 'brief candle' for me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." This is the credo of Quadrant II.

Abide by it, and you'll find a path that illuminates the world for you and others, even after you're gone. No matter what others may think, say, or do, your whole life will become a blaze of glory. 

(Adapted from an article by Martha Beck via O Magazine)

Lifehacks for the home.

We love saving you time at Fancy Hands. Our assistants do the tasks you don't want to, so that you can sit on the beach with a cocktail and relax. At some point, however, sad as it may be, we must all face an unpleasant chore or two. Here's how to get them done faster and smarter than the average Joe: 

1. Lint rollers. Stock up, people. Run one quickly over the bottom of your purse to pick up trash and spare change. Roll one over a carpet or table after craft time to grab all of your kid's glitter (or maybe do this after a bachelor party, once the glittery strippers leave).

2. Dude. Your dog's kinda dirty. It's nothing personal, it's just the way dogs are. Use bath mats as car seat protectors. The rubber bottom will keep it in place, and the thickness is better than a towel. 

3. Stain on your suede? Run a nail file over it gently. Boom. What stain?

4. Grease stains suck, too. Cornmeal soaks them up. Pour some on the sore spot, and let sit for 15 to 30 minutes. Vacuum up to remove the grains. Then make some cornbread for dinner and get another grease stain on the chair. It's the circle of life. 

5. Got a spiderweb or some other general funk in the corners of your ceiling? Secure a clean towel around your broom and swat it like a champ. Bonus points if you blast some music and turn this task into a calorie-burning dance. Triple points if you film it and send it to me. 

6. Tiny toys underfoot? Ugh. Don't pick them up one-by-one, use a dustpan to scoop them up and dump them into the toybox. Better yet, make your kid do this. Those aren't your toys. 

7. When you can't reach inside your vases to clean them, fill the container with warm water and drop in one or two denture-cleaning tablets for every eight ounces of warm water. Let the fizzy solution sit for the time specified on the product's box, swirl, and rinse. 

I'm having fun just imagining buying denture tablets at the store. Great opportunity to play a teeth-falling-out prank of some kind on the cashier.

8. Hot air quickly loosens sticker glue. Peel off, then turn your head upside down and give yourself a little mid-day blowout. Now you look fabulous and your glasses are sticker-free. 

9. If I lose one more plastic cup lid or straw to the dishwasher gods, I'm going to scream. The heater coil in the bottom melts anything that falls through the rack. Good thing I know about this trick now - put those loose odds and ends into a lingerie bag before washing. Genius. 

10. If you're planning to scoop sticky things like honey or peanut butter from a measuring spoon, coat it with oil first, and that stuff will land in your recipe instead of hanging out premanently on the spoon. 

Well! I feel more productive already just for writing this. Imagine how great life will be once we try all of these things. Let's go get 'em, tiger. 

(Ideas from Real Simple). 

Meet Nick: Developer

Nick is our youngest employee at Fancy Hands HQ, known for his love of Subway and motorcycles. Here's what's on his mind: 

Don't Give Up!

We've hit the halfway mark in the year. The summer weather begs you to slack off and lose focus of your goals. But whatever they may be, you can achieve them.

Don't give up!

These people didn't: 

  • Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade. He was defeated in every public office role he ran for. Then he became the British prime minister at the age of 62. 

Make the most of your weekend.

Laura Vanderkam, the author of What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend, shared four things that successful people don't do on the weekends with O Magazine

1. They Don't Keep Spinning.

Yes, successful people work a lot. Martha Stewart, for instance, has famously claimed to sleep just four hours a night. But there are times to push and times not to. We need both. "A decade ago, I let my days just sort of all blend together," says James Reinhart, whose San Francisco-based online clothing resale platform ThredUp.com has grown from 30 employees to 140 in the past year. After starting the company, though, he realized that "it's the quality of my decision making that ultimately makes the company successful." Without the time to go into refresh mode, "you never end up with the space to think." 

Now, James makes a point of golfing or running from 6 to 8 in the morning before his family wakes up. Reinhart claims to do his best thinking while hitting the trails in a nearby state park. "I come back from runs with clarity on decisions I want to make," he says. (He may be onto something; a number of neurological studies have found that exercise improves brain function.) 

Of course, in a world where we tether ourselves to our inboxes, unplugging is easier said than done. You take your iPhone along when you meet a friend for coffee. She's five minutes late. You start checking your email and, boom! Work mode is back. That's part of modern life, but you can still carve out a few hours for a "tech Sabbath," which is time with no electronic devices. Try turning the smart phone off Friday or Saturday night and turning it back on 24 hours later. Probably nothing has changed, exceot for your level of energy. 

2. They Don't Go Limp.

If you spend your workweek running—or worse, flying—from place to place, you may think you want to collapse on the couch all weekend. But resist the urge: first, it's impossible to do "nothing." And research into human happiness finds that anticipation accounts for a major chunk of the mood boost associated with any activity. One well-known Dutch study of vacationers found that holiday-goers were happier than people who weren't taking vacations, but the increased happiness largely happened before the trips, as people anticipated the fun to come. Compare it to opening Christmas presents: the act only takes an hour, but seeing wrapped gifts under the tree stretches out the joy for weeks. If you make a reservation on Wednesday for a Saturday night dinner at your favorite restaurant, you'll spend the next three days imagining your pasta carbonara to come, which improves your weekend and your week. 

3. They Don't Clean the Grout.

Using the weekend to catch up on chores is probably the hardest trap to avoid. After all, if you work full-time, what other time are you supposed to do the 15.1 hours (for women) or 9.6 hours (for men) of household activities that the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims the average American does each week? Housework will take all the time you are willing to give it. After all, women in 1965 spent more than 30 hours each week on housework...and we haven't descended into complete filth since then. 

So consider doing your chores during the workweek. The chores will take less time because you have less time. This will leave your weekends free for more rejuvenating activities. Throw a load of laundry in before dinner and have the kids either do the dishes after or fold. Make a quick trip to the grocery store at 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. The place will be so empty you'll zoom through. If a perfectly sparkling house is important to you, then designate a short cleaning time on the weekend. When the cleaning window arrives, set an alarm and do as much as you can in an hour. When the time is up, it's up. 

4. They Don't Lose the Last 15 Hours.

I struggle with this trap myself. I love what I do, but sometimes the sheer volume of work waiting for me Monday morning makes me look at the clock come Sunday afternoon and fall into a total Sunday funk. But the thing is: At 3 p.m. on Sunday, I still have 15 hours before I'll wake up Monday morning, including seven hours before I need to go to bed. Why not seize that time? 

This is why Sunday nights have become my new favorite time to host parties. Most people are free, and there's a more relaxed vibe than at the formal get-togethers people expect on Saturday nights. Order food, have a beer, enjoy your friends, and you'll be far readier for the workweek than if you spend that same time thinking about your inbox. As Reinhart puts it, failing to relax, run and refresh on weekends "makes me not a good husband, not a good dad and a terrible CEO." Success requires recharging the batteries from time to time—so you can hit Monday refreshed and ready to conquer—if not the world—then your own life. 

Jockeys, Jedis, and Juicy Fruit.

What have our Fancy Hands assistants learned in their research for clients today? 

Most horse racing jockeys were African American slaves prior to the Civil War. Once they became free men, due to racism, they were virtually pushed out of the profession. An African American has not won the Kentucky Derby since 1902. However, jockey Kevin Krigger is trying to change that. He became the first African American jockey to ever win the Santa Anita Derby in April, and although he didn't win the Derby this year, he'll keep trying. -Allison H. 

Jedi Knighthood is gaining momentum as a religion. On the 2001 census, 21,000 Canadians, 70,000 Australians, and 390,127 people in England and Wales marked their religion as "Jedi". In England, that means that "Jedi" surpassed Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, making it the fourth largest reported religion in the country. -Amber M. 

In 1892, William Wrigley Jr. began adding gum as a bonus to each can of baking powder he sold. The chewing gum became more popular than the baking powder, and the company was reconfigured as a chewing gum company.Then came Juicy Fruit. Then Wrigley field ... Go Cubbies!!! -Juls N. 

If you need to call the NYC-based 311 outside of the boroughs, they can be reached via (212) 639-9675. -Susan M. 

I learned that there are 4,670 city blocks in San Francisco. - Mandie S. 

Lastly, check out how one of our super cute clients, Beth, has been using our service! 

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