Things Really Efficacious People Do

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Forget about your job title or profession – everyone is looking for ways to be more productive at work. It’s time to set down your gallon-sized container of coffee, toss out your three-page to-do list, and put an end to those ridiculously long emails you’ve been sending.

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Experiencing a highly productive workday can feel euphoric. But contrary to popular belief, simply checking tasks off your to-do list isn’t really an indication of productivity. Truly productive people aren’t focused on doing more things; this is actually the opposite of productivity. If you really want to be productive, you’ve got to make a point to do fewer things.

Most everyone would like to be more efficient. Just think, you would spend less time doing the things that you don’t enjoy and more on the things that bring satisfaction, happiness and profit. Some people are actually very adept at efficiency.  They manage every manageable moment so they have more time for themselves to do the things they love. Here are eight techniques efficient people use to gain that freedom.

Stop Multitasking,

Many people fool themselves into thinking they are good at multitasking. But actually very few can solidly focus on more than 1 or two tasks, particularly if they require focus and depth.  They fool themselves into believing they are getting more done when in reality they are accomplishing less and the quality of the work is poor. Really efficient people know that concentrated effort with few distractions leads to better work product in faster times. Otherwise the work may not be up to par, which means wasting even more time and energy going back to fix the mistakes.


So much productivity is lost when people take on more than they can accomplish. Don’t be inspired by CEOs and leaders who overload their schedules and burn the midnight oil. Really efficient people are extremely good at delegating tasks to others who will perform them better. When you know how to break down a task and empower others to contribute effort, you can choose the tasks most suited for you and crank through them in record time without distraction.

Use Appropriate Communication,

Poor communication is a huge time-waster. A fast email transmitting bad instructions or an offensive attitude can end up adding many unnecessary hours to a project. The masters of efficiency take a little extra time to think through their communication in the beginning. They consider their objectives when deciding to get on the phone. They craft their emails with purpose using the exact language necessary to get the desired effect.  It takes a little more time at the beginning but can actually shave days from a project.

Apply Structure to the Schedule,

With all the available scheduling and productivity tools you would think more people would feel they have a handle on their schedule. And yet often people feel their schedule drives them instead of the other way around. Efficiency fanatics create standard routines in their schedule so they can achieve a disciplined approach and be ready for the important events. The more you control the calendar, the easier it is to make room for the unexpected.

Give Everything a Proper Place,

A lot of time is wasted chasing down lost items. Keys, pens and clothing hunts can cause distraction and frustration, especially when you have something important to do or somewhere important to be. People get really efficient from being organized. Establish a home for all the items you have.  Factories that practice LEAN create common homes for necessary tools of the trade. You can do the same. Organize clothes, papers and electronics in a way that you can easily find what you are looking for.  It may take you a few extra minutes to put things away but you’ll save a ton of time and irritation from having to search for what’s important.

Time Activities,

Do you really know how much time you spend productively versus how much time you waste? I often know that I am talking on the phone with someone who takes efficiency seriously because they tell me when the call is almost over. Efficient people set a time for each of their tasks and work to keep the schedule. Try logging your time on conversations and activities for a week.  Then spend the next week setting specific times for similar activities and work to reduce the times with similar output.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the gains.

Commit to Downtime,

Tired and overworked people don’t perform well. People pleasers will sacrifice their own downtime thinking they are benefitting others, but in truth they detract from productivity. Really efficient people make sure they get rest and recuperation so they can perform at their peak. Since one amazing employee can do the work of three average employees, best to let the team rest up and be top performers.

Plan Projects,

Effort is often wasted when people don’t have a clear path to success. Impatience is the direct enemy of efficiency. Really efficient people know they must take the time to research and break down a project into basic steps in order to achieve success consistently. Yes, planning takes a little time. But considering the challenges, process and responsibilities in advance will make for clear direction with the team. With good communication everyone can move confidently and efficiently to achieve all the objectives in record time.

Create a smaller to-do list,

 Getting things accomplished during your workday shouldn’t be about doing as much as possible in the sanctioned eight hours. It may be hard to swallow, but there’s nothing productive about piling together a slew of tasks in the form of a checklist. Take a less-is-more approach to your to-do list by only focusing on accomplishing things that matter.

Take breaks,

You know that ache that fills your brain when you’ve been powering through tasks for several hours? This is due to your brain using up glucose. Too many people mistake this for a good feeling, rather than a signal to take a break. Go take a walk, grab something to eat, workout, or meditate – give your brain some resting time. Achieve more productivity during your workday by making a point to regularly clear your head. You’ll come back recharged and ready to achieve greater efficiency.

Follow the 80/20 rule,

Did you know that only 20 percent of what you do each day produces 80 percent of your results? Eliminate the things that don’t matter during your workday: they have a minimal effect on your overall productivity. For example, on a project, systematically remove tasks until you end up with the 20 percent that gets the 80 percent of results.

Start your day by focusing on yourself,

 If you begin your morning by checking your email, it allows others to dictate what you accomplish. Set yourself in the right direction by ignoring your emails and taking the morning to focus on yourself, eat a good breakfast, meditate, or read the news.

Take on harder tasks earlier in the day,

 Knock out your most challenging work when your brain is most fresh. Save your busy work – if you have any – for when your afternoon slump rolls in.

Pick up the phone,

The digital world has created poor communication habits. Email is a productivity killer and usually a distraction from tasks that actually matter. For example, people often copy multiple people on emails to get it off their plate – don’t be a victim of this action. This distracts everyone else by creating noise against the tasks they’re trying to accomplish and is a sign of laziness. If you receive an email where many people are CC’d, do everyone a favor by BCCing them on your reply. If your email chain goes beyond two replies, it’s time to pick up the phone. Increase your productivity by scheduling a call.

Create a system,

 If you know certain things are ruining your daily productivity, create a system for managing them. Do you check your emails throughout the day? Plan a morning, afternoon, and evening time slot for managing your email. Otherwise, you’ll get distracted from accomplishing more important goals throughout the day.

Don’t confuse productivity with laziness,

While no one likes admitting it, sheer laziness is the No. 1 contributor to lost productivity. In fact, a number of time-saving methods – take meetings and emails for example – are actually just ways to get out of doing real work. Place your focus on doing the things that matter most as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Remember, less is more when it comes to being productive during the workday.

Things that Successful People Carry out

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They don’t create back-up plans,

Back-up plans can help you sleep easier at night. Back-up plans can also create an easy out when times get tough. You’ll work a lot harder and a lot longer if your primary plan simply has to work because there is no other option. Total commitment–without a safety net–will spur you to work harder than you ever imagined possible.

If somehow the worst does happen (and the “worst” is never as bad as you think) trust that you will find a way to rebound. As long as you keep working hard and keep learning from your mistakes, you always will.

They do the work…,

You can be good with a little effort. You can be really good with a little more effort. But you can’t be great–at anything–unless you put in an incredible amount of focused effort. Scratch the surface of any person with rare skills and you’ll find a person who has put thousands of hours of effort into developing those skills.

There are no shortcuts. There are no overnight successes. Everyone has heard about the 10,000 hours principle but no one follows it… except remarkably successful people. So start doing the work now. Time is wasting.

…and they work a lot more,

Forget the Sheryl Sandberg “I leave every day at 5:30” stories. I’m sure she does. But she’s not you.

Every extremely successful entrepreneur I know (personally) works more hours than the average person–a lot more. They have long lists of things they want to get done. So they have to put in lots of time. Better yet, they want to put in lots of time. If you don’t embrace a workload others would consider crazy then your goal doesn’t mean that much to you–or it’s not particularly difficult to achieve. Either way you won’t be remarkably successful.

They avoid the crowds.,

Conventional wisdom yields conventional results. Joining the crowd–no matter how trendy the crowd or “hot” the opportunity–is a recipe for mediocrity. Remarkably successful people habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others won’t go because there’s a lot less competition and a much greater chance for success.

They start at the end…,

Average success is often based on setting average goals. Decide what you really want: to be the best, the fastest, the cheapest, the biggest, whatever. Aim for the ultimate. Decide where you want to end up. That is your goal. Then you can work backwards and lay out every step along the way. Never start small where goals are concerned. You’ll make better decisions–and find it much easier to work a lot harder–when your ultimate goal is ultimate success.

… and they don’t stop there,

Achieving a goal–no matter how huge–isn’t the finish line for highly successful people. Achieving one huge goal just creates a launching pad for achieving another huge goal. Maybe you want to create a $100 million business; once you do you can leverage your contacts and influence to create a charitable foundation for a cause you believe in. Then your business and humanitarian success can create a platform for speaking, writing, and thought leadership. Then…

The process of becoming remarkably successful in one field will give you the skills and network to be remarkably successful in many other fields. Remarkably successful people don’t try to win just one race. They expect and plan to win a number of subsequent races.

They sell,

I once asked a number of business owners and CEOs to name the one skill they felt contributed the most to their success. Each said the ability to sell. Keep in mind selling isn’t manipulating, pressuring, or cajoling. Selling is explaining the logic and benefits of a decision or position. Selling is convincing other people to work with you. Selling is overcoming objections and roadblocks.

Selling is the foundation of business and personal success: knowing how to negotiate, to deal with “no,” to maintain confidence and self-esteem in the face of rejection, to communicate effectively with a wide range of people, to build long-term relationships…

When you truly believe in your idea, or your company, or yourself then you don’t need to have a huge ego or a huge personality. You don’t need to “sell.” You just need to communicate.

They are never too proud,

To admit they made a mistake. To say they are sorry. To have big dreams. To admit they owe their success to others. To poke fun at themselves. To ask for help.

Way you can balance your personal and professional life

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Google has built an empire with a search engine that answers your questions, and now the company hopes humans can do the same.

Google on Tuesday announced Helpouts, a new tool that connects users via live video chat with experts who can help them with questions about home improvement, cooking or even medical advice. Helpouts serves as a Google-vetted marketplace where approved companies such as Sephora, One Medical and Rosetta Stone can offer their services to interested parties in real-time over live video.

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So far, Google has invited 1,000 companies to participate, and plans to keep the marketplace “invitation only” for now.

Vendors can set their own prices, charging users either by the minute or by the session, but Google anticipates a number of services will also be offered for free. (Google takes 20% of each transaction.) Users can choose to set up an appointment with a particular company, or if someone is available, speak to them instantly via video.

“With [Google Helpouts], we can open the whole world to everybody,” said Udi Manber, Google’s vice-president of engineering. “Most of the world’s most useful information [still] resides in people’s heads.”

The new service works in a way that highlights many of Google’s other products. The actual video conferencing is done using Google Hangouts; vendors and experts are found using Google search; payments are accepted only through Google Wallet; and users must have a Google+ profile in order to join a Helpout, creating a safe environment in which they can interact using their real identities, Manber said.

The issue of safety is magnified when users are not only connecting with strangers over video

The issue of safety is magnified when users are not only connecting with strangers over video, but also paying them for their services. Google has enforced a handful of safeguards in hopes of preventing any issues. For example, users can immediately exit a video call, and report a vendor or user if there is any form of harassment or inappropriate behavior. Manber also said he has no plans to allow “adult uses” of the service.

Google must invite each company that offers a service to the platform, and all professionals are vetted and checked, according to Osi Imeokparia, Helpouts’ director of product management.

Users are asked to leave feedback after a connection ends, meaning the marketplace will be regulated in many ways by customer reviews. Users who feel their experience left them shortchanged can request a full refund, with Google picking up the tab. If a vendor is more than five minutes late to an appointment, or claims they are available but do not connect to the video conference, the session will be free.

The biggest privacy concern may come from users who want to use Helpouts for health and wellness purposes, including sessions with a clinical psychologist. Google said that Helpouts is HIPAA-certified already, which means the platform has the necessary safeguards in place to ensure the online privacy of patient information and medical records.

Despite all the areas that Google has addressed, the new tool is in its infancy, and leaves the door open for other integrations later on. For starters, YouTube is already full of self-help videos that offer instruction on everything from tying a tie to learning to play clarinet. In the future, users who find a particular teacher they like may be able to request that instructor for a Helpout straight from the YouTube page.

Helpouts hasn’t partnered with any medical-insurance companies, which means users can’t get the free or reduced coverage through Helpouts that they might get by walking into a clinic. Helpouts only accepts Google Wallet, too, so users need to either create a wallet or stick to free services.

As with all new products, Helpouts should continue to evolve with user feedback.

“If there’s one reason that I think the Internet is so powerful and successful, it’s that it brings a completely new level of efficiency and convenience,” Manber said. “And efficiency and convenience always win in the end.”

Helpouts launched at 12:00 a.m. ET Tuesday, and is also available in the Google Play store for Android mobile users. An iOS app will come eventually, but no timetable has been set, according to a Google spokesperson.

Become Superior than Yourself Before

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I recently finished reading 99U’s new book Maximize Your Potential (which I can’t recommend enough), and it ended with a lovely little essay by Jack Cheng about the “Better You.”

The idea of the essay is that there is always a version of yourself slightly ahead of where you are now. This “you” isn’t perfect, but he or she is a little more organized, gets up a little earlier, is a little better at focusing on the task at hand. It’s the person you know you could be if you just tried a little harder. It’s not scary impossible, but you’ll have to push to get there.

I loved this idea of a better me sitting next to me at work and pushing me to achieve my potential. For the next week or so, I would think with every move I made—what would better me do?

But even with a nice metaphor like this, keeping up with your better self is not an easy task. It takes hard work and persistence, and it’s easy to just want to revert to your self that hits the snooze button a couple of times and hops over to Pinterest for “just five minutes” in the middle of the workday.

To help you (and myself) out in this quest for continual self-improvement, I’ve come up with a couple of strategies that make staying on track with my better self a little easier.

Break the Norm,

Sometimes you already know the changes you want to make in your life. But sometimes, it’s not as clear what behaviors are holding you back from your full potential.

The best way to figure it out? Start trying different things. Make a list of productivity tips you’ve read about or friends’ behaviors you’ve been wanting to try, and challenge yourself to do things differently. It doesn’t have to be big things: If you usually get up and check your phone, instead get up and relax for five minutes to start the day fresh. If you usually check your email first thing when you get to the office, instead try spending an hour working on your big task for the day first.

Not every change you make will be one you want to continue, but experimenting like this will start to give you a sense of what’s holding you back and what will help you move toward the better version of you.

Do it Regularly for a Month,

Oftentimes when people get excited about improving themselves, they’ll think about all the things they want to do differently and make it a goal to change them all at once. I fall prey to this far too often, too—this week, I’m going to stay organized at work, devote time to side projects, eat healthier, and actually exercise. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens in this scenario: Monday I’m gung-ho for all of them, but by mid-week I’m back to my old ways.

Changing habits is hard, but it’s nearly impossible when we overwhelm ourselves with too many changes at once. Instead, it’s better to focus on one major change at a time, and give yourself ample time to establish this change as a habit. I find the most effective way to do this is to practice the new habit every day for a month. Even if you aren’t looking for this to be a daily habit in the long run, doing it every day at the start makes it easer to condition the behavior as a regular part of your life. Scott Young explains this well in his article on 99U.

For example, over the summer I was working out approximately never. I wanted to get to the point where I was active three or four days a week, so I made it a goal to work out every day in September. By spending a month focusing on how working out could fit into my life every single day, doing it a few times a week is now a piece of cake.

This could apply to things at work, too. Want to start devoting more time to special projects at work? Devoting even 15 to 30 minutes a day to these projects for a month can help get you there. It may feel like slow progress, but in just a year of doing one thing a month, you’ll be closer to your better self in 12 major ways.

Give Yourself a Performance Review,

Nothing makes a goal fail faster than not keeping yourself accountable. It’s all well and good to say you’ll wake up half an hour earlier every day, but if you’re not checking in on yourself, you’ll probably start hitting the snooze button again before you know it.

So, set up a regular time to check in with yourself on your goal. Every evening, once a week—whatever cadence you think you need to stay on track. Sit down and think about what you’ve been doing well and where your weaknesses have been, and then come up with action items for how you’re going to overcome them. Better yet, write them down so you can keep up with your progress.

And if you’re still having trouble staying on track, find someone else to help you stay accountable. It could be your roommate, your best friend, or even your boss. For example, I had a goal to start writing more. After sharing it with my boss, we set up regular times during my work week that were blocked out for writing, and she checks in with me at the beginning of each of those times to see what I’m working on that day. She’s even started joining me in this writing time—meaning we’re both making progress towards our better selves.

All of this is not to say that you should be constantly self-critiquing and never be happy with where you are in your development. But when you do find ways you can change your habits to make your life a little easier? These strategies will do wonders.

How to Slant Yourself as Handy in Media

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A friend of mine recently called and said she was about to draft a pitch promoting herself as a food expert to several broadcast outlets. She asked if I would take a look once she was done. Several days later, her email popped up. The subject? “This feels so weird.”

You don’t need to be a PR expert to know that it’s much easier to tout a product than it is to tout yourself. But if you’re just getting your company, business or blog up and running, you likely don’t have the resources to recruit a full-time PR person or agency support. Which leaves the PRing — along with most other things — to you.

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As a PR professional who has happily pitched clients’ products and uncomfortably pitched my own brain, I can tell you: It doesn’t ever stop feeling weird. But it does get easier. If you’re struggling with how to promote yourself, keep these tips in mind.

Be Professional,

Pitching yourself will likely evoke a whole spectrum of emotions, but when it comes to the actual pitch, keep it business-appropriate. Most importantly: Don’t be overly casual (or no one will take you seriously), don’t be too verbose (or no one will read your email), and don’t be rude, arrogant, or obnoxiously self-promotional.

This may sound obvious, but there’s an important differentiation between pitching yourself and pitching a product: When you’re pitching yourself,

the booking producer not only needs to like what you have to say. He also needs to like you.

Back it Up,

If you’re new on the speaking circuit or just looking to book your first interview, you’re going to need to really convince the booking producer or journalist that you’ve got the smarts they’re looking for. So beyond introducing yourself and your expertise, include relevant stats, articles and anecdotes to support your narrative. Explain what differentiates your expertise from other people talking about a similar subject — maybe it’s the research you’ve recently conducted or the access you have to key influencers in the industry — as well as why your expertise is especially relevant to the outlet you’re pitching.

Each pitch differs, but here’s a general framework to consider:

  • In 2-3 sentences, introduce who you are, your expertise and what you’re pitching (e.g., to be considered for future food segments on the Today Show).
  • Add 2-5 bullet points about why your narrative is relevant, compelling and timely.
  • Add 1-2 sentences about why you’re perfectly positioned to be talking about this subject to this specific outlet.
  • Add a brief bio with your high-level accomplishments, your availability and ways for people to reach you.

Be Confident,

No matter what your expertise, there are likely topics or themes within that industry that you’re not as well-versed on as others. If you’re a food expert, like my friend, you may not be as knowledgeable about French cuisine as you are about Italian. Maybe your vegetarian recipes are lacking. But here’s the deal: No one needs to know that but you.

When pitching yourself as an expert, you need to convince whomever you’re pitching that you are, actually, an expert. So tell your various and wide-ranging insecurities to shush, and put forward your smartest, most confident self.

But Don’t Oversell,

Remember that confirming an interview is not the end game — successfully promoting your brand is. So while you want to come across as confident and knowledgeable, you don’t want to B.S. your whole pitch. If you do, you’re only going to end up hurting your reputation — and future opportunities — by sounding silly on-air or getting blacklisted by the booking department. Instead, give yourself a bit more time to get up to speed on your industry.

Be Prepared,

Once you send that pitch out, consider yourself on-call — especially when pitching yourself to broadcast outlets. One way to not make friends with the booking department? Pitch yourself as an expert on a story, like the government shutdown, and then not make yourself available for interviews while the government is actually shut down.

Also, make sure you’re 110% comfortable and ready to speak on whatever information you include in your pitch. If there are stats you cite, make sure they’re legitimate. If you’re offering exclusive information to one outlet, don’t talk to any other reporters about it. You want people to be impressed by what you’re offering and then more impressed once they meet you — not less so.

Promoting yourself as an expert is a really effective way to raise your own profile and that of your brand. But there’s no getting around it: It’s tricky, awkward, and, as my friend pointed out, totally weird. But don’t let the icky feelings deter you: You are uniquely positioned to share what you know. As long as you don’t creep people out in the process, we’ll be seeing you on the Today Show (or in the New York Times) soon enough.