How Great Ideas Become Game Changers

Do you have a great idea? Is your idea the proverbial “game changer?” How do you know? Here are four criteria that you can use to evaluate your ideas:

  1. What is the benefit of your idea? What is its return on investment?
  2. What is the cost of your idea? What are its risk factors?
  3. Does your idea have a strategic fit with your organization? It needs to be consistent with your organization’s practices.
  4. How easy will it be to implement your idea? This is a key criterion.

If your idea passes all of the above criteria, then you possibly do have a “game changer!”

Other things to consider in relation to innovative ideas include:

  • Most innovation is incremental. If you have 25 percent of your organization’s people making a difference every day; that will amount to huge change over time. Patience is a virtue.
  • Innovation usually surfaces on the front lines. For instance, it’s the FedEx guy who realizes things can be done better; not FedEx management.
  • Size of the organization is irrelevant when it comes to innovation. However, bureaucracy is the enemy of innovation because it only rewards conservative victories. Be bold!
  • Innovation is sensitive to both new and desired customers. For instance, I believe it was Wayne Gretzky that said, “I don’t skate after the puck, I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
  • Innovation requires champions, but it also requires other things like focus, resources and priorities. It’s about consistency. For instance, if you need a fiscally prudent environment, then it needs to be fiscally prudent every day. Through consistency, the organization can change belief systems.
  • Innovation requires patience. Sometimes results of change can take a long time to show themselves. Remember the first bullet point above: Patience is a virtue.
  • When you have a “game changer” in hand, you need to exploit it. Seek out new markets. Use social media. Get noticed.

Finally, to accelerate innovation, promote its likely causes (e.g., front line workers) and exploit innovation for all its worth. After all, it’s innovation that makes the world move forward. In the words of Peter Drucker, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”  

Improving Productivity by Working from Home

Does working from home improve productivity? A Stanford University study of a Chinese travel agency concluded that it does. 

The study found that employees working from home: 

  • Were 13% more productive (9% worked more hours, taking less breaks and fewer sick days and 4% had higher performance rates per minute – hypothesized to be due to quieter working conditions).
  • Had 50% less attrition.
  • Reported higher feelings of work satisfaction.

Total factor productivity increased between 20 and 30 percent (the increase was due from two sources – efficiency in calls per minute and capital input). In addition, the company estimated annual savings of $1,900 per employee.

The learning from the experiment included the following:

  1. Working from home improves performance.
  2. Allowing employees a choice generated a far greater effect than requiring employees to work from home.
  3. A large sample of treatment and control employees allowed the firm to evaluate the impact on different types of employees.
  4. Management was surprised by the dramatic drop in attrition.

In addition to benefits to employees and employers for working from home, society as a whole sees benefits. These benefits include people choosing where they wish to live (instead of close to the employer’s office), less pollution and traffic congestion from work commutes, and an overall better family and community life because of the flexible hours.

However, improving productivity and saving money by having employees work from home does not work (pardon the pun) for everyone. People need to be able to recognize in themselves whether they have the discipline to perform as well as, or better than, working in an office environment.

Also, some individuals need the socializing that comes with working in an office – these individuals cannot thrive in isolation. For others, a careful balance must be struck.

As John James Jacoby (proclaimed lover of naps) writes: “For me, home was always where cool stuff happened, and the office was where I spent time waiting to go home to make more cool stuff happen.”  

Self-control and pride in one’s work is mandatory for working from home. An ability to complete tasks and communicate effectively with others is also a requirement. Trust is also a big element when working from home – employers need to trust that their employees are doing their best, but they also need to respect schedules and expectations.

I work from home most of the time and I cannot be happier about this arrangement. In fact, my most rewarding client work is done at home. This is likely because I am disciplined and have the necessary self-control about my work. It also helps that I love what I do.

Overpowering Boredom

Many people experience boredom, but did you know that there are different types of boredom? And that each of us usually experiences a specific “type” of boredom consistent with our personalities?

According to 2006 research published in the journal of Motivation and Emotion, there are five different types of boredom (a follow-up study in 2013 identified a fifth type – apathetic). Here is a summary of each type:

  1. Indifferent – These individuals appear to be calm and withdrawn. Sometimes, they can appear to be very relaxed. Jessica Leber of Co.Exist also uses the term “cheerful fatigue” to describe this type of boredom.
  2. Calibrating – These individuals have wandering thoughts. They are willing to engage in almost any activity that will get them out of the boredom inducing activity. Calibrating boredom usually stems from engaging in repetitive tasks.
  3. Searching – These individuals experience negative feelings and unpleasant restlessness. They actively search for a way out by focusing on alternate activities.
  4. Reactant – This boredom is the most mind-numbing. Individuals experiencing this boredom may be highly aroused and hold a lot of negative emotions. They may also be restless and aggressive. Their way of escaping this boredom is to blame others for their situation and escape from them by thinking of places and situations where they would rather be than in their current surroundings.
  5. Apathetic – This boredom is similar to helplessness and may be a contributor to depression (according to researcher Thomas Goetz and his colleagues). “At least 36 percent of high school students in the survey reported it.” People with this type of boredom generally show little arousal and a lot of aversion.”

Boredom does not have to be, well, so boring. It can be turned into a powerhouse of productivity with just a few little tweaks to our day. Here are seven things you can do right now to turn your humdrum into a welcome main attraction:

  1. Take a break. Get rid of your world-weariness by removing yourself from your current environment and do something engaging – something that makes you happy. Use a “Happy App” to help you get into a better headspace that will, in turn, help you defeat your feelings of boredom.
  2. Listen to music. Or tune into your favourite radio station while at work. When experiencing a monotonous task, listen to the radio for uplift before returning to your task.
  3. Schedule your day to work in 25 minute spurts. Those who work 25 minutes, then do something else for five-to-ten minutes are more productive than those who do not divert their attention from their work. For instance, during your five-to-ten minute shift away from work, e-mail a friend, surf the Internet, plan your weekend, or call your mother-in-law!
  4. Get more involved in your work. While the work might be boring, think of a new way to approach the task. Perhaps reviewing your past activities at work and researching how to improve your job overall might be a way to re-do your job completely. In the process, it may even result in a raise and high praise for a job well done.
  5. Make a change. Evaluate your work environment. Maybe you need a new chair? Does your desk need rearranging or decluttering? Make yourself aware of things around you that you can improve. And improve it/them!
  6. Learn something new. There is nothing more monotonous than doing the same old thing in the same old way for days/weeks/months/years. Defeat tedium by expanding your mind. Read a good book (educational or not), ask your co-worker to teach you their job, take a night class, or go finish your Master’s Degree.
  7. Don’t stew. If you feel you have tried it all, but you just can’t get rid of your boredom, talk to your boss. Together, you can figure out how to improve your job, so that you and your organization will experience maximum productivity from your efforts.

In the end, don’t let monotony control you and your day. It’s much better to have multiple tasks to juggle than it is to suffer in joyless work.

In short, if your situation is suffocating your happiness, then change your situation! We all have the power to change our own circumstance.

Open Office – Productivity Enabler or Slasher?

Today, about 70 percent of employees in the U.S. work in open offices.  Despite this high number, you may be surprised to learn that the open office concept is not the be-all and end-all for everyone. Success depends on personal work styles and personalities and how well workers can adapt to the high level of distraction served up by open offices.  

According to the International Management Facility Association, workers in open plan offices get sick more often (62 percent more sick days on average), they don’t like the noise (sound and temperature are the most important factors in the environment), older workers really don’t like the noise (those over 45 are more sensitive to noise and temperature), and open offices deplete productivity.

The biggest impact on productivity tends to be distractions such as overhearing conversations, ringing phones and noisy machines Tonya Smith-Jackson and Katherine Klein in the Journal of Environmental Psychology identified reduced motivation, decreased job satisfaction and lower perceived privacy as factors negatively affecting productivity.

Another finding in the Journal of Environment and Behaviour confirmed that workers in open offices are more stressed and less satisfied with their work environment. After returning to survey the same workers six months later, researchers learned that not only were workers still unhappy with their new office, but their team relations broke down even further.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the noise in open offices decreases cognitive performance. Psychologist Nick Perham states that office commotion impairs workers’ ability to recall information and even to do basic arithmetic. Listening to music to block out office intrusion does not help – even that impairs mental acuity.

While open offices seem to be better suited to younger workers, a study in 2012 by Heidi Rasila and Peggie Rothe found that certain types of noise such as conversations and laughter are equally distracting to Generation Y workers as they are to their older counterparts. However, younger workers enjoyed the camaraderie of open spaces, valuing their time spent socializing with coworkers. And while younger workers acknowledge the “problems” of open offices, they see them as fair trade-offs for a greater good.

But the trade-off is not as great as it might seem. Regardless of age, when we are exposed to too many inputs at once – a computer screen, conversation, music, telephones, email alerts – our senses become overloaded and more work is required of us to achieve a desired result. Those unable to screen out distractions in the office are frantic multitaskers.

According to Maria Konnikova (Open Office Trap), as a workplace norm, the multitasking millennial seems to be more open to distraction. However, their wholehearted embrace of open offices may be ingraining a cycle of underperformance in their generation:  They enjoy, build, and proselytize for open offices, but may also suffer the most from them in the long run.

It seems that the tried and true traditional offices that include cubicles are still the best despite their drawbacks. Research leads us to believe that employees are far more productive (and happier) in these controlled and focus-driven environments than in the open office.

Taming Insomnia to Improve Productivity

There are so many reasons to get a good night’s sleep: you feel better, you look better, you perform better, people like being around you … in short, sleep allows us to be our best self. And the benefits of quality sleep extend beyond feelings - ranging from reducing stress to improving productivity.

Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. When we lose even one hour of sleep, we experience fatigue the next day and our ability to function may be as effective as an individual whose blood alcohol level is .08.

Not sleeping enough also has other implications, including:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
  • Reduced immunity
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems

What do you do, then, if insomnia prevents you from dropping off right away? A study by Nancy Digdon and Amy Koble, published in Applied Psychology in May 2011, found that sleep interventions such as constructive worry, imagery distraction, or gratitude all provide effective relief from insomnia.

Here is how the techniques work. 

  1. Constructive worry. Set aside 15 minutes earlier in the day (before 8:00 p.m.) and write out worries and concerns that are likely to interfere with sleep and steps toward their resolution. Then, if worry creeps in at bedtime, remind yourself that you already devoted time to these concerns, and that you will do so again tomorrow when you are less tired and better able to think of good solutions.
  2. Imagery distraction. This involves closing your eyes and imagining a situation that is interesting and engaging, as well as pleasant and relaxing. For instance, imagine being on a holiday, a sunny beach, or a happy family occasion. This will calm your mind, allowing you to drift to sleep.
  3. Gratitude. This is another distraction technique. When one is under stress, it is common to be preoccupied with worries and concerns, and to ignore the positive experiences in one’s life. Shifting your attention to the things you are grateful for (i.e., all the positive events in your life) is a distraction from worry. Focusing on the positives lifts your mood and allows you to fall asleep more easily.

If you are sleep deprived, try one or all of the above techniques to help you get and stay sleep, so you can wake up feeling refreshed.

And remember to schedule enough time for sleep every day by making sleep a top priority on your “to-do list.”

Changing Behaviour by Changing Situations

You’ve probably heard it before: “He’s so stubborn.” “She won’t listen.” “They just don’t seem to get how this new product will help them with their work.” “They’re so negative.” When dealing with those who resist change, this innuendo is familiar. 

But it may surprise you to learn that people are not always the problem when there is resistance to change. In fact, more frequently, the situation, not the person, is the common cause.

In their book Switch, Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain this phenomenon succinctly. A study about eating habits included free popcorn to moviegoers. Either large or medium sized buckets were distributed. With portion sizes being intentionally large, individuals could not eat all of the popcorn. In addition, the popcorn was stale – popped five days ago.

The researchers hypothesized that people with bigger buckets would eat more popcorn. Their hypothesis was correct. The bigger eaters were those with the bigger buckets. In fact, they ate 53 percent more!

Viewing the data without knowing the difference in bucket sizes, you might easily conclude that 53 percent of moviegoers eat a lot of popcorn. Or that popcorn intake is 53 percent higher at movie theatres than other venues, and so on. You may even start thinking about ways to motivate these gluttons to change to healthier ways of eating. 

Notice that as we jump to conclusions, we immediately think about how to change the person or the person’s behaviour. And we don’t usually delve into the situation to understand what caused the behaviour in the first place.  

In this experiment, we know that the bucket size contributed to the amount of popcorn eaten. Therefore, change the situation and you change the behaviour: Change the bucket size and people will eat less popcorn. How easy is that? 

When one changes the situation, there is no need to act on the individual, to motivate or cajole them into changing their behaviour. The new situation allows the individual to change their behaviour without, perhaps, even knowing that they’ve changed. 

Next time you face resistance to change, look at the environment. What situation can you change to positively affect a desired outcome? The solution may be as easy as changing bucket sizes.

Improving Work Performance

How’s your productivity? Does the mere mention of the word stir unease? And what about all those uber-organized work colleagues? How is it that they really seem to be on top of their work and, yet, here you are constantly struggling to keep up?

You may be surprised to learn that there’s no secret to improving work performance. It’s all about being organized. And the best part of all is that it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

Improving work performance is about being productive. It’s about doing the right things in the right way to yield maximum output. It’s about planning and prioritizing to make that happen. And it’s also about protecting your time.

To help you be more productive and use your time effeciently, here are ten suggestions.

  1. Arrange your physical work environment. Organize your workspace so that everything you use has a “home.” After use, always return items to their home. This takes discipline and a lot of work at first, but becomes habit with practice.
  2. Arrange your electronic files. When electronic files are arranged in a hierarchy that enables cross-organizational sharing, there is less duplication of files, no silos of information, and retrieval time is improved dramatically. Use a functional subject-based classification system for optimum efficiency and productivity.
  3. Use appropriate tools. No amount of arranging or organizing is going to help you work at your best if your tools are out-of-date. Still using Windows 95? Or DOS? Invest in current technology, a nicer website, and appropriate resources to help you be more productive. Not making the investment will bog you down, create frustration, and lead to regularly “burning the midnight oil.”
  4. Check-in with your list. As you make commitments, write them down, and check-in with your list every day. Lists help us manage our time and free our minds of mental energy that we would otherwise spend on tracking our “to-do’s.” If you write down what you need to do instead of keeping it in your head, you’ll also experience less stress and better sleep.
  5. Do it now. At work or at home, if a task takes five minutes or less, then do it now. If it’s going to take longer, then write it on your list and schedule time to do the task. Organized people don’t procrastinate on tasks that they can easily complete within a few minutes.
  6. Uni-task. While multitasking may seem like you’re accomplishing more, you are in fact accomplishing less across more area. To be truly efficient, effective, and productive, focus on one task, giving it your full attention. Turn off email pop-ups and calendar reminders. Protect your time to gain productive results.
  7. Problem-solve; don’t blame. If you happen to get sidetracked or encounter a challenge that impacts your work, use a problem-solving approach. Author Hillary Rettig gives the following example about someone engaging in inner defeatist dialogue: “What’s wrong with you? This is easy! Anyone can do it! Why are you so lazy? And with all the money you just spent on classes! What a loser!” Instead, focus on a solution: “Oh, I’m underproductive. That’s interesting. Let’s see what’s going on and how I can fix it.”
  8. Work with your energy cycle. Instead of time management, work to suit your daily energy levels. If you have high energy in the morning, then schedule the most difficult or more creative work in the morning. Don’t try to accomplish critical tasks when your energy is at a lull.
  9. Know thyself. Organized people know their strengths and weaknesses and reflect a high sense of self-worth. Ask for help to complete work on time. Just because it’s in your job description does not mean you need to do it all yourself. Think of your time as a resource that has value. Perfectionists and high achievers may not be comfortable letting anyone else share the reins, but interpersonal support goes a long way in managing stress.
  10. De-stress. Most people operate in a state of chronic stress, but those who are able to focus and stay organized are able to manage stress. The most effective way to manage stress is to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. This can be a brisk walk, meditation, yoga, whatever works for you – just don’t sit at your computer all day.

Practicing the above suggestions takes motivation to get started. Once started, habit will keep you moving to become more organized and productive. You will also become a happier person, overall.

Bouncing Around

Did you know that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent? As surprising as this number is, what is more surprising is that those who multitask believe that they are being more productive than if they focus on one task at a time. Let’s have a closer look at multitasking.

The first thing to consider is that no one can truly multitask. What they are doing is “task switching.” According to Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries: “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount. It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviors like walking or chewing gum.”

If one is task switching, then the way to save time is to batch your tasks. For instance, if you need to attend meetings, then schedule your meetings all in one day or half-day. This way, you get into the necessary mindset required for meetings and you get meetings done all at once (or in chunks of time). This is much better than having one meeting every day.

Switching frequently between tasks can also introduce errors into your work. This is especially true if your work involves a lot of critical thinking. A 2010 French study concluded that while the human brain can handle two complicated tasks without too much trouble, introducing a third task can overwhelm the frontal cortex and increase the number of mistakes.

Another reason not to multitask is that it increases stress. A University of California found that employees who received a steady stream of email stayed in a perpetual “high alert” mode with higher heart rates. Those without constant access multitasked less and were also less stressed.

Multitasking also increases “inattentional blindness.” One study found that 75% of college students who walked across a street while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby. While the brain did not register seeing the clown, there is real danger in inattentional blindness. What if a speeding car was heading toward you while you were engaged on your cell phone?

Multitasking makes it harder to switch between tasks. This is especially true as our brains age. A 2011 study from the University of California in San Francisco concluded that it becomes harder to get back on track after interruptions. This is because sudden interruptions forcing us to focus on another task disrupts short term memory.

All of this begs the question, “Do those who say they can multitask actually multitask and do they do it well?” According to a 2013 University of Utah study, if you engage in multitasking frequently, you are much worse at it than those who only engage occasionally.

The next time you feel the need to bounce around between tasks, STOP. Instead, prioritize and schedule your work to focus on one task at a time. To become more productive, do not divide your attention between tasks. And remember that overall, frequent multitasking or task switching leads to more harm than good.

The Problem with Problems

Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to be a problem? Your children are late for school, you miss the bus, and as you arrive at work, you realize that you forgot your meeting notes at home.

On top of that, two of your employees call in sick and before you get a chance to browse your e-mail inbox, your spouse calls asking if you can pick up your son from school because he’s sick. OMG, right?

If you determine that the above scenario qualifies as a problem(s) (i.e., one of “those” days!), you are using what experts call “deficit thinking.” That is, by focusing on problems, our plans of action will be concerned with fixing the problem or correcting the “deficit.” This kind of thinking can be seen not only in our personal lives, but in our organizations, as well.

Consider this: If we spend the majority of our time focusing on what is wrong with our organization, we can overlook what is right. And every organization has a mix of right and wrong. But organizations that look at what is right or what is working well, are able to shift their concerns to create more opportunities for success.

This “appreciative inquiry” approach energizes, motivates, and helps organizations emphasize its strengths rather than its weaknesses. In contrast, deficit thinking zaps our energy, de-motivates, and when one is only focusing on problems, all that can be seen are weaknesses.

This is not to say that organizations should ignore the problems or that problems will go away through appreciative inquiry. Problems must be resolved as they arise. If not, they can multiply like viruses. There is a time and place for both appreciative inquiry and deficit thinking, with the latter being extremely useful for immediate resolutions.

There are several things that organizations can do to fix problems. The most important thing, however, is to distinguish problems from symptoms. If one works on correcting symptoms, then the problem never goes away. For example, kids being late for school, you missing the bus and forgetting your meeting notes are the symptoms—the problem is that you didn’t give yourself enough time to manage your morning.

Flipping the symptoms and problems on their heads, the fact that you were running late all morning gave you more time to spend with your children. Now that’s an opportunity worth cherishing.

In addition to the appreciative inquiry versus deficit thinking approaches to problems, another way to frame our “problems” is to use Stephen Covey’s 90-10 Principle. This principle says that we are in control of 90 percent of what happens in our lives because of the choices we make. We can choose to rush through life or take a leisurely pace. We can choose to react in anger when something goes wrong or look on the bright side.

The problem with problems isn’t a problem at all. It’s an opportunity to grow personally and to improve organizational effectiveness that, in turn, helps us learn innovative ways of handling problems. And in so doing, you might discover that you will have fewer problems to solve in the long term.

Managing Energy to Manage Time

Did you know that the higher your energy, the better your ability to manage your time? It’s true. Since there are no limits on our energy, we can use our energy within available time to produce more. The trick is in understanding our individual limitations on available energy. Let me explain.

Each of us reacts to both emotional and physical stimuli differently. Some things energize us, where other things de-energize. For example, my energy soars when I identify the cause of a problem that inhibits efficiency. Then I get really creative in identifying solutions. On the flip side, my energy depletes when I work on mundane and repetitive tasks. Others might find the opposite effect.

When your energy soars, it’s like your battery recharges—a sudden burst of energy makes you feel more alive, more capable, and certainly better able to cope with whatever is thrown your way. The interesting thing about this “recharged” feeling is that it enables you to do more in less time. And the way we can sustain this feeling is by taking care of ourselves to ensure that our energy levels are at their optimum.

Here’s how to recharge and sustain energy levels for maximum productivity.

  1. Exercise regularly. Every day, schedule time for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise. Go for a walk, run, lift weights, do whatever is necessary to wake up your body.
  2. Determine your personal energy cycle. For three days, keep a log of your energy levels. For every hour (from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed), rate your energy level from 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Review your log at the end of three days and identify your peak energy levels.
  3. Use your peak energy levels to work on the most important, most challenging, and most focused work. When we do this, our productivity increases dramatically.
  4. Create your ideal day. Use your peak energy levels to work on long-range and interim goals, choosing tasks that will achieve your goals. Schedule and work on low-energy tasks during your non-peak energy times.
  5. Manage yourself every day to achieve both your career and personal goals. There is no magic and no quick solution for this. You will get out of your day what you put into your day.

In addition to the above, make time for fun activities that will boost your energy. How about lunch with your BFF? Or playing a game of Scrabble or Words with Friends? Or maybe a coffee with your boss to discuss your career strategy is the perfect energizer?

Whatever you do, use your energy wisely and boost it when you can. When you do, your mood will be lighter and you will get everything done more effectively and efficiently. In fact, it will feel as if you have more hours in your day. That’s the result of managing ourselves to boost our energy.