Archive | January 2015

Have a great day

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Escaping the Time-Scarcity Trap

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Have you ever felt terrible about missing a deadline, only to find yourself continuing to procrastinate further afterwards, despite the guilt? Next thing you know, you’ve blown a few more milestones, and even though you’re trying like hell to get things back on track, you just can’t seem to make it work. You constantly feel like you’re behind.

Paradoxically, this feeling of being behind is actually what drives us to keep doing reactive work, putting out small fires at the expense of tending to tasks with real long-term benefit, like figuring out a better production schedule for the next stage of your project.

It turns out that frantically treading water in your worklife just to stay afloat has real cognitive consequences. According to economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, once we adopt a mindset of “time scarcity” (i.e. we feel over-busy, overwhelmed, or just plain behind), it induces a kind of shortsightedness that “makes us less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled.” In other words, the actual hours you have available to do your work could remain the same, but just feeling behind is enough to disrupt your productivity.

The good news is that it’s possible to escape the trap of time-scarcity thinking by reframing how you perceive your lack of time.

1. Defend your priorities by stating them out loud.

A time-scarcity mindset can cause you to neglect priorities that fall outside what is immediately in front of you. It causes you to ignore tasks that are important but not urgent, like your health, relationships, reading, reflection, or exercise. Those emails and to-do list items feel more pressing than heading to the gym. You perpetually say you’ll “get to it later” but in reality those tasks fade into the background and will likely remain undone.

A time-scarcity mindset can cause you to neglect priorities that fall outside what is immediately in front of you.

To combat this, Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, suggests replacing the phrase “I don’t have time for this” with “this isn’t a priority” to surface those important but not urgent tasks. Instead of saying, “I don’t have time to work on my novel,” try saying, “My writing isn’t a priority” out loud and see how that feels. (Probably not too good at first, but that’s the point.) Rather than coming up with excuses like, “I can’t fit in going to the gym with this big deadline coming up,” say, “My well-being isn’t a priority.”

Doing this prevents you from ignoring the truth and allows you to better prioritize your goals. This shift in perspective can also help you see when you’re borrowing too much time from long-term priorities for short-term deadlines. And if something isn’t ever a priority, consider letting it go.

2. Schedule tough tasks for high-bandwidth times.

Even thinking about mentally taxing, high-bandwidth tasks can affect your creative output. In another study run by Mullainathan and Shafir, dieters looking for the word “donut” as opposed to the word “picture” in a word search took 30 percent longer than non-dieters to find a subsequent word. Just the simple thought of temptation distracted the dieters enough to disrupt their performance.

A similar phenomenon happens when you’re stuck in a time-scarcity mindset. Your worries about a looming project deadline can linger in your mind when you’re trying to do something else. These nagging background thoughts limit your mental capacity, which in turn causes you to make more errors with the task at hand, which means that the task will take even longer to complete.

These nagging background thoughts limit your mental capacity, which in turn causes you to make more errors with the task at hand, which means that the task will take even longer to complete.

Instead of worrying about when you’ll have time to do something, ask instead when you’ll have the bandwidth. It’s important to handle the important—but not urgent—work when you know you’ll have a higher mental capacity. This frees you from tackling the task at a non-optimal time (when you won’t perform well), and helps you regain a sense of control.

For instance, if you realize that having low energy after work is obstructing your ability to move forward on a side project, then you could try waking up early to work on it. Or if Friday meetings lead nagging work concerns to fill your mind while you’re spending quality time with your family over the weekend, you could try instituting a “no-meeting Friday” and put more effort into tying up loose ends that day to make way for a clearer, calmer mind when you’re at home. You can still have the same amount of meetings, but the positioning will make you feel as if you have more time to fully enjoy your non-work hours.

3.  Give your time away.

A scarcity mindset turns you into a time miser. You start doing silly things like counting the minutes you spend waiting in line for your coffee or silently cursing every single commuter who slows you down on your way to work. At this point, giving away time seems like the very last thing that you should do.

Yet, saying and acting upon this statement—“I have enough time to be generous with it”—is a surprisingly effective antidote to the time-scarcity mindset. Simply giving your time away to others, even as little as ten minutes, creates a sense of “time affluence.”

In one experiment conducted by professors from Yale, Wharton, and Harvard, people who spent 15 minutes helping to edit research essays by local at-risk students reported that they felt like they had more spare time, committed to spending more time on a follow-up task, and then worked longer on that task. In some magical way, this group of givers was both more productive and felt like they had more time.

We can’t control what happens during our days, but we can control how we react. Usually, “busy” is a state of mind—a trap we can, and should, strive to avoid. Reframe your outlook, and your productivity (and mental health) will thank you.

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Researchers: How Do You Encourage Saving?

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A new study shows that people who feel powerful save more money.

A variety of currencies
Researchers found that when people were placed in situations where they felt more powerful they saved more money | Associated Press/Kin Cheung

Americans have never been particularly good at saving money. In 2013, for example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Americans saved on average only 4.5% of their household income, while Europeans saved nearly 8% and Australians more than 11%. But according to a new study by Stanford Graduate School of Business researchers, there’s a way to change that: simply make people feel more powerful.

“When it comes to managing finances, it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed and out of control,” says PhD student Emily Garbinsky. “How to help consumers regain control and make better decisions with their money is the focus of my work.” To do so, she relies on the strong relationship between money and power, investigating how feelings of power critically influence financial decision-making. She demonstrates, in collaboration with Stanford GSB professor Jennifer Aaker and Anne-Kathrin Klesse of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, that making consumers feel more powerful increases their motivation to save.

Power is an especially intriguing and practical factor to examine in this context, the authors argue, because the sense of how powerful one feels is malleable. All people — even those generally perceived as more powerful than others — experience shifting feelings of power and powerlessness during the day; we might feel powerful when interviewing a job candidate or giving advice, for example, but powerless when defending a thesis or applying for a job. In the paper “Money in the Bank: Feeling Powerful Increases Saving,” the authors manipulated these subjective feelings of power using a variety of well-established methods, including having participants recall a situation in which they felt powerful and having them sit in a chair that is higher than someone else’s.

Through a series of five experiments, the authors showed that feeling powerful — defined as having control over valuable resources — is a pleasant state that individuals are motivated to maintain. And since money is the most coveted resource we have, they argue that individuals who feel powerful save money to secure their feelings of power. Indeed, they found that if power were guaranteed to be secure for life — or if power could be leveraged through another resource, such as knowledge — it did not help fill the piggy bank. The impulse to save was observed only when saving money was considered a means toward maintaining power.

In the first experiment, the researchers divided the subjects — 140 Dutch university students — into three groups: one assigned to write about a time they felt powerful, one to write about a time they felt powerless, and one with no writing prompt. Then they were told to imagine they had just received 100 euros, and asked how much they would put into a savings account. They also had to report how happy they felt at that particular moment. Though there was no significant difference in the level of happiness reported by the three groups, the students who had written about feeling powerful clearly indicated a greater willingness to save their money; their mean rate of savings was €71.20, compared with €48.73 for those who wrote about feeling powerless, and €51.69 among the participants in the control group.

The second one measured the effect of feeling powerful on actual, rather than imagined, savings behavior. Seventy-six Stanford students were offered $10 each to report to a lab under the assumption that they would provide feedback about how the lab operates. Each was individually ushered into a room and asked to sit either on a tall chair or a low ottoman; the interviewer took whichever seat was unoccupied. They answered a series of questions about the lab, and were then handed a sheet of paper indicating a new payment policy that gave them the option of either collecting their money or depositing it into a high-interest savings account. Then they completed a questionnaire on which they had to rate, among other things, how powerful they felt during the interview. Those who sat in the taller chair reported greater feelings of power than those on the ottoman. And the powerful agreed to save considerably more than the powerless: an average of $6.94 of the $10, compared with $4.49 — even though, as Garbinsky says, “the tall chair is a very subtle manipulation of power, and it doesn’t work for everyone.”

In the third study, just over 200 participants from the crowdsourcing Internet site Mechanical Turk were told to imagine a situation in which they were either the leader or a member of a group project. When they were given no stipulations on saving or told they were saving for “the future,” the powerful saved considerably more (42% and 34%, respectively) than the powerless (13% and 18%). But when the savings supposedly went toward buying a BMW, a well-established status symbol, those without power agreed to save 23% of their income, while those with power agreed to save 13%. The results corroborate previous research showing that “powerless individuals are more attuned to what others think, and one way they can acquire power is by engaging in compensatory consumption,” the study says.

In other experiments, those made to feel powerful, by imagining themselves as bosses, vowed to save more of their monthly income than those made to feel powerless, by imagining themselves as employees. However, those guaranteed a job for life agreed to save roughly the same share of their income — about 20% — whether they felt powerful or powerless. “When one’s sense of power is secure and saving money no longer enables individuals to maintain feelings of power, the effect of power on saving disappears,” the researchers wrote.

The differences between those feeling powerful and those feeling powerless also disappeared when the researchers explicitly linked another resource to maintaining power. They did so by having some study participants read a fictitious essay called “Knowledge Is Power,” asserting that most people consider knowledge the key to success; another group read nothing. “In situations where money is no longer tied to power, those who feel powerful and those who feel powerless do not differ in the amount of money they are willing to save,” they write.

The researchers hope that their findings, scheduled for publication in the Journal of Consumer Research in October, will have direct implications for America’s savings rate. By drawing on the study, banks, government agencies, and employers can boost participation in existing programs designed to help Americans sock away cash, such as automatic enrollment savings plans, and ideally develop new interventions. “Most of the characteristics that make you more or less likely to save — things like education, upbringing, and income level — are not very changeable,” says Klesse. “We show that very subtle shifts in feelings of power can have quite an impact on saving. This is very important because it’s something that’s easy to change.”

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Quote of the Day

“Your soul is all that you possess. Take it in hand and make something of it!”

– Martin H. Fischer

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Why Friends Make Us Happier, Healthier People

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By Jennifer Abbasi

benefits of friendship

Sometimes we bicker with our friends, feel envious of them, or even gossip about each other. So why do we bother with friends? Because they make us burst into laughter when we’re down in the dumps. Because they’re there to slap us on the back and raise a glass when we have good news. And because they play a starring role in some of our most precious memories. You don’t need us to tell you that despite how complicated your platonic relationships may occasionally feel, your friendships enrich your life in profoundly meaningful ways.

While the true benefits of friendships can’t ever be measured (how do you calculate how much joy your best pal has brought to you over the years?), study after study shows that friendships boost our happiness and even our health.

Here are some of our favorite reasons why people need people:

The Happiest People are the Most Social

Convincing evidence of this phenomenon comes from Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, two leading experts in the field of happiness research. When they compared the happiest to the least happy people, they found that the first group was highly social and had the strongest relationship ties. In fact, good social relations were a necessity for people to feel happy. Similarly, other psychologists have written that the need to belong is “fundamental.”

Happiness Is Contagious

If a friend of ours is happy, we’re more likely to be, too. A Harvard Medical School study of 5,000 people over 20 years found that one person’s happiness spreads through their social group even up to three degrees of separation, and that the effect lasts as long as a year. On the flip side, sadness isn’t as contagious: While having a friend who’s happy improves your likelihood of being happy by 15 percent, having one who’s unhappy lowers your chances by just 7 percent. Fascinating!

Friends Cut the Small Talk—and That Makes Us Happy

Sure, we all chit chat with our buddies, but when there’s something serious to discuss, hopefully we have a confidant who we can turn to. That’s important because people with the highest levels of wellbeing have more “substantive” conversations than small talk, according to a 2010 study in Psychological Science. When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a pal? If you can’t remember, schedule some catch-up time, stat!

We Turn to Friends When We’re Stressed

This is especially true for women, according to researchers at UCLA. Women are much more likely than men to seek out social support (usually from other women) when they’re worried or frazzled, which may explain why stress affects men’s health more.

Our Friends Help Us Feel Optimistic

Researchers say that daily social support is a key factor in feeling optimistic. Optimism, in turn, increases our satisfaction with life and lowers our risk of depression. Another study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that when we feel that we have social support, our visual perception of challenges actually changes: Mountains look more like molehills.

Friendships Improve Our Health

Let us count the ways! 1. Those of us who have social support are more likely to keep up an exercise plan more than a year after starting it. 2. The least “socially integrated” people experience memory declines twice as fast as those who are more connected. 3. Social support wards off depression and suicide. 4. People who are lonely tend to have higher blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease, and they’re more likely to “give up” or “quit trying” to deal with a stressor such as illness. Not to mention…

Our Friends Help Us Live Longer

Remember when we said that women seek help from their friends more than men do? A Swedish study found that when men do get enough social support during stressful times, they tend to live longer than those who didn’t have someone to lean on. There’s ample evidence that friendships don’t just make our lives better, they make them longer. Women who have at least one confidant survive longer after surgery for breast cancer, for example. And a review of 148 studies found that people with stronger social relationships have a 50 percent lower risk of mortality.

Now that we’ve got you feeling grateful for your friends, take the opportunity to try some fun activities to strengthen your friendships. Trust us, both of you will reap the benefits! Join Happify’s “Strengthen Your Friendships” track today for four weeks of fun, science-based activities that will bring you closer to the people who are most important to you.

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Smart People Should Create Things

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By James Clear

It was 1974 and Art Fry was spending his weekend singing for the local church choir. On this particular Sunday, Fry was dealing with a relatively boring problem: he couldn’t keep his bookmarks in place.

In order to find hymns quickly, Fry would stick little pieces of paper between the pages like bookmarks. The only problem was that every time he stood up, the pieces of paper would slide down deep between the pages or fall out of the book completely. Annoyed by the constant placing and replacing of his bookmarks, Fry started daydreaming about a better solution.

“It was during the sermon,” Fry said, “that I first thought, ‘What I really need is a little bookmark that will stick to the paper but will not tear the paper when I remove it.’” [1]

With this idea in mind, Fry went back to work the next week and began developing a solution to his bookmark problem. As luck would have it, Fry happened to be working at the perfect company. He was an employee at 3M and one of his co-workers, Spencer Silver, was an adhesives specialist.

Over the next few months, Fry and Silver developed a piece of paper that would stick to a page, but could be easily removed and reapplied over and over. Eventually, this little project became one of the best-selling office supplies of all-time: the Post-It Note.

Today, 3M sells Post-It Notes in over 100 countries worldwide. You can find them at libraries and schools, in offices and boardrooms, and scattered around nearly every workspace in between.

What can we learn from the story of Art Fry? And is there something we can take away from this to make our lives and the world better?

Create Something Small

Art Fry wasn’t trying to create a best-selling office supply product. In the beginning, Fry was simply trying to design a better bookmark for his choir hymnal. He was just trying to create something small.

For a long time, I thought that if I wasn’t working on something incredible, then it wasn’t of much value. But gradually I discovered the truth: the most important thing isn’t to create something world-changing, but simply to create. You don’t have to build something famous to build something meaningful.

And this brings us to the most important lesson we can learn from Art Fry and his Post-It Notes: when the world presents you with something interesting or frustrating or curious, choose to do something about it. Choose to be a creator.

In other words, the world needs smart people to build things. We need employees who invent things, entrepreneurs who create things, and freelancers who design things. We need secretaries who make jewelry as a side project and stay-at-home dads who write amazing novels. We need more leaders, not more followers. We need more creators, not more consumers.

And perhaps the most important thing to realize is that we not only need to create for each other, but for ourselves as well. Creating something is the perfect way to avoid wasting the precious moments that we have been given. To contribute, to create, to chip in to the world around you and to add your line to the world’s story — that is a life well lived.

What will you create today?

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How to Tell When A Manager Is Really Productive

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what do managers do all day

What do managers do all day?

This is one of the great, constant mysteries of worklife. According to management expert Peter Drucker, what a manager does all day is set objectives, organize, motivate and communicate, measure, and develop people. The problem is, these tasks are so fuzzy that doing them makes it look like you’re not doing anything.

Your role is to help your team make meaningful progress, which means that your primary concern isn’t about you but the people you manage and how they’re doing. As Michael Lopp, veteran engineering manager, puts it: “Their productivity is your productivity.

A manager’s job is mystifying because it’s so hard to understand what this transitive type of productivity looks like. You have to redefine what it means to get stuff done and how to measure your manager productivity.

Accepting That You’ll Be the Worst

When Buffer’s Chief Happiness Officer, Carolyn Kopprasch, began managing the growing customer support team, she realized she had to dismantle her whole concept of work. She’d first been a superstar at making Buffer customers happy, so she began her transition with “a lot of street cred.” But she realized that she had to let this hard-earned mastery and reputation go.

To be a great manager, Carolyn had to totally redefine her perceptions of productivity and success.

If she spent a bulk of her time doing support requests, she wouldn’t be doing her job. “I can’t be the leader by being the best at [customer support] anymore,” she explains. “I have to be the leader by being okay with being the worst at this specific role but still being able to be a liaison between them and the rest of the team and focusing more on the vision.”

The particular challenge that unseasoned managers face is that your workday is so different, diverging from not only what you used to do but excelled at. As a manager, you can’t be swooping in to do your team’s work for them or puppeteer them through tasks.

When you let insecurity and anxiety about how your productivity appears to others and reluctance to let go of the kind of tasks that helped you get promoted drive your managerial approach, you’ll fall prey to harmful behavior like micromanagement or disruption. Status updates, repeated check-ins, back-seat driving, and meetings start to even seem logical and masterful because they lend your the appearance of looking like you know what you’re doing.

“You have to battle your own confidence when you change your role,” says Carolyn. “Just changing the way I perceive my own success was the biggest challenge, and that took several months. I’m not successful if I answer 100 emails anymore. I’m successful if my team is happy.

Be a Coach, Not a Player

In 2006, Google applied its data-driven analytics to its people-side and discovered that great managers make a huge difference. Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of Google’s people operations, explains, “[O]ur best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier — they do everything better.”

Google discovered that the most critical rule of great management is to be a good coach. The quality of managers, then, revolves around how well they manage how their team is doing by supporting their progress and helping them grow.

Consider the role of a sports coach. You can’t step in and replace the athlete in the field. You’re not doing a good job if you’re thinking merely like a player or keeping your team in a meeting, preventing them from getting out on the court to practice and play. Being a coach requires managing the wellbeing and development of your people because that’s how you help your team play well.

So Carolyn coaches her team by going beyond work tasks to discuss self-care and mindfulness around personal productivity — whether it’s how you’re sleeping and the issue of hitting an energy wall in the afternoon. “If they don’t feel like they have the space to take care of themselves, then everybody’s work just goes downhill, including mine.”

This management approach is how Carolyn shifted her focus from the happiness of Buffer’s customers to the happiness of her support team. “I had to realize that I won’t have nearly as much output as I used to, which is good because that means that my output is talking to my people and seeing what they need,” she explains. “We probably spend the most time talking about their happiness first, so that they feel like they can do good work.”

“Everybody’s more successful when they’re happy — but especially for customer support people. If you’re not in a good place, or even if you’re just tired, you’re not going to be able to provide the best service. That’s true up and down every line of work.”

* * * * *

People feel like they don’t have time to think about and act on long-term goals like wellness and learning, which affect their happiness and productivity at work. That’s exactly why your responsibility as a manager to be a good coach can be so crucial — because you have the ability and to guide and develop people around some of these goals.

Rethinking your job as a manager as being a good coach helps resolve the inherent challenge of defining and showing your manager productivity. Understanding that it’s much harder to check off a to-do list when your tasks are to know what’s going on, remove obstacles, and facilitate progress can help battle your fear about looking like you’re not getting any work done.

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