Tips for Working Productively in Open Office Environment

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I recently began working in an office with an open space plan. My staffing representative warned me about the open space when she set up the interview, so I was prepared to see how the space differed from previous offices I worked in that weren’t as open. My initial reaction was that it reminded me of a news room, with a line of desks facing outward toward the windows and another line of desks facing inward toward the inside offices.

Noise can sometimes be a problem in the office. One co-worker who sits near the front reception area often slips into a small conference room nearby with his laptop to concentrate on his project.  Other times, he wears headphones to escape office chatter while he works at his desk.

Open space floor plans have been around for several decades, but it’s only in recent years that they garnered criticism from employees who claim that they don’t provide a lot of privacy and can be noisy. Do a Google search about open offices, and you’ll find loads of articles that downplay their strengths, such as these stories from The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal.

True, they have many good points, such as letting in more natural light, allowing employees window views that they would not have had otherwise, and producing a closer, cohesive working unit among workers. Open office spaces were designed to encourage better collaboration among employees, but studies show that isn’t always the case. The truth is, not everyone works productively in an open office environment. Some people work in positions that require more privacy for interviews, such as human resources (or as they call it these days, “talent management”), while others need quiet time to read or write reports or technical information.

The good news is that many employers are offering their workers alternative arrangements for dealing with noise issues. By adding sound proof rooms, creating quiet zones and rearranging floor plans, many employers have been successful at accommodating workers’ need to escape disruptions.

Open office spaces are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to work in them. Here are a few tips for working more productively in an open office environment without losing your sanity:

* Move to another location in the office. If things get too noisy, and you really must concentrate on a project, see if you can slip into a nearby empty office or conference room if it’s available. Another possible solution is to put out a “Do Not Disturb” sign at your desk.

* Keep headphones handy. You don’t have to be listening to music or a podcast. When you slip on headphones, you subtly and clearly communicate to others that you are not available. It’s comparable to putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

* Alter your work schedule. What are your most productive times to work? For some, getting into the office a little earlier, say 7:00 am, before everyone else, gives you at least two hours of quiet time to work on a project with no disruptions.

* Work from home. Sometimes working from home may be more productive than working in an office. If you really need quiet time and you know you can be productive there, and as long as your supervisor approves the time outside the office, then working from home might be an option worth looking into.

Open floor plans at the office are here to stay. But knowing how you work in any environment and knowing what options you have to deal with unwanted distractions can help you remain focused so you produce your best work.

Want to Improve Your Business Skills? Try Working a Crossword Puzzle

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An editor I worked with many years ago used to set out the day’s New York Times crossword puzzle so that everyone in the office could fill in the blanks that he could never finish. Usually by the end of the day, that crossword puzzle was completely filled in.

Another company I know has one or two jigsaw puzzles set up in one corner of the office in varying stages of completion. Workers who pass by can work on them, filling in a few pieces at a time while taking a break from their own tasks. Little by little, the puzzles are getting becoming more complete.

You don’t have to work in an office with a group of co-workers to enjoy the benefits of working puzzles. Computer games make it possible to complete puzzles on your own. Whether you play Free Flow, Angry Birds or Tetris, on your own or with a group of people, on the computer or in an office, computer games and puzzles can do more for your professional life than just provide a temporary respite from the daily grind. They can also help you build skills that are as beneficial to your business success as they are to your personal life. Here’s what games and puzzles can do for you:

They can help you solve problems. 
When playing games and puzzles, you are faced with a task, and it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve it, whether it’s to arrive at a certain destination, overcome an obstacle or reach some other goal. You may not have all the information you need to get there so you have to make the best decisions possible, and you may not have a lot of time to make them. Games like chess can also help you learn to anticipate an opponent’s moves so you can be prepared to respond appropriately. The more problems you solve in puzzles and games, the more skilled you become in solving problems in your everyday business life.

They help you process data and meet deadlines. 
Since some games are timed, you may be faced with a running clock – or a looming deadline — while trying to solve a problem. When you don’t have a lot of time to work with, you have to make snap decisions. You learn to quickly assess a problem, come up with possible solutions then decide which one will work best in that situation – all while racing against the clock. If you work in a fast-paced environment, these types of timed games can help you become better problem solvers while under pressure to meet a deadline.

They help improve concentration and focus. 
Playing puzzles and games helps you focus on the task at hand and block out distractions and improve your concentration. When you are able to focus on the task at hand with minimal interruption, you can resolve the problem or reach goals more quickly. Participating in games and puzzles proves that multi-tasking is counterproductive because you need to have good concentration to successfully complete the puzzle or problem in front of you.

They help develop self-trust and intuition.
When working on problems at work or working on a puzzle in your spare time, you may find yourself working with limited data. With less than optimal amounts of information available, you have to find other means to solve problems. Usually that means trusting your own past experience and your intuition to know what your next move may be.

They help improve your emotional and mental outlook. 
The most obvious benefit to playing games is the emotional lift it gives you. Games are just plain fun, and when you take time to have fun, your outlook improves. By setting aside your own work problems to focus on a puzzle or game for even 10 or 15 minutes gives your brain a rest so that when you do come back to work, you can look at a problem or task with a clear head. And with a clear head comes a solution you did not see before.

Clearly, games and puzzles offer many benefits. Just don’t overdo it on the playing part and refrain from using games to avoid working on a project you should be doing. If you have a habit of spending too much time playing games and puzzles, and not enough time working on your latest client project, perhaps you need to time yourself. Games and puzzles are a leisure activity after all, not a key part of your job. So set the clock for 30 minutes for play time, then get back to work.

Gummy Vitamins May Be the Key to Your Business Success

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I was out shopping for vitamins recently. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options available on the store shelves. How many versions of multi-vitamins could one person possibly buy?

I was especially intrigued by the availability of gummy vitamins. Gummies – those sweet, squishy, fruit-flavored candies that are a favorite of kids and adults alike – were being sold as vitamins. For people like me who have a sweet tooth but hate taking pills, gummy vitamins seemed like a godsend. For years, I had a problem remembering to take my vitamins. Vitamins are a necessary evil. You have to take them to achieve good health, but taking them can be, well, a real pill.

I decided to take a chance on those gummy vitamins. I love gummy candies anyway, can eat a whole small bag of Haribo’s in one afternoon.  Whoever came up with the idea to combine vitamins with gummy candies is a genius. Since I started taking them, I never forget to take them.

That shopping experience got me thinking about other innovative products on the market today. What makes them unique? What do they offer consumers that other competing products don’t? Why are they successful?

The answer is simple. They solve a problem.

The gummy vitamins provide a solution to individuals like me who have a hard time remembering to take vitamins. Turn them into a sweet treat, and people will gladly seek them out and take them regularly. Who can say no to candy?

Self-adhesive stamps is another genius idea. What problem do they solve? While most people don’t use stamps these days, choosing to use email and online billing to conduct business, stamps still come in handy for sending greeting cards and donations. (Yes, I still mail my donations and greeting cards by snail mail.) Self-adhesive stamps save time and I avoid the yucky experience of licking stamps before affixing them to envelopes, and I don’t get a horrible aftertaste from the glue the way I did with traditional stamps. Instead, self-adhesive stamps affix to envelopes with minimal effort, and makes mass mailings much easier to complete in shorter periods of time.

There are numerous examples of products like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps that solve a problem. What makes them special? What makes them successful? Like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps, these products solve a problem.

Think about your own business, product or service. What problems does it solve for your clients and customers? How will it make their lives easier and better? Once you understand the problem that your product or service can solve, it’s much easier to market that product to the people who need it.

The same concept holds true if you are the product you are marketing to potential clients. Think about your own talents. How are they unique to the marketplace? What solutions can your talents and experience provide? The more you understand your own talents and qualities, the better able you will be able to solve a client’s or employer’s problem. And the more successful you are likely to become.

What do you think is the most innovative product or service on the market today? What problems do they solve? Share your thoughts below.

How Stories Are Revealed to Us — One Layer at a Time

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Have you ever stopped to consider where stories come from? I’m not just talking about the words on a page. It’s more than that. It’s the stories we view around us – at an art museum, on stage at a theater, behind the brick and glass storefront building, or behind the eyes of child.

Stories come in various shapes, sizes and formats. One single item can produce multiple story lines, which I call layers. Think of an onion. You peel back the skin to reveal multiple layers underneath. Every story is like that. It isn’t one single story being told; it is several, and not all at the same time.

I came to this conclusion while wandering the French Impressionism exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago recently, and again at the Shedd Aquarium. I later contemplated those same ideas as I watched movies and TV shows, and listened to music.

With each work of art, there is more than one story being told. First, there is a story about the work itself – how it came into being, the creator’s motivation and inspiration, and the tools and materials the artist chose to use to create it.

But behind the artwork’s story, there is a story about the artist. Where does she/he live? What was happening in their lives when they were creating this piece? Why did they become an artist? What message did they want to share?

I think of the French Impressionist artists and I wonder about their personal stories. Why did Van Gogh cut off his ear, and what did he really see when he painted The Starry Night? Why was Monet fascinated by the different plays of light throughout the day? How did Toulouse-Lautrec compensate for his physical disabilities?

Then there is the story of the museum and its relationship to the work and to the artist. Why is the museum showing this piece of work? How did they acquire it? How are they displaying the work – in a darkened room with a single spotlight on it, or in an open space with similar works?

I saw similar stories at the Shedd Aquarium and its display of sea life from around the world. From the smallest fish to the dolphins and whales, there are stories about each one. Why are they so important to our knowledge of the sea world? How is each one created? What does it eat? How does it move or swim?

Trace that same story to the region in which the fish live. Do they swim in the Caribbean, or in the Midwestern lakes? Part of the answer to that question is biological of course. You won’t find a stingray swimming along the shores of Lake Michigan, when it needs warm salt water of the ocean to survive.

Apply that layering approach to the people in our lives. Each one has a story. Some are obvious, carried on their sleeve. Others are deeply hidden, but you can see it in their eyes. “The eyes are the window to the soul.”  I believe that to be true, which makes me wonder about the people who frequently wear sunglasses, even on a cloudy day. What story about themselves are they reluctant to reveal?

Stories abound all around us. We only see the ones on the surface. There are layers of stories for each tree, each animal and each person we meet in our lives. But we are all like onions, with layers upon layers of stories within us. It takes a certain amount of self-awareness to know those stories are there. It takes even more courage to share those stories with others.

Workplace Trends for 2017

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As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

Eight Books Worth Reading in 2017

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As the first week of the new year comes to a close, I’m still closing the door on 2016. I did a lot of reading last year, getting caught up on books that were lying on my book shelf for months, and in some cases, years.

If you’re looking for a good read in 2017, I might suggest the following titles which I read last year. Some are well known, while others are rather obscure. All are entertaining, thought-provoking reads, guaranteed to stay with you long after the story ends.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman 
Historical fiction set in 70 C.E. in ancient Israel during the Roman invasion of Masada, where 900 Jews held out against the Roman army. According to ancient historians, only two women and five children survived. Five years in the making, this is their story, told by four incredibly bold, resourceful women. The writing is authentic and poignant. At times, I felt I was watching an epic movie unfold. Considered to be Hoffman’s best work, so be prepared to be swept away by her colorful and dramatic storytelling.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This book sat on my shelf for several months until I learned of Lee’s death last spring. I can’t believe I waited so long to read it. The writing is authentically southern, so at times it was difficult to follow. But beneath the language lay a story of racial tensions in a small town in the South and one man’s attempt to teach his children to treat all people, no matter how different in color or religion, with dignity and respect. Written from the viewpoint of a six-year old girl, the story is both timely and timeless, and just as important today as it was then.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Long before the Netflix series, Kerman shares her observations and experiences during her 15-month prison term at a federal correctional facility for women in Danbury, Connecticut. She also shares the stories of many of the women who she met along the way. The first-hand account reveals how Kerman and her fellow inmates managed to survive the day-to-day boredom of prison life, as well as their compassion for each other. Fascinating, if not sobering, read.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
McCullers was only 23 when she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a book filled with humanity and compassion far beyond her years. Like Lee’s Mockingbird, this book also tackles racial tensions with grace and dignity. Even more poignant is how McCullers paints her characters, showcasing their strengths and vulnerabilities, and just how isolated each one is amidst their personal and moral crises. I was most fascinated by Singer, the deaf mute who everyone seemed drawn to, yet who understood very little of what they were telling him. It is through his thoughts and his eyes that we ultimately see how the heart is a lonely hunter, constantly searching for connection with like-minded souls.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Most of us in the free world would have difficulty imagining living in a society that banned certain books and prohibited women from furthering their education. Nafisi was a professor of English Literature in Iran. When Islamic morality squads began, Nafisi had the courage to set up secret gatherings for seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. Reading this memoir and their discussions of famous writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James, made me appreciate the freedoms we have in our country as well as the classic writing I have yet to experience.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Genova’s book reads like a memoir, and I suppose it could be. Still Alice is a poignant look at Alzheimer’s disease. The story opens with Alice Howland living a full and active life as a psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert on linguistics. As the story progresses, we see her become increasingly disoriented and forgetful. This is her journey and her fight to prolong the onset of the disease for as long as possible. This heart-breaking story will make you think, “Gee, this could be me someday.”

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Another novel that reads like a memoir, An Unnecessary Woman is the story of a book-loving, obsessive and isolated 72-year-old woman, whose belief that she is “unnecessary” in the world is shaped by her upbringing in the Middle East. She used her love of books and her translation work to hide from the world. Despite her efforts, circumstances force her to come out of her shell and interact with the world. The ending gives us all hope that we don’t have to be alone, that we are all necessary to one another, no matter where we live.

10% Happier by Dan Harris
Written with wit and journalistic integrity, 10% Happier is the memoir of Dan Harris, the weekend anchor of Good Morning America. This is his journey into the world of mindfulness and meditation, which at first, Harris fights. What I found intriguing about this book is the journalistic approach that Harris takes in which he interviews numerous high-profile experts about the experience of meditation, from Deepak Chopra to the Dalai Lama. We learn from Harris’s lessons, his experiences. Meditation is not as easy as it looks, and the lessons we learn about ourselves aren’t so simple either.

Happy New Year, and Happy Reading!

Movie Review: La La Land Straddles the Line Between Fantasy and Reality

Highly-touted film is creativity in motion.

It’s being billed as a top contender for the Academy Award for Best Picture, earned numerous SAG and Golden Globe nominations and has already garnered Critics Choice awards for Best Picture and Best Director. La La Land, (http://www.lalaland.movie/) directed by Damien Chazelle (who also directed Whiplash), takes us on a musical adventure in the city of big dreams, Los Angeles. From the opening dance sequence on a southern California freeway to a duet while floating among the stars, the entertainment never stops.

La La Land tells the story of two aspiring young artists who cross paths while stuck in a freeway traffic jam. Emma Stone plays a budding actress who has confidence issues, and Ryan Gosling is a struggling jazz musician who stubbornly refuses to sell out on his dream of owning his own jazz club. As their lives cross paths, the audience is taken along on their journey, with every joy and heartache the characters experience along the way.

The film is defined best by its dance sequences, which are both entertaining and magical, and the special effects add a fantasy-like charm. Stone and Gosling prove to be surprisingly good singers. If you enjoy the musicals from the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s, La La Land is certain to please you. I don’t want to spoil all the fun but you can watch the trailer here.

As Stone and Gosling’s goals begin to conflict with one another and their paths diverge, reality begins to settle in. Each came to LA with a vision for their career, which altered with each failed audition or as new opportunities arose. When confronted with each challenge, their characters re-assessed and questioned their paths. Just like in the real world

In one scene, for example, Gosling is approached by an old musical acquaintance (played by John Legend) who invites him to join his band. Gosling hesitates at first, but later changes his mind. As he stands up on stage playing music that runs counter to his jazz background, Stone and the movie audience is left wondering if he sold out on his dream. Or did he catch a glimpse of his own reality, that he would never open his own jazz club without a cash cow to support him? In relaxing his own stubborn stance on jazz, he opened up to an opportunity – as distasteful as it was — that gave him a path toward his dream.

Sound familiar? How many of us as struggling artists or disgruntled business owners have found ourselves hitting the pavement in search of more steady, secure work. There is something to be said for security, especially when you come from nothing and are barely making ends meet. At those times, realism sets in; the fantasy has to be set aside for the time being.

And that message may be both a strength and a weakness of La La Land. This film does such a wonderful job building the fantasy, creating dream sequences that transport us to an alternate reality, that it can be difficult to accept the harsh truth of reality when we come face to face with it. Many people may find the film’s ending a bit disappointing, a letdown after the joyous highs of the film. The truth is, it ended the only way it could.

Stone and Gosling do live happily ever after – just not in the way we expect. Reality can be difficult to accept when you’ve been living in La La Land.

Overcoming First-Day Jitters at a New Job

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most workers will hold at least four jobs before they reach the age of 40. In addition, the youngest workers – the millennials – will likely hold 12 to 15 jobs in their entire lifetime, according to Forrester Research.

That’s a lot of first days on the job.

Looking at my own career path, I can honestly say this is true. By the time I turned 40, I was on my 12th job. That’s counting temp and freelance gigs.

With so many jobs – short-term, long-term and in between – I had a lot of first days, and a lot of first-day jitters. It never gets easier as you get older. There is always a certain level of excitement, anticipation, and yes, anxiety, when starting a new gig.

Some anxiety is normal. It’s okay to feel nervous about meeting new people, entering a new work environment and facing new challenges without, hopefully, falling flat on your face. But if those anxious feelings are so overwhelming to the point where you can’t perform, let alone step inside the door to your new office, then it may be time for an attitude adjustment, or at least, better preparation for your first day.

Below are a few tips for overcoming the first-day jitters based on my own experience in the workforce. Each person is different, of course, so some of these practices may work for some people and not for others. Find the right balance that works best for you.

1. Get a good night’s sleep. Many studies show that seven to eight hours of sleep is needed to feel refreshed and mentally alert. You may be able to get by on five or six; other people require more than eight. But ahead of a busy first day, going to bed a little earlier than you usually do and getting more sleep may be a smart way to start your new gig.

2. Eat a healthful breakfast. Another smart way to start your day is by eating a healthy breakfast, including some protein, which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Avoid heavy carbs like pancakes which can make you sleepy. Instead, choose healthy options like fruit and yogurt or eggs and toast.

3. Dress for success. No matter where your new gig is located – even if the gig is a telecommute job from home – dress for the occasion, especially on your first day. Avoid overly casual clothes, like sweatshirts and jeans. Save the casual wear for another time. You want to make a good impression, so dress the part. It might also put you in a more professional state of mind.

4. Allow plenty of time to get to your workplace. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being late on the first day of your new job. If commuting, check and double check train and bus schedules. If you ride a bike to work, get it tuned up beforehand so you won’t have accidents or breakdowns on the way to work. Ditto with your vehicle. Check traffic conditions and find alternate routes if the one you planned to take is blocked for some reason.

5. Go with the flow. Your employer or client will likely have an agenda that first day. So relax and let them take the lead.

6. Be an active observer. One of the benefits of being a new kid on the block is that you can remain detached and somewhat anonymous. By being an active observer in the office, you can learn a lot about a company. Pay attention to the office environment. For example, note how workers behave, not just toward you but also toward each other and toward their bosses. Are they friendly and treat each other with respect? Or do they gossip about co-workers and badmouth their bosses?

7. Smile and be friendly. Offer a firm handshake when you are introduced to other people on your team.

8. Listen, and ask questions. On that first day, you will likely receive tons of information about the company, the project and the team members. If you are confused about something, be sure to ask questions so there are no misunderstandings. Don’t start off on the wrong foot because you misunderstood an instruction.

Don’t let your nerves get in the way of a successful start at a new job or client project. Plan ahead and arm yourself with a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast and a confident, get-it-done attitude, and you are sure to start your new gig on the right footing.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

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With the holidays fast approaching, we can all expect to be running more errands and having more demands on our time. Time is a priceless commodity at this time of year. We want to get everything done, and still have time for socializing and enjoying the spirit of the holidays with our families and friends. How are we supposed to get it all done in time for Christmas?

At first glance, it would seem that multi-tasking is the ideal solution. Multi-tasking allows us to complete two or more things at the same time. Who hasn’t talked on the phone while shopping for gifts online? It’s easy to assume that multi-tasking allows us to get more done in less time, thus giving us more time to spend enjoying the holidays. But that may not be the case, say researchers.

According to Dale Carnegie Training, people tend to multi-task in one of four different levels.

  1. Simultaneous multitasking. You accomplish tasks by doing two different activities at the same time. For example, entering data into a computer program while talking to your banker on the phone.
  2. Task switching. In this situation, tasks are completed consecutively rather than simultaneously. You’ll finish one task then move on to the next. For example, you finish preparing a presentation then check emails for messages.
  3. Time fillers. We’re all guilty of indulging our guilty pleasures by reading horoscopes, house hunting, reading celebrity gossip or updating our social media profiles. These activities aren’t usually work related, but may make us look busy when we’re not. People often confuse these time filling activities with multi-tasking, but clearly they do nothing to make us productive.
  4. Having lots of things to do. These individual tasks and chores are usually unrelated to each other and represent the busyness of life. For example, getting the car serviced, going for an eye exam or baking cookies for the kids’ school bake sale. Having a lot of things to do is not the same as doing them all at once, which is multitasking.

No matter how much you have to do or where you fall on the tasking scale, multi-tasking is not the answer. Studies show that multi-tasking is counterproductive. Trying to do so many things at the same time, say researchers, actually makes us less efficient. Our brains are simply not equipped for completing multiple tasks that require brain power.

So while it might be easy to fold laundry while watching TV, activities like writing a speech or negotiating a contract require more focused attention because they require more brain power.

Or as the old saying goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

So the next time you need to complete a project for your boss or are faced with a huge pile of paperwork, try focusing on one task at a time. Then turn off the TV, skip checking your Facebook feed and get to work.You may finish your work sooner than you think.

Supporting a Favorite Cause Can Be Good for Your Professional Life

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Today is known in our gift-giving season as Giving Tuesday, a day devoted to giving back to the community. The movement, which began in 2012, shifts public attention away from the commercialization and consumerism of the holiday season toward more meaningful, community service activities. Giving Tuesday is intended to bring the focus back to what the Christmas season is all about – giving to those in need.

As an independent worker or small business owner, giving back not only makes you feel good, it can be good for your business. Getting involved with a charitable group, especially one aligned with your professional identity, can give you added exposure in the community and attract new clients.

For example, if you work as a graphic designer, volunteering for a small theater group to design their sets can not only improve your skills, but put you in touch with people who may need your services. Likewise, if you write for a living, you might consider volunteering for organizations aligned with your writing interests, such as libraries, literacy programs or be a writing tutor.

Before you sign up for a volunteering program, there are several factors to keep in mind.

1. Why do you want to volunteer? There are many different reasons for getting involved with a cause. For some, it’s important to give back to their community. Others want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Yet others get involved to build their skills or improve their community. Whatever reason you have for volunteering, make sure it’s honest and sincere. The more sincere you are and the more passionate you are about the cause, the more likely you will stick with your commitment.

2. Do your homework. If you want to get involved and aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of resources available online that can help you figure out what’s important to you and put you in touch with organizations that need your help. Check out Volunteer Match, Serve.gov, and Allforgood.org. These sites are a good starting point to find out what types of volunteer opportunities are available and the types of organizations that need help.

3. Assess your interests. Before you begin volunteering, take time to reflect on issues that are important to you. What issues get your blood thumping or makes your heart swell with joy? Are you concerned about the environmental, poverty, homelessness, literacy or women’s health? Make a list of these issues, then prioritize them in order of most important to least. Then choose one or two that are most worthy of your time and attention.

Next, find organizations that best represent those causes that are important to you. Do a Google search, entering key words that match your interests. For example, enter “literacy programs, volunteer” and see what pops up on your list. As you find these organizations, take the time to research each one. Review their website, read their mission statement, understand their requirements to volunteer. Some organizations may require a background check, especially if you plan to work one-on-one with children or seniors. If the group seems suitable, contact them to learn more about them. Most groups have a new volunteer orientation so you can see what they do.

Other places to look for volunteer opportunities: a local place of worship, library or park district. Don’t forget to ask your friends and family too since they may already be involved in an organization and can give you the inside scoop about what kind of assistance that group needs.

4. Consider your time commitment. How much time can you give to the cause? A few hours each week? One afternoon each month? Volunteering doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, but make sure you have time to truly commit to the cause. Be honest with yourself. If all you have to contribute is one or two hours per month, then be clear about that with the organization up front.

5. Consider your skills and talents. Volunteering is a great opportunity to develop your skills. Maybe you want to gain experience fundraising, event planning or grant writing. The opposite is also true. If you have strong organizational skills or communications skills, you can put them to work by negotiating contracts or teaching people how to read or write.

Once you know what causes are important to you and how you can contribute, getting involved with your favorite non-profit group and contributing to the community can be one of the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have.