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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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What percentage of the tasks you complete are first documented in a to-do system? What threshold do you think you should aspire to capture? We think it should be nearly 100%.

“…if you’re already in a mess, you’re not free to make one.” David Allen

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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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I recently enjoyed an article about the 7 Bad Habits of Insanely Productive People and wanted to share these fun, yet highly relatable insights. I’m not suggesting you adopt all of them. Am I pointing out that if you have some of them, they should no longer be excuses for not producing greatness. In addition to greed, self doubt, and arrogance, these traits seem worth noticing:

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Time is a highly cherished commodity both professionally and personally, yet there never seems to be enough. It is possible (probable, even) to feel paradoxically as though you have more time by SPENDING some of your precious time helping other people. In fact, this < 13-minute podcast

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As we connect with colleagues, the options for outings continue to grow. Some contacts are best served by a coffee meet up or over a gourmet meal. Others prefer viewing a sporting event or trying a hand at golf. And now a growing trend involves taking connections to the gym.

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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!

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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?

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When you vacation from work and day to day responsibilities, do you vacation from email as well? How nice is it to completely step away from all tasks so that when returning you have renewed energy and perspective? 

When finding the opportunity for a brief moment to hibernate from day to day tasks, many of us take our email along for the trip. There may be times when keeping a finger on the pulse of what is coming in and having confidence that critical issues are at bay does allow for renewal, as long as you refrain from entanglement in the nitty gritty. Adding a few personal days at the end of a business trip may fall into this category. If you have purposeful boundaries, then keeping an eye on the horizon while stepping away may not be unreasonable, but it will detract from relaxation and escape. 

Thus, the greatest opportunity for renewal comes in completely setting out to sea and requires us to briefly let go. Most people are comfortable leaving email behind for their honeymoon, but then we fall back into feeling obligated to check email when vacationing and before we know it, a few email responses swallow up precious time and energy.

We encourage you to be aware of your email practices while on vacation and to take advantage of automated email responses, delegation, and empowering others to be contacted on your behalf, in your absence. This may push you out of your comfort zone for work emails, but will provide abundantly in renewal and productivity upon your return.

Does checking your email take away from your ability to break free and relax? 

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email exhaleJoin us at our Chicago workshop: Email Exhale Wednesday, September 26 6:30-8pm at Catalyst Ranch if you’d like to explore other healthy email habits. Register for the class through Dabble.

We would love to see you there!

Have you noticed people whispering into their smartphones? Do you do it yourself? Using phone dictation tools encourages such behavior–and saves time.

Depending on the type and version of your smartphone, there are built-in voice recorders and apps that provide dictation ability without cost. Dictation allows hands-free recording of messages conveniently on the phone you are carrying. The voice recognition software automatically converts the recording to text which is up to five times faster than using the keyboard.

iphone-dictation-efficiency

On the iPhone 4S (w/iOS 5), when the keyboard appears, tap the microphone icon to the left of the space bar and start talking. Tap done, and your words will appear as text. Use dictation to write messages, take notes, and more. Dictation also works with third-party apps, so you can update your Facebook status, tweet, or write and send Instagrams.

Speak punctuation words and phrases and see them translated into punctuation marks. For instance, say:

  • Comma
  • Period
  • Open/close parenthesis
  • Exclamation point
  • Colon
  • Ampersand
  • Question mark
  • Apostrophe
  • Quote
  • Hyphen
  • Dash
  • Semicolon
  • Slash
  • New line
  • New paragraph

And when on the go, iPhone 4S (w/iOS 5) users can ask their built-in voice control software, Siri, to call people, set up reminders and appointments, do Google searches, send texts and email messages, play music, and more.

Likewise, Siri users can experience their phones whispering back. They can ask Siri to read incoming text or email messages if they arrive when they are walking, driving, or in major sunlight.

For more on how we are going to use dictation to save time capturing notes, please visit this time management blog post. In what ways have you adopted dictation? What tips can you add?


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Sue Becker Spark Productivity trainer, Sue Becker, works with people and organizations that want to do and achieve more — and feel more fulfilled in the process.
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