Most people spend 28% of their workweek responding to/dealing with email. If you’re the type that’s constantly stopping what you’re doing to check the latest email to hit your inbox, this probably won’t come as much of a surprise.
Of course, quantifying this wasted time can still be a shock when you stop to consider how much productive time email is draining from your day. Answering emails can give people a false sense of accomplishment, as they’re really more efficiently dealt with at set times (and not as they come in). Imagine what you could do with 28% more time in your work day (or even a fraction of that)!
You might need to rethink your attitude towards email if you regularly exhibit any of the following behaviors:
Making emails your first priority for the day, and not getting anything done until you feel like you’ve successfully tended to your inbox
Checking email again, even though you just checked it 5 minutes ago
Spending an excessive amount of time sorting through your inbox: organizing, reading and deleting emails
While it’s important to recognize that you have little control over email coming in (because it is by nature, an ongoing communication), it’s also important to realize that do have control over time and how you use it. You can’t stop emails from finding their way into your inbox, but you can control your level of productivity when reading and responding to them.
These email management tips will help you to get more out of your workday, while minimizing time in your inbox.
Schedule a Set Time To Read & Reply To Emails
The easiest way to take control of your life (and time!) is to create set times to read and reply to emails. And though it’s tempting to set this time for shortly after you wake up or get to work, it’s actually counterproductive to start the day by checking email.
So instead of scheduling your email checking time block in the first few hours of the work day, instead aim to get a full 2-3 hours of working in before you first check your inbox. If you need some guidance on setting times to check your email, the best times are in the morning after getting some high value work done (between 10-11am), and a few hours before you’re done for the day (around 3-4pm).
If you’re known for being a quick email responder, as a courtesy, inform colleagues beforehand that you’ll now be reading and replying to emails at set times during the day. If you really want to drive the point home (especially for people you aren’t in frequent contact with), set an auto responder for incoming emails letting everyone that emails you know that you’ll only be checking emails twice a day. You might opt to include your phone number on your autoresponder, so that if a person has an urgent query, they can call you directly.
Some people have a set schedule to reply to emails as a batch activity, while others (that have more discipline) tackle emails more frequently, usually during a short break. Determine what works best for you, then be strict about the rules you create for yourself. If you start off by telling yourself, “It’s just one email…”, 1 becomes 3, and 3 becomes 5, and then you get completely sucked into your emails and lose 28% of your work week productivity.
Use the 80/20 Rule
Not every email warrants a read or response, and a failure to recognize this can result in a lot of wasted time. The notorious Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that only 20% of inputs result in 80% of outputs. Using this principle, identify the types of emails and senders that warrant your attention, and unsubscribe from the rest, so they never have the chance to split your focus. Additionally, when you take the time to check your email, focus on your top 20% most important emails before paying an ounce of attention to the others.
If you’re the type of person to immediately reply to emails, you’ll probably recognize this common exchange:
A person sends you an email
You reply immediately
They reply back immediately
Repeat steps 2 & 3 until the conversation has reached a natural end
The best time to reply to emails is during your designated email times. If you make it a habit to respond immediately, you’re conditioning the other person to expect an immediate response. Additionally, when making it a habit to reply immediately, a full blown email exchange occurs, taking you completely away from whatever you were working on. Just say “no,” or better yet, “later.”
When you do eventually reply, keep it short. The less emails you send, the less you’ll get that require a response!
Create Email Templates
You’ve probably noticed that within your own email communications, there are trends relating to what types of emails you frequently send. Having a set template, especially for these frequently sent emails, can help reduce time wasted creating new emails from scratch. Gmail’s Canned Responses can allow you to easily save and access email templates.
Similarly, if you use one email for several different roles, create an email signature for each so you’re not constantly spending time making sure that you’re representing yourself correctly to the right audiences. Wisestamp is an excellent tool for creating an aesthetically pleasing email signature that can dynamically update for things like new blog posts on your company’s RSS feed (saving you even more time when it comes to promotional activities!).
Organize Your Inbox
So before you can save a lot of time on checking your email, you’ve got to first invest a little more time in organizing your inbox. As far as where to start, there are no set rules and everyone has their own system. But the following ideas can help you to get started:
Create a “Read Later” label for items you want to read, but don’t have time for currently
Create a “Reply By ___day” label for the emails that don’t represent your top 20% most important emails, to take action on later
Designate priorities for email by starring them, marking them as unread, or creating additional “Priority” labels.
Remember that you don’t have to read every email ASAP, or respond to them. Read only the ones that are relevant, and respond only to the ones that truly require a response. Don’t feel bad about clicking the “delete” button on the rest.
Use Email Filters
Create additional functionality for the labels you’ve created through the use of email filters.
There are two things to specify when creating a filter:
A term to look out for
An action to match that term
To share an example, think back to your “Read Later” label described above. You probably subscribe to some industry blogs that you enjoy reading, but you want to be able to consume that content according to a set time on your schedule. Create a filter that detects the sender’s email or the name of the publication, with a rule that automatically sends it to your “Read Later” label. Then, when the clock strikes “blog reading o’clock”, check that label for your latest relevant emails.
A filter automatically sends the emails to the folder you’ve designated, presorted before you even have the chance to look at it. If you think that by using filters you may miss out on an important email, consider having a member of your staff (like a personal assistant) screen your emails for you.
Turn Off Notifications
One of the simplest and most effective email management tips is to simply turn off notifications. After all, to be productive, you have to be able focus on the work at hand–notifications are easy distractions. It takes 25 minutes before your mind can refocus after a distraction.
Turning off notifications on both your computer and smartphone will help you to control the urge to keep checking your email until the times you’ve set (out of sight, out of mind!).
Though there are a lot of distractions on your computer, sometimes it’s really your phone that is the most distracting. If you really can’t help yourself, consider physically removing your phone from where you’re working to avoid temptation.
Unsubscribe from Unwanted Emails
One of the more obvious email management tips is to unsubscribe from emails that never get opened, or that you never act on. A tool like Unroll.Me can help you to identify all of your email subscriptions, and makes it easy to get rid of the ones you are no longer interested in.
Unroll.Me also allows you to create a “rollup”, to which you’ll specify certain email senders you want to view emails from at certain times of the day (perhaps during your designated email checking times). A caveat for this popular service - they’ve recently gotten some bad press over data privacy concerns.
Stop Using Email At All
This won’t work with everyone, of course. But you can practice this within your team at least: Simply replace email with tools that are better suited for the job.
There are several project management tools like Planio which allow you to manage projects with a team, and communicate with team members through the tool. Specifically using Planio, you can use a number of features to aggregate information in one organized place: issue tracking, documents, forums, blogs, and wikis.
By communicating with your team within a project management tool, you won’t be tempted to check your email, your inbox does not get clogged, and all relevant project files can be kept in one place. As a bonus, it keeps all relevant information together, easily accessible and searchable without having to dig through your inbox (and get distracted by new messages).
Emails don’t have to deter you from being productive if you take charge of the systems and tools available to manage it. Invest some time in organizing your inbox as it stands today, unsubscribing from unnecessary emails that are splitting your attention, and creating systems to help you manage emails in the future. With the right tools and a little discipline, you can reclaim your work week productivity and demonstrate your effectiveness as an asset to your company and clients.
What are your best email management tips? Tweet @Planio, and we’ll share our favorites!
It might surprise you to hear that you don’t have to do everything. And if you have employees or dedicated team members, you really shouldn’t do everything. While there are some things that you feel particularly responsible for regarding the final output, there may be smaller pieces that you can delegate to the people around you.
But though delegation can free up time and energy for other projects, it is not without it’s own unique set of challenges and proper etiquette to follow. With that in mind, here are some considerations for how to delegate within a team, as the boss to a group of employees, and proper etiquette for how to proceed in either case.
How to Delegate: Within A Team
Delegating within a team is in many ways considerably different than delegating to employees. Though there may be a designated team leader, the assumption is that every person is on the same level as everyone else within the team. As such, delegation must be permission-based and agreed upon - not necessarily a given.
Assign Specific Roles
Determine who’s in charge of which tasks, and who they’ll report progress to. Try to find the ideal fit between the tasks and the expertise/interests of the people in the team. If you don’t know what people would prefer to spend their time on - just ask! Matching expertise or interest to specific roles can result in a better final output.
Pick a Team Leader
Similar to assigning specific roles, you should also make sure to designate a team leader. This leader should be empowered to check in with other members from the purpose of getting things done. It’s not an excuse to take charge or to have an easier job, but rather, to help provide a basic structure for the group and a point person for questions.
Find a Balance with Their Schedule in Mind
In a team setting, it doesn’t make sense for one person to be doing the bulk of the work if there are other people to assist. Aim to find a balance so that no teammate feels like they’re shouldering an undue burden. When assigning tasks, make sure to be fair and ask for a person’s availability. If you address a person’s availability upfront, then that person can’t complain about the amount of work you assign, and corresponding due dates. If they don’t deliver, that’s now 100% on them.
Delegating work as the boss is more or less an expectation of being employed. But although employees are expecting you to delegate work their way, there are right and wrong ways (and inefficient/efficient ways) to go about the process of delegation.
Start with Small Tasks
If you’re practicing the fine art of delegation for the first time (like with a new employee), it’s a good idea to start small. This will help you to identify and fix any potential communication issues, while also helping your employee to build confidence in their ability to deliver a completed project that’s up to your standards.
Once you’ve established a good system, you can work up to delegating larger tasks and more complete projects.
Match the Level of Responsibility with the Employee’s Level of Authority
An intern probably shouldn’t be delegated a task that requires handling sensitive company information, just like a director-level employee shouldn’t be asked to take lunch orders or spend their time on basic data entry. No one is more important than anyone else, but it’s most efficient to delegate tasks with respect to a person’s level/area of expertise within the company. It’s also important to learn how to delegate with respect to a person’s access to specific programs or information they’ll need to complete a task.
Create a Project Management System
At least at the beginning of delegating tasks to an employee, make sure to create a project management system to track all outstanding assignments. Additionally, designating priorities can be helpful to make it easy for employees to understand how new items might take precedence amidst existing deadlines. From there, employees can feel empowered to move around due dates as necessary to accommodate new priorities.
Furthermore, having some level of accountability ensures that the task will actually get done. If a person realizes that you’re never going to follow up and assumes that they’re being assigned busy work, they may eventually stop doing tasks, ignoring your requests. If you’re not very good with follow ups, automate the task with a tool like Boomerang that can allow you to set automatic reminders.
Give Basic Guidance
When you start delegating tasks to a new employee, you’ll want to err on the side of over communicating what you’re looking for in the final project. This might include sharing an example that represents that ideal final output, and/or vetted sources that provide information to help your employee complete the project. As you work together on a more regular basis, this level of communication won’t be necessary, but it certainly helps to set a good precedent for both parties in the beginning.
Besides offering basic guidance, make sure to also set expectations. For example, if you’re looking for a specific type of document, be sure to answer the following questions for the employee you’re delegating the task to:
What should it contain?
How long should it be?
What does the end result look like?
The more detail you can give, the less of a need for revisions. With less revisions, you’re freeing up both peoples’ time and energy for other important activities. It’s best to get these expectations in writing (email works, or use a tool like Planio to keep track of issues where they’re most relevant), so that both parties have something to refer back to throughout the length of the project.
How to Delegate: General Rules
Decide Which Tasks to Delegate
There are some things that you won’t feel comfortable getting behind unless you’ve taken complete ownership of them. But for every big task, there are many smaller tasks that go into it, such as:
Formatting a report/graphic design
Other administrative work
Why not delegate some of these smaller tasks?
Check for Agreement
Does the person you’re delegating work to understand what they need to do? Are they empowered to ask questions if need be? If you act unapproachable, the person you’re trying to delegate tasks to may try to act without full knowledge and understanding, and their end result may delay the project’s actual completion.
Set Project Deadlines
If the delegated project has any level of complexity and will take more than a day or two to complete, it’s a good idea to set multipleproject deadlines–not just the final due date. This is not an excuse to micromanage (as micromanaging can impede progress), but an opportunity to check in and see if the person you’ve delegated to needs any assistance or if they’re dealing with any challenges that might get in the way of the proposed due date.
If there’s a client (or a company higher up) a certain project is eventually due to, aim to get the project done well ahead of that due date, in case you hit any any snags through the process of delegation. Anticipating potential problems, internal/team due dates should definitely be earlier than final due dates.
Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions, but make sure to spend time giving some guidance if the project isn’t turning out how you initially intended. And when the project is finally done, make sure to give credit where credit is due. Even if you helped make something happen, it’s imperative to make your teammates feel good about the work they’ve done.
After the project is over, feel free to give another round of feedback, specifically addressing what went well and what could go better from next time. A good employee or teammate should be willing to always push for a better final output.
How to Delegate
The art of delegation is hardly cut and dry. There are subtle nuances that come into play in different situations, like working in a group or assigning work to an employee. Learning how to delegate means recognizing how to be effective in either situation.
Do you have any additional insight on how to delegate? Tweet at @Planio with your insights, and we’ll share our favorites!
Distraction is hard to beat when working from home, especially if you have to use your computer to accomplish tasks. On top of that, working from home means dealing with pets, potentially kids, and household chores that are begging to be done. Let’s not even get started on your never-ending Netflix queue.
Don’t let distractions take over your day. The key for how to be productive when working from home comes down to a mindset shift. It can be hard to see your home in the same light as your workplace, but these tips can help bridge that mental gap.
Ease into Your Workday
When you work from home, you inevitably save time on your commute. Many people swear by the mindset power of dressing up in slightly uncomfortable work clothes (business casual and pajamas are two very different things!), but you could nix a shower and dressing up to make more time in the morning, if that’s not helpful for your productivity. Ultimately what you choose to do is all about personal preference and knowing your own tendencies - know thyself.
Whatever you give up (commute, getting ready, etc.), you should instead use that time to get in the right mindset for the work ahead of you. Many productivity experts, like Chris Bailey, swear by meditation.
If that’s a little too crunchy granola for you, instead opt to do something like yoga, read a book (or the news), or even just sit quietly with a cup of tea. You could also use this time to work out - an activity that often gets neglected by those that work from home and get absorbed in their work.
The point of undertaking any of these activities is that you’re not rushing straight into work, and that you’re clearing your mind to start the day off right.
But don’t expect to be super productive if you don’t start work til 11am–unless you truly get your best work done at night. Know your own circadian rhythm. But even if you are a night owl, realize that since most people work 9-5, things come up at night. You likely won’t want to miss out on life and fun just so that you can complete work. Being very aware of your schedule can help to achieve the optimal balance and schedule.
Create a Clearly-Defined Workspace
Ideally, your workspace won’t be your bedroom. Having a separate space or room will help you physically and mentally separate work from your home life. It will also help you to create a work life balance. When you’re in your workspace, you’re focused on work. When you’re not in your workspace, you’re done with work for the time being. It seems simple, but can be hard to put into practice.
Let family members and anyone who’s at home with you know that when you’re in your workspace, you shouldn’t be bothered. Kids may have a hard time accepting this, so try to explain that the better your focus, the sooner you’ll be done, and the better state of mind you’ll be in to spend time together.
For best results, maintain a clean and tidy workspace. Physical clutter can cause mental clutter.
If you work from home every day, push yourself to spend some time outside of the home. It’s easier to get an office-like perspective away from home, at a coworking space, coffee shop, or even your local library.
Know Your Weaknesses & Distractions
Most people don’t like to take the time to uncover their weaknesses, because they see them as a completely negative thing. But being able to identify weaknesses and distractions is a necessary step in moving past them, and improving productivity.
A few quick tips for working with and around weaknesses:
Use a tool like RescueTime to identify where you’re spending most of your time, then work through different ways to recover that time and separate yourself from temptations.
Use a tool like Cold Turkey to temporarily block distractions, like time-suck social networking websites.
Disable notifications on your phone and consider placing it well out of your reach, on silent, when working through projects.
Use a tool like Planio to track time on various projects, so you know where your time is going.
People that work from home tend to either take too many breaks or not enough. An excellent way to find a happy balance is by incorporating the Pomodoro Method. With the Pomodoro Method, you spend 25 minutes on a task, then 5 minutes taking a break. A Tomato Timer app can help you easily implement this.
You’ll be surprised by how much you can get done if you spend the full 25 minutes completely focusing on one task. Just make sure you take your breaks just as seriously. Breaks are necessary for re-energizing. Not taking breaks can be non-productive, and can drain the day’s energy at a rapid rate.
If it makes you feel better, this can be a good time to knock out some of the chores staring you in the face. Or use it as an opportunity to get your blood flowing. Whether you work in an office, or from a home office, periodically taking a break from sitting is necessary.
Working from home often means much more flexibility than working in an office, and don’t be afraid to take advantage of this fact. If you’re tired and have no energy to keep working, take a nap. No one will judge you or find out if it helps you to be productive!
Have Healthy Food Available
While you’re figuring out how to be productive when working from home, it’s easy to be a slouch. If you’re working on a difficult task, it can be hard to tear yourself away from it just to make sure you eat an actual meal. It takes even more effort to make sure that your meals are healthy and can sustain your energy, instead of fast food that satiates, then causes an energy crash.
To get around these issues, consider picking one day a week to meal prep. You don’t have to go overboard, just make sure that you have options when time is scarce and the alternative is something unhealthy. Make sure to also keep good snacks around, so that food won’t get in the way of you being productive when working from home. Oh, and don’t skip breakfast! It’s your first and most important opportunity to energize your body for the day ahead.
Start with the Hardest Tasks First
As the day turns into the afternoon, energy inevitably takes a dive. Sometimes, this means important tasks go undone, and nothing is worse than a missed deadline. As a rule, start your day with the hardest tasks, or the ones with the closest due dates, first. If you’re having a mental block, at least take the opportunity to “procrastinate” your big task with other important tasks.
Block out time for certain tasks and hold that time as sacred. Maintain a schedule, and make sure EVERYTHING is on your calendar so you don’t miss anything. Make sure that your schedule includes time blocked out specifically for:
Calls with clients
Time for projects
Time for breaks!
Time to check email. According to Lifehacker, it takes 25 minutes to refocus after getting distracted. Email can be a giant productivity drain when handled incorrectly, so consider blocking out 2-3 short time periods each day to focus on it specifically - then stay off it for the rest of the day.
Time for non-work activities. This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a good work/life balance. If it’s not on your calendar, it’s not going to happen.
Besides scheduling time for everything, make sure that you write out your to do list the night before so that you know exactly what needs to be accomplished the next day, and can get started immediately, with a purpose. Try to focus on no more than 3 important items, otherwise you might get overwhelmed before the day even gets started. If there are more consistently more to do items than time in the day, you may need to reevaluate your schedule and commitments, or learn how to delegate.
Avoid Calls/Meetings Whenever Possible
Calls, and meetings in general are a time suck. Avoid calls when possible, see what you can accomplish through email. Here are a few ideas to help other team members, clients, and other stakeholders get on the same page:
Schedule 15 minute time blocks for meetings, instead of more standard 30 minutes or 1 hour blocks (and stick to the scheduled time!).
When you’re on a call, let people know that you have another one immediately after (even if you don’t) so that people feel more pressure to stick to the available time.
Set the agenda ahead of time so the call has a purpose and there’s no wasted time figuring out what to talk about.
Limit attendees to only the most relevant parties so that the purpose of the call doesn’t get lost in having too many voices.
If you freelance, build meeting time into each client contract and charge extra for additional meetings.
Track Your Progress
There’s something very satisfying about checking off items from a to do list. Take the list you’ve prepared from the night before, and cross off tasks as they’re accomplished. Additionally, add in other items that were taken care of that day that weren’t necessarily on this to do list. The goal is to create an “Accountability Report” to show you everything that resulted from your day’s work. If it doesn’t look like you accomplished much, use it as motivation to push yourself harder during your next work day.
Maintain a Connection to the Outside World
Working from home can be incredibly isolating. And feeling lonely is not good for productivity. Use your breaks productively by grabbing coffee with a fellow freelancer or industry connection, or by making time to establish a presence at a regular networking event. By connecting with others in a similar situation to you, it can be productive to work out any demons and compare notes.
How to Be Productive When Working From Home
It’s easy to get sucked in by all the distractions present when learning how to be productive when working from home. By knowing how you work and creating systems, you’ll find more success.
What are your best tips for how to be productive when working from home? Tweet at @Planio, and we’ll share our favorites!
I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp. — Somerset Maugham
I’ve always liked this quote, in theory. I love the idea of hard work, and being disciplined enough to show up every day, put your head down, and get things done without complaining.
But it’s not always that easy. For some of us, getting motivated is an everyday battle. Scientists say procrastination is a form of mood repair. That is, we put off the work we know we should be doing in order to do something else that will make us feel good. We don’t want to experience the uncomfortable feelings that come with doing our work like boredom, frustration, or stress. So we play video games or watch TV or browse Reddit to make ourselves feel good.
This sounds bad, right? If mood repair is basically procrastination, surely we should learn to ignore our moods and use discipline to get our work done instead, like Maugham.
Well, maybe not. A study on how our mood affects how we choose to spend our time found something fascinating about how we tackle annoying or boring tasks. It turns out we’re more likely to complete boring tasks that we’ve been putting off when we’re in a good mood.
Based on this research, improving our mood before we focus on work may just be the productivity boost we’ve all been looking for. If you, like me, end up with a backlog of “I should do that someday” tasks on your to do list, try setting aside time to improve your mood before your workday starts, and you may just find you’re magically getting through that backlog without even trying.
Improve your mood by eating less
While a common idea about dieting is that eating less makes you cranky, this isn’t necessarily true. Research on reducing calorie intake found that not only did eating less provide health benefits, it actually made people feel better, as well.
The study split participants into two groups and followed them for two years. One group continued their normal diet, while the other group cut their calorie intake by 25%.
After the first year, the calorie restricted group reported better sleep quality. At the end of the second year, they also reported reduced tension, better health overall, and better mood. They also lost almost 12% of their body weight, on average.
Compared to the control group, these are huge results. The calorie restriction, however, was major. Researchers warn that cutting 25% of your calorie intake is a big life change, and not something to be taken lightly. You should speak to a doctor before considering a drastic change like this—and think about changing your environment. As one of the study’s researchers, Corby Martin, says of anyone trying to restrict their calorie intake, “…it is just really hard to adhere to these diets over the long term, at least in today’s society… They’re minnows trying to swim upstream, in a world where it’s very easy to over-consume calories.”
An upbeat walk leads to upbeat thoughts
You might’ve heard that smiling will make you feel happier. This is because our actions influence our thoughts. But it’s not quite that simple—we can’t convince ourselves to be happy with a fake smile. It’s only when we have the internal, positive thoughts to match, that expressing a smile improves our mood.
However, one study found that changing our gait can change the way we think. The researchers in this study shared a list of words considered negative and positive with the participants before asking them to walk on treadmills. Participants were encourage to either walk with an upbeat gait (think good posture and swinging arms) or a downbeat gait (for instance, slumping). Feedback from the treadmill encouraged them to change their gait without giving it a name—participants simply adjusted their gait until the treadmill was happy, without knowing they were doing something “positive” or “negative.”
Afterwards, participants were tested on how many words they could remember from the pre-treadmill list. The study found that those who walked on the treadmill with an upbeat gait were more likely to remember positive words from the list, and those who walked in a downbeat manner remembered more negative words.
Previous research has used this word memory approach to prove the more positive your mood, the more likely you are to remember positive-sounding words from the original list.
When we combine these two findings, we can see that changing your gait appears to affect your mood. This is an easy approach to add into your morning before work starts—simply adjust your gait consciously as you get ready for work, walk to a café for your morning coffee, or walk to your desk when you arrive at the office. Swing your arms, look straight ahead, and keep your back straight—you’ll feel a difference immediately, but you may be surprised at how much better you feel by the time your workday starts.
Get around trees to feel happier
It’s common knowledge that exercise is good for us—our general health, our cognitive functioning, our fitness, and even our mood are all improved when we exercise.
We all tend to brush off things we know we should do, so to put a little spin on this age-old advice, try not just exercising, but specifically taking a walk somewhere very green. A park full of trees is ideal.
If you work in an city, this is a particularly important finding for you. Studies show city dwellers are at higher risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, and have a disproportionate tendency to brood when compared to those who live outside urban areas. Although most of us like a good brood now and then, extensive brooding can sometimes be a precursor to depression, so it’s not a good sign if you’re doing it often.
But it’s not just a long-term issue. You can get a quick mood boost from taking a walk in a park at lunchtime. A study at Stanford asked two groups of people to take solo walks at their own pace either near heavy traffic or in a lush, green area of the Stanford campus.
After their walks, those who’d been sent to the green area were happier and more attentive.
Other research has found that walking in nature can also lead to a slight decrease in brooding behavior.
And finally, for those of you who can’t get to a park full of trees for a walk, here’s a fascinating finding from another study: just seeing trees can actually improve your wellbeing. One study found that “an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt.” Simply having trees around us makes us happier.
So if you can move your desk to be near a window with a view of trees, or just pop down into a courtyard to see some greenery, it won’t feel like much but it could make a huge difference.
As with exercise, we all know we should eat lots of fruit and vegetables. It’s such common knowledge that most of us never get around to implementing.
Researcher Andrew Oswald says this is because the benefits of exercise are often intangible and far away—preventing cancer, or improving our health in old age, for instance.
Oswald is one of the authors of a study that looked at the eating habits of 12,000 Australians over several years. Some of those 12,000 people were convinced to go from eating zero serves of fruit and vegetables per day to the recommended eight, and the results were fascinating. The researchers found that eating more fruit and vegetables improved the mood of those participants so much that they equated it to being offered a job when you’re unemployed.
Oswald says immediate improvements in our wellbeing may be the reward we need to finally change our eating habits:
People’s motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later. However, well-being improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate.
You may not feel great right after you eat a banana, but eating a banana every day could be a great way to start your day in a better mood. The study found happiness increased per serve of fruit and vegetables up to eight per day, so if you’re eating less than eight now, you’ve got plenty of happy food to start eating.
Video games as mood therapy
Finally, perhaps the most fun strategy on this list. If you already play video games regularly, it’s likely you do so as a way to relax. This is a common reason giving for playing video games, but it turns out there’s some science backing up this effect, too.
One study in 2014 at University College in London looked at the time spent playing video games by 491 people, as well as their ability to recover from work-related stress each day. The study found a correlation between hours of gameplay and how well the participants recovered from stress.
Though no causal relationship has been proven, there’s plenty of evidence pointing to a correlation in relaxing and improving mood and how much time we spend playing video games. If you’re already a gamer, you now have another excuse to continue your favorite hobby. For those who aren’t, do you need more evidence to spend some time playing games? I know I don’t.
Only you know what improves your mood most. But if you’re not sure, there are plenty of ideas to test in this list. Science says these approaches tend to improve the mood of most people, so they’re worth trying out.
Start your day with a little mood booster and watch those boring tasks fly off your to do list.
If you asked me anytime in the past few years about whether I thought quantity or quality was more important, I would have said hands down, quality. With the internet making it easier than ever for more people to create and share their work, there’s a lot more low-quality work around, and we’re all struggling to find the diamonds in the rough.
Unfortunately, thinking that quantity and quality are mutually exclusive and that low-quality work is something we should never create isn’t as healthy an attitude as I’d thought. It turns out that quantity has a real purpose for those of us creating new work. Whether we’re writing software at work, building side projects, or even writing a blog, quantity is just as important as quality.
The reason is that we can’t create high-quality work without doing a bunch of junk first.
Think back to the first program you ever wrote, or the first software project you ever launched to the world. It probably wasn’t very impressive, right? Of course it wasn’t! Because none of us can start with amazing work. Even a genius has to spend time making bad (or at least average) work in order to improve.
So I’ve been thinking about quantity vs. quality all wrong. It’s not a competition at all. Rather, the truth is that quantity begets quality.
Though as creative people, we tend to have trouble with this. As writer Shawn Blanc says, we get caught up thinking about the amazing idea we have in our heads, and insisting that what we create matches that idea. But it often doesn’t work that way, and if you insist on perfecting your projects until they match the dream you had when you started out, you’ll never ship anything.
Today, the goal isn’t perfection. It’s far more simple: The goal is to show up and do the best work that I can. — Shawn Blanc
We might dream about creating a masterpiece, but Blanc notes that quality doesn’t come from sitting around dreaming, or thinking up amazing ideas. “Quality must be pursued,” he says, and if you quit (or give in to spending all your time dreaming) while you still suck, you’ll never break through to the point where you do create high-quality work.
As writer and entrepreneur Joe Bunting points out, we often think having great ideas is the key to success. Bunting had a friend who had “a lot of ideas for good books,” but wasn’t writing every day. When the friend asked Bunting how to be a writer, his answer was very simple—write more.
Good ideas are not enough, says Bunting. You have to put in the time while you’re doing crappy work if you ever want to do great work.
Today, don’t try to be perfect. Just try to write something better than what you wrote yesterday. — Joe Bunting
Why quantity is necessary for quality
If there was ever something that encouraged me to pursue quantity as a means to quality, it’s the fact that many of the best performers we know have done exactly this. In Talent is Overrated, author Geoff Colvin says that most of the world’s top performers are generally ordinary people just like us. The only difference is they practice more, and they practice more intentionally. Spending more time on what they suck at has made these people the top performers in the world.
Another great story about the effects of the quantity mindset is in the book Art and Fear. The story concerns a ceramics teacher, who split their class in two groups. One group was graded on the pure quantity of work they produced, simply by weighing each of their pots when the class was over. 50 pounds of pots would earn the student an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on.
The other half of the class was scored on quality. They were only tasked with making a single pot, but it had to be perfect for them to earn an A.
When the teacher scored all the pottery, guess which group produced the best pots? The group that made more.
The more pots they created, the more mistakes they made, and the more they learned. By the end of the class, they were creating high-quality pots, due to all the quantity they’d churned out and learned from.
Famed public radio producer and host of This American Life, Ira Glass, says we all have a period early in our careers when our taste outgrows our abilities. We start to realize what’s high-quality and what’s not, and being able to distinguish between the two makes us realize how far away we are from creating high-quality work.
The only way to get through that period, says Glass, is to make a lot of work.
It’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap, and the work that you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. — Ira Glass
So how do you put that into practice?
How to use quantity to achieve quality
It’s all very easy to say you have to make a lot of work before your work will improve, but how do you do that, practically? Here are a few suggestions you can apply to your work to ensure you’re pushing yourself toward the quantity you need to achieve quality.
Make a schedule
Jeff Atwood, founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse, says it’s important to stick to a schedule to ensure you’re creating new work regularly.
… pick a schedule you can live with, and stick to it. Until you do that, none of the other advice I could give you will matter.
The trick, says Atwood, is to commit to doing your work regularly, and to have a desire for improving your work. Do those two things, he says, and “you will eventually be successful.”
You might not know the name Karen Cheng, but you’ve probably seen this video:
Cheng knew she wasn’t a great dancer, but she wanted to improve. Her approach was pretty much what Atwood suggests: she picked a schedule (every day) and committed to improving her skills. But the twist is that Cheng stuck to her schedule for a year. It was a time-based challenge, rather than an infinite plan for improvement.
For learning a brand new skill, a time-based challenge can make the constant effort more achievable, as it’s uncomfortable to go through a period of quantity before you hit quality. And when you start out with a new skill, your quality is extremely low, for obvious reasons. In fact, Cheng says it was so uncomfortable to watch back early clips of herself that she deleted many of the videos she made at the start of her year-long project.
But having a challenge gave her an end-point to look forward to, and having a schedule meant she continued improving constantly.
Another example is Jennifer Dewalt’s challenge to learn to build websites. Dewalt set out to build 180 websites in 180 days. Dewalt was starting out as a total beginner in programming, coming from a background in fine art. She knew the best way to improve quickly was to churn out a huge quantity of work, so she saved up until she could quit her job and spend six months full-time on her 180 websites project.
I didn’t have a plan at first, but I knew that if I was going to succeed at learning to code, I would need to crank out as much code as possible. — Jennifer Dewalt
Like the quantity group in the ceramics class, Dewalt worked through so many small, self-contained projects that she made plenty of mistakes and learned enough to increase the quality of her work by the end of the challenge.
I chose to make a website every day because it meant that I would have to finish something every day and start again the next day. Finishing something every day would make me feel like I was winning, and having a deadline meant that I couldn’t get hung up on the little things. It didn’t matter if I understood everything that was going on, just as long as I shipped.
Stick it out
More than anything, the idea that quantity begets quality means we have to be willing to put in time and effort before seeing results. As Jeff Atwood says, the fact that success takes time weeds out the people who are too impatient to get there.
If you can stick it out longer than anyone else, you’re already at an advantage. Keep producing new work, build up that quota of quantity, and don’t give up while you still suck—that’s a recipe for (eventual) success.
Working in the tech industry, I know networking is important. I’ve seen a whole host of benefits from the networking I’ve done in the past, including:
Finding new clients as a freelancer
Finding a new full-time job
Help with spreading the word when I’m working on a new project
Advice on improving my projects from others with more experience
Of course, there are many more benefits that I haven’t come across personally yet. Having a strong network can help you with fundraising, getting introductions to investors, mentors, or potential new hires, increasing the exposure of your product, and even helping you find new customers.
But the benefits of networking don’t offset how unnatural it feels for many of us. Traditional networking events can be awkward, time-consuming, and often don’t feel very useful.
I’ve let those downsides turn me off networking recently, but I know I need to get the ball rolling again if I’m going to improve my work and share it with more people. So I’ve started looking for advice about networking from people who are already great at it.
The main thing I’ve realised during my research is how changing how I think about networking can improve how I feel about doing it.
Rethink your approach to networking
If you think about networking as I do, a kind of necessary activity that can be uncomfortable and take your time away from other work, adjusting your approach can make networking more fun and more beneficial.
I love to play soccer, and I’ve joined after-work coed teams in every city I’ve lived in. Whether I’m in Palo Alto, London, or San Diego, I can always find a team to jump in on, and some of my best business contacts (and perhaps more importantly, most enduring friendships) have been made with my fellow soccer enthusiasts.
Marketing strategist Dorie Clark suggests creating your own gatherings if traditional networking events don’t appeal. For someone who finds big crowds and noisy environments overwhelming, a relaxing, intimate dinner party might be a better way to get to know people you admire. Or you could simply reach out to individuals to set up one-on-one meetings.
Author Ramit Sethi advocates the one-on-one approach. Sethi suggests reaching out through a warm contact, rather than a cold email, being concise in your initial contact, and pointing out any similarities or shared interests you have with the person you want to meet. When you do follow up with a meeting, you should be prepared with insightful questions, says Sethi.
GOOD: I noticed you did XYZ. It’s interesting because Very-Important-Person took a different approach and did ABC. What was your thinking? BAD: I’m so unhappy at my job. What should I do with my life? Ugh. Get a bowl of soup and a therapist.
The most common advice I’ve come across about rethinking your approach to networking is to stop thinking of it as a “take” situation, and start thinking about giving.
Commonly known as a master networker, Adam Rifkin, the CEO of Pandawhale, says helping others is the key to building a strong network. “Look for opportunities to do something for the other person,” says Rifkin, “such as sharing knowledge or offering an introduction to someone that person might not know but would be interested in knowing.”
You can also share your own knowledge, or information you come across that might be useful to someone you know. The more often you show that you’re trying to help someone, says Rifkin, “the more likely that person will begin to keep you in mind as well.”
Steve Blank, author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany, says this approach is the trick to getting meetings with very busy people. If you’re following Ramit Sethi’s advice to try setting up one-on-one meetings, you’ll want to pay attention here. Blank gets many requests to spend time with entrepreneurs every day, but the ones he makes time for, he says, are those who offer to teach him something in return for his knowledge and advice.
This offer of teaching me something changes the agenda of the meeting from a one-way, you’re learning from me, to a two-way, we’re learning from each other.
According to Rifkin, the most important part of this approach is to help others without expecting anything. When you give to others without expecting anything in return, others will be encouraged to help you naturally.
I always thought networking was about meeting as many people as possible and having a lot of contacts. But it turns out successful networking doesn’t have to be about how many people you know.
Adam Rifkin suggests prioritising how you spend your networking efforts. One exercise Rifkin suggests is thinking about the first 5-10 people you would call if you lost your job (or your business failed) today. Those relationships are clearly important to you, so Rifkin says you should make a point to prioritise spending time on strengthening those relationships before you need them.
Another prioritisation exercise Rifkin suggests is to think about the 5-10 people you spend most of your time with. If you’re not happy with who these people are, Rifkin says to focus your energy on adjusting who you count in this group. If you are happy with that group of people, Rifkin says to focus on simply bringing one new person into that group.
Both of these activities help focus your networking efforts on people who are most important to you. Unlike my previous idea of networking—spending hours every month at big events meeting lots of new people—this approach makes networking more achievable and more useful.
Another misconception I had about networking was that I should be able to create deep connections with all the people I meet at networking events. If I didn’t come away from an event with a handful of contacts that already seemed useful, I thought I’d failed at networking.
But I was relieved to find that pro networkers say not to look for deep connections at networking events. According to Kate Finley, “Large, crowded events aren’t designed for cultivating deep relationships, but rather for making initial contact.”
Rather than trying to make strong connections immediately, Finley says to spend just enough time with each person that you feel comfortable following up later. For those of us who are introverted or shy, and find it hard to spend time in big crowds of people, this approach is less overwhelming than trying to build deep connections with every person we meet.
Meet a few people, establish quick connections, and escape, ready to follow up on your fledgling relationships! — Kate Finley
Rifkin agrees with this approach. “Most people try to escalate a relationship too quickly,” he says, but “trust is built slowly, over time.”
Networking tips from the pros
So what about when you’re actually networking with people? Changing your attitude to networking doesn’t take away the anxiety of meeting strangers!
Let’s take a look at some of the more specific tips from pro networkers.
Act like a journalist
Danny Iny, founder and CEO of Mirasee, offers this clever tip. If you’re uncomfortable making small talk at networking events, try thinking of yourself as a journalist in disguise.
Aim for one-on-one conversations, says Iny, and imagine your assignment is to produce a compelling feature article on the person you’re talking to. You don’t want to interrogate them, obviously, but try to listen carefully and ask thoughtful questions to see if you can uncover something interesting about each person you talk to.
Having this challenge in mind can give you a focus for your conversation, and help you pay more attention to the person you’re talking to, rather than your own nerves.
Another great tip for introverts, or anyone who gets overwhelmed by networking events, is to let yourself take breaks. Kate Finley says this helps her get through long events without running out of energy:
Consistently taking the time to recharge alone allows you to approach your networking sessions with renewed spunk.
If you need to leave an event for a few minutes alone or a quick walk around the block, feel free. Letting yourself take breaks to get through the energy-demanding event can make it more manageable so you still reap the benefits of meeting new people without burning yourself out.
Dorie Clark suggests thinking of yourself as athletes do—after performing, an athlete knows their muscles need time to rest before another event. Your energy is the same, especially if you’re introverted and find big events zap your energy, rather than pumping you up. “…alternating between social and quiet time enables me to be at my best when I do interact with people,” says Clark.
Reach out before the event
To overcome the awkwardness of not knowing people at an event, Lisa Petrilli, CEO of C-Level Strategies, Inc., suggests reaching out before the event. If you know of some people who’ll be attending the event, reach out to them on social media and let them know you’re looking forward to meeting them.
This pre-introduction leads to a more relaxed and productive in-person connection. By reaching out, you open the door to potentially rewarding business collaborations, and you do so on your own terms. — Lisa Petrilli
Those few moments when you first enter an event can be the most nerve-wracking. If you didn’t know anyone attending that you could reach out to before the event, another way to get past the initial awkwardness of not knowing someone is to jump in a queue. Whether it’s a line for the bathroom, the buffet, or the bar, any kind of queue will give you a purpose so you don’t feel adrift in the middle of the room.
And more importantly, it makes it easy to start up a conversation with whoever’s next to you in line. With a shared purpose and a short time for chatting, it’s less nerve-wracking to start a casual chat. You might not meet a useful business contact (though you might!) but you’ll work out those nerves about starting your first conversation with a stranger.
Start with old friends
Research shows dormant contacts (that is, colleagues or friends you haven’t spoken to in more than three years) tend to be at least as useful as current contacts—sometimes even more so.
We tend to overlook dormant contacts as not being useful, but a study of MBA students found that after ranking their top ten dormant contacts in order of how useful they thought they’d be, the students actually saw no correlation in the help they got with a work project and how useful they rated their contacts. The students’ dormant contacts were at least at helpful as their current contacts, and they were stable in their help throughout the top ten list, regardless of ranking.
In other words, we tend to have the wrong idea about old friends and colleagues.
The good thing about this research is that it’s easier to reach out to someone you already know that a stranger. If you’re struggling with networking, try starting out easy with old friends and colleagues. Re-strengthen those ties to build your confidence before stepping up to building new connections.
Make it a habit
Adam Rifkin suggests putting a little effort into your network every day, especially if you find networking difficult or uncomfortable. Ask for an introduction, follow up with someone you already know, or set up a meeting. It doesn’t matter what you do, just build the habit of connecting professionally with one person every day.
Rifkin also suggests practicingmaking introductions. Follow up after introducing people to find out how useful the connection was, he suggests, and take on feedback from the introductions you make so you can get better at this skill in the future.
Prepare with scripts and goals
Knowing how to approach a networking situation in advance can take some of the anxiety out of it. Career coach Marie G. McIntyre suggests creating rough scripts to use when introducing yourself, making introductions, or asking for help. You don’t want to rehearse a word-for-word script, McIntyre says, but rather have an outline in mind so you always get across your most important points without rambling.
This can be handy for in-person networking, but also sending emails or making phone calls. Knowing your purpose and the rough outline of your introduction or pitch can help calm the nerves, especially if you’re about to be chatting with a stranger for the first time.
McIntyre also suggests setting yourself a goal before attending a networking event. For instance, you might set a goal to make one or two connections. This gives you a reason to push yourself to meet new people, but it also gives you a limit. Once you’ve hit that goal, if you’re not enjoying the event you can leave early. Clearly defined parameters for what you want to achieve and at what point you’re happy to leave can make it easier to face a big event.
I’m not rushing out to sign up for networking events, because the idea of spending hours among a big group of strangers still makes me a little nervous. But I’m not dreading these events quite so much after doing all this research. For one thing, I’m keen to try out some of these tips to see how much I can improve my own networking skills.
But more than anything, I took away from my research the idea that networking is a skill that you can build with time and practice. It’s a relief to know that even though I’m not great at networking now, I can improve if I put in the effort.
I get really nervous about asking people for things. I hate confrontation, and I find it uncomfortable to ask for a favor or to try to persuade someone of my point of view.
It turns out, I’m not alone. Most people don’t like asking others for favors or trying to persuade them. But most of us also hate to say no. Which is great for those of us doing the asking, because it means people will cave in more often, since they just don’t want to turn us down.
But few of us know this about our fellow humans, so we tend to underestimate how willing people are to help us if we ask them to.
Several studies tested this by having participants first estimate how many people would agree before heading out to persuade strangers to do various things. The first example was a simple one: participants had to ask strangers to lend them their mobile phone. Participants estimated on average that they’d have to ask ten people before anyone said yes, but in reality they only had to ask an average of six people to get a yes.
Another study tested whether the size of the task would make a difference to how easily strangers could be persuaded to do it. Participants were tasked with asking strangers to fill out either a one-page or a ten-page survey. Amazingly, the odds for persuading strangers to participate remained the same across both tasks.
These researchers really wanted to learn about how to persuade strangers to do things. They did yet another study, this time making participants ask strangers to write the word “pickle” in a purported library book. In pen.
While many people expressed concerns about doing this task, participants were able to persuade over 64% of strangers they approached.
All these studies helped the researchers put together a theory that most people hate the awkwardness of turning someone down—even a stranger. A final study tested just how much people hate to say no by first having participants ask strangers to fill out a survey. For those participants who said no to this request, participants then asked them to take a letter from the participant and mail it.
Many people said yes to the request to mail a letter, even though it’s arguably a more inconvenient task than simply stopping to fill out a survey. These people, the researchers said, hated the awkwardness of saying no so much that rather than do it a second time, they preferred to take on a more inconvenient task than the one they’d already turned down.
Of course, not everyone is this averse to saying no. And, depending on the circumstances, most of us have situations where the awkwardness of saying no is not as bad as we feel agreeing would be.
But for those times when we’re on the fence, or willing to be persuaded from the “no” camp, let’s take a look at what you can keep in mind to encourage others to do things you suggest.
Persuading people to do things for you
I wouldn’t call these methods manipulation. In fact, I tried a couple of them on some local politicians recently, and was very disappointed in the results. So I hardly need to tell you to wield them wisely. These are very small adjustments, but they work, on average, by employing knowledge about what makes us rethink our own decisions and make different ones.
Use the word “willing” after you’ve met resistance
If someone has already said no, and you don’t want to give them a different task like mailing a letter, you may have more luck persuading them to do the original task with this approach. The word “willing,” it seems, is somewhat of a magic word when it comes to asking people to change their behavior.
One study asked people who’d been in an argument to try mediating the situation. Those who refused were then asked if they’d be willing to try mediating the situation.
As Psychologist Elizabeth Stokoe says, “if you ask someone ‘are you interested in mediation?’ they might say yes or no. But if you ask them if they’re willing to mediate, that requires them saying something about the type of person that they are.”
The difference, it seems, is that asking what someone is willing to do, rather than asking them directly to do something, changes that question about an immediate action to a question about what that person’s boundaries are. This makes them rethink their answer, as it brings their ideas about themselves as a person into the mix, rather than simply letting them make a quick decision about taking an action right now.
Stokoe warns, though, that this approach works best after meeting with resistance. So use this one as a backup when other approaches don’t work.
Use the phrase “you will probably refuse…”
Have you ever noticed how telling a kid to do something often makes them want to do the exact opposite? Or maybe you’ve even been this kid. You’re thinking about how you should clean your room when a parent walks in and gives you a roasting about how messy your room is, and tells you to clean it up. Well now that’s the last thing you’re going to do! There’s just something about being told we have to do something that makes us want to do the opposite.
Perhaps this comes from the fact that humans love to think we have a choice in everything. It doesn’t actually matter whether we do have a choice or not; we just need to feel like we do.
This approach taps into that mindset. When you start a request by saying, “You’ll probably refuse, but…” you tap into that person’s desire to prove you wrong. For instance, imagine someone raising money for charity stopped you on the street and said, “You’ll probably refuse, but would you like to help abandoned dogs with a donation?” Well, who among us wants to let a stranger be right about us not caring about abandoned dogs! Of course we want to prove them wrong by giving the dogs a donation.
One study tested this theory in a very similar situation. Researchers asked people to donate to charity in two different ways. Some people were asked directly, while others were asked like this:
You will probably refuse, but I wonder if you could help us by making a donation?“
While not everyone cared enough to prove the researchers wrong, the approach did work better than a direct ask for a donation. From those asked directly, 25% donated to the charity. From those told they would probably refuse, 39% donated.
It’s not 100%, but it’s certainly a bigger percentage, and it doesn’t take much effort to put this strategy into practice.
You might have used altercasting before without even realizing it. If you’ve ever suggested a friend, spouse, or colleague is particularly adept in an area before asking for a favor that relies on those exact skills, that’s altercasting. For instance, telling your spouse they’re a great cook before asking them to cook dinner. Or telling your friend that you always appreciate how generous they are, before asking for a loan.
Altercasting refers to casting that other person in a role. There are two ways altercasting can works. The first is called "manded” altercasting, which is what my examples are. This is when we don’t change our behavior at all, but we explicitly suggest a role for the other person.
The other method of altercasting is called “tact,” which is when we don’t explicitly suggest a role, but change our behavior to imply a role for the other person. For instance, if you make a mess and keep dropping things in an attempt to cook dinner until your spouse takes over, you’re implicitly suggesting the role of “good cook” for your spouse by showing how terrible you are in comparison.
The reason altercasting works is because we tend to want to live up to the labels we’re given. When someone we care about tells us we’re a good cook, or we’re generous, we feel the need to prove them right, because we want to see those traits in ourselves, too.
But this can prove dangerous when suggesting negative roles for others, such as telling someone they’re slow, unproductive, or lazy. It’s probably best to only suggest positive roles when using altercasting. Try suggesting a role you think the other person would want to see themselves in to avoid using this technique in a way that feels manipulative.
Whether it’s a local politician, your spouse, or a colleague, there are plenty of times when we want to persuade someone else to do what we’re suggesting. These methods certainly won’t guarantee that you can get others to do your bidding, but if you’re attempting to persuade someone, try throwing in one of these strategies to give yourself a better chance of success.
When you’re focusing on being more productive, producing better work, and motivating your team, it’s easy to forget to celebrate successes along the way. The small wins, in particular, tend to go unnoticed unless we make a conscious effort to savor them.
But research shows celebrating hard—and often—can actually improve your team’s performance and how well they work together.
Celebrating strengthens relationships
According to Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, how you celebrate success is more predictive of the strength of a relationship than how you fight when things aren’t going well.
A 2012 study explains why the way you celebrate success is more important than how you handle tough times in a relationship. Looking at couples, the study found people whose spouses were supportive during good times believed they’d also be supportive when times were tough. The spouse didn’t even have to prove their support during rough periods; just thinking their spouse would be supportive in hard times was enough. Those relationships scored better for emotional intimacy, trust, and relationship satisfaction.
Celebration has also been shown to improve relationships among sports teammates. Research shows the more convincingly a sports team celebrates their success together, the better their chances are of winning.
A 2010 study looked at this effect specifically among basketball teams. The study found the teams who touched each other most with congratulatory taps, fist bumps, hugs, pats, and high-fives also co-operated the most and won the most.
Another study examined how celebratory behaviors in soccer teams correlated to which teams won more penalty shootouts. The study found that celebrations using both arms were most closely associated with winning shootouts. “It was more likely that the next kick taken by an opponent was missed after a player displayed these behaviours after a goal than when he did not,” say the researchers, who attribute this finding to something called emotional contagion. Basically, the player’s two-armed celebration is big enough to make the other players catch that enthusiasm. As a result, they all play better as a team.
So this is good news for everyone from friends and spouses to colleagues. Take some time to acknowledge good news among the team and celebrate success together—even making a big deal out of small wins could improve how well you work together.
Celebrating induces the progress principle
When it comes to productivity, it helps to feel good about your work. We all know how much easier it is to get things done when you’re excited by what you’re doing. Research shows that the best way to encourage these good feelings that lead to productivity is to make progress on meaningful work:
Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.
According to studies, the more frequently people experience this feeling, the more productive they’ll be long-term. This is known as the progress principle.
And again, small wins can work just as well as big ones. Celebrating minor milestones throughout the day or week can be enough to make your team feel like they’re gaining momentum.
The only caveat to remember here is that the work must feel meaningful for the progress principle to work. So start by taking some time to help your team see how they’re contributing to meaningful results, and follow that up by ensuring you celebrate each other’s success.
While celebrating our success (and that of our teammates) can improve how we work together and how productive we are, it can also make us happier to share good news.
Research shows telling others about our own positive feelings can make us happier. But, even better, just thinking about telling someone your good news can make you feel happier, too.
Savoring is what social psychologist Fred Bryant calls the process of sharing and enjoying good news and positive feelings. It’s another way of talking about celebrating success or positive events. And Bryant says it’s something we should all be doing more of:
Savoring is the glue that bonds people together, and it is essential to prolonging relationships. People who savor together stay together.
Research also shows that when we outwardly express our good feelings, we tend to feel happier. This is because we’re giving the brain evidence that something good has happened. The brain can take in and respond to the external signs of good news when we express ourselves outwardly, which serves to compound our initial good feelings.
Although all this research points back to the basic idea that celebrating success—even small wins—is beneficial, there’s quite a bit to unpack within all that research.
For starters, simply sharing your good news or positive feelings with others can make you happier. That’s an easy one to get started on.
Before you start encouraging your team to celebrate more often, however, remember to make sure they feel their work is meaningful. We love the feeling of making progress, but not if we think our work is a drag in the first place. Show your teammates the fruits of their labor and help them understand how they’re contributing to something meaningful.
Once you’re all invested in what you’re doing, it’s time to turn up the celebrations. Encourage your teammates to share even small wins with each other, and make the time and effort to celebrate those wins as a team.
And remember, the bigger your celebrations, the better the effect.
When software crashes, you are increasingly likely to lose more than your high score in Tetris.
Our cars, our airplanes, and health care systems all rely more and more on software. As Marc Andreessen says, software is eating the world, as almost every industry is being reimagined with the impact of software.
All of this is to say that the quality of all this software is really important. Let’s dive into a landscape overview of quality in software.
When we’re talking about the quality of software, we’re talking about how good it is. Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which software is good.
The first is functional quality: “how well does this software do the job it’s supposed to do?” Will it crash if I try to import a CSV file? Can the user do the tasks that she wants to do with it without swearing and threatening the computer?
The second is structural quality:”how well is this software engineered?” Is it a pile of spaghetti code that will drive future developers to desperation? Or is it written in modular code that can be easily extended and modified later? Your users may not directly see the structural quality, but it still impacts how quickly you can develop new features and fix bugs that arise. You can sacrifice structural quality for speed, but doing this excessively will lead to technical debt.
Functional testing involves checking whether the software works as expected. For example, you might log into a microblogging app and try to create a post with no content and you expect to receive an error message saying that you can’t do that.
Every time you add some new code to your app, you run the risk of breaking the existing functionality (these are called regressions).
Ideally, you’d check whether the existing functionality still works after each new code change. That, however, will be very tedious if you’re doing it by hand.
That’s where the power of automation can come to your rescue. You can write a script that will automatically test the functionality you want to test. Here’s an example of a test for a Ruby on Rails microblogging app using the RSpec testing framework:
In the above screenshot, the test:
creates a user;
signs the user into the app using the Capybara web driver;
attempts to create a micro post with empty content; and
checks whether this results in an error.
The fundamental idea is that you can run this test repeatedly during your development process, and the test results will show you whether you’ve broken anything.
You can be sure that creating an empty post will result in an error message if this test passes.
This saves you from having to open up the app in your browser, logging in and clicking through all the screens to see whether you’ll get an error message if you create an empty post.
At the same time, you should still go through the app on a regular basis, thinking about whether the app meets the quality requirements you had in mind. However, you’ll be spared the boring task of checking whether every little piece of functionality still works for the 15th time.
The reason is that there is a subtle difference between checking whether everything works as you think it works and testing the product on whether it meets your required standard.
Checking is the process of checking whether everything works as you think it will work. For example, you introduce a new feature in your software, and you go back and check whether the rest of the software runs as intended.
“Checking”, Michael writes, “is focused on making sure the program doesn’t fail”.
The result of this is that you can write code that will test assertions about your code, and you can run those tests to see whether the assertions hold up or not.
In Michael’s definition, testing is an exploratory process in which you test the limits of the product at hand. Michael comments that when you are testing, you are “largely driven by questions that haven’t been answered or even asked before.”
You’re using your knowledge and experience to make judgment calls on whether something might be a problem. You can’t automate the process of exploring your software because by definition you’re uncovering new information.
You’re asking “what if?” questions about your software that you haven’t answered before.
The QA Function in Software Teams
Not every organization takes the same approach to quality in software. Some see it as a functional role owned by a team in the company. Others see it as a role in a cross-functional team, and yet others see quality as something every person working on the product should work towards.
Approach #1: the QA Team
Some organizations have a separate QA team that tests and analyzes the quality of the software. In this case, a developer develops a feature, and then it’s handed over to the QA team for assessment of its quality.
Perhaps the flaw in this approach is that you end up with a rather inflexible release schedule, an adversarial conflict between the product team and the QA team and perhaps even an attitude of developing features to the minimum required standard before letting the QA team figure out the problems.
Approach #2: the QA Champion
Some teams moved on to having a QA person in the cross-functional product team. That person would champion QA in the team and might also take the lead on writing automated tests. The aim is to move away from an adversarial situation where testers point out the problems in the developers’ work and move toward working together on producing higher quality software.
Approach #3: “No QA”
Finally, some teams have taken this approach a step further. They’ve adopted a “No QA” approach without any dedicated QA role in the team. Every developer owns the QA of their work. They write their own tests, think up of edge cases and ship features that meet quality standards. Steve Wells comments that having QA roles allows others on the team to abdicate responsibility for quality to someone else.
Some teams also advocate a “test-driven” approach to software development. In this model, you write the assertions the software should pass before you write the software itself. You then write the software to pass the tests and then you refactor the software (improve the code quality), all while keeping the test passing.
A Process for Tracking Issues in Quality
Regardless of how you approach quality in your software development process, you’ll need a process of tracking bugs or issues. Let’s work through a process using Planio, which is perfect for this use case.
Capture Information about the Bug
First, you create an issue in Planio reporting the bug. Joel Spolsky argues that a good bug report needs three things:
Steps to reproduce the bug;
What you expected to see; and
What you saw instead.
The reason for the second two is that it’s not always obvious that an outcome is a bug. The classic response to an irate middle manager filing a bug is, “That’s a feature, not a bug”. By being able to understand what the bug reporter expected to see you can determine whether the software is actually defective.
You might also want to gather information such as the browser, the operating system, the screen size or the device.
Prioritize the Bug
Is the padding off on one of your app screens? Or perhaps the security of your users’ data is at risk? One of these bugs is obviously more important than the other. You might even have a service level agreement that means you have to address certain categories of bugs within 24 hours, for example.
Communicate & Assign
Based on the priority, you’ll have to get one or more people to look into fixing it. This means you have to assign it to someone and you have to keep the reporter updated on the status of the bug. People hate submitting a bug, and never hearing another word, even if you fix it.
Reproduce The Bug
It’s hard to fix a problem you can’t see. Therefore, the first step toward fixing a bug will be to reproduce the bug. If the bug can’t be reproduced, you’ll have to assign it back to the reporter with the status Cannot Reproduce.
Review and Deploy
It is good practice to have at least one other pair of eyes look over a bug fix, as there’s no point in solving one bug to create two others. You’ll want to then assign the fix to someone else to review before deploying the bug fix.
You can set up custom statuses in Planio for bug tracking. For instance, they could be:
A bug can then cycle through these statuses, ending up at Fixed or Unresolved depending on the outcome.
That wraps up this article on quality in software. You should also check out these articles:
You probably know if you’re a night owl or a morning lark—or somewhere in-between. We all have an internal body clock that runs slightly differently, meaning we’re more alert and productive during a particular time of day, and prefer to sleep during a particular period. Night owls tend to have a later body clock, which makes them more productive later in the day and sleepy early in the morning.
If you know where your body clock fits, you can schedule your day to work with your energy levels rather than against them. Depending on how much flexibility you have, you might be able to schedule your entire work day to be a few hours earlier or later than your colleagues to suit your body clock, or you may just have to juggle your 9-5 hours so your most important tasks are scheduled for the hours you’re most switched-on.
Despite having a period of time when we’re most likely to be productive, we also have an unfortunate tendency to self-sabotage during those same hours, according to research.
Self-sabotaging is when we set ourselves up for failure so we don’t have to face the truth about whether we would have failed otherwise. A good example is having a huge night out before an important meeting, or when we spend the night partying instead of studying right before an exam.
By sabotaging our own efforts, we have an excuse to fall back on when we fail, which protects our egos from taking the fall.
One study found that “you are more likely to engage in self-sabotage during the hours in which your mind is at its best.” The study’s lead author, Julie Eyink, says, “unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to get caught in a negative spiral, in which self-handicapping leads to lower self-esteem and higher failure beliefs, which prompt more self-handicapping.”
And it’s not just the obvious acts of staying up late, not preparing for a meeting, or getting drunk so you head to work with a hangover—self-handicappers also tend to make-up excuses for not being able to perform like being sick, tired, or stressed.
This might sound like procrastination in the extreme, but it’s slightly different. While we procrastinate to avoid all kinds of unpleasant emotions, such as boredom, stress, or frustration, self-sabotage is mostly related to a fear of failure. Ed Hirt, another author of the study explains:
People who are feeling uncertain about themselves and start to fear that they might fail are more likely to identify potential excuses and self-handicap when they’re at their peak than when they’re not.
So these destructive behaviors tend to start from that one nasty feeling: a fear of failure. Stopping ourselves from self-sabotaging is difficult, because we often don’t realize exactly why we’re doing it. We know we should be preparing for work, but we find ourselves at the bar anyway, and we can’t really explain it.
If we focus on that fear of failure instead, we may be able to lessen the fear that’s causing us to self-sabotage in the first place.
Think of failure as a learning experience
Jeff Atwood, founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse, says developers should learn to expect failure. After all, it’s extremely common when dealing with software projects.
As a developer, the likelihood that you’re working on a project that will fail is high. Every failure should be considered a rich opportunity for learning what doesn’t work, and why.
Atwood isn’t fetishizing failure, as we’ve seen happen in startup culture, but rather pushing us to accept that it’s likely we’ll run into failure. Since failure is common for software projects, setting out with the idea that failed projects can teach us something can take the sting out of failure when it does happen, and help us get past our fear of it.
“If you really want to know if someone is competent at their profession,” says Atwood, “ask them about their failures.”
He quotes an article by Malcolm Gladwell about predicting the success or failure of surgeons. In the article, sociologist Charles Bosk explains that when interviewing young doctors who’d been fired or resigned to determine what had made them fail, it was those who said they never failed who didn’t fit his prediction of who would become a good doctor.
And the residents who said, ‘I make mistakes all the time. There was this horrible thing that happened just yesterday and here’s what it was.’ They were the best. They had the ability to rethink everything that they’d done and imagine how they might have done it differently.
Michael Hunter from Microsoft says, “learning doesn’t happen from failure itself but rather from analyzing the failure, making a change, and then trying again.”
If we’re to learn, we need to fail—but more than that, if Hunter’s to be believed, we need to thoroughly analyze those failures to understand how to avoid that failure next time.
Think of yourself as a scientist
Buckminster Fuller was an eccentric and prolific inventor. He published over 30 books as well as inventing various architectural designs, and even coining new terms such as “Spaceship Earth.”
But one of the most interesting things about Fuller is his scientific approach to life. After hitting rock bottom and considering suicide, Fuller decided to instead approach his life as an experiment. Since he had nothing left to lose, he began thinking of his life as one long study in how he could best contribute to humanity. “My objective,” he said, “was humanity’s comprehensive success in the universe.”
Fuller’s approach to life made it possible for him to fail, often, and invent things that didn’t work, without losing enthusiasm for his work. His thought process reframed failures so they simply became data points in his life-long search for the best ways to contribute to the human race.
As designer and entrepreneur Paul Jarvis says, this style of thinking makes it easier to try things that might fail. Jarvis noticed his skills stagnating and knew side projects could help him improve, but fear held him back. “My day-job was comfortable,” he says, “so I didn’t want to fail at something new.”
Side projects can be scary. There’s more of us in them so they hit closer to home. This can make them difficult to start or follow through on.
Jarvis realized thinking like a scientist would stop his fear of failure from holding him back.
To get over my own fear of failure with them, I started picturing these ideas as simply being experiments. Experiments don’t “fail"—they simply prove or disprove a hypothesis. For example, despite my day job as a designer I had the hypothesis that I could also write an e-book. I then simply started writing. I didn’t focus on the outcome, how the book would be received or what others would think of it. I figured, "let’s give this a try”.
Jarvis readily admits that many of his side projects have failed. “Some only proved that there wasn’t a market or opportunity for an idea, and several apps I made didn’t sell a single copy,” he says.
But his new approach to thinking about side projects has removed the fear that leads us to self-sabotage. Now Jarvis is experimenting constantly, rather than finding excuses to stay safe.
Remember that failure is necessary for success
Another entrepreneur who knows a thing or two about failure is Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. Adams has had many an entrepreneurial idea in his time, and many have failed. In fact, Adams admits Dilbert was one of his many schemes to make something people wanted, rather than a passion project, and it just happened to take off.
“For most people,” he says, “it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion.” Cartooning wasn’t something Adams was passionate about when he started Dilbert, but he says his passion mysteriously grew as Dilbert’s success increased.
So Adams suggests we don’t rely on passion, but rather focus on figuring out what people want, and using failures as stepping stones along the way.
… failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight. Everything you want out of life is in that huge, bubbling vat of failure. The trick is to get the good stuff out.
More than just accepting that we’ll have failures and we can learn from them, Adams takes things a step further. Failures are the best learning tools we have, insists Adams, and they should be doing more than simply preparing you for future failures.
If I find a cow turd on my front steps, I’m not satisfied knowing that I’ll be mentally prepared to find some future cow turd. I want to shovel that turd onto my garden and hope the cow returns every week so I never have to buy fertilizer again.
According to Adams, failures are necessary for us to reach success. So besides accepting them when they happen, we can prepare ourselves for failures that might arise by remembering that any failure is a step closer to success.
Fear of failure is a tricky subject, because many of us don’t realize we have it in the first place. But if it’s holding us back by causing us to self-sabotage during our most productive hours, it’s something we need to get under control.
Fear is a strong feeling to overcome, but combining an experimental approach to our work, acceptance that failure is necessary for us to reach success, and looking for ways to learn from each flop we produce can take the sting out of failure so we’re a little less hesitant to face it next time.