How Multi-Tasking Can Tank Your Productivity

For more than a decade, Dr. Daniel Simons and his colleagues studied a form of invisibility known as inattentional blindness.

In the best-known demonstration, Simons showed a video and asked people to count how many times basketball players in white shirts passed a ball. After 30 seconds, a woman in a gorilla suit sauntered into the scene, faced the camera, thumped her chest and walked away. Half the viewers missed her. In fact, some people looked right at the gorilla and did not see it.

That video was a sensation, so a 2010 sequel again featured the gorilla (as expected). This time, viewers were so focused on watching for the gorilla that they overlooked other unexpected events like the changing background color.

How could they miss something right before their eyes? Inattentional blindness. Humans consciously see only a small subset of our visual world, and when we focus on one thing, we overlook others.

The Statistics on Multi-Tasking

Most people are unaware of the limits of their attention, which can cause dangerous situations (like texting and driving).

What about multi-tasking at work? A majority of people spend time bouncing between calls, e-mails, and creative tasks, believing that this plate-spinning approach makes them more efficient.

But studies suggest that multi-tasking is a problem, not an asset. Data shows that multi-tasking causes you to make more mistakes, retain less information, and fragment brain function. Here’s why.

Any time you need to pay attention, the prefrontal cortex of your brain begins working. Focusing on a single task means both sides of your prefrontal cortex are working together in harmony, but adding secondary tasks forces the left and right sides of the brain to operate independently. Scientists from the Paris Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) found that this “brain split” caused subjects to forget details and to make three times more mistakes.

Another study found that participants who multi-tasked during cognitive tasks experienced an IQ score decline similar to those who have stayed up all night. Some of the multi-tasking men had their IQ drop 15 points, leaving them with the average IQ of an 8-year-old child. That’s some jaw-dropping data!

So how can you avoid the multi-tasking “trap?” Here are four suggestions:

Place Lower Priority Projects Out Sight

When juggling assignments at work, intentionally stop and place lower priority projects out of sight.

Mute notifications from your e-mail or phone, send calls to voicemail, or put a sign on your door saying you will not be available for the next __ minutes. Give full attention to one project at a time and your creativity and efficiency will increase.

Use Time-Blocking

Rather than bouncing between tasks, map out chunks of time for each project. Twenty-minute blocks are a great way to schedule your most valuable time slots.

Turn Off Your Phone

Keep your phone off the table during meetings and turned off during peak productivity sessions.

Log Off Email

Studies show that the average professional spends about 23 percent of their day in e-mail.

But an Irvine study found when employees were cut off from e-mail for five days, heart tracking monitors revealed a decrease in stress and an increase in mental endurance. Employees who switch screens less often minimize multi-tasking and work more efficiently.

Consider limiting availability with automatic-reply settings like this: “I am not available at this time but will be checking messages again at 2 p.m. For immediate assistance, contact ________.”

Just Say No

The next time you’re tempted to multi-task, just say NO! You may think you’re getting more done, but you’re probably wrong.

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3 Ways to Help Your Team Love Mondays

3 Ways to Help Your Team Love Mondays

In 1966, an American band called the “The Mamas, and the Papas” released a song about Monday that captured the mood of millions of people regarding that dreaded first day of the workweek:

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.

Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way…

Every other day, every other day, every other day of the week is fine, yeah . . .

But whenever Monday comes, but whenever Monday comes . . . you can find me cryin’ all of the time.”

How to Kick Those Monday Blues

It’s true. Not many of us look forward to the start of the week.

Half of all workers will be late to their jobs on Monday mornings. The abrupt transition from a free weekend to the grind makes many people miserable. But Mondays don’t have to be a drag. While you can’t magically get your team excited to head back to work on Mondays, there are a few things you can do to make Mondays a bit better.

Ax Monday Meetings

How often do you say something like, “let’s follow up on that first thing Monday morning?”

The start of the week may feel like the perfect time to reconnect and launch a new week. However, research shows that Monday mornings are actually a time when many people are at their most energetic and creative levels.

Rick’s investment team found that, when scheduling Monday morning meetings, they unwittingly drained energy levels and decreased momentum. By giving team members several hours alone to start the day, Monday morning “jump starts” made mid-day meetings much more effective.

Team Breakfast

Pivotal, a software company based in San Francisco, believes company breakfasts are the key to building a cohesive company culture.

They actually serve breakfast EVERY DAY of the work week!

What makes Mondays better? Breakfast! Serving food warms people’s hearts and bonds your co-workers. Occasional Monday breakfasts can soften the workweek blues, build camaraderie in your team, and give people healthy fuel to launch into the routine.

A team breakfast doesn’t have to be strictly social. You can also use this time to brief people on announcements, share upcoming projects, or celebrate workplace wins for your team.

Friday Fun Days

A typical five-day workweek is a given for most managers.

But, did you know that 15 percent of companies have started implementing four-day workweeks?

Reusser Design, an Indiana Web app development company, slashed their hours from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursdays. Founder Nate Reusser says that the policy motivates everyone to work faster and with greater focus, much like the way people work just before going on vacation.

“You wouldn’t believe how much we get done,” Reusser said.

Four-day workweeks can boost morale and increase  Employees with a shorter workweek are usually more enthusiastic when returning to work, and those energy levels fuel higher outputs.

Could your business consider taking one Friday off each month, or implementing half days on summer Fridays? A happier, more productive workforce may be worth the sacrifice!

Lighten That Monday Mood

In the US, approximately 100 million full-time employees aren’t engaged at work, which means a staggering 51 percent of people are slogging through their days on the payroll.

Underperformers can have a devastating effect on your company, but often a simple remedy can transform negative work culture.

Look for ways to lighten up the Monday mood, and Mondays will lighten up on you!

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3 Common Management Traps (and How to Counteract Them)

Are you looking to be more proactive in your influence?

Here are three common management traps, with practical keys for addressing them.

3 Common Management Traps

1. Avoiding a Problem or Tense Relationship

(Instead: Nip things in the bud)

Work environments and team morale can dramatically improve when managers deal with difficult relationships.

While most people avoid confrontation like the plague, effective managers deal with negative attitudes or relationships as soon as they appear. While it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt, issues rarely resolve themselves. The longer you delay correction, the more difficult it becomes.

Stuck on where to start?

When offering correction, be specific. Say something like, “the report you submitted was vague, lacking financial data, and contained several errors. Please give it another pass and plan to give more attention to your first drafts in the future.”

When confronting team members, focus on a specific behavior, rather than the person or their intentions. For example, “your jokes were distracting and disrespectful to the person presenting the report.”

Before speaking, check your motives. Do you honestly want to help people improve? If so, describe actions or behavior the individual can do something about, and offer tools or training to support them.

2. Delaying Decisions

(Instead: Use decision-making timelines)

Many times, people postpone decisions for fear of failing or making a poor choice.

But most failure stems from inaction, not from mistakes made in the process. And the decision not to act is often the most costly choice of all.

When you struggle with passivity, don’t keep kicking a pain point down the road. Instead, give yourself a time frame to research options and set a deadline for making a choice. Putting “deliberation dates” on the calendar transforms possibilities into reality.

3. Refusing to Delegate

(Instead: Start small and consider a mindset change)

The biggest problem most leaders face is the inability to let go of their work.

Are you micromanaging or failing to release projects someone else could handle? If so, you may be the ceiling that prevents your organization from growth.

How can you start delegating when it is painful to do so? Experts suggest starting small (with basic tasks) and gradually working your way up. Improve trust by partnering with someone to do a task together the first time. Or schedule checkpoints to review work done by your team.

Delegation can also begin with a mindset change, illustrated in this example:

When Anika realized she had become a bottleneck for her organization, she had to redefine her core responsibilities. Previously, her mandate looked like this: “I’m the one in charge of getting the job done.” This “doer” mindset consumed her time and lowered her leadership ceiling.

As Anika considered her obligation to delegate, she redefined her leadership mandate to being “involved but not essential.” The result looked like this: “I lead people, priorities, and projects – in that order – and the work gets done because the right people are focused on the right tasks.”

With a refreshed vision, Anika could review her calendar, count the hours she devoted to “doing” versus leading or empowering, and identify mismatches where she was spending too much time on low-grade priorities. Within months, Anika streamlined work, expanded her influence, and multiplied her leadership.

Simple Course Corrections

While individual management mistakes are not catastrophic, over time, they can have a crippling effect.

Be intentional about addressing these areas, and you can improve team productivity, morale, and competitiveness in your field.

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Get Ahead at Work by Busting These Bad Habits

Work and sleep are two of the most time-consuming things we do.

The average American will spend nearly 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, so the way you approach your job can have a huge impact on your quality of being. As Annie Dillard famously said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Do you want your experience at work to be as happy and anxiety free as possible? If so, perhaps it’s time to put the scalpel to some of your less-than-desirable work habits.

Here are just a few ways bad choices might make your life more difficult at work.

Habits that Hurt You Personally

Skipping Breaks

Sometimes we think we’re too busy to take breaks or grab some fresh air.

But this simply isn’t true. Research shows productivity is highest when people work in “sprints” with frequent breaks (around 90 minutes with 15-minute rests).

Winging it on Mondays

Do you struggle to get down to business at the start of each week?

Devote part of Fridays to making a “start here” list for the following week so you can hit the ground running on Mondays.

Negative Attitudes

A recent CareerBuilder survey showed that 62% of employers say they are less likely to promote employees with a pessimistic attitude.

Avoid complaining (which comes across as unprofessional) or responding to suggestions with negative comments like “that won’t work,” or “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Even when things go wrong, focus your energy on what you’ve learned rather than despising your situation.

Habits that Annoy Others

Eating Smelly or Loud Foods

While a small snack may be fine, avoid eating foods that are messy, noisy, or smelly to protect your reputation with co-workers. Top stink generators include reheated fish, raw onions, tuna, smelly cheese, and hard-boiled eggs.

Grooming at Your Desk

When you are distracted, do you tend to chew your nails, play with your hair, pick at your face, or pull food out of your teeth? What if the co-worker next to you did this? Yuck. Enough said!

Interrupting or Asking Too Many Questions

While a willingness to contribute can be great, often you may be repeatedly cutting off others without realizing it.

Interrupting is rude and shows a lack of self-control. Similarly, asking an abundance of abrupt questions can be draining or annoying to others. When you need further information, gather a list of questions and pose them in an organized, positive way so you are respectful of others’ time.

Habits that Harm Your Reputation

Using Work Time Improperly

Be honest: while at work, how often are you handling texts, personal e-mails, or private phone calls?

If you think others don’t notice, you’re wrong. While co-workers may tolerate this behavior, it will certainly hinder the respect or opportunities you receive in the future. Keep your personal life out of sight (perhaps tucking the phone away or on silent) and you will be more efficient and more valued.

Distraction or Delays

Why is texting while driving illegal?

Because it’s impossible to concentrate fully on two things at once. If you are jotting personal notes, sending e-mails, or galloping through the fields of your imagination during meetings, it sends an inconsiderate message and communicates a lack of integrity. Come to appointments on time and ready to focus.

Being Nosy or Political

While small talk goes a long way to build rapport with others, avoid uninvited personal inquiries or incessant curiosity that won’t let things go.

And remember, if certain topics are divisive in politics, they’ll be divisive at work. Keep conversations focused on work-related issues to avoid insulting others, hurting your professional image, or causing rifts in your company.

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