How to Prioritize Your Work When Your Manager Doesn’t


 

Prioritizing work can be frustrating, especially if you work for a hands-off manager or a company that doesn’t give you clear goals. Most of us face this reality each and every day. The frequently cited research of Robert Kaplan and David Norton shows that more than 90% of employees don’t fully understand their company’s strategy or know what’s expected of them to help achieve company goals. Compounding the problem, recent research shows that global executives say they have too many conflicting priorities. In a world where conflicting and unclear priorities are the norm, how can you learn to prioritize your own work and still feel satisfaction from a job well done?

First, check your mindset when it comes to setting priorities. Don’t assume that prioritizing your workload is someone else’s job, and don’t choose to see yourself solely as a “do-er” or a “worker bee.” It’s easy to point blame at our managers and organizations when we experience high levels of stress or an overwhelming amount of work. Recognize that consciously setting priorities is a key pillar of success. You can start by assessing how well you’re handling the increased workload that comes with being a leader today.

Select a couple of areas to set priorities in; this can help the brain to manage information overload. Researchers have found that it’s the overload of options that paralyze us or lead to decisions that go against our best interests. Two criteria I use with clients to filter for priorities include contribution and passion. Consider your role today and answer the following questions:

  • What is my highest contribution? When we reflect on contribution, we consider both the organization’s needs and how we uniquely bring to bear strengths, experience, and capabilities. The word contribution captures a sense of purpose, citizenship, and service.
  • What am I passionate about? Motivation and energy fuel action, so when setting priorities, get clear on what brings you inspiration in your work today.

We can put the two criteria of contribution and passion together to create an organizing framework. The framework can help you to sort priorities and define subsequent actions. Consider this chart:

Quadrant I: Prioritize those areas of your job that hit this sweet-spot intersection of bringing your highest value-add and making an impact that you feel excited about. Look at the answers to the two questions above and see which projects, initiatives, and activities show up on both your high contribution and high passion lists.

Quadrant II: Tolerate those parts of the role that are important but drain your energy when you’re engaging in them. What are the possible discomforts, and what can you do about them?

  • Tolerate and accept that you aren’t going to love every part of the job. For example, you may be excited about having a larger role and team but less excited about the increase in managerial processes and administration that come with it.
  • Tolerate the fact that you may be on a learning curve. Perhaps a key part of the job includes something that isn’t yet a strength, such as presenting at town hall meetings or being more visible externally. Keep a growth mindset and push yourself out of the comfort zone.
  • Remember that there is a tipping point in this quadrant. For example, your highest contribution in a strategy role may never offer you the passion you feel when coaching people. The quadrant could highlight that it’s time for a change (which was my situation more than 15 years ago, when no amount of prioritizing was ever going to overcome the fact I was in the wrong career).

Quadrant III: Elevate those tasks that give you a lot of energy but that others don’t see as the best use of your time. Where are the possible points of elevation?

  • Elevate the value-add. Perhaps you see a hot new area, but the impact is less clear to others. Share what you are seeing out on the horizon that fuels your conviction, and explain why it’s good not only for you but also for the company.
  • Elevate yourself. Be mindful of areas that you still enjoy, perhaps from a previous role or from when the company was smaller. Maybe you love to fix problems and have a bias toward action, which leads you to get involved in things your team should be handling. Hit pause before diving in.
  • Ultimately, if the disconnect grows between what keeps you motivated and what your organization values, it may be time to move on.

Quadrant IV: Delegate the daily churn of low-value and low-energy-producing activities, emails, and meetings. If there’s no one to delegate to, make the case for hiring someone. You can also just say no, or eliminate those tasks altogether. The irony is, as we progress in our careers, things that were once in quadrant I now belong in quadrant IV. If people still come to you for these tasks, redirect them graciously by saying something like, “It’s so great to see you. I know how important this is. I’ve asked Kate on my team to take on those issues, and she’ll be able to get you a more direct and speedy answer.”

Operationalize and Flag Priorities in Your Calendar

Look back on your calendar over the last month to see how much time you allocated across the four quadrants. I personally use a color-coding system in my calendar to quickly and visually see how I’m doing. (QI = yellow, QII = purple, QIII = blue, QIV = no color). At the start of a week, flag all QI priorities and give yourself a little extra preparation time on them.

Don’t settle for the status quo. As Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism shares, if you don’t prioritize your time, someone else will. And it won’t always be with your best interests or the greater good in mind. So take ownership and reclaim decision-making power over where you can best spend your time and energy. By doing so, you set yourself on a trajectory to produce meaningful results, experience more job satisfaction, and have increased energy.

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6 mindful habits that are hard to learn but will benefit you forever


Mindfulness isn’t just a practice—it’s an art.

Today, millions of people throughout the world are understanding the hidden secrets behind mindfulness, and using its philosophies to improve their daily lives.

If you’re someone who wants to start practicing mindfulness, there are ways to slowly get accustomed to it without needing to meditate everyday.

In fact, activities that are already part of your life like walking, reading, and even eating, can be configured to help you achieve that state of mindfulness.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s how:

1) Noticing The Lack of Mindfulness

One of the best ways to start becoming mindful is by realizing when you’re not.

Understanding the difference between mindfulness and the lack thereof allows you to check yourself and say, “Hey buddy, we’re losing our attention right now”.

Throughout the day, our brains go on autopilot. When we’re doing something repetitive or boring, it’s easy to just go along what’s happening and space out completely.

Having the ability to notice it when you’re starting to tip over the other side of consciousness is a great way to jumpstart your journey to mindfulness.

All you have to do is realize when you are not being mindful, and zap yourself back to reality.

2) Paying Attention to Your Thoughts



Mindfulness isn’t limited to when you’re meditating. You can be as reflective even when you are doing mundane, day-to-day tasks.

A simple way to do this is by checking in your thoughts from time to time. See what you feel about things, and try to find a reason as to why you feel this way.

Getting in this habit will come in handy, especially during times of conflict. As you train your brain to focus on everyday things, reflection will become an automatic response, allowing you to find the best solution for your problems, on the spot.

Instead of waiting for the golden opportunity, or a time where you’re so removed from the world that you can actually pay attention to your thoughts, make it a habit that you don’t need to treat meditation as a separate activity.

Inject it into your life and turn it into something that you just do just because.

3) Listening Intently

Mindfulness isn’t limited to the self. In fact, this becomes clearer, more effective when you are practicing it with others.

Everyday we have opportunities for social interaction, some of which are less memorable than others. No matter how insignificant these encounters are to you, it helps if you treat each conversation as if your life depended on it.

Really listen to the people you are talking to. Become aware of their emotions, their body language, and their responses.



Paying attention and listening intently to the people around you will result in more meaningful interactions.

4) Being Thoughtful About Your Breathing

Breathing is one of those things that just happen—we don’t have to think about whether or not we are breathing enough.

In reality, being mindful of one’s breath is one of the best ways to practice meditation. It’s easy to get into it because you don’t need to set time for it.

It’s important to note that juggling meditative breathing and another task isn’t mindfulness at all. To really succeed, you must do this when you are not surrounded by social stimuli.

For example, if you’re eating lunch alone, or waiting for the traffic signal to turn green, or waiting to be called at the Doctor’s office, you can use these instances to become thoughtful about your breathing. Doing this will help regulate balance and peace of mind in your life.

5) Turning Repetitive Tasks Into Something Memorable

Tasks such as driving home from work, shopping for groceries, or paying the bills become automatic over time. We don’t need to think about them because we already know what’s going to happen next.

Instead of letting yourself float through these moments in your life, take a good look at what you’re doing and start appreciating them for what they are. When we take these things for granted, there is a less chance of us finding them remarkable and potentially enlightening.

Take for instance emailing. You’ve probably emailed hundreds of clients in your lifetime. When you switch your brain off and let your fingers do the typing for you, you’re guaranteed to have more mistakes in your email.

Save your professionalism by paying attention to repetitive tasks. If you do, you’ll realize that there is a nuance that makes it a little different every time.

6) Noticing Something New Everyday

We don’t live in a fairytale where something novel happens everyday. It can be hard to look forward to your day when you know every part of it. However, if you step back and give your routine a chance, you’re bound to realize things for the first time ever.

A detail on your car that you never noticed, a co-worker who always smiled at you, or a great lunch menu that you’ve always ignored. We tend to chase the exciting without even realizing that new things are in front of us.

No single day is the same. Every day we are meeting and interacting with a different version of the world; all we have to do is look closer.

Vaping and Lung Cancer: What You Should Know


Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, put nicotine into your lungs and bloodstream. And they do it without the smoke and tar of a regular cigarette. But other harmful things can get into your body when you vape. That’s especially true if you use flavored cigarettes.

E-cigarettes, sometimes called vapes, run on batteries and heat up nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. They turn them into a vapor you can breathe in. Many chemicals that cause cancer are in this vapor. That includes formaldehyde, heavy metals, and particles that can get stuck in the deepest parts of your lungs.

It’s hard to know how much of these chemicals you breathe in when you vape. The levels are usually lower in e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. But some studies show that high-voltage e-cigarettes have more formaldehyde and other toxins than standard e-cigarettes.

Also, some chemicals in e-cigarettes can irritate the airways in your lungs. This can cause problems. Studies have found that flavorings like cinnamon can cause inflammation of lung cells. But more research is needed to understand the long-term health risks of vaping.

Popcorn Lung

One chemical in some e-cigarette flavorings is a buttery-flavored one called diacetyl. It’s been linked to a serious lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. It’s also known as popcorn lung.

The disease gets its name because people working in a microwave popcorn factory got sick with serious lung problems from breathing in diacetyl. It was being used to flavor popcorn, caramel, and dairy products. The way the chemical is breathed in with e-cigarettes is a lot like the way the workers at the microwave popcorn plants inhaled it.

The chemical can cause a dry cough that won’t go away. It also causes shortness of breath, wheezing, headache, fever, aches, and other health problems. The vapors also can irritate your eyes, skin, nose, and throat.

Diacetyl scars the tiny airs sacs in your lungs. That makes your airways thick and narrow.

After the link between diacetyl and lung disease was found, many popcorn companies took the chemical out of their products. But it’s still used in many e-cigarette flavors, including vanilla, maple, and coconut. It’s also been found in many alcohol-flavored, candy-flavored, and fruit-flavored e-cigarettes. These are choices that often appeal to kids, teenagers, and young adults.

There’s no cure for popcorn lung, but some medications can help keep it from getting worse. These include certain kinds of antibiotics, steroids to calm inflammation in your lungs, and drugs to slow down your immune system.

7-Minute Workout


How It Works

You’re busy. But chances are, you have 7 minutes in your schedule that you could spare.

When you don’t have 30 or 60 minutes for a full workout, the 7-minute workout packs in a full-body exercise routine in a fraction of the time.

A performance coach and exercise physiologist from the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, FL, came up with this program to give their busy clients a more efficient yet still effective workout. They’ve put together a series of 12 different exercises that work the upper body, lower body, and core.

You do each exercise for 30 seconds — long enough to get in about 15 to 20 repetitions. In between sets you rest for about 10 seconds.

The 12 exercises in the 7-minute workout target all the body’s major muscle groups:

  1. Jumping jacks (total body)
  2. Wall sit (lower body)
  3. Push-up (upper body)
  4. Abdominal crunch (core)
  5. Step-up onto chair (total body)
  6. Squat (lower body)
  7. Triceps dip on chair (upper body)
  8. Plank (core)
  9. High knees/running in place (total body)
  10. Lunge (lower body)
  11. Push-up and rotation (upper body)
  12. Side plank (core)

Depending on how much time you have, you can do the 7-minute workout once, or repeat the whole series two or three times.

Intensity Level: High

Because this workout condenses an entire exercise program into 7 minutes, it has to be intense. The exercises are challenging, and you do them one after the other with only very short breaks in between.

Areas It Targets

Core: Yes. Abdominal crunches, planks, and side planks work your core muscles.

Arms: Yes. Push-ups and triceps dips work the arms.

Legs: Yes. There are several leg exercises, including jumping jacks, wall sits, step-ups, squats, and lunges.

Glutes: Yes. Squats and lunges also work the glute muscles.

Back: Yes. Although there are no specific back exercises, this is a full-body workout, and many of the whole-body exercises also work the muscles in your back.

Type

Flexibility: No. This workout doesn’t include a stretch, although you could add one afterward.

Aerobic: Yes. Because you run through the exercises very quickly and work many large muscle groups at once, you get an aerobic workout that helps burn fat and trim down body weight.

Strength: Yes. The exercises work all the major muscle groups, building strength throughout the body.

Sport: No. This is not a sport; it’s a workout.

Low Impact: No. The recommended aerobic exercises (jumping jacks and high knees/running in place) are high impact.

What Else Should I Know?

Cost. The workout is free, and there are free apps you can download to your smartphone or tablet that will walk you through the program and time the intervals for you.

Good for beginners? No. It’s too intense. And because you’re doing this solo, it helps to have some experience with general exercises like crunches and planks, so you use good form and technique.

Outdoors. Yes. You can do this workout outside, but you will need to bring along a chair and find a wall for some of the exercises.

At home. Yes. The routine is basic enough to do anywhere in your house.

Equipment required? No. This program uses your own body weight for resistance. The only tools you need are a wall and a chair.

What Dr. Michael Smith Says:

The 7-Minute Workout could get you in the best shape of your life. But it comes at a price: intensity!

The program only works if you put your all into it and then some. So if you’re not a regular exerciser now, look for a program that can get you in shape first. Then, when you’re up for the challenge, dive into high-intensity circuit training like this routine.

When you exercise at a vigorous level, you can get the same benefits in half the time. By limiting rest in between, you get a calorie- and fat-burning workout that also builds strong, lean muscle. Even if you can do only one round to start off, your body is gaining huge benefits.

Push yourself. The rewards will be worth the effort.

The downside of intense workouts is that you’re more likely to get injured. Make sure to warm up with light cardio to get your heart, muscles, and joints ready.

Also, you need to know how to do the exercises exactly right. If the intensity is too much, rest a little longer, but the way to gain the greatest benefit is to push yourself.

The exercises in the 7-Minute Workout are examples of the types of exercises you could do in any high-intensity circuit routine. So you can swap them out for other exercises that work the same muscles.

When you’re done, cool down for a few minutes to bring your heart rate and breathing slowly back down.

Is It Good for Me If I Have a Health Condition?

The 7-Minute Workout is challenging, and it will produce results. It’s science-based, so you can trust it will do what it’s supposed to.

But it’s not for everyone. You have to push yourself hard to get the most out of it, which means it could be tough if you have joint or back problems. Moves like jumping jacks, squats, and lunges can be hard on the knees. Push-ups can be stressful on your wrists and shoulders. Planks will be tough if your back muscles are weak.

If you have joint or back problems and are not already active, this is not the workout for you — at least not yet. You need a kinder, gentler program to get your muscles stronger to better support your joints.

Check with your doc or a trainer he recommends to find a program that’s right for you. Then, once you’re ready for the challenge and your doc says it’s OK, talk to a trainer about adapting the 7-Minute Workout for you.

If you’re working on losing weight, the 7-Minute Workout can help, along with a healthy diet. It’s an extreme, calorie-burning workout that will help shed the pounds and keep them off.

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or another condition that could benefit from dropping some extra weight, this routine could be what you’re looking for if your doctor agrees.

If you’re pregnant, you can exercise intensely if you did so before getting pregnant, but you would need to make some changes to this specific workout. The main concern during exercise is falling, so you don’t want to risk it by stepping up onto a chair. Plus, jumping jacks and high knees later in pregnancy could be painful. You can replace those exercises with others or find a workout program that doesn’t involve jumping and climbing.

The Smart and Healthy way to Lose Weight and Keep it Off


lose weight

Yo-Yo dieting, also known as weight cycling, is the cyclical dramatic loss and gain of weight in a short period of time. Of course, we’ve all been there; it usually goes something like this: a significant event is marked on the calendar. The pressure to look thin and fit is on. There is hardly any time to get in shape. For fear of looking and feeling fat, you start a crash diet. Sound familiar? With New Year Resolutions just around the corner, here’s how you can lose the weight and keep it off. For real this time.

Slow and Steady

Slow and Steady

Ultimately, we live in an instantaneous culture. So why shouldn’t we be able to lose weight fast too? Crash dieting may be tempting. Anyone who has tried a crash diet knows that they do work; even if the weight eventually comes back. However, new studies have proven to show that gaining back the weight and then some isn’t the only negative to crash dieting. The phrase, ‘slow and steady wins the race’ is more than just a line from a silly children’s book; it could potentially save your life.

Background

Yo-yo Diet

Recently, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which aimed to investigate the harmful, long-term effects yo-yo dieting had. The participants were made up of 9,509 men and women between the ages of 35 and 75. The individuals had all been diagnosed with coronary heart disease and high cholesterol. Each participant was prescribed different dosages of cholesterol medicine throughout the study.

The Study

blood tests

For five years, researchers tracked the weight fluctuations of the participants in the study. For six months, every six weeks, their weight was tracked and monitored for any variations. During this time, the weight changes were associated with increased cardiovascular problems. Obese participants were particularly prone to these increased cardiovascular issues. Unfortunately, the study was unable to determine why these people were losing and gaining weight. Were they intentionally losing weight? Unintentionally losing weight as a result of an illness? Though, what matters is that their findings proved dramatic weight fluctuations in a short period of time have adverse effects on long-term health.

Stroke

Yo-yo Diet

Crash diets or fad diets often come with absurd instructions on what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat. Moreover, many of these fad diets are loosely backed by cherry-picked scientific studies. A study conducted by the American Cancer Society looked at the link between rapid weight loss and gain and strokes. In their research, they found that participants who intentionally lost weight in a short period of time were more likely to die from stroke. The conclusion was based on the ensuing five years of the study. Individuals who already possess an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke should be mindful of the harmful, long-term effects of yo-yo dieting.

Diabetes

diabetes

 

Yo-yo diets increase the risk of diabetes, especially in those who are obese. The fluctuation in blood sugar levels creates insulin resistance in the body. Yo-Yo dieting has little effect on individuals with Type-1 diabetes. However, the study showed an increase in Type-2 diabetes diagnosis. The best way for those to avoid developing Type-2 diabetes is to avoid crash diets, fad diets, or any form of starvation. To lose weight, exercise daily, eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and drink plenty of water.

Heart Attack

Heart Attack

Weight loss or weight gain can be beneficial to your heart health. However, dramatic weight loss or weight gain in a short period of time can be harmful to your health. This is especially true for postmenopausal women.  Weight cycling results in damaging changes to your metabolism, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure levels. The changes in your blood pressure and cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart attack. Especially for those who are already at an increased risk for coronary artery disease. This disease hardens the arteries over time, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Women who are experiencing postmenopausal weight changes should choose a lifestyle change rather than a quick-fix diet.

 

As tempting as quick-fixes may seem, they’re only temporary solutions that result in negative, long-term effects. The fad diets and crash diets of your youth are just that–a fad. These types of weight loss plans are not a sustainable way to live. For one thing, crash diets leave you tired, lazy, and painfully hungry. Your body needs nourishment to run efficiently and effectively. For this reason, denying your body of nourishment is cruel, harmful, and potentially fatal. If you are overweight or obese, crash dieting can put you at a higher risk for disease and stroke. Anything worth the effort is worth the wait. Instead of viewing weight loss as a temporary solution, look at it as a permanent lifestyle change. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and non-processed foods can assist in healthy weight loss. A healthy diet should always be accompanied with daily exercise. Choose your health before you choose a trend.

Are you overlooking your greatest source of talent?


Few large companies have cultures of internal mobility that can help meet skill shortages, prepare the next generation of leaders, and fuel a virtuous talent cycle.

Leaders know that if you want strategic execution, you need the right people and teams. Without them, everything is in doubt. Yet finding the right people is an evergreen struggle—and harder still when unemployment in many countries is at record lows and the job market is booming for the most sought-after individuals. No wonder the task of recruiting, promoting, and retaining talent consumes so many C-suite conversations.1

Which raises the question: Why do so many organizations overlook their greatest source of talent—themselves? Large companies employ tens of thousands of people across geographies, industries, and functions. Yet it’s not unusual for recruiters to be completely unaware that the best candidate for a position may already work inside the organization. In fact, the culture at many companies actively discourages managers from “poaching” workers from other functions. Overcoming these hurdles effectively requires specific tactics and HR-based systems. But, more than that, it requires leaders to build and support a culture where people at all levels are encouraged to—and even expected to—look internally for personal growth and new challenges.

The business opportunity is clear-cut. First, you can avoid replacement and recruitment costs incurred when people leave. But even greater is the opportunity to reshape your employment brand and workplace culture. Many of today’s youngest workers are eager to build their careers rapidly and want to work for organizations that challenge them and promote them quickly. Internal mobility—how that happens—is not just a way to retain talent. It also helps to create a powerful magnet for people outside your organization who seek professional growth. The result? The talent market can see your organization as one that champions ambition and performance in everything it does. Think about what kind of talent you’ll attract and keep—whether inside or outside your organization.

Ways organizations get mobility wrong—and why it matters

For all the talk of robotics, artificial intelligence, and other advanced technologies, people are still needed to run organizations. And it’s getting harder to find them, despite the prevalence of social networks including Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and others. A strong global economy, healthy job market, and rising employee expectations mean there’s intense competition for talent—and the price for winning keeps going up (see “Why is finding top talent so difficult?” on page 51). Roughly one-half of all workers may be thinking about leaving their jobs,2 and easily can if they have the right capabilities and skills (see figure 1).3

But here’s the thing: What’s driving workers to leave organizations isn’t always just the promise of more money (though that inevitably plays a role). It’s also the opportunity to grow skills and build a career path. Surveys show that all workers—and especially millennials—expect the opportunity to rise within an organization.4 Without that, they’ll likely look elsewhere. And the reality is that workers will always want more than a job. Most want a career path, and the best ones can either find it from you or someone else.

Why it’s so hard to hire internally

This isn’t to suggest that many organizations don’t recognize the value of hiring from within. But knowing something and acting on it are two different things. Organizations often have in place structural hurdles to promoting and recruiting from within—or a culture that discourages it. For example, we’ve seen companies where recruiters go looking for the right people for an opening and find them through social media postings, only to discover they already work there in a different role. And while it’s hard to believe, there are organizations where recruiters are told they cannot reach out to the employees within the company about a different role.

This could require a simple mechanical fix—better internal job posting systems, for example. What’s often tougher to solve is when talent acquisition as a function isn’t included in the internal mobility conversation along with the career management and the learning and development functions or when an organization doesn’t do what’s necessary to prepare people for promotion. Creating a strong culture of internal mobility isn’t just about posting positions on an internal job site. It involves all leaders encouraging and supporting employees to develop the skills that prepare them for their next role, and creating a matching career plan. All too often, such efforts are largely absent: While a 2015 survey found 87 percent of employers agreed a strong internal mobility program would help their retention goals and attract better candidates, only 33 percent of respondents actually had such a program.5

Of course, even when these structures and programs are in place, many managers are loath to lose their stars. Yet the reality is that a culture of talent hoarding can lead to a culture of talent loss: When you block people from moving up within an organization, they often simply go elsewhere. This problem persists at all levels, and the risk of losing high-potential workers is acute with today’s youngest workers. In 2016, according to Deloitte’s millennial survey, slightly less than one-third of millennials believed their organization was making the most of their skills and experience6—a stunning failure to leverage talent given the relationship between workers, strategic execution, and financial performance. And in 2017, Deloitte found that 38 percent of millennials surveyed said they plan to leave their organization within the next two years.7

Connecting talent and strategy

At many low-performing organizations, talent and strategy are seen as separate channels. At many high-performing organizations, recruitment and retention and internal mobility are inextricably linked. These organizations expend meaningful effort and energy creating experiences and expectations for talent that encourage growth, learning, engagement, and communication. They spend far more time coaching and developing employees, creating cross-training and stretch assignment opportunities, and focus more on workplace values than on the kind of capabilities that can be claimed on a résumé. The goal isn’t merely to help an individual worker build a more certain career path. The goal is to give each worker a way to differentiate themselves as they move up within an organization—not all that different than an extended job performance review.

Organizations that excel at talent management and acquisition don’t seek out internal candidates merely to improve engagement and retention rates—although that’s usually a happy side effect, as on-the-job development opportunities such as lateral moves and stretch assignments can increase engagement by up to 30 percent.8 Rather, they are creating a relationship. These employers want to closely tie a worker’s long-term goals with the organization’s objectives and performance. As one progresses, so should the other.

A new approach to internal mobility

Transforming a culture to promote internal mobility should be seen as part of a larger, systemic approach to talent management. It begins with an awareness that one of the most effective ways to promote retention, career ambition, and internal mobility is to champion it at the highest levels and build it into the culture of the organization. But that takes a shift in mindset.

That can start by challenging the assumption that losing an employee, from a financial perspective, is a neutral event. It’s true that when employees leave, their salaries and benefits disappear from expenses and are reabsorbed into the bottom line, resulting in near-term savings. But those savings are quickly overwhelmed by other costs, both direct and indirect: for one, there’s the loss of productivity, institutional knowledge, and client relationships when an experienced employee leaves, not to mention the cost of recruiting and training a replacement. These costs do vary, based on industry, size of organization, and position. But we calculate that the departure of an average employee earning US$130,000 annually in salary and benefits results in a loss of US$109,676 based on lost productivity and the subsequent cost of recruiting and training a new hire. Consider the potential implications of such losses on an organization with 30,000 employees and a fairly typical 13 percent voluntary departure rate.9 The losses add up quickly—to more than US$400 million annually—and reducing voluntary turnover can have significant financial benefits.10

The cost may also extend beyond dollars. In an organization with heavy turnover, especially among high-potential performers, the impact on the company’s employment brand can be significant—and self-fulfilling. Call it the negative talent cycle: There’s no implied loyalty between employees and employers, so employers don’t want to invest in career planning and learning programs. Because there are no career planning and learning programs, employees don’t have the skills to be considered for promotion—and there’s no internal mobility. Because there’s no internal mobility, the very best employees keep leaving, hurting the organization’s brand in the career market. And the cycle begins again.

It’s always better to focus on the bottom-line costs associated with hiring externally rather than from within. It demands a risk-adjusted approach to hiring—what’s the risk of hiring someone you don’t know well as opposed to looking at talent within the organization you do know? It’s no different than what happens at a flea market. The seller always knows the goods better than anyone else—and if you’re a buyer, it’s caveat emptor.

The same is true with talent. Employers have the seller’s advantage, as nobody knows their talent better. If an external candidate and an internal candidate both apply for a leadership position, whose résumé and job record can you trust more? The internal candidate has a demonstrated work history, manager reviews, and a verifiable list of accomplishments, not to mention deep familiarity with your organization’s culture, expectations, and strategy. The external candidate is, by comparison, a closed book. Even the most rigorous talent acquisition process, extensive interviews, testing, and reference checks can’t give you the same level of confidence that they’re ready for the job you need to fill.

And the numbers support this. Organizations that promoted internally are 32 percent more likely to be satisfied with the quality of their new hires.11 That’s because it typically takes two years for the performance reviews of an external hire to reach the same level as those of an internal hire.12 Compared with internal hires in similar positions, external hires are 61 percent more likely to be laid off or fired in their first year of service and 21 percent more likely to leave.13

So how should organizations seek to transform their approach to internal mobility? We view it across three dimensions:

Creating a culture of internal mobility

Executives should fully grasp the close relationship between talent and organization wide performance—and then view talent as a capital asset critical to growth. Recognizing talent as a precondition for performance helps leaders look at all aspects of talent acquisition and management as an ongoing part of doing business, rather than just a necessary cost.

With that recognition, the investments necessary to an overall culture of talent development can lead inevitably to greater internal mobility. For example, active programs in career “storytelling” help champion those who have climbed the career ladder—a sure way to reward outstanding performers and draw attention to them. But such programs also demonstrate in real and practical ways how younger workers can achieve the same level of success, which is an essential part of building a culture of internal mobility. Giving workers the necessary opportunities to learn and stretch assignments is one critical step; giving them a narrative they can model their own careers on is another (and especially important, because it helps raise the sights of those who might not otherwise believe they can move forward in an organization). That’s why long-term investments are able to create a stronger pipeline of talent through improved employment brand, higher retention, and more successful recruitment.

Consider Farm Bureau Financial Services, where the talent process was once highly reactive; recruiters scrambled to find candidates when jobs came open. While a new approach was needed, the company’s talent acquisition team looked beyond merely setting up internal job boards to seek to foster a culture that encouraged employees to drive their career journeys through advancement opportunities.14 It pushed workers to reflect on their performance, image, and exposure throughout the organization with the goal of developing a professional brand to open internal doors of opportunity. The result has been a far richer talent pipeline of internal candidates.15 Another example is Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, where employees are encouraged to be lifelong learners and build career paths anchored by exploration and growth. Managers work with employees to explore ways to build capabilities and new experiences, and they are required to be familiar with career resources the company offers so they can promote those programs to employees. Mayo Clinic’s turnover rate is well below similar-sized organizations in health care, and it’s common for employees with 30-year tenures to have held multiple jobs.16

Gaining leadership support

Leaders should support a companywide goal of retention through internal mobility. Many of the highest-performing organizations explicitly set hiring targets for internal candidates and support those metrics by tying management compensation to making sure workers are building skills and gaining the kind of training that helps them merit promotion. Recruiters and hiring managers can work together to identify the qualities that will make for outstanding candidates for positions that are not yet open, so that capable or potentially capable candidates can be identified and prepared. In addition, recruiters and hiring managers should seek out the ambitions of employees and seek ways to satisfy those aspirations. The goal is a “pull-through” effect, where high-potential workers reach ever-higher levels within the organization, creating opportunities as well as examples for others to follow.

At Home Depot, which employs 400,000 people in stores across North America, leaders are squarely at the center of internal mobility efforts. The company encourages storytelling—leaders and managers describing their own career trajectories—to create models for more recent hires to emulate. It encourages associates to plan their careers, and to follow that path wherever it takes them inside the company, whether laterally or vertically. And, finally, leaders and managers are rated on their ability to fill talent pipelines with internal candidates so they participate on both the supply and demand sides.17

Reimagining human resources

The process for reshaping the HR function should be supported by a simple argument: You get more bang for your buck by recruiting and hiring internally. Though most companies spend only 6 percent of their recruitment budgets on internal candidates, these candidates fill 14 percent of job openings.18 It’s clearly an efficient way to find candidates, and bypasses other costs such as onboarding, company-specific training, and other upfront expenses associated with hiring from the outside.

There’s another demonstrated benefit: Organizations that are good at promoting from within are more likely to be effective at many other aspects of talent recruitment and retention. Three out of four of the leading talent acquisition teams, as measured by Bersin’s 2018 talent acquisition industry study, tap into internal talent pools, compared with roughly one in 10 low-performing teams. And these high-performing talent acquisition teams are five times more likely to offer a strategic approach to internal mobility.19

That strategic approach is reflected in a focus on worker experiences and building strong capabilities to deliver career journeys. This has multiple implications for internal mobility efforts. For example, in large, high-performing organizations, HR teams comprising learning and career management are increasingly working hand-in-hand with HR colleagues focused on talent acquisition.20 The idea is that those organizations focused on talent acquisition have a better understanding of the typical career journeys of high-potential, high-performing workers—and look for those qualities throughout the talent universe, both inside and outside the organization. For too long, talent acquisition has often been siloed and excluded from conversations around career management, promotion, and workplace culture, to the point where recruiters are often unaware that the best candidates for open positions are often already inside the organization. In high-performing HR organizations, talent acquisition sits at the center of those conversations so recruiters have a clear understanding of the kind of talent that can thrive, as well as the processes and technologies required to deliver it.

An effective transformation of HR’s approach to internal talent requires buy-in across the organization, especially in an age where teams are replacing hierarchies. Teams are a testing ground for potential leaders—in short-term assignments and focused projects, a team can be led by someone with very little management experience. This provides them a window into their own skills as a leader, and gives them a chance to shine. Managers and HR leaders should work together to use team-based structures to identify possible internal candidates for promotion and further growth opportunities. It’s not just about posting job openings and creating internal career mileposts. It’s about stretching workers’ imaginations, challenging them in real-life situations, and helping them see that they’re capable of more than they thought. This work doesn’t happen by itself, and HR will often have to take a leading role.

One global consumer goods company struggling with its employment brand set a new expectation that recruiters would have 48 hours to respond to internal applicants and 72 hours to conduct an initial screening—even if the applicant was not quite suited to the role. This simpler, streamlined process had an immediate impact, with employees feeling more connected and engaged with hiring teams and more likely to continue applying for posted roles. The organization’s initial target was to eventually fill 10 percent of all open positions with internal candidates, but within a year, it was sourcing 30 percent of hires from within.21

Now imagine a process that also turns a cold rejection for a role into a career conversation about how internal candidates can close identified skill gaps. This means that talent acquisition teams work hand in hand with career-management colleagues, which, in turn, need to work closely with their learning counterparts. The net result is all of HR working together to help make employees feel they are a valued part of the organization and don’t need to look externally in order to grow professionally and personally.

Taken together, acting across these dimensions can lay the foundation for a new kind of talent cycle. Instead of an absence of professional-growth programs leading to low retention leading to a damaged employment brand leading to poor recruitment, organizations can create a virtuous talent cycle: an employment brand defined by professional growth opportunities that attracts the very people who seek opportunities for promotion and growth—and who value it as much as, if not more than, what they’re paid. Inextricably linking culture, leadership, and HR can increase internal mobility and retention. But it takes specific efforts such as including the talent acquisition function, creating learning and skills programs, establishing career narrative-building, and investing in employee experience. The net result of these efforts can be an organization able to invest confidently in its own people. And just like buying back stock in its own growth story, the company knows exactly what it’s getting and why it’s confident in making the move.

Why is finding top talent becoming so difficult?

Positive technology


Designing work environments for digital well-being

Digital technology can be a blessing and a curse, both personally and in the workplace. How can organizations make sure the positives outweigh the negatives?

Introduction

A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.-Herbert Simon1

The transformative impact of technology on the modern workplace is plain to see. Face-to-face meetings have often given way to video conferences, mailrooms to email inboxes, and typewriters and carbon paper to word processors. Technology has also allowed a substantial portion of work—and the workforce—to move beyond the confines of a traditional office.2 It is common for digitally connected professionals to perform some of their work in cafés or shops, at home, even lying by the pool while on “vacation.”

This technological revolution brings with it many obvious benefits. Colleagues can easily communicate across geographies, simultaneously reducing expenses, environmental damage, and bodily wear-and-tear. Open source software, search engines, and online shopping services enable us to summon in a few clicks the tools and information we need to be productive. Online maps, global positioning systems, and real-time translation services help us navigate unfamiliar places and communicate with locals.

But there are downsides to our technology-infused lives. Of particular concern are the engaging—some fear addictive3—aspects of digital technologies, which can sap us of truly finite resources: our time and attention. While companies may benefit from tech-enabled increased productivity in the short term, the blurring of the line between work and life follows a law of diminishing returns. As recent Deloitte research suggests, the value derived from the always-on employee can be undermined by such negative factors as increased cognitive load and diminished employee performance and well-being.4

In short, digital and mobile technologies give—but they also take away. It falls on talent and technology leaders to weigh the efficiencies enabled by always-connected employees against increased demands on scarce time and attention, and longer-term harm to worker productivity, performance, and well-being. Getting the most from technology and people isn’t about simply demanding restraint. It’s about designing digital technologies that facilitate the cultivation of healthy habits of technology use, not addictive behavior. And it’s possible for leaders of organizations to play an active role in designing workplaces that encourage the adoption of healthy technology habits.

The perils of workplace digital technology

Working long, stressful days was once regarded as a characteristic of the proletariat life. Yet today, being “always on” is instead often emblematic of high social status5. Technology may have physically freed us from our desks, but it has also eliminated natural breaks which would ordinarily take place during the workday. And recent research suggests that this effect is not restricted to the workday. According to the American Psychological Association, 53 percent of Americans work over the weekend, 52 percent work outside designated work hours, and 54 percent work even when sick.6 Flextime, typically viewed as a benefit of technology providing greater freedom, actually leads to more work hours.7 Without tangible interventions, there’s little reason to think this behavior will change anytime soon.

These environmental factors and cultural norms are increasingly compounded by technological design elements—some intentional, others not—that make technology use compulsive and habit-forming, taking on the characteristics of an addiction.

In his recent book, Irresistible, New York University marketing and psychology professor Adam Alter identifies a variety of factors that can contribute to digital addiction.8 In the context of the workplace, many of these factors—summarized in the following section—can enable employee technology addiction.

Metrification and alerts

Digital technologies can quantify previously unquantifiable aspects of our lives, yielding fresh insight into how we spend our time. On a personal level, we can track our steps and count our likes, friends, and followers. At work, we are greeted each morning with dozens of unopened emails and reminders of sequences of meetings. During the day, workers are interrupted by continual streams of emails, texts, and instant messages.

Certainly, many such messages and notifications are necessary and helpful. But many others do little more than distract us from important tasks at hand, undermining productivity rather than enhancing it. In a widely cited study, cognitive scientist Gloria Mark and her colleagues state that people compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a two-fold price: The individual experiences more stress, frustration, and time pressure and effort.10 Concurrently, the organization often experiences not only decreased employee performance,11 but also, as elaborated in the next section, less optimal business decisions due to the lack of adequate time to sufficiently weigh pros and cons and consider and evaluate viable alternatives.

Specifically, constant streams of messages, prioritized in terms of importance can create cognitive scarcity, resulting in a deterioration of the individual’s ability to adequately process information.12 Recent research has found that conditions of scarcity impose a kind of “cognitive tax” on individuals. For example, an experiment that involved focusing low-income persons’ attention on a scenario in which they urgently needed to raise several thousand dollars resulted in the equivalent of a 13-point drop in IQ. (This is similar to the drop in IQ someone would experience after going a night without sleep.) Surprisingly, this phenomenon has similar effects on overloaded individuals who are scarce on a different dimension: time. This raises the concern that digital firehoses of poorly-filtered information can hamper our ability to pay attention, make good decisions, and stick to plans. And when we try to compensate for interruptions by working faster, we only get more frustrated and stressed.13

Another cognitive effect of too many alerts and too much unfiltered information is choice overload. Individuals experiencing choice overload often find it difficult to make decisions unless clear environmental cues or default options are established to help guide—nudge—their decision-making. 14 Such cues and defaults are examples of what the authors of the 2008 book, Nudge, call choice architecture.15 Absent smart choice architecture, workers often come up with their own rules for prioritizing options and tasks. Such improvised heuristics can vary over time and across individuals, and be inconsistent with roles and performance goals.16

Zero cost for inclusion

Virtual meetings offer organizations many advantages, such as cost savings, knowledge transfer, and team culture-building.17 And employees can benefit from less travel and more telecommuting opportunities. But the very ease with which people can be invited to and accept these meetings (especially many days in advance, when calendars are typically more open) can translate into a disadvantage. Meeting organizers often choose to err on the side of inclusion, minimizing the risk of leaving someone out; and the average worker often chooses to attend it for fear of missing out on something important. The all-too-common net result is a day packed with back-to-back meetings, during which much is said, less retained, and even less achieved. This results in either less time to complete actual tasks at hand, or multitasking, which can diminish the quality of the meetings and the overall engagement.

Bottomless bowls

Technology design that removes natural stopping points keeps the user in a state of productive inertia.18 This mind-set often plays a productive role in our work life, enabling us to get into the groove and accomplishing task after task without the inefficacy of acting to continue. Although, when we immerse ourselves in an inconsequential task, there can also be unproductive flows. Who hasn’t lost hours reading low-priority emails simply because they appear one after another? This is perhaps a workplace analog of the “bottomless design” implemented in social media feeds and online entertainment platforms to capture viewers’ attention. The natural default is to continue, not to stop.19

Smart screens and slot machines

Who can resist checking a buzzing mobile device? It could be an email congratulating a promotion or a team message about a testing success. Or it could be spam. Yet we’re compelled to check, and technology designers know that—which is why, drawing from the work of psychologist B. F. Skinner, they know altering the timing between rewards for particular tasks is highly effective—and often addictive. This variability of rewards, which Skinner called the “variable-ratio schedule,”20 has been put to ample use in technology design, embodied particularly in the swipe-down-to-refresh design of many mobile applications. In this sense, our devices are metaphorical slot machines, incentivizing us to continue coming back for the big payoff.21 To capitalize on this addictive quality of the element of surprise, many popular social media sites have changed their algorithms to no longer show feeds in chronological order. Instead, each refresh presents a new curation of a tailored feed—incorporating both old and new—with no apparent rhyme or reason for the new ordering.22

Unhealthy use of workplace technology can do more than compromise productivity—it can impair workers’ physical and mental well-being. A few examples establish the point.

Poor sleep: Addiction to technology and the always-on work culture are contributing to a societal dearth of sleep.23 The wakefulness that accompanies engaging in work means we’re less tired during the day, while exposure to blue screen light emitted by mobile devices simultaneously reduces the melatonin required for good sleep. This self-reinforcing loop makes the seven- to nine-hour sleep cycle, considered necessary to avoid a catalogue of negative health outcomes, more difficult to maintain.24

Physical disconnection: Technology is having an even more profound negative effect on social well-being. While it can enable us to engage in relationships across distances and time zones, this sometimes comes at the expense of good old-fashioned face-to-face relationships.25 With devices always demanding our attention, family and friends are often neglected—altering our entire social structure.26 And our connection to social media too can become strong enough to mimic the rewarding sensation caused by cocaine.27

Anxiety and depression: Information overload is not only distracting, but potentially mentally damaging. We live with a finite amount of time and a limitless well of information and choices, often resulting in a phenomenon called FOMO—fear of missing out. With phones and computers constantly alerting us of all the opportunities available, becoming double-booked is not infrequent and can lead to anxiety when the user needs to skip one meeting in favor of another. Viewing others’ social profiles can also affect our mood.28 We see sites filled with users only emphasizing the positives,29 showcasing glamorous vacation and social photos, or news of promotions and other triumphs. Perhaps it’s no wonder we can begin to question whether our lives pale by comparison.

What employers can do

Skeptics of technology addiction often respond: “Just put the phone down.” Yet willpower is not enough. Technology is designed to psychologically stimulate the reward centers of our brain to keep us coming back for more, mimicking the effects of a physical drug addiction.30 Rectifying this will ultimately require that developers and technologists adopt the human-centered approach of designing technologies and work environments that help users overcome—rather than be overcome by—natural human limitations.31

Fortunately, the growing ubiquity of digital technology is matched by the growing prominence of the cognitive and behavioral sciences, accompanied by a burgeoning collection of practical tools for prompting healthy behavior change. Especially significant is the emergence of the field of behavioral science or when applied, behavioral “nudges.” This core insight finds that relatively modest evidence-based environmental tweaks can lead to outsized changes in behaviors and positive outcomes.32 (See the sidebar, “Behavioral science and design application ethics.”) Take one example: placing less nutritious foods in a cafeteria out of direct sight or easy reach. Doing so doesn’t eliminate any options; individuals are still free to choose whatever they want. But the thoughtful placement prompts more nutritious choices and less “mindless eating.”33 Analogous sorts of behavioral design can be applied to our technology-mediated work environments when employers choose both better technologies that have been designed with user well-being in mind, and better workplace environments, social norms, and expectations to positively influence how we use our devices.

Better technology

Track, analyze, and change usage patterns

All of us are now effectively part of the Internet of Things: We leave behind “digital breadcrumbs” as we go about our digitally mediated lives.35 In particular, this happens on the job: Email and calendar metadata are a rich, largely untapped data source, and it is now technologically feasible to collect “affective computing” data from cheap electronic devices that capture data about tone of voice, facial expression, and even how much we sweat during states of stress or excitement.

It is obviously crucial to avoid using such data in invasive, “big brother” ways.36 Still, it is worthwhile to consider using such data to help individuals better understand and regulate their use of technology.37 For instance, smart meters can display individuals’ application usage patterns, highlighting areas of concern. There is already software which is available to monitor application usage and time spent on various websites; at the enterprise level, other solutions exist that can track the time that an employee spends on each application, creating reports that include comparisons to other employees. Such comparison metrics can help workers truly understand how their efforts compare to those of their colleagues, and, when delivered with the appropriately framed message, convey messages about work-hour social norms in an effort to guide decisions and also discourage “always on behavior.” Such data could also be used to tailor peer comparison messages designed to nudge healthier technology use. Such social proof-based messaging has proven effective in applications ranging from curbing energy use to prompting more timely tax payments.38 For instance, an employee working more than 50 hours a week could be sent a notification informing her that she has been working more than her coworkers, who average around 45 hours of work a week. This nudge could be enough to break her free from the perceived social norm that everyone works a 60-hour week or prompt her to begin a workload conversation with her manager.39

Use AI to promote healthier behavior

Artificial intelligence (AI) can also help us better mediate our interaction with technology, performing tedious “spadework,” to free us to focus on higher-level tasks. In particular, AI can be harnessed to help us manage our digital work environments. For example, some email systems now use AI to sort emails into categories, making urgent emails easier to locate and only pushing primary emails to a user’s phone.40 Google has also worked with behavioral economist Dan Ariely to build AI into its calendar application, which can automatically schedule “appointments” for performing tasks that are important but tend to get crowded out by concrete tasks that are urgent in the short term. “Email shows up and says, ‘Answer me,’” Ariely says. Unfortunately, time for thinking does not do that.”41

At the next level, emerging examples include a chatbot that can help cut down technology-related negative behaviors. For instance, its software features a smart filter that can prevent certain applications, such as a social media feed, from refreshing.42 It is possible that AI products can be designed to ameliorate other forms of stress and anxiety on the job. Another AI-enabled chatbot, designed by a team of Stanford University psychologists and computer scientists, can perform Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is often employed as an intervention technique to help individuals identify the factors driving negative thoughts and behaviors and subsequently identify and encourage positive alternative behaviors.43 This technique was covered in recent Deloitte research,44 and has been found to be a solid intervention for improving emotional well-being.45

Encourage productive flows

Employers can build into their email and internal systems mechanisms that incorporate stopping points into applications, nudging users to decide whether to continue an activity. Reminders have proven to be an effective nudge strategy in various contexts.46 Drawing from the consumer realm, some developers have begun to incorporate new nudging features. When a customer begins to excessively use another commonly scarce resource, data, many phones will notify the user that they are about to exceed their data limit. These alerts can nudge a user to break free from the flow of data usage and reassess their continued use. Transferring this concept to the work environment could, for instance, take the form of employers nudging employees to disconnect from emails while on vacation or outside of work hours.

Technology can likewise be used to maintain positive states of flow, and also as a commitment device to nudge us toward better behaviors.47 For example, the “Flowlight” is a kind of “traffic light” designed to signal to coworkers that a knowledge worker is currently “in the zone,” and should not be disturbed. The Flowlight is based on keyboard and mouse usage as well as the user’s instant message status.48 Likewise Thrive Global has a new app that, when you put it in “thrive” mode, responds to senders that you are thriving and will reply later.49

Better environments

The aforementioned ideas exemplify various forms of human-centered design applied to workplace technologies. However, as also alluded to, human-centered design can also be applied to work environments. Indeed, nudging can be viewed as human-centered design applied to choice environments.50 Providing information and establishing policies, restrictions, and guidelines are “classical economics”-inspired levers for effecting behavioral change. Smart defaults, commitment devices, social norms, and peer comparisons are examples of “soft touch” choice architecture tools that can be employed to design work environments that are conducive to more productive uses of technology (see figure 1).

Technology and social pressure

Employer policies and cultural norms can mitigate the always-on culture. For example, both policies and organizational cultures can be tuned to discourage employees from communicating with each other via email outside of work hours. This can be complemented with technological default mechanisms that make it logistically harder or impossible to send emails or set up meetings during off hours.

A less heavy-handed but potentially equally powerful persuasive technique is subtly employing the power of peer pressure via social proof. Social proof is premised on the social psychology finding that individuals often use the behavior of others to guide their own actions.51 Social proof has proven effective in a variety of settings ranging from encouraging people to reuse their hotel towels52 to getting them to pay their taxes on time.53 With this in mind, companies could inform employees that sending emails to colleagues during off hours is not the norm and not encouraged. Going one step further, one leading multinational auto corporation uses a hybrid of technology-enabled processes and cultural norms, allowing employees the option of automatically deleting all emails received during vacation, notifying the sender that the message was not received.54 If this seems too radical, another option is offering a day-long vacation extension, allowing employees who have been off for multiple successive days to ease back into work by catching up on email and other non-collaborative tasks. Another simple bit of choice architecture can lighten the load of numerous back-to-back meetings: Setting the default meeting durations to 25 minutes rather than 30 automatically builds in rest periods.

Commitment devices and social support

Research shows that if someone publicly commits to specific steps to achieve a goal, they are more likely to follow through.55 Commitment devices such as pledges are premised on this finding. For example, Johns Hopkins University has created a well-being pledge for its employees. Interested workers are offered a plethora of opportunities and strategies to help increase work-life fit over the course of 30 or 90 days. Once they sign up, they begin to make life changes with the support of their employer. So far, the organization has found this approach successful.56 In addition to the automatic-reply devices we mentioned earlier, another activity that could incorporate a pre-commitment pledge is a “digital detox,” something Deloitte itself employs. This is a seven-day program that involves making small technology-related changes each day.

Regardless of the specific policy or choice architecture intervention, the overarching aim is to rewire the workplace in ways that improve the employee-technology relationship. To be successful, there must be a push from the top down: It is one thing to create a new policy, but quite another for an organization’s leaders to openly display their commitment to it, and communicate its resulting benefits.

A matter of habit

Improving our relationship with technology—both on the job and off—is less a matter of continual exercise of willpower than designing digital technologies and environments to reflect the realities of human psychology. Poorly (or perversely) designed technologies can hijack our attention and lead to technology addiction. But design can also facilitate the cultivation of healthy habits of technology use. Many of our automatic, repeated behaviors are cued by environmental factors.57 People who successfully cultivate positive habits do so less through continual exercises of willpower than by taking the time to redesign their environments in ways that make positive behaviors more effortless and automatic.

Metaphorically, it pays to reimagine and reshape our environments in ways that make healthy habits a downhill rather than an uphill climb. In the workplace, individual employees can play a role in cocreating positive technological environments. But, ultimately, leaders of organizations should play an active role in spearheading such design efforts and taking an evidence-based approach to learning what works, and continually improving on it.

World’s Simplest Animal Reveals Hidden Diversity


The first animal genus defined purely by genetic characters represents a new era for the sorting and naming of animal.

World's Simplest Animal Reveals Hidden Diversity
Two individuals from two different genera of the phylum Placozoa: Trichoplax adhaerens (left) and Hoilungia hongkongensis (right). The gross morphology and the internal structure are indistinguishable, and only genetics can tell them apart.

The world’s simplest known animal is so poorly understood that it doesn’t even have a common name. Formally called Trichoplax adhaerens for the way it adheres to glassware, the amorphous blob isn’t much to look at. At just a few millimeters across, the creature resembles a squashed sandwich in which the top layer protects, the bottom layer crawls, and the slimy stuffing sticks it all together. With no organs and just a handful of cell types, the most interesting thing about T. adhaerens might just be how stunningly boring it is.

“I was fascinated when I first heard about this thing because it has no real defined body,” said Michael Eitel, an evolutionary biologist at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany. “There’s no mouth, there’s no back, no nerve cells, nothing.”

But after spending four years painstakingly reconstructing the blob’s genome, Eitel might know more about the organism than anyone else on the planet. In particular, he has looked closely enough at its genetic code to learn what visual inspections failed to reveal. The variety of creature that biologists have long called T. adhaerens is really at least two, and perhaps as many as a dozen, anatomically identical but genetically distinct “cryptic species” of animals. The discovery sets a precedent for taxonomy, the science of naming organisms, as the first time a new animal genus has been defined not by appearance, but by pure genetics.

The modern taxonomic system, little changed since Carl Linnaeus laid it out in the 1750s, attempts to chop the sprawling tree of life into seven tidy levels that grant every species a unique label. The two-part scientific name (such as Homo sapiens) represents the tail end of a branching path through this tree, starting from the thickest limbs, the kingdoms, and ending at the finest twigs, the genus (Homo) and then the species (sapiens). The path tells you everything there is to know about the organism’s relationship to other groups of creatures, at least in theory.

Ever since its discovery in the late 1800s, T. adhaerenshas been recognized as having a highly unusual body plan, and it has formally had the phylum of Placozoa (“flat animals”) to itself for almost half a century. Just one level more specific than kingdom, a phylum is a cavernous space to occupy alone: Our phylum, Chordata, overflows with more than 65,000 living species ranging from peacocks to whales to eels. Biologists have long suspected that Placozoa hid more diversity, and mitochondrial evidence strengthened that suspicion in 2004, when researchers found that short sequences from different individuals looked about as different as those of organisms from different families (one level more general than genus).

But that observation about the two Placozoa didn’t meet the accepted international standards for putting them in new taxonomic categories, which have historically been based on animals’ forms. “At the time we had just uncovered the genetic differences,” said Allen G. Collins, a co-author of the 2004 paper and a zoologist at the National Systematics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Looking at the animals we had collected, it wasn’t discernible how they might differ morphologically.”

To finish what Collins started, Eitel and his colleagues decided to abandon the visual approach and search for defining characteristics in the placozoan genome itself.

They began by mapping out the phylum’s genetic territory with the same easy-to-sequence mitochondrial DNA Collins had used. By comparing data from this molecule, known as 16S, Eitel concluded that a particular variety of Placozoa from Hong Kong was the most distant relative of the standard strain, the genome of which had already been fully sequenced in 2008. If any group would qualify as a different species, this was the one.

He next needed to read, order and interpret the 80-odd million A, G, C and T nucleotide bases that make up the Hong Kong variant’s genome. Growing a few thousand placozoans, blending them to extract their nuclear DNA and converting the snippets of their genome into a digital format took a few weeks, but the hard work of shuffling those pieces into the right order and figuring out what each section does took four years of fiddling around with computer programs. When the team finally had a full genome ready for comparison, the payoff turned out to be worth the wait. “We expected to find differences, but when I first saw the results of our analyses, I was really overwhelmed,” Eitel said.

A quarter of the genes were in the wrong spot or written backward. Instructions for similar proteins were spelled nearly 30 percent differently on average, and in some cases as much as 80 percent. The Hong Kong variety was missing 4 percent of its distant cousin’s genes and had its own share of genes unique to itself. Overall, the Hong Kong placozoan genome was about as different from that of T. adhaerens as human DNA is from mouse DNA. “It was really striking,” Eitel said. “They look the same, and we look completely different from mice.”

So where do all those genetic changes manifest, if not in the animals’ flabby appearance?

“Even though the placozoan itself looks like a little ball of glue, it probably has cells that are doing some pretty sophisticated things,” said Holly Bik, a marine biologist at the University of California, Riverside, who studies tiny marine roundworms known as nematodes, which can also be cryptic. The Hong Kong Placozoa came from a brackish mangrove stream where large swings in temperature and salinity demand flexible body chemistry. “Physiologically, for organisms, that’s a pretty big thing to have to deal with. At the molecular level you need specific adaptations,” said Bik, who was not involved in the research.

By comparing the Placozoa variation with the average genetic differences between groups in other phyla, the German team concluded that the Hong Kong Placozoa qualified as not only a new species, but also a new genus. It might even have qualified as a new family or order in other areas of the animal tree, but to err on the conservative side, the team based their standard of genus variation on jellyfish, a genetically diverse phylum with relatively tidy divisions between levels.

All that remained was the naming. Taxonomic codes demand identifying characteristics, but don’t specify whether they should be visual or genetic, so the team picked out four genetic letters in the 16S mitochondrial genome that could uniquely differentiate the two lineages. Then, endorsed by peer review and PLOS Biology in late July, their work placed a new organism on our map of life.

The team gave their specimen the genus name Hoilungia, for a shapeshifting dragon king from Chinese mythology, and they named the species hongkongensis, for where it was collected. Similar genome-based classifications are common in the protist and bacterial worlds, and a relative handful of cryptic animal species have been named based on genetics. Namings (and renamings) that blend morphological characters with genetic ones, which recently re-classified a common houseplant, are also growing more common. But this was the first time genetic characters alone, unsupported by features like beak size or fin number, had been used to define an animal genus. “These people did the whole thing from the sexy molecular biology all the way to the proper naming,” said Susanne Renner, a botanist at the Ludwig Maximilian University. “It’s just great.”

The researchers hope their work will make it easier for future genetic character–based naming, which is less subject to biases from attention-grabbing visual features like antlers and fins that may not accurately reflect evolutionary distance between groups. “Someone had to be the first one to fight for the right to define new general species based on genomics, and we luckily got it published,” Eitel said.

Renner says this work is the latest step in an ongoing shift toward genetic taxonomy. “It took a long time to take off and now it’s taking off,” she said. She points out that in contrast with the pages of text that can go into a formal description of a species, specifying an organism with just four letters as the German team has done lends itself to snappy efficiency. “Linnaeus would be happy to do it. He was envisioning very brief and sharp diagnoses.”

As precise as genetic classification can be however, it will likely complement traditional ways of telling animals apart, not replace them. Observing visual features doesn’t require years of a lab’s time. Even for other cryptic animals like nematodes, which can’t be raised in captivity, genetic techniques may find limited use. “For me, working with a single nematode worm, there’s never going to be enough DNA isolated from an individual to use some of these technologies,” Bik said.

But for cryptic animals that researchers can cultivate, genetic sequencing may be the perfect spotlight for illuminating the shaded parts of their evolutionary tree. Eitel said he learned a lot from the process of analyzing the H. hongkongensis genome and predicts that sequencing the next variant—a project already underway—will take months, not years. “There will probably be dozens of new species popping up in the future,” he said. “And more to come, because we’re constantly sampling.”

6 Essential Weight Lifting Moves for Beginners


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When you are new to strength training, the weight room can feel really intimidating. Whether you’re completely baffled about which weights to use for which exercises, or confused about how to contort your body to fit into a machine, there’s a lot of unknowns to figure out. As a certified personal trainer, I’ve noticed that for many women, those unknowns are enough to send them running right back to their favorite indoor cycling class and give up on lifting weights altogether.

Many women that I work with express that they feel this overwhelming sense of self-doubt and fear about weightlifting—that all eyes are on them or that they are not in good enough shape to work out among people who clearly frequent this area of the gym. This gymtimidation can be very real, but letting it get the best of you means you’ll miss out on all the benefits weightlifting has to offer.

Building muscle will not only make you stronger, but it also helps boost confidence and self-esteem as you see what your own body is capable of achieving. Shifting your focus from the weight on the scale to the weights you hold in your hands is empowering. Not to mention, strength training also keeps your bones strong, and research suggests it can have other health benefits like helping to reduce anxiety and improve heart health. You’d be doing yourself a real disservice by letting fear stop you from cashing in on all the benefits.

The best approach to weight lifting as a beginner is to start with a combination of functional exercises that mimic movements you use in everyday life and compound lifts, which are exercises that engage multiple large muscle groups at once. Most functional exercises fall within one of the following movement categories: squat, push, pull, hip hinge, and hip extension. Learning these movement patterns is key for establishing a foundation on which you can build more complex exercises. The exercises I’ve outlined below (and demo in this video on my Instagram) are great for beginners, because they get you moving according in these functional ways. Mastering them will help you get comfortable with lifting and prepare you to progress safely as you get stronger.

When you’re just starting, choose a weight you can lift 10 to 12 times for 2 to 3 sets. This is generally 5 to 15 pounds, depending on the muscle group (you will probably be able to use a heavier weight for your lower body versus upper). As a beginner, you will quickly outgrow these weights, and will know it’s time to move up when the last 2 to 3 repetitions feel easy to lift.

If you’ve never done bodyweight versions of the Goblet Squat, Romanian Deadlift, and Glute Bridge, start by mastering each movement first without weights. Using just your bodyweight will help you establish proper technique and form—reducing your risk of injury—before you add weights into the mix. I recommend practicing these movements two to three times within a week to feel comfortable enough to pick up a pair of dumbbells.

Here are six essential weightlifting moves that beginners should do:

Goblet Squats

1

Goblet Squats

  • Hold a weight at your chest in both hands, elbows close to your body, and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees and drop your butt back and down to lower into a squat. Keep your chest high and core tight.
  • Push your knees out and make sure to keep the weight in your heels.
  • Push through your heels to stand back up, and squeeze your glutes at the top. That’s 1 rep.

Savanna Ruedy

2

Shoulder Presses

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, or kneel with your back straight and core tight (as pictured above). Hold a pair of dumbbells and start with you arms raised to shoulder-height, elbows bent so the weights are in the air. Rotate your wrists so your palms are facing forward.
  • Press the dumbbells overhead. Keep your elbows facing forward during the press.
  • Pause at the top once your arms are fully extended. Then, slowly return the weights to starting position. That’s 1 rep.

Savanna Ruedy

3

Basic Stiff-Leg Deadlifts

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Hinge at your hips and bend your knees slightly as you lower your body. Think about pushing your butt back.
  • Hold the dumbbells close to your legs as you descend. Pull back on your shoulder blades and do not let your back arch.
  • Keeping your core tight, push through your heels to stand up straight. Keep the weights close to your shins as you pull.
  • Pause at the top and squeeze your butt to complete 1 rep.

Savanna Ruedy

4

Bent-Over Rows

  • Hold a dumbbell on one hand. Step the opposite leg forward so that you’re standing in a staggered stance. Hinge forward at the hips so your torso is angled toward the floor and your back is flat.
  • Keeping your body in this position, lift the dumbbell up to chest level, keeping your elbow close to your side.
  • In a controlled motion, lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.

Savanna Ruedy

5

Chest Presses

  • Lie on your back on the floor or on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Rotate your wrists forward so that the palms of your hands are facing away from you.
  • Hold the dumbbells at the sides of your chest, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Press the dumbbells up and together. Think about using your chest muscles to initiate the movement.
  • Bring your arms back down to starting position. That’s 1 rep.

Savanna Ruedy

6

Glute Bridges

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and dumbbells resting on your hips. Your feet should be about hip-distance apart with your heels a few inches away from your butt.
  • Push through your heels to lift your hips up while squeezing your glutes. Try to create one diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees.
  • Pause for 1 to 2 seconds, then slowly lower back down to the ground. That’s 1 rep.

Cassie Lynn Lambert is a NASM-certified trainer and army veteran based in Fort Irwin, California. She offers virtual personal and group training programs on her site, CassieLynnLambert.com.

Model Selena Watkins is wearing MPG Sport Elliptical 2.0 Medium Support Bra, $48, mpgsport.com; Under Armour HeatGear Color Blocked Printed Ankle leggings, $55, underarmour.com; New Balance Fresh Foam Arishi sneakers, $70, newbalance.com.

Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting.


Step into any college lecture hall and you are likely to find a sea of students typing away at open, glowing laptops as the professor speaks. But you won’t see that when I’m teaching.

Though I make a few exceptions, I generally ban electronics, including laptops, in my classes and research seminars.

That may seem extreme. After all, with laptops, students can, in some ways, absorb more from lectures than they can with just paper and pen. They can download course readings, look up unfamiliar concepts on the fly and create an accurate, well-organized record of the lecture material. All of that is good.

But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.

Measuring the effect of laptops on learning is tough. One problem is that students don’t all use laptops the same way. It might be that dedicated students, who tend to earn high grades, use them more frequently in classes. It might be that the most distracted students turn to their laptops whenever they are bored. In any case, a simple comparison of performance may confuse the effect of laptops with the characteristics of the students who choose to use them. Researchers call this “selection bias.”

Researchers can solve that problem by randomly assigning some students to use laptops. With that approach, the students who use laptops are comparable in all other ways to those who don’t.

In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture. Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.

The researchers hypothesized that, because students can type faster than they can write, the lecturer’s words flowed right to the students’ typing fingers without stopping in their brains for substantive processing. Students writing by hand had to process and condense the spoken material simply to enable their pens to keep up with the lecture. Indeed, the notes of the laptop users more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries. The handwritten versions were more succinct but included the salient issues discussed in the lecture.

Even so, it may seem heavy-handed to ban electronics in the classroom. Most college students are legal adults who can serve in the armed forces, vote and own property. Why shouldn’t they decide themselves whether to use a laptop?

The strongest argument against allowing that choice is that one student’s use of a laptop harms the learning of students around them. In a series of lab experiments, researchers at York University and McMaster University in Canada tested the effect of laptops on students who weren’t using them. Some students were told to perform small tasks on their laptops unrelated to the lecture, like looking up movie times. As expected, these students retained less of the lecture material. But what is really interesting is that the learning of students seated near the laptop users was also negatively affected.

The economic term for such a spillover is a “negative externality,” which occurs when one person’s consumption harms the well-being of others. The classic negative externality is pollution: A factory burning coal or a car using gasoline can harm the air and environment for those around it. A laptop can sometimes be a form of visual pollution: Those nearby see its screen, and their attention is pulled toward its enticements, which often include not just note-taking but Facebook, Twitter, email and news.

These experiments go only so far. They may not capture positive effects of laptops in real classrooms over the course of a semester, when students use their typed notes for review and grades are at stake. But another study did just that.

At the United States Military Academy, a team of professors studied laptop use in an introductory economics class. The course was taught in small sections, which the researchers randomly assigned to one of three conditions: electronics allowed, electronics banned and tablets allowed but only if laid flat on desks, where professors could monitor their use. By the end of the semester, students in the classrooms with laptops or tablets had performed substantially worse than those in the sections where electronics were banned.

You might question whether the experience of military cadets learning economics is relevant to students in other settings — say, community college students learning Shakespeare. But we’d expect the negative effects of laptops to be, if anything, less at West Point, where all courses are taught in small sections, than it is at institutions with many large lectures. Further, cadets have very strong incentives to perform well and avoid distractions, since class rank has a major impact on their job status after graduation.

The best way to settle this question is probably to study laptop use in more colleges. But until then, I find the evidence sufficiently compelling that I’ve made my decision: I ban electronics in my own classes.

I do make one major exception. Students with learning disabilities may use electronics in order to participate in class. This does reveal that any student using electronics has a learning disability. That is a loss of privacy for those students, which also occurs when they are given more time to complete a test. Those negatives must be weighed against the learning losses of other students when laptops are used in class.

Students may object that a laptop ban prevents them from storing notes on their computers. But smartphones can snap pictures of handwritten pages and convert them to an electronic format. Even better, outside class, students can read their own handwritten notes and type them, if they like, a process that enhances learning.

The best evidence available now suggests that students should avoid laptops during lectures and just pick up their pens. It’s not a leap to think that the same holds for middle and high school classrooms, as well as for workplace meetings.

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