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How did I finally start meditating on a daily basis?

  • I told someone.
  • I paid someone.
  • I dared to be someone.

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Writing Great Email Subject Lines

Save for the fixed, yet nondescript “Spark Productivity” email subject lines sadly greeting my blog subscribers, I carefully craft my email subject lines for business email using context-rich keywords to empower my recipients (& me!). I am gratefully granted the same courtesy by many a sender.

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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!

The following message is encapsulated in the 3.5-minute video above.

If you’re not willing to champion your own work, then others may never know about it. If they don’t know about, they cannot recognize it in a formal or in a public way. Though you may not be seeking public accolades, here’s a way to selflessly gain recognition with your boss.  

If you don’t already have regular 1:1s scheduled with your boss, then establishing them is job number one. If you’re already conducting these meetings, then perhaps a light shift in how the meetings are structured will give you the microphone you need.  

These are the cornerstones of the structure: 

1. Frequency. Weekly is the most common rhythm for this type of meeting, though daily or monthly meetings might be a better fit for your work volume and/or seniority. 

2. Duration. :30 is the most common set for a weekly meeting. :15 is a better match for daily meetings…and :45-:60 for monthly ones. 

3. Leadership. I recommend you drive the meeting and, importantly, where the meeting is conducted. When you’re talking more, it gives you greater ownership, it allows you to demonstrate your knowledge, and it ensures you know where you’re headed. And when you’re conducting the meeting for a place of your choosing, you can extract your manager from her office so she won’t be distracted by email, phone calls, and visitors. (BTW, if you’re conducting these meeting with your direct reports, you should request that they drive the meeting.) 

4. Content. I suggest constructing the agenda like so:

  • Accomplishments. This is where we get into the recognition piece. The first thing to cover is the prior week’s accomplishments. (Though you may be drawn to avoid this, remember there’s something in it for your manager. She can experience closure for all the things you completed. Once you get comfortable with recognizing your achievements, you’ll blush less when you hear others recognizing your work.)

  • Schedules. This is where you’ll cover pending deadlines, meetings, vacations, and the like. Coming week top priorities. Listing these will ensure the two of you are aligned. 

  • Issues/opportunities. This allows for reactive & proactive planning. 

  • New business/firm news. Allocate a little time for asking about the bigger picture or new items.

Make certain it is socially unacceptable to blow off your meeting. Reschedule…yes. Repeatedly cancel…no. 

What will you do the next time you feel your accomplishments are ignored? When was the last time you drove a meeting where you acknowledged your achievements? How are you regularly touting them so you & your boss are fittingly impressed?

Watch the following video or read the text below to suspend and help others to let go of perfectionism:

If perfectionism vexes you and prevents you from starting or finishing tasks, what words or phrases can you use to suspend the dysfunctional behavior so you can get unstuck? Following are four I find useful:


1 Experiment

For a recovering perfectionist like me, using the word experiment is liberating. When I want to try something new, I approach it as an experiment rather than a cold, hard fact of life. Things instantly get lighter and become approachable. Experiments aren’t perfect, they’re fun!

2 Doing things right versus doing the right things

This was one of the time management jewels from Randy Pausch’s body of work highlighting the failures of focusing on the wrong right.

3 Done is better than perfect

A fellow personal productivity coach taught me the power of this phrase. For instance, having this post published today in its current state is better than having it posted in a few weeks with a few more nuggets of gold. You might need the advice to make your weekend better!

4 Satisfice

One of Life Contained’s time management seminar participants touted the fourth mantra: satifice, a blending of satisfy and suffice.

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy defines it as “an outcome that is good enough. Satisficing action can be contrasted with maximizing action, which seeks the biggest, or with optimizing action, which seeks the best…it is often rational to seek to satisfice i.e. to get a good result that is good enough although not necessarily the best.”

What language do you use to set your inner stickler free?

P.S. Feel free to point out typos and grammatical errors, as my non-perfectionist geek flag is flying freely.

The following message is delivered in the 4-minute video above.

In the last two decades much of our business communication migrated to email. Most companies, however, do not train employees on email etiquette. Consequently, many professionals are making up the rules as they go along…or worse yet, they don’t give email etiquette a thought and send out note after unprofessional note.

May you find the following email suggestions a valuable place to start an email conversation with those you communicate with most.

  1. Use a strong subject line

  2. Put your action at the top of the note

  3. Embed links when you can

  4. Use upper- and lower-case letters

  5. Use salutation and closings…unless you’re in a conversation or you’re mirroring a style

  6. Use a signature…go horizontal to save on space

  7. Create templates to automate frequently-sent messages

  8. Use shorthand to communicate common phrases

  9. Send fewer…many times by considering other forms of communication

  10. Establish rules of engagement in email policy and training

What email etiquette lessons do you find beneficial to your professional reputation? What techniques do you use to save time and frustration in email construction?

Following is an edited passage from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a book I recently finished thanks to my photographer friend.

“In the morning, as a rule, I always take a moment to listen to music…it sets the tone of the day…it is music that helps me to endure…music is not merely a pleasure to the ears the way that gastronomy is to the palate…it’s very simple but also sort of complicated to explain…to write a profound thought, I have to put myself onto a very special stratum…I have to forget myself and at the same time be superconcentrated…and to activate the mechanism there’s nothing better than a little music…

If you’re itching to reach a special stratum this afternoon…to check something important off your list, see if this NPR Tiny Desk Concert featuring Wilco can ignite your productivity engine. Enjoy!

wilco tiny desk concert

BTW, to find the passage I shared, I did not thumb through my book. I searched “the elegance of the hedgehog music” in Google Books and the first result contained what I wanted. That’s right, Google has loads of books scanned and at the ready for you to preview and/or download in PDF form. The also have reference pages, links to buy the book, or borrow one from a library. When I tested the “Find in a library” feature, it delivered several nearby Chicago outlets–the first in Naperville where my office is located.

BTW2, thanks to TowProgram for the Wilco tip.


The following message is encapsulated in the 3.5-minute video above.

Working from a more even-keeled presence on a daily basis requires equal parts prevention and in-the-moment actions.

1. The prevention segment incorporates things like:

  • Planning your work…taking into consideration results, activities and priorities
  • Planning your time…being sure to estimate, schedule and build in flexibility
  • Committing to a single task management system to track your responsibilities
  • Capturing all of your tasks in that system…not capturing half and leaving the other half rattling around in your head
  • Conducting a weekly review to comprehensively acknowledge what you’re doing and what you’re not doing
  • Conducting deliberate 1:1 meetings with folks you report to or who report to you…experimenting with the frequency, duration, who leads the meetings and the content
  • Managing expectations through clearly defined end state, establishing rules of engagement and communicating incessantly

2. The in-the-moment actions are meant to guide the fight or flight response innate to humans and includes things like:

  • Controlling your words…exercising and taking renewal breaks throughout the day to give you more control over your words and reactions before difficult situations arise…during a heated conversation, having a heightened awareness of when the fight or flight response is activated is also helpful…so you can quiet your physiology and hold everyone’s value @ the forefront…and then sometimes the situation will call for you to delay and compose your response and to keep communicating after the event
  • Using a proven formula to respond to criticism with dignity with also help in the moment (sample formula shown in video)
  • As will using a guideline for delivering criticism without launching a personal attack (example guideline shown in video)
  • It bears mentioning, too, that avoiding stress also builds control

What additional methods are you using to foster and maintain your cool?

Before I engage in time management coaching, I require new clients to take a productivity assessment to paint their big picture strengths and challenges. Inspired by a Chicago client and a fellow productivity trainer’s book, I’m going to add assessing drive.

When you have drive, you’re likely…

  • to be motivated to work
  • problem solve with vigor, and
  • get things done quickly without delay

And when you don’t have drive, you’re likely…

  • to have lots of unfinished projects
  • to feel tired throughout the day, and
  • to procrastinate (at a near-professional level)

Uncovering what motivates you so you get your mojo back may be easier than you think. To rejuvenate your drive, pick a project you seem to be avoiding and ask yourself these ten downloadable questions:

questions to get motivated

Most times you’ll not only experience more motivation and drive, but you might feel more playful about your work because of the visual thinking process these questions prescribe.

If you’re not juiced by the end of the exercise, then you should probably turn down or re-assign the project to someone who can get excited about it.

What techniques do you use to regain your drive?

P.S. Thanks to my client for generously creating and sharing his 5-minute juice mind map.  

Following is a quick video to support the information above and provide further suggestions for regaining your drive. 








Thanks to office products powerhouse W.B. Mason, I was in Philadelphia last week training folks on how to customize office products to get more organized using Organizational Bling Bling and coaching people on how to exchange bad email habits for good using our Email Exhale program.

The following videos from the Life Contained Personal Productivity YouTube channel coincide with the email management lessons:

Use X1 to Search


Open to Calendar in Outlook


 Change Send/Receive Settings


 Turn Off Notifications


 Create Outlook Rules


 Customize Outlook Toolbar


 Delay Send by :02

 Monday-Friday Email Folders

Another hot topic among the group was how to add code to Outlook so you never forget another attachment.

What additional videos do you want us to create so time management is improved in your office?

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