Job Search Tip of the Week #27 (2017)

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How to Maximize Your Productivity

The 6 Productivity Habits Some of the Best in Business Share



With the end of Q2 fast approaching, we’ve all been feeling the heat of mid-year deadlines and quotas. This pressure is undoubtedly compounded for job seekers who are either conducting a job search while employed full-time or trying to find employment as the peak hiring season for contract and temp-to-perm positions kicks off.

We’re guessing by now too that most of you have lost steam with your New Year’s productivity and career resolutions and have started reverting to old habits. So what better time than now to get re-motivated and refocused?

That’s why this past weekend we found ourselves digging through our trove of inspiration. We’ve talked with you before about working SMARTer, not harder, and thus were particularly drawn to an article we’d saved from Fast Company’s December 2013/January 2014 issue, Drake Baer’s “The Art of Doing Everything: Our Complete Guide to Maximizing Your Productivity in an Increasingly Distracting World.”

When it comes to productivity, “no one piece of advice fits all,” wrote Baer. “For Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, the secret to being productive is hardly ever taking a vacation, or, for that matter, a bathroom break. For Leo Widrich, cofounder of the social media utility startup Buffer, it’s a daily nap in a bunk bed–in his office…The trick is finding out what works for you.”

While we agree, we also noticed six common themes among the workflow optimization and productivity strategies shared by the ten business leaders Baer featured in his article:

Annihilate Distractions

The xkcd cartoon we used to introduce this post is a reference to “The Battle of Yavin” scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, in which Luke Skywalker deactivates his targeting computer in order to get spiritual guidance from Obi-Wan Kenobi and use the Force to detonate the Death Star. However in the comic, the shutdown is attributed to the Internet’s power of distraction and Luke’s consequent lack of productivity – a nod to something we are all too familiar with in this digital age.

“I think it’s important to get rid of distraction and miscellaneous choices,” Senator Cory Booker told Baer. “The more you limit your choices, thereby limiting thought, the more you can simplify your life and focus your energy elsewhere.”

Eliminating choices to minimize distractions and maximize efficiency is also why Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest and author of Financially Fearless: The LearnVest Program for Taking Control of Your Money, always eats the same lunch every day and asks people she’s meeting with to pick a workout activity or class to talk over. “My ultimate goal is to create operating systems for myself that allow me to think as little as possible about the silly decisions you can make all day long – like what to eat or where we should meet – so I can focus on making real decisions,” she revealed. “Because mental energy is a finite quantity. You can only spend so much time on the really critical decisions that move your company forward.”

Avoid Energy Misappropriation


Von Tobel’s right, your daily resources are limited. Involving your team and delegating enables you to conserve energy for the other tasks important to you and maximize your output, as these business leaders do:

  • “One thing I do is use a venture-capital model to run [our] group,” said Steven Yankovich, then VP of Innovation and New Ventures and now Chief Architect at eBay. “I say, ‘We all have the same goal: to make the firm worth more money. So let’s act like shareholders. I want each of you to enable one another to be successful.’ That thinking helps make better choices, which is at the root of productivity. My role becomes parachuting in occasionally and knocking down the barriers.”
  • “It doesn’t make sense for me to spend three hours doing something I’m not that good at,” insisted Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and author of Without Their Permission. “There’s someone out there who’s great at it and should be compensated for it.”
  • Anthony Bourdain, chef, author, and TV Host of CNN’s Parts Unknown has an assistant because “There’s got to be somebody to receive the emails and phone calls or my head would explode.”

Us common folk aren’t so lucky to have a personal assistant, but that’s what time and task management apps and voicemail boxes are for! And if you’re job hunting and want to expedite your search, consider adding a recruiter like Chase Technology Consultants (CTC) to your team who’ll take some mission-critical tasks such as finding new job opportunities and arranging interviews off your plate.

Don’t Be a Slave to Your Schedule

Your schedule isn’t set in stone. Think of it more as a blueprint you can redraft as needed to accommodate shifting priorities.

“It’s really easy to let your calendar start dictating what happens, as opposed to you dictating what’s important for the company,” commented Von Tobel, “I don’t worry about canceling meetings and moving things around. I wouldn’t say you should rip apart your week every day, but just because you scheduled something three weeks ago doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing this week.”

Figure out what really needs your attention. Perhaps you’ve heard of Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 Rule, which states that 20% of effort generates 80% of results, and vice versa. It’s an observation that nothing in life is distributed equally and you have to focus on the “right” 20%. Keep in mind that the 80/20 ratio isn’t static, and really it is more about making decisions to allocate your time, effort, and other resources based on what will produce the most output with the least amount of input. For example, instead of applying to every job in sight for two hours, browse through job descriptions and conduct some preliminary research for the first 45 minutes, then spend the rest of your time tailoring your cover letter and technical résumé for the opportunities you’re truly interested in.

Make Lists

It may seem old-school, but committing your goals to writing has been shown to help you achieve them. Making lists is especially important when unexpected things arise during the day can make you lose sight of the bigger picture.

“I’m a little ADD, so I have one sheet of paper called ’50 Things,’” confessed CEO of Box Aaron Levie, “It’s a list of all the important initiatives, tasks, and projects at the company. Once every day or two, I run through it and make sure that every one of those things is on track.”

If you’re not into paper clutter or it tends to get lost in your black-hole of a pocket, check out these mobile apps. Ohanian suggested Carrot, which he uses to get in the habit of identifying three or four really big things that he wants to accomplish. “Carrot is good about giving positive reinforcement,” he said, “but it’s really about making sure I get those big things done because it’s tempting to say, ‘Let me quickly knock out this email.’”

Making lists is also a great way to make a high-profile work project or the job search process seem less overwhelming. Break down the large task into smaller ones. The job search process, for example, can be broken down into more manageable assignments such as: source for jobs, conduct company research, create a few different versions of your technical résumé and cover letter that you can tailor later, customize templates for each company, network with current employees of potential employers, and follow-up on submissions and interviews.

Become an Effective Communicator

“I always have hour-long meetings that end 15 minutes early, so I have these weird blocks of time that aren’t enough to do something that requires deep thought,” said Von Tobel, “So I’ll typically schedule meetings in 15-minute increments.”

Meeting fatigue can cause a loss in focus and mental acuity. To avoid mental exhaustion and increase your productivity, either impose breaks during long tasks (like your job search!) or strict, shorter timelines that force you (and others) to move swiftly with purpose, get to the point, and be concise.

Carve Out Time for Yourself

Research has shown that health and productivity are positively correlated, which means stepping away from your job (or job search), can actually benefit it. “Me time” gives you the opportunity to recalibrate, gain perspective, and adjust your goals, priorities, and calendar as needed.

“I leave at 7:30 in the morning, for a 8 o’clock call or meeting. Driving is immensely important. It’s just enough time to go through my checklist. What are the handful of things I need to do?” said Coca-Cola Company’s SVP of Global Marketing Wendy Clark. She also works out religiously, because “It’s as much for my mental stability and physical. It’s very much like the driving time – you can’t send an email or take a phone call. It’s forced time to reflect on the day. I remember things I didn’t do that I thought I should do. It is invaluable.”

Read through to the end of this post? Great! Now take a break.


Sound Off: What’s the productivity hack or app you can’t live without?


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Cartoon Credit: “Let Go” by Randall Munroe (xkcd.com)