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:

Notification Setting #1: Give certain people a VIP pass

Hardly Notification Customization

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!)

Notification Setting #2: Allow top-shelf topics to come through

Hardly App Alert Manager Notifications

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.

Notification Setting #3: Push through priority projects

Hardly App Alert Manager Notifications

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.

Why does all this matter?

Notifications Hardly Superhuman

The percentage of employees that would rather go back to their daily commute than continue sorting the deluge of emails and Slack or Teams messages. Source: Superhuman

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.

 Click here to learn more about the Hardly app and let us know which notifications you love filtering out! Need more tips to keep the distractions out and the productivity in? Read our blog on how to overcome notification nerves

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In elementary school, I planted trees; cleaned up the beach; and made recycle, reduce, and reuse posters every Earth Day. After a month of learning about “going green” and estimating our own carbon footprint, I remember telling my parents they couldn’t purchase an SUV, and we needed to stop using plastic straws and be more sustainable.

Since then, my environmental awareness has taken a nosedive. However, this spring, I have been thinking about whether remote work supports sustainable living. Are we all sustainable superheroes now that we don’t commute in our pollution producing cars? Or, have we become extra energy consumers working from home?

Hardly, More Sustainable

From one office to thousands

While the future of work is unknown, we can all agree that going back to a commute would be tough. Eliminating daily commutes to work in gas guzzling cars is a major point for the affirmative side. No commute means better air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and less consumption of fossil fuels. Sounds like sustainable living to me!

Highway vehicles alone put out almost 35% of the total nitrogen dioxide and contribute to the 3.3 million world-wide deaths due to poor air quality every year. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA came from transportation in 2017. Conversely, remote workers in the United States avoid emitting 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gasses every year, which is the equivalent of planting 91 million trees.

Sustainable living in a singular office

While getting to one office might have had a negative impact, working in one might have been positive. Companies were making huge efforts to reduce their carbon footprint before the pandemic. Fast Company shared how Shopify launched a sustainability fund in 2019, committing to invest at least $5 million every year into technology and projects to fight climate change. Since then, they have offered remote work to all of their employees indefinitely.

Whereas before they could control their sustainability by making environmentally friendly choices for one massive building, they are now dealing with “more than 5,000 offices scattered around the globe. All these offices have different heating systems, different energy grids, and each employee making different decisions now that they’re untethered from a central office.” Therefore, sustainability is not only less controllable but also less trackable. Without clear data, the jury is still out on which is better for the planet.

Hardly, More Sustainable

Different region, different impact

In addition to the inability to track everyone’s home energy usage, where you live and work complicates the questions of whether working from home is having a positive or negative effect on sustainable living. BBC brings up two important factors.

The first factor is workers in other countries, such as Norway, were using electric vehicles at high rates. Therefore, the lack of a commute is far less impactful there than in other countries that are highly reliant on petroleum, including the US and UK. In other words, sustainable living practices were already in place.

Additionally, cities where public transportation is used at large to get to and from work might not see any major changes in energy consumed since buses, trains, and metros are still running.

Where you derive your energy matters

Secondly, where your energy comes from plays a role in determining whether working from home positively contributes to sustainable living. For example, if you live in Iceland (where a significant amount of clean geothermal energy powers commercial buildings), virtual work is not scoring you many brownie points. Conversely, if you live in a U.S. city where coal power is the main source of commercial electricity but many homes have solar power, remote work could have a positive impact.

Similarly, the temperature varies greatly across the U.S. and the globe. In places like Florida where the heat is treacherous, fossil fuels are pumping from every home all day and required in large office spaces. Therefore, cutting out the cooling of big buildings could be beneficial. Versus if you live in San Francisco where the weather is mostly mild, heating or cooling systems might be turned off when leaving the house so the change is negligible.

Hardly, More Sustainable

Small habits or big changes

Do the small habits of individuals or the big changes at the corporate level make the difference? I don’t have the answer, but here is some food for thought:

Let’s take the use of paper and plastic. I don’t know about you, but I print various things when I’m at work, using someone else’s printer. Every time there is a meeting, we receive a paper agenda, which everyone throws in the trash on their way out, and a paper copy of the Powerpoint presentation (even though it was emailed to everyone the night before). But, when working remotely, I let the digital version suffice. Who wants to pay for all of that paper and ink?

On the other side of the coin, I see plastic Starbucks cups on everyone’s desk at the office, a product of getting their morning vice on the way to work. Yet,  my guess is  most drink the energizer from a reusable mug when working from home.

Also, what about the lights? In my apartment, I get great natural light all day so I don’t use much electricity, while my office is required to power overhead lights from 7am to 5pm.

More Sustainable? The takeway

Not everyone is environmentally conscious. Therefore, minor habits might not hold a candle to the millions of dollars that corporations can put into environmental efforts. For example, Zapier offset 647 tonnes of carbon through reforestation and Microsoft charges an internal fine of $15 per metric ton of carbon emission to encourage its departments to be as sustainable as possible.

At Hardly, we are striving to be environmentally conscious on all fronts. From our commitment to the sustainable packaging of products to our CEO’s use of S’well bottles, Hardly is making sure we do our part as a company of remote workers. Are you doing yours?

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:

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Declutter your desk to destress

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.

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Organize your emailing for smooth sailing

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.

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Get your apps in order for a productive quarter

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.

 

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Renew your routine so you can be a lean, mean, working machine

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.

 

Spring Cleaning, Hardly

Refresh your mind to redesign

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. 

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®, Hardly

What is SXSW?

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.

SXSW®, Hardly

Who is fellow pitch competitor, AlphaBeats?

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!

SXSW®, Hardly

What is work-stress?

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.

SXSW®, Hardly

How does work-stress affect you on the job?

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.

SXSW®, Hardly

Take control of the work madness

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!

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.

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

It's about balance

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:

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Stimulate your 5 senses

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.  

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Declutter your home office

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!

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Go green

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!  

Home Office, Creativity, Hardly

Choose a window, instead of a wall

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.

Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” Following this spirit, share this article with friends and coworkers so they can foster creativity in their home offices, too!

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:

Perfectionism is the enemy of good habits

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.

Tardiness doesn't pay

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.

Overpromising is a habit that will catch up to you

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.

Tunnel focus is bad

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.

Resisting new processes or software

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.

Setting Goals, Hardly

Keep it small, in fact, make it micro

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.

Setting Goals, Hardly

Make it SMART-R

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!

The holiday season is in full swing – families are gathering (virtually or while social distancing?) to eat turkey, christmas trees are going up, and we are all about to put on the holiday 15 as if we haven’t been comforting ourselves with uber eats for the last seven months to get through this pandemic.  Well, we have put together a list of holiday snacks that are healthy-ish to keep you energized as you work from home through the festivities.

Apple Pie Protein Smoothie

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

If you are on a health kick, this holiday snack is for you. Perfect for those mornings you want to feel energized and motivated to take on the day or replenished from a hard workout, the apple pie protein smoothie is easy to make and packed with nutrients to keep you satiated for a couple of hours. It tastes like dessert but minus the guilt or the need to run around the block five times due to a sugar rush.

What you need to make this delicious dessert:

¾ cup almond milk (add more if you would like a thinner smoothie)

1 frozen banana, peeled

¼ cup old fashioned oats

1 apple, chopped in large chunks with the core removed

½ tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

¼ tsp ground cloves, to taste

¼ tsp ground nutmeg, to taste

Instructions: Throw it all in a high powered blender and let the magic happen! Pro tip- a smoothie always tastes best with a straw.

Gingerbread Loaf

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

Nothing sums up the smell of the holidays like a gingerbread loaf. This spicy, moist slice of cake is the perfect mid morning snack to indulge in with a cup of tea when you are feeling a bit peckish before lunch. Not only will the scent of ginger and molasses waft through your home office, but this loaf will last you all week. The recipe below is adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction. She has never steered me wrong when it comes to baking!

What you need:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup unsulphured molasses or dark molasses

¾ cup hot water (my grandmother used to use orange juice for added flavor and extra moistness)

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick, softened)

⅓ cup brown sugar

1 large egg (room temperature)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease your 9×5 inch loaf pan. Mix the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt). Next, in a separate bowl, whisk the molasses and hot water together. In another bowl, mix the butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla extract together (I know, it’s a lot of dishes but apparently this is all part of the art of baking). Then, slowly in three additions, add the dry ingredients to the molasses/water mixture. Mix each addition just until incorporated. Finally, BAKE!

Irish coffee

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

After all that baking, a long day’s work, and a lot of family time, I greatly enjoy an alcoholic beverage that is also warm and cozy. Not to mention, the Irish coffee is the perfect 5 o’clock beverage. It has the caffeine you need to re-energize while also getting you in the mood for a virtual holiday bash. The best part is, this classic holiday snack only requires 4 ingredients you probably already have at home.

What you need:

2 teaspoons brown sugar if you are a stickler for making things the OG way or 2 oz of Baileys Original Irish Cream

4 oz of your favorite coffee (the stronger the brew, the better)

1.5 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey

1 oz of heavy cream, whipped

Instructions: Fill a heatproof glass mug with boiling water to warm it up, then brew your favorite coffee. Dump the hot water out of the mug and put in the brown sugar. Separately, whip your heavy cream until you like the consistency (I prefer mine on the thicker side). Next, pour the hot coffee into the mug and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then add in the whiskey and stir again. Finally, top it off with a heaping dollop of cream.

Sweet and Spicy Holiday Nuts

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

This next snack is full of healthy fats and is sweet and spice and everything nice. These nuts make great holiday gifts and nibbles when you are looking for something to pop in your mouth every couple of minutes. Keep them on your desk for convenience so you can easily grab handfuls while you work on a powerpoint or a long proposal throughout the day.

What you need:

A mix of nuts – any kind you want including macadamias, walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazilian nuts – except for peanuts

1 cup sugar

¾ teaspoon cayenne or chili powder

1 teaspoon ginger

¾ teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 Egg whites with a tablespoon of water or melted butter (this is just to coat the nuts so the spices stick)

Instructions: Mix all of the spices together. Secondly, in a separate bowl mix together the egg whites and water (or oil) and coat the nuts. Transfer them to the spice bowl and mix all together. Finally, spread them on a sheet pan and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Peppermint Bark

Holiday Snacks, Hardly

This is actually my personal favorite. It seems like someone is always trying to justify eating more chocolate by saying it is healthy for you and I’m not gonna be the one to argue otherwise. Plus, studies show that peppermint can help increase your focus and memory. Either way, this holiday snack is delicious and making it always puts me in the holiday spirit.

What you need:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or cut up your favorite chocolate bar into fine pieces

14 ounces white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

3/4 cup crushed candy canes

Instructions: Start out by crushing up the candy canes. Then, melt the semi sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler and mix in the peppermint extract. Line a cookie sheet or ceramic dish with parchment paper. Then, create a nice layer of the semi sweet chocolate and put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes for it to set. Next, melt the white chocolate and layer it on top evenly. Before this cools, sprinkle on the crushed candy canes and pop it back in the fridge to set again. Finally, take it out after about 30 minutes and break it into pieces. Voila!

All of us here at Hardly hope you have an amazing start to your holiday season and that these holiday snacks bring some joy to your workday. 

Remote work is definitely not going away any time soon and we’ve seen some benefits to it as well: less commute, which means more time to catch some zzz’s or hang with the family. However, it can also pose some challenges as we mentally and physically face our new norm. Over the last couple of weeks we have been talking about individual physical and mental wellbeing. If you are a manager, you may be thinking this all sounds good and dandy but “how do I promote employee wellbeing when my team is remote?” Sit back and relax because I’m going to share a few tips that can help boost the wellbeing of your team today.

Not only will your employees appreciate your active stand on ensuring their wellbeing, but it actually helps with team and company productivity!  As stated in a Forbes article, studies have shown that supporting your employee’s wellbeing positively impacts a company’s performance. Now you got to give it a try since it’s good for the bottom line. Am I right?

Let’s start with getting in the right mindstate, a relaxed one. A deep breath in for one, two, three, four, and hold for four. Breath out for one, two, three, four. Now, don’t you feel better? A quick and easy way to calm those nerves. Share with your team! Now that we are nice and calm, let’s dive right on in.

Champion Flexibility

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

While many of us have been working from home for some time now, it never hurts to reinforce flexibility on your team. As a leader of your team, you help set expectations and influence team morale. As such, it is important that your employees and team members feel comfortable stepping away from their laptop. What this pandemic has shown us is that more than ever, people need to think about their physical and mental wellbeing. Ensuring your team knows you are a champion for flexibility goes a long way and demonstrates that you trust them.

I remember when I first started working remotely some years ago, I was so paranoid to have my instant messenger status say “away.” I felt like I had to always be on since there was no way for people to see me in the office. I also didn’t want people to think I was taking advantage of working remotely. It wasn’t until my leader shared that it is okay to step away, take a breather, go for a walk that I felt comfortable. I felt such a sense of relief, like a weight was taken off of my shoulders.

Up until then, I didn’t realize how much it actually affected me. Stepping out to go for a walk around the block when I need a break from the screen has been huge. Make sure you not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Employee wellbeing will increase when yours increases.

Check-Ins (no agenda needed or required)

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

When you are in the office, it is easier to pick up on cues that a direct report may be going through something or just that they are not 100%. In this remote world, it is more difficult to see that. It’s not like we can just swing by their desk and check in. It takes more of an effort now. Check in with your team outside of team meetings just to see how they are doing. It doesn’t always need to be business so these check-ins can be to catch up, reflect and have non-work related conversations. No agendas are needed,  just what is on someone’s mind. Feel free to do this as a team or individually. As Ryan Lynch, managing partner from Beardwood & CO, says:

“When you are talking to any of your team, it’s important to be truthful, specific, and positive. Remote working has made this even more applicable.”

This is a small effort as a manager or leader, but can impact your team in a good way. Sometimes we just need to talk about non-work related items. While these don’t need to be long, these check-ins can also impact your relationship with your direct reports, improving team morale.

Set Boundaries and Expectations

Employee wellbeing, Hardly

While working from home can be so beneficial, it can be quite difficult separating work life and your personal life as it’s basically the same four walls now. I no longer have the hour-commute, but there goes that separation from being in the office to a home setting. As many of you, I have found myself working longer. This can lead to fatigue and burnout.

As your team’s leader, take it upon yourself and set those work and personal boundaries for your team. Let them know you don’t expect them to always be on. If an email comes in after hours, you don’t have to answer it right away. A healthy balance between work and personal life is needed, especially now. Let me tell you, burnout is real and setting those expectations with your team helps alleviate the stress of needing to constantly answer those “off hour” emails or calls. Encourage those boundaries and set expectations for “off work” hours.

With flexibility, open communication, setting expectations you can easily and actively  help your employees thrive in a remote environment. Let us know how these work tips work out for you and what strategies you put into place that puts your team’s well-being as a priority. 

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.

Tip #1: Set Your Notification Preferences

Notification, Hardly

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.

Tip #2: Set Expectations Appropriately

Notification, Hardly

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.

Tip #3: Turn off Social Media Notifications

Notification, Hardly

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. 

Tip #4: Limit Your Communication Channels

Notification, Hardly

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.

Tip #5: Shutdown the Computer and Self-Isolate

Notification, Hardly

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.  

Or, download the Hardly app!

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!

Want to learn more about the people behind the app? Check out our team.

There is a lot of buzz about how working from home affects our mental health, but there is less discussion around how remote work affects our physical health. Over the past week, I have been trying to answer this question:

Is remote work better or worse for your physical health?

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.

RECOMMENDATION #1

Replace your commute with more sleep

Remote Work Health, Hardly

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.

RECOMMENDATION #2

Don't snack throughout the day

Remote Work Wellness, Hardly

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.

RECOMMENDATION #3

Make your remote work space ergonomic

Remote work wellness, Hardly

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!

RECOMMENDATION #4

Stay active

Remote work wellbeing, Hardly

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.

RECOMMENDATION #5

Eye health is remote work wealth

Remote Work Wellness, Hardly

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 waterForbes 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.

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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?” 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs2.svg

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.

TIP #1

Take a moment to breathe

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. 

TIP #2

Encourage yourself with repetition

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.

TIP #3

Do what you can stick to

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:

  • — Take 5 minutes to have your coffee in silence before starting your day of meetings
  • — Before you go to sleep, read a few pages of a book
  • — Reconnect with a different friend each day through text. They’ve been in your phone for 10 years, so you may as well!
TIP #4

Double up on good vibes

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.

 

Reframe chores

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.

TIP #5

Focus on the things that you can change

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.