Category Archives: Personal Productivity

Ready to quit? I’m not here to stop you…but try these things first.

Boots by Phil Roeder

I’ve quit a lot of jobs.  And not just burger-flipper kind of jobs.  Real, career-level jobs.  With nothing lined up to take their place.  Do I recommend this as a career strategy?  Um…no.  But, my chronic dissatisfaction has taught me to tell the difference between real job issues and me just needing an overhaul, mentally and physically.  If you’re feeling burnt-out and uninspired in your job, try these before you throw in the towel:

Get some exercise.  Doing this is a constant battle for me, even though I know I will feel 10x better if I move my body regularly.  So I get that it’s extra hard when you’re unhappy in your job.  But you’ve just got to do it.  Exercise releases endorphins, which improves your mood.  It improves flexibility, something you’ll appreciate if your desk job is leaving you an aching, contorted mess.  And it gives you the energy and stamina to do other important things, like professional training, strategic volunteering or pounding the pavement for your next gig.

Find a hobby.  Find something outside of work that lights you up.  It doesn’t matter what it is, but you need something to look forward to at the end of the work day.  Having something to think (and talk) about besides your crappy job will make you happier and easier to be around.  And connecting with people who share your personal interests is a non-greasy way to network and can lead to unexpected professional opportunities.

Take stock.  When you’re feeling beat up, the temptation is to jump ship and hope for the best.  But the “anywhere but here” approach often sets you up to be just as unhappy in the next gig.  (Trust me, I know.)  Think hard about what it is that you really dislike about your current job.  It might not be what you first think.  And consider what parts of it you actually enjoy.  These are clues to where you might want to go next.  Then take an honest look at your skill set and decide if it fits a career trajectory you can be happy with over the next 5-10-20 years.  If it doesn’t, you have the starting point for crafting your next move.


(Photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)



Fighting negative self-talk…with water?

monochrome by Steve Johnson

Do you have a phrase that seems to pop into your mind unbidden, like a sort of mental tic?

I do:

“I’m tired.”

Now, I have a toddler, so I actually am tired quite a lot of the time.  But not nearly as often as this phrase runs through my head.

It’s like an internal sigh, when I’ve gotten plenty of rest but my energy is low or my task list seems extra long.  Sometimes, I hear myself say it and I don’t even know why.

It’s a negative habit that impacts my perspective and I need to break it.

So here’s what I’m trying:

When I hear myself think “I’m tired“, I quickly go and chug a glass of water.

The action takes me out of my head and refocuses me elsewhere, so I don’t start to dwell on the negative thought.  And, since tiredness can be a symptom of mild dehydration, drinking water helps improve how my body feels overall.

Mind and body taken care of?  Seems like a win-win.

Let me know what you think.


(Photo by Steve Johnson via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Stumbling into focused work.

Focused Work

Today’s the day you’re going to get some serious work done.  You sit down at your device of choice and start by checking your email…then a quick stop on Facebook…over to see what’s happening on Twitter…oh, this article looks interesting.  Okay, one more check of email…

Sound familiar?  Suddenly an hour of “work” has passed and you’ve gotten nothing done.  For me, it’s that plus a splitting headache.  I’ve had my eyes checked and they’re essentially fine for my age (sigh) and I did invest in those funky orange-tinted readers to reduce computer eye-strain.  My office ergonomics could use some work and I’m looking for a good yoga class. But mostly, if I stay in one position too long, my neck and shoulders punish me.

So I’ve adapted by working in short increments, interspersed with other activities.  15-20 minutes of focused work on the PC, then onto something that requires movement – stretches, chores, chasing the toddler, etc.

And I’m finding that this is actually super productive.  Out of necessity, I’m breaking my to-do list down into small tasks that can be done in a short window.  So, for example, instead of one big item like “write blog post“, I have several smaller tasks – “write draft“, “find blog photo“, “prep links“.

I’m liking the satisfaction of crossing multiple items off my list each day and it has given me an increased sense of momentum.  And most importantly, it’s forcing me to be focused when I’m at the computer.  I’m able to avoid social media and other distractions because I have a clear idea of what I want to get done and a limited window of time in which to do it.

I have this fantasy of long stretches of uninterrupted work, but as a mom, I don’t really have that luxury much.  And, honestly, waiting for that special time to work is just another form of procrastination.  So for now, I’m glad that my aching head is forcing me to be more efficient.

How about you?  Have you found that having a time limit increases your productivity?


Opening the door to creative possibilities.

yes and no by abhi

I’m always intrigued when I find the same idea popping up in two totally different contexts.  It makes me think the universe is saying,  Hey.  Seriously.  Think about this.

This happened to me with the phrase “Yes, and…”.

The concept comes from improvisational theater and the rule is, when asked a question or given a suggestion, you must reply with “Yes, and…”.

I read the idea first in Parents magazine as a means of playing more creatively with your kids, and then found the concept again in Dan Pink‘s book on sales, To Sell is Human.

Here’s the thing:

Using ” Yes, and…” opens the door to creative possibilities. 

It forces you to use your imagination and encourages participation.

And it’s a lot harder than it sounds.

In trying to incorporate this idea into my own life, it has made me aware of how often I use the phrase “Yes, but…”.

Where “Yes, and…” opens the door, responding with “Yes, but…” closes it.  It negates what the other person said and effectively shuts down the conversation.

Consider this:

A team member comes to you with an interesting but unexpected professional development opportunity.  How do you respond?

Yes, but it’s not in the budget.”
Yes, and we can review the budget to see if there are any extra funds available.”

See the difference??

Try using “Yes, and…” and observe how your personal and professional interactions can be enhanced simply by your choice of phrase.


Originally posted July 1, 2013

This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.

(Photo by *_Abhi_* via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


When did overwhelm become a noun?

Mosaic Salsa by brillianthues (cropped)

As in “How to Fight Overwhelm” or “Overcoming the Overwhelm.”

This use of overwhelm as a noun is a pet peeve of mine.  Now, I don’t exactly consider myself the Grammar Police.  I can overlook the occasional your/you’re or there/their mistake.  I can appreciate the creative use of language.  (Think different.)  And I understand that language evolves.  (Because internet.)  So why does this overwhelm thing get under my skin?

Feeling overwhelmed.  Finding a task overwhelming.  These are transitive states.

But when we take overwhelm as a noun, it becomes something outside ourselves.  An entity.  A separate thing that we can’t control.  It implies that taking on more than we can handle is an unavoidable fact of modern life.  Like gridlock.  Or the Kardashians.

But is it?  We certainly have an increasingly large number of demands on our time, energy and attention.  But to overwhelm is an action.  We need to remain clearheaded about who is putting stressful demands on our resources.  Because ultimately, it is a person, and likely, it’s ourselves.

I find this much easier to deal with than some amorphous entity we’ve dubbed Overwhelm.

What do you think?


(Photo by brillianthues via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Get on the list: Email you’ll look forward to reading.

Mailbox Peak by Rodrigo Hermann (cropped)

We hear a lot about how people are overwhelmed with email – how they dread the barrage of constant information.  But I’m not sure that the amount of email is the whole problem.  I think it’s more a question of quality.  There’s mundane, useless email and then there’s thoughtful, content-rich email.

Below are a few folks that I look forward to seeing in my inbox because I’ve found them to consistently add value.


iDoneThis is not only a great daily productivity tool for individuals and teams, but they also offer a well-curated weekly newsletter.

What you get:

  • An “appetizer” selection of links from the iDoneThis blog
  • An “entree” exploring how people and companies do their best work.
  • A “dessert” question, quote, or other inspiration

(There was mention of possible changes to the schedule recently, so don’t hold me to the weekly part).


Ann Friedman is a freelance columnist who writes about politics, gender and culture.  I look forward to The Ann Friedman Weekly arriving in my inbox every Friday.

What you get:

  • Links to Ann’s own writing
  • Links to what Ann finds interesting in pop culture
  • Pie charts
  • GIFspirations


Jeff Goins, of Goins, Writer, offers a variety of advice on “better writing and living” and his passion for the work comes through in his email newsletter.

What you get:

  • Thoughtful essays on writing, creating value and building a community
  • Insider access to the author’s eBooks and other resources


I’ve recommended Satya Inayat Khan‘s Unfolded Note before but I find the format so original, I have to keep telling you about it.  I don’t always read them when they arrive at 3:00am but it has happened.

What you get:

  • Reflections on parenting and human connection
  • One beautifully written story per email


I also like:
Tara Gentile
Sarah Von Bargen

How about you?  What email lists would your recommend?


(Photo by Rodrigo Hermann via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)


Has your routine become a rut?

Carousel by Dominic Alves

Today I went out to lunch.

With my 2 year old.

For no reason.

It wasn’t a special occasion.  I wasn’t meeting a friend to “catch up”.  I just decided to stop at a restaurant before finishing our errands.  This may not sound that outlandish to some, but for me, it was something of a first.  See, I’m a person of routines.  I like my schedules.  I like having a plan.  And with a kid, this has served me well.  He and I know what to expect of each other.

And it works from a professional perspective, too.  I believe consistent work habits are crucial to accomplishing large tasks.  And a set routine frees one’s mind for important decisions and complex problem solving.

But being efficient only matters if you’re accomplishing something worthwhile.  Something meaningful.  Routines and habits are only half the battle.  You also need inspiration.

You need to mix it up.

Try something new.

Do things that remind you that life isn’t just a series of tasks to be checked off a list.


(Photo by Dominic Alves via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)