The Remedy for Unproductive Busyness

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Raise your hand if you feel busy. Keep it up, still, if you think the busyness is hurting your productivity. If your hand is still up, then you should keep on reading.

It’s very easy to succumb to the temptation of staying busy even when it is counterproductive: It is the way our brains are wired. But there is a remedy that we can employ to translate that predisposition into productivity.

Research points to two reasons we often feel busy (but not necessarily productive) — and they are both self-imposed.

People have an aversion to idleness. We have friends who will, by choice, drive miles out of their way to avoid waiting for a few minutes at traffic lights, even if the detour means their journey takes more time. Research suggests that the same applies to work, where many of the things we choose to do are merely justifications to keep

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Divorce Doesn’t Have to Derail Your Career

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The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory lists divorce as the number two stress in life, right below the death of a spouse, but above jail and serious personal illness or injury. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise for those of us who’ve had to go through it. Divorce wreaks havoc on all parties involved. But does it have to derail you professionally? We (one divorced, the other a child of divorce) say undoubtedly no. We reached out to divorced clients and colleagues and found divorce can actually boost your career if you allow yourself to gain three perspectives from the experience: space and time to yourself, a different threshold for risk, and the ability to break old patterns.

Space and time to yourself.

“When I got divorced, I looked at my whole life and asked myself: what kind of legacy did I want to leave? At that time, I called my friends together as

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When Cultural Differences Interfere with Your Time

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With today’s global workforce, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand and work more effectively with people across cultures. But what happens when cultural differences about managing time interfere with the work we’re trying to accomplish?

That was certainly the case for an American manager I spoke with recently who worked for a firm that had merged with an Italian company. He was frustrated by his Italian colleagues, who were regularly late for meetings. As a result he ended up padding his schedule, adding in an hour of “slack” time, just to take into account their tardiness. This was particularly frustrating for the manager because it meant he ultimately had less time to schedule other activities and often, as a result, ended up working late to make up for missed time.

And it’s not just Americans and Italians; I’ve heard similar stories from Germans frustrated with the lack of timeliness from their

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It’s the Weekend! Why Are You Working?

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If you are like us, you often find yourself working on weekends and are criticized by somebody (your spouse, a friend, a colleague) who thinks there is something inherently wrong in spending some time over the weekend on work-related activities. Do they have a point? We thought there might be some truth to their criticism. And since we are scientists, we’ve looked for empirical data that would help us understand this phenomenon (and ourselves). What we’ve found is that many of us work on weekends for a very simple reason: We enjoy it. Think of it as a productivity high. But research shows that we often overdo it and that it may be more costly than we realize. Let’s dig a little deeper into the data.

One reason so many of us work on the weekend is that we receive pleasure from feeling productive. In a recent study, one of

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How to Build Expertise in a New Field

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Better pay, more joy in the job, or prerequisite to promotion? Whatever your reasons for deciding to build expertise in a new field, the question is how to get there.

Your goal, of course, is to become a swift and wise decision-maker in this new arena, able to diagnose problems and assess opportunities in multiple contexts. You want what I call “deep smarts” — business-critical, experience-based knowledge. Typically, these smarts take years to develop; they’re hard-earned. But that doesn’t mean that it’s too late for you to move into a different field. The following steps can accelerate your acquisition of such expertise.

Identify the best exemplars. Who is really good at what you want to do? Which experts are held in high regard by their peers and immediate supervisors? Whom do you want to emulate?

Assess the gap between you and them. This requires brutal self-assessment. How much work will

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Having Inside Information Leads to Worse Decisions

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Tip-offs in business are surprisingly common (and, except for stock market insider trading, legal) and often make the person on the receiving end feel special—they now know something that others don’t and have an opportunity to be among the first to act on this new information. For example, your boss might reveal inside information about an upcoming organizational change, giving you a heads-up on how these changes might affect you. Or a client might mention a recent not-yet-public decision, one that has consequences for your company’s relationship with their firm. While this secret information may seem beneficial to us when we are part of the privileged minority that receives it, recent brain imaging research suggests otherwise.

In a recent paper, Rafael Huber and colleagues from the department of psychology at The University of Basel found that when people receive “private” information, their brains respond by overweighting this information when

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How to Overcome Burnout and Stay Motivated

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Even if you love your job, it’s common to feel burnt out from time to time. Perhaps you just wrapped up a big project and are having trouble mustering motivation for the next one. It could be that your home life is taking up more of your energy than usual. Or maybe you’re just bored. What’s the best way to recharge? Are some forms of rejuvenation better than others? How do you know if what you’re feeling is ordinary burnout or something else, like chronic dissatisfaction?

What the Experts Say
Burnout — the mental and physical exhaustion you experience when the demands of your work consistently exceed the amount of energy you have available — has been called the epidemic of the modern workplace. “There’s no question that we’re at greater risk of burnout today than we were 10 years ago,” says Ron Friedman, the founder of ignite80, the

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Two Ways to Clarify Your Professional Passions

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Have you ever noticed that highly effective people almost always say they love what they do? If you ask them about their good career fortune, they’re likely to advise that you have to love what you do in order to perform at a high level of effectiveness. They will talk about the critical importance of having a long-term perspective and real passion in pursuing a career. Numerous studies of highly effective people point to a strong correlation between believing in the mission, enjoying the job, and performing at a high level.

So why is it that people are often skeptical of the notion that passion and career should be integrally linked? Why do people often struggle to discern their passions and then connect those passions to a viable career path? When people hear the testimony of a seemingly happy and fulfilled person, they often say, “That’s easy for them to say now. They’ve made it. It’s not so easy to follow this advice when you’re sitting where I’m sitting!” What they don’t fully realize is that connecting their passions to their work was a big part of how these people eventually made it.

Passion is about excitement. It has more to do with your heart than your head.  It’s critical because reaching your full potential requires a combination of your heart and your head. In my experience, your intellectual capability and skills will take you only so far.

Regardless of your talent, you will have rough days, months, and years. You may get stuck with a lousy boss. You may get discouraged and feel like giving up. What pulls you through these difficult periods? The answer is your passion: it is the essential rocket fuel that helps you overcome difficulties and work through dark times. Passion emanates from a belief in a cause or the enjoyment you feel from performing certain tasks. It helps you hang in there so that you can improve your skills, overcome adversity, and find meaning in your work and in your life.

In talking to more experienced people, I often have to get them to mentally set aside their financial obligations, their role in the community, and the expectations of friends, family, and loved ones. It can be particularly difficult for mid-career professionals to understand their passions because, in many cases, the breakage cost of changing jobs or careers feels so huge to them that it’s not even worth considering. As a

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The Most Productive Way to Develop as a Leader

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Everybody loves self-improvement. We want to get smarter, network better, be connected, balance our lives, and so on. That’s why we’re such avid consumers of “top 10” lists of things to do to be a more effective, productive, promotable, mindful — you name it — leader. We read all the lists, but we have trouble sticking to the “easy steps” because while we all want the benefits of change, we rarely ever want to do the hard work of change.

But what if we didn’t think of self-improvement as work? What if we thought of it as play — specifically, as playing with our sense of self?

Let’s say an executive we’ll call John lacks empathy in his dealings with people. For example, he’s overly blunt when he gives feedback to others and he’s not a very good listener. Thanks to a recent promotion, he needs to be less of a task-master and more people-oriented. He wants to improve on the leadership skills he’s been told are vital for his future success but, unfortunately, they are alien to him. What can he do?

John has two options. He can work on himself, committing to do everything in his power to change his leadership style from model A to model B. Or he can play with his self-concept by “flirting” with a diverse array of styles and approaches and withholding allegiance to a favored result until he is better informed. The difference between these two approaches is both nuanced and instructive for anyone striving to transform how they lead.

Let’s first imagine John working on himself. The adjectives that come to mind include diligent, serious, thorough, methodical, reasonable, and disciplined. The notion of “work” evokes diligence, efficiency, and duty — focusing on what you should do, especially as others see it, as opposed to what you want to do. I imagine John making a systematic assessment of his strengths and weaknesses, collecting feedback on areas for improvement, setting concrete SMART goals, devising a timetable and strategies for achieving them, possibly engaging a coach psychologist to dig deeper into the root causes of his poor people skills, monitoring his progress, and so on. With a clear end in mind, he proceeds in a logical, step-by-step manner, striving for progress. There is one right answer. Success or failure is the outcome. We judge ourselves.

Now, let’s imagine John being playful with his sense of self. What adjectives come to mind now? The words lively, good-humored, spirited, irreverent, divergent, amused, and full of fun and life now spring to mind. The notion of “play” evokes an element of fantasy and potential — the “possible self,” as Stanford psychologist Hazel Markus calls

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How to Separate the Personal and Professional on Social Media

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Let’s face it: social media is risky. A single unfortunate post can throw a career off track. And yet in an era in which younger workers are connected with an average of 16 co-workers online and where 40% to 60% of hiring managers use social media to screen potential hires, it is simply not reasonable to stay off social media entirely. So how can we balance the personal and professional online?

In a recent research study, we spoke with dozens of professionals about their use of social media, and were struck by the variety of approaches they are using.

Some professionals, we found, still manage to avoid social media altogether. But most see that as unrealistic in many occupations, and are unwilling to be deprived of the advantages social media affords in terms of connecting to people and collecting information. Many in some way recreate in social media the kinds of boundaries, or mental fences, they use in real life to organize their worlds. These boundaries serve people well offline, and they can perform their function online, too.

Before making any conscious choice of preferred social media strategy, professionals should do a quick self-diagnosis of their current, most natural online behavior. Do they value transparency and authenticity first and foremost? If they do, and thus post whatever comes to mind on social media, they embrace what we call an Open strategy. The key is to ensure that they understand this is risky. They might instead use a less risky Audience strategy, being careful to keep their professional and personal networks separate. For instance, an unreserved Facebook poster might learn to deflect friend requests from co-workers and professional contacts and direct them instead to a LinkedIn account. This not only avoids the danger of appearing unprofessional to colleagues but also the potential problem of seeming to speak as a representative of the employer. Individuals who adopt an Audience strategy, however, must be mindful that networks are fluid: people who begin as friends can later become co-workers, or even bosses – in which case, an Audience strategy can be compromised.

We heard from some professionals (and saw in a recent survey that 40% of respondents felt the same) that they feel compelled to accept friend requests from professional contacts. In that case, a Content strategy can be useful, which entails accepting these requests and resigning oneself to posting only carefully considered content. People who use this strategy post information and photos that project an image of professionalism, or at least do not undercut the reputation they are trying to earn with their boss, coworkers, and clients. The drawback with this strategy is of course that they can no longer vent or

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