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Efficiency

I recently went on vacation. It was lovely. Vacation is one of those things that everyone should do in moderation. I say in moderation because if you were on vacation for a large amount of time, you would go crazy. I think we all need to get away, every now and then. That said, I noticed when I left I created new habits for myself. My bathroom routine changed, my sleep pattern changed, the way I ate changed, and how I completed other small tasks were affected.

Charles Duhigg is a New York Times business section writer and he recently put out a book in March of this year talking about this exact thing. His book is called, The Power of Habit and details how habits are formed. It delves into the control habits can cause on one’s life and what the effects could yield. However, it also talks about how new habits are created while people take a vacation.

I am sure all of us can think of habits we would like to break. Personally, I need to stop eating sweets after 10pm, and by sweets I mean the strawberry shortcake I had last night at 11:35pm. It can go deeper than just that, in fact habits can be present everywhere in our lives. Habits are essentially shortcuts our brains make for us, according to Duhigg.

Vacation was a great way for me to create new habits for myself. I ate healthier, I woke up earlier and more refreshed, I took less time to get ready in the morning, and the list goes on and on.

So remember when you just thought about those habits you have that you would like to change? Well list them out, right now. Put them in your sticky notes on your computer, smartphone, or if you are like me you have sticky notes on your wall in front of your desk. Make a list.

Use the rest of this week to notice your habits, and then if they aren’t useful make an effort to change them.

Create a staycation for yourself, where you can take in the sights and sounds of surrounding around the parameters of your work. Create new ways to do the most minor things. Find a new way to get to work, a new restaurant to eat lunch, anything!  Then try using the rest of your week to create new and different ways to respond to even the smallest tasks. Try shampooing and conditioning before you soap up or visa versa. Nothing is too small or meaningless to try differently.

If you do this, I think you will notice yourself more refreshed and excited for the day. It is fun to trick ourselves into pretty much the same routine, but with different approaches and shortcuts. It will create for you a freshness, that might have disappeared.

Vacations are great for so many reasons, but until you are headed out on your summer getaway, try this easy trick and see how it works for you!

Post authored by Trevor Worden

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A big part of the college experience is the good old summer internship. Internships are becoming more and more important for college students with the job market staying small and the competition becoming stiffer every day. An internship provides a student with the opportunity to lay the groundwork for potential future employment, learn more about the real life working situation in their field of study, be in a real live workplace and sometimes to live for the first time in a new place on their own. Internships are a great way for young adults to continue their learning. But they are also a great way for you to continue yours. When was the last time you stopped to think about what your interns can teach you?

I have the privilege of working with the Programming and Outreach interns at LitWorld, and after one short week, they have taught me a lot. I hope I returned the favor in a great session on time/task management and will continue to do so throughout the summer. So, in honor of the start of intern season here are my top fives. Full steam ahead are the top 5 things your interns can teach you, and the top 5 things I’m teaching interns this summer. Make the learning experience a two way street, as it always should be.

Top 5 Things Interns Can Teach You

Chill out.

Your interns work with you during the day, but have lives after work! Real, fun, young people lives! They go out to dinner, see movies, walk in the park, eat ice cream and have an extra cocktail. While your adult life may afford you less time, what you can take away is leaving your work at the office once in a while is not only ok, but awesome, refreshing and actually helpful to your continued passion for your work. Don’t worry, it will all still be there in the morning.

Get loud.

Sometimes your interns might laugh too loud, talk too loud or yell across the room. They get excited! Really excited! Imagine that?! They get so excited they momentarily forget all of the practical advice they have been given about how to be in the workplace. Get that excited once in a while.

Just do it.

Interns are often given errands and more grueling, routine tasks staff members either don’t have time to do or just don’t want to do. They don’t complain though – they just do it! They enter that info into the database, they go to that post office, they pick up that laundry list of office supplies – they just go and do it. No hemming, hawing or other thought need apply. So stop thinking and just do it.

Bring lunch.

Interns are economical. They bring lunch and go eat it in the park, or at their desks while they browse Facebook. It’s healthier and will save you like $100/week.

Ask questions.

Interns have been encouraged to ask questions in class and are really trying really hard to do well and to get things “right,” so they ask a lot of questions. If they are really lucky, no one has yet told them too many questions is annoying and makes you look or seem one way or another. Hopefully no one ever will – because questions are AWESOME! How many times have you not asked a question because you thought it was a stupid one, or because you were too lazy to pick up the phone or send an email? And how many times did that result in you doing something wrong based on your incorrect assumption? Interns asking questions teaches you about how you manage and the work at hand, you asking questions helps you do things right the first time – and maybe even learn something in the process.

Top 5 Things I’m Teaching Interns

List Management

This is how I do it, which is a bastardized, combined version of techniques from David Allen and Tim Ferriss…and my brain.

Try this, make your big to do list, empty your brain of all of miscellania taking up valuable hard drive space and put it all in one place. This feels awesome by the way, almost like losing 10 pounds immediately. For all you crazy control freaks and type A organized types (no names please), go ahead, make one big list for each big area of your life – work, personal, errands – go nuts. Really, everything. Big, terrifying moster lists please. Write them on paper with a pen (radical, I know), use Word docs, TextEdit, awesome software like TaDa Lists, whatever.

Now, each night, as you wrap it up for the day, write, this time mandatory pen and paper (try Staples, they still sell this stuff), the top 3 things you want to accomplish the next day. These should be the 3 most urgent things, or if no deadline is organically imposed, the 3 things weighing on you most heavily.

Then, go to sleep.

When you wake up in the morning and get to your desk, do not, I repeat, do not look at your enormous brain dump to do list. Look only at the mini-list of the three things you decided to do the night before. Now do them. If you finish your list, and only if, go back to the monster and pick one more thing. Yes only one, you are not totally superhuman (sorry for the reminder), and will be much more successful long term if you remain encouraged rather than discouraged by your lack of progress.

Deadlines

Assigned a large, unwieldy, multi-faceted project with a deadline a month out? Know your habit is to write the term paper the night before it’s due? Try this, set internal deadlines for yourself. Chunk the project out into smaller projects. Put each of the smaller projects on your monster list, and incorporate them into the 3 priorities a day method described above. After all, Parkinson’s Law tells us “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Which basically means, if you give yourself a month – you will take that much time to finish your project. If you give yourself a day, you will simplify the task so as to make it happen in the allotted time frame.

Check your luggage

When you walk in the door to your office, check your luggage at the door. Check your roommate drama, hangover, miscellaneous stress at the door. Smile. This is not to say don’t have an authentic relationship with the people you are working with, or be fake in any way, but know your attitude and outlook effects the overall workplace environment. The same is true for staff members. Plus, when you decide to be in a good mood and smile, soon enough you will be.

Structure Your Time

In a lot of internships you have your set work hours and are given various projects to complete by certain looming dates, but no one is telling you where to be or what to do each day. This is a big adjustment from you college schedule, which requires you to be in certain places at certian times doing certain things. Structuring your own time is tricky for most adults. Here is a quick way to start.

Use your calendar, block off your lunch break. Now you have two big defined chunks of time on either side. Pick two half hour blocks, one before and one after lunch, to check and process your work email and add items to your lists, etc. Look at your 3 big priorities for the day, and block them right into your calendar. Tada – you daily schedule!

Identify a Mentor

Business books are always preaching the importance of finding a mentor. Do this in your internship. Ask a staff member to be your mentor, I promise they will be nothing but flattered, and use your mentor to keep track of how you are doing in the work you are given and as a sounding board for new ideas.

Post authored by Brooke Stone. 

Applications for the iPhone (or, if you insist, the Droid or Blackberry) come at all price points, and in many shapes, sizes and…well…applications.  Many people use the obvious ones; Facebook, Gmail etc.  What many people don’t know is that if you look more closely at some of these apps (let’s exclude Angry Birds for the purpose of this discussion) you will find amazing time- and sanity- savers!

My favorite application, hands down, that I’ve installed recently is called “Things”.  I have two clients, a documentary and a casting project to manage.  And yoga teacher training.  And the mundane stuff (buying groceries, cleaning the apartment, plotting world domination…).  It was too much!  I thought I was going to start ripping my hair out, tracking tasks on google tasks and with all these different lists and spreadsheets!  It was too much.  It was clunky, I needed my projects separated but not so separated that I couldn’t have them all in mind.  And then I found Things!  It was like a new religion in iPhone gadgetry!

Things can be downloaded on your mac and your iPhone and will sync between the two.  You can use it to create tasks with due dates and separate those into projects as well as areas.  When I’m sitting down to work on my documentary, I click that area and see all the projects I need to do.  I see what is due imminently on top, and can easily understand my order of priorities without any further thought.  When I complete a task, I click that satisfying little checkmark and the app logs all my completed tasks.  I’m also able to create automatically recurring tasks; every month I need to reconcile Quickbooks for a client; that task generates with a due date automatically.

Things.  Changed my life.  It can change yours

Post authored by Laura Baron 

I have always believed creativity and freedom are born in an environment of structure. A few well placed rules have never done me wrong. If I am able to structure my time and my life consciously, making informed choices about how and with whom I spend my time and energy, I am able to infuse my days with focused thought and am productive. Note the big “If” at the start of that sentence.

Living within a solid framework feels like being supported by a good firm mattress, as opposed to trying to sleep on a too soft and lumpy mattress. With a firm base underneath me I will get my sleep, whereas with a lumpy base and not as sound sleep, I will feel a little bit fuzzy all day. However, putting a good, solid framework into your life takes a lot of effort. Adhering to this framework takes about twenty times that much effort. But I think it’s worth it.

If you are going through one of those times where you feel all over the place, unanchored, restless and cranky, try giving yourself some structure. You will stop flailing for a bit, and maybe even flail productively when all of that energy is channelled thoughtfully. Here are a few good starting points.

Give Yourself a Reason

Give yourself a reason for each day. Write into your calendar, on a post-it, wherever, the point of each day. It is important that you handwrite or type this reason, don’t just store it in your brain – we all know how reliable that is. Infuse your day with this reason. Everything you do should be filtered through the reason. The reason can be anything, here are some examples.

Tactile Reason: The reason for Monday is to clean my apartment, which looks far closer to the hot mess that is Bloomingdale’s at the end of a Sunday than a place where someone actually lives.

So on Monday, when someone calls you and wants you to come out for coffee, but you haven’t cleaned a single crevice yet, don’t go. Your reason does not allow that choice for the moment. Structure, voila.

New Age ReasonThe reason for Tuesday is to embrace my inner light.

So on Tuesday, when someone calls you and wants you to come out for coffee, but you don’t even really like the person who wants to double-shot-skim-cappuccino with you, don’t go. Your reason does not allow that choice for the moment. Structure, voila.

Stupid Reason: The reason for Wednesday is to get to Thursday.

This has legit been my reason for Wednesday many weeks running, and is totally valid and helpful.

So on Wednesday, when someone calls you and wants you to come out for coffee, but you have already had too much coffee in blind fear of the day that is Wednesday and haven’t even touched the pile of crap staring you in the face from your devil of an inbox, don’t go. Your reason does not allow that choice for the moment. Structure, voila.

Make One Rule

When you clearly identify a problem, make a rule about it for yourself to prohibit you from encountering said problem again. Try to play by your own rules. Don’t make a million, just one or two when expressly necessary.

Food Rules

Problem: When I eat spicy food I feel like my esophagus is actually on actual fire. No amount of Tums can cure this if it happens after 8PM. 

Rule: I will not eat spicy food after 8PM.

Now you never have to go to sleep dreaming of a tiny, little, non-toxic fire extinguisher just for your burning innards. Structure, voila.

Electronics Rules

 Problem: I cannot sleep if I’m at staring at screens too late into the night. I know I can’t – I just have visions of Fruit Ninjas all night long if I play until I turn off the light. 

Rule: All electronics off at 10PM. I will read books (the ones with pages, not buttons) before bed instead of trying to slice up electronic fruits (high score 645).

Now you never have to dream about watermelon halves attacking you in the night or those pesky little bombs messing up your three-fruit slice. It’s a good game, don’t judge.

Start small with your structure. Give yourself plenty of room to grow. Add as much or as little support to your life as you need, and, as we always preach here at Praxis – be kind to yourself. You will not follow your own rules all the time, which is not cause for self deprecation – it is cause for growth.

Post authored by Brooke Stone 

I just so happen to come from a family of extremely talented female cooks: my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, my cousins, my sister. I’m not exaggerating when I say every woman in my family has been blessed with the Kitchen Gene… except me. To be fair, I’m not horrible in the kitchen (in fact, I’m pretty skilled when it comes to making scrambled eggs), but I definitely spend more time collecting recipes than I do testing them. I’m constantly bookmarking ideas or e-mailing them to myself—all tagged in Gmail with a “Recipes” label, of course. Then there’s my manila folder full of ideas: pages torn from Real Simple and Women’s Health mixed with handwritten recipes scribbled on scraps of paper, and, for good measure, a few childhood favorites Xeroxed from my mother’s cookbooks. The only problem? I love feeling organized, and I hate not having one consistent means by which to keep track of all my carefully collected recipes—you know, the ones I’ll probably never make.

Needless to say, I’ve given this recipe situation a lot of thought. Here are a few (hopefully helpful) suggestions for storing and keeping track of your favorites:

Create an online cookbook. Sure, the Internet is full of databases like AllRecipes.com and virtual cookbooks like MyCookbook.com, but I’d rather have more control over the layout. My solution is a blog called “The Blogged Cookbook” (creative, I know)—a password-protected collection of recipes. The best part? My mom and sister have the log-in information so the three of us can share family recipes and build a comprehensive database of all our favorites. We tag each dish with keywords ranging from “cold weather” and “baked goods” to “healthy” and “side dishes”. The best part? Your recipes are accessible wherever you go.

Save your recipes in a Word document. One of my coworkers saves all his recipes in one document so he doesn’t have to store cookbooks in his apartment. I still prefer to save my recipes in a blog so I can access them remotely, but saving recipes in Word is a great way to eliminate clutter and save paper, especially if you use the “Notebook Layout” view and assign a different tab to each food category (Appetizers, Salads, Soups, Entrees, etc.)

Create a recipe binder. If you’re the hard-copy type, you can always buy a three-ring binder and some plastic sheet protectors with holes.  Whether your recipes are ripped out from magazines or typed neatly, storing them in see-through covers keeps them legible and clean, and you can always add and delete recipes as needed. Use dividers to create customized sections—it’s like your own personalized, constantly evolving cookbook.

Go the Martha Stewart route. What’s wrong with a good ol’ fashioned recipe box? Handwrite your recipe on an index card and file it. You can always re-purpose a shoebox (I’m personally not crafty enough for something like that), use a photo-storage box, or look for an actual recipe box. Store it in the kitchen for easy access.

Use Pinterest. Oh, Pinterest. My new obsession. I just can’t get enough. If you’re already on Pinterest, you can probably relate. A virtual pinboard that allows you to organize and share images you find online, Pinterest is both useful and addictive. You can browse other people’s boards and then re-pin images you like (make sure to cite your sources and link back properly!) You can also install the “Pin It” button on your toolbar—just click it whenever you come across a delicious-looking recipe that you’d like to save for future reference. The end result? A visually stunning collection of images that would have otherwise wound up in some never-visited Bookmarks folder.

How about you? How do you store your recipes? I’d love to hear your ideas! Happy cooking!

Post authored by Lia Zneimer

Originally from Colorado, Lia is a Junior Publicist at Scholastic with a love of all things organized, color-coded, and grammatically correct. When she’s not drooling over sites like Praxis and Real Simple, Lia can be found working on her own blog, Simplicity. You can follow her on Twitter @liazneimer. (And be sure to check out Scholastic’s official blog, OOM.)

If accurate multitasking were an Olympic sport, I’d have a closet full of USA warm-up suits and a room full of gold medals. I can multitask with the very best of them. I can simultaneously answer the phone, file a folder, check a calendar, order lunch and blow my nose with meticulous attention to detail. It’s a wonderful skill to have and to hone, but it is not to be overused. That’s the secret to really being an expert. If you live in a constant state of multitasking, you don’t have anything left in your bag of tricks when the s*** really hits the fan. The Olympic medals of multitasking are made and lost in knowing when to turn the skill on.

I save time every day by saving my multitasking for when it really counts. High level multitasking can only be maintained for short bursts of time. If you try to operate at that level for too long, you cannot, absolutely CANNOT maintain the accuracy and you wind up having to go back over tasks you’ve already done. In general, I work much faster and complete long to-do lists easier if I tackle one thing at a time. But it can be hard to quiet the voices of all the other tasks waiting to be completed. What invariably happens is that a voice in my head keeps yelling out all these other items that I should also be putting my attention towards. This voice will keep shouting until it feels it has been heard and acknowledged – which usually leads to too much multitasking. “I’ll just take a break from this project to start on that other one, so I don’t stress about starting it or worry about forgetting it.” You’ve totally said and done that – don’t even try to pretend you haven’t!

All that switching between projects and actions takes time. To stop that from happening, anytime I start a project that is going to take me more than ten minutes, I start a “I Heard You The First Time” list. I make sure to have a notepad or post-it next to me at all times and anytime that voice pops up, I instantly write down what it says, so it doesn’t have to keep repeating itself. Even if the item seems silly – clearly my brain thinks I need to hear it, so I write it down so it doesn’t feel the need to keep reminding me, thereby distracting me from my task at hand. In the course of writing this blog post, I have written down 3 items on my “I Heard You The First Time List” (in the interest of over-sharing: add taxi receipt to budget spreadsheet, remember to bring computer tomorrow and use up broccoli in fridge for dinner tonight). As soon as I wrote each one down, that voice got quiet and I was able to focus back on the task at hand. If I had stopped typing to find the receipt and open my Excel spreadsheet or to go to the kitchen to set the broccoli on the counter, I would have lost momentum. I probably would have found other things to do along the way as well. If I’m getting the broccoli out, I might as well wash the carrots, since I’m here. And there my blog post sits, half written and still looming out there as an unfinished project. By sticking to it and quieting those nagging voices I save myself time, as well as frazzled anxious nerves, on a daily basis. I think I hear the Star-Spangled Banner – better get to the podium, my medal is waiting!

Post authored by Erin Jerozal 

I have avoided having a full team meeting at BSLM for as long as humanly possible. Many meetings I attend are too long, unfocused, leaderless and happen at times of day when I am starving, leaving me no choice but to daydream about my lunch choice. I typically leave meetings wondering about clear, actionable next steps other than “find food.” But, I knew it was inevitable, that the time would come to bring our, mainly remote, team together. That day was yesterday.

I knew I had to take definitive steps to make the planning and execution of ours enjoyable, or at the very least, tolerable. Here are a few things I did to that end.

Scheduling
I scheduled our team meeting about 8 weeks in advance and was careful about how I described the gathering. I made it clear this was not a super serious, Brooke-talking-about-boring-things, type of meeting. It was instead a special occasion, a gathering never before seen in our company, and, for us, a milestone. I respectfully requested the presence of each team member, highlighting the meeting as an opportunity to be a part of the bigger picture. I also made sure everyone knew there would be plenty of food.

** After I sent my scheduling emails Erin Jerozal introduced me to Doodle.com, an excellent tool for finding a good meeting time for large groups of people. Check it out!

Planning
Naturally, as we do with things we are scared of, I put off sitting down and actually figuring out the structure for the meeting day after day. As the weeks went on and I kept ignoring this task, I decided to dedicate a little notebook (Muji A6 Double Ring Lined, Gray) to recording the random thoughts that popped into my head about what we needed to discuss, what might be good to bring up, what needed a good solid group think, etc. I kept adding to my notebook as the weeks went on and the meeting drew closer. I decided I would not look critically or organize this list until the week before the meeting. This way when I sat down with the monster list the still pertinent and vital topics would pop out at me, fingers crossed.

Creating An Agenda
The week before the meeting I pulled out my trusty notebook and got down to it. There were lots of scribbles and I discovered many of my notes echoed one another. There were themes, thank god, that I could clearly discern. Using the great new, free application Agreedo.com, suggested to me on Twitter by Julian Jansen (@JJansen83), I started plugging in agenda topics and making notes about the importance of each item. Little notes and reminders could be easily and neatly nestled under large categories, and Agreedo was so pretty and fun to use that before I knew it I was done.

Refining the Structure
After I pulled together the big ideas and created a good solid draft of an agenda I got down to the details. How could I facilitate the discussion of each agenda topic so it was engaging? I came up with interactive activities for each topic to get the conversation rolling. These activities called for our team members to get up and moving and talking to one another, instead of just talking to me or to the large group one by one. This helped, not only introduce and dig deeper into our agenda items, but also provided an opportunity for everyone to continue getting to know one another. I built in stretch breaks, food breaks, chat breaks, iPhone checking breaks – we all need them.

Execution
The morning of the meeting I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. Considering I spent most of my time in front of audiences of hundreds as a performer in my past life, that is saying something. I knew I had a solid plan, which I know makes everything possible, but could I execute and not just freak out?! I took a deep breath, had an extra cup of coffee and reminded myself why I and started this company in the first place. Then I ate a croissant, mumbled a jumbled Sanskrit/Hebrew ish prayer and went for it.

During our meeting I tried to pay close attention to everyone, making sure people had all the time they needed to ask questions, bring their ideas to the group and understand the concepts we were discussing fully. If people were looking bored, I was prepared to ask why. Leading this meeting was a growing opportunity for me too after all!

We had a great meeting and now I’m not so scared of the next one. Per usual, having a solid structure and taking it step by step proved the best tools in my belt. I was a little exhausted, but thrilled with the results.

If you have any ideas, or recommendations about meeting planning and execution please share them in our comments! I try to get better everyday, so thanks for your help.

Post authored by Brooke Stone

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