How to Avoid Loneliness When You Work Entirely from Home

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Working from home can be a coveted perk, allowing you to opt out of rush-hour traffic and eliminate the tedious banalities of office life. But it can also cut you off from the spontaneous interactions that can spark new insights (part of the reason Marissa Mayer famously rescinded Yahoo’s telecommuting policies). And, at times, the solitude may lead to isolation or the feeling that you’re left out at work.

How can you combat loneliness and create positive relationships with colleagues when you work from home full-time? I’ve worked from home since 2006, when I launched my consulting and speaking business. Here are three principles I’ve found to be effective in staving off isolation, maintaining productivity, and surrounding oneself with a stimulating cadre of colleagues.

First, since you’re not physically interacting with coworkers, it’s important to seek out an online community of like-minded practitioners. The technology changes over time

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Are You Productive Enough?

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Productive: “Achieving or producing a significant amount of result.”
Enough: “As much or as many as required.”

As a time management coach, I’m keenly aware that you could answer the question “Am I productive enough?” using a variety of methods. I’m also familiar with the fact that individuals fall on a productivity spectrum. One person’s maximum productivity for a certain role in a particular environment could look vastly different from another person’s. These variations result from a combination of intrinsic ability, experience level, overall capacity, and desire.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m narrowing the definition of “productive enough” to whether you are meeting the requirements of your job when operating at your personal peak performance. This reasoning process is outlined in the flowchart below, and we’ll walk through it step-by-step by answering a series of questions. At the end of this you should have a clearer

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How to Get Someone to Put Away Their Phone and Actually Listen

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No, it’s not just you. If you’ve ever doubted that you had your boss’s full attention while her laptop is open in front of her, stop doubting. In spite of her protests that “I’m listening, go ahead…,” she wasn’t. Decades ago, research settled the question of whether you and I can do two things at once. We can’t. But emerging research shows that even the simple presence of a cell phone — much less its glowing screen and constant beeps — interrupts our ability to connect.

The problem is that manners haven’t caught up with technology. In one online survey, my colleagues and I found that nearly 9 out of 10 people say that at least once a week, their friends or family stop paying attention to them in favor of something happening on their digital devices. And 1 in 4 say these interruptions have caused a

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How to Pump Yourself Up Before a Presentation (or Calm Yourself Down)

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Public speaking affects people in different ways. Some people get jittery and anxious before they talk; they need to spend time calming themselves down before they go onstage.

Other people want to make sure they have extra energy when they’re in front of an audience. These people need to spend time amping themselves up before a talk — doing whatever helps them feel invigorated.

My pre-talk ritual has always been to be still; I would consider this a spiritual ritual. I’ll typically find a dark spot backstage to center myself, exhale calmly, and create quiet space in my head. Meanwhile, I interviewed over 40 professional speakers some of who have a more amp-it-up ritual, like doing power poses or rocking out to heavy metal bands.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try out some of these different, energizing pre-talk rituals before my last big keynote. I

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7 Skills That Aren’t About to Be Automated

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Today’s young professionals grew up in an age of mind-boggling technological change, seeing the growth of the internet, the invention of the smartphone, and the development of machine-learning systems. These advances all point toward the total automation of our lives, including the way we work and do business. It’s no wonder, then, that young people are anxious about their ability to compete in the job market. As executives who have spent our lives assessing and implementing digital technology in every type of organization, we often get asked by them: “What should I learn today so that I’ll have a job in the future?” In what follows we’ll share seven skills that can not only make you unable to be automated, but will make you employable no matter what the future holds. 

Communication. In a world where U.S. adults’ total media usage is nearly 12

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Great Leaders Are Confident, Connected, Committed, and Courageous

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Brad was leading a difficult turnaround of his company and had decided to fire his head of sales, who was a nice guy but wasn’t performing.

Three months later, he still hadn’t fired him.

I asked him why. His answer? “I’m a wimp!”

Brad (not his real name — I’ve changed some details to protect people’s privacy) is the CEO of a financial services firm and is most definitely not a wimp. He’s a normal human, just like you and me. And he’s struggling to follow through on an important, strategic decision. Just like, at times, you and I do.

No matter your age, your role, your position, your title, your profession, or your status, to get your most important work done, you have to have hard conversations, create accountability, and inspire action.

In order to do that, you need to show up powerfully and magnetically in a

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Family Businesses

Are you struggling with the complications of working in a family business? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Ted Clark, who runs the Center for Family Business at Northeastern University. They talk through advancing when you’re not a member of the family, managing up when your parents are your bosses, and whether it’s better to work for a family enterprise or a big corporation.

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Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page. Send in your questions about workplace dilemmas by emailing Dan and Alison at dearhbr@hbr.org.

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

HBR: Surviving in a Family Business When You’re Not Part of the Family by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer — “Successful non-family leaders stick to the ‘management

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To Overcome Your Insecurity, Recognize Where It Really Comes From

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Raymond closed down. Sandra snapped. They both had solid records and promising career prospects, and yet they felt that something was not working. Their bosses, colleagues, friends could tell too, but they were equally puzzled. How could someone so talented get so lost, or lose it, in seemingly trivial discussions, for no obvious reason?

The answer is deceptively simple and widespread: insecurity at work. The nagging worry that we are not quite as smart, informed, or competent as we ought to be, or as others might think. The fear that we are not good enough, or simply not enough. The second thoughts about our ideas, observations, and even about our feelings. The constant concern about being judged.

Feelings of insecurity leave us overdependent on external factors — admiration, praise, promotions. But even then, the feeling of achievement is generally temporary. Soon after, we turn inward, digging inside

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Why Is Crying at Work Such a Big Deal?

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I couldn’t stop crying. Months of late evenings and demanding travel had cracked my professional exterior. I tried to present my quarterly numbers while my colleagues squirmed in their seats, offered me a box of tissues, or just stared. My boss abruptly ended the meeting. My colleagues quickly evacuated the room. I was left alone in the conference room, crumpled tissues in hand.

For women, crying in a professional setting is often seen as the kiss of death:

“Stop crying! Someone will see you.”

“Quick, run to the ladies’ room!”

These are just two versions of similar warnings I’ve heard throughout my career. But it’s not just me. Female friends and colleagues have told me they too have been told to shut down the waterworks. It’s a familiar narrative for women who cry at work: Escape to bathroom. Grab toilet paper. Wipe eyes. Blow nose. Take deep breath

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How to Become More Self-Aware

Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and executive coach, talks about why we all should be working on self-awareness. Few people are truly self-aware, she says, and those who are don’t get there through introspection. She explains how to develop self-awareness through the feedback of loving critics and how to mentor someone who isn’t self-aware. Eurich is the author of the book Insight.

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Become a More Productive Learner

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Today we consume five times more information every day than we did in 1986, an incredible amount that’s equivalent to a 174 newspapers…a day. That probably includes a lot of Instagram posts, but it’s not only social media. The corporate e-learning space has grown by nine times over the last 16 years, such that almost 80% of U.S. companies offer online training for their employees, making more information accessible to them than ever before.

One would think that this would translate into increased knowledge. Yet, unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Scores of average American adults on tests of general civic knowledge — the type of information you’d assume people would pick up from scanning through all this information — has remained almost constant for the last 80 years. On the corporate side, working professionals apply only about 15% of what they learn in many

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Should You Join the Family Business?

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Richard (not his real name) graduated from college on a Friday. Three days later he would start his first day on the job in his family business. The choice was not one that he gave much thought to. He’d grown up in the family wine business, which his grandfather had founded, and his father had wooed him to join. This was the family’s legacy, his father had said, and someday Richard would be CEO. Or at least that’s what Richard heard.

Twenty years later, things have gone horribly wrong. Though they work side by side, the men are barely speaking after a boardroom blow-up. In his darkest moments, Richard is even contemplating whether to sue his father for breach of fiduciary duty. By all accounts, catapulting Richard into the business straight out of college was a mistake. Richard and his father both had high hopes for a generational

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In Praise of Extreme Moderation

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Why does it seem like you can’t throw a paper airplane in some offices without hitting a person who is training for a marathon, planning a 10-day silent meditation retreat, or intending on scaling Kilimanjaro? On top of working 24/7 for a company that doesn’t pay overtime? Extremism is becoming the norm not only in our professional lives but increasingly in our personal lives as well, from politics and parenting to food and fitness.

Extreme parents overinvest in building competitive kids, spending more hectic hours helicoptering than their own parents ever did (and still feel guilty). They take up a sport to find some balance in their lives — and get caught up becoming marathoners. Extreme foodies start the day with complex green drinks made from the latest expensive seeds and vegan plants from a distant country. Young Millennials, driven to distraction and depression by nonstop, constantly comparative

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How to Actually Start the Task You’ve Been Avoiding

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Think about something you’re having a hard time getting started on, something important to you.

Maybe it’s a particular kind of work — like writing a proposal or crafting a particularly delicate email. Maybe it’s an important conversation you know you need to have with someone that you haven’t had. Or, when you’ve had similar conversations in the past, you spent 10 minutes talking around what you wanted to say instead of just saying it. Maybe it’s speaking up in a meeting to say something you’re a little scared to say.

Perhaps you never get to that important but hard thing, accomplishing all sorts of smaller tasks but avoiding this one. Or perhaps you’re simply sluggish getting to it, wasting valuable time in the process.

The most productive people I know move right through these moments, wasting little time and getting to their most important work and

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Research: Watching an Expert Do Something Makes You Think You Can Do It Too

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You can find just about any skill you want to learn on the internet. Steve Jobs’s captivating presentation style, Steph Curry’s jumper, Michael Jackson’s moonwalk — all of these are easily accessible. Clearly, instructional videos, how-to guides, and online tutorials have changed the way we learn.

Or have they? Watching expert performances might make you feel that you could perform similar skills. But new evidence suggests that learning by observation may, at times, be illusory. Observers come away feeling confident that they’re well prepared to try the task out themselves, but when they do, often they’re not better than they were before.

Many Skills Are Easier Seen Than Done

In six experiments, recently published in Psychological Science, we tested the hypothesis that people overestimate how much their abilities improve after extensively watching others perform. In one experiment, 193 University of Chicago students visited our lab for a dart-throwing

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The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead

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I looked at my watch. It was 3:20pm. I had been on the phone for over an hour, almost all of that time listening to Frank*, a senior manager at Jambo, a technology company, complain about his boss, Brandon. Jambo is a company I know well — I have many ongoing relationships there from when I used to work with their CEO — but they are not, currently, a client. In other words, I wasn’t soliciting complaints or asking for feedback.

“He’s so scattered,” Frank griped about Brandon, “He’ll waltz into a meeting — late, mind you — and share his most recent idea, which is often a complete distraction from our current plan. Totally ignoring our agenda. And then he’ll micromanage everything we do, reorganizing our work — though we’re still accountable for the stuff he’s ignoring. And that’s not the worst. The worst is he’s completely

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5 Questions New Working Parents Should Ask Themselves

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The demands of both work and parenting are rising. While working hours globally are falling (partially due to aging populations), those employed full-time are often working more. In the U.S., for example, full-time employees are working 47 hours per week, and four in 10 people work more than 50. And the bifurcation of those working both more and less is growing — with marked increases in those working “extreme” hours, particularly in high-skill professions. In addition, according to the World Bank, women now constitute 40%–50% of the workforce in many countries around the world, meaning work outside the home is impacting men and women more equally.

But we are also parenting more. Researchers at UC Irvine found that parents in 11 countries spend nearly twice as much time with their kids as they did 50 years ago, with moms spending almost an hour more

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Assessment: Are You a Compassionate Leader?

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Compassion has become increasingly recognized as a foundational aspect of leadership. One study from 2012 found that compassionate leaders appear stronger and have more engaged followers. Other studies have found that organizations with more compassionate leaders have better collaboration, lower turnover, and employees who are more trusting, more connected to each other, and more committed to the company. When we surveyed more than 1,000 leaders from 800 organizations, 91% of them said compassion is very important for their leadership and 80% said they would like to enhance their compassion but do not know how.

What do we mean by compassion? It is the intent to contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. A compassionate leader has a genuine interest in seeing their people not just perform and increase profits but thrive. But this doesn’t mean “being soft” or trying to please people by giving them

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