One Easy Way To Reduce Workplace Stress And Enhance Productivity

One Easy Way To Reduce Workplace Stress And Enhance Productivity

Think Stress Free

Victor Lipman, Contributor Forbes 6/5/12

It’s always pleasant (if rare) to find a management tactic that works well and is also easy and even fun. Over the course of my career – both as an employee and a manager – the best way I found to reduce stress and improve productivity was simple: to exercise at midday.

Everyone has his or her own biorhythms, but I found and observed energy and concentration often flagging toward midday. And also noted considerably renewed energy and productivity following a lunchtime workout.

These aren’t simply my own idiosyncratic observations. Numerous studies link exercise to mood elevation and productivity enhancement, as well as more collaborative and tolerant behavior. The benefits of exercise are copiously well documented; the trick is effectively integrating a regular exercise program into a conservative or restrictive work environment.

What form of exercise works best? My answer’s simple: Whatever you like and can easily do in or near the workplace. For me it was usually a 3-mile run. All I needed was a change of clothes and a shower. Many I managed liked weightlifting, walking, aerobics classes, yoga, Spinning and so on. (Personal aside: The only form of exercise that was clearly not for me was Spinning. First, it looks wicked hard. Second, I exercised at least partly to take a break from people barking at me, so the last thing I wanted while taking a break from people barking at me was other people barking at me.)

Here are six common reasons why people can’t or don’t exercise at work, and ways to easily overcome them.
I don’t have time. Sure you do. It may take you 15 minutes longer than a normal lunch hour (maybe even 30 if you have to go a little farther to get to a facility), so work 15 (or 30) minutes later. Chances are in those extra 15 minutes you’ll be more energized and productive than if you hadn’t exercised in the first place.
My boss won’t let me. Tell him or her (nicely) to get with the program. Note info above – data shows exercise enhances productivity, reduces stress, and improves collaboration. Ask for a chance to demonstrate the results, and be sure to over-deliver when providing them.

We don’t have a Fitness Center. It’s great if your company has one, but no knockout if you don’t. Sometimes all you need is a shower. Or you can go to a nearby gym or club. Often your company can get a corporate discount, a trade that helps both teams.
I won’t have time to eat lunch. Nonsense. Eat lunch at your desk while working following your workout. I did it productively for decades. I ate a cheese sandwich or a peanut butter sandwich (fortunately I have a limitless capacity for monk-like culinary boredom), plus an apple or an orange. The main criterion for my lunch was that it could be prepared literally within one minute – no kidding – at about 9 p.m. the night before.

My hair will be a mess. Don’t be too hard enough on yourself. I’m sure your hair actually looks a lot better than you think it does. Note to employees: Of course you’ll use common sense here – no triathlon workouts right before Board presentations. Note to managers: Offer (as appropriate to your environment) flexibility of casual dress and appearance. Your employees will appreciate you for it and likely reward you with loyalty and diligence.

My CEO doesn’t believe in exercise in the workplace. Hey, this is 2012. I’m as old school and dinosaurish as they come and I’ve been exercising at work since the 1970s. Note to CEOs: You’ll gain in employee engagement. You’ll gain in recruiting. You may gain in reduced absenteeism and health care costs (though that’s usually harder to document). Plus, dedicated exercisers/athletes tend to be highly disciplined individuals and fine employees. It’ll make your company a cooler happier place.

One final thought: The ability to exercise at work is a benefit and privilege, so you can’t abuse it – all expected work still has to get done. Otherwise, any straight-thinking manager will – and should – pull the plug quickly. But it shouldn’t come to that. Well-managed exercise programs improve the quality of worklife for employees and management alike. And that’s the bottom line. I’d write more, but I’ve got to go for a run.

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

ForbesWoman 11/28/2011 @ 11:33AM

Throughout college, I was the “shy girl.” I often wondered why it was hard for me to open up to strangers and attend social events after a long day at school. But I was so used to being labeled as “shy” that I never thought of changing it—it was just my identity.

Finally, at my first job, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test and a light bulb went off: I’m an introvert. I realized that there are many benefits of having my personality type—we introverts tend to be reflective and have close relationships, to name a couple—and I became proud of who I was.

But being an introvert makes some things difficult. It’s hard to be open and let strangers into your life. Small talk doesn’t come easy, and it’s hard work to establish rapport with new people. And that means things like attending networking events and meeting new people—crucial elements of the job search—can be pretty intimidating.

I’ve picked up a few tips and habits over the years that have helped me navigate the social side of my career. Do I get excited about being in a big room full of strangers to meet? Not so much. But it’s not so bad anymore, either. Here’s how I handle it:

1. Prepare
Before you head into your next social event, spend a few minutes thinking about what you want to learn from others. Have a few questions ready to ask new people, such as “How did you get started in your career?” or “What are you passionate about?” If being put on the spot makes you nervous, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing questions down and practicing ahead of time. Also think about what you want to share about yourself—you can’t rely on another person to carry the conversation for you!

2. Find a Conference Buddy
You don’t always have to go at it alone—having a buddy can make large events much less intimidating. So bring a colleague or friend to your next networking event or conference. If you do have to fly solo, try to reach out and make just one connection. That way, you’ll have someone to sit with during lunch breaks and someone to wave hello to and introduce to others. And you’ll probably be surprised at how much fun you’ll have!

3. Be That Person
Remember that most people in the room at any given networking event feel the same way you do: scared to death. So, instead of dwelling on how scary it is to start a conversation, think about how by doing so you’ll be helping other people feel more comfortable. Maybe that girl alone at the table doesn’t know anyone either and is just hoping that someone will come talk to her. Be that person! (“Have you been to this before?” is always a great opening line.)

4. Be Present
Once you do start a conversation, it can be tough to relax if you’re continuously worried about what to say next and what the other person is thinking. So try shifting the focus to your new acquaintance, instead. Ask lots of questions and practice your listening skills!

5. Smile
You don’t always have to initiate—but if you’re hiding against the wall with your arms crossed over your chest, you’re not giving off a very approachable vibe, either. So try to relax, smile, and look as warm and casual as you can—it’ll open the door for someone to walk up to you and start the conversation.

6. Challenge Yourself
This year, I took on a networking challenge—I met with four people I knew and four people I didn’t know every month. Through these connections, I’ve already gotten an interview and many referrals—not to mention my new found confidence and a clearer sense of direction in my career. Even if you don’t go this far, think about how you can challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone just a little bit. It might have unexpected—and great—results.

This article was originally published at The Daily Muse and Forbes

10 Steps To Happiness At Work

Here’s a pop quiz for anyone who’s miserable at work. Which action has the biggest chance of improving your happiness? (A) Getting a promotion, (B) seeing your professional nemesis move to the Mongolia office, (C) focusing on the positive aspects of your job and trying to ignore the negative or (D) quitting in a fit of anger and landing your dream job elsewhere?

Sorry, says Srikumar Rao, the author of Happiness at Work. The answer is none of the above. To achieve greater happiness on the job, you don’t need your boss to stop calling you at night. You don’t need to make more money. You don’t need to follow your dream of being a sommelier, or running a B&B in Vermont.

“The exact attributes of what you are looking for do not exist in any job,” says Rao, who taught “Creativity and Personal Mastery,” one of the most sought after courses at Columbia Business School.

He believes that the single biggest obstacle to workplace happiness is the belief that we are prisoners of circumstance, powerless before the things that happen to us. To change your job, he says, you must change the way you think about it. “We create our own experience,” he insists. He relies heavily on Eastern spirituality and draws from many wisdom traditions. “The knowledge that we are responsible for living the life we have is our most powerful tool.”

Rather than encourage people to focus on “positive thinking,” Rao wants to banish the whole notion of good and bad events. “‘When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade’ assumes that you have been given a lemon and that a lemon is bad for you,” he says. “I’m saying, first of all, if you’ve been given a lemon, is that a bad thing? You can train yourself to say, ‘OK, this happened,’ rather than label it as bad.” If you think of events that occurred 10 years ago and seemed bad at the time, he says, you’ll realize that many of those events led to something positive. He recalls a former student who was fired from his job and received a healthy severance deal. Six months later the company ran into trouble and all the remaining staffers lost their jobs without receiving a dime. The fired employee actually came out ahead.

Rao believes that in order to be happy in the workplace, you need to move from personal ambition to “greater vision” ambition. “Personal ambition is ‘I want to be CEO,’” he says. “Greater vision ambition is, ‘I want to lead this company so that people want to work here.’” He says that ambition hinders happiness as long as people employ an “if/then” model: If I get the promotion, then I will be happy. Rao says that a healthier and happier perspective is to think “I have a grand vision and I will try my best to make it work. If I succeed, wonderful. If not, wonderful. My purpose is to give it the best I’ve got.’”

If happiness comes only from within, then how can you tell if you really are in a legitimately bad situation, as opposed just needing to reframe the way you look at it? Rao says it’s better to make a change from a positive place than from a point of anger. “You should make a change from the place of being grateful for your experience but ready to make a change and continue to grow.”

Even in corporate America, where so much of work is every man for him or herself, Rao advocates inhabiting an “other-centered universe.” If the nice guy gets passed over for a promotion, he still may succeed in less tangible ways or land an even better job down the road. “They may rise later in the shootout,” says Rao. “I’m challenging the assumption that you need to be a dog-eat-dog person to survive in a corporate environment.”

To achieve greater happiness at work, you don’t need your boss to stop calling you at night. You don’t need to make more money. You don’t need to follow your dream of being a sommelier, or running a B&B in Vermont. So says Srikumar Rao, the author of Happiness at Work. The biggest obstacle to happiness is simply your belief that you’re the prisoner of circumstance, powerless before the things that happen to you, he says. “We create our own experience,” he adds. Here are 10 steps to happiness at work, drawn from his recommendations.

Avoid “good” and “bad” labels

When something bad happens, don’t beat yourself up, says Rao. Instead, when you make an error, be aware of it without passing judgment. “Do what you have to do, but don’t surrender your calmness and sense of peace.”

Practice “extreme resilience”

Rao defines “extreme resilience” as the ability to recover fast from adversity. “You spend much time in needless, fruitless self-recrimination and blaming others,” he writes. “You go on pointless guilt trips and make excuses that you know are fatuous. If you’re resilient, you recover and go on to do great things.” (He also says that if you fully take his advice to avoid “bad thing” labels, you don’t have to practice resilience at all.)

Let go of grudges

Rao says that a key to being happy at work is to let go of grudges. “Consciously drop the past,” he writes. “It’s hard, but with practice you will get the hang of it.”

Don’t waste time being jealous

“When you’re jealous you’re saying that the universe is limited and there’s not enough success in it for me,” says Rao. “Instead, be happy, because whatever happened to him will happen to you in your current job or at another company.”

Find passion in you, not in your job

Sure, you can fantasize about a dream job that pays you well and allows you to do some kind of social good, work with brilliant and likable colleagues and still be home in time for dinner. But Rao warns against searching for that perfect position, or even believing that it exists. Instead, he advocates changing how you think about your current situation. For example, instead of thinking of yourself as a human resources manager at a bank, identify yourself as someone who helps other bank employees provide for their families, take advantage of their benefits and save for the future.

Picture yourself 10 years ago and 10 years from now

“Most problems that kept you awake ten years ago have disappeared,” says Rao. “Much of what troubles you today will also vanish. Realizing this truth will help you gain perspective.”

Banish the “if/then” model of happiness

Rao says that many of us rely on a flawed “if/then” model for happiness. If we become CEO, then we’ll be happy. If we make a six-figure salary, then we’ll be happy. “There is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy,” he writes.

Invest in the process, not the outcome

“Outcomes are totally beyond your control,” Rao writes. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you focus too much on what you hope to achieve rather than how you plan to get there.

Think about other people

Even in corporate America, where so much of work is every man for him or herself, Rao advocates inhabiting an “other-centered universe.” If the nice guy gets passed over for a promotion, he may still succeed in less tangible ways. “He may rise later in the shootout,” Rao says. “I’m challenging the assumption that you need to be a dog-eat-dog person to survive in a corporate environment.”

Swap multitasking for mindfulness

Rao thinks that multitasking gets in the way of happiness. “Multitasking simply means that you do many things badly and take much more time at it,” he writes. He recommends instead working on tasks for 20-minute intervals that you gradually increase to two-hour spans. Turn off any electronic gadgets that can be a distraction. He claims that with practice, you’ll be able to accomplish much more and with less effort.

Courageous Leaders Don’t Make Excuses…They Apologize

Erika Andersen, Contributor  Forbes 6/5/12

I’ve been thinking about the power of apology lately.  I’ve been noticing that the people for whom I have the most respect don’t hesitate to say “I was wrong,” or “I’m sorry I…”  On the other hand, the people I have the hardest time respecting seem constitutionally unable to take responsibility for their own mistakes.  Even when they try, it comes out sounding like “I may have been partly at fault, but…” or “It may seem that I was wrong, but…”  They just can’t do it.

Apologizing freely requires a good deal of courage.  It’s not comfortable for any of us to admit an error, or to acknowledge that something we’ve done has caused others harm or inconvenience. So when someone truly apologizes, we know he or she is putting honesty and honor above personal comfort or self-protection.  It’s inspiring, and it feels brave.

I just today read a great article here on Forbes about this very topic called Creative Leadership: Humility and Being Wrong.  The authors, Doug Guthrie and Sudhir Venkatesh, make a really clear and well-reasoned case for the positive power of admitting and apologizing for one’s mistakes.  At one point in the article, they note that:

“We are frequently taught that leaders, especially aspiring leaders, should hide weaknesses and mistakes. This view is flawed. It is not only good to admit you are wrong when you are; but also it can also be a powerful tool for leaders—actually increasing legitimacy and, when practiced regularly, can help to build a culture that actually increases solidarity, innovation, openness to change and many other positive features of organizational life.”

I couldn’t agree more. Followers look to see whether a leader is courageous before they’ll fully accept that person’s leadership.  If they see courage (and taking full responsibility for actions and admitting and apologizing for mistakes are two of the five key indicators of courage), it feels safe to ‘sign up.’ People need courageous leaders in order to feel there’s someone to make the tough calls and to take responsibility for them – they need to know that the buck truly does stop with the leader. With a courageous leader, people feel protected – not that they’re helpless, but they know the person in charge really has their back.

And courage begets courage: your followers are more likely to make their own tough decisions and to take responsibility for them when you model that behavior.  You have their backs – so they’re much more likely to have yours.

Because so many of us have a hard time apologizing, I thought it might be helpful to have an ‘apology primer.’  Here you go:

  • I’m sorry: this is the core of a genuine apology.  “I’m sorry.” or “I apologize.”  It’s the stake in the ground to communicate that you truly regret your behavior and wish you had acted differently. No apology is complete without this.
  • Stay in the first person:  Many, perhaps most, apologies run off the rails at this point, when the apologizer shifts into the second person, e.g., “I’m sorry….you didn’t understand me.” Or “I’m sorry….you feel that way.” Suddenly, you’re no longer apologizing for your actions; you’re telling the other person that you regret their actions or feelings.  A true apology sounds like, “I’m sorry I….” or “I’m sorry we…”
  • Don’t equivocate:  Once you said what you regret about your actions or words, don’t water it down with excuses.  That can blow the whole thing.  The former manager of my apartment building once said to me, “I’m sorry we haven’t gotten back to you about your security deposit, but you have to understand we’ve got hundreds of tenants.”  I definitely didn’t feel apologized to – in fact, I felt he was telling me I was being inconsiderate to hold him accountable!  Just let the apology stand on its own. “I’m sorry we haven’t gotten back to you about your security deposit.
  • Say how you’ll fix it.  This seals the deal.  If you genuinely regret your words or actions, you’ll to commit to changing. This needs to be simple, feasible and specific. “I’m sorry we haven’t gotten back to you about your security deposit. We’ll have an answer to you by this Friday.”
  • Do it. I know some people who don’t have a hard time apologizing, but seem to have a hard time following through on their apologies. If you apologize and say you’re going to behave differently, and then don’t – it’s actually worse than not having apologized in the first place. When you don’t follow through, people question not only your courage, but also your trustworthiness.

So there you have it.  Next time you’re clearly in the wrong, take deep breath, put aside your self-justification, your excuses, your blame, your defensiveness, and simply apologize. Being courageous in this way is generally scary in anticipation. But it feels great once you’ve done it….to you, and to those you lead.

9 Ways to Boost Your Confidence at Work

Daily Muse, Contributor, ForbesWoman 11/02/2011

I recently started my own freelance writing business, so, in fact, I no longer answer to a “boss.”

But, for nearly two decades, I did—and I had bosses that intimidated me to the core, I held positions in which I questioned my skills almost daily, and I took on responsibilities that I was certain would expose me as a neophyte.

And even now, as a brand-new entrepreneur with new clients, prospecting targets, and niche markets that are altogether unfamiliar, I still sometimes deal with feelings of inadequacy and a lack of confidence on the job.

And I know I’m not so unusual: For many women, feeling insecure at work is a constant struggle. But, it’s also a major obstacle to achieving our professional dreams and realizing our full potential. So, ladies, we’ve got to get over it.

The good news is, it’s possible. If you need a confidence boost in your day-to-day routine, check out these tried-and-true tips. You’ll bolster your sense of assurance, come off more poised, and kick some butt in the workplace, too.

1. Ask Questions

Not knowing everything—whether that’s because you’re new on the job or have incomplete information—can make you feel insecure and lead to a lack confidence. But remember that (no matter what stage you’re at in your career) you’re never going to have all the answers. So don’t be shy about asking questions, especially when you’re feeling uncertain or insecure. Instead, arm yourself with the information you need to do your job well by asking for it.

2. Be Curious

Curiosity not only sends the message that you’re ambitious and eager to learn, it also positions you well to interface with more people and take on new projects. So don’t just do the work that comes easily. Try something new, something that scares you just a wee bit—whether that’s asking your boss to lead the next client meeting or learning HTML. You’ll emerge more confident and empowered than if you stick to what you already know.

3. Accept that Everyone Makes Mistakes

If you always need to be perfect, you’ll always feel inadequate: that standard is wholly unattainable. Everyone makes mistakes on the job. You will too, and that’s okay—you’ll learn from them, and you’ll move on. Plus, once you let go of the need to be perfect, you free yourself to take risks and take on new responsibilities.

4. Go Above and Beyond

With each new assignment, think of ways you can knock the ball out of the park. Can you suggest new ideas, clients, or products? Make a process easier or more streamlined? Or even just get the report on your boss’ desk three days early? You’ll feel better about yourself if you go the extra mile—and you’ll probably get some good feedback from others, too.

5. Ask for Feedback

Don’t wait to be told that your work stinks or shines—ask for feedback along the way. Doing so demonstrates that you care about your work and want to succeed in your job. Plus, instead of anxiously wondering what you’re doing wrong, you’ll gain a better sense of your performance, your strengths, and your areas for improvement.

6. Find Supportive Allies

Seek out positive co-workers and mentors who support you, who boost you up when you’re feeling down, and who can help you succeed in your job and within the company. There are always naysayers and jealous types who want to see you fail, but if you reach out to enough people, you’re sure to find a critical mass who have your back.

7. Look the Part

Turns out, there’s some truth to the old adage, “fake it until you make it.” Dressing well, having good posture, being friendly, and making eye contact with people will all give the impression that you’re confident and in control. And when the rest of the world thinks you’re self-assured, you’ll start believing it, too. So smile, stand up straight, and yeah, go ahead and treat yourself to that new blazer.

8. Trust Your Gut

If you feel that you work isn’t getting you where you want to go, it’s sure to impact your frame of mind and sense of confidence. So be really honest with yourself about your personal goals and expectations, and make sure that you’re being true to them. If you find that you’re not able to use your talents to their fullest or your job isn’t putting you on the right track for your career, think about how to change your situation—whether it’s having a discussion with your boss or looking for a new gig.

9. Celebrate Your Achievements

If you’ve received an amazing performance review or nailed the client meeting you’ve been stressing over, celebrate—you deserve it! Acknowledging those successes and rewarding yourself will remind you how great you really are—and there’s no greater confidence boost than a job well done.

Why Incentives Help You Achieve Your Goals

When it comes to making goals, we often forget an important aspect: the reward. You can argue that achieving the goal in and of itself is the reward, and in most cases, I’d agree. However, there are some goals where having an additional incentive may encourage you to stick it out longer, than if you were doing it just for the goal achievement itself.

If the goal is going to take time and focused effort to achieve, then setting incremental benchmarks can be useful. The concept is similar to how you create your 90 Day Plan, and in fact compliments your endeavors. Identify your long-term goal, and then figure out what you can do in smaller, bite-sized chunks. Then choose things from your bucket list (i.e. fun things you desire to do/see, but you never seem to have the time to do) that would match the effort it is going to take for you to reach each of the milestones.

For example, getting a promotion at work that you know you should go for soon, but that you are not that motivated to try right now. True the benefit is a pay raise, but if you are holding yourself back, because you are listening to negative tapes in your head telling you that you are not good at test taking, studying, or paperwork, then an outside incentive linked to something you very much want to do or have may help you achieve this goal. And, achieve it sooner, rather than later.

So, in this promotion example, as you identify if you have the pre-requisites and find out what training you will need to take, link a reward to passing the tests or the actual promotion itself. If you’ve always wanted to go scuba diving, spend a day at a spa, or ride a dirt bike, then promise yourself that you will do it once you’ve achieved your goal.

The key is to plan out how long it will take you to achieve your goal. If it is going to take longer than a week or even 3 months, then it is a good idea to celebrate your small victories along the way as well. So, for example, if it is a big step for you to approach your boss and let her or him know you’re interested in more responsibility, then celebrate on a smaller scale after you’ve sat down with your boss—buy a snorkel, get the helmet, or pick out what treatments you want to get done at the spa. Just remember, if the step that you need to take needs external motivation to get you started, then attach a reward to that step.

Pasting visual pictures of what your goal will look, feel, smell, taste, and sound like once you’ve achieved it—right next to the picture of you on the dirt bike or at the spa can help you on the rough days when you don’t feel like going after your goal. When you’re tired of being just outside of your comfort zone, and are happy to slide back into what you had been doing—look and visualize what you have to gain.

And, by all means, when you’ve hit the milestones, don’t forget to cash in on your reward. Celebrate. If you keep plodding on to the finish line without picking up energy boosts, then it may seem a lot further to go than the actual distance you have left to achieve success.

Lyndsay Katauskas, MEd
Mars Venus Coaching
Corporate Media Relations

Eight Ways Goofing Off Can Make You More Productive

Susan Adams, Forbes Staff 6/18/2012

One of my colleagues used to head to the men’s room and brush his teeth every time he felt a surge of writer’s block. He swears it did the trick. Another exits the building and walks around the block to clear his head. I like to take advantage of the mid-day yoga sessions that Forbes offers in the gym on the ninth floor. When I return to my desk, my body is relaxed, my mind is clear, and I attack my work with new energy.

A growing body of research suggests that the longer you keep your rear end in your chair and your eyes glued to your screen, the less productive you may be. Getting up from your desk and moving not only heightens your powers of concentration, it enhances your health.

A story in Sunday’s New York Times quoted two sources who have studied productivity. John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management describes how concentrating on one task is like using one muscle for an extended period. The mind needs a break, to rest and recover before it can exert again. Among other things, Trougakos recommends that workers take serious lunch breaks, to recharge with food and a change of scene.

James A. Levine, a professor at the Mayo Clinic, agrees that we don’t take enough breaks. Sedentary work habits are as dangerous as a sedentary lifestyle at home. Levine likes the idea of your standing or even walking while you’re working, including during meetings. If you feel sleepy during the day, you should be allowed to take a nap, he says.

Levine suggests that you work in concentrated 15-minute periods, divided up by breaks. “The thought process is not designed to be continuous,” he tells the Times. He points out that efficient, productive work is much more valuable than long hours of wasted or partially productive time.

Then there is the power of daydreaming, described in science writer Jonah Lehrer’s new book, Imagine. Many of our most creative, productive thoughts come not while we’re trying to force them during long sessions at our desks, but at odd moments outside the office. For instance, Lehrer describes how Dan Wieden of advertising giant Wieden+Kennedy found the inspiration for the famous Nike “Just Do It” tag line late one evening, after reflecting on a conversation he had had with a colleague about the novelist Norman Mailer, who had written a book about convicted murderer Gary Gilmore. Gilmore’s last line before he was executed, “Let’s do it,” popped into Wieden’s head. Back at his desk, Wieden tweaked the phrase. But the idea had come in his off hours.

Many of us feel we shouldn’t waste time chatting with co-workers during the work day. But my colleague Andy Greenburg has written about research showing that talking with colleagues can increase your productivity. Specifically, a team of MIT researchers led by Professor Alexander “Sandy” Pentland discovered that call center workers who took the time to converse with their co-workers, instead of just grinding away, got through calls faster, felt less tension and earned the same approval ratings as their peers who didn’t schmooze at the office.

Finally, there is the increasing evidence for the importance of physically moving around during the day, and how it enhances productivity. My colleague Alison Griswold just wrote about Jack Groppel, a co-founder of a division of Johnson & Johnson called the Human Performance Institute. Groppel, who holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Florida State University, insists that stretching and walking around once every 30 minutes throughout the day stimulates blood flow and leads to a burst of hyper oxygenation in the brain, increasing energy and attentiveness.

After canvassing my colleagues, I offer this list of productive ways to goof off during the day and evening. They will boost your productivity and sense of well being. But beware not to overdo any of them. Take too many breaks and you may enter the realm of procrastination.

1. Take a walk around the block.
Fresh air combined with a change of scene can boost productivity.

2. Take a nap.
Some offices offer this as a perk. Closing your eyes for a 15-minute catnap can be hugely refreshing.

3. Chat with a colleague.
Even if you only make small talk, a fresh perspective on your day can help you get a new perspective on the task at hand.

4. Run an errand
Like walking around the block, getting out of the office and taking care of business can give your mind a break and the exercise will get your blood flowing.

5. Brush your teeth.

The symbolism of removing decay and plaque can be especially potent when you are feeling sluggish.

6. Spend ten minutes checking Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.
This is not as good for you as leaving your desk, but the mental distraction can offer a helpful break. Monitor your time however and don’t let yourself be distracted for more than five minutes.

7. Go to the gym
If your company has an exercise facility, take advantage.

8. Go out to lunch
Judging from the habits of my colleagues, lunch out of the office is a dying American habit. But a healthy meal and good conversation can be nourishing on multiple levels.

4 Networking Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Daily Muse, Contributor , Forbeswoman, 9/30/11

Whether you’re looking for a job or not, you’ve probably been encouraged to “network, network, network!” more times than you can count. Are all those conferences and

Photo courtesy of Jodi Womack.

events you’re attending leading to new connections or opportunities?

No? You’re not the only one. Many networking newbies have tendencies that actually inhibit building real relationships with their new contacts.

The good news: it’s not that hard to fix. Here’s what you might not even realize you’re doing wrong—and what to do about it.

Mistake #1: Talking about Yourself—All the Time

You’re talented! Eager! Ambitious! You have lots of ideas to share! And you want to make sure that every person you meet at the event knows who you are and what you do!

We get it. And yes, sharing your story with new contacts is important. But sharing your life story is overkill: Nothing can set a person off more than an aspiring professional who takes no interest in anything beside her own ambitions.

The Fix: Take Some Interest.

Stop highlighting your latest accomplishment and start listening instead. Find people with industries or careers of interest to you, and ask them questions: How did they get their start? What do they love about their jobs, and what do they wish they could change? By taking an interest in your contact, you will make her feel valued—and hopefully interested in continuing the relationship. And you’ll likely gain some new insights, too.

Mistake #2: Expecting a Job

You’re looking for a new job, so you hit the circuit of industry events every week, asking every person you meet to help you find your new gig—after all, it’s not what you know, it’s who.

Well, yes. But give people some credit: If you pursue networking opportunities purely for the job prospects, your contacts will figure you out. You will leave them feeling used, and they will be less likely to recommend you for an opportunity.

The Fix: Provide Some Value.

If you’re looking for a job, don’t ask for it—work for it. Do some research into what your contact does both in and out of work and find ways that you can contribute your time or support.

Perhaps you could volunteer your expertise in social media for the big convention she’s heading up, or offer your accounting knowledge for her non-profit. Provide some opportunity for contacts to see you in a working light, and you’ll be that much closer to a good referral.

Mistake #3: Not Saying Thanks

You attended a large event last week and grabbed coffee with one of your new professional contacts afterward. And then—the week got busy, and you didn’t get around to saying thank you. She’ll understand, right?
Maybe. But if you don’t show gratitude, even in the smallest (or largest) event, you risk leaving a negative impression—probably not the desired outcome of your meeting.

The Fix: Just Do It.

Whether you pack notecards in your purse for post-meeting scribbles, set yourself a reminder on Gmail to send off a quick note, or just insert a quick “thanks for taking time to meet with me!” at the final handshake, you must say thank you. Not only will you solidify your reputation as a courteous individual, but you won’t be leaving your contacts with a bad taste in their mouths. Always say thank you, and your good impression will last until your next meeting.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to Follow Up

You meet someone over a networking happy hour and tell her you’ll send her your portfolio. But as the night goes on, she has a few drinks and meets a few dozen more people. You’re sure she’s forgotten all about you, so you decide it’s not even worth emailing her the next day.

Bad idea. Meeting someone is just the first step in networking. In order to forge a lasting relationship (and make sure people don’t forget you), you need to follow up, every single time.

The Fix: Stay Accountable.

If you told a networking contact that you would do something, do it. Even if you’re not sure she remembers you, you can bet that she will be grateful that you took the time out of your day to send her what you had discussed. If you’re worried about forgetting, keep a pen near your business card holder to quickly scribble out what follow-up actions you have for that contact, and review your cards after the event.

Above all, keep in mind that networking isn’t about short-term gain, but about learning, growing, and forming connections. Adopt good social habits, and you’ll see your skills and comfort improve, your opportunities increase, and your relationships grow—for the long haul.

The Most Annoying, Pretentious And Useless Business Jargon

My Say , Contributor, Forbes Entrepreneurs, 1/26/2012

The next time you feel the need to reach out, touch base, shift a paradigm, leverage a best practice or join a tiger team, by all means do it. Just don’t say you’re doing it.

If you have to ask why, chances are you’ve fallen under the poisonous spell of business jargon. No longer solely the province of consultants, investors and business-school types, this annoying gobbledygook has mesmerized the rank and file around the globe.

“Jargon masks real meaning,” says Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”

To save you from yourself (and to keep your colleagues and customers from strangling you), we have assembled a cache of expressions to assiduously avoid.

We also assembled a “Jargon Madness” bracket—similar to the NCAA college basketball tournament—featuring 32 abominable expressions. Each day, for 32 days, readers will get to vote, via Twitter, on one matchup. The goal: to identify the single most annoying example of business jargon and thoroughly embarrass all who employ it and all of those other ridiculous terms, too.

Core Competency

This awful expression refers to a firm’s or a person’s fundamental strength—even though that’s not what the word “competent” means. “This bothers me because it is just a silly phrase when you think about it,” says Bruce Barry, professor of management at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Business. “Do people talk about peripheral competency?  Being competent is not the standard we’re seeking.  It’s like core mediocrity.”

Buy-In

This means agreement on a course of action, if the most disingenuous kind. Notes David Logan, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business: “Asking for someone’s ‘buy-in’ says, ‘I have an idea.  I didn’t involve you because I didn’t value you enough to discuss it with you.  I want you to embrace it as if you were in on it from the beginning, because that would make me feel really good.’”

S.W.A.T. Team

In law enforcement, this term refers to teams of fit men and women who put themselves in danger to keep people safe. “In business, it means a group of ‘experts’ (often fat guys in suits) assembled to solve a problem or tackle an opportunity” says USC’s Logan. An apt comparison, if you’re a fat guy in a suit.

Empower

This is what someone above your pay grade does when, apparently, they would like you to do a job of some importance. It’s also called “the most condescending transitive verb ever.” Says Chatman: “It suggests that ‘You can do a little bit of this, but I’m still in charge here.  I am empowering you.’”

Open the Kimono

“Some people use this instead of ‘revealing information,’” says Barry. “It’s kind of creepy.” Just keep your kimono snugly fastened.

Bleeding Edge

Someone decided that his product or service was so cutting-edge that a new term needed to be created. It did not. Unless you are inventing a revolutionary bladed weapon, leave this one alone.

Lots of Moving Parts

Pinball machines have lots of moving parts. Many of them buzz and clank and induce migraine headaches. Do you want your business to run, or even appear to run, like a pinball machine? Then do not say it involves lots of moving parts.

Corporate Values

This expression is so phony it churns the stomach. Corporations don’t have values, the people who run them do.

Make Hay

This is jargon for being productive or successful in a short period of time. The phrase ‘to make hay’ is short for ‘make hay while the sun shines’, which can be traced to John Heyward’s The Proverbs, Epigrams and Miscellanies of John Heywood (circa 1562). A handy nugget for cocktail conversation, but that’s it.

Scalable

A scalable business or activity refers to one that requires little additional effort or cost for each additional unit of output. Example: Making software is a scalable business (building it requires lots of effort up front, while distributing a million copies over the Web is relatively painless). Venture capitalists crave scalable businesses. They crave them so much that the term now has become more annoying than the media’s obsession with celebrity diets.

Best Practice

This refers to a method or technique that delivers superior results compared with other methods and techniques. It is also perhaps the single most pompous confection the consulting industry has ever dreamed up.

Think Outside the Box

This tired turn of phrase means to approach a business problem in an unconventional fashion. Kudos to a Forbes.com reader who suggested: “Forget the box, just think.”

Solution

This word has come to mean everything from the traditional way to solve a mathematical proof to a suite of efficiency-enhancing software–and it is the epitome of lingual laziness. Says Glen Turpin, a communications consultant: “It usually refers to a collection of technologies too abstract or complex to describe in a way that anyone would care about if they were explained in plain English.”

Leverage

Meet the granddaddy of nouns converted to verbs. ‘Leverage’ is mercilessly used to describe how a situation or environment can be manipulated or controlled. Leverage should remain a noun, as in “to apply leverage,” not as a pseudo-verb, as in “we are leveraging our assets.”

Vertical

This painful expression refers to a specific area of expertise. For example, if you make project-management software for the manufacturing industry (as opposed to the retail industry), you might say, “We serve the manufacturing vertical.” In so saying, you would make everyone around you flee the conversation.

Over the Wall

If you’re not wielding a grappling hook, avoid this meaningless expression. Katie Clark, an account executive at Allison & Partners, a San Francisco public relations firm, got a request from her boss to send a document “over the wall.” Did he want her to print out the document, make it into a paper airplane and send it whooshing across the office? Finally she asked for clarification. “It apparently means to send something to the client,” she says. “Absurd!”

Robust

This otherwise harmless adjective has come to suggest a product or service with a virtually endless capacity to please. A cup of good coffee is robust. A software program is not.

Learnings

Like most educated people, Michael Travis, an executive search consultant, knows how to conjugate a verb. That’s why he cringes when his colleagues use the word “learning” as a noun. As in: “I had a critical learning from that project,” or “We documented the team’s learnings.” Whatever happened to simply saying: “I learned a lesson from that project?” Says Travis: “Aspiring managers would do well to remember that if you can’t express your idea without buzzwords, there may not be an idea there at all.”

Boil the Ocean

This means to waste time. The thinking here, we suppose, is that boiling the ocean would take a long time. It would also take a long time to fly to Jupiter, but we don’t say that. Nor should we boil oceans, even the Arctic, which is the smallest. It would be a waste of time.

Reach Out

Jargon for “let’s set up a meeting” or “let’s contact this person.” Just say that—and unless you want the Human Relations department breathing down your neck, please don’t reach out unless clearly invited.

Punt

In football, to punt means to willingly (if regretfully) kick the ball to the other team to control your team’s position on the field. In business it means to give up on an idea, or to make it less of a priority at the moment. In language as in life, punt too often and you’ll never score.

Impact

This wannabe verb came to prominence, says Bryan Garner, editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, because most people don’t understand the difference between the words “affect” and “effect.” Rather than risk mixing them up, they say, “We will impact our competitor’s sales with this new product.” A tip: “Affect” is most commonly a verb, “effect” a noun. For instance: When you affect my thinking, you may have an effect on my actions.

Giving 110%

The nice thing about effort, in terms of measuring it, is that the most you can give is everything—and everything equals 100%. You can’t give more than that, unless you can make two or more of yourself on the spot, in which case you have a very interesting talent indeed. To tell someone to give more than 100% is to also tell them that you failed second-grade math.

Take It To The Next Level

In theory this means to make something better. In practice, it means nothing, mainly because nobody knows what the next level actually looks like and thus whether or not they’ve reached it.

It Is What It Is

Thanks. Idiot.

4 Networking Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Daily Muse, Contributor , Forbeswoman, 9/30/11

Whether you’re looking for a job or not, you’ve probably been encouraged to “network, network, network!” more times than you can count. Are all those conferences and

Photo courtesy of Jodi Womack.

events you’re attending leading to new connections or opportunities?

No? You’re not the only one. Many networking newbies have tendencies that actually inhibit building real relationships with their new contacts.

The good news: it’s not that hard to fix. Here’s what you might not even realize you’re doing wrong—and what to do about it.

Mistake #1: Talking about Yourself—All the Time

You’re talented! Eager! Ambitious! You have lots of ideas to share! And you want to make sure that every person you meet at the event knows who you are and what you do!

We get it. And yes, sharing your story with new contacts is important. But sharing your life story is overkill: Nothing can set a person off more than an aspiring professional who takes no interest in anything beside her own ambitions.

The Fix: Take Some Interest.

Stop highlighting your latest accomplishment and start listening instead. Find people with industries or careers of interest to you, and ask them questions: How did they get their start? What do they love about their jobs, and what do they wish they could change? By taking an interest in your contact, you will make her feel valued—and hopefully interested in continuing the relationship. And you’ll likely gain some new insights, too.

Mistake #2: Expecting a Job

You’re looking for a new job, so you hit the circuit of industry events every week, asking every person you meet to help you find your new gig—after all, it’s not what you know, it’s who.

Well, yes. But give people some credit: If you pursue networking opportunities purely for the job prospects, your contacts will figure you out. You will leave them feeling used, and they will be less likely to recommend you for an opportunity.

The Fix: Provide Some Value.

If you’re looking for a job, don’t ask for it—work for it. Do some research into what your contact does both in and out of work and find ways that you can contribute your time or support.

Perhaps you could volunteer your expertise in social media for the big convention she’s heading up, or offer your accounting knowledge for her non-profit. Provide some opportunity for contacts to see you in a working light, and you’ll be that much closer to a good referral.

Mistake #3: Not Saying Thanks

You attended a large event last week and grabbed coffee with one of your new professional contacts afterward. And then—the week got busy, and you didn’t get around to saying thank you. She’ll understand, right?
Maybe. But if you don’t show gratitude, even in the smallest (or largest) event, you risk leaving a negative impression—probably not the desired outcome of your meeting.

The Fix: Just Do It.

Whether you pack notecards in your purse for post-meeting scribbles, set yourself a reminder on Gmail to send off a quick note, or just insert a quick “thanks for taking time to meet with me!” at the final handshake, you must say thank you. Not only will you solidify your reputation as a courteous individual, but you won’t be leaving your contacts with a bad taste in their mouths. Always say thank you, and your good impression will last until your next meeting.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to Follow Up

You meet someone over a networking happy hour and tell her you’ll send her your portfolio. But as the night goes on, she has a few drinks and meets a few dozen more people. You’re sure she’s forgotten all about you, so you decide it’s not even worth emailing her the next day.

Bad idea. Meeting someone is just the first step in networking. In order to forge a lasting relationship (and make sure people don’t forget you), you need to follow up, every single time.

The Fix: Stay Accountable.

If you told a networking contact that you would do something, do it. Even if you’re not sure she remembers you, you can bet that she will be grateful that you took the time out of your day to send her what you had discussed. If you’re worried about forgetting, keep a pen near your business card holder to quickly scribble out what follow-up actions you have for that contact, and review your cards after the event.

Above all, keep in mind that networking isn’t about short-term gain, but about learning, growing, and forming connections. Adopt good social habits, and you’ll see your skills and comfort improve, your opportunities increase, and your relationships grow—for the long haul.