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Stress Busters!

Stress is a part of life and work. Looming deadlines, limited resources, conflicts between team members, worry, and many other factors affect stress levels. Since too much stress or the wrong kind of stress negatively impacts productivity and health, it is important to find ways of handling and releasing stress throughout the day in order to stay healthy, focused, and positively productive!

Here are some quick stress busters:

  • Take a mental time out. We often feel stress when we ruminate about something. Just like a cow chewing its cud, we chew and chew on the stressor, making it worse. When you find yourself doing this, stop! Take a few deep breaths and refuse to think about the situation for a while. Get busy and focus on something else.
  • Gain perspective. If you are too close to the situation that is stressing you, you can’t see it objectively. This prevents you from identifying what actions you might take to rectify or mitigate it. Stress often arises when we don’t feel in control; objectively evaluating the situation, possible outcomes, and actions that can be taken will give you perspective and help you feel more in control.
  • Get help. Some situations are easier to handle with help. Talk to someone you trust or seek help from a professional. Getting additional points of view or gaining insight from an expert may relieve some of the stress you feel.

Stress can be dangerous if you don’t learn to manage it. See my blog posts Finding Time for Yourself and Distress or Eustress? for more information.



The Right Way to Apologize

It takes courage to admit a mistake or failing and apologize for it, but that’s part of being a professional. Here are some quick tips to make it easier to apologize like a pro!

  • Admit you made a mistake or committed something you shouldn’t have. For many people, this is the hardest part—taking responsibility and ownership.
  • Apologize as soon as you realize you have offended someone or a mistake has been made. Delaying just makes the apology harder.
  • State what happened and avoid defending yourself or making excuses since this diminishes the sincerity of the apology.
  • Be sincere and be brief.
  • State how you will fix the situation or how you will avoid it happening in the future. If you can offer any kind of reparation or alternatives, do so.

Don’t become offensive if your apology is not graciously received. If we have hurt someone or caused him or her harm, it may take time to rebuild trust. The best course of action is to be sincere and conscientious in the future.


Quick Energy Boosts for Productivity

Did you know that productivity suffers if you work too long on a task?

According to experts, after about 60 to 90 minutes of focused work, your attention flags, you become weary, and your productivity suffers. So if you think that working through your lunch to finish a report is a good idea, think again.

  • Stop working! Set an alert as a reminder to take a break every hour, step away from your desk, and move around. You will return refreshed and will be more productive than if you kept at it beyond the hour.
  • Clear the clutter off your desk. You are less productive when stacks of paper, open electronic files on your monitor, or open tabs on the Internet distract your focus. Close or file away what you aren’t working on. Afraid you’ll lose track of it? Set up a vertical file behind your desk for the paper documents you want to work on for the day and create a similar system for electronic files and e-mail. This way you won’t forget, and the document is off both your physical and electronic desktop. (Need help managing e-mail? Check out our program Writing and Managing E-mail.)
  • Take a walk. Get outside and get some fresh air. No matter how environmentally friendly your workplace may be, nothing replaces fresh air as a productivity booster. Take a short walk, breathe deeply, and feel yourself becoming more alert.

Remember, productivity improves when you take a break, not when you skip a break! Make sure your employees take breaks, too. They will feel better and get more done!


Is It Hard for You to Say No?

Saying no is hard for some people, but sometimes we have to be firm, especially with our time. If we take on tasks that we don’t want to do, we can end up resenting the person making the request. If we say yes when we need to say no because of time constraints, we may miss our own deadlines and fail to meet our deliverables. Saying yes when we should say no can sap our energy and productivity.

Here are some tips to help you be more assertive and in control of your time by saying no more often.

  • Focus on your top priorities and use them as criteria to help you decide when you should refuse someone and when you should agree to take on something new. Knowing what you need to accomplish and your own deadlines helps you communicate about conflicting demands on your time. See my blog post Focus to Be More Positively Productive.
  • Leave time in your day to take on the unexpected. When you agree to take on a new task, it is easier to stay on track if you have some wiggle room in your calendar.
  • Be forthright with your no. Give your reasons and, if appropriate, offer options, for example, maybe you can fulfill the request later in the day or tomorrow.
  • Assess the risks associated with saying no. Say yes if the request comes from someone you can’t refuse or if you feel that it would be politically incorrect to refuse.

Taking charge of your time is a key factor in your ability to stay positively productive, and your ability to say no graciously and firmly is a key factor in taking charge of your time!



Do You Need a Coach or a Mentor?

Sometimes in our careers, we need a little help to get ahead and be more successful. Some people use a coach; others choose a mentor. There are important differences that you need to understand before deciding who can best help you.

Coaching focuses on developing specific skills; mentoring focuses more on issues that affect your professional success. For example, a business coach can help you improve time management by teaching you new skills and helping you to recognize and eliminate time wasters in your day. A mentor, on the other hand, is more of an advisor or counselor who can help you with larger issues, such as managing conflicts between personal and professional demands, growing as a leader, and developing deeper expertise in your chosen field.

Generally, coaching is short-term. Once you gain proficiency in the skills you want to develop, the coaching relationship ends. Mentoring, however, requires time to build the relationship and trust needed for success. Some mentoring relationships go on for years.

Whether you choose a coach or mentor, investing the time and effort to advance your career and develop greater professionalism is a key factor in long-term success.


Project a Professional Image

I’m not an image consultant, but I do understand the power of image for career success. The adage “Perception is reality” is never truer than in business. We are judged by how others perceive us. If your manager thinks you are sloppy because you have a messy office, he or she may judge you to be less professional than your peers. This can affect your career. So, how can you manage other’s perceptions in a way that demonstrates your professionalism? Here are five tools you can use. 

  1. Be organized and neat.This means you have to get rid of the piles of papers in your office and take charge of your electronic documents and e-mail. Take a few minutes every day to clear up the mess, set up a system for finding filed documents, and clear up your work area before leaving every night. Check out my GO System
  2. Be punctual. Plan your schedule to allow for travel time to and from meetings to ensure you always arrive on time or a few minutes early. If you get to the meeting location ahead of time, you can organize your place at the conference table, review your notes, or network with other attendees. See my blog post Networking for Results.
  3. Be accurate. Take steps to ensure written documents are correct by spell checking, grammar checking, and proofreading everything before hitting send. Double-check numbers, people’s names, and hyperlinks.
  4. Be accountable. Everyone makes mistakes; a professional apologizes and takes corrective action. When you are accountable, people know they can rely on you to do what you say you will do and accept responsibility for making things right. See my blog post Be Accountable Even If You Aren’t Responsible.
  5. Be articulate. To succeed in business, you have to be a good communicator who is comfortable speaking one-on-one and in front of groups. Many people are terrified of speaking in public, but this fear can cripple your career. Start small by speaking up at team meetings, then graduate to speaking in larger groups. Organizations such as Toastmasters can help you overcome speaking jitters and prepare talks that capture people’s attention.

Perception is reality, and you want to ensure you are communicating professionalism to everyone you work with and meet.


E-mail Etiquette Matters

When you write an e-mail, you want it opened and read sooner than later. An important key to getting it opened is observing e-mail etiquette. Here are some quick tips you can use to improve e-mail.

  • Use a greeting. In casual e-mail, a simple, “Hi, Joe,” or “Hello, Sarah,” is fine. In a formal e-mail, use standard letter correspondence etiquette: “Dear [the person’s title and their last name] followed by a colon,” for example, “Dear Dr. Carlson:”.
  • Send only to people who need to see the e-mail, and when responding, delete anyone who doesn’t need to see it.
  • Get to the point and don’t waste people’s time with a lengthy introduction.
  • Break up your e-mail into small paragraphs or bullets since a solid block of text is hard to read.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time with formatting since some recipients may not be able to see it.

E-mail is a necessary tool for business today. How well you write your e-mails contributes to how positively productive you are. Check out my new Writing and Managing E-mail workshop for best practices and new techniques to create successful e-mails, manage the tone of your e-mails, and control your in-box.


Consensus Decision-Making

As a team leader, you need to help your team make decisions that deliver results. This means that you need to develop the skills necessary for creating consensus, so the team as a whole agrees on a solution and supports it. Here’s how you do it:

  • Involve the entire team in the process by gathering them together for a meeting that focuses solely on coming to a decision about an issue or solving a problem.
  • Set some rules at the beginning and get consensus on the rules. For example, ask the team to refrain from criticizing anyone’s comments or suggestions, to show courtesy when someone is speaking, and to contribute to the discussion.
  • Ask open questions that support conversation, such as, “What do you think we can do to improve this process?” or “How do you think we could get past this challenge?”
  • Go around the room and solicit each person’s opinion and answers. Capture them on a white board or flip chart. In this way, everyone has a voice and feels part of the process.
  • Break the group into smaller units and have each unit brainstorm solutions and present to the group the one they think will work best.
  • Openly discuss each option presented, let people make suggestions to improve them, and settle on the top two.
  • Focus on the top two, using a risk assessment process. What risks and benefits are associated with each option? Which is the most practical and produces the best results with the least risk?
  • When an option is chosen, go around the room and ask each person to support the decision.

Being able to create consensus will make your team stronger and produce better results than if you go it alone. It also makes your team members feel valued and gives them a vested interest in the success of the team.

See my blog post Do You Believe in Intuition? for another important decision-making tool.


Boost Your Productivity with Exercise

You know that exercise is important for your physical health, and it also can keep you mentally sharp. Did you know that exercise can make you more positively productive?

Exercise pumps blood to your brain, which improves brain function and cell growth. The chemical mix from exercise increases learning, memory, decision-making and problem-solving ability, all of which improve productivity. According to a study in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, there is a 20% improvement after intense exercise.

Do you have to hit the treadmill and sweat up a storm? Well, you do have to break a sweat, but you can do it with a bike ride, brisk walk, housecleaning, mowing the lawn—any activity that raises your heartbeat. Of course, you have to make sure you can exercise like this by first checking with your health care provider.

See my blog post Simple Tools for Greater Productivity for more tips.






Planning Special Assignments

Managing and planning your time are critical components for handling special assignments. Estimating the amount of time required for each task helps ensure that critical deliverables are completed when required, and the assignment stays on track.   

When estimating time, always allow wiggle room for emergencies, meetings, staffing changes, disruptions, sickness, and so on. Check with subject matter experts and vendors to ensure your estimates are accurate.

Start with the due date for the assignment and work backwards, allotting the estimated amount of time for each task and the length of time for each step. Identify milestones and critical dates.

  • Milestones: These are dates when major parts of the assignment are completed. They allow you to assess the status of the project and identify anything that might affect deadlines for deliverables.
  • Critical dates: These dates trigger other tasks.
  • Sequential: Some tasks must be completed before other tasks can begin, so knowing start and completion dates is critical. If these dates slip, other later tasks will be affected, and deadlines may be missed.
  • Overlapping: Some tasks must occur simultaneously. The challenge here is having the resources to do several things at one time.

An easy tool for this is a Gantt chart, which lets you see what else is occurring at the same time. There are many ways to create a Gantt chart. For example, Microsoft Project makes it easy to track and chart project timelines with a built-in Gantt chart view. Another option is to use Excel. While Excel does not contain a built-in Gantt chart format, you can create a Gantt chart by entering a time line along the x-axis and tasks in the y-axis.

Using a Gantt chart to manage an assignment helps you identify and monitor tasks, identify dependencies and critical paths, and lets you plan for needed resources.