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Summer 👏 is 👏 here 👏! It’s time for the beach, barbeques, and early release on Fridays. Unfortunately, for us adults, summer does not mean school’s out. But, if you play your cards right you can work hard and play hard. The name of the game is productivity. The more you can get done in a shorter amount of time the better. Check out these top 5 apps for productivity so that you can spend less time working, and more time enjoying the sunshine with friends and family.
Serene is a macOS app that layers three techniques to boost focus and limit distractions. This is one of the best apps for productivity because it helps you plan your day. We all know how powerful goal setting can be, especially when they are small and achievable. Each day Serene prompts you to identify a goal, specify the timeframe to complete it, and how you will get started.
The second step in Serene is to block digital distractions. The app allows you to block apps and websites that you know take you off track such as Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter. While you can customize which websites you would like to block, you aren’t able to block “some” distractions or prioritize “some” information. The app or website is blocked entirely during the session you choose so you have to be sure your focus is more important than missing any messages.
The last step is to enhance your focus. Serene helps customers do this with focus music, countdown timers, and scheduled breaks. Overall, this product is great for someone who likes a plan but needs help sticking to it. The distraction blocking is a nice addition but the options are somewhat limited.
|| Try Serene for a trial period of 10 hours here.
When developing the best apps for productivity, companies must balance simplicity and customization, and Hardly does just that. Hardly’s interface is very straightforward making it easy to use. A productivity app is no good if you are distracted by figuring out how to use it.
At the same time, the app offers users a high level of personalization with the ability to prioritize certain alters and block some distractions. Instead of going totally silent, the app allows you to filter notifications by person, project name, and urgency. This means you can go into focus mode without fear of missing anything important or time-sensitive. To me, this feature is priceless.
Want to learn more about how Hardly can help you reach your productivity goals? Read our deep-dive article from earlier this month and sign up for our beta test here.
Shift is for those of you looking to declutter your desktop. The app helps you focus and improve your productivity by shortening the time it takes to switch back and forth between different email accounts, browser tabs, and apps. Shift becomes your browser for work; having everything in one place makes the process seamless and efficient. With Shift, you can snooze or mute your notifications and sync them with your calendar to avoid distractions during meetings. Lastly, Shift works across Windows and Macs so it’s perfect if you work on both platforms.
Try Shift for a trial period of 7 days here.
Todoist is one of the best apps for productivity if you are looking to improve task management for your team. As a remote, international employee at Hardly, Todoist helps me stay on top of my assignments and assign tasks to others easily. The app allows you to transform a note into a one-off or recurring task, color-code priorities, share projects, and record your progress. After using Todoist, I realized group work doesn’t have to be painful. A seamless task management system makes all the difference in getting work done efficiently as a team.
Try Todoist for free here.
IFTTT, which stands for “If This, Then That”, is one of the best apps for productivity if you love automation. As we all know, time is money so being able to have small tasks taken care of without a second thought is a godsend. The website and mobile application allows you to connect internet-aware apps, services, and devices, without any coding. For example, you could request your computer track your work hours when you are at a certain location in google calendar or automatically share your company’s new LinkedIn posts on your personal page. Basically, you can work smarter by concocting your own recipe of commands that triggers second and third order tasks automatically.
Try IFTTT for free here.
My time in Japan has come to an end and I am now in the process of PCSing. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the term is used to describe the hellish moving experience for military members and their families that happens on average every three years. What makes this process so painful? All of the emails, phone calls, and signatures required to move myself and my belongings from one place to the next. Some are important and some aren’t but the one time you select “off” on your notification setting or throw items is the virtual trash, you will regret it. Therefore, operating on a zero or one scale isn’t an option.
I need a spectrum or gradation. It would be amazing if I could turn my notification setting to off but still be alerted whenever an email titled “PCS” came through. Then, I could filter out the unimportant stuff when trying to remain focused.
Moreover, there is nothing worse than being bombarded with rings, dings, and pings when you are in a work rhythm. But, some people, topics, and projects are worth the distraction. The problem is most platforms only allow you to have all the notifications or none at all. That’s where the Hardly app comes into play. Let me introduce you to the notification setting filters of my dreams:
I love my grandmother to death but I know a conversation with her will last hours. Even when we both have the intention of simply checking in, our conversation becomes tangential and any work flow I previously had dissipates. A phone call from her, while wonderful, is the ultimate distraction.
And I’m not alone. In our last team meeting, coworkers mentioned that their family group texts were at the top of their distractions list and something they wish they could filter out when they are in Zoom meetings or quickly approaching a deadline. We all want to know what Uncle Jack thinks about the latest COVID restrictions, just not when our website edits are due by the end of the day.
Without Hardly, my only option is to put my phone on silent or constantly be swiping away messages off of my laptop screen. With Hardly, I can silence my family drama while still receiving notifications if my deployed husband tries to contact me. Communication is few and far between so making sure I see his messages is a must!
This feature of the notification app is a game-changer. It gives you the power to hand out passes to the very important people you need to be in contact with to stay on top of your work while pressing the pause button on distractors (we want to hear from them, just not now!)
In addition, the Hardly app allows you to filter notifications by topic. I love that my workplace values coworkers getting to know one another personally, not just professionally. However, I can do without the string of nonstop notifications from coworkers sending each other cat pictures while I am trying to enjoy a dinner date or working on writing a blog.
I love this notification setting because I can limit distractions while allowing alerts from the blog or social media channels. Meaning, when my phone buzzes in the middle of getting some great thoughts down on paper, I know that it’s a notification pertinent to my work and actually worth checking. Any app that prevents me from losing my train of thought over random conversations is a winner in my book.
Lastly, while other applications allow you to filter notifications by person or category, our software offers customization like never before. You can filter your notifications by urgent words. For instance, any messages that say “urgent,” “end of day,” or “ASAP,” can bypass my do-not-disturb notification setting on my computer so that I don’t miss anything pressing.
Don’t believe me? I bet you can think of at least one time where you had your notification setting off and when you turned it back on realized you had missed a question or request that was time-sensitive. Hardly will make sure you can keep your focus without missing anything that requires your immediate attention.
Not sure if a notification filtering system will truly have an impact on your remote work experience? Superhuman just released a new survey that found nearly two in three remote workers would rather go back to their daily commute than continue sorting through the avalanche of emails and chat messages. Additionally, over half of men and women say they can’t go more than 5 minutes without opening a notification for an email or work communication.
Finally, the days of hibernation are over, and spring is here. In Japan, springtime is marked by sakura or, as we say in the States, “cherry blossom” season. The delicate pale pink petals are in bloom for just 10 short days before they fall or are swept away by wind and rain. As I hanami, which is a Japanese term for “enjoying the transient beauty of flowers”, through the streets of Gion, I am reminded howI need to conquer some spring cleaning so that my workflow and productivity could bloom, too. What about you?
Here are Hardly’s tips to help you eliminate stressful chaos and bring order to your workday this spring season:
A clear desk equals a clear mind. Common sense tells us that a cluttered workspace literally prevents us from getting as much work done in a set amount of time. Everyone knows searching among a sea of papers for notes from a specific meeting or having to stop your workflow to clean up yesterday’s coffee you elbowed and spilled is a waste of precious time but the Harvard Business Review shares how a mess at your desk can affect your mind too. Research has shown
“cluttered spaces can have negative effects on our stress and anxiety levels, as well as our ability to focus, our eating choices, and even our sleep.”
In 2009, an American study found levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to anxiety and depression over time, were higher in mothers whose houses were cluttered.
Scientists at Princeton University found that our brains respond best to order. In fact, they have proved constant visual reminders of disorganization such as pens strewn about and overstuffed filing cabinets deplete our cognitive resources and reduce our attention span. Therefore, it’s not surprising that when you clear your desk the results are positive; you are more likely to focus, process information, and manage your emotions effectively. The moral of the story is to get rid of the distractions!
So what’s the best way to go about cleaning your workspace?
Step 1: Assess what gadgets you frequently reach for and which ones are in the way. Then determine what is working for you and what isn’t.
Step 2: Sort through all the papers and cabinets and return everything to its rightful home.
Step 3: Purge! Ruthlessly throw out anything that is not helping you be productive, feel good, or is a duplicate of a tool you recently upgraded.
Step 4: Actually break out the cleaning products, the broom, the mop, the wipes, and the soap and water. A fresh start is best when it smells fresh.
One of the biggest headaches of remote working for me is emails. I feel like I receive 10,000 emails a day; some important, some from a subscription I signed up for just to get 10% off three years ago. The worst is when I am looking for a prior email to or from coworkers that was not clearly labeled in the subject line so I have to sift through one by one to find what I’m looking for.
What’s the solution?
I highly recommend unsubscribing to anything you no longer read. Fewer emails coming in means fewer notifications, which means less anxiety from your phone or computer buzzing. Next, creating digital folders and having emails automatically file into them is a godsend. Last but not least delete all the emails that you no longer need. I know, this last one is crazy time-consuming, but the peace of mind you gain from having 1,000 emails instead of 10,000 emails is blissful and will definitely take your work stress from an 8 to a 4.
The more apps the merrier, right? Wrong. There is an app for everything these days and it’s up to us to make sure they are helping not hurting our workflow. Take stock of how frequently you use the applications you have. If you are using them less than once a week, chances are they aren’t that helpful and there is a better solution out there that meets your needs. In addition, try to find apps that serve more than one purpose so that you aren’t wasting time checking multiple apps throughout the day.
Now that you have gotten rid of all the things that no longer benefit your workday, it is time to recreate your daily routine. Take the hint from nature and make some changes with the season. It could be as small as switching from hot coffee to a cold brew or as impactful as clocking in and out an hour earlier. Additionally, look at your habits such as how often you need a break to step away from the computer or what times during the day you are connecting with colleagues the most and gauge whether adjustments can be made to streamline your schedule.
Finally, you made it to the fun part! You have done all of the hard work of spring cleaning and now it’s time to re-envision your home office. Breath in the freshness of the space and think about how to curate a space that encourages clarity, calm, and creativity. For example, an aromatic diffuser or picture of the ocean. Maybe reposition your desk to get more light or swap out the bookshelf for a comfy reading chair. The important thing here is to not replace junk with more junk. So be judicious with your choices and go for more of a minimalist aesthetic.
Sick of notification overload? Learn about Hardly’s new app that helps you customize your notification settings. Imagine a notification setting that allows you to filter by person, topic, and urgency so that you can stay focused when you need to without missing important messages.
Allison: Hi, I’m Allison, CEO of Hardly
Roger: and i’m roger the cto and we’re excited to answer some questions
Leigh: Hey guys it’s Leigh here content creator for Hardly and today I’m going to be talking with Allison and Roger so thank you guys for being our first Hardly Headliners— a series where we ask special guests 17 questions to get to know them better personally and professionally. So let’s get started!
As a kid I used to think that life would be perfect if I could just eat dessert before dinner. So I’m curious, what are your favorite sweets?
Roger: So I love a good New York style cheesecake. I’m weird where i just like it plain no toppings. Just give me that cheesecake and a good crust
Allison: Yeah, he’s a vanilla guy and I’m kind of the “load everything up as much as possible” — even if it doesn’t really go well together. I’ve learned the hard way. Just the other day I paired blackberries with chocolate mint cookies and just don’t… just don’t do it.
Allison: Simplicity. We want to make people’s life more simple.
Roger: That’s a good word. I honestly can’t think of a better one.
Roger: One of the things I love is the sort of ease of being able to communicate with people
even though that is spread across multiple apps one of the things I really miss is just that in-person uh communication and contact and hanging out with people at the lunch table
Allison: The spontaneity of interactions and shared experiences. Like being able to listen to the same music. All of that. I miss it. And I just love the fact that I can really decompress throughout the day. As an introvert, I feel like that’s really important and if you work in the office you never really have that decompression time
Roger: I don’t know… for me, it’s that first cup of cold brew in the morning that always starts my workday off well.
Allison: And for me, it’s the fifth cup of coffee in the morning. I used to listen to brown noise all the time when I was working and then I found a few different companies… um… what’s the one that it’s like flow tunes or something it focused the name of it but it saves my life and I no longer have to listen to just brown noise all throughout the day but I can still concentrate
Allison: People have this vision of entrepreneurship that there’s like this eureka moment and you go and make it happen. When in reality you have a general idea of a problem and then you have to validate that and then you need to validate that there is a problem with the audience and then you have to validate that you’re creating a solution to fit that problem so really there wasn’t one moment but I think that it evolved over time
Roger: I think for me it goes back to that sort of physicality of interacting with people we have zoom we have a bunch of different video conferencing apps but all of them very much feel like you’re on display, uh you’re kind of putting on a show. — So something that would allow people to be a bit more social, and is a bit more laid back.
Allison: When everything is communicated over the computer, all of a sudden things that are super not important, like “50% off sales” get the exact same level of importance as, “help I need a file in 20 minutes!” It’s really difficult to prioritize that information when you only are working with a two-dimensional space.
Allison: Steve Jobs. Just kidding!
Roger: That’s a tough one— the one the first one that springs to mind is actually my old boss Eddie because he was super smart super-capable. But also very down to earth. Would play chess games with you and he taught me a lot. He’s kind of somebody I want to become more like in my CTO position. Just being that mentor but also being very technically capable.
Allison: Kayla Matheus is a former CEO. And just a rock star in terms of hardware and behavior. Really just a great mentor to us. She’s been fabulous, as well as Carlos Lemas who we’ve been talking with since September and you’ve known for a decade. Oh my god, he’s been so patient with all of my dumb questions over the past seven or eight months.
I think we’re just focused on surrounding ourselves with smarter people than us and if we listen to them we’ll be okay.
Roger: but also Steve Jobs.
Allison: When I came out of college I expected adulthood to give me more control, but it actually took a lot of my control away. All of a sudden, I had no ability to say, “well, I need to really take a breather I’m going to come in at 10.” That was out of my power, and I don’t want that to just be within my own power— I want to make sure that everyone in our company has the ability to set their own schedule work as hard as they need to and as little as they need to some days. Basically, I am creating the company that I really wish that I had when I was 22, and I’ve been struggling with to gain that autonomy for the past decade or so
Roger: For me, it would probably be working on something you really are truly passionate about. It’s possible to do that without being in a startup or being an entrepreneur, however, sometimes it can be difficult to find the right company or even get accepted into that company. And so for me, being able to create something that I really love that I think is gonna help people— that I’m very passionate about is very rewarding for me.
Roger: Such a hard this is such a difficult question, uh, I don’t think I could. I honestly don’t think I could.
Allison: You’d rather live in silence?
Roger: yeah I would rather live in silence than be stuck listening to one song for the rest of my life because that one song would get very tiring very quickly whatever it is
Allison: hmm..brown noise
Roger: I was thinking about that
Allison: (laughter) just brown noise for the rest of my life. Yeah, I think I think it was Spotify’s year-in-review one year. We looked back and it was like your most-listened-to song: “brown noise.”
This might be cheesy but I think it would be “Here Comes the Sun” because it’s positive, it doesn’t have any grating points to where I think it would annoy the crap out of me over time.
Roger: It is for people who want simplicity in their day of remote work — people who want to be more focused and more optimal in their working life.
Allison: if you’re the type that really needs prioritization of information— the stuff that you can’t ignore. Hardly Dash won’t let you ignore something that’s super important but will filter out all the stuff that’s not.
Roger: I would say my favorite productivity app is probably Slack because it’s kind of a bit of everything in one— which is a good thing and a bad thing. But it does allow me to do my work, share files, have social chat with friends, make calls, video calls, and play games. A little bit of everything,
Allison: I wish that Zapier was my favorite app but it’s not. Like, I want it to save my life, but it breaks all the time.
Allison: We were we were actually a semi-finalist in the AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup competition and an alternate in the SXSW pitch competition. We had a debate around whether or not we should try to pitch together and or if I should just run with it. It’s really hard to pitch together. Within you know just a minute— which is what we had for SXSW and a 3-min pitch for AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup—you have to synchronize so tightly in order to to get 2 people into a pitch. So we just decided that it’d be best if I took it on.
It’s difficult because you feel the pressure to really say all that you can about the company, but it’s only 3 minutes so you have to prioritize. And of course, there are going to be things that you leave out because of that. My goal is that if we can just get people interested enough they’ll want to learn about all the other stuff that we had to leave out along the way
Allison: I really love Debbie Millman’s talk on the future of work and what she felt like she lost and gained and the pandemic. She’s always a really amazing speaker if you do not listen to her Design Matters podcast you should!
Allison: I think that we do have all of the tools at our fingertips to share our deck and collaborate and show off our product online and I don’t know if we would be able to do that a year ago because I would be worried that the investor may not be comfortable with the Zoom and all of these things. But now that we’re all comfortable it’s kind of amazing being able to move from one investor meeting to another back to back to back to back when before I would have to go to their offices and basically worry myself to death About the commute getting there
Allison: It was when we organized the SXSW pitch happy hour and we got to interact socially with a lot of the other SXSW pitchers— of course, over Zoom. And oh my god, it was just this moment of “wow, these people are so intelligent. so smart holy crap how did we get into this at all.” Major imposter syndrome.
Roger: Definitely agree, I’m more just amazed at the work that people are doing in this sphere of like technology and culture and improving society and really everything I mean if we are of course looking to improve remote work which affects a lot of people but these people were solving climate crises um social injustice crises and everything in between it was really amazing to be part of that
Roger: That’s just having a button that allows you to mute yourself in meetings. It seems way too complicated the hotkeys across the different apps are all different you think it should be “M” for mute it’s not uh so just having that physical key that also shows with the led lights whether you are muted or not I think is going to be a big help.
Allison: The LED lights around the Dash really signal you in a variety of different ways from across the room. We can actually catch your attention close up and make sure that you are aware of something that that really needs your focus. So we’re creating that prioritization of information, and that visual signaling to even other people in your home. So they know that when you’re muted or unmuted so they can actually come up and talk to you
Allison: This is an endless battle.
Roger: It is, and I think we have come to the conclusion that we are both incredibly nerdy in different ways. I’m a big nerd when it comes to video games, music, I love D&D, and you…
Allison: I’ve been talking. You tell them what I’m better at.
Roger: I’ll tell you she’s a much bigger sci-fi and fantasy nerd. Big book nerd. We both love coming together in that sphere of sci-fi and fantasy and movies and TV shows. We both cosplay when we went to Comic-Con and Dragon-Con.
Allison: We will continue to go to. and we also went to BookCon multiple years in a row and that was my fault that was that was
Roger: I supported you then
Allison: yes, it was actually a much calmer conference than Comic-Con— same genuine nerdiness, but much calmer.
Leigh: Yeah, thanks so much for talking with us. Hope you guys enjoy getting to know the CEO and CTO of Hardly to learn more check out our blog at hardly-work.com and don’t forget to press the like button or drop a comment if you want more video content from the Hardly team until next time.
Roger: I think that’s a wrap.
Perhaps you have even heard that Hardly is going to be participating in South by Southwest® (SXSW®) in order to help spread the word that working from home doesn’t have to lead to madness. Many of us have gone from a working at home mentality to a living at work mentality. Working in general, and working from home particularly, can be really stressful!
Juggling one million tabs, shifting between multiple screens, and trying to stay focused amongst a myriad of distractions would make anyone want to pull their hair out! Hardly is all about making your workday a whole lot better by creating hardware and software that can improve your overall productivity and wellness.
SXSW® is a major conference and festival that celebrates all things focused on creativity and discovery. While the festival won’t take place in sunny Austin, Texas, this month, it will be an incredible, digital experience where companies, artists, and keynote speakers will share the fruits of their imagination from all over the world.
Be sure to check out their website for more details on who else is attending and what topics are going to be discussed.
Luckily, Hardly is not the only company focused on trying to decrease stress and improve the mental wellbeing of us worker bees around the world. Fellow SXSW® competitor, AlphaBeats, is also leading the charge against madness caused by work-stress—but from a different angle. Their goal is to help you both unplug and calm down during the little time we do have away from work. This way your mind actually has time to rest.
Alpha stands for “alpha waves”, which are the brain waves produced when you are in a relaxed state. Their app uses music to de-stress the brain.
Based out of The Netherlands, this revolutionary, technology company helps you to decompress from work in a major way. The first step is that AlphaBeats turns your smartphone into a biosensor. Then, they combine neurofeedback with technology that enhances the relaxing qualities of your favorite songs to train your brain to reach deep relaxation in 10 minutes after four weeks of consecutive use.
No more looking up the sound of waves or rainfall on Youtube for meditative vibes! AlphaBeats has you covered!
Work-related stress is a real thing. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as “the response people may have when presented with work demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.”
Now, I’m not suggesting pressure at work is a rarity or that it is inherently unhealthy. However, when the pressure becomes excessive and unmanageable, it causes stress that can damage your personal and professional health. Western Governor’s University states that when work-stress becomes chronic, compounding over a significant amount of time, it can lead to burnout, which has been linked to a higher likelihood of suicide, substance abuse, heart disease, high blood pressure, and death before the age of 45.
For all you productivity hackers, stress can be a disadvantage when it comes to getting a lot done in a short amount of time. You see, stress causes a lack of energy and focus. Initially, stress can give you a burst of energy but quickly transitions to draining you emotionally and physically— preventing you from delivering your best work.
In addition, stress can take over your mind and make it impossible to focus on completing the task at hand. The constant worry can take up significant time and reduce your creativity, which is totally inefficient.
Lastly, stress can turn you into the coworker from hell. When constantly on edge, we are more likely to make mole hills into mountains, freak out rather than problem solve when challenges arise, and snap at colleagues who are probably just trying to help. Remember, most jobs require teamwork, especially in a virtual environment. Your mood doesn’t just affect you but those around you, too.
If music isn’t your best stress reliever, try physical exercise, getting out in nature, journaling, taking a bath, practicing mindfulness, or enjoying an adult coloring book. No matter what you choose to do to destress, make sure it is quieting and releases tension from the workday so that you can get a good night’s rest—the ultimate form of restoration. You can also check out our lazy guide to better wellbeing.
Interested in learning more about how Hardly and AlphaBeats can help you zen out? Don’t forget to visit our virtual booth at SXSW® from March 16th-20th. We hope to see you there!
Sick of notification overload? Learn about Hardly’s new app that helps you customize your notification settings. Imagine a notification setting that allows you to filter by person, topic, and urgency so that you can stay focused when you need to without missing important messages.
As a blogger, learning to overcome writer’s block is a necessity. For me, it’s not so much the blank page. It’s the lack of creative triggers around me that make it difficult to get into a good writing flow. Companies and employees have always been focused on productivity (which seems like the right choice if Maslow had a business world hierarchy). However, creativity is also a key ingredient for success. While shoving a desk against any wall with an outlet might have worked at first, it is time to upgrade our home office into a permanent setup that inspires creativity.
Over the summer, I picked up watercolor as a COVID-19 hobby to replace the time I would normally be out and about. One of my friends who frequently produces artistic genius told me:
“The secret to igniting creativity was to have the perfect balance of nothing and something around you.”
I know. It didn’t make any sense to me either at first. However, after reflecting upon this list of strategies, I’ve found her words summed it up perfectly. Check out our suggestions for how you can level-up your home office to a chamber of creativity:
Fast Company claims that sight might have the greatest impact on our state of mind. Anything from painting an accent wall in your office to changing the color of your computer screen can help you elicit a new idea. Bringing visually stimulating artwork into space can spark creativity as well, as long as it’s not distracting.
If inspiring images aren’t your thing, try decorating with words of wisdom. Sometimes an inspirational quote or a profound poem is just what we need to get the creative juices flowing.
While sight might be Fast Company’s first pick, I would argue sound is the most powerful tool in inspiring creativity. It could be the soothing sounds of Bach or the poppy, feel-good beats of Dua Lipa that put you in the right headspace to bring new energy to your work. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found ambient noise is the best sound to evoke creativity. Try typing in sounds of the forest or beach on YouTube, and play it on a low volume.
For scent, try lighting a cinnamon or vanilla candle to enhance your creativity. In terms of touch, make sure the temperature of your workspace is ideal for you. If you are too hot, you will feel agitated. But, too cold, and your body will be using so much energy to stay warm. There won’t be enough energy to engage in out-of-the-box thinking.
Also, don’t forget to literally fuel your creative mind with the right foods (aka, taste!). Junk food can make us feel sluggish. Instead, prime your mind with healthy carbohydrates and natural sugars from fruit to keep you alert and energized.
A mess of a desk is a mess of a mind. Creativity requires clarity, which means a clear workspace. While this doesn’t mean your home office should be void of personality, making sure everything is in its place before you brainstorm will help you focus on the project rather than the coffee-stained stack of papers from an assignment that was completed weeks ago. I’ve found the easiest way to keep my workspace clear is storage. Shove stray items into some high-quality plastic bins that fit perfectly under your desk. This simple action will help you fake cleanliness on days when you just can’t Marie Kondo your life. A couple of items from The Container Store will help your creativity go from zero to 100 real quick!
No, don’t paint your office green; what I mean is to breathe some new life into it with plants. Medium even calls potted plants creativity heroes. Prominent CEOs, such as Tim Cook, and leaders in tech like Amazon claim that surrounding themselves and their employees with nature inspires innovation.
Not convinced? CNN reports environmental psychologists have a growing body of research that suggests biophilic design supports cognitive functioning, stress reduction, and well-being, which can all contribute to ingenuity. Don’t be discouraged if gardening is not your thing. Even a small succulent that only needs to be watered once in a blue moon will do the trick!
At the very least, if you are trying to increase creative vibes, move away from the blank wall. Not only is natural light better for our functioning, but a view of the outdoors can help us expand our minds.
Donald Rattner writes that design strategists—in conjunction with psychologists—have found that our perception of the expansiveness of our physical space dictates our perception of our mental space. In simplistic terms, the more physical space we think we have, the more inclined we are to generating original and useful ideas. You can’t get more expansive than the great outdoors, so facing a window or opening up french doors to your backyard could be a game-changer.
Sick of notification overload? Learn about Hardly’s new app that helps you customize your notification settings. Imagine a notification setting that allows you to filter by person, topic, and urgency so that you can stay focused when you need to without missing important messages.
As I work through my final semester of graduate school, I’ve been thinking more and more about my work skills. I try to avoid panicking, as cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, and interview questions swirl around in my head. Yet, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed after a 3-year hiatus.
This weekend, I decided to play some Lizzo, grab my favorite tea, and knock the dust off of the most recent version of my resume. As I read it over, I pondered how the hiring process might have changed due to the pandemic. I mulled over whether the soft skills I had listed at the bottom of my resume were still impressive in this new landscape of hybrid work.
Do companies care if you are personable anymore? Does saying you are proficient in the Microsoft Suite seem amateur these days?
There are a few skills that signal to companies that you can be successful working from home. To help you position yourself as an hybrid work candidate, here are the top five skills HR managers are looking for in hybrid workers:
Before COVID, you were probably able to get away with convoluted emails because your coworkers could easily obtain clarification if needed. Now, your ability to communicate efficiently and effectively via email is crucial.
As Forbes put it, “Can you accurately and succinctly convey and interpret thoughts and ideas through digital messages?” If you aren’t so confident in this area, spend additional time crafting messages until you get the hang of it. The ability to communicate your needs, ideas, and questions digitally is highly desirable.
Technical knowledge is more important than ever now-a-days. As I mentioned in last week’s article, being “behind the curve” on learning new software and digital platforms is a sure way to make yourself obsolete.
The success of communication, collaboration, workflow, and management is greatly dependent on employees’ mastery of digital tools. Companies want to ensure new employees know how to use tech to work faster and smarter (or are at least game to learn). Take time to practice using applications like Zoom, Slack, Hootsuite, Canva, Asana, and the Google Suite so that you know how to use each to their fullest potential.
The transition to hybrid work comes with a lot of “figure it out” and “learn on the job” moments. You need the ability to problem solve without the help of your superiors or colleagues.
While others want to help, working hybrid means others are frequently inaccessible to answer questions or provide guidance in real-time. As a result, one of the work skills you must have is the ability to work independently. Employers are eager to hire people who are self-reliant and proactive. Show them this describes you by mentioning times you took action without instruction from others in previous positions.
Time management has always been important. However, staying focused has never been so difficult. When you work from home, it presents a whole new set of challenges. You are not locked in a room full of others working diligently from 9-5 each day. There is peer pressure to watch Netflix, do some online shopping, or talking on the phone during work hours.
Therefore, you have to block out the distractions, not procrastinate, and get the job done. In your CV, discuss your ability to multitask and follow through on short- and long-term projects. This will demonstrate your excellent time management skills.
Need some extra help blocking out distractions? Check out our Hardly app!
The Muse recommends job-seekers show they are “motivated about the job, the company, and the industry you are applying for.” In a hybrid environment, it can be difficult to stay driven or excited about the work you are doing.
Similar to football games without chanting, signs, and other forms of fandom, it’s hard to get hyped up about work. Therefore, hiring managers are looking for people who can insight passion in themselves and others. They want to know you’re committed to the cause and that you can be productive without constant oversight from team members. To demonstrate this, use the interview as an opportunity to share how you will be an asset to the company.
Hopefully, you already have most of these hybrid-work skills. If not, we hope you gained some new strategies to improve them before your next job search. Let us know in the comments if there are other must-have skills hybrid workers need in this new job market.
Most of us are our absolute best work selves when we start a new job. Our boss says “jump,” we say “how high.” We show up early, over-prepared, and volunteer for every opportunity for growth. Then a couple of weeks or months go by and naturally as we get more comfortable a few bad working habits tend to rear their ugly heads. Our transition to remote work probably followed a similar pattern. In fact, we might have developed some new unfortunate habits in the process.
I started forgetting all about my body language during Zoom meetings. Being in a room surrounded by people dressed in business attire commands a certain level of attention. Being alone in my apartment with sweatpants and headphones on is a different vibe. I was catching myself mid-doodle, looking down at my paper, and suddenly remembering I was on camera! I hadn’t made eye contact with the current speaker or given any signs that I was engaged in the conversation in ten minutes. While I had been listening, it looked like I was completely zoned out to my coworkers. Realizing my habit could come off as disrespectful and unprofessional, I knew I had to nip it in the bud.
To save you from having to learn some hard lessons on your own, here are our top 5 bad working habits you need to kick in 2021:
He was right! Let go of meticulously going through the small stuff at the expense of making headway on the project as a whole. Instead, create a comprehensive rough draft where all the content or “meat” of the deliverable is there and then go back and make necessary corrections if time allows. Don’t let your fear of criticism keep you from pulling the trigger. The sooner you send it out, the sooner you can receive feedback, the sooner you can make it better.
One of my New Year’s commitments was to be on time for everything. Showing up when you are supposed to says you value your time and the time of others which can be hugely important in business since time is money.
To avoid being late to any Zoom calls, set the alert for 5-10 minutes before the actual meeting so that you have time to go to the bathroom, close out of your email, or get a glass of water before it begins. Shoot for sitting in front of your computer with a smile on your face one minute before the start time.
I am definitely guilty of this one. With good intentions, my default is to say “yes, yes, yes” to everything forgetting that I only have time for so much work. While setting boundaries might be difficult at first, it is better than disappointing others when you have to admit you bit off more than you could chew. Instead, set realistic expectations from the beginning and if you finish early, reach out and offer to take on more.
Laser focus is a valuable skill however, in virtual work environments being accessible via online platforms is key. Coworkers rely on email and Slack to let you know they require your attention. Tuning everything out and working in isolation is not an option— and is definitely a bad working habit. Deeply focusing on one task for an extended period of time can cause you to miss time-sensitive messages from others on your team. You don’t want to be the one that people can never get a hold of.
Prevent this by placing a time limit on your tunnel vision and scheduling email, Slack, and phone checks a couple of times per day so that you are attuned to all your tasks in the background.
Even if a change is for the better, there is always a learning curve. Being a stick-in-the-mud and unwilling to adapt is a sure way to make yourself obsolete. Don’t be the team member that is looking backward rather than forwards. Instead, take on a positive attitude and welcome the opportunity to add a new skill to your repertoire and resume. Just think, it will make you more competitive in the long run!
If you and I can ditch these bad working habits, we will be sure to excel in our current positions. Not to mention, our coworkers and bosses will thank us for being productive, punctual, honest, aware, and adaptable. Comment below if there are other bad habits you intend to improve this year and share your plan of attack!
I have now lived through two iconic New Years. The first was from 1999 to 2000. I brought in the new millennium with close family friends dancing around the basement to the YMCA and drinking sparkling cider. It was a seven-year-olds dream.
The second was a couple of days ago, again in a basement (bar), but this time with a shot of sake, a bunch of ski bums, and friends in Hakuba, Japan. Even with the language barrier, it was clear everyone was ecstatic that the year from hell was finally over and hopeful that 2021 would bring new beginnings. But, when the clock struck midnight, the masks didn’t come off, COVID-19 did not disappear, and quarantining did not end.
Change doesn’t just come about; we have to set goals and then actively pursue them to evoke it. But sometimes achieving our goals is not so easy. Raise your hand if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution and then woken up three weeks later and realized that you’ve fallen back into old habits. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Which is why I’m letting you in on my top two secrets for successful goal setting.
If you’re a high achiever you might be tempted to skip this tip, but sometimes the more ambitious we are, the more likely we are to fall into a self-defeating cycle. High expectations of ourselves lead us to set whale-sized goals when our plates only have room for shrimpy ones. But just because you don’t go big doesn’t mean you have to go home. I suggest breaking down a monstrous goal into a micro one. Tim Herrea in the NY Times describes it simply:
“For any task you have to complete, break it down into the smallest possible units of progress and attack them one at a time.”
For example, one of my goals is to drink more water. My initial thought was to shoot for a gallon a day. While this might not be unreasonable for some, it is a significant amount for me (I know, I’m so bad). Just thinking about it, the goal started to feel troublesome rather than motivating. I already knew I was on the wrong track.
I remembered Sabina Nawaz wrote in HBR the key to micro-goals is making them “ridiculously small” and attaching them to a daily habit you do without thinking. By doing this, you take away barriers to getting started which is the hardest part of building habits, according to James Clear. James uses Newton’s Laws to hack productivity. Therefore, an appropriate micro-goal would be to drink one bottle of water while driving to pick my husband up from work each evening. Not only does this require minimal effort, but it’s also connected to a mindless task.
This one is a tried and true classic, but I have a spin on it. I was reminded of the SMART technique a couple of weeks ago when it was part of the curriculum I taught for my Healthy Thinking group. It goes like this: S is for specific, M for measurable, A for attainable, R for relevant, and T for time-bound.
While these are must-haves, I have found that the added R for “rewarded” has a huge effect on my success rate. It all comes back to behavioral theory. If you reward a behavior, your brain tells you to do it again. If you punish a behavior, your brain tells you to reevaluate your actions. While some may say there is enough satisfaction in achieving the goal itself, I say the more incentive the merrier. But, watch out for counterproductive rewards. You don’t want to treat yourself to three slices of cheesecake if you have been working towards eating clean. Instead, reward yourself with something in line with your goal such as a new outfit or a Vitamix.
With these tips, you’ll be able to achieve whatever you set your mind to this year. And remember, all gains are gains, no matter how small!
In 2018, Wrike conducted a survey where 68% in the US reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress on the job. Work can be stressful in a variety of ways but I find that communication overload (notifications, especially!) is the leading culprit. As much as I love that I can check my work email from my phone, I hate that I can get a work email on my phone at all hours of the day.
Anyone else roll their eyes when you’re trying to go to sleep and that notification ding goes off?
Technology has made employees more accessible than ever before. It used to be that if you are not at the office, you aren’t working. Today, work is accessible from anywhere/anytime, and there is barely any separation between professional life and personal life. One of the biggest hurdles to work-life balance is creating mental distance.
In fact, there is one specific aspect of working in the digital age that prevents me from ever truly checking out… You know what I’m talking about… A ring, beep, or chime will have me rushing like a speed racer because I feel obligated to respond in a matter of seconds. Sometimes I even wake up paranoid that I’ve missed an email or a Slack notification. So what is the answer? Here are 5 tips to help you keep your cool when the level of communication becomes overwhelming.
In 2017, an RSNA study on smartphone addiction found that notifications can create an imbalance in your brain, higher levels of anxiety, and cause a pattern called ‘switch cost’: when an interruption, such as a notification, distracts our attention from a task we were working on to view the notification. You take more time to complete the original task, which leads to repetitive behavior, time lost, and inefficiency.
Most apps automatically want you to be more engaged, so they provide notifications for everything. When I joined Hardly, notifications were blowing up my phone all night and during meetings at my other job. I was getting notified for everything! It wasn’t until later I discovered there was a way to only be alerted if a task was assigned to me specifically. When I made that small change, it was like a cold drink of water on a scorching hot day: relief! I was no longer bombarded with flashing lights during the night! If I did hear a ding, I knew it was important and worth my time to stop what I was doing and have a look.
Prevent notifications from interrupting deep work or killing your happy hour vibes. Take the time to adjust your alerts. It makes all the difference for your own mental and emotional wellbeing.
Why do we feel so pressed to keep checking our email and messaging platforms? The key here is to set communication expectations. If your boss, coworkers, and clients know that you will get back to them within a reasonable time frame, they won’t expect an immediate response. Remember, unless you work in the ER, whatever they need is rarely urgent. Most coworkers understand that you do not work 24/7— you need to sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom. However, if you set a precedent of responding immediately every time, they will be disappointed when you do not. Instead, inform others that you will respond to emails within 24-48 hours, and if they have a time-sensitive request they can call your phone directly.
There are enough pings during the workday; you don’t need to attract even more by having your personal notifications blowing up too! Turning off your social media notifications will help you stay focused on work and allow you to prioritize communication with colleagues rather than feeling like you have to attend to friends too. At first, you might have some FOMO. Eventually, you’ll love the peace and lack of social media harassment.
Every day there are new platforms to manage workflow. Companies get excited about trying them out to increase productivity, streamline project management, and stay abreast of new technological advancements; however, if they are only adding new forms of communication without getting rid of others, it can feel like your inbox is under attack. It is up to you and your team to figure out which communication platforms to narrow down to and what triggers a notification. In addition, don’t forget that phone calls still exist. Oftentimes, it is the email back and forth that becomes overwhelming, which can be avoided by talking on the phone. Just because we are in a digital world, doesn’t mean we can resort to an old-fashion phone call.
Last but not least, the antidote to communication overload is communication detox. Set aside certain times when you are going to completely unplug— no notifications! It is so important to cut off all communication, even if it is only for an hour or two a day. Set up an automatic email response: “I am gone for the day” and turn your phone on silent. With practice, it will feel liberating and you will be able to be truly present away from work.
If you can’t avoid the communication craziness, at least tone it down! Our app helps you customize the notifications you want to receive and when. And it’s easy to set up!
Remote work has provided opportunities for people to engage who may otherwise not choose to do so in a face to face setting. Join Heather as she shares her story on how the remote environment has expanded the reach of teams driven by more communication rather than less.
It boils down to whether you establish good habits or poor ones. Working remotely typically affords us more flexibility and time to make healthy choices. But with freedom comes responsibility; we can no longer justify fast-food lunches, a lack of sleep due to a commute, or back pain because the issued chairs are uncomfortable, and we are chained to our desk. While remote work provides a lot of opportunities to make better choices regarding our physical health, it can be harder to create good habits at home. For every way in which working remotely can improve your physical health, it can also damage it. To prevent you from choosing the wrong side of the coin, here are the dos and don’ts of how to make remote work benefit your body rather than destroy it.
Skipping the commute is one of the advantages of working from home. That means a later alarm and the opportunity to catch more Zzzzs. There is a significant amount of evidence that suggests a good night’s sleep seriously boosts productivity. One study of U.S. workers found significantly worse productivity, performance, and safety outcomes among those who slept less. In addition, long-term sleep deprivation is found to be associated with health problems like weight gain, blood sugar dysregulation, indigestion & gastric problems, heart diseases, etc. Overall, sleep quality and duration has a direct impact on our functioning on multiple levels. Those few extra minutes in the morning could make a bigger difference than you think.
One of the things I struggled with the most when I started working remotely was snacking. I was constantly eating anything and everything in my cabinets just because it was there. When I was working at the office, I only ate what I packed for lunch, but working from home it was like I had all the chips and granola bars at my fingertips. I gained 10 lbs after the first three months of working at home.
Limit yourself to 2 healthy snacks per day: 1 between breakfast and lunch and 1 between lunch and the end of the day. Anything more is typically out of boredom, not hunger. Instead, focus your energy on making a nutritious lunch. One huge benefit of working from home is that you don’t have to wake up earlier to pack your lunch or be tempted by fast-food around your workplace. Remote work allows us to enjoy a healthy breakfast and lunch, which ultimately decreases the likelihood of obesity. An article in Health Magazine states people who commute through areas surrounded by drive-thrus are more likely to stop at them and have higher BMIs. This study even found commuters with the most exposure to takeout joints were almost twice as likely to be obese.
Step one is to get a good chair. For the best posture, make sure to get a chair that is height adjustable and has lumbar support. It might also be beneficial to have a standing desk. The more variety, the better. The optimal position is one where your feet touch the floor. Keyboard and mouse placement is also crucial for comfort and preventing yourself from looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Ideally, your keyboard should be positioned away from you and slightly down. Next, your keyboard and mouse should be shoulder-distance apart. This will ensure you aren’t reaching unnecessarily. Finally, position your screen where you can sit back in your chair and still see clearly. This will prevent you from craning your neck. Magical, instant remote work health!
Remote work = we are moving even less. When working in the office, you might have to walk from the metro station, get up to go to the copier machine or a colleague’s desk a couple of times a day, or walk to the coffee shop across the street every day. BGR states, “sitting for such long periods can have significant and adverse effects, resulting in higher risks of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more.” A simple solution is to build in time for physical activity each day. Whether it is a walk or a gym session, a moving body is healthier. Don’t have time for an hour-long high-intensity session? Every hour, just get up and walk around your house for 5 minutes.
Between the Zoom meetings and constant emails, all of our eyes are glued to screens for extended periods of time. The first thing you can do? Blink! This will keep your eyes moisturized, making them less irritated and less likely to feel like SpongeBob SquarePants without water. Forbes also suggests using the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes take 20 seconds to look at least 20 feet away. It gives your eyes a chance to recuperate from the harsh lighting in a minimal amount of time.
Try out these tips for staying healthy while working remotely and comment below what your favorite technique is! The goal is to crush your work, not let you work crush you.
Earlier in 2020, there was an inflection point when we all shifted from a mindset of “I just gotta get through this” to “This is my new reality. What can I do to be OK?”
We all reached this frame of mind at different times, particularly when we each individually moved up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from the bottom two rungs to the top three. Or whenever we decided to stop hoarding toilet paper and canned food— whichever came first.
Being “OK” in the madness of 2020 involves taking care of yourself mentally and physically. We all know this is important, but why? AND HOW?
With work, I’m all about maximizing my productivity and making every minute count. But when it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the worst. While I watch others running 10 miles a day, you will catch me and my sweet tooth scooping ice-cream into coffee when I run out of oat milk. I’m not one to workout. In fact, I have always hated it. While I may not be the best example when it comes to physical wellbeing, I’m an honest one! And if I can work in a few small ways to take care of myself, then you can too.
Do you have 30-seconds to spare? Damn right you do… you are reading this blog post. I encourage you to take a break from reading after this paragraph. Set a 30-second timer on your phone, put yourself in a comfortable position, let your hands drop naturally, and breathe in and out— deeply and slowly.
Don’t you feel better? That’s because you just shifted your body closer to its “rest and digest (R&D)” mode and away from “fight or flight” mode. In R&D mode, your body is able to focus better, since you are supplying your brain with the necessary oxygen to work optimally. Apple Watch has a built in app to remind you to breathe, or you can check out Headspace, which has a section specifically for work.
Repetition is powerful. Just think about all of the actions/words that you repeat on a daily basis: inputting passwords, looking at your homescreen, texting loved ones, etc. These tiny things really add up.
A month ago, I switched my passwords to be encouraging.
Obviously, I’m not going to share what they are with you (duh!), but sometimes it is nice to type something like “YouMakeYourOwnLuck47” instead of your standard run-of-the-mill password. Think about what you need to hear often— affirmations, a mantra, whatever. Typing it regularly will help train your brain to believe it.
Do I wish I loved jogging and yoga? Definitely.
Am I going to wake up one day and do one of these? Yes. Maybe!
Everyday? Hell no.
But you know what I can do everyday? Walk.
Sometimes it’s more important to do something consistently rather than your ultimate goal sparingly. I try not to beat myself up about not doing more, and instead concentrate on the things I can do. If you do something for 21 days consistently, it becomes a habit.
What is something tiny that you can commit to every day?
Here are some ideas:
Grab a friend
My husband and I have been really strapped for time lately. Though we are working and living in the same house it is hard to catch any time to just be us without distractions. We decided to start taking morning walks together so we can encourage each other to be more active, and have some time to just talk.
I had a workout coach that told me she lost 30 lbs just dancing while she did chores. Since then, I’ve been trying to find productive ways to stay active. My favorite productive workout is gardening. You can easily get plenty of squats, lunges while gardening, and if you are lifting, your shoulders and arms can get in on the action too.
We are all in different situations— some of us feel comfortable and in-control and some of us (probably most) feel completely out of control. It is painful to watch the news, provide and care for your close family, and stay in touch with the rest of your family and friends, meanwhile staying productive in your day-to-day.
Wherever and whoever you are, there are things within and outside of your control.
One of the most helpful books I’ve read for my own mental wellbeing has been The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I’m the type of person who cares too much about most things, and whenever someone asks me to do something I tend to go way too overboard. In the past few years, I reached a breaking point of what I could care about. Mark Manson helped me reframe my brain to focus on what really matters to me and only truly stress about the things within my own control. So now, instead of watching 40 documentaries on animal welfare and beating myself up about using chicken broth in a soup, I choose to reduce my meat intake to 1-2 days a week. That is the level of f*cks that I can give and still maintain my own sanity.
See, all it takes is a few steps here and there to do what you can to destress and not burn out.
Luckily, we have others on the Hardly team that are way better at taking care of themselves than me.
Let us know in the comments what you do to not burn out.