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Confessions of a productive person: keeping a clean desk

Being a productive, clean person is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds – start with these simple steps focused on reduction in your life.

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We keep a clean office, there’s no secret about that, and the desks are usually clear of papers and clutter. Some call it minimalism, others call it clean, but mostly people just call it “wow” and ask how we keep such clean lives.

Studies show that your brain is hardwired to have cluttered thought patterns when you are surrounded by clutter, yes, even those of you that live in a pile of papers (which of course you have “a system” for). It can be intimidating to even get started when you have a messy office, but there are a few things that anyone can do to regain control and help your brain function at its optimal rate, improve productivity, and prove to clients and coworkers that you mind the details like no one else.

Friends and coworkers ask me constantly how I get so much done in the average day, and it isn’t because of my smartphone, no, it’s because I am a focused workhorse. A huge part of that is keeping a very clean environment. Let’s talk about why that’s important (and why you should ignore the “buut geniuses have messy desks” bullcrap editorials).

Perhaps you put to do items on post it notes or pieces of paper, or you pile up files that need to be dealt with – one of the most common reasons desks are messy. This method of task management is ineffective and tells your brain to panic because what you’re doing right now may or may not be as important as those 35 stickies, so you either pause frequently to reflect on the dozens of other unprioritized tasks, or your brain constantly churns in the background having been distracted with this mess that represents tasks, or you simply learn to tune the noise out, which defeats the purpose of your reminder system.

To change this, either implement tech tools to manage your tasks (search this site for “task management” and see dozens of tools) or keep one pad of paper or journal on your desktop.

minimalism

Another common item on desks is what? Envelopes. One of the tricks I’ve found is that no matter the envelope, it gets torn open and processed while I’m on hold or on a conference call I don’t have to speak on. Before you leave for the day, every bill should be torn open and either dealt with, filed, or if you must keep it on your desk, have a beautiful inbox or even a clipboard to keep them all in the same spot.

There are much more sophisticated methods, but let’s face it, you have to start small to ensure good habits. The same goes for files – be smart about processing paper in your down time.

My core confession that you may have picked up on so far is that I love to trash stuff.

I didn’t used to be this way, I used to hard paper, but it is how I began my journey toward being more productive – trashing. Remember that every time you throw just one envelope away, you’re making progress that is tangible, and you should learn to enjoy that progress and associate positive feelings with keeping things clean.

What else holds you back from keeping a clean work area and focusing on your tasks for the day? Often, books pile up or files start stacking themselves up magically. I’ve found that having aesthetically appealing storage systems (boxes, filing cabinets, files, pen holders, etc.) make you feel rewarded for using them. It’s a subtle trick, but if you invest in your desk accouterments, you feel compelled to use them, which inadvertently keeps you organized.

Look, these are simple things to do – ditch sticky notes, deal with mail and files before you leave for the day, and surround yourself with beautiful tools that keep you organized. This is where it begins – instead of being addicted to hoarding crap on your desk, work on rewiring your brain to enjoy reduction.

This editorial was originally published in November of 2013.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Business News

Does writing with pen and paper make you smarter than your digital peers?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Can handwriting make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?

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When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by hand with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”

Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.

According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.

Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.

While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.

As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.

While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.

I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.

I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.

If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.

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Business News

The one customer service mistake all businesses should avoid

(BUSINESS) Customer service is paramount for every business, but this one mistake handicaps so many and can be fixed so easily.

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As both an entrepreneur and business coach, I’m cursed with the proclivity to recognize areas for improvement in any businesses that I visit – even as just a customer. I wait in lines, stay on hold and watch mistakes happen, all the while dreaming of how I’d create a better customer service experience.

Case in point: I recently accompanied my girlfriend, Pam, on a trip to a car dealership – and what should have been a simple transaction turned into a nightmare, all because of customer experience.

Throughout the entire experience, I witnessed from the sidelines numerous small mistakes that, if resolved, could widely improve the processes of that car dealership and grow its business. But it wasn’t these small mistakes that did the most damage. Because of just one critical error, they will never know what they did wrong.

With over 180,000 miles on her current car, Pam knew that the time had come to replace her trusty and reliable vehicle of many years. She liked her current car, so she decided to simply replace it with a new version of the same model and brand. The only change would be a new color. To make the transaction even easier, she sold her old car to a friend and she didn’t need financing, opting to use her local bank for financing or pay cash.

Based on the above, I assumed that the car shopping experience would be extremely quick and painless. We contacted several dealers in the area and gave them the exact specifications of her new car and asked them to respond with their best price. Simple, right?

After receiving responses from three dealers in the area, Pam made the decision to go with the dealer closest to her house. They had the exact vehicle she wanted, although it was at another location, so it would take a few days to receive. And their price was almost identical to the lowest price received. They even said they would match a 0% interest financing offer that another dealer had offered to attract her business. Her next step was to head to the dealership and fill out the paperwork. We decided to do it on the way out of town for the weekend, because it was going to be so easy.

Upon arrival, she was told that she had to meet with the financing person and there was one customer in front of her. She was reassured, “It will be a short wait…” It turns out their definition of a “short” wait was several hours.

Multiple times, she asked what could be done to shorten the wait. Surprisingly, even if she decided to pay cash, their process required that she visit with the finance person. As she later found out, that was because the finance person’s goal was to upgrade her on insurance, financing, warranties and other add-ons – despite the fact that she clearly told her salesperson upon arrival that she did not want any of those add-ons.

Her only request was a quick experience, which they failed to deliver.

Upon finishing her paperwork with the finance person, my girlfriend was approached one last time by the salesperson as she headed out the door. He said it was “really important” that he go over one last detail of the transaction in his office. He proceeded to review the survey that she would receive from the manufacturer about her car-buying experience. He handed her a pre-filled out version of the survey with certain areas highlighted with the exact score he wanted her to provide so he could get his “full commission.”

He explained in great detail that his pay was directly related to the score on the survey. He even bribed her with some all-weather floor mats she noticed earlier in the day but decided were too expensive. He said the mats would “magically” be in her car when it was delivered – a small token of his appreciation for filling out the survey per his instructions.

All in all, the customer service experience was less than satisfactory and was riddled with mistakes. But, it was the salesperson’s mistake that most seriously hurt the business. Can you spot it?

As I watched the conversation about the floor mats unfold, that desire to help businesses improve struck me, and I realized that the incentive structure put in place by the dealership was going to prevent them from getting the real information – the true survey results – they needed to improve their business. (Which is too bad, because they really need to improve.)

A lesson that I always share with the businesses and leaders I work with day to day is: Incentives are a powerful tool to motivate team members, but if they get in the way of honest feedback or inspire teams to chase “rewards” instead of true business success, they can also have unintended consequences which put the brakes on the growth of organizations.

After a few additional hiccups in the process, my girlfriend finally received her new car… with the all-weather floor mats. She’s very happy with the car, but disappointed with the car-buying experience.

And unfortunately, because of the dealership’s decision to connect pay incentives to the survey, the dealership and manufacturer will never know the truth.

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Business News

Beware: The biohacking obsession is attracting scammers

(NEWS) Biohacking is finding ways to gain a competitive advantage, while excluding the medical world. It’s great to increase your output, but be cautious when picking your poison…

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Wanna live better or longer? [Insert biohack here] will solve all those pesky problems. In all fairness, it’s human nature to seek improvement, especially in our jobs or academics — you know, the things that demand a constant, high performance.

Of course our ears will prick up at the slightest mention of attaining that elusive edge. Remember Aderall in college?

Biohacking isn’t a new topic. The term refers to a wide range of activities to affect the body’s biological systems.

The objective is to optimize health, well-being, and focus. If we are able to effectively manage what we put into our body, our output can increase. It’s not inherently evil.

But social media influencers are key in promoting the latest products/diets/supplements/oils, often doing so for money, not to improve others’ lives. And, there’s a darker side of drug use, both prescription and illegal, leading to potentially dangerous and abusive situations.

The misleading aspect of biohacking is that every body is different.

Regardless of social media promises, people should be wary of ingesting additional products.

Despite the fancy names one can give it, biohacking has the same objective of medicine, but product development typically excludes medical practitioners.

Legitimate medical practices take huge amounts of funding and research to figure out and insure safety, and they’re heavily regulated by the federal government.

A random word of mouth promise about some obscure herbal supplement is not the same thing.

There are no shortcuts to improving one’s health.

And biohacking doesn’t necessarily mean making life more complex. It’s important to start with the basics before jumping to elaborate diet regimens, powders, pills, etc. Simple steps like routine exercise, 7-8 hours of sleep, and healthier meal choices may help get you on track.

It’s amazing to realize what you can change about yourself before joining some random Thought Cult you found on Instagram. And in the case that your health needs a modern, helping hand, do the proper research before falling into the dark internet hole.

Or better yet, consult your doctor.

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