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Organize your life into peace.

Leo Babauta wrote this great article about why - and how - to stay organized: 

A trusted organization system that you actually use regularly can turn your day from one of chaos to one of focus, effectiveness and calm.

This is something I’ve learned through repeated failures, actually: when I become loose with my organized habits, my day becomes worse. It gets stressful and crazy, and I can’t focus on anything. Everything is on my head all the time, and I’m always worried that I’m missing something, that I should be doing something else.

But when I get my system down, and the habits are on track, things are smooth, I feel good about what I’m doing, and I’m much better able to let everything else go and focus on what’s in front of me, confident that everything else is in its place.

I’ll show you my system in a minute, but first let’s talk about what a good organizational system does and how it works.

Why Form Habits of Organization

Several important reasons:

  • Stress: An excess of stress very negatively affects your health. If you have good habits in place to deal with all the stuff in your life, you stress out about everything less. You feel less worry that things are slipping through the cracks. You feel trust that you are OK working on what’s in front of you.
  • Effectiveness: If you are able to externalize all the things you’re worried about into a trusted system, you can better focus on the task in front of you. You can single-task, and be more effective at each task, because it’s getting your full focus.
  • Relationships: I’ve found relationships to be about the most important thing in my life, personal but also business. And the best way to build relationships is to be trustworthy. And the best way to be trustworthy is to keep your commitments. If you’re organized, you are more likely to keep your commitments. Organizaton is largely about managing your commitments.

Building a Trusted System

So what does a trusted system look like? Honestly, there are a million tools and combinations of tools you might use, but there are a few things that are important in building a trusted system:

  • You find a place for everything — todos, passwords, appointments, repeating tasks, incoming info and requests, other info you need to store, documents, receipts.
  • You actually use the system and put things where they belong, as soon as you can (see next section, for the habits).
  • You recognize when things are sitting in your inbox or open browser tabs or computer desktop, and find a place for them.

With that said, here’s my current system (it changes over time)...just note that you don’t need to use my system, and there are lots of great tools for each type of item:

  • Incoming: Most of my incoming requests, tasks, info, and appointments come in through Gmail. Sometimes through other channels, but 90% of the time through Gmail. When I check Gmail, I try to take each thing out of Gmail and put it where it belongs — in one of the tools below.
  • Todos: Lately I’ve been using Trello. I stole this system from Ryan Carson of Treehouse: Create a tasks board in Trello, with lists for:
    • Most Important (my family, writing, reading, fitness, mindfulness)
    • Today (includes appointments and tasks), Incoming (for things I haven’t placed yet)
    • This Week (move tasks from here to Today each day)
    • Later (move tasks from here to This Week as needed)
    • Done (move things I finish here), and
    • Waiting On (for things I’ve requested but haven’t received yet)

Each morning I review this for 20 minutes, moving things as needed to the right places, so I know everything is in its place.

  • Other Work & Personal Info: I’ve been using Workflowy, which is a cool web app (with an iPhone app too) that allows you to store just about all the info in your life in one place. I used to put everything in Google Docs, but now I just dump it in Workflowy and it’s all together and searchable.
  • Passwords & secure info: I use 1Password, which not only stores (and generates) passwords, but bank info, credit cards, passport info, airline frequent flier numbers, and pretty much everything else I might need to remember.
  • Timed or repeating items: Google Calendar. Whenever I need to do something regularly, I create a recurring appointment in GCal. Reviewing my idea list (stored in Workflowy) twice a month, for example.
  • Receipts, financial docs, drafts, tickets: I’ve set up folders in Dropbox for these things — files which don’t fit into the other buckets.
  • Things to read later: If I have a tab open to read later, I put it into Instapaper, and open Instapaper when I have time to read.

That’s pretty much everything. What’s important is that everything has a place, and I know exactly where that place is.

Building Organized Habits

Of course, it won’t be a trusted system unless you actually use it — there’s the rub. We often forget to use our system because we have old habits that don’t die easily.

Luckily, we can replace the old habits with better ones, with practice. It takes about a week of very conscious effort to do this, and after that it gets more and more automatic.

Here are the habits:

  • Create a place for everything. I showed how you might do that above, but find whatever tools work for you. The habit, though, is noticing when something is sitting in your inbox or in an open browser tab or somewhere else, not in its place. And then finding a place for it — sometimes that means consciously designating a new bucket just for that type of thing.
  • Don’t procrastinate — put it away immediately: The old habit is to put it off (procrastinate) to be put away later. No. That procrastination is what leads to the system falling apart. For one week, make a very conscious effort to not put this off, but instead to take a few seconds to put information, tasks, appointments and other such things right where they belong, right now. It doesn’t take long, but you have to be very conscious about it at first.
  • Don’t live in the inbox: We have a tendency to keep the inbox open, or to open it often. That means you’re constantly responding, instead of focusing. Instead, open the inbox, and one by one, put incoming items where they belong, and archive them in your inbox. You might not get to the bottom of the list, but you save yourself from having to contstantly look through the same things in your inbox over and over.
  • Review the system every morning: Make it a habit to review your task list and calendar every morning for 20 minutes (set a timer), so you know things are in their place. Move things from the Today list to Done, from This Week to Today, from Later to This Week, from Incoming to the appropriate list, and so on. Put calendar items on the Today list. Know where everything is. Then get out and start doing.

With these four habits, and a trusted system, you can now relax, and focus!

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

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.)

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). 

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. 

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.

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. 

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)

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.

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.

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