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This is a time of year when taking time to renew is crucial. But how do we take time to renew when there is so much to be done? There are many quick-to-implement steps that will provide much needed mental breaks to keep you feeling and producing better.

Here are some of our suggestions:

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Some office noises are unavoidable…loud co-workers, phones ringing, keystrokes, papers shuffling, elevators chiming, drawers sliding shut, buzzing lights…the list goes on.

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There are times when I am easily distracted, lose focus, or even (gasp!) procrastinate. None of which are very becoming in the world of a productivity trainer. To get back on track, I run for tomatoes…specifically, Italian tomatoes, or pomodoros.

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Taking care of yourself is an important part of remaining productive. We recently shared the time management benefits of healthy food choices. To add to this, we were excited to come across further steps to decrease stress and encourage energy to work efficiently outlined by Kevin Asuncion. Acts of rest that are fairly simple to incorporate into our work day routine include:

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As I settle into my work day, hunger typically sneaks upon me before lunch. Inspired by an article reviewing the impact of daily choices on our productivity, we would like to share or favorite productivity enhancing snack items:

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If you’re living in or near Chicago and you haven’t already experienced the Picasso exhibit, why not identify a day and time to visit the Chicago Art Institute’s before the exhibit closes Sunday, May 12, 2013.

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Music has the ability of reaching us in a very personal way – including our productivity. A blog from Online College Courses shares 12 music tricks to boost your personal productivity. We enjoyed their post and have summarized six of their tips below.

  1. Listen before you get started. Hearing music before you work, gets you ready to go and better aware for getting down to business. (A Life Contained client paired a 5-minute piece, Variation on Sonata in A by the Arcangelos Chamber Ensemble to his getting juiced routine for regaining drive. For him, this music is a signal to get focused and motivated.)
  2. Target a specific side of your brain. For left brain activities (logical and analytical), play up-tempo music in major keys. For right brain tasks (creative, experimental, subjective), play slow music in minor keys.
  3. Listen to something happy. Happy music makes happy people and happy people are more productive! (Might we recommend this mini Wilco concert as a pick me up?)
  4. Organize Your Playlist by BPM. Set your music to play the fastest tempos first by using the Beats Per Minute (BPM) display in your music player; focus on songs above 100 BPM.
  5. Base your work segments on song length. Create a playlist to a specific length, such as 20 minutes, and work hard until the music ends, then break.
  6. Sign up for Spotify. The free service, Spotify, does “away with the need for syncing and buying tracks and allowing saving of playlists”  and thus saves time.

Music is a fun, easy way to boost productivity. What role does music have in your routines?

P.S. The following tiny desk concert is a chance to experiment with allowing non-lyrical music to boost your output. Enjoy!

office library resized 600

At Chicago Ideas Week, we had the fortune of hearing Jason Fried, President of Chicago-based web application company, 37signals, author, and signal vs. noise blogger. Jason is a bit of a celebrity in the project and time management arena and has recently inspired us with his view on a summer four-day work week.

A little research into Jason’s various articles on this topic uncovers that since 2008, from May – October, all 35 people in his company execute all their normal job tasks, within a four-day week without extending their daily hours. The idea is to work harder, not to work longer as “working longer hours doesn’t translate to better results.” They accomplish this by squeezing out the inefficiencies and looking at the workplace from a different perspective, one similar to a library. 

If you think of a library as a place to learn, study and get stuff done, then this is the environment Jason desires for his employees. Although they work in an open cubicle space, work is done with minimal noise and distractions and a focus on learning. They aim to displace excess “meetings, interruptions, web surfing, office politics, and personal business that permeates typical work day.” This enables an even longer weekend, where employees come back refreshed as well as being happy with their workplace.

“So don’t think four days means cramming the same amount of time into a shorter week.  Longer days isn’t the goal. Think four days means a shorter week with less time to get things done. And that’s what you actually want.” We all tend to be more efficient with our time if we have less of it to begin with.

Would a three-day weekend inspire you to work more efficiently?


At some point, most of us will experience chaos at work. We were inspired by a the response to a question posted on the Chicago chapter of American Society for Training & Development (CCASTD) in which the question was posed for suggestions toward the managing the madness when chaos strikes in the office.

The following response was posted by Wayne Turmel:

One of the wisest things I ever heard was from one of my workshop participants. We were talking about “putting out fires” and everyone kept using the term. One guy finally put up his hand and said, “you know, I was a Chicago fireman for 10 years, and the first thing they teach you in Fire School is that there are 7 things you do at the scene of a fire, and number 5 is fight the fire”. That wisdom has stuck with me ever since. Take the time to stop, breathe and really understand what’s going on before tackling your action items.

With that advice in mind, following are some actions that may help you avoid chaos:

  • Communication – actively provide inclusive, honest, timely communication; be specific and minimize information overload; provide effective feedback; immediately and directly address personnel issues while listening to any underlying reasons for the problem 

  •  Attitude – demonstrate a dedicated and positive attitude; encourage needed changes by sharing the vision rather than making threats; center yourself as chaos arises and mitigate immediately 

  • Empowerment– encourage decision making and allow others to demonstrate their abilities; provide support; enable each other to build trust and loyalty 

  •  Stress – encourage breaks; provide clear and realistic priorities; avoid distractive environments; do not require immediate responses to emails so that the frequency of interrupting one’s focus to check emails can be reduced

We encourage you to reflect on the steps you’re taking to reduce the occurrence of office chaos. May you avoid interrupting your time and dealing with the after effect of fighting fires.

What other steps are being done to mitigate and manage chaos in your workplace?

Someone I know and trust, Diane Testa, is co-hosting a Chicago workshop in January. I want to highlight her message…

“It’s time to acknowledge this past year’s accomplishments and chart your course for 2010.  Are you thriving in your life or in need of a change and new inspiration? In this results-focused workshop, you’ll learn how to live deliberately and create a more fulfilling life rather than have the outside world shape it for you.  With the help of a licensed psychologist, a corporate executive and feedback from peers, you’ll be able to shift your consciousness to a mindful and peaceful place, and walk away with a roadmap to your Good Life. Take advantage of this creative but practical approach to self-awareness, assessing your life inventory, living with intention and overcoming barriers to establishing your own personal definition of success.”

Register or find out more at Finding My Good Life.

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