To Be More Productive, Work Less

Guest Post by Daniel Tay, Piktochart

Back in the 1800s, American author Herman Melville was facing a problem while writing his to-be masterpiece, Moby Dick. Like many famous creative people who would come after him, he struggled against mankind’s greatest nemesis – procrastination – and even had to resort to chaining himself to his desk to be productive.

That particular story turned out pretty well. Moby Dick went on to become one of the greatest literary works of all time. Sitting at our desks mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, though, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever overcome the Instant Gratification Monkey, and get to work on the ever-increasing mounds of assignments and projects ahead of us.

Even if we did chain ourselves to our desks and get started, distractions continually attempt to pry and lure us away. And unlike Melville, we live in an age of perpetual distractions which are easily accessible at the swipe of a finger. Stanford sociologist Clifford Nass says that we are “suckers for irrelevancy.”

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Each time we get distracted, we mess up our flow – defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” Not being in the flow is naturally very, very bad for doing actual productive work.

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5 Resolutions to Boost Your Team’s Productivity

Over time, teams develop bad habits that hurt productivity. They slowly stop adhering to processes. They let standards slide. They communicate less. What’s worse is that as these bad habits creep in slowly over time, you can forget that your team is even doing them. Productivity suffers and no one even notices.

The problem is only exacerbated for remote teams. It’s hard enough for any group of people to stick to a regimen of healthy team habits. But when individuals don’t see each other every day, and they’re not regularly checking in to make sure everyone is adhering to office-wide standards, the slow creep of bad habits is even more dangerous, and leads to poor productivity.

All too often, working remotely means working separately. That leaves you without regular times to check in, re-assess how the team is doing, and make the necessary changes to reach peak functionality.

Enter New Years. Here’s your chance to make adjustments and define the tone for the next 12 months. That’s why so many companies introduce a yearly theme when everyone comes back from the holidays.

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In 2016, resolve to take on these fundamental problems that plague teams at work—especially remote teams. They’re what Patrick Lencioni calls the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, and they lay out the main reasons teams aren’t as productive as they could be, why so many aren’t aware of them, and what they can do to fix them. Here’s how.

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Progress, Plans, Problems: Sync Your Team with Updates

If the daily challenge of communicating with your co-workers is driving your crazy, you are not alone. Between all of the different tasks and moving pieces on your schedule, keeping your team members informed about your progress can be a frustrating challenge. It’s equally overwhelming trying to stay up-to-date on what your co-workers are doing. There is a huge amount of information to sift through.

Some companies implement strategies like progress reports and extra meetings to facilitate communication. But these are often time-consuming and they only add to the white noise. It’s time to clear your head. The key to successful communication is clarity, not buzz.

If you want to maximize the efficiency of your team’s status reports, think about using PPP.

PPP Streamlines Communication

Progress, plans, problems is an approach to communication that enables you and your team members to share what you are working on in a friendly and efficient way. The three P’s stand for “progress, plans and problems.” This technique is used by companies like Skype, Ebay, Facebook, and Seedcamp to streamline communication channels between managers and co-workers.

Every week, people report their top 3-5 achievements, goals and challenges in an email memo that is easy to read. It saves time and it helps keep everyone on the same page. The template looks like this:

  • Progress: What were your three biggest accomplishments this week?
  • Plans: What are your top three priorities for next week?
  • Problems: What are three problems you are facing? Problems usually require the help of other people to solve.

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It’s important to encourage your team members to give each other updates about their progress on assignments because it allows everyone to see the larger picture. These updates can happen daily, weekly or monthly, depending on your company’s needs.

The three P’s outlined above provide a de facto template to start from. Depending on what your company does, you might decide to add extra categories as you go along. The point is to keep everyone on the team informed and in sync, without wasting a lot of time with lengthy progress reports or meetings.

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Your Employees Are Underperforming…They Just Don’t Know It

As an executive, criticism is an essential part of your job. Your role is to get your team working as efficiently as possible. This means reminding employees of impending deadlines, hounding them to finish tasks, and firing off nit-picky memos. It’s important work, but it comes at a high cost: employee confidence.

Hard and fast criticism might seem the quickest way to get your team to work better. But if negativity is all they hear from you, you’re harming your company’s productivity.

Unconfident employees are less likely to approach you with out-of-the box ideas, teach themselves a new coding language, or apply for that promotion where they would excel.

Confident employees are productive employees. The problem is, most people aren’t as confident as they should be, since they don’t accurately perceive their abilities and competency.

If they’re not cognizant of their capacity, they probably aren’t working at it. If they’re under-confident, they’re underperforming.

Here’s the good news: confidence isn’t fixed. By applying a couple of positive psychology tools, you can boost their confidence and their productivity.

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Why Nature Should Be Part Of Your Working Space

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What’s difference does your physical environment have on the work you do? Quite a bit.

In a 2002 study, two groups of high school students were asked to spend some time making creative collages. One group made their collages in a setting with direct sunlight and natural wood surrounding them. The other group was in a room built of manufactured materials not found in nature, like drywall and plastic.

When a panel of six independent art critics viewed the students’ finished work, the results were overwhelmingly clear. The students who worked in the natural environment produced more innovative and creative pieces.

It makes perfect sense, our species was designed to wake with the sunlight. For millennia we’ve worked outside, hunting and farming and building societies. We lived in nature and then build shelters of wood and stone.

Then, everything got all … artificial. Synthetic walls, plastic, poly- this and carbon- that. Nature stopped being something we live in and started being something we vacation for. But you can’t pack a year’s worth of nature into a week-long vacation. Natural environments need to be part of our everyday lives. That includes the workplace.

Here are some ways to get started.

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How To Start Real, Meaningful Conversations With Your Email List Subscribers

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By now you’ve heard all about the benefits of building an audience over an email list.

Let say you’ve even set up a Mailchimp account and built an awesome landing page for capturing emails. You’ve targeted the people you want to reach and aggressively marketed your landing page. You’re even starting to see some emails coming in. Your list is growing.

Now what?

One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs and marketers have with their email list strategy is figuring out how to connect with people once they’ve signed up. Too boring, people unsubscribe. Too sales-y or pushy, people unsubscribe. Bother people too much and they’ll unsubscribe.

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12 Awesome Infographics To Help Grow Your Business

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Constant learning is one of the the best habits an entrepreneur can build. Thankfully there is no shortage of information available. More than ever before, in fact. From books, essays, Ted Talks, email newsletters, even entire college curriculums. Not to belabor a point that everyone is making — but there’s a world of information at our fingertips.

Sometimes, you need that information fast. The world is recommended a 5-course meal, and all you’ve got time for is a protein bar. Especially if you’re hard at work growing a business. Enter the infographic, Web 2.0’s comic book, magazine, pamphlet and business card all rolled together.

Why Everyone Will Have to Become an Entrepreneur

Shaking off the office grind to chase entrepreneurial dreams is more common than ever before. This infographic from San Francisco-based startup organization Funders and Founders breaks down just how important entrepreneurship has become. And it shows exactly why so many companies prefer to hire contractors over employees.

How to Never Give Up on Becoming an Entrepreneur

Another smart infographic from Funders and Founders. This one helps you overcome the drudgery and pain of growing a business. It is quite comforting to know that Michael Jordan missed the important shot more than 300 times.

How to Increase LinkedIn Engagement by 386%

This infographic from Quicksprout will help you master LinkedIn. It’s a huge network and unquestionably valuable in the business world. Consider the stat that 94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to screen potential job candidates.

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Don’t build your empire on rented land. Facebook or Stumbleupon might allow you to reach tons of people in an easy way, but those businesses will always control those channels. You’ll never be in the driver’s seat. That’s why so many companies still prefer to build their communication over email. The folks at Marketo built this great infographic that shows you how to build a killer email strategy.

How to Grow a Business: When Big Companies were Small

Everyone starts somewhere. Especially in tech, where behemoths like Facebook, were they a person, wouldn’t be old enough to drive a car. This helpful infographic from Salesforce shows you how giants like Amazon, Virgin and Facebook grew.

The Modern Small Business Owner

No two businesses operate the same way. And no two small business owners work the same way. But they definitely have a lot of things in common. This infographic from Intuit breaks down the characteristics of the modern small business owner. Did you know that running a business brings three times as much stress as raising children?

Inside The Mind Of A Startup Entrepreneur

What goes on inside the head of a startup founder? This infographic from Top Management Degrees answers exactly that. Did you know Bill Gates never took one day off in his 20s.

18 mistakes that kill startups

How do you sink a startup? Mark Vital at Funders and Founders built this helpful infographic based on the iconic Paul Graham essay on the topic. A simple infographic packed with great advice. Be sure to read the corresponding essay.

The Year in Startup Funding

Where does funding come from and flow to in the startup world? The crowdfunding platform Fundable has an excellent infographic that dives into startup land and follows the money.

The Many Paths to Starting a Startup

Starting a business can happen a lot of different ways. This infographic from Polish web development agency Naturaily illustrates a few of the most common paths.

The Staggering Cost of a Bad Hire

A bad hire can sink a business before it gets very far. Before you make the mistake of hiring the wrong person, use this infographic from Mindflash to burn in the hard truth: bad hires cost big bucks.

The 10 Commandments of User Interface Design

Is there any better medium to teach design than a well-designed infographic. The folks at Designmantic show off great principles of UI design using a beautifully-built infographic.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

Google Didn’t Get It Wrong: The Open-Office Trend Just Isn’t Right For Your Workplace

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First we had hunting, then farms, then factories.

Then there were offices, with their doors and thick walls. Then cubicles, thinner and shorter walls and no doors.

Today, no more walls. No more doors. Want a picture of your kid on your desk? Better set it as your computer background. Because that chair is up for grabs tomorrow morning, pal. We all belong everywhere and nowhere in the cafeteria of modern work. We live in a strange new world. Your digital desktop is more permanent than your actual desktop.

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Evernote Founder Phil Libin’s Secret To Looking Interested During Meetings

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“I haven’t actually told this to anyone before.”

Anytime you hear those words, pay attention to what the person says next.

Anytime you hear those words from someone who’s co-founded three multimillion-dollar companies, drop everything and start taking notes.

In this case, those words came from Phil Libin, who co-founded and until very recently served as CEO of Evernote. He helped grow Evernote from a simple note-taking application to the billion-dollar productivity suite it is today.

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A scientific guide to creative juices [what they are and how to summon them]

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Does this happen to you?

It’s Friday and you’re sitting in an all-hands-on-deck staff meeting. The boss needs creative ideas for next quarter. “Concentrate!” You’re told. “Be creative!”

You concentrate with all your might, but you’ve got nothing.

The next day you’re outside cutting the grass. There’s the steady hum of the lawnmower engine, the rhythmic predictability of the mowing pattern. Your mind slows down, wanders. Drifts off. But suddenly.

Lightbulb.

Some creative idea nearly knocks you over. It’s brilliant. Where was that kind of thinking when you needed it in yesterday’s meeting?

The answer has to do with our creative juices. And the science behind them. And although “creative juices” isn’t exactly a scientific term, there’s plenty of science behind what we understand to be creative juices.

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