Improving Your Productivity

I suspect I’m like many of you in that I always have a to-do list. Okay, sometimes I have multiple lists. And sometimes, I don’t know where they disappear to.

I listened to a webinar with Ron Friedman, who suggested such an obvious idea, I couldn’t believe I wasn’t already doing it. His suggestion? Make your to-do list more visible. He said too many of us write a to-do list early in the day and then we don’t look at it again.

20181009_104956A better approach, he said, “is to keep your to-do list on a brightly colored pad, so that your eyes are regularly drawn to it throughout the day.”

I took it a step further, and found a tiny clipboard with a pad of paper. Each sheet had 5 lines. The best part is it’s magnetic so I could hang it on a metal wall beside my desk. It’s highly visible and when I look away from my monitor, it’s the first thing I see.

I end my day checking my clipboard to see that I have accomplished what I needed to. If I haven’t, I know how I am starting my next day. It’s been a game changer.

He also suggested using a screen-saver that reminds you of your most important goals. He suggested the free Chrome extension Momentum.

His other suggestion was to make your alarm your executive assistant. “One reason high-profile executives are so effective is that they have someone reminding them when to stop doing one thing and start doing another,” Friedman said.

I find this approach particularly helpful at home. I set the timer on my microwave and that’s how long I have to clean or declutter. For me, it becomes a race against the clock, and I get a lot accomplished. When the timer goes off, I allow myself to relax and do something I want to do. On any given weekend, I might do this three to five times. I get much accomplished – including writing blog posts!

How do you improve your productivity?


Humor As a Mindset


Dessert makes Drew Tarvin smile. He encourages smiling every hour. (Photo by Cynthia Price.)

I take my work seriously, but I also laugh often and have fun most days. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be more serious. But then I heard Drew Tarvin speak.

He said we will likely work 90,000 hours in our lifetimes and why not enjoy the time?

Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer and an award-winning speaker, trainer, author, and coach. Through his company, Humor That Works, he teaches individuals and organizations how to use humor to be more effective, more productive, and more awesome.

He is the best-selling author of Humor That Works: 501 Ways to Beat Stress, Increase Productivity, and Have Fun at Work and the recently released The United States of Laughter: One Comedian’s Journey Through All 50 States. Through his journey, he discovered that, despite what we may see on the news or read on the internet, there is one thing that unites all Americans: laughter. His TEDx talk has been viewed more than 100,000 times.

At a recent talk, he had his audience in stitches, especially as he shared stories of texting with his grandmother. In one, she replied to him with WTF, which alarmed Tarvin. He asked her if she knew what the initials stood for. Of course, she did, she said, “Wow, that’s fun!”

I’ve not met Tarvin’s grandmother but I already know I would love her.

He believes that we desperately need humor and noted that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter equals five minutes of exercise. He also emphasized that we are each responsible for our own happiness.

“Humor is a choice,” he said, while encouraging us to develop humor as a mindset. He challenged us to smile at least once an hour. And he asked us to consider the micro choices we can make each day.

“We are defined by our actions,” he said.

I’m choosing humor. How about you?

Back to School Is the Perfect Time to Organize One’s Office

The other day I received a $10 Staples reward and a $5 Staples coupon. For me, this is better than being a kid in a candy store.


Photo by Cynthia Price

I couldn’t get to Staples fast enough. I was giddy with anticipation. Should I buy more Staedtler colored pens? What about some fun file folders? Did I need a new desk organizer? Yes to all!

The irony is that I likely have enough pens and notebooks to last me until well, forever. It doesn’t stop me from wanting new ones. I have found ways to control the urge to buy, although it’s always a challenge this time of year with back-to-school sales.

The beauty of this time of year is that it’s the perfect time to organize one’s work space or office. Here are a few suggestions to do so –

Corral your pens and pencils. I have one container, and if they don’t all fit, I need to get rid of some. Obviously, toss the ones that don’t write. For those that work fine but you know you will never use consider donating to a senior center or after-school program.

Clean your desktop – both your desk and your computer. Remove everything from the surface of your work space and wipe it down. Don’t forget to clean the keyboard, too. It’s an amazing feeling to then begin working with a clean desk. I also make the time to clean off my computer desktop. I’m always amazed how files accumulate. For me, it’s often laziness. It’s easy to save a file to my desktop rather than thinking about where I should logically file it for archival purposes. Knowing I frequently save to my desktop, I force myself at least once a quarter to organize my files. Once I do, I find my productivity increases.

Shred your files. When is the last time you pulled a piece of paper from a file? If it’s been months, maybe it’s time to purge some of your files. I’m working toward having zero files. If someone gives me a paper document that I will need, I ask for it electronically or I scan it and save it on my computer. At least once a quarter I work to eliminate one or two file folders. It helps that I had to move my office twice in the past year. That really led to decluttering.

Order the necessary supplies. Nothing is more frustrating than discovering you have run out of sticky notes or staples. I check my supplies and order what I need for the next six months. That way you don’t run out and you don’t waste time each month placing an order.

After a Conference: Do Your Homework

I’m just back from a national communications conference. I’ve networked, learned and recharged. But I still have some things I need to do to make the most of my conference experience.


Photo by Cynthia Price

Stay Social Keep the conversation going on social media. Continue using the conference hashtag to share how you are applying what you learned at conference to your job. Identify those individuals who were active on social media and from whom you will continue to learn and follow them.

Update LinkedIn Either at the conference or soon after I return to the office, I follow up with those whom I would like to stay connected. I found LinkedIn to be the best spot for this. When I reach out, I include a personal message, noting that we met at the conference. Throughout the year, I can then reach out to my expanded network.

Send thank-you notes If it’s a small conference, you may want to thank the organizers for a successful conference. Or perhaps hotel staff were particularly helpful. Take a moment to write a note acknowledging their assistance and thanking them for going above and beyond. If you were new to the conference and someone showed you the ropes, send that person a thank you. If your boss sent you to the conference, be sure to thank her for the opportunity.

Purchase recommended readings Speakers recommend books, websites and TedTalks. Make a list of the ones that resonate with you and then schedule time to review the sites and listen to the talks. You can check the books out from your library or order them from your local bookstore. And then make the time to read the books. One way to ensure this is to pack your lunch for a week or two and find a quiet place where you can eat your lunch while reading your book.

Capture take-aways I take a lot of notes at conference, and after my first conference, I never did anything with the notes. Now I do. I always identify one key take-away from each session I attend. I collect all of those in one place so I can periodically refer to them. I also identify action items and add them to my calendar to ensure they get done. I also take my notes on a laptop or on my phone. This way they are stored digitally and are easier to access. If I happen to handwrite notes, I scan them when I return to the office and file them digitally.

Reflect Did you identify any skills you need to develop? Is there a new tool that you need to learn how to use? Think about what you heard and learned at conference and what you may need to do to ensure you are keeping current with your skills and experience.

Share What you learn at the conference will likely be of use to your team. When you return, share key learnings with others. You can write a brief report, create a PowerPoint, hold a brown bag lunch session or create an infographic. At a minimum share a list of useful takeaways and relevant links.

Morning Routines Contribute to Success

Whether you are eating Mark Twain’s metaphorical frog, going for a run or journaling, morning routines are critical to success. LifeHack notes 10 steps to do each morning. SUCCESS magazine lists the habits of entrepreneurs. Fast Company shares the habits of several successful individuals.

20180825_091913For a conference I am organizing, I wanted to learn more about the individuals and not just the straightforward bio details. In response to the question, “What is the first thing you do when you wake up?” the answers were inspirational and often recognizable.

Pets play a big role in the morning. Meredith Cumming, who visited newsrooms around the country, says she has to push a cat off her head. Finishing School for Modern Women Entrepreneur Jill Miller says, “I love on my rescue miniature poodle, Jack.”

And then there are our pesky electronic devices. Morning Call reporter Kayla Dwyer admits, “Ugh, I’m a brainwashed fool, but I check my news alerts on my iPhone.” Adrian Grieve, an executive director with the Red Cross in Pennsylvania, does the same thing.

Some combine pets and technology. Kearney Hub reporter and photographer Lori Potter greets her calico kitty Tas and checks the National Weather Forecast for the day on her phone.

Some are reflective. Shonali Burke, a public relations and social media expert, wakes up  says, “Thank you.”

A few go straight for the coffee, including Roger Hudak, a retired journalism teacher and now head of the Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) South Side Task Force.

Meanwhile, Chronicle-Tribune editor David Penticuff reads “Real Clear Politics” online while eating Rice Krispies with a banana.

Hitting the snooze button is a popular response, including by Humor Engineer Andrew Tarvin, who admits to hitting the snooze button two to 300 times!

A few are ambitious. Chris Whitney, director of the Career Center at The University of Scranton, says she makes her bed, while Maryanne Reed, dean of the West Virginia University Reed College of Media, tackles The New York Times crossword puzzle.

What do you do when you first wake up?



8 Conference Survival Tips

Conferences are a great way to enhance or learn new skills and to network. Ensuring a productive conference requires some planning and survival tips. As a conference veteran, here are some tips I employ.

Set Expectations. Even if you plan to respond to emails while you are at the conference, it’s a good idea to set your out-of-office response to manage expectations. I also discuss with my team in advance when I’m likely to respond to queries and how to best reach me in an emergency.

20180404_165917Bring Tools. Whether you write in a notebook or type on a laptop, you don’t want to forget to bring them. I always bring pens and at least one highlighter, which helps me note important names, points in my notes or workshops in the program that I don’t want to forget or miss. I like to bring an envelope or pouch, which I find handy for storing receipts, business cards and other relevant materials. Of course, you can also take a photo of the receipts with your phone.

Don’t forget your power cords. I keep a second cord for each device in a small tote bag that I keep with my luggage. That way I’m not scrambling to find the cords. While more hotels are now offering mini docking stations with USB ports, too many still don’t so I bring a mini multi-prong adapter for the hotel room. I can plug in two devices and two USB cables and keep my mobiles, Fitbit and laptop charged. And, of course, don’t forget your business cards.

Choose Wisely. At most conferences, there are competing sessions. Take the time to review not only the topic, but also the presenter’s bio to ensure it aligns with what you want to hear. Look at all the sessions and events to make sure you’re attending sessions on a range of topics and skills. And if you are in a session that isn’t what you expected, it’s okay to pop out and go to a different one.

Make Connections (Ahead of Time). Conferences are a time to meet new people and to build on the relationships you already have. Don’t arrive at the conference and run around trying to meet as many people as you can and don’t stalk a speaker. Instead, reach out in advance and schedule a time to meet. I do this frequently when there is a speaker whom I’d like to interview. I email them in advance and we schedule a time and location for a brief conversation. It reduces stress and allows for a meaningful interaction. During conferences I try to never eat a meal with the same group of people. I want to reconnect with as many colleagues as possible.

Digitally Engage. Follow the conference hashtag and make sure you’re tagging your tweets and Instagrams properly. You can monitor the hashtag throughout the conference to learn what others think about the speakers and topics. If a speaker mentions a resource, someone likely will tweet the resource and how to find it, which is always helpful. Social media also is a way to acknowledge great speakers, conference staff and hotel staff. Everyone enjoys a “Job well done!”

Digitally Disengage. I’ve already noted ways to digitally engage, but it’s also okay to disengage. You don’t need to stay on top of every email. Make time to put your smartphone away and introduce yourself to other attendees while you are waiting for a session to begin or during lunch. Sometimes we gain just as much from striking up a face-to-face conversation as we do from the workshops.

Stay Healthy. Conferences run on their own schedule, which may not coincide with your internal clock. Keep your energy level high by staying hydrated (always carry your own bottle of water) and snacking on items such as nuts, a protein bar or a piece of fruit. While it’s fun to socialize in the evenings, if you are feeling run down, skip a night of networking and get some zzz’s so you are ready for the next day. And don’t feel guilty if you skip a session for a power nap.

Pay It Forward. You will learn new information and be inspired at conferences. Why not share what you learned with your colleagues? That’s what my colleagues did when they returned from a conference. They created a brief PowerPoint presentation with their key takeaways from the conference. Each one also provided their key learnings, which was invaluable since they are at different points in their careers. I learned a few new things and was reminded of a few other points.

One of the things I’ve been doing when I return is designing a document that includes information, inspiration and random facts. I display it on my bulletin board where it provides inspiration and reminders throughout the year.  


4 Steps To a Productive Meeting

I have a fairly new team, and we quickly established ground rules for our meetings. I only wish all meetings followed them.


We agreed to always have an agenda for our meetings. If we don’t have items for the agenda, we don’t meet. I try to follow that with all meetings that I am invited to attend.  If there is no agenda or a clear purpose, then I don’t go. That’s not always in my control, but most often it is. If someone requests a meeting with no clear agenda, I decline. Usually, the person follows up with a quick email, and no meeting is required. My boss and I meet bi-weekly, and we both add items to the agenda.

Start on time

Another frustration is meetings that don’t start or end on time. One place I worked, we basically joked that all meetings started 10 minutes late, and we referred to it as [insert name of company] time.”

End on time

Meetings that run long are equally problematic because then individuals are invariably running late to the next meeting. If you can’t get through the agenda in the allotted time, ask the participants if it’s okay to extend the length of the meeting. If it’s not possible, schedule a second meeting.

Develop an action plan

Before the meeting ends, everyone should agree on the action items, due dates and who is assigned to them. One person should be responsible for following up with individuals to ensure assignments are completed on time and shared as needed.

The Muse recently wrote about fixing the meeting overload problem. You can read more here.