ProdPod, a Productivity Podcast The Podcast of Personal Productivity Lessons in Two Minutes or Less

August 31, 2014  

I first became aware of Shawn Achor as the funny, charismatic presenter of the popular TEDxBloomington Talk, "The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance.” And, subsequently, I came to know his eponymous book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. His book’s premise is, I quote,

Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn’t just an empty mantra.


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May 1, 2014  

If you are familiar with Getting Things Done by David Allen, or the GTD methodology, you probably know about the 43 folders concept. If you don’t, basically, it’s a tickler file-like tool where physical, time-based items can be managed. There are, you guessed it, 43 folders, constituting 12 file folders for the 12 months in the year and 31 folders representing the maximum number of days in any given month. In this episode I’d like to detail how I simplified this powerful paper organization tool, and hope it’s useful to those out there that still have much paper-based organizing in their worlds like I do.

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April 25, 2014  

There’s a common misconception about procrastination that it only means you’re not doing something you planned to do. Many times we are unaware that procrastination is usually coupled with doing something, if not the thing we planned. This is what I call “procrasti-doing.” And there are some practical measures you can take to procrasti-doing when you want, and when you don’t, so I thought I’d explain them here in this episode.

One of the frequent stories I hear is something like this: “I was supposed to be working on my project, but instead I found myself rearranging the pens and pencils in my drawer.” This is the first classic case of procrasti-doing. One tactic for overcoming this is to think about whether or not your pens and pencils really do need organizing. If that is the case, then perhaps putting that on a project or task list for you to handle later would help you free up the mental bandwidth to get back on task. That goes for any other tasks or projects that might be floating around in your head as you set yourself up to handle any project. This minimizes procrasti-doing and maximizes your brain’s energy to focus.

The other case where procrasti-doing takes hold of us often is when you start doing the tasks in a project out of order or unimportant tasks associated with a project that really won’t move the project toward completion. This might include re-labeling all the project support folders for a major project. Or, one might take to Social Media to engage there about the project instead of actually working on the tasks toward the project’s completion. In this situation, the best approach is two-pronged: first, allow yourself a set amount of time to close out the current activity when you find yourself doing the unproductive procrasti-doing, then re-focus back on starting the next task toward project completion. Remember, it’s about (as Dr. Neil Fiore says in “The Now Habit”) persistent starting.

One final thought I have about procrasti-doing: many times your unconscious mind needs time to problem-solve the project or task you are currently trying to work on. In these cases, it might make perfect, productive sense for you to let your mind wander to other activities while your unconscious does the heavy lifting necessary to help you craft an effective solution. Organizing pens and pencils never sounded so productive.

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January 10, 2014  
Thanks to the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and father of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman, the scientific community has a deeper understanding of well-being. To wit, Kahneman revealed that humans live with two minds--our experiencing and remembering selves. In this episode I'd like to discuss these two selves and how it relates to your personal productivity.

The experiencing self is that which answers the question, "How do I feel right now?"…what you sense is most important to your experiencing self. Sensory-specific, the experiencing self is mostly focused on the present view of sights, sounds, smells, physical sensations, and tastes.  

The remembering self, on the other hand, is a past-focused mind and makes decisions intuitively based on what our brain memorializes of our experiences. It answers the question, "What happened?"...what you perceive happened becomes the story you remember and reenforces it as reality.

One way of looking at it is that the experiencing self renders facts now while the remembering self tells stories about what happened.

Do you remember the last time you worked on a really difficult project or task? Well, it turns out that Kahneman's research explains why we dread, procrastinate and even remember projects or tasks as difficult. You see, Kahneman writes about moment-utility (which I've provided a link to his paper explaining it below); the idea is to capture much more in-the-moment data as you experience a situation, such as working on a really difficult project or task. It turns out that when your experiencing self does the tracking and analysis, you have a better assessment of your experiences and you also have a better feeling about positive outcomes. Using Kahneman's findings, I recommend that when you're dealing with a difficult project or task to answer these three series of questions:

1. "How do I physically feel right now?" (The likelihood is that physically you're fine.)

2. "What does success, accomplishment or complete look like for me in the next five to 15 minutes?" (This gives you a more realistic view of the project or task.)

3. At the point of ending a project, task or a period of finishing some part of either, ask yourself (and even better, write it down somewhere), "how good/accomplished do I feel? What have I learned that I can use in the future?" (Ending on a positive message will give your remembering self something to look back on to equate your productivity with a positive affect.)
You see, ending on a high note, or on a less negative tone, than the initial upstart difficulty will inevitably teach your remembering self that difficult projects or tasks usually only start off that way. And, even if there are challenges along the way, it's usually only difficult in peak periods. This rewriting of your brain patterns will make you leap at new challenges instead of sulking when you look at your project or task list and see something that might be tough...and this will make you sincerely more productive.

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December 24, 2013  

Having just finished the ProdPod series on Hoarding, I've got workspaces on the mind. And, when it comes to personal productivity, there's nothing like showing up to your home or work office workspace and seeing it set up just for you. So, in this episode, I'm going to discuss a method for making your workspace work for you every day.

Assess Your Workspace

Organization doesn't naturally happen. So, the first step is to assess your situation. Do you feel like the way things are set up in your workspace flowing well? Or, do you find there is friction when you try to access your files, when you see clutter or piles of things in particular places in your workspace, or do you trip over a coat hanger when you enter the office every day? These are the things to note that need to change to make your workspace more productive.

Brainstorm and Design Your Ideal Workspace

Now that you know what needs to change, create a new project in your productivity system. Rome nor your workspace was built in a day, so you can't fix all these minor nuisances or hiccups in your productive flow in a day. Now, what do you physically need to do with each problem you noted? Do you need to call an electrician to move a light switch? Do you need to call a carpenter to put a bookshelf in just the right place for your reference books? Write down or input those actions on your written list or in your task management software or app.

Create Your Workspace Rituals

Finally, one of the most productive moments of your day is setting yourself up for success tomorrow. At the end of every day, I have created a checklist of the things I need to physically do so that I leave my workspace (desk and office) in exactly the way I need it so that I start tomorrow productively. I put away anything I'm not working on or with tomorrow. I clear my computer of any software apps that are running that don't need to be. And, I make sure to put out the very first thing that I need to work on in the morning (or the next time I'll be in the office). You can revisit episode 30 where I discussed the End-of-Day Ritual by Peter Bregman.

In addition, I have created Morning and Midday Rituals that help me break my day into productive chunks and makes sure that I'm tidying my workspace, filtering through my RSS feed reader and then purging that inbox at least daily midday, and creating time to process my email inboxes as well as making outbound phone calls to clients, vendors, staff, colleagues and my family.

Once your physical workspace is in order, and you have the morning, midday and end-of-day rituals designed to keep your workspace in tip-top shape, you'll quickly start to reap the productive rewards of flowing effortlessly through your days. Let me know your successes and challenges by email or in the comments!
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