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Creativity, Productivity, and Forgiveness.

Simon Rich is 29 years old. He wrote his first book when he was 18. He is the second youngest writer to ever be hired by Saturday Night Live, and he was just named one of Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business. His collection of short stories, The Last Girlfriend On Earth, is available now. 

Simon shared five key creativity boosters with Fast Company here that you can apply to your work routine right now.

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We're happy to announce a new feature - task searching! 

In the upper right hand of your dashboard screen (www.fancyhands.com/dashboard), you'll see a "Search your requests" box. 

You can type a word that you remember was in the subject - or you can even search for a word that was in the body of your request. 

When you want to clear your search and review all of your tasks, click on the "x" in the search box. 

We hope this will make it easier for you  to find the answers you're looking for in your archives.

Enjoy! 

The secrets to happiness at work.

Being happy at work is best for all involved; the employees and the boss. Check out these statistics that happy employees deliver: 

33% higher profitability (Gallup)

43% more productivity (Hay Group)

37% higher sales (Shawn Achor)

300% more innovation (HBR)

51% lower turnover (Gallup)

50% less safety incidents (Babcock Marine Clyde)

66% decrease in sick leave (Forbes)

125% less burnout (HBR)

It’s no surprise that the 20 employees of Delivering Happiness at Work (DHW) compiled this list and toss around the data any chance they get. The startup brainchild of Zappos’ Tony Hsieh and business partner Jenn Lim emerged after the publication of Delivering Happiness, a book that waxes on the benefits of value-based management and work, life balance.

To drive the point home, the consulting firm’s even set up a return-on-investment calculator that allows any company to determine how much malcontent could cost them based on the number of employees on staff. So far, over 200 companies have signed up, and DHW workshops have garnered rave reviews from clients as diverse as HP, former Lost producer Ra’uf Glasgow, and RealTruck.

“A lot of people think [happiness] is fluffy,” Sunny Grosso, DHW culture and brand boss admits, but it's what built Zappos into a $2 billion business.

With that in mind, Fast Company asked Grosso for a peek inside DHW’s happy hive. 

Here are a few of their best practices: 

Draw Your Own Culture Target

The premise is simple: Draw a bull’s-eye with three concentric rings. The center spot is the “me.” Grosso explains that this represents, “The idea that happiness at work and in life starts with you.” The next circle is “we,” which could be your family, friends, and coworkers. The outer ring is for community, or all the people you affect in your job such as partners and vendors.

By putting yourself in the middle, Grosso says, you begin to see how much your own personal values influence those around you. Aligning those things that are most important to you with your “we” and “community,” will make your work more fulfilling, your partnerships stronger, and your impact on the world greater, she asserts.

Birds of a Cultural Feather...

Every person on the DHW staff has a poster of the organization’s 10 core values up on their wall. Grosso even has a small copy stuck to the back of her phone. Referring to a speech made by Delivering Happiness CEO Jenn Lim, Grosso says, “Our core values are the code, the DNA,” that allows the team to fly together as seamlessly as a flock of geese in formation.

And if you're curious, here are DHW's 10 core values: 

1. Deliver WOW Through Service

2. Embrace and Drive Change

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

5. Pursue Growth and Learning

6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8. Do More With Less

9. Be Passionate and Determined

10. Be Humble

Bring Your Weird Self to Work

That’s not to say that everyone needs to share the exact same personal values in order for the organization’s values to unite the team and strengthen the business. DHW team members are encouraged to bring their whole self to work, with all the attendant weirdness that may involve.

“I used to do gymnastics,” recalls Grosso, so the time she spontaneously did a handstand at work sparked a colleague to begin showing off his facility with contortions. “Our work environment allows you to be you more,” she contends, and is less about work/life balance and more about how work mixes with life.

Scale Individual Happiness to Strengthen the Organization

It may sound like a simple recipe for a small startup, but Grosso points out that Zappos does the same with some 2,000 employees who are an eclectic bunch. Bringing your weird self to work is okay if you can exist--happily--within the company’s 10 core values.

Grosso says that Zappos’ IT department is an example of a team that has a different micro-culture within the parent company. “They are less about sharing and interacting and having Jello shots,” she notes, laughing, “But they still adhere to the core values. Some [values] are stronger than others, but that’s okay.”

Happier Collaboration Through Video Conferencing

Though small, the DHW team is spread across several offices in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Atlanta, and across three business units (including the DH clothing line and community-focused efforts) so collaboration doesn’t happen as seamlessly as it would in one open office. Nonetheless, Grosso says they make a “huge effort” to bring everyone together via video conference once a week. In addition to quarterly in-person meetings, every Friday at 11 a.m., everyone on staff is required to stop what they are doing and join the call, no excuses. “Connection is one of the pieces of the science of happiness that we teach companies, so it’s something we take very seriously,” she says.

To energize the assembled crew, the call starts with something fun such as Grosso or Lim sharing photos of their travels to speaking engagements or workshops. This week for instance, Grosso proudly shared a pic she took of a billboard in the Gates Foundation’s offices that asked, “Does happiness matter at work?” in anticipation of a presentation she was doing there. The visuals, she contends, make more of an impact than reciting a laundry list of the week’s appointments.

Talk to the CEO

The video conferences also have an “Ask Jenn” component in which the entire team has the opportunity to quiz Lim about anything from how many hours she put in on a given week to which magazine’s cover she’d like to grace. Questions are emailed in advance from each team member. “It’s important to make sure people have a connection to her because she’s on the road so much,” says Grosso.

The Path to Happiness is Paved With (Well-Placed) Praise and More Cowbell

Then the conversation moves to “snout outs” which Grosso likens to the way a dog pushes its nose out of a car window. The premise again is to share accomplishments. “Did someone impress you this week?” or “Did you appreciate the way someone collaborated?” are just some of the items thrown out for praise.

And just to add a little extra encouragement for those who don’t like to toot horns, good ideas are celebrated with ringing of cowbells.

Use Constructive Honesty

Not every person or idea is a good fit at any company and DHW is no exception. Grosso admits that even after putting some employees through the rigor of interviewing, they just weren’t right for the team once they were hired. Like the founders of Asana, Grosso credits the company’s tenet of extreme transparency to weed out potential trouble.

She also cites the research of Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina that illustrates how a ratio of three positive emotions to one negative is minimum optimum for high functioning teams. So if someone or some initiative isn’t working out, Grosso says the team will share their thoughts in a positive way.

Collaborate Right Now

The final component of the conference is to work on something together right away. Usually there are four items that require immediate attention and the team brainstorms solutions onto a whiteboard. Grosso says that allows the meeting to end on a note of inspiration and connects the team (once again) to the higher purpose of the organization.

(By Lydia Dishman, via Fast Company

6 Ways to Improve Your Memory

Ready for a pop quiz? Set your timer for one minute and focus on the words above, then go read another article. When you're done, write down as many of the words as you can remember, and return to this page to count up your total. 

So Morgan Freeman walks into a bar with a parrot...

It's yet another interesting day for our assistants. Check out what they learned today: 

A man named Morgan J. Freeman is the producer of the MTV show "Teen Mom". This is NOT the same man as the actor. -Danielle Cotton 

Become a master unitasker.

I'm sure that times weren't always perfect for Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family, but I often wish for that type of simple life. She was happy when she got an orange and some maple candy in her Christmas stocking. She and her sisters sewed their own dolls and spent most of their afternoons sitting in trees or playing stick ball. "Paw" was always doing one thing at a time: chopping wood, fixing the roof, taking the wagon into town for supplies. He held the reins and focused on the road. I didn't once see him take a conference call while driving. 

Train Your Brain.

Science suggests that your brain is one of the best organizational tools out there. But how do you deploy it to de-clutter your life? A coauthor of the new book Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time provides some thought-provoking strategies.

1. Tap Into Your Logical Side.

"Disorganization is often driven by anxiety and fear," says Paul Hammerness, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Those feelings are processed in the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain. Rational thinking, on the other hand-the cornerstone of effective organization-takes place mostly in the prefrontal cortex. Rev up this area by filling out an expense report or looking over a spreadsheet; you'll be on the road to thinking more logically and tackling tasks more efficiently.

2. Flex Your Memory Muscles.

First thing in the morning, go over the upcoming day's tasks, step by step, in your mind. Making a mental to-do list stimulates your working memory-the part of your brain that helps you store and use complex information. Focus on completing the items on your list in order. If you're interrupted (say, the phone rings), make a conscious effort to ask yourself if you need to respond-an action that taps right into your working memory. Once you've reacted (or not), revisit your mental list. The more you use your working memory, the more likely you are to stick to a task, which should ultimately leave you with a greater sense of control.

3. Give Yourself A Break.

"Despite all the brain's impressive hardware, there is a limit to what it can deal with," Hammerness says. Most adults can focus on one task for only about 60 minutes. To make the most of your attention span, stop hourly and walk around; any new action will "reset" your brain and ready it to return to the work at hand.

(By Gretchen Reynolds via Oprah.com)

Meet Scott: Customer Experience Supervisor

When we sat down with Scott to get to know him better, we were also lucky enough to be granted an interview with his beautiful beard. Here's what that ginger masterpiece had to say:

19 emotions with no English words.

(Click to enlarge) 

We’ve all heard that the Inuit people have countless words for snow. That’s a bit of a misnomer, but the sentiment is powerful all the same: Some cultures have rewritten language itself in order to better express the things most important to them.

Wisdom, by Kareem.

Great insights by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, originally published in Esquire

When I was thirty, I was living my dream. I’d already accomplished most of what I’d set out to achieve professionally: leading scorer in the NBA, leading rebounder, leading blocker, Most Valuable Player, All-Star. But success can be as blinding as Bill Walton’s finger in the eye when battling for a rebound. I made mistakes. Plenty of them. In fact, sometimes I wish I could climb into a time machine and go back to shake some sense into that thirty-year-old me. If I could, here’s the advice I would give him:

1. Be more outgoing.

Be the CEO of your mind.

A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is defined as "the highest-ranking corporate officer (executive) or administrator in charge of total management of an organization."

Melanie Greenberg wrote the below about how to gain CEO-style management...over your own mind: 

Buddha said, "to enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to yourself and your family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind."

You may have tried to control your thoughts at one time or another. With the aid of self-help books, perhaps you really tried to “be positive” and “show negativity the door.”  And this may have even worked for a while. But sooner or later, you probably found yourself back at the starting point. I’m here to tell you that there is another way. And that is to become the CEO of your own mind – skillfully directing it to live in harmony with the other players of self - body and spirit.

If you follow the six steps below, you will be the master of yourself in no time.

STEP 1:  LISTEN AND ACKNOWLEDGE.

Like all good leaders, you’re going to have to listen to your disgruntled employee, and acknowledge that you’re taking its message seriously. Minds, like people, can relax and let go when they feel heard and understood. Practice gratitude and thank your mind for its contribution. “Thank you, brain, for reminding me that if I don’t succeed in making more sales, I might get fired.” “Thank you for telling me that I might always be alone and never make a family if I don't find love soon.”  “These are important areas of life, and I need to pay attention to them, and do my best to take advantage of every opportunity that comes up. I also need to learn from past experiences so I don’t keep making the same mistakes.”

STEP 2: MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR MIND.

You may not like what your mind does or the way it conducts itself. In fact, all that negativity can be downright irritating sometimes. But the fact is, you’re stuck with it, and you can’t (or wouldn’t want to) lobotomize it away. In the book The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris uses the example of the Israelis and the Palestinians to illustrate your relationship with your mind’s negative thoughts. These two old enemies may not like each other’s way of life, but they’re stuck with each other. If they wage war on each other, the other side retaliates, and more people get hurt and buildings destroyed. Now they all have a lot less energy to focus on building the health and happiness of their societies.

Just as living in peace would allow these nations to build healthier and more prosperous societies, so will making peace with your mind. Accepting that negative thoughts and feelings will be there, that you can’t control them, can allow you to focus on your actions in the present moment, so you can move ahead with your most important goals. You don’t necessarily have to like the thoughts or agree with them, you just have to let them be there in the background of your mind, while you go out and get things done.

STEP 3: REALIZE YOUR THOUGHTS ARE JUST THOUGHTS.

Most of the time we don’t “see” our minds. They just feel like part of us.  Dr. Steve Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, uses the concept of being “fused with your thoughts” to illustrate this relationship. To be fused means to be stuck together, undifferentiated. You feel like your thoughts and feelings are YOU and so you accept them unconditionally as the truth without really looking at them. “I’m thinking I’m a failure and boring – gee, I must be a failure and boring.”  This kind of simplistic logic seems to prevail because we can’t see our own minds, so we have difficulty stepping outside ourselves and getting an objective observer’s perspective.

In actuality, our thoughts are passing mental events, influenced by our moods, states of hunger or tiredness, physical health, hormones, sex, the weather, what we watched on TV last night, what we ate for dinner, what we learned as kids, and so on. They are like mental habits. And, like any habits, they can be healthy or unhealthy, but they take time to change. Just like a couch potato can’t get up and run a marathon right away, we can’t magically turn off our spinning negative thought/feeling cycles without repeated practice and considerable effort. And even then, our overactive amygdalas will still send us the negative stuff sometimes.

STEP 4: OBSERVE YOUR OWN MIND.

The saying “know thine enemy” is also  applicable to our relationship with our own minds. Just like a good leader spends his time walking through the offices, getting to know the employees, we need to devote time to getting to know how our minds work day-to-day.  Call it mindfulness, meditation, or quiet time. Time spent observing your mind is as important as time spent exercising. When you try to focus your mind on the in and out rhythm of your breath, or on the trees and flowers when you walk in nature, what does your mind do? If it’s like mine, it wanders all over the place – mostly bringing up old worries or unsolved problems from the day. And, if left unchecked, it can take you out of the peacefulness of the present moment, and into a spiral of worry, fear, and judgment.

Mindfulness involves not only noticing where your mind goes when it wanders, but also gently bringing it back to the focus on breath, eating, walking, loving, or working. When you do this repeatedly over months or years, you begin to retrain your runaway amygdala. Like a good CEO, you begin to know when your mind is checked out or spinning its wheels, and you can gently guide it to get back with the program. When it tries to take off on its own, you can gently remind it that’s it’s an interdependent and essential part of the whole enterprise of YOU.

STEP 5: RETRAIN YOUR MIND TO REWIRE YOUR BRAIN.

There is an old and rather wise saying, “we are what we repeatedly do.”  To this, I would add “we become what we repeatedly think.”  Over long periods, our patterns of thinking become etched into the billions of neurons in our brains, connecting them together in unique, entrenched patterns. When certain brain pathways – connections between different components or ideas – are frequently repeated, the neurons begin to “fire” or transmit information together in a rapid, interconnected sequence. Once the first thought starts, the whole sequence gets activated.

Autopilot is great for driving a car, but no so great for emotional functioning. For example, you may have deep-seated fears of getting close to people because you were mistreated as a child. To learn to love, you need to become aware of the whole negative sequence and how it’s biasing your perceptions, label these reactions as belonging to the past, and refocus your mind on present-moment experience. Over time, you can begin to change the wiring of your brain so your prefrontal cortex (the executive center, responsible for setting goals, planning and executing them), is more able to influence and shut off your rapidly firing, fear-based amygdala (emotion control center). And, this is exactly what brain imaging studies on effects of mindfulness therapy have shown.

STEP 6:  PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION.

The pioneer of self-compassion research, Dr. Kristin Neff, described this concept as “a healthier way of relating to yourself.” While we can’t easily change the gut-level feelings and reactions that our minds and bodies produce, we can change how we respond to these feelings. 

When we judge our feelings, we lose touch with the benefits of those feelings. They are valuable sources of information about our reactions to events in our lives, and they can tell us what is most meaningful and important to us. Emotions are signals telling us to reach out to for comfort or to take time out to rest and replenish ourselves. Rather than criticizing ourselves, we can learn new ways of supporting ourselves in our suffering. We may deliberately seek out inner and outer experiences that bring us joy or comfort – memories of happy times with people we love, the beauty of nature, creative self-expression. Connecting with these resources can help us navigate the difficult feelings while staying grounded in the present.

SUMMARY

To be a successful CEO of your own mind, you need to listen, get to know it, acknowledge its contribution, realize its nature, make peace with it, implement a retraining or employee development program, and treat it kindly. It will repay you with a lifetime of loyaly and service to the values and goals that you most cherish.

Hello, Trello!

We're happy to announce a new integration with Trello, a project management system that keeps you organized even better than your Trapper Keeper did. Remember those? 

When you synch your Trello account to your Fancy Hands account, you can assign items from your Trello to-do list to your Fancy Hands assistants, freeing up time in your day to keep working on the important things you need to do. 

Or, maybe you can use the free time to hit the gym. 

More fun, even - free up time for happy hour! 

Well done, Old Sport!

Interested in becoming a new Trello user? Find out more about them here

Lifehacker wrote about them here and Techcrunch has the behind-the-scenes dish here.

Already a Trello client? Connect your account to your Fancy Hands account right here

Find out about all of the platforms that Fancy Hands integrates with and other cool bells and whistles here.

Worth It.

It warms our hearts when people blog about their experience as a Fancy Hands client. Here's what Keith Korneluk has to say:

"Quick. Make a list of the top ten things you have to accomplish this month but have absolutely no desire to start or finish them. Now take that list and circle the tasks that could be accomplished if you were a Hollywood celebrity with a personal assistant. Got the list?

Great.

Guess what? You can have that personal assistant working for you without the burden of paying them thousands of dollars and selling your underwear to TMZ. Because your assistant is in the cloud.

Enter Fancy Hands.

Sanity, reclaimed.

Check out what Amanda Steinberg, CEO of Daily Worth, has to say about Fancy Hands: 

"When it comes to work-life balance, it’s not just about making time for each, but making sure that both to-do lists (for work and home) are getting done. Not only am I the CEO of DailyWorth, I'm a divorced, now single mom of two, and I spend at least 10 hours a week commuting between my home in Philadelphia and DailyWorth’s main office in New York City. So my mind is constantly racing with things I need to do at home.

In a recent week, those included:

  • Make a dentist appointment for my 6-year-old son to replace a tooth spacer.
  • Buy same child a raincoat (the coats I saw in a local store were $40-$60! No way).
  • Replace the t-ball hat he lost.
  • Plan my business trip to L.A.
  • Find a small, cheap beach rental on Jersey shore for August.
  • Find the most cost-effective way to frame my new Michael Yoder painting.

These thoughts ping-pong in my brain with no consistent repository or time to deal with them.

So when I heard about Fancy Hands, a $25-per-month subscription service to help me research and do anything from a computer, I jumped on it.

Fancy Hands’ homepage explains the problem/solution so simply: “Do what you love. We’ll do the rest.” It’s a website and iPhone app that allows you to delegate any task that can be done over the phone or computer to a team of assistants on-call throughout the nation. They provide a simple dashboard where you can communicate with your virtual assistant, and manage the tasks you assigned.

Between conference calls, I rapidly banged out the first request:

Call dentist Dr T****** in Philadelphia to find out how much my son’s tooth spacer costs to replace (it fell out again!) and book an appt any Friday morning after two weeks out.

The response, within the hour: Dear Ms. Steinberg: The doctor you mentioned doesn't exist (oops! I'd given them the wrong name!) and I need your son’s name, please, to make the appt.

So basically, I'd given her zero helpful information. But after a quick email reply with clarifications, they had what they needed and the appointment was booked. Done. I didn't have to wait on hold, leave a message, follow-up, or even add the event to my calendar. (They do that, too.)

It’s been a huge relief to be able to check this off my to-do list. And it didn’t stop there. My virtual assistant not only found me the most cost-appropriate raincoat for my son, she researched discount codes as well. And the list went on.

For me, having a virtual assistant was less about saving time than saving myself from feeling guilty. Truthfully, so much of this stuff doesn’t get done for weeks -- or at all -- and it weighs on me. (It also saved me money--nearly $40 on the discounted rain jacket alone, compared to the price tags I'd seen earlier in the store.)

I still plan on hiring an actual assistant, like a recent college grad, in our Philadelphia office in the near future (know anyone?). But for the small stuff that eats away at my conscience, I’m sticking with Fancy Hands.

I wonder if they’ll help me manage my entire to-do list. Maybe I’ll ask them to."

False Evidence Appearing Real.

Is fear sabotaging your productivity?

The CEO of FacileThings, Francisco Sáez says: 

We all know what fear is, since we live with it every day. We are afraid of changing jobs, public speaking, starting or ending a relationship, confronting people, being rejected…fear can make you abandon your business or the love of your life.

It is shown that when companies use the fear factor in the workplace (fear of not achieving goals, fear of conflict, fear of not being good enough, fear of not seeming productive), employees work harder but worse. The anxiety this climate generates affects people’s memory and ability to concentrate.

Types of fear

Fear of failure occurs especially when you do something you had not done before, something new, unique. Sometimes it is hidden by an extreme perfectionism that paralyzes work and prevents completion of projects.

To conquer it, you must understand that this fear is merely a misunderstanding of the learning process. When you try to create a new future, there are no molds, you have to experience. Consequently, failure is a part of the process that should not stop you. Simply, you must analyze what went wrong and make it work.

Fear of success is, if anything, even more common. It prevents you to catch the good opportunities. It makes you believe that you won’t be able to deal with such a challenging situation.

To conquer it, you must improve your self-esteem and the best way to do that is to act. Try to do the best you can and you will be satisfied although ultimately you would not get the best outcome. This way your self-esteem will be enhanced for future challenges.

Sleeping with the enemy

To make matters worse, when you try to make changes in your life, it turns out that the most important people for you - those who are supposed to stand by you - often don't entirely agree. They are accustomed to interact with you in a certain way and breaking that pattern of behavior bothers them. So you need to add the fear of worsening your relationships to the natural fear of the new.

If this is common and usually ends in your passivity, you should start questioning your environment. Are people around you willing to help you grow? Or are they negative thinkers who make things difficult?

If you stand firm in your intentions to overcome your inner challenges and give good example of this - not in an aggressive way -  people who love you will find the strength to go with you.

Moreover, it is natural that, little by little, negative people will shy away from you, and you, almost unconsciously, move towards more motivating people that are willing to support and inspire you. Connect with people who have already gone through something similar. They will help you see the path and fear of the unknown will be minimized.

Conquer your fear

In general, we are afraid of things that are beyond our control. So we must find ways to develop more confidence in our ability to handle any situation.

Acting is the best way to gain that confidence. Visualize the result, define the next actions and take the first step. Incorporate into your life the trial-and-error mechanism as a natural way of getting things done. Act, measure your progress and correct what does not work. Adapt. Repeat. 

It is possible there are some fears at the moment preventing you from doing many things, forcing you to accept work you should not do and, ultimately, undermining your productivity.

A little fear can keep you motivated, but uncontrolled fear will kill your productivity.

Feel your fear and move forward anyway.

Mind-mapping your path to success.

In James Fallows' interview with David Allen of "Gettings Things Done" fame for the Atlantic, David replied with this when asked how we can all get our busy lives under control:

"All the stuff that is coming in needs to be externalized. I don't know that I could get it any simpler than that.

Meet Briana: Assistant

Briana's been working as a Fancy Hands assistant for a few months now, and we're happy to have her on the team. 

Here are some recent requests from clients that she's handled: 

  • I need to get a social security card the fastest way possible. Can you call the office closest to me and find out what that entails, and if there’s an application to fill out, please send it to me? 
  • Can you find a professional organizer to come into my home, downsize some items, and pack me up for a move? 
  • Please call my doctor’s office and give them my new insurance information below. Make sure that they accept that plan and if they do, schedule a check-up appointment for me next week. 
  • Please send me quotes for reputable swimming pool cleaners to come clean the algae from my saltwater pool. 

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