Top Five Time Wasters

January 10, 2012

If you’re like me, you like to start out the New Year with a great sense of purpose, vision and commitment. But somewhere along the way, we become, well, wayward, in our thinking and actions.

If you missed the 2012 Productivity Revolution Telesummit talk I gave on the Top Five Time Wasters, I’ll offer you them in a super tight nutshell.

#1 Multitasking

I’ve blogged about this ad naseum, but the truth is slow is faster and fast is merely exhausting.

#2 Bad data management

Information overload is a myth, according to Clay Shirky. What’s really going on is our lack of filters. Get them. Use them. Live by them!

#3 Lack of Tools & Techniques

By now you might be saying “Are you crazy? We’re more plugged in that ever. I need fewer tools, not more!” I’m not talking about dashing out to the nearest Apple Store for yet another gadget. Tabula rasa, baby. Not tablet. What we need is to use our tools more smartly. That includes turning them off. Or on less. It’s about gadget control, people.

#4 Unclear Prioritization

Ene, mene, mine, mo…ever started your Monday out like that? How far did you get? Use a chalkboard or whiteboard with magnetized cards that allow you to shift your priorities as they do. It’s empowering. And it works!

#5 Miscommunication

A biggie, especially around the holidays. Be clear in your communication. And remember to listen. Relationships are a give and take.

Have any others? I’m all ears!

PS You can still download the recordings to all the fabulous talks here!

According to a new Michigan State University study headed by sociology professor Barbara Schneider, women are still considered more adept at multitasking than men, yet are also more stressed as a result. Compared to the 38.9 hours per week that men multitask, women shoulder more responsibility at home with a whopping 48.3 hours spent on getting multiple things done. While men experienced multitasking as more ‘pleasurable’, it had the opposite effect on women.

Why?

First, consider the  cultural norm. It’s expected that women get more done. So as we plow through our day (literally), we perceive things as not going fast enough. It is my guess that women suffer far greater stress due to the expectation of multitasking. Women are time-crunching warriors. To their detriment.

Second, research has shown women spend more time taking care of everyone else but themselves. A recent Forbes article reported on a study by the Captivate Network that states men are 25% more likely to take personal time throughout the work day, 35% more likely to take mini timeouts (yeah, you power of slowers!) and 7% more likely to take a walk than women.

The study also shows an imbalance in household chores. Women do more laundry, cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning than men.

So how can we introduce more slow? Women: listen up.

  • It’s time to ratchet down the expectation on yourselves that it has to get all done. Who said so?
  •  The sky will not fall if you leave some chores undone. If it really bothers you, delegate. Chances are there are other highly capable people in the house who can do it instead.
  • Take more timeouts. Please. A burned out worker is a useless one.
  • Take care of yourselves. That means taking a lunch away from your desk, saying ‘no’ and being smart about your resources, which is YOU! In fact, you are your best resource.

What slow moment will you allow yourself today?

According to the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Marketing, creativity is best enhanced through a combination of training and reward. Despite popular belief that creativity is innate, studies have shown that taking just one course to boost your creativity by learning new skills can have a profound impact on your ability to think outside the box.

But course instruction alone is not enough. According to University of Virginia professor James E. Burroughs and his colleagues, those study participants that combined both training and an incentive produced the best results.

When reporting on the study’s findings, Strategy + Business says: “In tandem, rewards and training can enhance, rather than diminish, employees’ intrinsic motivation, which in turn helps them produce more creative ideas.”

I have to agree.

Real-life case study

Yesterday I was commissioned to play a desperate housewife (again – are we seeing a theme here?!) for a TV show. Whenever I get nervous, I guess my American accent is enhanced. Getting put under pressure by the TV crew wouldn’t have helped. They smiled, said “Try it again,” then let me breathe. While I’m not sure I nailed it perfectly (what is perfection anyway but the guaranteed route to a life of hell?), I used what I have learned in meditation practice and concentration. It showed me that training, combined with an incentive (being paid at the end of it and recognized for my language talent), led to stronger results than if the director had crushed me front and center.

Tony Schwartz, author of  Be Excellent at Anything,  pointed out four desctructive myths that most companies follow in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post.

Myth #1: Multitasking is critical in a world of infinite demand.

Anyone who follows this blog knows what I think about that. But in case you just landed here, multitasking is a myth. It’s counterproductive and a waste of time. Period.

Myth #2: A little bit of anxiety helps us perform better.

If the director had screamed at me (which one did in my very first speaking role on TV), we would probably still be sitting there trying to nail the scene. We finished within the hour.

Myth #3: Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.

As the above study proves, creativity can be learned. Really!

Myth #4: The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.

We all know that a well-rested worker is a productive one. If we had sat in that TV studio yet another hour, the result wouldn’t have been any better.

So how can you be creative today? In what ways can you foster that inner artist? We all have one. Sometimes it takes a gentle hand…or in this case voice, to bring out our best.

Okay, so the mid-week holiday through me for a loop, landing my Wednesday post on a Thursday. You will forgive, I hope. Time. It’s my friend. And sometimes we get carried away.

And now, ladies and gentleman. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. Your Wednesday Wait a Minute video about the myth of multitasking. Take it away!

The Internet is an addictive force. Even GoogleChrome is getting in on the act by creating toolbars courtesy of Quickrr to limit the amount of time we spend on pre-determined URLs (any Angry Bird fans out there?). It seems odd to mention Quickrr on a blog about slow, but in this case, quick(rr) is slow!

JZ Knight offers a refreshing perspective on our self-flagalation (I must close Facebook; I must stop tweeting!). She doesn’t think Internet addiction is the real issue. She says it’s the platform for a countercultural shift in thinking.

JZ Knight (www.Ramtha.com) is a leading self-help and spiritual expert who has become a respected advocate for self-empowerment, helping thousands worldwide to overcome trauma, depression, and addiction and to accomplish extraordinary feats while reaching high levels of success. She has worked with people from all walks of life and has offered guidance to such notable personalities as Salma Hayek, Shirley MacLaine, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Linda Evans.  She’s also appeared on The Larry King Show and MSNBC.

And today, she appears on The Power of Slow for you, dear readers.

Please listen to my chat with JZ Knight about the Internet, consciousness and the future of virtual living!

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Something’s foul in the state of our schools.

In her most recent episode, Katie Couric examines chronic fatigue in high school students who are buckling under the weight of academic performance on her CBS Webcast @KatieCouric.

Tiger Mom might growl at this one. Vicki Abeles, director of the documentary “Race to Nowhere,” talks about the high levels of stress and fatigue in U.S. schools and how bettering school systems could improve the lives of kids and young adults. Some of the touch points in this segment include:

  • Overscheduling
  • Lack of down time
  • Never being outside
  • Too narrow definition of ‘success’
  • Always looking to the next step instead of being present
  • Quantity-driven model (as if more is, well, more)
  • Evaporation of knowledge (cramming and forgetting)
  • Stigmatizing failure

Why is this happening?

“For starters, it’s coming from our pressure-cooker culture,” says Vicki. But she also points to parents, college admissions and the media as further factors leading kids down a path of depression and ‘checking out’ because they can’t handle the pressures placed on them in our post-information age society.

Another aspect that has led to these issues is teachers having to ‘teach to the test’ instead of fostering critical thinking that moves beyond regurgitation.

“This isn’t just about our education system,” Vicki admits. “Our schools are a microcosm of our greater culture and we’ve just gotten so afraid.”

Sustained fear, as we know, is the greatest energy blocker. It is what holds us back from taking that leap of faith.

“We need to look at the very unhealthy culture that exists in many of our schools,” Vicki continues. “We need to remember that our teenagers’ bodies and minds are still growing and developing. That’s the wrong time to give them our unbalanced adult lives. They need the time and the space to develop all the skills that will later serve them.”

What if we lived in a world in which adult lives were balanced, too? What if we lived in alignment with our truest purpose, going for what makes our heart sing, not sink?

As with our time abundant versus time-starved attitude, it is going to take a collective mindshift around what a ‘good education’ means. A sleep-deprived teen isn’t going to live up to his or her potential.

Power to the Students! Power of Slow to the people!

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The power of slow is slowly making its way into the minds of others. So often I will see people blog about their power of slow moments, which delights me beyond belief.

Recently, I sat down for a chat with a Munich-based language school called LbT Languages (Leraning by Talking) about myths, mindfulness and the gift of time.

Please share the love!

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Managing family and work life offers up its own set of challenges as you split your attention, and sometimes your personality, to meet the needs of everyone else. Living in Germany while working virtually in others brings that level of schizophrenia to new heights.

Family life in Germany is great, if you want a particular kind of family life. Anyone who has ever had children in the German school system will tell you it takes some getting used to. From grades one through three your child comes home as early as 11:30 in the morning. Vacations are set every six weeks for one or two weeks off; and up until recently, they had what is fondly known as ‘hitzefrei’ or spur of the moment school closings as of 11:15 am when it’s too hot outside. (They just cancelled that policy this year). Needless to say, quality and quantity time with your children are distinctly possible here.

For a home-based freelancer like myself, I have designed a work life that fits around the children’s malleable schedules. It works well, in part, because the kids finally understand what ‘Mommy’s on the phone’ means. In years past they would holler at the top of their lungs, even if it meant my words, and theirs, would be recorded and heard by radio listeners worldwide. Once they got clear that interrupting me to ask if they can watch TV means the difference between our affording that vacation to Italy or not, they got mum quick. Nonetheless, interruption is a part of working from home and the home office juggle has a certain flavor not found in an office building setting.

Take garden tools. If I am chatting away with a London-based client outside, where the mobile phone reception is best, the neighbor inevitably decides to power up his leafblower. The juggle begins when said neighbor is relentless in his yard grooming, mastering the art of noise for everyone, including London, to hear.

Long before I understood what it meant to work from home, I glamorized the notion of bunny-slippering it to my desk in a java-induced morning shuffle. Not so. The age of video conferencing eradicates all kinds of personal appearance slip-ups. You brush your hair or die. Don’t be fooled. Those pixels that lend a slightly dreamy imagery on the other end don’t hide bed head. Nothing but a good brush out does.

The greatest challenge to juggling work and family life has to be the odd hours that I keep. Juggling clients from California to Sweden, I could literally work 24/7 if I wanted. The trouble is mental burn-out is inevitable if you make yourself available at any hour. So conference calls happen until a reasonable hour; emails don’t get answered after dinner; and I place a great deal of importance on mealtime with the kids. Growing up in a household that ate together only on special occasions, I emphasize dinner talk as the relaxing part of the day for connection and parental correction.

So much of our lives is placed in a bed of urgency. Our globalized world demands so much more of our attention than the olden unplugged days of 9-to-5. Having the juggle without the struggle means inserting slow moments of delight, rumination and frolic into our day.  In my case that typically means a soccer match with my son or a board game with my daughter ~and that mid-week. Life is full of trade-offs. I’ve reached the conclusion that juggling is a life skill we all would do well to master. It’s the struggle part that we can choose to embrace or leave behind.

In which ways can you reduce your workload to feel more joy in your juggle?

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In my travels I have had the pleasure of interviewing some amazing people about their relationship with time. From Bikram Choudhury to Deepak Chopra to Rosanne Cash, I’ve asked them all the same questions.

Now it’s your turn! Take this thirty-second survey to find out how you relate to time. I’ll be revealing the results in a little while so please participate. Your voice counts!

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Doing Two Things at Once

August 3, 2010

This is the one time I must agree that women can task-switch more readily than men. Need a Tuesday funny? This is it!

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