2017 was jam packed with a variety of new methods, theories and tools for spreading the word about a business. With the plethora of social sites, new apps and expert suggestions, I had my hands full. Especially since I make it a policy to never recommend anything to my clients I have not tried out myself. But there was one experiment I tried this year that produced better results than any social media campaign or speech I gave. It’s not a new theory, hot app or magical software. Rather, it’s a good old-fashioned core principle of business development that I have taught my clients for years. Click here to read it: This article originally appeared on Inc.com.
An overflowing inbox. A full voicemail. Meetings. A crisis, or three. The idea of coming back from a summer vacation, or even a holiday weekend, can fill even the most organized among us with just a slight sense of dread. To get physically and mentally into the swing of things on your return, try putting the B.A.C.K. method in place: This article first appeared on Inc.com.
One of my longstanding traditions has been to leave a few days on either side of a business trip to a city, or country, I’ve never visited. But like most business travelers, I still experience the occasional pop-in visit, a short trip for a single meeting or daylong conference.
Even in those circumstances, I still try and get in a few hours of the local culture. On a recent trip to Barcelona, I discovered just how much one could sneak in over a short break in the action.
Here’s an easy two-hour itinerary to give you just a taste:
Start at the Placa de Catalunya.
Begin your short sojourn at the center of the city, the Placa de Catalunya. This central square is well known for its grand fountains, neoclassical and avant-garde sculptures, and the massive flocks of pigeons roaming about looking to be fed.
It’s the jumping-off point for some of Barcelona’s most interesting neighborhoods and important streets, and a great place to start when you’re short on time. A large Apple store sits on the corner of the plaza, so if you have any Mac or iPhone related issues while on the road, you can kill two birds with one stone. Estimated time: 15 minutes.
Stroll Las Ramblas.
Walk across the Placa de Catalunya and arrive at a tree-lined group of streets known as Las Ramblas. Here you can wander down the pedestrian-only center of the boulevard admiring the architecture.
One note: Avoid eating at restaurants directly on the street — the food is expensive, and touristy. If you’re hungry, don’t worry. The next stop will have your mouth watering. Estimated time: 15 minutes.
Snack at Mercat de la Boqueria.
Even if you are not a foodie, the sheer shock of color, movement, and crowds makes this a worthwhile stop. Located right off Las Ramblas, the Mercat de la Boqueria is where tourists and locals alike come to buy fresh seafood, fruits of all kind, and the Spanish staple: Jamón ibérico. Small stands are peppered throughout the market, where you can sample the wares or sit down and have a meal. Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Marvel at Casa Milà.
No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a viewing of at least one of Antoni Gaudi’s world-famous buildings. Gaudi, Spain’s most famous architect, is best known for the Sagrada Família church–but it’s a bit far afield if you only have a few hours to spare.
Instead, catch one of the many taxis available in the city and go straight to the Casa Milà — also known as La Pedrera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hot hint: Be sure to buy your ticket online beforehand so you won’t have to wait in a long line of tourists to get in. Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Have a rooftop drink at Hotel Majestic.
Having had your fill of culture, walk a few blocks down from Casa Milà and duck into the Hotel Majestic. Head straight for the rooftop bar, where you will be rewarded with a well-made cocktail, a strong cup of café, and an uplifting view of the beach shoreline beyond.Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Find yourself with a bit more time? If you’re lucky enough to have an entire day to spend in Barcelona, add these great finds to the above itinerary.
Shop in the El Born neighborhood.
Tucked away in the narrow alleyways of these backstreets are some of Barcelona’s most stylish shops. The El Born area plays host to boutiques featuring unique home ware, clothing, gourmet foodstuffs, and more. If you’re looking for a special something to bring back home — this is the place. Estimated time: 60 minutes.
Visit the Joan Miró Museum.
Barcelona plays host to several great museums, but my favorite by far is the Fundació Joan Miró, located on Montjuïc overlooking the city. The building houses a comprehensive collection of Miró’s paintings, drawings, sculptures, and works on paper. Save time by taking a taxi there and getting your tickets ahead of time online. Estimated time: 60 minutes.
Dine at Cera 23.
I can think of no better ending to the day than the pleasure of dining at this local Spanish restaurant. Cera 23 is located down a small alleyway in the El Raval neighborhood, this eatery’s food has a great depth of flavor made from simple ingredients.
So if foie gras ravioli with cream quince sauce or black squid-ink paella with saffron cream sounds appealing, then this might just be your idea of heaven. And as it is with all great restaurants, the mouthwatering food is matched only by the excellent service. Estimated time: 2 hours.
We’ve all read the articles on how to spend three perfect days (or 39 perfect hours) in a city. While that’s always optimal, more and more businesspeople find themselves in and out of a place within a 24- to 48-hour period.
In a city like Barcelona, it’s a shame not to at least take a few minutes to stop and smell the café.
This past week I was facilitating an off-site branding session, and as is my usual practice, I asked everyone in the room to not only turn off their cell phones until the break but to also take them off the table and out of sight. My request was met with a cocker spaniel-like twist of heads and a low “huh.”
I’ve been asking attendees to move their cell phones out of visual sight for several years based on some research I had read about the impact the mere presence of smart phones has on communication.
Reduced cognitive capacity.
Just this past month, a new study from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin reported that our cognitive capacity is significantly reduced when our smartphone is within reach–even if it’s off.
McCombs Assistant Professor Adrian Ward and his co-authors measured, for the first time, our ability to complete tasks when our cell phones are in plain view–even if we are not using them.
In one of the experiments, the participants were asked to take a series of computer tests that required a high degree of concentration. The researchers set out to measure the participants’ available cognitive capacity–in other words, their brains’ ability to hold and process data at any given time. Before the tests started, the participants were asked to turn their phones on silent, and put them either face down on their desks, in their pockets, purses, or bags, or in another room entirely.
Out of site is out of mind.
The results? As it turns out, out of sight is out of mind. The participants whose phones were in another room significantly outperformed those whose phones were out and about on their desks, and even slightly outperformed those participants whose phones where in a pocket or bag.
Backing up some previous research that came to the same conclusion, the study suggests that the mere visible presence of our smartphones can reduce our available cognitive capacity and impair cognitive functioning.
“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” Ward said. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process–the process of requiring yourself to not think about something–uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.”
If you are reading this and thinking, “Yeah, but I turn my cell phone upside down, or turn it off, so I’m not disturbed by it,” think again. Ward and his colleagues also found that whether the participant’s cell phone was face up or face down, as long as it was within sight (or within easy reach) the participants showed a reduced ability to focus and perform tasks.
“It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” said Ward. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.”
Just step away from the cell phone.
So what’s a well-meaning worker to do? Here’re a few of the tips and tricks I employee to get the folks in my meetings to step away from their cell phones.
- Pass around a basket at the beginning of a meeting and collect everyone’s cell phone. Give them back at the breaks.
- Ask everyone in the meeting to turn off their cell phones and put them away so they are not visible during the active sessions.
- Ease everyone’s mind by giving them the times and lengths of the breaks at the top of the meeting, so the participants know exactly when they will be able to check their email and make calls.
I’m not nearly so optimistic (or self important) as to think that reading this blog post is going to get you to put your cell phone away every time you need to employee your full brain power.
However, I do hope that the next time you reach out to check your email, you’ll stop and consider your brain. It might just want you to step away from the cell phone and put your focus on the person or problem in front of you.
Even in small and medium size businesses executive development is all the rage these days. Case in point: According to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, total annual revenue from executive coaching in North America was up 35.2 percent from 2011 to 2015.
Likewise, the 2015 Training Magazine Industry Report showed that for three years running, 29 percent of organizations surveyed said management/supervisory training will receive more funding than the year before.
That same training industry report highlighted that the highest priorities were increasing the effectiveness of training programs followed by reducing costs, improving efficiency, and measuring the impact of these training programs.
To keep your executive development program on track, keep the following four things in mind:
1. Don’t mistake a survey for a strategy.
Too many businesses conduct 360 interviews on their executives and call it a day. While a survey about leadership strengths (and areas for improvement) is a good starting point, it’s not the road map needed for an executive development program. A holistic program includes:
- An assessment.
- A 6-12 month plan for improvement with specific goals and defined projects.
- Measurable outcomes, both subjective and objective.
- A coach, mentor or other individual who can help guide the process.
2. Do define development.
Too often companies put executives through an executive development program aimed at creating a hodgepodge of positive virtues, such as being a good listener, empowering others, and being a fair and concerned mentor and coach. While these may form the foundation of executive development, the devil is in the details.
Specifically defining the attitudes, capabilities, and skills you are looking for from your leaders helps ensure success for both the individual and your company. For example, instead of improving listening skills, make the goal an increased ability to effectively lead a brainstorming session where there are vast differences of opinion present in the group.
3. Don’t force people to participate.
In an ideal world, every manager in your business would be knocking down your door begging for personal development. While this does occasionally happen, it’s not the norm.
However, given the opportunity, many managers will find the idea of an executive development program exciting. For those who don’t, forcing them to participate will likely backfire and create even more resistance.
The best path is to show how the prospective program could personally benefit the individual; explain why you are offering it and what’s involved. Then let them choose to participate or not — with no negative consequence if they decide to decline.
Even for the holdouts, seeing their peers pass them by in terms of growth and development often serves as a powerful motivator to eventually change their minds and jump in.
4. Consider calling in outside experts.
While you, or your HR staff, may have the capability to create and deliver an executive development program, there is a case to be made for bringing in some help from the outside.
The opportunity for objective feedback, a safe place to share feelings, and an unbiased perspective can greatly enhance the benefit individuals receive from an executive development program. In addition to bringing in an executive coach or trainer who specializes in this, there are a whole slew of off-site personal growth and mastery programs available.
I’ve personally participated in several of these in my career, and I’ve been so impressed that I’ve served as a consultant or board member for a few more. There are a wide range of programs out there, and which one you choose depends greatly on time, cost, location, and desired outcomes. If you’re looking for a place to dramatically improve your or your staff’s leadership skills, as a starting point, consider The Hoffman Process, Learning as Leadership, and The Strozzi Institute.
Executive coach, company mentor, off-site program, or in-house training — regardless of the path, the key to a productive executive development program is a genuine commitment.
Executive development taken on to make a check in the box of good leadership behavior wastes your money and your managers’ time. But when embraced as a true path to company excellence and personal development, the benefits reaped by both the individual and the business usually go well beyond the price paid.
This past week marked the official start of summer — and vacation season is in full swing — but a new survey from Accountemps found that 54 percent of workers say they plan on checking in with the office at least once or twice a week while on vacation. That’s up from 41 percent in 2016.
According to the survey, there were four top reasons people gave as to why they felt compelled to check in.
- Gaining peace of mind that things are under control (54 percent)
- Keeping projects moving along (53 percent)
- Avoiding coming back to extra work (47 percent)
- Preventing colleagues from feeling undue stress (34 percent)
If any of these sound familiar, here are a few strategies for how you can overcome these vacation time stealers and get away for real — goodness knows you deserve it.
Plan out specific projects vs. general to-do lists.
The key to knowing that you won’t come back to a plateful of problems is to create a list of “must do” projects that need to be dealt with, and a checklist of what specific items must get done, while you are away.
Agree with your colleagues ahead of time as to who is going to cover what. You might also want to consider assigning someone as your proxy to ensure that all work on the projects is being done on time and plan.
Create an information cheat sheet.
Provide the people who will be filling in for you with a one-stop cheat sheet Google doc of information they may need including:
- Where to find important files
- Policy and procedure notes
- Location of critical project information
- Tips they might find useful in dealing with specific people and/or situations
Use a freelancer.
Natasha Bowman, author of the book You Can’t Do That at Work! 100 Legal Mistakes That Managers Make in the Workplace, recommends sites like upwork.com, which can provide freelancers who offer peace of mind while you’re away on vacation.
“I simply provide the freelancers with pertinent information about the project,” says Bowman, who adds that freelancers are exceptional at developing presentations, drafting communications, and formatting data into Excel.
Set up your first day back now.
Avoid scheduling any meetings or phone calls for at least a day or two after your return to the office. Mark those dates off your calendar now, and make sure everyone knows those are your catch-up days.
A good formula is that for every day out of the office, you will need an hour of catch-up. So a one-week vacation requires an entire day to just find what has gone on while you were gone, and address any issues which arose in your absence.
Keep your fingers lightly on the pulse.
In an ideal world, you would be lying on a beach, your fingers wrapped around a fruity drink — rather than furiously typing texts to your colleagues. Realistically, you will have to check in to the office once or twice.
To minimize your touch-base time, use an online project management system such as Slack or Basecamp. This way you can quickly check the progress of important projects and then get back to the pressing work of hiking, biking, snorkeling, or whatever floats your vacation boat.
It can be lonely at the top. That’s why so many leaders seek out someone who can help them see things in a more objective light. In decades past, psychiatrists held this position — but admitting to seeing a shrink can still carry some stigma in the C-suite. Likewise, the counsel gained from conversations with subordinates, or even peers, can be tinged with political agenda. It’s for these reasons that the business of executive coaching has become such a significant staple of leadership development.
The huge increase in executive coaching has in some cases pushed out therapists who might have otherwise seen clients for similar reasons. At the same time, many counselors are getting their coaching license and moving into the traditional roles held by management consultants, mentors and executive coaches. In practice, both have a place, as they often contribute vastly different takes on the same situation.
So just who should you hire to soothe what ails you? The answer may depend on the source of your stress. I asked some business leaders and experts to weigh in on whom to see when, and for what.
Are you facing a company conflict, change or challenge?
If you’re experiencing C-suite conflict or a lack of leadership influence or feeling challenged by company change, you might try hiring a leadership coach. According to The Human Capital Institute, as many as 60 percent of American companies are using the services of executive coaches. But is this one-on-one instruction a worthwhile investment or a waste of time?
“I had a coach for the better part of a decade, and his ability to give me feedback and hold me accountable made a huge difference in how I developed as a leader,” says Brandon Black, coauthor of the new book Ego Free Leadership: Ending the Unconscious Habits that Hijack Your Business. “He was able to say things that others couldn’t because he wasn’t afraid of potential backlash,” “It’s critically important for leaders, to understand how they may be stalling innovation or creating unwanted dynamics and dysfunction,” says Black.
A formal engagement with a qualified coach can lead to a series of dynamic, confidential conversations that produce very positive consequences. The engagement may be growth-oriented — for example, helping an individual get up to speed quickly after a new promotion. Or it may be change-oriented, such as helping a high-potential individual retool their interpersonal skills so they are in a better position to be promoted.
One 2006 study from the Center for Creative Leadership found that of the 3,500 top executives surveyed, 88 percent said they highly value the mentor/coach relationship for career development. Among their top reasons for wanting a coach were.
- Assistance with leadership skills development
- Developing more vision for the company
- Team building and managing change
Are you facing a profoundly personal problem, choice or crisis?
But what about the darker side of leadership coaching? Some people take a weekend coaching workshop and then hang out a shingle declaring their readiness to sit down and help you deal with your deepest leadership issues.
Many researchers and theorists have cautioned that executive coaching is not a panacea. One leading article by psychologist Steven Berglas in the “Harvard Business Review” cited examples of coaches who lacked proper clinical training and insight, and therefore misdiagnosed coaching clients, leading to bad outcomes.
For example, Berglas describes one client who was assigned a coach to work on her “assertiveness,” when in fact she had deeper emotional and family issues that were impacting her performance and workplace relationships. The coaching that was focused on building her assertiveness was not helpful to her, and she subsequently sought the assistance of a psychotherapist.
In the final analysis, it may be your end-game goals that determine which way you go.
“Therapists are usually oriented around talking and going deeper with dialog. They are very effective at helping people identify patterns and get them from the past to the present,” explains Lolly Daskal, author of the new book The Leadership Gap: What Gets between You and Your Greatness.
“Coaches, on the other hand, often have a different mentality. They are more about creating an awareness that leads to action. Most coaches focus on getting you from the present to the future,” she says.
Whether you’re looking to make peace with your past or invent your future, a sit-down with someone savvy may be just what the doctor ordered.
To learn more about your leadership gap, check out my podcast with author Lolly Daskal.
Which is worse for your powers of concentration?
Doing several things on technology (email, texting, surfing the web) at once.
Trying to get all of those things done, but after you’ve had a few puffs of marijuana (medical or not)?
According to a study by Dr. Glenn Wilson, from the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, electronic multitasking (ringing telephones, email dings etc.) lowers IQ by ten points–more than double the drop from lighting up a joint, and equal to the loss after missing an entire nights sleep.
So if you live in a state where marijuana is legal, I strongly suggest you take this not as a marching order to pick up the pot, but rather to put down the cell phone–at least while you’re doing other things.
A new study from Aalto University based on having the participants watch the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond movies has shown how multitasking overloads our brains. This includes social media, which the researchers believe, from the brain’s point of view, is at its core a multitasking activity.
“We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure different brain areas of our research subjects while they watched short segments of movies,” explains Aalto University Associate Professor Iiro Jääskeläinen.
The brain imaging found that shifting rapidly between tasks impedes the areas of the brain responsible for turning bits and pieces into a more cohesive story.
The researchers, who cut the film into 50-second segments to disrupt their continuity, found that certain parts of the participants’ brains were higher functioning when the films were viewed in longer, 6.5-minute segments. In short, the brain works better when it focuses on one thing at a time.
That multitasking is not good for our concentration or productivity is well known, but overcoming this neuroscientific nuisance can take some practice, and while technology may be the culprit, it can also be part of the cure. I regularly use several apps including Pomodoro and Forest to carve out highly focused and timed work sessions. These apps are simply structured to encourage and reward you to stick to the schedule.
In addition, I asked Paul Armstrong, author of the new book Disruptive Technologies, out this week from Kogan Page, to weigh in with a few of his best tips for managing multitasking madness. Here’s what he had to say:
Lessen the lure of your most loved apps.
“Don’t make your favorite apps the first port of call on your cell phone,” says Armstrong. Instead he suggests moving them to a new screen on your phone–preferably at the back of the stack.
“The red circles notifying you that you’ve got a message can become a game of whack-a-mole. You will be less distracted, and more focused, if they are not right in front of you all the time,” he says.
Lose one screen.
Stop and right now count how many screens you are using. Armstrong says that while people think that background noises or images help them focus, it is harder to concentrate when being interrupted by different devices.
“Lose one of the screens by putting your phone in a drawer or turning off the iPad,” suggests Armstrong. “It will reduce the potential for interruption and trick your brain into feeling more in control–a key for focus.”
Create a calendar bubble.
Have you ever set aside time in your schedule to work on an important item and then blew it off when a call or email came in that grabbed your attention away?
Well, of course you have. Armstrong suggests you create a burst-free bubble by scheduling 30 minutes every day to either prioritize your most important to-do’s or to work uninterrupted on something essential.
With an ever-increasing reliance on screens, it seems unlikely that the temptation to multitask will magically disappear altogether. However, learning to keep the habit in check is an essential skill for success.
The next time you find yourself doing two (three, four, or five) things at once, put your attention squarely where it belongs–on one thing at a time.
My butt hurts. Seriously. I’ve been sitting in my ergonomically designed desk chair for the past eight hours (with only short bio breaks) writing. I’m not a doctor, but I know this can’t be good for my back or backside. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting an adjustable desk (designed for sitting or standing) and even considered a treadmill desk, where the user walks at a steady pace while working.
To date, I’ve acted on neither of these options, but earlier this week, a study came across my desk that has lit a fire under my, well, you know.
In the first study of its kind, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that standing desks can significantly boost cognitive skills.
The researchers considered the consequences of going from sitting in a chair to standing at a desk and found significant improvements in the following skills that anyone could arguably be better at:
• Problem solving
• Fact memorization
• Working memory
Apparently, the increase in blood flow caused by standing seems to get the brain up and running. And it’s not just our cognitive and executive functioning that’s impacted but our longevity as well.
A 2012 report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that 50 to 70 percent of Americans spend six hours or more a day sitting. The same report stated that if those same couch-potato citizens reduced their sitting by 50 percent (to less than three hours a day), life expectancy would be increased by two years.
So how can we get off our butts and boost our brainpower? Here are 10 suggestions:
1. Try the 20-8-2 pattern.
Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, recommends sitting for 20 minutes, standing for eight minutes, and then moving around for two minutes — every half hour — while at work.
2. Use a timer.
To keep pace with the 20-8-2 pattern, try setting an alarm on your cell phone or using a time app to keep track. I personally like Focus Time, a free app that lets me designate different amounts of time for the different activities of sitting, standing, and moving around.
3. Gab upright.
Get into the habit of standing, rather than sitting, while talking on the phone.
4. Take the stairs.
If you work in a building where there are stairs — and you’re not on the 78th floor — skip the elevator and get in some exercise instead.
5. Commit to 15.
Calendar in a 15-minute window in your lunch hour that is dedicated to walking.
6. Tidy up.
One way to stand up is to straighten up. Dust your bookshelves, organize your cabinets, and wash out the coffee cups in the break room. Any kind of cleaning that gets you up and out of your chair will do.
7. Merge working out and watching TV.
I’ll admit it: One of my guilty pleasures is binge-watching television shows. I went through the entire first season of Amazon’s Hand of God scripted series in a weekend. The only problem was that I was sitting on the coach for most of it. So instead of going all coach potato when you watch TV, try walking in place, lifting weights, doing mat Pilates, etc.
8. Park farther away.
If you go to visit an office or other place outside of your home, try parking as far away from the entrance as reasonably possible.
9. Walk and talk.
The next time you have a meeting, rather than sitting in a pair of chairs facing each other, suggest taking a walk side by side.
10. Buy an adjustable desk.
Hedge recommends looking for one that lets you make the adjustment from sitting to standing easily and quickly. There are a ton of types on the marketplace, including the tabletop Varidesk, which gives you a quick hit when you want some height, and the Human Solution sit-stand desk.
I’d love to stay and chat, but my alarm just went off, and it’s time for my two-minute movement session. I think I’ll walk briskly over to the Nespresso machine and make myself a cappuccino. But don’t worry. I’ll be sure to stand while I drink it.