Productivity

ARE YOU SLEEP CHALLENGED?

How many hours did you sleep last night? Most people believe that eight hours is the magic number but current scientific data say that is a myth. The National Sleep Foundation’s annual survey reports that the majority of adults sleeps seven hours a night and feel rested. This should come as a big relief for many people who can’t seem to squeeze in that last hour. Seven hours is the ideal number that most of us get naturally.

Many people in the working world end up with less than seven hours a night which means that they may be sleep deprived a good part of the time. Some of our clients wear it as a badge of courage, boasting to co-workers that they were up until 2 a.m. catching up on work email.

Most of us do not fully realize the impact sleep has on our brain. Productivity is affected when we have too little sleep because it is harder to think and make full use of the brain’s cognitive skills. Common reasons for poor sleep are physical pain and medical conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Sleep Impairment Can Cause Many Mental and Physical Problems

Focus: While we all lose focus from time to time, people with sufficient sleep get their focus back quickly. Not so for those who are sleep-deprived. They find it much harder to refocus although don’t necessarily realize that their performance has suffered.

Mistakes: It is much easier to make mistakes without enough sleep the night before. Research shows that people reduce their response time by 50% and that they have a lower accuracy rate for simple tasks than someone who is inebriated.

On-the-Job-Burnout : With fewer than six hours of sleep a night productivity loss is huge (and expensive). This is a serious issue confronting employers and costs companies billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.

Decision Making: Making on-the-spot ones, is also affected. Without enough sleep, the brain finds this a very difficult task.

Physical Difficulties: It is not only productivity that suffers but medical conditions such as heart and kidney diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity and degenerative brain disorders. Common reasons for restless sleep are physical pain and medical conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Did You Know that Your Brain Stays Active Day and Night?

Even though we assume that our brain shuts down at night, it is actually very active. Who would have guessed that so much occurs while we are sleeping  …

1)      Our body cells are reenergized and repaired which is why we wake up feeling refreshed. Even our mood is better and on more of an even keel throughout the day because we have more control over our emotions.

2)       At night our brain moves information that we take in during the day from short-term memory (temporary storage) to long-term memory, the brain’s more permanent storage. While we sleep this new learning is organized and codified. So, with a solid night’s sleep, the brain is likely to remember more.

3)       New research from the University of Rochester Medical Center using state-of-the-art technology discovered that a cleaning system exists within the brain to help remove protein buildup at night. When people sleep their brain cells shrink which allows fluids to move around easily and take away the detritus before it builds up. If they stay in the brain the brain does not function as well. The presence of toxic proteins in the brain may contribute to the aging process, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders. Common reasons for restless sleep are physical pain and medical conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression.

What’s Neuroscience Got To Do With It?

While there are still many unanswered questions, our urge to sleep or stay awake depends on how well a few small areas of the brain function near the brain stem (the reptilian brain). Neuroscientists have determined the location of these areas. When a person is most alert, the brain inhibits areas of the brain responsible for promoting sleep. And when the brain wants to inhibit wakefulness, the sleep-promoting areas of the brain become active.

Neuroscientists have been gaining new insight into sleep and its effect on memory. In a 2014 study presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience researchers showed that memory skills suffer if a person is sleep deprived. “Sleep is essential to memory and brain function, but we are only beginning to understand the complex neurological mechanisms that are involved,” said Ravi Allada, MD, of Northwestern University, an expert on the neurobiology of sleep. “These latest discoveries are helping us to identify those mechanisms and to create new approaches to preserving and enhancing memory.”

Understanding the brain’s role while we sleep is complex and not yet readily understood. Instead of the brain just switching off, it goes to sleep in stages. Two groups of cells located in the hypothalamus and the brain stem move us into the SWS, slow-wave sleep. It is in this deep sleep when large, slow brain waves, relaxed muscles and slow, deep breathing help the brain start recuperating from the day. This is followed by rapid eye movement (REM sleep) when the muscles do not move and breathing and heart rate become erratic. During this time a person can dream vividly. The high level of brain waves is similar to brain activity when a person is awake. A small group of cells in the brain controls REM sleep.

What can you do to fall asleep faster? Look for the answers in the next sleep blog.

 

Maximize Your Home Office Productivity: Here’s How

Is your home office set up for you to maximize your efficiency? These days most of us have home offices. Sometimes it is where we work evenings and weekends or it is in addition to our main office. Other times we are in a home office full time. If so, are you making your day as productive as possible?

With 14+ million home-based small businesses in the United States, according to the SBA, maximizing productivity is critical. Most people do not maximize their home office for performance and give little consideration to areas that can make big differences. In a company environment, experts optimize layout, design and lighting among other things. But for those of us who have carved out an area in the home even small changes matter. Most people are not aware
of the changes that can made easily to improve their productivity.

Below are six areas that will help you improve your productivity in your home
Office:

1) Improve the lighting. This is, perhaps, the most important consideration. The best light is natural light from outside. If you are fortunate to have access to this light, place your desk in a spot that it takes advantage of this light source. However, not everyone is fortunate to have light streaming into the office and not every home office has overhead light. A task light directed over your work space works wonders especially on dark days. I had a CPA client whose home office was in her basement. Every time she worked there she felt dreary. Once we added a task lamp and a floor torchiere that spreads light across the room, the space opened up and she no longer struggled to read the numbers on her computer screen. All of a sudden she felt very differently about her “lower level” home office.

2) Set up a good workflow. A project often involves several steps that can be worked on simultaneously or in sequence. Think of the time wasted if you have to stand up and move across the room every time you need an important file that is part of a project. Think, too, about access to the technology equipment needed for the project such as a scanner, copy machine and computer. Good workflow depends on having the right tools and equipment at your fingertips.

While you’re at it, check periodically that your technology is up-to-date so you’re not wasting precious office time fixing it. It is frustrating – and a bit  scary — when a computer crashes and there is a possibility of losing data.  Or, what if you need to scan information for an important case and your scanner is acting up? Do you have an IT person you can count on?

3) Pare down desk items. Keep the items on your desk basic and within easy reach: phone, computer, possibly an extra monitor, a picture or two of the family, essential supplies and the project you’re working on. Everything else is a distraction. We waste 55 minutes a day, according to The Wall Street Journal, looking for documents we know we own. That is a lot of time that could have been used productively.

4) Muffle noise from other rooms. Take a hint from psychiatrists and invest in a machine that makes white noise. Not only will it improve your concentration, but will mask the sound of a dog barking when you are on an important call.

5) Evaluate your office chair. Is it comfortable? A poorly-fitting chair can cause back pain which is a serious issue and one reason that people miss work. According to The American Academy Of Family Physicians, half of the working population suffers from back pain every year and 90% of adults experience it some time in their lives. A desk chair should be ergonomically correct so that the computer screen is in the right position along with the arm height and wrists.

6) Pay attention to aesthetics. They matter. Recently I was in an office where there were attractive pictures on the wall and calming paint colors. I commented on the good-looking office. The office owner told me how proud she is of her office and how it positively affects her mood. If your walls are all-white, perhaps it is time for a change. An interesting shade of paint and a few decorative art pieces make a big difference and do not have to be expensive.

Did you identify one or perhaps two areas that you could change in your own home office? If so, it’s time to upgrade your office so it will be a place where you enjoy working. If you like your environment, I guarantee that your productivity will improve.

Please reply to this blog and let me know what you plan to do to maximize your productivity in your home office.

How to Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, it is the perfect time to talk about goals which are top-of-mind for many of us. A new year and new goals go together. If you are a member of the 12% Club (people who actually stick to their resolutions), there is no need to read further. Congratulations on achieving your 2014 goals.

But for those of us who do not have goals or who did not reach them this past year, this post is for you. Why do so many of us not accomplish goals? There are a lot of reasons. Can you relate to a few of these?

  1. Long-term goals are particularly difficult to imagine. It is hard to know what to do to achieve them.
  2. Long-term goals may be off-putting, aspirational and beyond our reach. Here’s an example of a pretty lofty goal: I will grow my company to become an industry leader in two years. That’s very impressive but feels like it may be difficult to make happen. (To make you feel better, often these types of goals are created by executives who have spent days, maybe weeks, formulating them.)
  3. Often goals are vague. “Do your best” has a sincere ring to it but it is not specific enough. Unfortunately, few people bother with heavy-duty planning and coordination because they lack “glamour”.
  4. The timing may be wrong. At another time, the goal may have been accomplished. Just not now.
  5. The bar may not be set for the right “zone”. If it is too low, our efforts might stop too early. Too high and we may give up altogether.
  6. Our motivation fluctuates from day to day and is not at all dependable.
  7. The brain resists change and often sabotages our efforts.
  8. We may lack motivation – the Why. Without a burning desire to achieve the goal, it is easy to fall victim to distractions and competing priorities.

Now that we know why a goal may not succeed, are you wondering if it’s worth bothering to create and pursue them in the upcoming year? The answer is yes and here are some of the reasons why.

  • Goals give us purpose. We function better knowing that we need to meet important goals that we have personally set. There are many different types of goals – professional, personal, family and health, to name a few.
  • Goals keep us motivated and moving toward the end result, especially when we practice focus to stay on track says Daniel Goleman, author of “Focus”. By zoning in on what is important, we are able to stay on task long enough to achieve the goal.
  • Goals turn a vision into a reality. Forget day dreaming. And “someday maybe” doesn’t count either. Goals need specific criteria.
  • Goals give us an end point which can be used for measuring progress.

Imagine a spectrum. On one end are long-term goals and at the other end are shorter-term goals. Both have merit. Becoming an industry leader in two years is a long-term goal while achieving 10% more in sales in three months is at the opposite end. Small and shorter goals are just as worthy as longer term goals and may be easier to make.

The secret for achieving any goal – long or short – is to list each task. (another word for a to-do.) Some goals consist of two tasks whiles others may have twenty or more. Even daunting goals with many tasks will feel more achievable. Once all of the tasks are listed (either on paper or electronically), we can prioritize them. As each task is completed, check it off. (A great feeling!) You can chip away at a goal this way, one task at a time. Or, think of it as one bite of the elephant at a time. If, at any point you are unsure what to do next, refer back to the goal and the list of tasks to help you prioritize. The decision will be a lot easier.

By tackling a goal one step at a time, you will be able to manage your time so you can reach any type of goal. When you plan your day, decide the three most important tasks that must be done. At least one of these tasks should be related to your goal. Eventually, these small, doable tasks will help you reach the goal you’ve set out to accomplish.

When we work on these tasks neuroscientists call this “goal pursuit” — the process of creating and going after the goal. It is the journey – accomplishing the small tasks — that counts. Without a commitment to the journey, the goal can be lost. How easy it is to become derailed along the way!

Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience and well worth the hard work.  Have you decided which goals you are going to pursue in 2015?

How to Make the Most of Holiday Time

The next six weeks will be filled with parties, concerts and events. Some of them are obligatory — you may not want to attend your office party but must show up with a smile on your face. But you may be looking forward to your child’s concert at school and annual soirees with friends. Many people consider this period of time at work to be unproductive. Between late-night parties, holiday lunches and gift-swapping in the office, most are not focusing as intently on the business. In fact, many business people consider this period of time to be pretty unproductive.

Unless you do not plan on showing up between Thanksgiving and New Years, there is still work that needs attending to although, admittedly, your work load may be lighter. Your firm’s 2015 business plans have been completed and are ready for action starting in January. With fewer of your colleagues in the office, there are fewer meetings, fewer reports due and fewer tasks that require your immediate attention. Clients may be on vacation or spending less time in the office so they may be less demanding.

You have a choice. You can “float” through this period and pay minimal attention to work or decide that you’ll use this down time productively. There are a host of opportunities available. It is just a matter of deciding if you want to take this course of action. Why not? Think of the projects that you have put off because you have not had the time. This is your chance to get to them. Some of these projects can help you reach your goals. By starting them now, you will likely have fewer interruptions and a greater chance to complete them than during the year when more urgent tasks and to-dos come up and derail you.

What are examples of projects that you may want to tackle now? How about researching an area that may prove profitable for your company? How about exploring new ideas? You have a list but you never have time to explore them. Or perhaps you want to learn a skill that will improve your performance at work such as the task feature in Microsoft Outlook or how to use Evernote. It is frustrating not to know these features but, without the time to explore the tasks function or how to navigate Evernote, you have had to make do. Here is the opportunity you have been waiting for all year. Taking a class at a school or an on-line video tutorial from a company such as Lynda.com requires time, energy and focus … and now you have it!

I would be remiss if I did not mention that this is a perfect time to get organized. If your office is piled high with paper, why not go through the stacks and decide if you can live without some of them. Most likely the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Our clients often print out duplicates of documents because they can not find it on their desk (even though they know it’s there somewhere). Their first response is to reprint it. Ask yourself if you need it or would be able to get it again. Probably not although there are still a few documents that we need to hold onto. Often there are legal papers such as contracts. If another person in the company issued the document, then it’s likely that person will have the original copy. If you need to keep a document, decide where its home should be — on your desk (if you are actively working on it), in a filing cabinet, on your computer as an electronic file?

Once the paper clutter is reined in, it’s time to focus on the electronic clutter which may be more serious than the paper clutter. If files are scattered about without any rhyme or reason, take time now to figure out where each document belongs. Once the new year begins, this project will unlikely take precedence over urgent ones.

While you are organizing your office, there may be other things that you can do to improve its functionality. What tools might make it easier to stay organized — a whiteboard for mapping, wall files that can keep your folders handy, a second monitor? You might take a look around the office for ideas or browse the The Container Store or an office supply store. You could even ask your colleagues what organizing tools they like the best.

Have I convinced you yet to take advantage of this holiday time to do something different and still stay productive? Without having to spend all of your time on urgent, important projects, you can focus on other areas in your work and professional life that are also meaningful.

 

Make Sleep A Top Priority (Part 2)

We are not sleep specialists but we know that having a goal, finding a strategy, and implementing tactics to achieve that goal will make it far more likely that you will complete it.

How to go about getting more sleep? There are many tips but the ones listed below seem to be universal. According to Dr. Scott Leibowitz:

No. 1: Stick to a sleep schedule; consistency is essential

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. There’s a caveat, though. If you don’t fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you’re tired. If you agonize over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.

No. 2: Pay attention to what you eat and drink

Don’t go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom.

Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine — which take hours to wear off — can wreak havoc with quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.

No. 3: Create a bedtime ritual

Do the same things each night to tell your body it’s time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.

Be wary of using the TV or other electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.

No. 4: Create the ideal environment 

True Story: Lisa travelled for business and noticed she slept much better when she was in a hotel rather than at home. She realized her environment at home was a distraction. She redecorated her bedroom to mimic a luxury hotel room – cool colors, no clutter, few mementos, and built-in furniture to hide electronics and papers. In other words: a room that’s ideal for sleeping

Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.

Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there’s enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you — or insist on separate sleeping quarters.

No. 5: Limit daytime naps

Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep — especially if you’re struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes and make it during the midafternoon.

Napping can go far in improving work performance, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits. To maximize nap times, limit your shuteye time to 30 minutes, and time your nap between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to match the low point of the body’s circadian cycle: You’ll have the best chance of falling asleep during the few hours after lunch, and it could increase your performance (and maybe even learning capacity) for the rest of the day.

Corporate Wellness Programs Need To Address Sleep And Stress.

Napping can go far in improving work performance, in addition to providing a number of other health benefits. To maximize nap times, limit your shuteye time to 30 minutes, and time your nap between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to match the low point of the body’s circadian cycle: You’ll have the best chance of falling asleep during the few hours after lunch, and it could increase your performance (and maybe even learning capacity) for the rest of the day.

Nearly 90 percent of companies offer wellness incentives for employees, according to a survey from Fidelity Investments. However, only 6 percent of offices had napping rooms for employees in 2011, according to a Society for Human Resource Management survey of 600 companies. Companies like The Huffington Post and Nationwide Planning Associates believe in power naps and offer their employees nap rooms because they believe that it has a payoff – happier, more rejuvenated and productive employees. EnergyPods are like recliners and are located at companies such as Google and Procter & Gamble.

If you work nights, you’ll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight — which adjusts your internal clock — doesn’t interrupt your daytime sleep.

No. 6: Include physical activity in your daily routine

Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might be too energized to fall asleep. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day.

No. 7: Manage stress

When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace to your life, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what’s on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.

No. 8: Know when to contact your doctor

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.

Have we convinced you to think about how you can make sleep a priority?

P.S. Be sure and check out these websites.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/sleep-and-productivity

Man sleeping on the couch

Man sleeping on the couch

http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/bulletin/sleep-deprived-workers-cost-companies-632-billion-each-year

 

Be Proactive And More Productive: Starting Now!

Many of us want to do things differently in 2014. If you own a business or work in a company it may be time to make changes. Where to start? Before implementing changes, you may consider what you want to be different and think it through to figure out the best way to go about it. Viewing the situation from a positive, proactive view makes a world of difference in attitude and will help you achieve the changes you desire.

One of our all-time favorite books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People devotes an entire chapter to this subject. The very first habit in the book is called “Be Proactive.” Stephen Covey, the author, talks about a person’s ability to get things done and not accepting excuses such as: “it is always done that way.” Or, “I don’t have the expertise or the ability.” The list of excuses goes on and on and can be self-fulfilling. (Language makes a big difference.) Covey believes, as do we, that a person has the ability to make conscious choices and the imagination and resources to determine how to handle matters … instead of them handling you. We can choose to be a victim or take the matter into our own hands and decide that things will be different in the future.

In the area of productivity, the situations listed below may frustrate you. However, take a look at the suggestions on how to exercise your proactive muscles.

Are you constantly interrupted at work and cannot get enough completed during the day? You take work home most nights (reactive) because it is the only time the phone isn’t ringing and people are not stopping by your office to ask a quick question.

Now let’s go the proactive route.

The phone rings while you are working on an important project? Purposely let it go to voicemail. Or, a colleague pokes her head into your office and asks “Have a minute?”. What a perfect time to get out of your chair and start walking down the hall! Stand-up meetings are notoriously short. You have just avoided an unplanned, possibly time-wasting meeting in your office.

After deliberating and deliberating, you finally decided a few weeks ago to splurge and purchase the newest smart phone model with all of the bells and whistles. Unfortunately, you do not consider yourself tech-saavy and haven’t even taken the item out of the box. It will have to wait until you have more time and can figure out how to use it.

How about this for a possible solution? Invite a friend with the same phone out for lunch– your treat.

You know you need to delegate more so you can maximize your efficiency and finish projects faster but you are not exactly sure what the process entails. It seems easier to do the project yourself.

Possible solution: Sign up for a leadership class, read a book on the subject or consult a colleague who has mastered this skill. Once you become comfortable with delegating, you can concentrate on the projects that will bring you closer to your goals. You’ll be glad that you took action instead of avoiding the situation and continuing to do the same old thing. As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results.

Unfortunately, not every area is within our control but, as Stephen Covey points out, we have more control than we realize. It depends on how we view it. If you are proactive (or are going to make an effort to become more proactive), it will require a conscious choice on your part.

The only way these changes will come about is if you take charge and act on them. Your colleagues may prefer to be reactive and decide to wait until something happens but, if your productivity is going to increase, now is the time to take action.

As you decide to become more proactive, mistakes may happen. That is perfectly acceptable. Try not to dwell on them. Accept the mistake, learn from it, and move on. Be the person in your firm or in your circle of friends who has a positive attitude, is willing to try new ideas and not let mishaps get in the way. You may be amazed at the great leaps in effectiveness you achieve vs. those who are not willing to make the effort.

How about starting small and setting realistic goals that may take a month or two? Once you have tasted success, you will begin to see that your proactive moves are doable. Covey makes the following suggestions to get you on the proactive track:

Listen to your own language and the people around you to pick up on negative and positive thoughts.

Anticipate an experience that will be likely to happen soon and envision yourself responding positively.

Decide if a problem is actionable or if you do not have control over it. If you can solve it, figure out how.

Take the 30 day proactivity test and zero in on the things that will make a positive difference.

Write to us and share what steps you are taking in 2014 to become more proactive. We are eager to hear and available to help.