This year, I am all about productivity.
And no, I am not talking about working more.
I am talking about working more efficiently.
To get some tips about productivity, I chatted with Google's Executive Productivity Advisor Laura Mae Martin. Here's what I learned:
Work in the same place. Routinely sitting in the same spot helps your brain get back into the groove that work happens here.
With that said, you also want to carve out a work-free zone — like your bedroom, for instance.
Get your inbox under control. You are likely getting too many unimportant emails that crowd your inbox and cause distractions. Martin suggested searching for the word "unsubscribe" because that can indicate the message isn't sent just to you.
Working long hours doesn't always make you more productive. "The number of hours you work does not always equate to the output," Martin said. In fact, it can have a negative effect on your overall performance.
Get more productivity tips here.
Startling reality for women
It's no secret that the pandemic has been economically brutal for women.
Here's how bad: The economy lost 140,000 jobs in December. Women accounted for all the losses.
Yep, you read that right.
Here's how that breaks down: Women lost 156,000 jobs last month while men gained 16,000 jobs, reports CNN Business' Annalyn Kurtz.
It's important to keep in mind these are net numbers, so yes, many men lost jobs in December, but as a group they made gains, while women sank deeper into a hole.
Read more about the gender disparity here.
Our goodbye tour
Work Transformed is coming to an end on January 26.
We've loved getting to know you and navigating this new world of remote work. But don't worry, we aren't leaving you hanging. We will still cover workplace stories and how the job market is changing. And if you're looking for a quick daily digest of all the day's business news, I'd like to introduce you to my colleague Allison Morrow — she writes our evening newsletter Nightcap:
Oh hey that's me! Yes, please come join us over at Nightcap, where I offer pithy musings (and occasionally thoughtful analysis) on the biggest business and finance stories of the day.
You can sign up for Nightcap here.
WFH Tip: Create zones
Without unexpected desk visitors, office chitchat and coffee runs to break up our days, working from home can get a little dull. That's why Grace Marshall, author of "How to be Really Productive" suggests playing around with zoning your day:
Try a Focus Zone for when you need to get your head down and focus, when all notifications go off, and you have your brain to yourself.
On the other hand, Social Zones can be certain times of the day when you come up for air, check in with the team at the virtual water cooler, check your emails or have your diary open for catch-up calls.
You could also create special zones for certain projects — a Creative Zone or Writing Zone — where you can change your environment too.
As for the times in the day when you get a slump in energy? That's your Zombie zone. Save up a list of zombie tasks — the ones that require very little energy or thinking — for these times.
Introverts, it's your time to shine...
Introverted leaders can sometimes get overlooked in the hustle and bustle of the office.
But a remote work setting could be their time to shine — particularly when it comes to fostering a sense of connection and unity.
"[Introverted leaders] are usually more successful at communicating one-on-one than holding space in a big group. Since there are no big groups or town halls in auditoriums right now, this moment was created for the introverted leader," said Edward Sullivan, CEO of executive coaching firm Velocity Group, to Fast Company.
And for more extroverted leaders, Sullivan said now is the time to learn new skills like listening and being vulnerable, to help better connect with employees.
The art of asking questions
Attention bosses: You don't need to have all the answers.
In fact, you should be the one asking a lot of questions.
"...Leaders should ask powerful and inspiring questions, convey that they don't have the answers, and solicit others' help to find them," writes John Hagel III, founder of Deloitte's Center for the Edge for Harvard Business Review.
Hagel suggests leaders ask more exploratory questions that focus on new opportunities like: "What is a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we have delivered in the past?" Or "How could we leverage the resources of third parties to address a broader range of the needs of our customers?"
Who is hiring?
While the economy lost 140,000 jobs in the final month of 2020, some sectors were hiring, according to data from the Labor Department:
- Professional and business services gained 161,000 jobs
- Retail trade added 121,000 jobs
- Construction jobs rose by 51,000
- Transportation and warehousing jobs increased 47,000
- Health care jobs rose 39,000
- Manufacturing jobs increased by 38,000
It's understandable if you haven't been sleeping well these days
But sleep is important, and many of us aren't getting enough of it.
Not only should adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but it should be quality ZZZs, reports Lesley Kennedy for Underscored, a product reviews and recommendations guide owned by CNN.
So if your sleep schedule is totally out of whack and you are looking to get it back on track, here are some tips to help get a better night's sleep.
10 steps to ease your nightmares and improve sleep
1. Establish a sleep routine
Nightmares, Martin said, occur during rapid eye movement sleep, the phase during which our muscles relax and we dream. Waking up during REM sleep enables recollection of the dream and resulting distress.
"One of the most effective ways to treat nightmare problems in adults is actually to get them sleeping more soundly (so) they wake up less often," Martin said.
A healthy sleep routine begets sound sleep. Develop one by exercising, setting regular sleep and waking times, ensuring your room is dark and cool, avoiding stimulating beverages after midafternoon and engaging in relaxing activities.
2. Cut back on alcohol
Alcoholic beverages can induce restlessness and awakenings throughout the night — potentially helping you remember nightmares, Martin said.
"A lot of people use alcohol as a way to wind down and feel sleepy at the end of the day, but it's really not the right solution," she added. Instead, try herbal teas and other beverages conducive to sleep. If drinking was the only part of your relaxation routine, chat with your partner or read instead.
One drink more than three hours before bedtime is OK, Martin said. Just pay attention to whether it causes a post-dinner nap and alertness at bedtime, and eliminate that drink if it does.
3. Don't eat before bed
Snacking can boost metabolism, which causes your brain to be more active and could lead to nightmares, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
While some people sleep better after eating a light snack, you should stop eating two to three hours before bedtime. If you notice that you have nightmares afterward, try avoiding nighttime snacking or heavier meals before bed.
4. Review your medications
Some medications can prompt nightmares by interrupting REM sleep.
"If people can identify that their nightmares either started or increased when they had a change in their medication, that's definitely a reason to talk to their doctor" about their medication schedule or alternatives, Martin said.
Melatonin, while a popular sleep aid, influences our circadian rhythm that regulates REM sleep, and can lead to more or fewer nightmares. If you want to take melatonin for better sleep, work with a sleep specialist to ensure you're taking it at the right time and not compounding the problem, Martin said.
5. Practice stress-relieving activities
Progressive muscle relaxation — tensing muscle groups as you inhale and relaxing them as you exhale — has been effective for reducing nightmares.
"Nightmares activate the sympathetic nervous system, the 'fight or flight system,' the body's natural response to imminent danger," said Tal via email.
"The body also has an innate relaxation system: the parasympathetic nervous system, aka the 'rest and digest' system." Progressive muscle relaxation and other relaxation activities can help activate that system.
6. Journal your worries
Write down your worries to get them all out ahead of time, lest they rear their disquieting heads at night. Journaling can be helpful for alleviating nightmares and stress in general, Tal said.
7. Don't watch or read scary content before bed
Since our nighttime observations can appear during sleep, "spend some energy engaging with things that are more emotionally neutral or even positive" before bedtime, Martin suggested.
During the pandemic, our everyday lives are looking pretty scary, too. "Reading the news media and then hopping into bed is more likely to trigger disturbing and upsetting dreams than looking through pictures from your last vacation with your family," she added.
8. Rewrite the ending
Imagery rehearsal therapy is effective "when the chronic nightmares are showing similar themes and patterns," Tal said.
Since nightmares can be learned behavior for the brain, this practice involves writing down in detail the narrative elements of the dream. Then rewrite the dream so that it ends positively. Just before falling asleep, set the intention to re-dream by saying aloud, "If or when I have the beginnings of the same bad dream, I will be able to instead have this much better dream with a positive outcome."
"By practicing a rewrite during the daytime, you increase your chances of having them at night while you're sleeping instead of your nightmare," Tal said.
9. Use a white noise machine
Silence is key in a sleep routine, but "for people who either don't like it to be completely quiet or who are awakened by noises they can't control during the night," background noise "is a good strategy," Martin said.
Try a fan or a white noise machine or app for several consecutive nights to help your brain adapt, she added.
10. Check up on your mental health
If nothing works and you're still having nightmares, talk with a therapist or sleep specialist.
"Nightmares might be a sign of a larger issue, such as PTSD or a mood disorder," Tal said. "It is possible to treat the nightmares without treating the underlying disorder, but it may also be helpful to treat both the symptom and the disorder.
"There has been great progress on psychological treatments for nightmares, insomnia, anxiety and mood disorders," Tal added. "Do not be afraid to ask for help; psychotherapy works and it is often short term and accessible."