12 Apps for a Better Life

The following applications and websites can be used to make your job and life better. These are just a few of the applications in the marketplace. I’ve used most of the services listed and may be contacted if you want more information.

Time Management

Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro Technique is a time management method. The technique uses a timer to break down work into an interval of 25 minutes then take short breaks. This method is based on the idea that a frequent break improves mental agility.

RescueTime

RescueTime is a time tracking application that gives you an accurate picture of how you spend your time on your devices. This application highlights poor usage of your time. It can also set alarms to tell you how much time you spent on Facebook.

Doodle

Doodle is a cloud-based calendar tool for coordinating meetings. Users are surveyed to determine the best date and time to meet.

Remember the Milk (RTM)

RTM is a cloud-based task and time management. Some of the features are emailing your task to RTM. Also, it can be used to setup tags, locations and integrates with Outlook and Gmail.

IQTell

IQTell is a cloud-based task and time management application. It utilizes the concepts and techniques designed in GTD by David Allen. This application will sync with emails, Evernote and ICloud.

Collaboration

Slack

Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool. Slack allows a team or group to communicate on one platform. This platform allows communication without email or group texting.

Dropbox

Dropbox is a file hosting service. Dropbox can be used as a collaboration of files with other users. It’s a good application for sharing large files or photos with others.

Organization

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping is a diagram used to visually organize information. This method is used in brainstorming, memory, visual thinking and problem solving. You can use paper or software to mind map.

IFTTT

IFTTT is a free web-based service that allows users to create chains of simple conditional statements, called “recipes”, which are triggered based on changes to other web services such as Gmail, Slack, Twitter, and Evernote. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “If This Then That”. Here are some of my recipes:

  • If new SMS received from [Phone Number], then post a message to a Slack channel.
  • Email me when the president signs a new law.
  • If the new final score for the Clemson Tigers, then send me an email at [Email].

Evernote

Evernote is an application that can be used to organize data and list by using notebooks and tags. The application allows users to create text, web pages, photographs, voice memos, or handwritten notes. Also, Evernote has a good search engine inside the application.

Trello

Trello is a cloud-based project management system. This uses boards (Projects) and cards (tasks). You can also set up teams for your projects.

Focus@Will

Focus@Will is a music based on human neuroscience. It helps you focus, reduce distractions maintaining your productivity, and retaining information when working, writing and reading. This is a paid subscriptions service, but other music services might offer Focus@Will playlists.

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SMART Goals

The practice of goal-setting is helpful in the pursuit of happiness. Psychologists tell us that people who make consistent progress toward meaningful goals live happier, more satisfied lives.

If you don’t have written goals, I encourage you to make an appointment on your calendar to work on them. You can get a rough draft done in as little as an hour or two. Few things in life pay such rich dividends for such a modest investment.

A SMART goal is an acronym for achieving your commitments. Below are the five meanings:

  • Specific—Your goals must identify exactly what you want to accomplish in as much specificity as you can muster.
  • Measurable—If possible, try to quantify the result. You want to know absolutely, positively whether or not you hit the goal.
  • Actionable—Every goal should start with an action verb (accomplish, organize, increase, develop, budget, etc.) rather than a to-be verb (am, be, have, etc.)
  • Realistic—A good goal should stretch you, but you have to add a dose of common sense. Go right up to the edge of your comfort zone and then step over it.
  • Time-bound—Every goal needs a date associated with Make sure that every goal ends with a “by when” date.[1]

Your next steps are as follows:

  1. Write them down. This is critical. There is huge power in writing down your goals.
  2. Review them frequently. Writing your goals down makes them real but the key is to review them on a regular basis and break them down into actionable tasks.
  3. Share them selectively. Sharing them with those that are important to you and someone to whom you can be accountable.

[1] Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, Living forward : a proven plan to stop drifting and get the life you want (Baker Books, 2016), 95

HBR: How Your Morning Mood Affects Your Whole Workday

How can you help your employees cope with stress and boost performance?  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Nancy Rothbard.

How Your Morning Mood Affects Your Whole Workday

Have you ever thought about what happens to your employees right before they get to work? Sometimes we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed and just find it hard to get our bearings. At other times, we might start out fine, but have a horrible commute or a screaming match with a teenager just before going to work. Paying attention to the morning moods of your employees can pay dividends. In my research with Steffanie Wilk, an associate professor at the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, we found that this start-of-the-day mood can last longer than you might think—and have an important effect on job performance.

In our study, “Waking Up On The Right Or Wrong Side Of The Bed: Start-Of-Workday Mood, Work Events, Employee Affect, And Performance,” we examined customer service representatives (CSRs) in an insurance company’s call center over several weeks. We sent CSRs periodic short surveys throughout the day. We studied their mood as they started the day, how they viewed work events such as customer interactions throughout the day, and their mood during the day after these customer interactions. We used the company’s detailed performance metrics to investigate how their mood at work related to their performance.

We found that CSRs varied from day to day in their start-of-day mood, but that those who started out each day happy or calm usually stayed that way throughout the day, and interacting with customers tended to further enhance their mood. By contrast, for the most part, people who started the day in a terrible mood didn’t really climb out of it, and felt even worse by the end of the day — even after interacting with positive customers.

One interesting (and counterintuitive) finding was something we called “misery loves company.” Some CSRs who felt badly as they started the day actually felt less badly after interacting with customers who were themselves in a bad mood. Perhaps this was because, by taking their customers’ perspectives, these CSRs realized their own lives were not so terrible.

Most importantly, we discovered strong performance effects when it came to quality of work and productivity. Employees who were in a positive mood provided higher-quality service: they were more articulate on the phone with fewer “ums” and verbal tics, and used more proper grammar. Employees who were in a negative mood tended to take more frequent breaks from their duties to cope with the stress and get themselves through the day. These small breaks piled up, leading to a greater than 10% loss of productivity.

How can managers use these findings to help employees cope with stress and boost performance? While it can be difficult, it is not impossible to hit the reset button and try to help employees shake a negative morning mood. For example, managers might send out morale-boosting messages in the morning, or hold a regular team huddle to help people transition and experience positive mood as they start their workday. Feeding people and celebrating accomplishments is always a morale booster as well. Alternatively, managers can allow employees a little space first thing in the morning, for example to chat with colleagues before an early meeting. People also need time to “recover” from the night before so managers may want to think twice before launching a late-night barrage of emails as this might set employees up for a bad start to the next day. And if an employee arrives a few minutes late, confronting him or her about it later on instead of immediately may yield a more productive conversation and a more productive workday.

Employees, for their part, may want to take steps to lose their own negativity before arriving at work, creating their own “intentional transition”. This might involve taking a different route to work, giving themselves a pep talk, stopping for coffee, or listening to inspiring music. Finally, the best thing they can do is take a deep breath before walking in the door, to focus on making the most of the new day.

 

HBR: How to Stop Worrying About Becoming Obsolete at Work

Are you learning new habits or unlearning old habits? How should you think to prevent obsolescence? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Mark Bonchek:

How to Stop Worrying About Becoming Obsolete at Work

In case you missed it, FOMO is now an official word in the English language. The “Fear of Missing Out” is now in the Oxford Dictionary, which has described it as the “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

Perhaps FOMO has become a contemporary problem because things are moving so much faster. But I believe there is a deeper fear — a fear of becoming obsolete. We’re afraid of being left out because we’re afraid of being left behind.

As individuals, we’re afraid of being left behind in our careers. A recent survey by Oxford Economics found employees’ top concern is that their position might change or become obsolete. Half believe their current skills won’t be needed in three years. And the fear has spread to the C-suite: a study by Adobe found that 40% of marketing executives feel the need to reinvent themselves but only 14% feel they know how.

As organizations, we’re afraid that our industries will be disrupted or that our companies are no longer competitive. Business leaders surveyed by IMD believe 40% of the incumbents in each industry will be displaced by digital disruption in the next five years.

Perhaps we should use a variation on FOMO when it comes to our companies and careers: FOBO, the Fear of Becoming Obsolete. The dictionary definition might be “anxiety that the world is changing so rapidly that your career and company will be left behind.”

There are good reasons to be concerned. The lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 has decreased from 61 years in 1958 to 18 years today. Gartner predicts that one-third of jobs will be replaced by software, robots, and smart machines by 2025. Productivity is rising but jobs and income haven’t kept up.

We’ve been through transformative change before, but the rate of change was much more gradual. A century ago, it took generations for the economy to transform from agriculture to industry. These days, a career or business strategy can become obsolete in a matter of years.

So what should you do to prevent obsolescence? It’s a trick question. You don’t fix FOBO by updating what you do. You first have to update how you think. If you change what you do without changing how you think, you will get more of the same. But change how you think, and you will naturally change what you do. So the real question is how should you think to prevent obsolescence?

In times of transformative change, it is not just our skills, tools, and practices that become obsolete. More fundamentally, our mental models become outdated, rendering them ineffective, misleading, or outright dangerous.

Mental models are the (largely unconscious) ways we make sense of the world around us. They determine what we see or don’t see and connect cause with effect. For example, the typical mental model for how to solve a problem has us looking for what to do instead of how to think.

Our mental models are like maps in a GPS that tell us how to reach our desired destination. When things are stable, we just punch in new coordinates to get where we need to go. But when the landscape changes, our mental maps become outdated. We find ourselves making wrong turns and getting lost or confused.

Unfortunately, we can’t update the maps in our heads as easily as the maps on our phones. These models are like mental habits. And habits don’t change overnight. Change requires both learning and unlearning. The process is less like a teenager learning to drive, and more like a tourist in London trying to drive on the opposite side of the road.

Research on habit design tells us that the key to learning any new behavior is setting the right triggers and taking small steps. The same principles apply to mental habits. Here are a few to get you started.

  1. When someone raises a problem, notice the tendency to immediately ask “What should we do?” Instead of that question, try asking “How should we think?” Are you trying to solve the problem with the same thinking that created it? Is someone describing a car and you’re thinking, “Oh, sounds like a horseless carriage”?
  2. When you’re organizing an activity, check that everyone is aligned in their thinking before getting everyone aligned in their action. Just because they are using the same words doesn’t mean they are using the same mental models. When someone says “brand,” do they mean your logo, reputation, or experience?
  3. When you read about a successful company, catch yourself merely seeking to imitate what they’re doing. Instead, look deeper into how they are thinking. The key to becoming the “Uber” of something is not creating another app-enabled delivery service but instead applying platform thinking.
  4. When you’re making decisions, beware relying on “best practices.” By definition, a best practice is a tool or approach derived from an old mental model. Instead, look for “next practices.” Deconstruct the thinking behind their success and apply the principles to your situation.

The Fear of Becoming Obsolete is both real and warranted. Fortunately, we are not destined to be digital dodos. It is not we who have become obsolete; it is our mental models. The dodo couldn’t learn to fly, but we can learn to shift our thinking and create new mental habits. With an update in our mental models, we can be more resilient, more relaxed, and more relevant. All of which gives more time for checking social media and ensuring we’re not missing out on anything.

 

Managing Your Mind

Why Lead Now

Doorway to Consciousness

Before you can effectively manage your career, relationships, home, hobbies, and the pursuit of your dreams, you’ll first need to master the skill of managing your mind. Yes, it is a skill. Yes, it can be learned and strengthened through the practice of meditation. Essentially meditation is mental training. Mindfulness—my preferred form of mental training—is the practice of focusing on present-moment experience. As simple as it sounds, it certainly is not easy! Mindfulness is learned experientially and getting a firm grasp on it takes time, but not as much as you might think. In this popular TED talk, Andrew Puddicombe explains it best:

The mind is the seat of consciousness, the realm of all mental and emotional processing, somatic sensation and perception, and the intricate combination of moment-to-moment experiences we call life. That’s where it all plays out, in your mind. Knowing that, you can see why a calm and well-functioning mind…

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Motivation: What’s Yours?

Why Lead Now

I was asked a question today: “What motivates you?”

I immediately thought about context: Motivations for work-related tasks? For my own personal goals? And then I thought about life in general. What motivates me to get up every day?

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This is such a powerful question. The answer says so much about who you are as a person. Whether you are internally or externally motivated, and your reasoning for why you are motivated in that way can shed light on your values and morals. Even how you frame the answer conveys what you find most important in your life.

And yet, despite the wealth of information this simple question could provide, many leaders don’t ask this of themselves and of their direct reports. Leaders can uncover why they’ve become leaders and what strengths and weaknesses they possess. They can also discover how engaged their workforce is and how to better inspire…

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Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

I finished reading Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip HeathDan Heath. This is a great book on decision-making. They introduce a four-step process to counteract biases in your decision. Below is the WRAP process and links to workbook (requires a login),

The Decision WookbookDecision

The WRAP Process:

Widen Your options

Narrow framing leads us to overlook options. (Teenagers and executives often make “whether or not” decisions.) We need to uncover new options and, when possible, consider them simultaneously through multitracking. (Think AND not OR.) Where can you find new options? Find someone who has solved your problem. Try laddering: First look for current bright spots (local), then best practices (regional) and then analogies from related domains (distant).

Reality-test Your assumptions

In assessing our options, the confirmation bias leads us to collect skewed, self-serving information. To combat that bias, we can ask disconfirming questions (What problems does the iPod have?). We can also zoom out (looking for base rates) and zoom in (seeking more texture). And whenever possible we should ooch, conducting small experiments to teach us more. Why predict when you can know?

Attain distance before deciding

Short-term emotion tempts us to make choices that are bad in the long term. To avoid that, we need to attain distance by shifting perspective: What would I tell my best friend to do? Or, what would my successor do? (Or try 10/10/10.) When decisions are agonizing, we need to clarify our core priorities—and go on the offensive for them. (Remember the stainless steel bolts on the Navy ship.)

Prepare to Be Wrong

We are overconfident, thinking we know how the future will unfold when we really don’t. We should prepare for bad outcomes (premortem) as well as good ones (preparade). And what would make us reconsider our decisions? We can set tripwires that snap us to attention at the right moments. (David Lee Roth’s brown M&M, Zappos’ $1,000 offer