Creativity

CoolTimeLife Podcast: The Value of Your Time

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Value of Your Time. It describes how to place a value on your time so that you don’t give it away. It describes the enormous productive power of the 80/20 rule, how to handle email more effectively, how to break large tasks up over many days using carryover momentum, and the productive power of downtime. Whew! That’s a lot. Are you ready?

The Furnace Repair Story

This is the story of a person whose furnace goes cold. The house is cold, and a couple of presses of the thermostat confirm that the furnace is not working. The homeowner calls the furnace company who sends a technician out. The technician arrives and heads down to the basement. The homeowner listens as the boots clomp down the stairs, and then a single “clang!” The furnace comes back on and warm air starts flowing through the registers once again. The boots clomp back up the stairs.

“All done,” the technician declares, “may I present you with the bill?”

“Sure,” says the homeowner, who scrutinizes the bill and then looks at the technician doubtfully. “Five hundred dollars?” the homeowner asks. “Five hundred dollars? But you were only down there for thirty seconds! How could that cost five hundred dollars.”

The technician smiles and asks, “Would you like me to itemize the bill for you?”

“Yes please,” replies the homeowner, who watches as the technician writes a couple of lines on the invoice.

“Here,” says the technician, “this might help.” The homeowner reads the revised invoice. It now says:

“Furnace repair:

– Hitting the furnace with a hammer: $5.00

– Knowing where to hit: $495.00”

I love this story because, nice and clearly, it conveys the value of a person’s expertise, which is not always visible. Time is valuable. Your time is valuable, and the art of staying fully aware of that is a life skill that needs to be practiced and maintained.

People who are self-employed, for example, or who work in small businesses can very easily fall into the trap of undervaluing their services, maybe doing some of it for free. “I”can’t charge for just a 5-minute phone-call,” they say. Or, “invoicing is part of overhead. I can’t charge for that.”

The same applies for people who work for companies, on salary. They might not feel they have direct impact on how they price their services, certainly, but they still give away too much. Whatever work you do, the value you bring to the table has a long tail that stretched far back into past.

The years you invested in your education – all those years of study, plus the years you have spent doing this work, or even the work of your previous job, have shaped you into a professional person with skills and experience that have value. But that long tail of value is so easily forgotten – or overruled.

When a customer asks for 10 minutes of your time – and by customer I not only mean the direct small business customer, but also internal office colleagues, even your boss – they are still customers. They are still buying your experience and your service. When they buy ten minutes of your time, they are also buying all those years that went into making those minutes valuable.

When you’re sitting in a meeting that starts late because Bob hasn’t arrived yet, you and everyone else around that meeting are giving away time that took years, individually and collectively, to craft. When your significant other asks you to stop off and pick up some milk on the way home, you think nothing of it. But that’s at least 20 minutes of your life that you are giving away. Yes, you might be pleasing your partner by doing a favor – there is value in that, but my argument is that there’s a better way to deliver this service. The spontaneous giving away of your time in any circumstance is not only a tragic waste, it also sets a precedent. The expectation to do the same again will always be there.

The 80/20 Rule

I spend a lot of my speaking time showing people how to do better with their own time. One of the points that I mention and will always stand behind is the 80/20 rule. Specifically, you can get more done in 80 percent of your time than you can in 100 percent of your time. The point is, that 20 percent is invested – not spent, but invested – in proactively managing the events to come.

This means planning. It also means networking, building relationships, and yes, even relaxing. But let me just focus on planning for the moment. Part of this 20 percent of this day, and tomorrow, and the next day should be used to prepare a calendar that realistically questions how long each activity should be and then helps identify the number of activities that you can realistically – not optimistically – fit into your day. It asks these questions before you actually get started on any of them.  Most importantly setting up a road map of operation for the day. Without a map, you will drift. It’s as easy as that.

And this is where I get pushback – or at least questioning. People will ask, Steve, do you spend all of your time every day just updating your calendar and your to do lists? That usually gets a laugh.

But I answer YES! Yes, I do. And that also gets a laugh.

But here’s my point on this. People think this activity – updating your calendar – that is to say your personal project plan – so regularly and so often is extra work – more on your plate. But in actual fact, you’ll be spending this time anyway – more of it in fact if you just try to get these things done in real time in an unplanned fashion.

Take My Email, Please.

As I mentioned in a previous podcast – Are You Conscious – email steals a great deal of time from you. Not just the time spent responding to them, but also the time required to recuperate from the distraction. It really is a literal drain on your system. So, if you handle 10, 20, 50 or more emails per day, you deal with the sum total of time required to write or respond plus many, many minutes of recuperation time. This amounts to hours of time lost per day working in sub-par mental capacity.

But if you plan your email handling time, let’s say, 3 blocks of 20 minutes, not only do you eliminate the recuperation time – because you choose to answer these emails consciously rather than getting taken by surprise by them – but you are also able to frame them – let’s say by aiming to respond to 10 emails inside of 20 minutes, you can change your actual approach to work to fit inside a defined box of time. NO more drifting. You stay on track.

So, you can do the emails in a casual, unplanned way, which might literally take three hours out of your busy workday, or you can plan how and when to do them and cut that amount by at least half. That’s the power of planning. It isn’t extra work. It’s less work in total. The planning plus the planned work ends up taking far less time than unstructured work by itself.

The Power of Twitter as a Tool for Ongoing Education.

The other thing that gets people a little nervous or incredulous is when I talk about the power of Twitter. Seldom do I get more than a couple of hands up when I ask my audiences how many people use Twitter as a tool of professional development. Most people think that Twitter is useless when they themselves have nothing to say, and that the rest is pure junk. Well, maybe most of it is junk, but I remind them that there are a few people out there worth listening to. Thought leaders. Subject matter experts. Your customers. Your competitors.

But the reaction is the same: “I do not have the time to browse social media.” But my argument is, you invest time in formalized ongoing education. You might even wait months to get a training course from your employer. That’s a lot of time drifting by, and with is a great deal of time lost to inadequate knowledge. Imagine trying to catch up on a breaking development that affects your company. The minutes or hours needed to get caught up retroactively will always exceed those you could spend just reading – a few minutes here and there on a daily basis.

Catch-up costs. But pro-activity yields dividends.

Proactivity beats reactivity every time. Whenever you think a proactive action – part of that 20 percent – is too much extra work. Remember it will end up being less work and costing less time than if you let things happen the casual, unplanned way. This not only includes planning your email and investing in Twitter education in the ways I have just discussed, it also points to things like managing by walking around (MBWA).

That is to say investing some time in talking ton your colleagues, suppliers, or customers, to learn more about them and to demonstrate acknowledgement of their hard work and dignity. For although this too, seems like extra effort with no reward, the reward actually comes when these people reciprocate, by showing up to your meeting on time and prepared, or paying your invoice on time, or getting their share of a project done on time, simply because they like working with you and they enjoy the respect you show them. That’s the payoff. That’s the dividend.

The Value of Work

I remember sending a change of address notification to my company’s law firm. No big deal, right? We send those out to everybody. Two weeks later I received an invoice from them for $150. Professional services for updating the address in their files. That seems like a lot, right? But lawyers are taught early on: time is money. As soon as you start giving the results of your expensive education away, as soon as you give your expertise away, people start expecting that regularly.

Think also what it says about you.  You are willing to give away your hard-won expertise. Not everyone is going to respect that. They might even start to question just how good you actually are. See? That’s the problem. It seems like the right thing to do, to be nice, but by giving away the very thing people respect about you, you might also be diluting your brand and your credibility. That’s not a great thing to hear, but it is human nature. Humans tend to judge. And best intentions might turn out to do less for you than you would like. This is the same whether you give away a half hour of your services or when you delay the start of a meeting because someone is late. It happens when you take on extra requests or drop-in visitors just because it seems too hard to say no.

But remember, the word NO can also function and the first two letters of the phrase “Not at this moment, which opens you up to another word that contains the letters N O – that word is negotiate. Everything can be negotiated. Rather than give away your time, negotiate suitable alternatives that maintain your image of flexibility without sacrificing your value – in your eyes or in theirs.

The Value of Carryover Momentum

Very often I get asked by people how to take care of giant tasks that will take hours to do, let’s say, for example, a bunch of backlogged work, or a big project. The temptation is to say, I will book off an entire day to take care of this in one go. Now, if you can do that, and it works, then good for you. I will never argue against something that works.

But most people will never successfully do this. There’s just too much else to do. But there is a better option, and I call it “Carryover Momentum.”

As I have already mentioned, the power of planning is an amazing thing. Whatever day of the week it is as you read to this, think back to what you were doing exactly one week ago. Doesn’t seem like seven days, does it? It’s not fair, how quickly time seems to fly, but that’s life, and that’s how memory works.

If you are faced with a task that is too big to get done all at once, the chances are that another week will slip by, then another, then another. Though this might be considered procrastination, it’s not always the case that you’re actually consciously putting it off, so much as never quite getting around to it – there’s a difference.

To that end, there is the principle of carryover momentum, in which it becomes possible to break up a large task, and then schedule and deal with it regularly and consistently over a period of days.

If you were to assign one half-hour per day to a project, you wouldn’t feel that much headway had been achieved after the first half-hour of the first day. But if you were able work on the project one half-hour each workday for a month, that’s 10 hours. For larger-scale projects, that one half hour per day, even with weekends and holidays off, becomes 125 hours over a year, or the equivalent of three forty-hour weeks! That’s a lot of time!

Physiology crash course: The reason why I call this technique carryover momentum goes to the workings of the brain. By returning to an ongoing task on a daily basis – preferably, but not necessarily at the same time each day – the mind continues to retain and access the creative momentum of the previous day. It significantly reduces the amount of “let’s see now, where was I?” that happens when a project is picked up after a week or two of inactivity.

This is yet another example of how to capitalize on the strengths of the brain to get the right work done in the right way within the constraints of a busy day.

So, if you are facing a large project at work, and you feel overwhelmed by the size of it all, do not despair. That sense of overload is normal. It’s mental paralysis, the manifestation of the fight-or-flight reflex, draining nutrients from the thinking area of the brain. It can be easily treated by using a calendar to lay out a collection of half-hour blocks across days and weeks as a recurring activity and taking the giant task on one bit at a time, regularly, day-by-day.

Of course, such a thing must be coordinated and pro-rated according to the project’s deadline but instead or putting it off and putting it off, only to be faced with a high stress situation later, just like my email discussion of earlier, you can consciously plan – invest in some planning time – in breaking down this task into manageable amounts. Where once you had a mountain blocking your view, you now have a mountain with a staircase carved into it.

The Value of Downtime

The final point I want to make is the value of downtime – thing includes breaks during your working day, and most importantly focuses on stepping over the big red line that actually can be the divider between work life and home life. In the podcast episode dedicated to metabolism, I talked about sleep and melatonin, and I don’t plan to repeat myself, other than to say that sleep is the single greatest investment in productivity of the entire 24-hour day. The value of downtime is in part due to its chemical capacity to help your brain and body repair the damage of the day, boosting the immune system, both through the pleasure of sleep as well as the pleasure of enjoying life – with your family, your friends, your pets, and your hobbies.

Your phone needs recharging, your car needs refueling and you know what? So do you. Downtime has value in balancing out your day and preparing your energy and your excellence for the day to come. Burning the midnight oil, working late into the night simply diminishes tomorrow’s potential. You are drawing from a well. Either use the water tonight or tomorrow. You can’t do both.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Value of Time. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here.

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Your Brain is Like a Bath Sponge

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Your Brain is Like a Bath Sponge. When you learn to recognize the power of breaks, decompression, and stepping over that line between work and home life, that’s when you can truly capitalize on your metabolic strengths and be the best you can be.

What is your attention span? How long do you think you can focus on something before you need to move on to something else? This is a component of your mental metabolism, and it might not be as long or as thorough as you think it should be or would like it to be.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.

I myself, have an attention span of about 15 minutes. That’s it. After that, I need to move on to something else, if just temporarily. What I have discovered about myself is a two-minute data break in which I read the news headlines on Twitter or a news site, is enough for me to step away from my work for two minutes, refresh my brain, refresh my entire outlook, and then go back to the work at hand for another 15 minutes.

This on-again-off-again approach to work fits my attention span perfectly, and allows me to regain the momentum that my work requires.

So I ask you to consider the same thing. What is your attention span? It is not wrong to need to move away from your work on a regular basis. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that guarantees a much greater level of excellence, correctness, accuracy, and productivity. You cannot expect your brain or body to continue working at a standard level of 100% attention or 100% exertion all the time. We move up and down throughout the day and throughout the hour.

So, think about your attention span. How do you work well What do you need to do? Do you need to stand and move around on a regular basis? Do you need a squeeze ball to absorb your energy while you are working? Take time to think about what makes you feel more comfortable and bring that into your workplace. This becomes part of your recipe for excellence and for your capacity to focus, negotiate, and survive the day in a healthy fashion.

Similar to this is the notion of decompression.

The black light aquarium room at Google.

This image shows a black light aquarium room. Here’s a wonderful concept, one that many organizations have embraced, if not in an actual aquarium room, then in approaches that do the same type of thing, including designing people-friendly buildings from the ground up. They focus on the fact that people do indeed need to decompress in order to perform better.

So, a bunch of people crashed out in La-Z-Boy chairs and bathtubs in a dark room, lit by black lights, with aquariums everywhere. They stare at the fish and relax. Is this a good use of company time? Some will say “yes,” others “no.” But the point is, this room was not devised to let people sleep through the afternoon or burn off a hangover. This is a place that helps the brain decompress. Companies need creativity from their people, and this involves social creativity – the ability to interact and work together.

You don’t get creative by staring at a blank sheet of paper or a blank PowerPoint slide. Creativity does not come from this, in fact the opposite happens. Your brain compresses under pressure.

Think about a bathroom sponge for a moment. If you took a sponge and compressed it in your hand, it would become very small, obviously. Once you let go of that sponge, however, it re-expands to its original size. Your thinking brain is similar to this in the fact that when it is under pressure or stress, it compresses, metaphorically, which limits the space available for creative thought.

Any time you can decompress, whether it’s in a black light aquarium room or more realistically, something like taking a walk around your building, looking up at the sky and thinking about nothing. When you think about nothing, your brain has a chance to re-expand and reorganize itself into the machine of creativity that it likes to be. It comes down to a simple observation: a stressed brain cannot work as well as a decompressed brain.

My Challenge to You

How can you decompress to ensure you get the most from your thinking brain and your body? It’s a matter of five minutes or even two minutes spent decompressing turning into an hour’s worth of top-quality work. That’s a powerful ratio.

Not doing this – simply soldiering on – yields only mediocre work, which means a different and lower type of quality gets to your end customer. Decompression keeps things in check.

As for the commute home, whether it’s driving, taking transit, cycling, walking, or simply walking from your home office to the kitchen – these are all additional opportunities for decompressing and stepping over that line between work life and home life. This is a concept that seems to be less and less possible – in fact the term work-life balance is often eclipsed by the newer term, work-life integration, implying there is no longer any line between the two worlds.

But it remains vital to step over this line at some point, in order to facilitate the onset of healthy sleep. Sleep is the single greatest contributor towards quality work. Effective sleep is based on the hormone melatonin being introduce into your bloodstream, and melatonin is triggered first by your body’s perception of the sun moving toward the horizon, and the subsequent onset of diminishing natural light, and secondly by the awareness that work has been replaced by home life.

Yes, you want to be on, you want to be productive during your working hours whether these are 9-to-5 or otherwise, but there comes a time when you have to step over this line and declare work done for the day. This is not easy, especially with emails and other messaging coming in at random times.

It is vital to keep in mind that your metabolism is built to respond to urgency, including signals and cues that hint at the dangers of the unknown – initially a a primordial self-preservation reflex, now part of the compulsion to reward and respond to every message that appears on your phone.  As innocuous as they may seem, these are cues that stimulate your body back into action at a time when it should be winding down toward healthy sleep.

By stepping over the line that separates work and home life, you help encourage a smoother slide into healthy sleep, maximizing the potential for a great day of profitable work tomorrow.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Your Brain is Like a Bath Sponge. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Modern Music and Critical Thinking – There’s a Problem Here

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Modern Music and Critical Thinking – There’s a Problem Here. It explores the relationship between the way today’s tunes are written, produced and marketed, and the way in which we think and react as human connected to our phones.

 

I was watching a YouTube video the other day which talked about everything that is wrong with modern music. The host of the video, who goes by the name of Thoughty2, wasn’t even old. Probably around 23. It wasn’t like one of those 70-something prog rock old timers telling us what’s wrong with today’s music, but instead, he presented some interesting facts about how music is produced and marketed in this era, and I think there are some direct tie ins to at work productivity and workplace skills.

The video is available here. It’s about 20 minutes long.

Thoughty2 goes through a number of mechanical reasons about how modern hits by people like Taylor Swift are written by a very small group of people, and how a recurring musical note sequence called the Millennial Whoop echoes through dozens of modern hits, as this compilation video shows.

Now, as a musician myself, I can agree with much of what Thoughty2 was saying, but I could also picture his grandfather standing in front of a camera in 1963, slagging the long haired, gyrating freakishness of the Beatles, or Elvis, and lamenting the disappearance of quality music by Sinatra or the Big Band era. Go back even further and is great-great grandfather would have been complaining about Gershwin tearing the classics apart. Even Mozart and Beethoven were criticized for changing music too radically.

So is this change in music a change management issue? Every generation deserves its own musical heroes, after all, if only to distance themselves from their parents or older siblings.

But here’s the part of Thoughty2’s presentation that really resonated with me. He pointed out the effect that free downloadable music has had on its creation and quality. Back in the days of vinyl LPs and packaged CDs, you, as a music consumer had to head on down to the music store and plonk out some hard-earned money to purchase a collection of songs by your favorite artist. There’s a lot of work involved in that, and it wasn’t cheap. In 1975, an LP would have cost between $4.99 and $7.99. I remember wishing I could get the compilation triple album by KISS, which was retailing for an astounding $10.99 at the time. That might not seem like a lot now, but back in 1975, minimum wage in the U.S. was around $2.00 per hour.

Access to recorded music was expensive. But concerts, were cheap, compared to today, because they were the loss-leaders designed to get you to buy the merchandise and albums. Now, as David Bowie so accurately predicted back in 1980, music is free, which is why artists and their employers – the record companies – must recoup their costs through live performances at hundreds of dollars per seat.

So, is free instantly available music the culprit? Because it’s free or mere pennies, and because it is available for instant download, no time is needed to think through the process, to debate whether the tunes are worth buying, or to spend time afterwards listening over and over to the tunes if only to justify the cost of the purchase.

Instant access means that tunes must offer a combination of universal appeal and familiarity. To be too different entails too much risk. Tunes must have an instant hook – no long-extended introductions – and in many cases these play as a mere backdrop to the video.

Still, there’s nothing inherently wrong in that, in my opinion. Art must always strike a balance between innovation and comfort of it is to make money.

But it’s the speed issue that I’m looking at here. As attention spans shorten and instant access to information dominates, skills such as critical thinking tend to atrophy, and this poses great danger to businesses and productivity.

Thinking is a process that requires a type of mental massaging. I tell my audiences that two of the best ways to think are, 1. To take a walk – just walk around the block and think about nothing. Do not check your email. Just let your mind relax, and let the thoughts come. Number 2 is to write things out. This is particularly productive because firstly it lets your thinking mind let go of preliminary thoughts and place them on a tangible surface – paper or a dry-erase board. Without this step you will simply be stuck holding on to an initial idea or worry. You can only move past this by depositing it somewhere and giving your brain permission to move on. Also, hand-writing has a correlation to the pace of clear thought processing. The speed at which you write things out buys time for creative processing to happen. These two actions together help “real thinking” really happen.

Much of the challenges people have concerning time management and prioritization has to do with the speed of reaction overtaking the quality of thought. We respond instantly to any incoming stimulus out of the fear and pressure of high-speed messaging. We have lost the ability for example, to exert influence over others, to manage expectations and buy time for ourselves. Why? Because influence requires careful thought and time to implement.

Look at ransomware for example. How often does cybercrime like this happen not because of any sophistication on the part of the hackers, but because they send one of those phishing emails that fool people into thinking their bank account has been frozen? People read them, and they react without thinking. They click on the link and the malware is allowed in. Phishing is a crime of distraction that exploits the busy-ness of its victims.

Similarly, much of the polarization happening in politics, especially in the U.S. also has to do with the fact that people no longer need to think through issues or talk with other people to come to a considered opinion. It is easier now to simply find an organization or news site that already sides with your beliefs or fears and wrap yourself inside. You will no longer hear a person of one political stripe say to someone with the opposing belief, “yes you have a good point there.” Instead disagreements are started and ended with a fast demographic smear: “you’re a liberal” or “you’re a dem” or you’re a republican. An “us versus them” mentality has taken over politics and has extinguished reasoned argument.

Critical thinking is a skill. It is the type of skill that needs to be taught to school age kids as well as to adults. It’s like street-proofing. You must give people an awareness of the importance of stopping and thinking before acting, otherwise their lives or careers will be in jeopardy.

Now in case you think I’m playing the old man here, dissing the younger generation for acting too quickly with their mobile phones and their autotuned musical heroes, I’m not. Music reflects its culture and our current culture is high-speed and ubiquitous. But there’s one thing that is not evolving as fast as technology, and that is the human brain and body together.

Reaction is reflex. It is not thought. Consequently, people lose the capacity to prioritize or frame a discussion when they exist solely in a reactionary state. Building a strong relationship with your manager, managing up, as the term goes, is impossible when neither of you have the time to do it. The same goes for delivering feedback to an employee or engaging in active listening. So many valuable activities and resources go out the window when people do not give themselves the time to fully use their thought processing skills.

A recent article in Quartz at Work outlined the concept of the silent meeting, being used by groundbreaking companies like Amazon, in which the first 30 minutes of an in-person meeting are spent in silence as the meeting attendees read the meeting material and reflect upon it before speaking.

This strongly echoes the original philosophy of Apple when they were the ones changing the world, whose campuses included lots of space and time for employees to meet, chat and cross-pollenate their ideas. This is where human brilliance and synergy some from.

One last example: how many careers, political campaigns or brands have gone quickly south due to a single ill-advised tweet? A moment of passion which flies around the world and eradicates years of carefully built trust and reputation?

There seems to be no time allowed any more to sleep on idea. To see how you feel about it tomorrow. There’s a lot to that idea, because twelve or fourteen hours from now you will be a different person: chemically, emotionally, refreshed and re-set after a night’s sleep. You will be a different person tomorrow.

What I am saying here is that critical thinking and taking time to think things through before acting will become a competitive advantage to companies that actively support it. Because far from me, or Mr. Thoughty2 being the old man in this scenario, the truth is, we are all old, female, male, of any age, we share a physiology that is not evolving as fast as our machines. We all use the same type of brain matter and autonomic reflexes to keep us alive. I honestly think the future rests with those who can use the best of their physical and mental makeup, and that has more to do with time than with speed.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Modern Music and Critical Thinking – There’s a Problem Here. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

The Law of Sharp Edges – Maximize Synergy by Framing a Conversation

There are many times when communicating via text or email is insufficient. The dynamics of human creativity are not one-dimensional. Thoughts and ideas must be echoed and bounced off one another so that we may experience and interpret the patterns that reverberate around us. Think, for example, how much more productive it is to “talk it out” with someone, rather than merely texting back and forth. Think also about how damaging it can be to keep feelings bottled up inside, or the complications that can arise from someone misinterpreting the tone of a text message. Creative thought thrives on the positive interference patterns that happen when two creative forces intersect. It falls away when given only a unidirectional track upon which to work.

Live conversation is essential for situations where there is something that needs to be created, agreed upon, resolved, or worked through. There is no real substitute.

When people contemplate getting together, whether face-to-face or over the phone, the thing that often puts them off is the fear of getting trapped in a conversation filled with small talk and irrelevancies. But it need not be that way. I use what I like to call The Law of Sharp Edges, which states that if you give someone a clear delineation – a guideline as to where things start and end rather than just a vague idea, they will be more likely to accommodate your request or behave as you would like them to.

Here’s a bad example: “Can I call you tomorrow?”

Here’s an excellent example: “Can I call you tomorrow at 2:00 for a 10-minute chat about the ABC project?”

The bad example puts people “on the hook for the entire day.” It’s like being on call. You know the event might

happen, but you don’t know when or for how long. This has a profound impact on your entire internal self-preservation system. Your instinct fears the unknown, and it’s not an overstatement to point out that something as simple as a vague phone call commitment is indeed an unknown. As such your body reflexively tenses itself for the interaction to come.

The excellent example removes the unknown and delivers three essential knowns – when it will be, how long it will last and what it will be about. It makes it a far more appealing thing to commit to since there are sharp edges surrounding the event. It is constrained and finite.

Such simple techniques will make a huge difference in productivity and process, by merely allowing the dynamic creativity of live conversation to flourish without fear. The many tools we have to facilitate live discussions, from meeting rooms to phones, video-conferences, online collaborative chat apps, even virtual presence devices like the Double (pictured) or Beam, still need to win someone’s attention through the most basic of concerns: “how will this hurt me and how will I benefit?” Once you can get such instinctive self-preservation needs out of the way, your conversation is free to do what it does best: make progress.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Managing Your Metabolism

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. It describes how moving from reactive to proactive is a positive brain-body exercise that will help you do things right, do things better, and foster more constructive relationships.

Imagine you won that big lottery. No more worries about making money, no need to get up when the alarm clock tell you to do so, what would you do with your life? Not so much in terms of your hobbies and interests, but how would you structure your day? Would you continue to get up early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise or would find yourself rising later and later and enjoying the evening nightlife instead?

When you look at this ultimate situation where you have complete control over the coming and goings of your day, you get to see what your metabolism is really like; how you would be ideally suited for a 24-hour cycle. Some people are morning-oriented. They are naturally able to wake up in the morning, while others are night owls who find themselves doing their best work as the sun goes down and as the evening moves on.

So, who are you? How do you operate? What you do with your time reveals a lot about you and becomes the beginning of an understanding of your metabolism – how you operate as a person.

We can’t all win that lottery. Most of us have to go back to work some way or other, but when it comes to getting things done, managing time, seeking out a balance in life, it’s essential to look at your metabolism. This is your vehicle that carries you through time; your brain, your body, your “self”.  But it is so often overlooked. You can make it work far more effectively once you understand it.

The Metabolic Blood Sugar Level Chart

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This wavy rollercoaster line that heads in an overall downward direction throughout the day, represents, in simplified form, your metabolic blood sugar level. Your personal metabolic blood sugar level will vary based on how well you slept the night before, as well as what you ate for breakfast.

Your Golden Hour: 9:00-10:30

Most people, on a busy workday, have a breakfast that consists of coffee and some carbs, such as toast, bagels, muffins or cereal. These tend to burn off extremely quickly. So the blood sugar level moves through the day with its peak around 9:00 a.m. That is the best time of day for getting things done: 9:00 a.m.

This high blood sugar level period is a result of a confluence of three significant activities:

  1. Your breakfast
  2. The presence of morning sunlight – Sunlight is a natural stimulant that removes the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin from your bloodstream. These three stimulants, working together, make the period between 9:00 and 10:30 the most productive period of the day, at least for the 8 out of every 10 adults who are morning oriented. It’s when most of us are at our intellectual and attentive best. For learning, strategy, research focus, sales… whatever it is that you do, that’s the best time to do it.
  3. The energy and mental shift expended in getting to work

Unfortunately, it is often overlooked, and we spend that time doing more mundane things like checking and returning email.

The 10:30 Crash

For many people, the first blood sugar crash of the day happens around 10:30 p.m. This is when the coffee and the carbs have been completely used up, and you hit a blood sugar low. Traditionally people take a break mid-morning to get more coffee and more carbohydrates to get themselves through to lunchtime. So the rollercoaster continues. We buoy ourselves back up wit this energy until noon.

The Tragedy of Over-Lunching

Noon is a difficult time because if you are already hungry by lunchtime, you will fall into the trap of overeating, which is something that fast food restaurants exploit hugely. It’s a hunger urge brought on because people do not eat in a regular and controlled fashion. If you fast between 10:30 and 12:00, the hunger urge will make you want to eat more than you need to at noon.

Moving from the 10:30 crash to noontime, the ideal approach is to graze, to take food in in a more regular fashion. This means grazing on healthy foods not junk. The idea here is to keep hunger at bay by satisfying your body’s nutritional needs like stoking coal onto a fire: smaller more regular amounts work much better.

The 2:30 Crash

This mid-afternoon time is a double threat to productivity. First, we tend to echo the deep sleep period of 12 hours earlier (called the ultradian rhythm), and there is a tendency to lose focus and abilities somewhat at this time. In some countries, this was culturally accepted as time for a siesta. It’s an energy trough initiated by the ultradian echo and then compounded by the demands on the digestive system brought on by overeating at lunchtime.

These troughs can be substantially lessened in their depth and severity. One of the easiest ways to do this is to change your choice of foods to include a morning protein source. There are many types of food to choose from:

  • Yogurt
  • Protein smoothies
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal

An intake of protein in the morning will allow your blood sugar to stay much more level throughout the entire day, even long after breakfast has been digested.

What about Taking a Nap?

Is it OK or even advisable to take a nap in the afternoon? For the North American and growing globalized working communities, a nap is not looked upon favorably as an ideal use of company time, even though I would venture to disagree, assuming the napper returns to a more alert state immediately afterward.

It’s ironic that being stuck in a useless meeting where 20 minutes or more are wasted, is seen as a normal part of doing business. But spending those same 20 minutes having a nap may be career-limiting.

Ultimately, if you are a natural napper, you would know this by now. It will already have inserted itself into your daily ritual. If napping does not come naturally to you, then it’s not worth pursuing, because the opposite reaction can occur. A nap can rob you of part of your natural sleep cycle later that night, which can rob you of quality sleep and make the following day less productive.

What if You are a Night Owl?

The proportion of night owls in any group of people anywhere in the world is generally 20% or two out for every ten people. For this group of people, their circadian wiring extends into the evening and the night.

If you know this about yourself, perhaps you can find or create a line of work that matches it. That’s not so farfetched. This is an age where work-life integration is a reality. It may be very possible to negotiate a job starts at 2:00 p.m. and ends at 10:00 p.m. It might also be very useful.

When I graduated and joined the workforce, I joined a temp agency who would send me to work at banks. I would start my “day” at 5:00, taking over the typing and number crunching that a 9-to-5 staffer could not finish. When they arrived at work the next morning, the work was ready and waiting for them. Although you could argue that this work could have been done by a person halfway around the world for less, the fact was, they hired me because I immediately understood the job, and was physically onsite to talk to the stakeholders face-to-face before they left for the day.

There are many types of work that require people to be available on a different schedule. It might be up to you to find them and make your pitch.

However, this might not be possible, at least for the moment. So if you are a night owl stuck in a day job, what can you do to compensate? Negotiate with your “morning person” colleagues and managers to schedule morning meetings a little bit later in the morning or perhaps opt out of the meeting and read the summary instead. Or schedule the meetings in the afternoon, after making sure the meeting room can contribute to productivity, as we described in the previous podcast.

Why is This Nutrition Lecture Important?

The reason for talking about nutrition here is because this is the fuel for your metabolism – your body and your brain. You cannot expect this device to work at a constant level of standard energy throughout the day. Blood sugar ups-and-downs are a fact of life. Knowing how to work with them is an amazingly powerful way to ensure you get the right things done at the right time.

If the morning is the best time for you, then that should be the time for you to assign yourself your most important tasks of the day. If the afternoon doldrums are particularly hard for you, then assign the less challenging work, such as returning emails, or if you have meetings at that time, make sure you can compensate for the doldrums with:

  • Natural light
  • Good ventilation
  • Exercises
  • Breaks

This is something we covered in a previous podcast, The 55 Minute Meeting. You can listen to it here or read it here.

So What About Exercise?

For people working a traditional workday or wok week, it can be very hard to find time to put exercise into your day. Many people think that exercise must be formalized in terms of going to the gym and working out. This again is a personal thing. If you are someone who can exercise at 5:00 a.m., or 5:00 p.m., if that feels natural and good for you then go for it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t, because that‘s not the right form of exercise for you.

Instead, figure out what things do work for you. Do you like to cycle? Or walk briskly? When you connect your wireless headphones or earbuds to Spotify where you can download cardio-friendly music, it becomes very easy and very motivating to take five or ten minutes to squeeze some exercise into your day.

There’s always a way that will fit you. Take that lottery-winning vacation dream, observe how your body would prefer to work if there were no rules, look upon the way you like to do things and identify what really works for you, your metabolism and the context of your life.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

The Benefits of Working in Cool-Time

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontCool-Time refers to the art and the science of never breaking a sweat, either mentally or physically, as you go about your day. Cool-Time is the end result of the state of mind and attitude brought about by the techniques in this book. There is an amazing sense of comfort and progress that happens when you feel in control.

Working, traveling and communicating in Cool-Time ensures that the highest, most useful faculties of your mind are present and ready. Stress, anger, confusion and frustration can be controlled by proper planning, anticipation of contingencies, timelines and constraints, and acknowledging where you are and where you should be.

Why is this so important? Quite simply, it’s an edge. Most people just try to get by. You see them running for buses, stuck in traffic, stuck in meetings and stuck in their jobs. No room for movement or improvement in any of these areas. You see them eating their lunch at their desks, afraid to take a moment for themselves lest their job or career be put in jeopardy.

These busy people. You see these people texting at the dinner table or while walking down the street. You see them buying headache and stomach remedies to counteract what the stress is doing to them. You see them counting down the days to Friday when they supposedly can get some rest.

These people – your colleagues, clients, competitors, family members, and probably you yourself, are living lives the wrong way round, so that stress, anger, helplessness and overload are front and center on the personal playing field, while clear thought and calm sit it out on the sidelines.

This is no way to exist, and it’s certainly no way to get ahead. Stress pushes away the ladder of success, leaving its key components undisturbed and out of reach. You, however, have the power to change that, by living in Cool-Time.

Yes, you will still have to deal with crises, managers, deadlines and delays. But it is the manner in which you handle them that will be different. Your calm, competent air will be admired. Some will even see it as charisma or leadership. Your mannerisms and mindset, now supremely able to ride the chaos and confusion of the day, will become obvious to others, with a brighter sparkle in your eyes, with body language and posture that conveys confidence and ability, with a voice that delivers credibility and authority, and with decisions, ideas  and actions that demonstrate excellence.

Planning creates a sense of control, which creates real control. That is what working in Cool-Time is all about.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

The Blended Mindset

This blog post, written for HP’s Business Value Exchange , entitled, The Blended Mindset is available for review at CloudTweaks.com. This post proposes that people need to maximize their human skills such as creativity and relationship to match their technological abilities.  Click here to read.

CloudTweaks

The True Dangers Of Allowing Social Media In The Workplace

This blog post was originally written for KPMG and was posted at CloudTweaks.com.

Would you let your employees use social media on company time? The response to this question is usually an emphatic no. The reasons given make sense, at least on the surface: “People are here to work, not to play.” “We cannot trust our employees to not waste the entire day playing around online.” “The optics would be very bad for our customers.”

Indeed, people are hired to contribute their skills for the advancement of their employer. But there is a significant distinction between time spent at the desk and actual productivity. The end results of a task assignment are not a factor of the amount of time spent in front of a computer screen, but the quality of the effort exerted by the individual. That can vary greatly depending on time of day, stress levels, even what the employee ate for breakfast.

Productivity is a result of physiology, not of face time.

The Health Aspect

Access to social media during the workday offers at least one improvement, and that is in the area of mental focus and stamina. The human mind and body were never designed to work at a consistently high level of output for a sustained number of hours. We just cannot do that. Instead, we work best in bursts of energy punctuated by rest. By visiting a favorite social media site for just a couple of minutes per hour, employees benefit from a rhythm that feeds the mind and allows for greater amounts of productivity, accuracy, and creativity.

The crux of the issue becomes one of definition: what does “access” mean? Those who push back against the idea of social media in the workplace maintain a perception that employees will spend their entire day with one eye on their favorite web site, and their attention permanently divided. But that‘s not the only way. Companies that have succeeded in allowing social media into the workplace are those that have established a “best practice,” such as allowing just a few minutes per hour, with the employee accepting the responsibility of returning to work without needing to be told.

This brings forth two profound benefits.

The first is that this type of mental break fits in with the body’s natural rhythms and the individual employee’s personal attention span. Some people have attention spans of an hour or more, and can work for extensive periods. Most however have a limit that is well inside a one hour block, and exceeding it simply results in distraction, delay and/or procrastination.

Secondly, allowing access contributes to employee engagement and loyalty, whereas an outright ban damages the trust relationship. Employees like to feel respected, and being locked out of social media simply results in diminished motivation paired with an increased desire to move to greener pastures.

There is also a growing demand for employee wellness and work-life integration. With recent discoveries demonstrating that sitting for long periods per day presents the same types of health dangers as smoking and overeating, the pressures mount on employers to offer a balanced working environment, and this includes mental health as much as physical.

The Literacy Aspect

The term “literacy” in the current era encompasses more than just reading and writing. It involves the intellectual ability to parse information; to sort through huge amounts of incoming data, to determine what is relevant and what is not. People who are capable of doing this become capable of handling the high-speed, multi-level pressures of the modern workplace. Those who can produce the work required of them while having access to social media are generally going to be more agile and productive employees. For them, deprivation leads to distraction and frustration. The multimedia workplace is actually where they thrive.

The Optics

What about what the customers might think? If a customer walked through the office, and if they were to see a computer screen that had a social media site on it, what would they think of the organization? This is a matter of great concern for employers. However, more and more businesses are answering this question by pointing to the quality of their products and their customer service. A growing number of modern businesses are succeeding not by caging employees, but by letting them live “free range,” working according to their personal and physiological needs. Customers need to experience– if they have not already– that environmental amenities such as social media contribute to quality rather than detract from it. And that is what customers seek.

It is a natural response from business owners to envision the risks in every new development that comes along. But so, too, their capacity for steering their company through the wind and waves of the marketplace demand agility and awareness. This includes recognizing the benefits in an upgraded workplace – one  that  includes access to social media.

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Redefining “Results”

This post originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Time Management magazine.

People who seek advice on time management often tend to lust after the concept of winning back more hours in the day in order to get things done. “If only there was a way to freeze time,” they say, or “If I could just squeeze another hour or two out of the day, I could get caught up.”

Well, maybe, but consider the following non-time-related issue:

A friend comes to you and says, “I have a problem with credit cards. I am maxed out, I am paying hundreds of dollars per month in payments and I feel I am getting nowhere. What should I do?”

Many people, in seeking to answer such a question might reply, “cut up your credit card,” or get a loan or a line of credit and pay off the balance right now.” These are two highly practical suggestions, but they will not solve the problem. They will not achieve the desired result.

A person with a credit card has a spending problem. The habit of spending on credit, of giving in to the temptation or distraction of the immediate will not be cured by removing the debt or destroying the card. A person who cuts up a credit card can still shop online and a person who converts a credit card debt into a bank debt will quickly have two sets of debt, as the freshly emptied balance gets used again.

The trick to successful credit card management is to develop new habits that replace old ones. Habit such as paying only with money available, or diligently paying the credit card balance to zero every week. These habits take time and effort, and the odds in favour of relapse are great.

The same thing applies to tasks and time. People who win back an hour or two in their day, either by delegating some work, eliminating it entirely, or cutting back on the time spent in meetings or responding to email, only to fill those newly-won hours with more of the same have achieved nothing. Nothing, that is, except a form of ergonomic inflation. It’s like saying “I have learned how to speed-read and speed-type. Now, instead of handling 100 emails per day, I can handle 200.” Is that really an achievement? Do those extra emails deliver twice the success, or do they simply add more redundancy to the pile?

The issue here is a difference in results. Being able to do twice as many largely impractical tasks, may feel like achievement, but it truly isn’t.

One application of the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 Rule) is that 80% of the value of a meeting happens within 20% of its duration. So why do meetings last as long as they do? Because they can. Why do we reply to as many emails as we do? Because we can.

In short, if a person is actually able to win back two, three or four hours of extra productivity time in the day, they had better be very sure of what they plan to do with it, because much like a freshly cleared credit card debt, it can refill awfully fast.

So how to ensure all time is well-spent? Through adequate planning. Investing in a small amount of time to plan the day means that everything can be accounted for. An email that contains a task request that will take more than two minutes to complete should be promoted into a scheduled activity. What about the crisis-of-the-day that almost always happens? Schedule it anyway. If it has better than 75% odds of happening sometime after 9:00 a.m. today, then assign a moveable block of time on your calendar right now, and fill in its name and official start time later.

The goal here is to stay totally aware of the value of every minute of the day. If every credit card came with an app that revealed the true price of every item purchased on credit, for example a $100 small appliance actually costing $700 after three years of interest and late payment charges, many people would rethink a spontaneous purchase.

That’s how planning can achieve results. Genuine productivity happens when the value of the work done exceeds the sensation of work being done. In other words business instead of busy-ness. A result should always represent a positive outcome, not merely an outcome.

The Power of Shared Goals

This blog was originally posted in the December 2014 issue of Time Management magazine.

There is great power in setting goals for oneself, of course, but this doesn’t mean that a personal goal should remain personal. One of the best ways of getting something done is in fact by sharing; not delegating the work necessarily, but by sharing the vision; because vision shared is often vision squared. The more people who hear about an idea, who discuss it and debate it, the better the end result will be.

This mutual discussion opportunity is sometimes referred to as synergy: an energy that aligns with other people’s, and expands creativity and motion beyond what any one person can do. A goal, after all, is an end point, a milestone at which an achievement is recognized. The path towards that endpoint usually has many steps and challenges along the way.

One of the best ways to ensure a goal is achieved is to brainstorm the heck out of it; to take a group of people into a room with a dry-erase board and some markers and ask them to go at it: to find the problems, to think up alternatives, to draw connections and to construct what-if scenarios. As Michael Dell once said, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room.”

Examples of shared goals are everywhere. In 2014, Elon Musk, creator of the Tesla electric car, famously opened up its designs and patents to anyone who could do better. This was not an exercise in pure altruism of course, since an expansion of the electric car market would benefit Tesla’s goals of selling more cars across the U.S. and the world. Similarly, the website Innocentive.com highlights the benefits of opening up a problem to the world with the goal of solving it sooner and more efficiently. Innocentive offers financial rewards to people who can solve specific problems, mostly in engineering and science. The people invited to solve these problems are outsiders – they don’t work for the company – but they have experience and ideas, and their contributions have helped major manufacturers develop and market new, improved products in all markets – including consumer goods and industrial.

The sharing of goal information then, is a time-efficient strategy, since no-one is truly an island. People have worked for the last few decades in a highly siloed existence, communicating by email and by meeting, with very little opportunity for full feedback and discussion. Goals, whether they be personal and career-related, or project-oriented, seldom get to blossom in a time-constrained workplace rife with distractions.

There are, however, new opportunities for the sharing of goal information with the advent of the collaborative work environment that is now making its mark on businesses across the country. Collaboration and conversation provide far greater opportunity for the cross-pollenization of ideas as open-concept “online conversation areas” start to replace email as a method for real-time interaction and synergy to happen.

Some companies have taken this concept even further by using the data extrapolated from social media to bridge gaps between people, using an internal Facebook-style of social interaction to encourage both discussion and the discovery of hidden talents within them. The matching of aptitudes and attitudes revealed by social media-styled interactions hold greater promise, many feel, than more traditional assessment tools such as Myers-Briggs, when it comes to matching employees to a company’s goals.

The bottom line, then, becomes a statement of individuality versus group effort. Goals are good to have. People need to identify them and make them tangible. But a goal without input from others will offer little in terms of traction and momentum. To work, they need to be shared.

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