The Healthiest Approaches to Self-Improvement

My Best Psychology and Self Improvement Articles From 2018

The Healthiest Approaches to Self-Improvement

As we approach the upcoming new year, it’s always a great time to take a step back and reflect on what we’ve learned and experienced over the past twelve months.

First, let me ask you an important question: “Are you better or worse than you were exactly one year ago today? Or about the same?”

I sincerely hope it was a good and productive year for you; but even if it wasn’t, keep in mind this is just one chapter in your life and there’s still plenty of hope in the future if you’re willing to continue moving forward, trying new things, growing, and evolving.

As for me, this was one of my best years in awhile. The Emotion Machine has been going strong for almost 10 years now, but I truly feel I keep learning new things and my articles are getting better and better every single day.

This year also marks an important milestone for me. My first official book Small Habits, Big Changes: How the Tiniest Steps Lead to a Happier, Healthier You was published by Ulysses Press. I want to thank everyone who has picked up a book so far, and please reach out to me on if you want help with anything. You’re awesome!

At the end of every year, I always compile a list of my “best articles” of the year. Usually this is which ones were the most popular, but I also choose a couple that are personal favorites as well.

This year I covered a wide-range of topics including: motivation, goals, relationships, mental health, and just how to make your life happier overall. Check them out below and see if there are any good ones you might’ve missed!

Best Articles

Here are the best articles published at The Emotion Machine in 2018. Check them out!

  • Irrational Change: You Can’t Reason Your Way Something You Didn’t Reason Into
  • Rational approaches to self improvement can only get us so far, sometimes we need to learn how to embrace “irrational change” to truly transform ourselves at a deeper level.

  • 7 Metaphors for Cognitive Defusion: How to Accept and Detach From Any Thought
  • “Cognitive defusion” is a tool in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) where we learn how to accept our thoughts while at the same time distancing ourselves and not clinging to them.​​​​​​​ Here are 7 great metaphors that illustrate how to do this!

  • The Psychology of Awe: Why You Should Seek More Mind-Bending Experiences
  • New research shows the benefits of experiencing “awe,” an overwhelming feeling of amazement for something that is grand, special, or unique. Are you getting your fill of this under-appreciated emotion?

  • Iron Man vs. Straw Man: Why You Should Build Strong Arguments for Ideas You Disagree With
  • When we find ourselves in an argument or debate with someone, we often become more focused on “winning” the argument rather than actually discovering the truth. One way to avoid this is to build “iron man” arguments for ideas you disagree with.

  • Jack of All Trades, Master of None: Every New Skill Doubles Your Chance of Success
  • Our entire skillset is often more important than any individual skill. And when we can combine two skills that seem completely unrelated, then we build an even more specialized version of ourselves that can’t be easily replicated.

  • The Drama Triangle: How We Get Trapped in Playing the Roles of Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor
  • The “Drama Triangle” is a great framework for analyzing how drama unfolds in our lives. People tend to fall into certain roles such as “victim,” “rescuer,” and “persecutor.” Which role do you usually play?

  • How to Use the Power of Emotional Contagion to Change Your Mood
  • Emotions can be as contagious as the common cold; just as we can catch a virus from someone when we come into contact with them, we similarly catch other people’s emotions. In psychology, this is known as “emotional contagion.”

  • 7 Cognitive Biases That are Killing Your Goals and Productivity
  • Here are 7 cognitive biases that hurt your productivity and goals. Become more aware of these thought patterns that kill your motivation and learn how to overcome them (including the “planning fallacy,” “sunk cost fallacy,” and “zero sum bias.”)

  • Enemy’s Gift: Why Your Enemies Are Your Best Teachers in Self Improvement
  • Enemies can be our best teachers when it comes to self improvement. When we discover an enemy, our instinct is to want to fight them or run away. However, these enemies also come with a hidden gift for us that we should learn to embrace.

  • The White Bear Problem: How Resisting Negative Thoughts Only Feeds Them More
  • Don’t think of a “white bear” for one whole minute. Ready. Set. Go… How did you do? Why trying to suppress thoughts can often backfire on us.

  • A Healthy Sense of Urgency: Do It Now or It Will Never Get Done
  • Creating a healthy “sense of urgency” is essential for getting things done, being a more productive person, and achieving your goals. Without it, we risk letting time pass us by – and before we know it there’s no more time left to do what we want to do. http://www.

  • A Unique Trick to Make Ordinary Experiences More Fun and Enjoyable
  • The trick to getting more joy and happiness from “ordinary experiences” is to be more creative with them. In one study, psychologists found that those who ate popcorn with chopsticks reported it was better tasting and more enjoyable.

  • When You Should Quit Your Goals: Refocusing Your Energy on New Things
  • There’s nothing wrong if you quit something – it’s actually a very necessary component to success. “Quitting” just means you get to redirect your energy and focus to new and better things.

  • Follow Your Biology: How to Identify and Harness Your Natural Strengths
  • We often overlook our strengths, talents, and skills because they come so easy to us that we figure there is nothing special about them. This is especially true for natural talents and strengths that are built into our biology.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

  • The Hot/Cold Empathy Gap: It’s Hard to Predict Behavior Until You’re In That Situation
  • The main lesson we can learn from the “hot/cold empathy gap” is that we often don’t understand human behavior (whether it’s ourselves or someone else) until we are in that situation and experiencing it first-hand.

  • The Liking Gap: We Underestimate How Much People Will Us When We First Meet
  • When we meet someone, we often underestimate how much they will us. But the truth is most people in the world are pro-social; they want to and be d. Psychologists are calling this tendency to undersell ourselves “the liking gap.”

  • Listen to Family and Friends: How to Protect Yourself from Blind Spots
  • What blind spots do you have in your life? To find out, you’re going to have to begin to look for advice outside of yourself. And one of the best ways to do that is to listen to the feedback you get from your family and friends.

    Best Videos

    While writing is my main jam, every now and then I sit behind a camera and talk about stuff too. Here are a few noteworthy videos I made this year.

  • The Neuroscience Behind Running Away From Your Fears
  • Running away from fearful situations can often heighten our fears. According to a new study, when people run away from a threatening situation, the part of their brain associated with fear has a stronger response than when they engage the threat head on.

  • Be Happy for Other People’s Success
  • You can tell a lot about a person by how they respond to other people’s success. Do you celebrate other people’s accomplishments or try to tear them down?

  • Your Breath is a Remote Control: How to Change Your Mental State Through Breathing
  • By changing your breathing patterns, you can also change your mental state. In this way, your breath is a remote control for your brain and nervous system

    More Self Improvement Resources

    The Emotion Machine also provides many other resources in psychology and self improvement. If you are new here, you should also consider checking out:

    • Free Guides and Workbooks – I have a handful of free downloads available to everyone, including “The Science of Self Improvement,” “Meditation Guide,” “Emotional Intelligence Toolkit,” and “Gratitude Workbook.” Download them if you haven’t already!
    • Psychology Quizzes – Here’s a small collection of quizzes I made, including “Introversion vs. Extroversion,” “Big Picture vs. Detail Oriented,” and “Locus of Control.” These are mostly meant for fun and as a springboard for self-reflection, so don’t take them too seriously.
    • Best Self Improvement Articles – This is a much larger collection of “best articles” at The Emotion Machine that includes previous years. It’s broken down by category to make it easier to browse, including articles on “Happiness,” “Emotions,” “Thinking,” “Habits,” “Relationships,” and much more!
    • Recommended Reading – A list of classic books in psychology and self improvement that have had a big impact on me and influenced a lot of the work I’ve done here.
    • Channel – My video channel that also includes some podcast episodes and live streams I’ve done in the past. I don’t update it too often, but it’s worth browsing through since there are still some helpful gems in there.
    • Next Level Coaching – I’ve been coaching people in self improvement for over 5 years now. I’m always open to finding new people to work with, so please take the time to read through this page and see if we’re a good fit for each other.
    • – I have a bunch of social media, but I’m most active on . It’s a great place to stay updated on new content, ask me questions, and just interact with me in real-time

    These are all great additional resources for learning more about psychology and self improvement. Take the time to check them out!

    Please Support The Emotion Machine

    If you find any joy or value in my work, it would be greatly appreciated if you could support me and keep The Emotion Machine growing and evolving into the future.

    You can donate to both my PayPal or Patreon. Here are the links:

    I’m super thankful for any support you guys can give, even just a monthly pledge of a few bucks (a cup of coffee) can go a long way in helping me to maintain this site and keep creating new content.

    Thanks for everything and let’s make 2019 as awesome as possible!

    Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement:


    Self-Improvement: Why We All Need a Break from Self-Optimization

    The Healthiest Approaches to Self-Improvement

    Non-stop self-improvement has become the mantra of success for many. We strive to live and eat healthier, look better and work more productively. But the road to self-improvement can be a slippery slope. Here’s what we should all consider to regain our footing. 

    We try to eat healthy foods as often as we can, we want to look the best we can so we hit the gym and try to get our daily 10,000 steps in. We yearn to focus better at work, maintain interesting hobbies and improve our overall skillset.

    Improved productivity promises personal and professional success, so we jam-pack our day with activities with a sole focus on future payoff – or some form of practical self-improvement. We look towards self-improvement as a means to an end.

    But what if there is no end? Quite often, constant self-improvement tends to result in the opposite: Stress, burnout and lurking lack of self-confidence.

    Self-help bestsellers such as “Think and Grow Rich” by author and salesman Napoleon Hill promise rags to riches success.

    Everybody can discover their own “secret” of achievement through condensed and generalized formulas for optimizing your personal output.

    Others promise surefire methods to becoming and staying slim or finding the perfect partner with as little effort as possible. And the list goes on.

    Everywhere we turn, we’re told that self-improvement is the key to success in many different spheres of life. But do we really need to improve at all?

    Why You Should Take a Break from Constant Self-Improvement

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with heeding a couple tips and tricks here and there in order to improve select things about yourself or your life. Self-improvement becomes a problem when it puts us under pressure. Adding to your weekly stress-load doesn’t seem something we should strive for.

    Believe it or not, the fact is: It’s completely possible to take it down a notch and still feel your best self. We’ve gathered five reasons to scale down your efforts on non-stop self-improvement.

    Reason 1: Self-Improvement and Pressure

    We often act on that urge to “do more” before we consider the bigger picture.

    (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash — Carl Heyerdahl)

    The self-improvement craze promises us that every single one of us can optimize our own performance, status, looks, ability to focus etc.

    – that is, if you just put enough work in. In other words, there are no excuses for those of us who simply want to enjoy their life.

    At the same time, this makes it all your own fault if you don’t act on every opportunity for self-improvement – however few or many these may be, no matter the cost. Precisely this sort of thinking puts us under what can amount to serious pressure. This type of pressure often goes beyond “positive stress” and can easily leave us in a bad place if not kept under control.

    Reason 2: It’s OK Not to be “Perfect” 100% of the Time

    Sleepy Sundays on the coach instead of weekend workouts are absolutely fine. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash — JESHOOTS.


    Instead of falling prey to peer pressure and adhering the “norm”, go your own path, find what matters most to you and learn to be content with it. We might have heard this as kids, however a friendly reminder never hurts.

    What we don’t hear enough nowadays is: It’s absolutely fine to be exactly where and who you are.

    This approach isn’t aimed at bubbling yourself off or accepting all things – the good and the bad – complacently and without a second thought. But we should be allowed to say “that’s fine” and actually believe it (without a bad conscience) when we spend our Sunday on the couch binge-watching our favorite Netflix series instead of going to the gym.

    Reason 3: Self-Improvement: When is Enough Enough?

    Self-improvement goals are often “open-ended”, or aims without a tangible (and thus unattainable) result in mind.

    (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash — Eduardo Flores)

    The road to success through self-improvement is simple, right? We just need to optimize our daily routines, follow through on a couple of clearly attainable goals and we’ll achieve what we set out for: status, success, beauty, happiness and a couple new Instagram followers along the way.

    In reality, the “road to success” through self-improvement isn’t as straight or as well defined as we picture it to be. The problem is this: There’s always room for improvement. We can always go the extra mile – even after having already gone ten extra miles.

    The frame of reference we use to judge whether “enough is enough” isn’t one we form ourselves, rather one that society, our peers or the “norm” predetermines for us. There’s always somebody out there that’s better than us, whether that be at work, in our friend group or on Instagram and Tinder.

    Whether we achieve personal happiness seems regulated solely by the measure of personal achievement of and competition with others. And this “pressure to compare” can become a lot to deal with. We’re bent on changing who we are instead of being who we are. And the latter is something nobody needs to bend over backwards to achieve.

    Reason 4: Self-Improvement Forces us to Consume

    Radical approaches to self-improvement are neither kind to you nor your wallet – let alone the environment.

    (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash — Aaron Sebastian )

    Whether it be the latest best-selling self help book, the newest bluetooth tracking tech, costly cosmetics or fancy sports equipment, the market has exactly the right deal for your own ideal personal self-improvement regime. With the help of a market tailored to self-improvement seekers’ wants and needs, we attempt to solve the proposed problem with consumption.

    In today’s modern world, while me may long for simplicity and ease in our lives, consumption, material possession und personal achievement appear to be the more prevalent values.

    One approach to rethinking how we measure success is minimalism. Take things down a notch by adopting sustainable and mindful approaches towards minimalist living or adopting a minimalist wardrobe.

    Becoming minimalist is easy, helps you reduce stress and makes your life a whole lot simpler.

    Utopia’s tip: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: Living in the Present

    Reason 5: Think for Yourself

    Dance to your own beat. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash — Brian Mann)

    The Swiss pediatrician and author Remo H.

    Largo conducted a long-term study (beginning in 1954) which examined the development of more than 700 children from early childhood on into adulthood.

    He himself warns against giving children the notion that they can achieve everything and anything they wish with the right amount of support.

    One of the core results of this study was that individuals are not necessarily happy if they manage to increase their social status.

    Moreover, people were found to be happier when they live a lifestyle in accordance with their own potential.

    In other words, we’re the happiest when find something that challenges but also motivates us – not something that over-challenges us. In short, something that just fits to who we are.

    Personal Development: Yes. Relentless Self-Improvement: No

    Healthy approaches to self-improvement involves taking a critical look at what you can change, what you should change and what’s just you.

    (Photo: © Utopia/Binford (L); CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash — MARK ADRIANE)

    As previously mentioned, absolutely nothing speaks against mindful self-improvement and healthy personal development.

    Gyms can be a great thing and reading up on new topics that are of genuine interest to you can be rewarding.

    However, the most important part of self-improvement is keeping in mind what you want and why you want it. Don’t be afraid to reassess your approach if things start to tip in the wrong direction.

    Do we want to join the rat-race and be assessed solely on the grounds of our achievements? Or is it a better idea to sit for a moment and think? What do you really need to be genuinely happy and feel comfortable in your own skin?

    And maybe, just once in a while, it might do us some good to think about somebody other than ourselves.

    Pin it! (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash — Kristopher Roller)

    Read more:

    This article was translated from German to English by Evan Binford. You can view the original here: Selbstoptimierungswahn: Hört auf, euch selbst zu optimieren!

    Important Information regarding Health-related Topics.

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    Building the Life You Deserve

    The Healthiest Approaches to Self-Improvement

    Self-help and self-improvement have become something of cliches in recent years. Everyone and their grandmother seem to be ready to tell you how you can manifest millions or do what you love without any fear of failure. 

    Let's be realistic. You can– and should– work hard to become the kind of person that embraces your full potential. You deserve to be happy with what you're doing and feel a sense of pride about who you are as a person. 

    That's why we want to cut the BS the equation and focus on what that actually means. Consider this page a primer for ways you can make self-improvement work for you.

    Self-Improvement Starts By Identifying Your Values

    As broad as self-improvement is as a category, one of the trickiest parts is knowing where to start. Depending upon who you ask, self-improvement may include:

    • Getting in shape
    • Earning a million dollars
    • Falling in love
    • Meditating
    • Reading more

    … and so on and so forth. 

    On top of that, everyone seems to have a dozen paths to get to each of these outcomes– and for most businesses, that's going to mean you'll be paying a decent chunk of change for their insights. 

    We to approach self-improvement from a standpoint of values and personal development. If you get clear on what is most important to you on an intimate, personal level, you're going to be better equipped to make decisions and seek opportunities that benefit who you are in the long-term. Broadly, the frame work that we recommend starting from involves taking the following steps:

    This is something we write about a lot and you can find a plethora resources on the topic in the section labeled «Recent Posts from Our Blog.» 

    Practice Insight and Active Self-Reflection

    The first step in determining what's important to you is to engage in active self-reflection and to hone your sense of insight. Insight– or, the ability to understand why we do the things we do– is a unique strength that surprisingly few people possess. Most of us tend to operate on autopilot by default, following the path of least resistance from day-to-day. 

    As a result, it's not uncommon to feel you're stuck in a rut, plateauing, frustrated, or burnt out. 

    Reflective journaling  is a great starting point for assessing your actions. I recommend starting by taking a few minutes each evening to look back on your day and note what went well, what didn't go well, and any habits that you've observed emerging throughout your day. 

    Creating Growth-Based Habits

    The stronger your sense of insight, the more ly you are to notice that you've developed a set of habits and behaviors that aren't actively serving you.

    For example, many of us have a tendency to turn on some background noise, such as a video or podcast, while we work.

    Even though we've become accustomed to working this way, we often end up dividing our attention and having a hard time focusing on taxing activities. 

    Another example may be that we sit with our feet up and our spine curved for most of the day. It feels we don't have enough time in our schedule to go exercise or move around during the work day, and so we accept the temporary comfort of the way we sit at work. As a byproduct, we face the consequences: aches, pain, tightness, trouble sleeping. 

    The more you reflect on where you're at and how that differs from where you want to be, the more opportunities you'll have to integrate growth-based habits into your day.

    If you leap too quickly and try to make a dramatic change to your day all at once, you'll ly be setting yourself up for failure (and the sting that comes with failing). So, for creating growth-based habits, it's a good idea to make small changes as you go.

    Look to make a 1% increase in progress each day, building healthy new habits on top of your existing routines and autopilot actions. 

    Prioritize Balance

    This is one that I see a lot of folks struggling with– especially entrepreneurs and young men who are either starting new careers or looking to make a career change. 

    Often, we make the mistake of thinking that our progress is measured by how hard we work, and therefore all of our energy goes into our jobs, side projects, and personal development efforts. We refer to this as the «hustle-is-life» mentality.

    It's painfully common on Instagram and Reddit, where folks love to talk about how all you need to do to be successful is: wake up at five every morning, walk three miles a day, drink four bottles of Soylent, invest in a vending machine, put ten thousand dollars into real estate, and on and on and on and on.

    Somehow, the folks who make these posts are also under the impression that doing these things will not only make you rich, but it will also give you tremendous sex appeal. 

    To put it another way, there's a strong trend in the personal development community to completely miss the point of The Wolf of Wall Street and try to live a Mad Men character. 

    That's just not healthy. It's also not nearly as profitable as those IG accounts would have you believe. 

    Instead, finding a way to make balance a key part of your personal development process is necessary.

    Doing so will help to stave off burnout and ensure that you're able to operate while you're at your best.

    Getting adequate sleep, stimulating your body, eating a well-balanced diet, and nurturing relationships with others are all necessary for creating a rewarding life that you can be proud of.  


    9 Bulletproof Self-Improvement Techniques

    The Healthiest Approaches to Self-Improvement

    Which self-improvement techniques will make a noticeable difference in your work output? How can you work on yourself in ways that increase your personal productivity? Are you using (or even aware of) the best self-growth techniques for bettering yourself as a professional?

    Remember, you only have 8,760 hours in the year. How will you spend them to get the most productivity, pride, health, wealth, and happiness?

    Time-management is the best-kept secret of the rich.

    ― Jim Rohn

    1) Getting Things Done

    David Allen’s popular self-improvement system helps people simplify their goals and get to work.

    If you’re me, you love work-related tasks that feel productive but eat up time and energy. Indulge in these low-priority activities only when you’re overwhelmed by big projects.

    You can’t go full-speed all the time, or you’ll burn out. However, you won’t get anywhere without taking on meaningful work. You need to smooth out your overwork/underwork cycles.

    If you’re wondering how to better yourself (and your work/life balance), remember to block off time on your calendar and follow through on your promises.

    Give yourself that break you planned.

    Take time to listen to music, follow your passion, or just take a walk.

    Use time-saving measures food delivery, online shopping, and Uber/Lyft rides to turn your “running errands” time into work/passion time.

    Most of all, be patient with yourself.

    Set concrete goals you can achieve with a little time to spare. In that extra time at the end of your time block, squeeze in one or two low-priority tasks. Then, use (some of) your break time to feed your long-term, non-work ambitions.

    Remember, the break time you dedicate to your passion can eventually add up to mastery!

    Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.

    – David Allen

    2) The 2-Minute Rule

    You can tackle massive to-do lists and create healthy habits with David Allen’s 2-Minute Rule.

    Look at your task list. As soon as you identify an item that will take less than two minutes to complete, do it. Don’t keep looking at your list, wondering what to do next. Avoid “analysis paralysis” and do something right away.

    Next, examine your larger goals.

    Pick one (hopefully a high-priority task) and determine a first step you can take in 2 minutes.

    This technique works extremely well for habit-forming. For example, I once worked as a piano teacher. When people asked me how long to practice, I would say 1 minute a day – but do it every, every day. Kids and parents a looked at me I was crazy.

    The trick is this: I know how hard it is to start and maintain habits. I also know that no one sits at the piano for one minute and gets up. They feel playing a little longer than their goal.

    Most importantly, people who follow this method always stand up from the piano bench feeling proud. They practiced longer than the minimum they set.

    Give it a shot and see what habits you can create by taking these tiny first steps!

    Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.

    – Jonathan Kozol

    3) Form/Join a Mastermind Group

    First introduced by Napoleon Hill in his classic Think and Grow Rich, the mastermind group idea has become a self-improvement standby.

    By meeting on a regular basis and sharing your progress with others, you can get the feedback, contacts, and resources you need to get ahead. For entrepreneurs and small business owners, these meetings represent a rare opportunity to talk with true peers and colleagues facing similar challenges.

    If you decide to create a mastermind group, consider many factors before sending out your invitations.

    Successful groups can stay together for years—and even decades—so make your plans with care.

    Think about your members’ experience in business, the size of their companies, and their number of employees. Determine if you want to group up with people in a specific niche or gain perspectives from across various industries. You may want to designate a leader, have a rotating president position, or create a hybrid of these approaches.

    Most of all, consider whether or not you plan to meet in person.

    Online meetings can give you more flexibility (and access to out-of-town members).

    However, you may prefer the intimacy (and privacy) of meeting face-to-face with your mastermind group.

    You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

    – Jim Rohn

    4) Create a Junto Club

    In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin describes his Junto Club, a “club of mutual improvement”.

    Much mastermind groups (but less formal), Junto Clubs focus on the overall development of their members. In these safe spaces, members discuss business, life, politics, the meaning of success, mortality, and many other topics.

    When forming a Junto Club for the purposes of self-improvement, don’t simply invite your closest friends out for a beer and some chit-chat.

    Think about the qualities you want in group members, such as diversity, congeniality, humility, and confidence. Yes, someone can be both humble and confident; the best among us keenly balance these virtues.

    Who is wise? He that learns from everyone.
    Who is powerful? He that governs his passions.
    Who is rich? He that is content.
    Who is that? Nobody.

    – Benjamin Franklin

    5) Pomodoro for Procrastination

    A modern classic, the Pomodoro Technique can help you structure your work/break time simply and effectively.

    Once upon a time, Francesco Cirillo (“tomato” in Italian) used a popular tomato-shaped kitchen timer to manage his study time. He named the method he discovered after his timer – and became a time-management superstar.

    Today, Toggl provides an Online Pomodoro Timer that also tracks your time and helps you create time-analysis reports.

    You can fight procrastination with a Pomodoro timer by committing to work for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break. Some self-improvement gurus suggest variants on this system, so feel free to experiment a bit and find what works for you.

    Many people this system of manageable work times and short breaks (repeated many times before a larger break) creates the right amounts of work, play, structure, and freedom.

    One day we will be more creative, more productive and yet more relaxed.
    Unleash Innovation!

    – Francesco Cirillo

    6) Track Your Productive Work Hours

    You do much of your most productive during specific parts of your day (and your week).

    Use Toggl time-tracking reports to identify peak-performance periods for you and your team. Once you’ve determined your best, most-golden work hours, protect them by strategically blocking off your time.

    Time management means self-awareness. You don’t have to be a hero, working at top efficiency and productivity during every second of work time.

    Human beings don’t work that way. Some of us work best in the mornings; others have lots of energy right after lunch. Some of us work hard just before 5 pm; others stay late and work in quiet evening offices.

    Watch out for office patterns. Some of your team members work well on Monday mornings, and others take hours to ramp up their motivation. Certain people work well before weekends and holidays; many lose productivity in anticipation of time off.

    Get the right data, run time-tracking reports, and accept this fact: productivity and motivation ebb and flow.

    • The question is: how will you manage it?
    • Will you assign intense tasks to high-productivity times-of-day?
    • Will you choose low-priority tasks for your team just before holidays?

    Take the time to learn about yourself (and your employees).

    You’ll stop swimming upstream.

    You won’t force people to work hard at the wrong times.

    You’ll increase your productivity by demanding less forced effort from yourself and your team.

    Patience is power.
    Patience is not an absence of action; rather, it is “timing.”
    It waits on the right time to act,
    for the right principles and in the right way.

    ― Fulton J. Sheen

    7) Set Smart Goals

    You can use the classic SMART Goals system to better yourself—and your team—in 2018:

    • Specific – Break large, long-term goals into small, actionable steps.
    • Measurable – Build trust by allowing people to demonstrate their success.
    • Attainable – Set goals within people’s skill sets and capabilities.
    • Relevant – Keep your goals in alignment with your corporate mission.
    • Time-Bound – Set an appropriate deadline for each specific goal.

    Of course, management experts differ on the value of SMART Goals. In particular, they often feel the Attainable facet of this system hold people back and discourages risk-taking. When setting goals for 2018, take care to differentiate between long- and short-term goals.

    I appreciate the wisdom of HARD Goals for strategic planning, but not task-based work. Personal development involves slow, steady progress.

    Pushing yourself beyond your limits in the hopes of increasing your productivity in 2018 could end in a mid-January crash.

    Dream big.

    Set incredible yearly goals that stretch your definition of what’s possible.

    However, set daily productivity targets that suit you where you are today, not where you hope to be in a year.

    Don’t change anything right away. Instead, track your time for a few days (or a few weeks).

    Create and analyze time reports and identify your current productivity range.

    • For example, does your team do 4 hours of intense, focused work in an 8-hour day?
    • Do you see productivity spikes on Tuesday afternoons or Thursday mornings?

    Once you know your current productivity level and schedule, set attainable productivity targets. Increase your expectations by 10%. Add in another 30 minutes of productive work time before lunch on Thursday. Ask your team to stay late on Tuesday afternoon and come in late on Wednesday morning.

    SMART Goals mean more than just a snappy mnemonic device; you must set smart targets.

    Grow steadily toward your goals throughout 2018. Stay on target the entire year by slowly raising your expectations. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish by giving yourself time to expand your capacity. Self-improvement is slow improvement over days and fast improvement over months and years.

    The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.

    Leo Tolstoy

    8) Take Mindful Action

    Self-improvement doesn’t have to mean pushing yourself to greater (and often unsustainable) productivity. You need to bring calm, steady mindfulness into every action you take. Squeezing more productivity every minute might seem a good idea; however, it’s also a recipe for overwhelm and burnout.

    Of course, taking quality breaks can return you to a state of mindfulness after a busy work session.

    Quality breaks have more substance than “get food and binge-watch Netflix” sessions.

    • Go for a quiet walk in the woods.
    • Get up from your desk, look out the window, and pay attention to your breathing.
    • Create something, practice an instrument, or turn on some music and dance.
    • Develop a personal development routine that involves healthy activities – not just a “work hard all the time” mentality.

    However, you want to feel good all the time, do you? You don’t want to feel over-stressed and use your break/weekend/vacation time just to recuperate, right?

    Instead of simply taking mindful breaks, make your work time peaceful and empowering.

    Be that chef who stays calm in the midst of a chaotic dinner-rush kitchen. Sit at your desk and work, not thinking about what you’ll do when you get done – but how good it feels to do the job you do.

    Stock cans at the grocery store, paying attention to the little physical efficiencies of your work – and the beauty of each completed display.

    Self-improvement means constant calm, not unpredictable swings between motivation and laziness.

    No matter your profession (or area of study), breathe. Don’t hold back your energy, waiting for a future time of enjoyment after work. Don’t regret the past, and the events that led to your current situation. Simply breathe.

    Feel the pleasure of a full, honest, open breath. Feel your hands and body as they make the world a better place. Watch your mind going about its work, guiding your efforts with the least possible amount of critical thinking.

    Work mindfully, avoid over-thinking, and save up your mental/emotional resources for the most difficult times. With practice, you can handle yourself in any situation – and feel as good working as you do during your off hours!

    The past has no power over the present moment.

    ― Eckhart Tolle

    9) Master your Time Management

    As you may have noticed, many of the top self-improvement methods involve making the most of your time.

    More than anything, managing your time (and your team’s work hours) means two things: getting the right data and not spending too much time managing your time.

    Toggl’s time-tracking software integrates into over 85 popular productivity platforms Gmail, Asana, Google Calendar, and Trello.

    Create reports in seconds and identify your most productive times of the day (and week).

    Learn how you (and your team) can tweak your workflows. Learn the right self-improvement skills and get the most every minute in 2018!


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