A day lived in the sweet spot

It’s true, I spend about five hours a day slacking off. Really: I spend that much time doing stuff I enjoy doing, that isn’t on a task list anywhere. I walk through the beautiful university campus I live on–during the workday. I cook for pleasure. I lay around on my daughter’s bed reading while she does her homework. I hang out in the hot tub.

You are probably thinking, “I could never do that!!!” Maybe you now believe that I am lazier and more pampered than you previously imagined. Here’s the truth: Strategic slacking has enabled me to dramatically increase both the amount I get done in a given day, as well as and the quality of my work. Which is not nothing when it comes to feeling economically secure.

Strategic slacking increases productivity because we don’t think or work or create at the same rate throughout the day. Sometimes we are really focused or particularly creative, and we get our work done quickly. How fast we work isn’t just dependent on the difficulty of what we are working on; it is also dependent on how well our brain is functioning. Is it well nourished? Free from stress? Rested and ready to go?

Here are 8 ways to achieve more while working less:

(1) Designate time for “THINK WORK.” Late morning is an excellent time for most people to tackle their most difficult work, as alertness tends to be high and willpower is not yet depleted.

I do work that takes a lot of focus at a standing desk that has a small treadmill under it, on a computer that doesn’t have an email application. Walking slowly while I work has a lot of positive outcomes; one of them is that it more or less chains me to my desk. I put my phone in do-not-disturb mode, and close any unnecessary applications or windows that are open on my computer. I put my noise-canceling headphones and “listen while writing” playlist on.

(2) Take “recess” throughout the day. One survey discovered that very productive employees tend to take 17 minutes of break time for every 52 minutes off work. Feel free to do something fun during your break, like watch a funny youtube video or eat a piece of chocolate (these activities boost productivity by 12%). Have a snack and drink a glass of water–both things also increase focus.

On my breaks I’ll often read an article of interest, but not one that will be hard to put down after 10-15 minutes. Fun fact: Feeling interested in something replenishes your energy.

Working on an interesting task (even if it is hard) energizes people for both the current task and whatever it is that they work on next. And research is clear that taking a real lunch break (away from a computer!) decreases fatigue and increases afternoon productivity. I try to eat mindfully for a few minutes, practicing being really present. After about 5 minutes, I let my mind wander (rather than trying to keep it focused on my food). Staring into space enhances creativity; boredom is often the precursor for brilliance.

(3) Change things up in the afternoon. Our self-discipline and ability to focus is like a muscle in that it fatigues throughout the course of the day. This makes afternoons ideal to catch up with colleagues and to schedule meetings and appointments–rather than trying to force continued focus.

We are often most innovative when our intellect is fatigued. That makes the afternoon–when we are running out of steam to do focused work, and we don’t have the energy to censor our thoughts too closely–a great time to brainstorm solutions to problems or do other creative work. (Think you do your most innovative work late at night? Perhaps it is because you are too tired to focus. Mind-wandering often leads to creative insight.)

(4) Don’t forget to take recess! Repeat after me: Taking breaks increases productivity. I like to pet my dog, Buster, during my breaks. Petting a dog increases serotonin and dopamine levels (in humans), hormones that improve happiness and fight depression.

In the afternoon, my recess is an exercise break. Usually, I take the dog for a hike. Getting out into nature is key. (This can be a patch of grass or a few trees–it doesn’t have to be Walden Pond.) When we are sick, a view of nature can help us heal faster. When we are distracted, the sight of nature can help us regain our focus. And when we are stressed, images of a natural landscape can slow our heart rates, relax our muscles, and help us feel calm again. Moreover, natural light in the afternoon delays melatonin production, which can keep us feeling alert for longer.

(5) Have a really good game plan. Here’s the key to an effective task list: Tell your brain WHEN you will complete a task. Scheduling an unfinished task can make a huge difference in our ability to focus. When we don’t know when we will do something on our list, our thoughts will typically wander from whatever it is we are doing to our undone tasks. Our unconscious isn’t nagging us to do the task at hand, but rather to make a plan to get it done. Once we have a plan, we can stop worrying about how much we have to do.

One of the lesser known precursors to getting into “flow” at work is knowing where you are in your work flow. “That constant awareness of what is next is what keeps you focused,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University and author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience told Entrepreneur magazine. “That’s where the engagement comes from.”

Before I leave my desk each day I clean up my task list and schedule the next day’s tasks.

(6) Eat dinner with your clan. Research suggests that this predictable time together can help protect kids from the perils of modern society (drugs and alcohol, risky sexual behavior, eating disorders). Fortunately, it is good for adults, too; it is the glue that keeps my husband and I connected and laughing together, and that connection is key to staying in the sweet spot.

(7) Establish a predictable–and technology free–bedtime routine. I make myself a cup of herbal tea to drink in the evening while I read. While the water brews, I take my vitamins, including Omega-3s, which lubricate the brain, reduce inflammation, and generally contribute to our health and happiness.

At 8:30 or 9:00pm, I shut off my email, social media, and cell phone for the evening. My bedtime routine includes listening to an entertaining audiobook while I put clothes away and neaten up the house. Even though I only listen for 10 or 15 minutes, pairing cleaning up with reading motivates me to actually clean up. I also make sure everything I need for the morning is in it’s place. (You might think that bedtime routines are for toddlers, but sleep experts recommend them for adults, too, to cue our minds that we are shifting into sleep mode.)

At 9:15pm, I make a quick pit stop in the hot tub and have a little downtime with my hubby. Our body temperature naturally dips before we go to sleep, and when we soak in a hot tub, our temperature rises–but the rapid cool-down immediately afterward signals to our body that we are headed to sleepy town. I stay in the tub for just 10-15 minutes, and get out before I break a sweat. Bonus: one study showed that taking a hot bath daily for 8 weeks was more effective than an anti-depressant at fighting anxiety!

(8) Get enough sleep! I know, I know, you don’t have time to get seven or eight hours.Maybe you wish you could get more sleep, but you just can’t find a way to put sleep above your other priorities. So what are your other priorities? Your health? Your happiness? Productivity and success at work? Raising happy and healthy children? Here’s the truth: You will not fulfill your potential in any of these realms unless you get the sleep your body, brain, and spirit need. A mountain of research shows that sleep affects virtually every aspect of our lives, including our intelligence, our satisfaction with our relationships, our moods, our athletic performance, and our ability to learn and retain information. Even 20 minutes of sleep deprivation three days in a row can dramatically lower your IQ.

Now, it’s your turn. Go ahead…be a slacker! Let us know in the comments your favorite (and most productive) ways to slack.

A good idea

Now THIS is a good idea!

Thursday Thought


tt_anon“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” — Anonymous

3 Easy Ways to Find Your Sweet Spot



What is the sweet spot, you ask?

(It has been called to my attention by several readers of this blog that I have not really explained what I mean by the “sweet spot” in the course of launching THE SWEET SPOT: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work.)

The sweet spot is that place where your greatest strengths and your greatest personal power overlap with those arenas where you find ease, where there is little resistance or stress.

I’ve long struggled with the ease piece of the sweet spot. I’ve found and developed my strengths, but I lose my groove when I’m too tense or tired. Like a baseball player, I know that I can “get hits” outside of my sweet spot, but my metaphorical bat (my body and brain) tends to bend or even break. Check out this slow motion video of a bat bending — pretty amazing!


Here are three easy ways we can get back into our sweet spots:

  1. Decrease busyness and overwhelm.  Busyness causes “cognitive overload,” which exhausts us and makes even easy tasks harder. Any time we feel overwhelmed, we aren’t working or living from our sweet spot.
  2. Talk to strangers. The single best predictor of our well-being is the breadth and the depth of our relationships with others; our sense of connection to others brings us both ease and strength. We feel safer — less isolated, less lonely, and less stressed — when we strengthen our social ties. Even more, we gain great strength from our relationships with others. Start small today by establishing “micro-connections” with the people you encounter throughout the day.
  3. Upgrade the software your brain uses for autopilot. The way to stay in your sweet spot over the long haul is to develop daily micro-habits that channel your brain’s natural ability to run on autopilot, so your habits bear the burdens you’ve been leaning on willpower to shoulder. Habits are about as easy as it gets; and when we pick a good habit to get into, we develop our strengths.

Take Action: Pick one of the above ways to get back to your sweet spot, and decide WHEN you will do it. (Really. Put it on your calendar. Before your good intentions evaporate.)

Join the Discussion: What small practice helps you find your sweet spot most easily? Share with others in the comments.

I like being 98

This absolutely made my day. I want to be just like this woman. (Starting now: For the record, I love being 43.)

Thursday Thought


“Learn ho to take criticism seriously, but not personally.” –Hillary Clinton

The Happy Middle School Student

2947544298_5a7d01e286_z Do you have middle schoolers? I do! In fact, I have THREE middle schoolers. It’s safe to say I think a lot about this critical developmental period in children’s lives. Which is why I’m excited about a special interactive event where New York Times columnist Jess Lahey and I will be presenting as a part of Project EMSE (Excellence in Middle School Education).

We’ll be looking at case studies and taking your questions about this tricky time in children’s lives.

The Happy Middle School Student
Tuesday, April 21st, 2015
7:00-9:00 PM
Crystal Springs Uplands
Hillsborough, CA 94010

Reserve Your Seats Now

Other upcoming events:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Lindsay Olives Corporate Retreat (Private Event)
Sacramento, CA

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Women’s Executive Leadership Program (Private Event)
Haas School of Business
Berkeley, CA

Thursday, April 30, 2015
Google, Inc.
Women’s Leadership Development Workshop (Private Event)
Calistoga, CA

The Opposite of Busy is…Productive

Photo by Colorvale Actions

I’ve written a lot about how busyness is less a sign of significance or success than it is a sign of what researchers call “cognitive overload,” which (ironically) holds us back, keeping us from fulfilling our potential in any given realm.

But if we aren’t busy are we lazy? Actually, plenty of research shows that people who are able to sustain high performance don’t let themselves get busy. Moreover, their not-busyness makes them much more productive than average.

But how, exactly, do highly productive people keep from feeling busy? They rest a lot, and they take a lot of breaks.

No matter how much we have going on, it is important for us to refuel the part of our brain that enables us to focus. Although it might feel scary to let yourself take a break, when you do so you’ll not only feel better — less overwhelmed, less harried, less paralyzed by your massive to-do list — but you’ll also become more creative and more productive.

Take Action: Today, take a good old-fashioned recess in the middle of the day. Go ahead and do your hardest or most dreaded work — or whatever you need to do — but after about an hour, take a break. Rest. Or go play.

Join the Discussion: What do you find relaxing or rejuvenating? Is there an article you’ve been wanting to read for fun? Does your most vivid fantasy involve a nap? Do you want to spend a few minutes looking a pictures of pretty living rooms on Pinterest? Perhaps you long to go outside into the great outdoors (or the plaza across from you office) and let the sun shine on your face. Just do it — and then tell us what you did here.


Opening Doors

Such a great demonstration of how a simple shift can have an amazing effect on your life.

Thursday Thought

tt-forbes Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are. -Malcolm S. Forbes