Friday, June 12, 2015

URGENT ALERT: stand up more at work!

Well, "URGENT ALERT!" may seem a bit hyperbolic, given that the recent recommendation to stand at least 2 hours a day at work has been widely reported.  And, those of you who have jobs that require being upright most of the day need read no further.

But the adverse health implications  - especially for cardiovascular health- of staying seated all day are pretty clear, so those of us who are still desk-bound need a wake up call.   

I know I did.  

If you are unfamiliar with the problems, get a quick overview here, at juststand.org., where the the problem is referred to as "sitting disease."  Whew!

Here is my emergency substitute for a stand up desk.  The screen is tilted up, and the "stands" for the keyboard and mouse are crafted from stacks of books I am not reading:




The challenge is to figure out how to fit "standing and light walking" into a heavily scheduled office day.


First, the evidence:


Here are two key excerpts from the abstract:

"The set of recommendations was developed from the totality of the current evidence, including long-term epidemiological studies and interventional studies of getting workers to stand and/or move more frequently. The evidence was ranked in quality using the four levels of the American College of Sports Medicine."

"The derived guidance is as follows: for those occupations which are predominantly desk based, workers should aim to initially progress towards accumulating 2 h/day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 h/day (prorated to part-time hours)."


Here are ideas for standing and walking gleaned from a quick web search:

wikiHow has a great article summarizing a number of easy strategies, including   
 
  • take phone calls standing up
  • set an alarm to remind you to stand or walk, and/a timer to keep you up long enough
  • use a standing desk
  • look for opportunities for short walks in between appointments
And here is another great post from Fast Company, which describes using the goal of standing up every 20 minutes.

One fancy option, the treadmill desk, might not be so great.  

A recent small study (here is a press report, and the paper) found that subjects engaged in either typing or thinking did not do those activities proficiently on the device.  Most of us are doing one of these two things most of the day, so probably best to save your money!


WHAT WILL YOU DO TODAY TO START INCREASING YOUR UPRIGHT TIME?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Want to spend LESS time on email? Give it MORE attention!

Does this sound familiar?   


You wake up at the crack of dawn, reach for your smart-phone from the bedside stand, and scan your email.  You note a few messages that will need immediate attention, and then you are ready to move to the next part of your day: coffee.  While you sip, you take another look at your email, this time deleting some, opening/reading/closing several, and replying to one or two.  A few, based on the subject heading alone, leave you either silently fuming or stressed at what you think you'll have to deal with later.  

Finally you arrive at work, and your first step is to open your email on a bigger screen (tablet, laptop or desktop).  You revisit (for up to the 3rd time) the messages you have previously scanned, plus the new arrivals.  On this pass, you respond to some messages (often the "easy" or urgent ones); flag the ones that "need to be handled TODAY!";  and leave quite a few untouched as you think don't have time to address them, or you don't know what to do, or you don't want to do the thing that needs to be done.  

These two patterns, scanning-but-not-acting-on messages on your phone, and incompletely dealing with messages when on your bigger screen, repeat themselves throughout the day, often while you are in between meetings or patients, or during meetings and conference calls.  

By the end of the day, you still have dozens (or more) of messages in your inbox, and you are sick and tired of email and the fact that it sucks up every free minute of your day.

There is a solution:  give your email more of your undivided attention.


Much has been written about how to best manage email, including folder structure, volume reduction, composition practices,  and various processing strategies.   I have a particular affinity for Merlin Mann's "inbox zero" method of processing.  I've written a short piece about that method here.

However, my point today applies method or structure is used, and whether you process your email all by your self, with the help of an assistant, or by using a filtering app such as SaneBox.   

If you re-read the scenario at the beginning of this post, you'll see the common theme:  looking at messages -- skimming subject lines or opening and closing messages -- without doing anything to move toward completion.

To make matters worse, all this scanning and skimming is often happening while we are trying to do something else:  attend a meeting or conference call, work on a project, and so on.

Put yet another way, rather than ATTENDING to messages, we are AVOIDING messages.  The productivity blogger Craig Jarrow calls this "playing with" our email , as in the way children play with  food - moving it around on the plate, but not eating.

If you are ready for a change, try these guidelines to operationalize the "magic potion" of attention.

  • Don't look at any email (either the subject line or the message itself) without taking at least one concrete step toward completing what needs to be done.   Processing even one email through to completion is better than skimming twenty.
  • Process email in intermittent batches through out the day, and fully focus on email.  No more email-while-on-a-conference-call!
  • A batch can last 5 minutes or an hour, based on the amount of time you have.  The number of batches per day depends on the volume of messages you need to deal with.  
  • If you are worried about urgent messages, do "emergency scans" in between batches aimed at looking just for those messages, and ignoring the rest.  You can do this.
  • Is your access to email during most of the day on your phone?  It may be difficult to fully process messages, especially long replies and filing.  Use your phone for these two actions only:   DELETE or  answer URGENT messages.  Leave everything else for your fully set up device.


I have been using this method successfully for nearly 10 years, with a daily email volume of  200+ messages per day.   

What do I mean by "success?"  I spend less time processing, the time I spend is more pleasant, and I don't worry about email when I am not processing.

I hope you will give this method a try -and let me know how it goes.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Get more sleep!

Sometimes a trivial, transient personal experience can illuminate a greater truth.

This happened to me last week.  About 3 weeks ago I caught one of the many respiratory viruses going around this winter, and I had the usual 3 day acute illness followed by the usual long full recovery period.

For me, my "recovery" typically involves 2 or 3 weeks of yucky intermittent coughing episodes (and yes, I have been evaluated for asthma...).  This week, I noticed I was fatigued at work, which is unusual for me, and I realized it was due to the sleep disruption from the cough.  I could do my work, but my enthusiasm was limited, and I did not make much progress on discretionary projects.

After making an effort - involving appropriate over the counter drugs - one night to get an extra full night's sleep, I was like a new person the next day.  My feeling was confirmed by my family and co-workers who commented on my upbeat, zippy attitude.

Now let's get to the greater truth.

Many (most?) of us simply don't get enough sleep on a regular basis to either be productive or have a happy life. Even worse, we put ourselves at risk for poor health outcomes and bad work decisions.

Sleep has been in the news a lot in the last few years, and some of you are familiar with the empirical studies looking at the effects of long resident hours.  But there is much more evidence that supports the bad effects of too little sleep. The Economic Times posted a blog today that summarizes many of these.  One not mentioned in that post is the association between sleep deprivation and abrasive behavior on the part of bosses toward their staff.

Really, the problems of not-enough-sleep are pervasive.  A CDC report details prevalence data, and one of the objectives of Healthy People 2020 is to "Increase the proportion of adults who get sufficient sleep."

The National Sleep Foundation recently released (slightly) revised guidelines for the optimal amount of sleep based on age group; these are in line with the most recent NIH guidelines for adults. Take a look at these if you are unsure what you should be aiming for.

If you think your are doing fine with less than the recommended amount, pay attention to how you are faring on the daytime energy and enthusiasm scale - and maybe check with trusted co-workers or family members about your mood - to check your thinking.

Now, its time for bed...  good night!



Friday, January 2, 2015

Goodbye to my faithful old bag, hello to the New Year


I've had this bag for 10 or maybe even 15 years. It was the first one I ever liked, because it was small, black, sturdy and had lots of compartments.

And then it developed a hole.

It was just a small hole at first, but then I noticed that quarters were at risk of falling out.   

Soon thereafter, I noticed the strap was fraying.

My teenage daughters started making increasingly pointed comments about finding a replacement.   ("MOM....!")

And then I started noticing that it was often stuffed to the gills, making it hard to find things, and get them out.  

And most sadly of all, my wonderful new phone - the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 - did not fit easily into its appointed compartment.

What was  my problem?  

Easy.  I never thought I'd find another one I liked.

But I did, and it's actually better.  The new bag is also black and sturdy, but it is larger, lighter, and holds everything in roomy comfort - including my ginormous phone.  And it has even more compartments than the old one.
  

You know what's coming next:  The metaphor!


When a habit, hobby, volunteer activity, work assignment, or even a career, develops signs of no longer working, it's time to consider moving on to something new.  

And what comes next is often better.

Productivity blogger LG Earnest offers a free guide to help you figure this out:

Earnest, LG (2013).   ReclaimYour Time: A Guide to Editing Your Life

As you look ahead to the new year, ask yourself:  What is no longer working for me? 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

FAQ: How do I deal with expectations that I will instantly respond to incoming emails?



This post is the first of an intermittent series that will be based on questions I am asked frequently (hence, "FAQ") at workshops and by my coaching clients.  

Today's question (and one of the most common I'm asked):

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Susan,


How do you block off time to not answer emails so that you can do other work, and not be viewed as unresponsive?  I find that if you don’t respond to emails quickly, people get the impression you are not working, ignoring them or something negative along those lines.


Thanks, L


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear L,

Great question.  The answer is complex.

Two truths: 

(1)  Responding to each email the instant it arrives is both impractical and impossible (because you are obviously not always at your email every minute).  

(2) Most important work requires focus. 

Good practice guidelines: 
  • Do email in batches rather than one at a time.
  • The frequency of batches depends on the type and volume of messages you receive: some people can get away with once a  day, while for others, every hour is required.  Three times a day works for most faculty members and business people.
  • When you are doing work that requires focus, you should remove email from your environment during the time you are working.

Despite these truths and good practice guidelines, many workplace cultures have evolved (devolved? ) to the point where an instant response is the expectation, and many of us have developed an understandable fear of delay.


Strategies to modify urgent expectations:

1. Let people you frequently correspond with know you will generally check your email every (one, two or three) hours, and if they need something more quickly, to please call.

2. Consider adding a statement about your usual response time to your email signature block.  You'll have to decide if that is acceptable in your workplace.

3. Only if you must:  Scan your messages every 30 minutes, looking only for urgent messages, based on the subject line.  

You could do this even while doing intensive work, if you follow the Pomodoro method of working for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break, and if you stick to dealing only with the urgent messages so that you don't get pulled off course.

4. If you are uncertain your supervisor will approve of these methods, have a talk with that person saying out that you would like to both be responsive AND still do high quality work, and ask if they have other approaches that might work.

And finally, its worth a try...

... to see if you can interest your boss and your colleagues in this topic. Suggest a group discussion about the pros and cons of expecting instant responses, and think about developing new norms for messages sent within the group.   

Best of luck,   Susan


What do you think? If any of you have other suggestions, or responses to the ones I've made, let me know.


And, if you want to pose your own question, just send it along in the comments, or write to me directly at Susan@susanrjohnson.com  .

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Writing is easy.... not !" Simple ideas that can help.



For many of us, the ability to produce quality publications on a regular schedule is critical to our career success and advancement.  But those "drops of blood" moments that characterize writer's block can be an obstacle.

As you go into the "spring semester," you may have writing goals on your list.  I thought a reminder of some strategies to overcome block might be helpful.

I had the opportunity earlier this year to write a short piece (400 words!) on writing for the newsletter of the AAMC's Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS).

Here it is:

"First, writing is hard.  Ernest Hemingway, when asked how to write a novel, famously replied "First you defrost the refrigerator." So don't beat yourself up. Instead, figure out strategies that help, and keep moving.  

               One effective strategy requires a paradigm shift... click here to keep reading.  

The article, titled "Scale Your Writer’s Block" is on page 3. 


When  you go to the newsletter, take a look at the rest of the articles which include:

  • Proactively Plan for Promotion: Considerations for Turning Your Clinical and Educational Work into Scholarship
  • Use Your Head, Follow Your Heart, and Persevere
  • Book Review: Quiet—The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

If you want a bit more detail about the writing strategies, see this slightly longer piece (1800 words) posted in my Article tab.  

Finally, if YOU have strategies for being a productive writer send them my way - I'm always on the look out for new ideas.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A New Year's message follow up: Sam's philosophy of the happy life

This morning in Iowa there was enough ice to delay the start of school by two hours and to convince me to work at home until things cleared up a bit.

I should have used the time to work on an upcoming talk, but instead took the easy way out and, violating my own rule, looked at my email first.

Then, going from bad to worse, I actually read each of the "optional reading" items:  blog posts, newsletters, and so forth, including the "abstracts" of every story contained in my daily message from the New York Times.

And that is how I came across the single most important thing I will read today, this week, and probably for a long time.

I found the obituary of Sam Berns.


After you read the obituary , watch Sam’s recent Tedx  talk.  

Do not watch the video until you are in place where you can weep uncontrollably.

But after the weeping ends, you will realize you have learned the secret to happiness.

Sam's goal was to change the world; each of us can help make that happen. 

Happy new year again.