What does impulse control look like in the workplace? Can better impulse control buffer against the proven perils of multitasking, like slower and shallower thinking, lower creativity, and increased anxiety? New research shows that impulse control can be a surprisingly powerful pathway to self-discovery. -By Philippe Mora (@philippemora)
Philadelphia, 03/07/14 - I've used the pomodoro technique for years, and now I have designed a variation of it, thanks to my fuelband - every hour nike plus gives you the opportunity to "win the hour" and get a digital trophy ... the more hours you win in the day, the more trophies you get. Now what does "winning the hour" entail ? You need to get up and move vigorously for at least 5 minutes every hour within a pre-defined time period during the day (I set mine to 7am to 7pm). So every hour I go down 6 flights of stairs in my office building, then back up. It's good for your fitness levels and yes, it really help you let go of all the digital distractions and wandering mind issues that get in the way of creativity, and productivity for knowledge workers. Now I do my emails at night #workinprogress
Against the backdrop of a declining and temptation-filled Roman Empire, Augustine hesitantly prayed for impulse control: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
More recently, against the backdrop of marshmallow tests and America’s “culture of entitlement and instant gratification,” Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld reexamine impulse control in a new best-sellingbook and in The New York Times. For them, it’s a success “driver” of better academic performance, higher SAT scores, and upward mobility, and helps explain why certain groups “are doing strikingly better than Americans overall.”
It’s a provocative argument, and I expect business practitioners will be tempted to translate the insights into their professional lives. What does impulse control look like in the workplace? Can better impulse control buffer against the proven perils of multitasking, like slower and shallower thinking, lower creativity, and increased anxiety?
For some insight into these questions, I gathered a sample of personal experiments from entrepreneurs and employees who’ve made an intentional effort at impulse control by using the Pomodoro Technique. For the uninitiated, Pomodoro is a variation on batch processing. It involves setting a timer to 25 minutes and working steadfastly on a single task (or single batch of work, like email) for the full 25 minutes— thus quelling urges to multi-task and mind-wander. At the end of this work interval, users get up and walk around for a 5 minutes to rest and recharge.
An old-fashioned kitchen timer, such as the kind resembling a tomato (or “pomodoro” in Italian) will work. However, many in the sample prefer desktop and mobile apps. Focus Booster is more helpful if you like visual cues on your progress, for example, while Pomodairo is better for those motivated by personal data, as it tracks how many 30 minute sessions (each called a “pomodoro”) they completed by day, week, and project.
In my sample, experimenters initially assumed that better impulse control would result in at least one of three things: improved productivity, reduced technology-induced distraction, and a more reliable work process. However, as they put the technique to the test, initial expectations were regularly exceeded, showing that impulse control can be a surprisingly powerful pathway to self-discovery in the following ways:
Experiencing the Paradox of Control.
Experimenters often start using the Pomodoro Technique to boost productivity and determine it works. “I could see a sudden improvement,” notes Jarno, whose measurements showed that he was developing code at two to two-and-a-half times his previous rate.
But they are surprised to learn that more output is not the most satisfying outcome at the end of the day. Experimenters tend to perceive quantifiable outcomes as less significant than existential ones, such as enhanced feelings of power and control. “What was way more important to me [than productivity] was that it changed the way it felt to start concentrating on hard tasks…and to tackle difficult projects,” Jarno concludes, echoing an insight I see again and again from these personal experiments.
“I felt like I was in control now. Which is kind of ironic as my day had been divided into these forced time slots,” he says.
Discovering the Root Cause of Distraction.
In adopting an impulse control technique like Pomodoro, you’ll want to take steps to turn off potential technology distractions like email alerts, desktop Twitter feeds, and text messages.
Nevertheless, the real power of Pomodoro goes far beyond these familiar pop-ups, dings, and buzzes. Adopters often discover that technology accounts for only a fraction of interruptions overall, and that most interruptions originate in their unruly minds.
By batching work into tight 25-minute packages, individuals create a context for recognizing internalinterruptions and for developing personalized strategies to minimizing them. During his experiment, a consultant named Magnus reports, “I quickly noticed a change in how I dealt with internal interruptions. When I found my mind-shifting to other things, searching the web…or looking up the lunch menu, I realized off the top of my head that it was a non-task.”
Tapping the power of delayed gratification, Melanie, a teacher, observes the technique “helped me keep internal distractions under control. Knowing that I could do what I wanted after a solid period of work helped me not to give in to the temptation to web surf before doing what needed done.”
Sorting What You Love From What You Hate.
The initial goal for most Pomodoro experimenters is obvious: to boost resistance to digital distractions while allowing them to methodically allocate time to tasks. “The general idea is to systematically adjust the way I work,” says Sam, a writer and consultant, before he began testing the approach.
But adopters are frequently surprised to learn that each 25-minute session provides a temporal lens on what they really think about certain types of work. For work they love or value, it can be difficult to stop for a 5 minute break after “just” 25 minutes. For Warner, the ringing end to a 25 minute interval of writing code brings on the realization that this sort of work induces a state of flow. He discovered that the 5-minute break “breaks his groove.”
By contrast, others learn the technique is particularly effective at helping them complete work they dread doing. “I…use Pomodoro to help me get through the tasks I really don’t want to do — it’s a lot easier to make yourself do something when you know you only have to dedicate 25 minutes to it,”quips Lisa, a web designer.
The last 40 years of impulse control research have focused mainly on what’s quantifiable — not just on how it effects things like test scores, but also on its physiological and cognitive basis. For instance, in a recent follow-up study of original Stanford marshmallow test participants, researchers used brain scans to investigate impulse control’s biological basis.
This focus on measurement is certainly important in science and business. But as the experiences of Pomodoro adopters suggests, there’s more to impulse control than just numbers and enhanced productivity; meaning, it seems, can matter more than metrics.
[Read More Here > Thank You HBR 02.25.14]
"Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of that higher purpose—and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical. If you want to lead, have the courage to do it from the heart." -by Philippe Mora (@philippemora)
San Francisco, 03/06/14 - I have discussed in my posts about #workinprogress that past a certain size, industrial-age organizations a transform themselves into a sanctuary for incompetent political types abusing softer souls ready to give up control for security. As we are transitioning away from the industrial-era, it's pyramid-like organizational structures and the security-control model, it is refreshing to see early success in organizations that have chosen that path. For instance, the American Red Cross has been known for being more about spending donation money to cover ever rising administrative costs, which were mostly due to the bloating of an organization filled with incompetent, yet politically savvy types. By leading from the heart, and reducing the company's staff and useless perk, the new Red Cross Leadership has applied a playbook that was pioneered in the 90s by IBM's Lou Gertner, adapting it to a non-profit structure - successfully.
When an executive comes from the private sector to a nonprofit, the usual understanding is that he or she is there to inject some business discipline. When I arrived at the American Red Cross, there were certainly problems to be tackled. The books were closed on FY08 just six days after I started, with a $209 million operating deficit. The organization had been running deficits for some years, borrowing just to provide working capital, and we were more than $600 million in debt. Frankly, we were not very good at fundraising. Yes, we had a terrific brand—the second best-known in the world—but even that needed refreshing.
It didn’t take very much business savvy to see the way forward—we had to simplify the organizational structure. The American Red Cross has two parts: humanitarian services and blood services. It was on the humanitarian side that the organization was unwieldy. Its 720 independent chapters all had their own payroll systems, financial audits, websites, and IT departments. The redundancy was enormous—and on top of that, our messaging was at cross-purposes. With so many websites, we were knocking one another out of search results.
My team and I came up with what we thought was a logical restructuring and took it to the board, confident that the directors would declare it a no-brainer. But it wasn’t that simple. Some of them predicted a mutiny. The plan had enough support to pass, but because of the passion in the room, I took it off the table.
We decided it was time to change our process. We made it inclusive by bringing together 50 of our chapter executives to collaborate on a solution. Then we made it radically inclusive by sending the resulting plan out to the entire organization—more than 30,000 employees and hundreds of thousands of volunteers. We got thousands of responses and made many changes for the better.
And somewhere along the line, the process changed me. At the make-or-break meeting to put the final plan in front of the chapters, I found myself delivering a deeply emotional talk. I pointed to recent disasters, described how local chapters had responded, and implored the group to save the Red Cross. Earlier in my career, I would have considered that kind of speech sappy. But in that room I saw people’s skepticism change to belief. Did my leadership team and I show any special rhetorical brilliance? No—we proved we’d been listening, and our amazing Red Crossers, who care so deeply about our humanitarian mission, were willing to accept some difficult changes to save this American treasure.
We’re 10% smaller than we were when we started this journey, having made tough choices that included conducting layoffs, withholding merit increases, and suspending 401(k) matches. But having consolidated our back-office systems, we’re better at fulfilling our mission. Ninety-one cents of every dollar we raise directly supports those we serve.
And now I look back on my career in the private sector and realize how I should have been leading all along. Nonprofits don’t have a monopoly on meaning. When I was with AT&T, we didn’t just provide long-distance telecommunications—we connected people to information they needed and people they loved. At Fidelity Investments we didn’t just manage money—we helped people fulfill their dreams for college or retirement.
Your job as a leader is to tap into the power of that higher purpose—and you can’t do it by retreating to the analytical. If you want to lead, have the courage to do it from the heart.
[Read More Here > Thank You HBR 03.14]
Networking is possibly the most valuable professional activity we can undertake. But too often, we’re inadvertently sabotaging our own best efforts by misreading power dynamics, failing to give first, and not making our value proposition clear. Fixing those crucial flaws can help us connect with the people we want and need to meet to develop our careers. -By Philippe Mora (@philippemora)
San Francisco, 03/04/14 - Here is another tip for effective networking: when you meet with someone, you need to know everything about them before you meet them. That's called research. Then you need to identify the areas of overlap between you and that person - food, fitness, alumni, travel, anything. Then be prepared for your meeting: write down the four most important action items that you want to achieve during the meeting. Lastly write down the two points you want to get across as follow-up items after the meeting. During the meeting, take as many notes as possible. After the meeting, send a meeting summary email. Keep your notes, and deliver on your action items. You'll be the most effective networker in town in no time.
We all know networking has the potential to dramatically enhance our careers; making new connections can introduce us to valuable new information, job opportunities, and more. But despite that fact, many of us are doing it wrong — and I don’t just mean the banal error of trading business cards at a corporate function and not following up properly. Many executives, even when they desperately want to cultivate a new contact, aren’t sure how to get noticed and make the right impression.
I’ve certainly been there. Years ago, I was a speaker at a tech conference — as was a bestselling author. By chance, we met in the speakers lounge and, massively unprepared, I fell back on platitudes. It’s great to meet you! I love your work! I handed him my card. If you’re ever in Boston, it’d be a pleasure to meet up! He hasn’t called, and frankly, I’m not surprised.
We’re all busy, but it’s hard to imagine the volume of requests that well-known leaders receive. Reputation.com founder and fellow HBR blogger Michael Fertik told me he receives anywhere from 500-1000 emails per day, and describes it as “a huge tax on my life.” Wharton professor Adam Grant, who was profiled by the New York Times for his mensch-like habit of doing almost anyone a “five minute favor” was rewarded for his generosity by being inundated with 3500 emails from strangers hitting him up. “I underestimated how many people read the New York Times,” he jokes.
Grant does get back to the people who write him — he even had to hire an assistant to help — but most people at the top don’t have the time management skills (or the desire) to pull that off. If you want to network successfully with high-level professionals, you have to inspire them to want to connect with you. Through hard-won experience, I’ve learned some of the key mistakes aspiring networkers make in their quest to build relationships, and how to avoid them.
Misunderstanding the pecking order. The “rules” for networking with peers are pretty straightforward: follow up promptly, connect with them on LinkedIn, offer to buy them coffee or lunch. I’ve had great success with this when reaching out to people I had an equal connection to: we’re both bloggers for the same publication, or serve on a charity committee together, for example. People want to congregate with their peers to trade ideas and experiences; your similarity alone is enough reason for them to want to meet you.
But the harsh truth is those rules don’t work for people who are above you in status. The bestselling author at the tech conference had no idea who I was, and no reason to. My book hadn’t yet been released, and his had sold hundreds of thousands of copies; he was keynoting the entire conference, and I was running a much smaller concurrent session. We make mistakes when we fail to grasp the power dynamics of a situation. It would be nice if Richard Branson or Bill Gates wanted to hang out with me “just because,” but that’s unlikely. If I’m going to connect with someone far better known than I am, I need to give them a very good reason.
Asking to receive before you give. You may have plenty of time to have coffee with strangers or offer them advice. Someone who receives 1000 emails a day does not. Asking for their time, in and of itself, is an imposition unless you can offer them some benefit upfront. Canadian social media consultant Debbie Horovitch managed to build relationships with business celebrities like Guy Kawasaki and Mike Michalowicz by inviting them to be interviewed for her series of Google+ Hangouts focused on how to become a business author. Instead of asking them for “an hour of their time” to get advice on writing a book, she exposed them to a broader audience and created content that’s permanently available online.
Failing to specifically state your value proposition. Top professionals don’t have time to weed through all the requests they get to figure out which are dross and which are gold. You have to be very explicit, very quickly, about how you can help. My incredibly weak “Let’s meet up in Boston!” isn’t going to cut it. Instead, you need to show you’re familiar with the person’s work and have thought carefully about how you can help them, not the other way around. Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek fame blogs about how his former intern Charlie Hoehn won him over with a detailed pitch, including Charlie’s self-created job description touting his ability to help create a promotional video for Ferriss and an online “micro-network” for fans of his books.
Networking is possibly the most valuable professional activity we can undertake. But too often, we’re inadvertently sabotaging our own best efforts by misreading power dynamics, failing to give first, and not making our value proposition clear. Fixing those crucial flaws can help us connect with the people we want and need to meet to develop our careers.
[Read More Here > Thank You HBR 02.18.14]
Getting the truth about how you’re perceived and whether you’re trusted doesn’t only require the right questions. It requires the right relationships. This is an important topic. It’s not about being liked or popular, it’s about your ability to exert influence, which is your major task as a manager. If you don’t know how your words and actions are perceived and understood, if you don’t know if others trust you (and if they don’t, why not), if you don’t know what others want and expect from you, how can you exert the influence you want? -By Philippe Mora (@philippemora)
Philadelphia, 03/03/14 - We've heard a lot about personal branding and how it is important today as we are transitioning away from the industrial era to creative and knowledge-based organizations. But most importantly you need first and foremost to understand who is going to buy the Product of You and why. Everything from there is straightforward. To do so you will need intelligent and productive feedback: friends, family and colleagues (past and present) won't work well. I suggest that you build your tribe with this in mind - a few honest individuals around you that will not sugarcoat their feedback, tell you things the way they are and help you fine tune the role you want to play in your public life. Some use career coaches and mentors. I am using workout partners - as they say in the lifting community: the iron never lies.
This is an important topic. (...) It’s about your ability to exert influence, which is your major task as a manager. If you don’t know how your words and actions are perceived and understood, if you don’t know if others trust you (and if they don’t, why not), if you don’t know what others want and expect from you, how can you exert the influence you want?
The problem is, how do you find out? As many of you pointed out, simply asking is unlikely to produce a true or complete answer, As the boss, you will often have trouble finding out the truth about anything, especially when it’s negative or problematic. Even if you’re trusted, people are still aware you hold the keys to promotions, pay, and choice assignments. And if you’re not trusted, why would anyone tell you the truth?
Though there are no simple solutions, we can offer some guidelines (and we hope you’ll add more in your comments):
You’re more likely to hear what people think and feel, if you’ve established real, ongoing human connections with them. Think of your interactions with those around you — your people, your colleagues, even your boss and others above you. Is there an easy give-and-take between you? Are you able to carry on a real conversation about a variety of topics, business and personal? Can you disagree and respectfully discuss your differences? Without such connections, which require time to establish, little else you do is likely to uncover others’ thoughts and feelings, especially about you as a boss.
You’re more likely to hear people’s real thoughts and feelings once you’ve established a history of reacting calmly and constructively to comments of all kinds, even when they’re personal and not positive. You needn’t accept everything you hear. But when you disagree, do you seek clarification, pose thoughtful questions, and ask for examples? Or do you respond angrily and deny defensively what you’re hearing? If you want to know what people think, you cannot deny the reality of their perceptions, even when you disagree. Only as people test your tolerance will you slowly build a reputation for a willingness to hear and accept candid comments.
Seek out people’s perceptions and perspectives in the context of a specific task, project, or program. Asking broad, general questions can feel threatening to those you’re asking, particularly if they work for you. So, develop a practice of “checking in” with people at the beginning and end of a piece of work (and in the middle if it’s a lengthy project). At the start, ask what people hope and expect to get from you, the boss, through the course of the work. At the end, ask if people got what they needed. Use the specific piece of work as a setting for a candid discussion of what worked and what didn’t, where you might have done less or more, and what you should do differently next time. That discussion can sometimes serve as a springboard to a more general discussion about you as a manager and what people need from you.
This approach can work even for everyday tasks. Every time you make an assignment or request, no matter how small, ask if what you want is clear. And then ask what the person needs from you, if anything, to perform that task. The answer will often be, “Nothing.” But when the person does make a request, agree on what you will do, do it, and then check back to see if everything, including your role, worked out as hoped.
Approaching every task, large or small, this way may or may not produce direct game-changing insights for you, but it will create relationships in which people know you’re open to their thoughts and insights.
Build a developmental network of people who will give you candid feedback. These should obviously be people you trust and with whom you have strong, ongoing relationships. These people can give you reactions to what they see and hear from you and can communicate to you what they hear about you from others in the organization. They are most likely to be peers and colleagues and may include an older and more senior mentor. But personal networks don’t usually include those who work for you because including them can complicate your relationship and color your judgment in making hard decisions that involve them.
Finally, if she’s willing, your boss can also be a valuable source of feedback based on her own experience with you, and she can pass on what she hears about you from others. It requires a boss who’s willing to be a strong coach and developer and not just the judge who evaluates your performance. Such a relationship, if you can encourage and create it, offers clear advantages. Your boss has access to organizational information and commentary not available — but useful — to you and so can offer a broader perspective on how you’re perceived. She’s also likely to speak candidly with you. It’s certainly worth testing whether your boss is willing to play this role.
All these approaches require time and ongoing effort. Getting the truth about how you’re perceived and whether you’re trusted doesn’t only require the right questions. It requires the right relationships.
[Read More Here > Thank You HBR 09.16.11]
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