The State of the Freelancer (graphic)
Working from Home: Facts vs. Fiction (graphic)
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Maintaining a healthy life balance is not only crucial for happiness and well-being; it can be advantageous to your productivity and success as well. A well-balanced person is better equipped to focus their attention and energy on achieving their goals, accomplishing meaningful actions and moving forward.
Each of us has different life situations, many things pulling us in different directions and a whole host of other factors that we collectively call our lives. Despite these dissimilarities, we all seem to be feeling the same challenge to make it all work somehow.
So, what can you do to regain a positive work-life balance? Or maintain that equilibrium once you find it? How about trying some of these strategies that have worked for others!
- Shut it off – Disconnect on the weekend, at least for one day or a few hours each night. Step away from the computer, turn off the phone and give your brain a rest. Yes, you can do it!
- Health first – It seems like we’re beating a dead horse sometimes, but it really does make a difference in the quality of our lives and our work if we: get enough sleep, drink more water, fit in some activity and eat a bit healthier.
- Cut back – It goes without saying that if your life is too full of the wrong things (sometimes even too much of the right things) you will never be able to pull it all together and find your balance. Ruthlessly trim activities that are not absolutely necessary or do not add value to your life.
- Relationships matter – Make time for your family, spend time with friends and get to know the people around you.
- Say goodbye to “Negative Nancy” – Minimize contact with people that are negative, complainers, whiners or have bad attitudes. You know who I mean…you do not need other people’s junk dragging you down. Surround yourself with positive, supportive, can-do people whenever possible.
- Get quiet – Time alone is probably the hardest thing to do for the typical overworked, overwhelmed, busy individual, but it is crucial for lowering stress, increasing happiness and fostering creativity. Meditate, journal, draw, practice yoga or simply sit quietly for a few minutes each day and do absolutely nothing. I dare you to give it a try!
- Soak up the world - Take a walk and notice what’s going on around you, attend a performance of some kind, play amateur photographer, visit a new town or try being a tourist in your own.
- Expand your mind - Read a book that sparks your interest, listen to uplifting music, take a class, learn to paint, try something new that you’ve always wanted to learn.
- Indulge – Get a massage, a pedicure or a facial. It doesn’t have to be expensive; a glass of wine, a special kind of coffee or tea, a wonderfully scented candle or beautiful flowers.
- Reach out – Join a community organization, volunteer, get involved in the larger world community. It seems counterintuitive to the average person living the typical hectic existence, but doing something to help others most often adds even more to your life.
- Laugh – Have some fun, find your sense of humor, subscribe to a daily joke or get a tear-off calendar. Nothing makes the world feel right again as fast as a good old-fashioned belly laugh.
Royale Scuderi is a personal productivity expert and author. She blogs about productivity tips, tools and strategies at http://www.productivelifeconcepts.com. Her mission is to help you to work smarter and live better! You too can have business success and life satisfaction through increased efficiency, organization, clarity of purpose, motivation and awareness.
Photo credit: Gau Gorri
Famous visionaries often develop a reputation for having a few eccentricities. However, for many people, these small eccentricities are part of a larger group of daily rituals that help them to be at their most productive and prolific. While not all these tips, tricks, and rituals will work for you, they help to shed light on what some of our most beloved cultural icons and historical figures are willing to do in order to stay on top of their demanding workloads.
1. Addicted to Notecards: Vladimir Nabokov used 5- by 8-inch index cards to compose and order the scenes in his novels. This allowed him to experiment with the order of the chapters before transcribing the final manuscript.
2. Slow and Steady: Stephen King has explained that he always writes 10 pages a day, every day of the year (even holidays). His slow and steady approach to project management has ensured that he has a steady stream of new works entering the marketplace, and he is one of the most prolific modern authors working in America today.
3. Get Up Early: Writers like Mary Higgins Clark and Sylvia Plath started writing at 5 am and 4 am each day, respectively. Both women had small children, and those early moments in the day were the only time they had to pursue their writing careers. Writer Denison Hatch forced himself to write just 500 words per day before starting his day job, and ultimately sold three novels.
4. Get Centered With a Favorite Book Passage: Some writers need to go through the ritual of touching base with a favorite literary totem. For example, Somerset Maugham would read Voltaire’s “Candide” before starting work, while Willa Cather read the Bible.
Businessmen and Entrepreneurs
5. Be Impulsive: In business, if you have a good idea, you need to move quickly to keep ahead of your competition. In the words of Bill Gates, “When you find a good idea act on it right away.”
6. Get Ahead By Making It Personal: “Big businesses will always try to crush small upstarts. To beat big businesses, use the strengths of being small. Big corporations are impersonal; staff are often not treated well. At a small company, you can make sure your staff are proud of working for you and then they’ll work hard to be successful. And small companies are more nimble.” – Sir Richard Branson
7. Work Long Hours Now, Reap the Benefits Later: Ben Franklin knew the benefits of working long hours, as well as being known among his peers as being a person who worked long hours. This work ethic was essential for growing his printing business. He also had a routine of asking himself questions during the day. Ben Franklin asked himself each morning (at 5 am), “What good shall I do today?”; every night before bed (around 10 pm), “What good have I done to-day?”
Thinkers and Artists
8. Get Extreme: Architect Bernard Tschumi avoids procrastination by working at one of two extremes. “I work best either under pressure or by emptying my brain over the weekend,” he explains. “That blank state is helpful. It is like an athlete before a competition.”
9. Force Yourself to Stay Focused: Greek orator Demosthenes would force himself to stay focused on composing his orations by shaving off half of his hair, making him look so ridiculous that he wouldn’t be tempted to procrastinate by leaving his home. Victor Hugo would do something similar, forcing himself to meet his daily writing goals by having his valet hide his clothes. Yup, the guy who wrote “Les Miserables” liked to work in the nude.
10. Never Take Your Eyes Off Your Competition: Playwright Henrik Ibsen would work at a desk decorated with a portrait of arch-rival playwright August Strindberg. Try keeping a picture of your competitors face or company logo on your desk to spur you to new heights.
11. Use Caffeine (But Don’t Abuse It): Mathematician Paul Erdös used the last 25 years of his life to devote 19 hour days to the pursuit of higher math. To stay alert, he amped himself up with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin (along with strong espresso and caffeine tablets.) “A mathematician,” he said, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”
12. Blow Off Some Steam: King Otto, ruler of Bavaria from 1886 to 1913, shot a peasant every morning to start his day. Thankfully, his two advisors were kind-hearted: one gave the king a rifle filled with blanks, and the other dressed as a “peasant”, acting out death throes when he was “shot”. While shooting people is absolutely NOT okay, never underestimate the stress relief you can get from a few rounds of Call of Duty.
These examples of the daily routines and productivity tricks of famous people may not be ideally suited for your busy lifestyle, but they are certainly worth keeping in mind the next time you are stuck on a project and need help powering through. And seriously, don’t pull a “King Otto”. That would not be cool.
Resources and References
During the course of any given day at the office, you undoubtedly drink coffee to help you stay alert, or try deep breathing exercises to calm your nerves after a particularly harrowing staff meeting. But what if there was an easier way to regulate your moods and trick your brain into performing to its peak potential?
For many people, one simple life hack that can bring about an almost instant improvement in productivity is aromatherapy. By simply smelling the correct scents, you can lower your blood pressure, sharpen your mind, and improve your outlook on life.
The Science of Aromatherapy
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, aromatherapy as a science had its start in the early 20th century. “René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist, discovered the healing properties of lavender oil when he applied it to a burn on his hand caused by an explosion in his laboratory. He then started to analyze the chemical properties of essential oils and how they were used to treat burns, skin infections, gangrene, and wounds in soldiers during World War I.”
The process is still not well understood by modern doctors and scientists, however. According to the experts at UMMC: “Some experts believe our sense of smell may play a role. The “smell” receptors in your nose communicate with parts of your brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) that serve as storehouses for emotions and memories. When you breathe in essential oil molecules, some researchers believe that they stimulate these parts of your brain and influence physical, emotional, and mental health.”
What Scents Are Best For You?
The majority of aromatherapy benefits fall into one of four categories: Energizing/Invigorating, Stress Relief, Sleep Aids, or Mood Elevators. By placing a few drops of these essential oils into a diffuser in your home or office, you can feel the benefits of being exposed to these healing scents. Switch up the essential oils at a moment’s notice to trick your brain into performing the tasks you need to accomplish.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular scents, along with their benefits:
Energizing/Invigorating: Orange, Rosemary, Lemon.
Stress Relief: Jasmine, Lavender, Ylang Ylang, Clary Sage.
Sleep Aids: Lavender, Chamomile, Sandalwood, Vetiver.
Mood Elevators: Mint, Basil Oil, Bergamot.
So on a day when you need to improve your mental focus, you might want to eat an orange at your desk, and leave the rind nearby where you can smell it. Conversely, if you need to ensure a good night’s sleep before a big presentation that’s got you stressed out, consider sleeping with a lavender sachet under your pillow, or setting up a lavender essential oil diffuser in your bedroom about half an hour before you plan to hit the hay.
You can use diffusers or nebulizers to aerate the oil. Alternatively, you can apply some essential oils directly to the skin to reap their benefits. Make sure to read the directions carefully before using any essential oils to make sure you are going to use it in a way that will give you maximum benefits.
Where Can I Get This Stuff?
You can purchase essential oils online, or at your local health food store. Alternatively, you can purchase whole fruits, herbs, or flowers from your local supermarket or an herbalist/new age shop in your area.
Depending on whether the product is organic or not, you should be able to pick up a tiny jar of essential oil (about 1 fluid ounce of product) for between $2 and $10. Certain essential oils are more expensive than others, of course.
Not all essential oils are created equal, however. According to Dr. Brian Lawrence, “For an essential oil to be a true essential oil, it must be isolated by physical means only. The physical methods used are distillation (steam, steam/water and water) or expression (also known as cold pressing, a unique feature for citrus peel oils). There is one other method of oil isolation specific to a very limited number of essential oil plants. This is a maceration/distillation. In the process, the plant material is macerated in warm water to release the enzyme-bound essential oil. Examples of oils produced by maceration are onion, garlic, wintergreen, bitter almond, etc.”
The next time you need to manipulate your brain into doing what you’re trying to tell it to, consider using the practice of aromatherapy as a life hack to increase your productivity. Our sense of smell is deeply tied to our memories and to our moods, so having a couple of vials of essential oil on hand can really help to improve brain function and tap into your hidden energy reserves. It may seem kind of new age-y, but tapping into your sense of smell can center you in a way that will really help you to seize the day.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out:
Bon Appetite & Happy Task Managing!
Photo credit: Molly Sheridan
Untold hours of productivity are lost every month due to simple misunderstandings and communication breakdowns. For some reason, many people seem to have a tough time organizing their thoughts and communicating their desires to their co-workers and employees.
I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who seem to have forgotten the basics of composing a written thought. Even some college grads have no grasp on how to speak/write in a way that moves a project forward.
If you are looking for a way to increase productivity and decrease stress, learning to communicate effectively can be the first step towards smoother workflows, faster turnaround times, and fatter bottom lines. Here are a handful of tips that will get you started.
1. Use clear, concise sentences.
Your goal, whether speaking aloud or composing an email, should be to make yourself instantly and completely understood. To that end, you should avoid using big words, steer clear of run-on sentences, and avoid any unclear phrasing.
You don’t need to use fancy vocab, Latin phrases, corporate buzzwords, or business acronyms to impress your colleagues…and nine times out of ten, using words like that won’t make you any friends. If a smaller, shorter word will do, then by all means, use that instead of whatever $5 word you just looked up in your thesaurus.
Avoid long sentences with multiple clauses and herds of commas. The longer a sentence is, the more confusing it becomes. Always keep that in mind when writing directions or project details for a colleague.
And for the love of God, make sure your phrasing is clear. There’s nothing worse than getting an email from a co-worker that’s so vaguely worded you have no idea what you’re supposed to do with it. If you aren’t sure that an email is clearly worded, step away from your computer for five minutes, and then look it over with a fresh perspective.
2. Keep a written record
Sometimes communicating effectively involves reminding people of what they’ve already told you, and when. Having a written record of all conversations related to a current or past account can be very helpful.
This is easy with email: just make sure never to delete old emails, and use filters for effortless organization. For meetings/calls, make sure you keep clean, easy to read notes that also include the time and date. Audio recording is also an option.
3. Make every comment actionable
Inevitably, there is a time in every person’s career where they get together with a group of colleagues to discuss a project or proposal, and give feedback as a group. It’s important that when you give feedback on a project, you give actionable directions…particularly you are at the top of the foodchain. Otherwise, the project can stagnate and people on your team can lose momentum.
It’s the difference between
“Someone needs to speak with our design team about using a new font.”
“Marcy, could you touch base with Jim in Design about our font preferences?”
This ties in with my next point…
4. Make all criticism constructive
“Constructive criticism” is one of those feel-good buzzwords we learn to loathe after high school English class. Nevertheless, learning to give helpful feedback to a colleague will not only improve your interpersonal relations, but also will help to improve the quality of your work.
Constructive criticism is more than just a nicer way of talking to people. By giving clear, focused feedback instead of vague, general notes, people you speak with can really learn to improve their methods and practices in the future.
It’s the difference between:
“This website is a disgrace.”
“I see a number of issues here, including the dark green background that makes the text hard to read, and punctuation issues in the first two paragraphs.”
5. Make sure you’re using the right word
Take a moment and review this list of commonly misused words and phrases.
See anything on there that relates to you? If so, you’re not alone.
So consider this: if you’ve been using the wrong words in your personal and business communications, how can you expect anyone to know what you really want? Spell check, grammar check, and the dictionary are your friends.
When in doubt, use them. If you aren’t in doubt, use them anyway.
Communication can be daunting. Many people are afraid of public speaking, for example, showing a link between fear of speech and ineffective communication. However, if you make a conscious effort to put some of these basic principles into practice, I’m sure you will see results very quickly.
So the next time you are crafting an email or preparing for a status meeting with your team, make sure that you are doing your utmost to communicate clearly and effectively. When everyone can understand what you are trying to say, you will find that your working life goes a lot more smoothly.
Let’s face it, sometimes you just don’t feel like working.
It seems that no matter what you do, that you can’t get into that productivity zone.
Maybe your energy level is low. Maybe your attitude is off.
You just don’t feel like doing anything.
What do you do when this happens?
Sometimes You Feel Like it, Sometimes You Don’t
Sometimes you have all the energy in the world. You feel like you could eat an elephant in one sitting.
Other times you don’t have the concentration or energy to get anything done.
(For me this happens most often on airplanes…)
One of the best strategies to deal with your high and low energy times is to sort your tasks by energy level, as well.
When your productivity is in high gear is the time to get done the things that require the most effort and concentration.
On the other side of the equation, when you are dragging, is sometimes the best time to get done the smaller miscellaneous low effort todos.
For When You’re “On”
When you are on fire, and nothing can stop you, this is the time to attack the big important things on your list.
This is your “in the zone” time, when you are knocking down todos like they are bowling pins.
Ensure that you prioritize your todo list to get to your most important tasks done during this time frame.
Here are some high energy tasks:
- Creative Work – Creating new ideas takes time and high levels of concentration.
- Writing – I find I write best when I am “in the zone.” If don’t feel like writing, it can be hard to get anything down.
- Brainstorming sessions – Staying on topic to hammer out a plan takes effort and works best with high levels of enthusiasm.
- Meetings with Clients and Colleagues – You always want to be on your “A”game when meeting with clients and colleagues. Plan your engagements to match your energy levels whenever possible.
For When You Are “Not-So-On”
We all know what it is like to be “out of the zone.”
You don’t feel like doing anything. You feel like you could call it a day.
These are the times to take on low effort tasks that don’t require much concentration or follow-through.
Some great low energy tasks:
- Reading – Reading is an activity that often gets pushed aside. But, it requires low levels of effort. I find that I actually get my reading done when I do it during periods of low motivation.
- Filing – Filing papers and email is an essential task that requires low effort. When you aren’t motivated, this can be a great task to attack.
- Cleanup – I don’t like to clean. But, this is my favorite low energy task. Whether it is the office or even laundry at home, cleaning is a great low energy task.
- Working Out – Wait a sec, you say… if I don’t have energy, you want me to hit the gym?? Actually, yes! I find that even a short low energy workout can jump start your energy levels. You may surprise yourself once you get in motion.
Match Your Energy
Be prepared for when your energy is high and low.
By separating tasks by energy level, you can be productive during your high and low productivity times.
With a little strategy, you can maximize your ability to get things done …even when you don’t feel like it.
What are your high and low energy tasks?
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So get to doodling, decorating and doing things that keep you productive!
Photo credit: Ian Lott