Tag Archives: Productivity

Beat Procrastination With “Temptation Bundling”

Beat Procrastination With “Temptation Bundling”

Whether it’s jogging or studying for a final, it’s common to motivate yourself with a reward for completing tasks you dread doing. The old carrot-and-stick method can work, but researcher Katy Milkman suggests a better version: temptation bundling.

Instead of rewarding yourself after you’re productive, use a reward to motivate yourself while you’re completing the task. For example, only listen to your favorite podcast while you jog. Or make it a rule to only visit your favorite coffee shop if you’re studying.

Milkman discusses the concept on an episode of Freakonomics, and talks about how to implement it:

What I realized is that if I only allowed myself to watch my favorite TV shows while exercising at the gym, then I’d stop wasting time at home on useless television, and I’d start craving trips to the gym at the end of a long day because I’d want to find out what happens next in my show. And not only that, I’d actually enjoy my workout and my show more combined. I wouldn’t feel guilty watching TV, and time would fly while I was at the gym. So when I talk about temptation bundling, I mean combining a temptation — something like a TV show, a guilty pleasure, something that will pull you into engaging in a behavior — with something you know you should do but might struggle to do.

Sounds reasonable enough, but Milkman studied the method to see how effective it is in practice. The study, published in Management Science (PDF), found that subjects were 29-51% more likely to exercise when they used temptation bundling.

It should be pretty simple to come up with your bundle, but entrepreneur James Clear suggests an easy exercise to get started. Create a two-column list. In the first column, list all of your temptations: guilty pleasures, things you enjoy. In the second column, write down the stuff you should be doing, but you don’t enjoy: working out, networking, replying to emails. Then, marry the two columns to create a temptation bundle for each task. He offers a few examples:

  • Only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising.
  • Only get a pedicure while processing overdue work emails.
  • Only watch your favorite show while ironing or doing household chores.
  • Only eat at your favorite restaurant when conducting your monthly meeting with a difficult colleague.

Of course, you want to be reasonable about it. Your bundle should actually be doable. As Freakonomics points out, drinking at work probably won’t fly. For more detail, head to the links below.

When Willpower Isn’t Enough | Freakonomics via James Clear

Photo by Alan Light.

What Not to Do If You Want to Be Productive

What Not to Do If You Want to Be Productive

Productivity may be about getting things done, but it turns out that not doing things is just as important.

On her blog, Jocelyn K. Glei talks about the importance of a “stop-doing list.” In this age of multitasking, it can be easy to focus on all the things you should be doing, and forget about the things you should be saying “no” to. Everyone’s “stop-doing list” is most likely a little different, but here are a few of my favorite tips from Glei’s:

  • I don’t listen to music or radio that has words.
  • I don’t treat emails from people I don’t know as urgent. (I love, love, love this one.)
  • I don’t answer my phone or texts first thing in the morning.

There are also some more obvious ones, like avoiding social media until the afternoon, but the key to making a good to-don’t list is to focus on the little things. According to Glei: “You want to sift away all the small stuff that drags on your productivity. Then, when you’re creating your to-do list, try to focus as much as possible on the big picture—the long-term goals and projects that really matter to you.”

Productivity Is Really About What You Don’t Do | Jocelyn K. Glei

Photo by Courtney Dirks.

Beware the “Productivity Spending” Trap

Beware the “Productivity Spending” Trap

It feels good to get stuff done, but sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking we’re accomplishing tasks that aren’t actually very important—like buying stuff we don’t really need.

Personal finance blog Brooklyn Bread explains:

If you can put a purchase off and it is not saving you money to buy it now, then the smart thing is to delay. But my busy-infected neurons are telling me that I am accomplishing something by incurring the cost now…Like checking email 100 times a day, hitting click on a purchase is an easy way to feel like we are doing something that we need to do. If I really wanted to be productive in that small free moment, I should have planned out dinner for the next two nights. That actually would have been productive, and saved money by ensuring I did not order out. I am trying to be a lot more aware of those purchases that my brain disguises as “getting stuff done.”

This post hit home for me. I’ve been spending a crazy amount of cash on Amazon lately, ever since I moved into a new place. Adding a few house-related items to my cart here and there somehow made me feel like I was getting stuff done. In a way, marking these items off my shopping list gave me a productivity high. The problem is, I was wasting a lot of time consuming, plus, the cost of this “high” can add up.


It’s not to say you should never buy things you want or need. However, it’s easy to convince yourself shopping is productive, and that can be a dangerous trap for your finances. To read more about this, head to Brooklyn Bread’s full post at the link below.

The Productivity Spending Trap | Brooklyn Bread via Rockstar Finance

Photo by Robbert Noordzij

Four Ways to Cut Down on Endless Back-and-Forth Emails

Four Ways to Cut Down on Endless Back-and-Forth Emails

Email. Can’t live with it. Can’t get your job done without it. Am I right? Last year we sent over 2.5 billion emails. And here’s the bad news. In spite of a good amount of loathing, that number is only expected to grow. The volume is an issue, as is the time you spend on it. In fact, reports say you check it about 36 times per hour. 36 times. In a single hour.

Once you begin dabbling with what’s in your inbox, it takes about 16 minutes to refocus your attention on your other work. Oh, and if you need a doc that’s buried in your email somewhere, it takes you about two minutes to find it. Do the math: This quickly adds up to a plague on your productivity.

You need it to do your job. You can’t just ditch it like a bad habit. In fact, it’s no doubt something you rely on heavily to get information, approval, or answers from colleagues so that you can get work accomplished.

But if you aren’t clear about what you want from others when you’re sending email, or if you don’t ask good questions, remember that 36 times per hour? Yeah well, watch that estimate increase substantially. I doubt that sounds appealing. Here are four tips you can use to minimize and speed up your exchanges and communicate better than ever.

1. Clarify Your Question

Have you ever tossed an idea out to a colleague and ended with, “Thoughts?” If your goal is to get input from someone on a pressing deadline, project direction, or a recommendation on options, you’ve got to give him something more specific to work with. After all, he doesn’t want to spend any more time trying to decode your message than you want to spend reading his response.

If you’ve just sent a plan that needs action, for example, instead of ending with the open-ended and vague, “Thoughts?” ask a specific question, like, “What will it take to realistically implement this plan by next week? Let me know if there’s anything I can do to get it going ASAP.” Your colleague’ll be able to respond quickly and directly, and you’ll get a much higher quality response.

2. Cut to the Chase

Sarah, the Type A project member you work with frequently, wants everything weeks ahead of time. She’s at it again. You get an email for a deliverable with a ridiculously short deadline. You’re frustrated and tempted to respond with, “Can you give me more time on that project?” with the hope of renegotiating the deadline. If you do, it’s going to take half a dozen more responses to resolve the timeline alone.

Instead, tell your colleague what you have the capacity to do, and leave it at that. “Hey Sarah, I’ve got three other prioritized projects in my queue now. I will get this done by end of day next Thursday. If I’m able to get it done sooner, I’ll let you know. Thanks for your patience.” Boom. Done.

3. Stop Soliciting Questions

Some messages generate unnecessary mail because you unwittingly invite responses. To avoid that, stop closing with, “Does this make sense to you?” Rather, say “Let me know if you have questions.” If the receiver has a query, he’ll let you know; otherwise, he’ll know that no response is necessary.

You could also close with something like,“Let me know if we are not aligned on this,” or “Let me know if you want to talk about this further.” This concise language makes it clear that the conversation is closed unless there’s an issue on the receiver’s end.

4. Don’t Neglect the Title

The subject line of your message is efficiency gold. Use that real estate to give your reader a heads up about how much attention they need to spend and when. Head those excess emails at the pass.

Use your title to indicate urgency, the deliverable, and the timeline. For example, a title could read something like, “Action needed by noon Friday | Acme project due next week.”

Now your reader knows that this is going to require some attention. She’s aware that there’s a deadline for responding and work that she needs to be focusing on for completion next week. That single, concrete statement prevents a ton of back and forth.

Given how much time and attention email requires, both as a sender and a receiver, you can see how a few simple techniques will help you send messages that generate fewer responses in return and improve the overall communication between you and your co-workers or clients. Wouldn’t that be cool? When you make your communication super efficient, you’ll not only feel more in control of your inbox, your colleagues will appreciate how efficient you’re helping them be as well.

But, keep in mind that sometimes your best bet is simply to take the conversation offline. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t resolve the issue in three email exchanges, or miscommunication is occurring because of a crazy-long thread, propose a live conversation so you can resolve the matter quickly.

4 Ways to Cut Down on the Back-and-Forth Emails in Your Inbox | The Muse

Lea McLeod coaches people in their jobs when the going gets tough. Bad bosses. Challenging co-workers. Self-sabotage that keeps you working too long. She’s the founder of the Job Success Lab and author of the The Resume Coloring Book. Get started with her free 21 Days to Peace at Work e-series. Book one-on-one coaching sessions with Lea on The Muse’s Coach Connect. Top image by onivelsper (Shutterstock).

How a Calendar Actually Sabotages Your Time Management Efforts

We all struggle with time management, and we all want to know the best ways to conquer our schedules. In this video, Dan Ariely, a behavioral economics professor at Duke University and friend of Lifehacker, says the calendar definitely isn’t one of them.


As Ariely points out in the video, a calendar almost always misrepresents how much time you actually have. If you look at your calendar two months out, you’ll marvel at how open it looks. But in reality, you have just as little “free time” as you do now. Combine that with our amazingly piss-poor ability to predict the future, and we’re still struggling to manage our time two months from now.

Calendars are great for tasks that take 1-2 hours to complete, like meetings. The thing is, most of the things we want to accomplish in life are (thankfully) not meetings. For bigger, more meaningful projects, ditch the whole “let me pencil this in” rhetoric. Instead, imagine what you need to do if you were to accomplish whatever it is you want to by next week. This way, you start doing mental Tetris to figure out what you need to cancel or shuffle around (if possible) in your schedule to make that happen.


A behavioral economist explains how your calendar is messing up your priorities | Business Insider

Speed Up Your Cleaning Routine by Picking a Room and Staying In It

Speed Up Your Cleaning Routine by Picking a Room and Staying In It

It’s easy to get frazzled cleaning your home, especially when you’re short on time. If you want to streamline your cleaning process, you need to pick a room and stay in it until it’s done.

As you clean and pick up clutter, you may feel the urge to leave the room and put things back where they came from. But as Taryn Williford at Apartment Therapy explains, you’re better off quarantining yourself in the disaster area:

…don’t put it away. It seems counter-intuitive, but if you head into the bedroom to put the thing away, you might begin to straighten up upstairs. Instead, leave the things at the bottom of the stairs (or the entrance to the hallway, or wherever), and continue on your task.

If you have guests on the way, focus on getting the living room and kitchen clean. Don’t let yourself leave those rooms until you’ve done everything you can do without leaving, then go put everything away at once. You’ll save yourself a ton of time and effort.


The Beginner’s Guide to Cleaning Your Whole Apartment in Half the Time: 3 Rules to Clean By | Apartment Therapy

Photo by Erik Ogan.

Download or Stream This Free Playlist of Ambient Music to Sleep, Meditate, or Work To

Download or Stream This Free Playlist of Ambient Music to Sleep, Meditate, or Work To

Musician (and all-around awesome guy) Moby has been making a ton of super chill, relaxing music you can meditate to, do yoga to, sleep to, or just relax and get some work done to, and he’s made all of it available to stream or download, completely for free. Here’s the whole playlist.

We’ll embed the Spotify playlist here, but if you want to download the whole thing (or any of the tracks), hit the link below. The whole thing is about four hours, which is perfect for a long study session, a good chunk of the workday, or just breaking up while you do other things around the house—or heaven forbid, just try to relax. Moby explains:

over the last couple of years i’ve been making really really really quiet music to listen to when i do yoga or sleep or meditate or panic. i ended up with 4 hours of music and have decided to give it away.

you can download it for free below or stream it on spotify, soundcloud, apple music, deezer & tidal.

it’s really quiet: no drums, no vocals, just very slow calm pretty chords and sounds and things for sleeping and yoga and etc. and feel free to share it or give it away or whatever, it’s not protected or anything, or at least it shouldn’t be.

Here’s the full playlist:

And hit the link below to grab a copy for yourself, and enjoy.

long ambients1: calm. sleep. by moby

Motivate Yourself to Finish a Task With This Two-Step Process

Motivate Yourself to Finish a Task With This Two-Step Process

We all have tasks we dread, and some days, it’s really tough to scrounge up the motivation to tackle those tasks. To get yourself going, Charles Duhigg, author of the Power of Habit, suggests making a choice that puts you in control and linking your task to your values.

In his new book, Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg talks about the link between motivation and control. He cites a 2012 study in the journal Problems and Perspectives in Management that found people who have an “internal locus of control” typically have higher self-motivation, social maturity, and less stress. An internal locus of control is basically, believing that your actions can affect your destiny. In terms of motivation, Duhigg writes:

If you can link something hard to a choice you care about it makes the task easier… make a chore into a meaningful decision and self-motivation will emerge.

In other words, turn your chore into a choice that makes you feel in control of the big picture. As Duhigg says, this will “trigger the parts of our brains where motivation resides.”

For example, let’s say you’re writing a paper and you’ve set aside an hour to research one of your points. If you’re struggling to find the motivation, you first want to give yourself a choice so you feel in control. Maybe that choice is which publication you’ll start your research, or even where you’ll work (a coffee shop, your local library?). These choices work subtly to put you in the driver’s seat.

Second, you want to link those decisions and your task to a larger, meaningful goal. Maybe you’re completing the research paper because you want to ace the course so you can become a pro at the topic. Maybe you’re just doing it to get a good grade, get your degree, and find your ideal job so you can do something you enjoy for a living. The link doesn’t have to be direct; it just has to remind you of your larger goal.

Of course, this may not work for every task. I’d be hard pressed to find a larger goal for say, doing the dishes. But the process seems especially useful for smaller tasks that are part of a bigger project.

Smarter Faster Better | Charles Duhigg (Amazon)

Photo by College Library.

Identify and Work Around Your Delivery Dates to Manage a Flexible Schedule

Identify and Work Around Your Delivery Dates to Manage a Flexible Schedule

More employers are beginning to offer flexible work options to let employees work at a time that fits them best, rather than a strict 9-5 job. This is nice, but it can turn your schedule into chaos. Before that happens, build your schedule around your delivery dates.

As advice site The Muse points out, even if your boss lets you work at your own pace, there are always due dates. At some point, you’re going to need to hand your work in. These are your delivery dates and you can use them as the focal point of your schedule:

One key to being the master of your daily domain is making sure you know what you’re expected to deliver and when. Enjoying the freedom of self-scheduling works best when you assure your boss the work will get done, on time and as committed. Then keep her updated and meet your deadlines every single time (unless something out of your control prevents you from doing so). This way, you’ll never have anyone wondering what you’re doing when you’re not visibly in the office.

Once you know your delivery dates, you can start scheduling backwards. Your next step is to identify how long it will take to finish the work for that delivery and block out time for it. If you have a task due Wednesday afternoon and it will take ten hours to finish it, you know to block out five hours on Monday and Tuesday. Or two hours every weekday of the preceding week. Or ten hours on Tuesday if you’re feeling particularly masochistic (though we don’t recommend it). Once you’ve decided where to block out the time to work on your project, treat that time with the same critical importance as the deadline itself. Avoid scheduling anything during those same blocks of time and, if you have to bump something to make your schedule work, bump something else.

6 Time Management Strategies That’ll Help You Break Out of Your 9-to-5 Rut | The Muse

Figure Out What You Really Love to Do With the “Laptop Test”

Figure Out What You Really Love to Do With the “Laptop Test”

You’ll find no shortage of tips from many of the most successful and powerful people on how to find your “passion”, or what you truly love to do. Here’s a simpler way: gauge how you feel about opening your laptop.

When you first open your laptop (or turn on your computer), it’s an important moment of the day because it defines whether you are doing exactly the kind of work you’re supposed to be doing. This is the thinking behind ex-Facebook employee and now full-time comedian Paul Ollinger, who wakes up at 5 a.m. every day for work just because he can’t wait to start writing material for his shows. He calls it the “laptop test.”

What’s your orientation toward your laptop when you wake up in the morning? Are you dying to open it—do you see it as opportunity? Or do you see it as Pandora’s box?

If you look at your laptop as a bug you’d rather squash because you dread looking at all of the emails or starting your work day, well, that says something. Of course, it’s not as simple as setting your laptop on fire and dancing around its ashes in defiance. The “laptop test” is just the easiest way to see if you’re on the right path. Once you know, you’ll have to put in the work and time to make your career shift possible.



An early Facebook employee says the ‘laptop test’ can help you figure out what you should be doing with your life | Business Insider

Image by Alejandro Pinto.