How To Stay Focused And Get To Work

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For leaders navigating unpredictable times, one attribute is critical to thinking strategically: focus.

Disrupted routines are partly responsible for derailed attention spans, but biology is also part of the cause.

When your brain detects imminent danger, the prefrontal cortex—the area responsible for critical thinking, impulse control, and focus—gives way to more primitive functions that protect you in the present moment. The pandemic is an ongoing threat, but most of us are not in immediate danger. Yet this often-chaotic situation demands clarity. To keep a business afloat or plan for an ever-changing future, you need to think strategically—not frantically.

The good news? Strategic thinking is a practice. Even as the world shifts below our feet, we can cultivate the ability to generate new ideas and make ingenious, unexpected connections. Here are three ways to focus on the big picture.

Make Time to Reflect

Jumping from task to task inhibits your ability to process new information. Your mind needs time to let ideas sink in. “Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle, and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning,” leadership consultant Jennifer Porter writes for Harvard Business Review. “This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.”

If you’re struggling to pull back from day-to-day details, block off an hour in your calendar. Treat it as a non-negotiable appointment. Minimize distractions and ask yourself questions such as “What will success look like 2, 5, or 10 years from now?” In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, shorter time frames might also be appropriate. Think 6-8 weeks or even six months into the future and ask about your company, “How do our current projects contribute to our mission?”

Strategic thinking is essential, but it’s not always comfortable. You might have creative breakthroughs and feel inspired to blaze ahead. You might also feel vulnerable, scared, irritated, or even bored. Take a deep breath, sit with those feelings, and persevere.

In my experience, there’s always something valuable on the other side of discomfort.

Aim to Embrace Change

The pandemic has already been devastating for millions of people worldwide. From job loss to human loss, there’s no sugarcoating this crisis. At the same time, there are always glimmers of hope in difficult moments. Consider how you can adapt to the economic, cultural, and social changes of the past several months—even if they’re shifts you didn’t welcome.

For example, can you develop an offering that blends digital and in-person delivery? Could a physical product evolve into a virtual service? As an employee, how can you add more value? And most importantly, how can you help others adapt to our new realities?

Broaden Your Perspective

Travel is always one of the best ways to cultivate fresh ideas, whether you’re attending a conference or seeing the world. Most trips aren’t in the cards for a while, but you can still connect with people who challenge and engage you. Set up a brainstorming session with a friend or colleague. Read about topics outside your normal range of interests.

If you have the time, take an online class or view live presentations. You’ve probably watched some great TED Talks, but I also recommend Creative Mornings, the breakfast speaker series that launched in New York and spread around the globe. These newly virtual talks put the world at your fingertips. Tune in for live presentations from Barcelona to Baltimore or choose from almost 9,000 archived videos.

You can also explore strategic relationships. Many top companies collaborate with employees, customers, and other organizations to expand their thinking. For example, Nike and Apple teamed up to create Nike+, while Barnes & Noble bookstores invited Starbucks to create in-house coffee shops. “Partnerships are transactional. Strategic relationships are transformational,” says David Nour, author of Co-Create: How Your Business Will Profit From Innovative and Strategic Collaboration.

In other words, with a wider range of viewpoints, you can create something completely above and beyond your individual efforts.

Portions of this article originally appeared on the Fast Company website.

 

The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

 

Fourth of July: Then and Now

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The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

 

 

How Downtime and Speed Affects Your Website

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The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

How To Get More Time Out Of Your Day

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“I never feel like I have enough time. It’s the end of the day and I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything I set out to. I feel like there’s too much to do that I can’t focus on anything!”

If you’ve ever felt something similar to these sentiments, then you’re most likely drowning in what’s called time debt.

Every task on your to-do list, unread email, meeting request, project update, and goal requires time to complete.

But more than just that initial expense, the actions and choices you make today have a compounding impact on how much time you have in the future.

The more time debt you take on from overcommitting yourself, inefficient processes, and wasting time, the less time you’ll have in the future. Eventually, you take on so much time debt that every hour of your day is spoken for before you even start!

But you don’t have to go into debt with your time. With a few tweaks to how you approach your daily work, you can start building “time assets” that free your future up.

So how do you make sure you’re building more time assets than debts?

Before we dive in, did you know that 92% of people regularly work in the evenings and on weekends?

Your bank account has a finite amount of money in it. However, if you have a credit card, you can access more money with the understanding that you’ll have to pay it back (with interest) in the future. In other words: You’re making a choice to get something now knowing you’ll pay more for it in the future.

But debt doesn’t just relate to dollars and cents. In software development, there’s a term called “technical debt.” Technical debt is accrued when you quickly build features to keep up with demand even though you know it will need to be reworked later. Again, you’re making a choice to build something now knowing you’ll pay more (in time and resources) later.

The problem is that debt in any form is easy to take on but hard to pay back.

Continue to rack up credit card expenses and you’ll end up with a bill that would make Warren Buffett blush. Or keep cranking out patchwork feature updates and you’ll end up with a codebase so convoluted that it could bring your entire company crashing down.

The same goes for your time.

We all know that our daily time is finite. Yet few of us treat it that way. When we analyzed 185 million hours of data, we found that workers average just two hours and 48 minutes of productive time a day.

Instead of prioritizing, delegating, saying no, and being smart with our time, we obsessively say yes, overcommit on our daily tasks, and work longer hours to catch up. When we interviewed 800+ knowledge workers, only 5% of people said they complete their tasks every day. Instead, those unfinished tasks get pushed to tomorrow’s list and the next day until suddenly your day is fully booked before you can even take on your most important work.

As freelance writer Sierra Black explains, “Pretty soon, I needed to start repaying some of that borrowed time. . .. I ran into the same problems I’m familiar with from money-based debt: I owed more than I could pay.”

Time Debt Comes With Its Own Form of Interest

Just like you have to repay money you borrow from a bank (with interest), there comes a time when you have to pay back the time debt you’ve accrued. Unfortunately, just like monetary debt, time debt also comes with interest that makes it harder to pay back.

Time debt takes its interest in focus and attention. The more time you’ve loaned out to other tasks, the more those tasks weigh on your mind and steal your attention. For example, it’s much harder to focus on an upcoming deadline when you have tons of overdue tasks hanging over you.

One study found that people spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing.

Not only does this splitting of your attention make you unhappy, but trying to multitask or context-switch eats at your productivity. In fact, every additional task you try to take on or even think about takes away 20% of your productive time.

On the other hand, time assets are tools, choices, and workflows that give you time in the future.

Balance Your Time Budget

Here’s the good news: Getting out of time debt isn’t difficult, but it does (ironically) take time. You get out of time debt by spending wisely and building better habits.

  1. Start tracking where your time is going

If you want to save money, you track what you buy. If you want to get out of time debt, you need to track where your time currently goes.

Time debt accrues when you’re unaware that you’re committing more time than you have or you’re not using the time you have wisely. So, it only makes sense that to turn that trend around you need a deep understanding of where your time is actually going.

RescueTime’s free time-tracking tool automatically observes how you spend your time on your devices so you can get a clear picture of where your days go.

If you want a more basic pen-and-paper approach, you can also track your day in 10- or 15-minute chunks on a spreadsheet. However, this requires constant attention and will bring in some level of observation bias.

This might seem like a lot of work, but the goal here is to dig yourself out of debt and start building assets that give you more time in the future. Once you build the habits that will get you out of time debt, you’ll most likely stay that way.

  1. Declare time bankruptcy on your daily schedule

Coming back from time debt requires more than just building better habits. You need to be drastic and rebuild from the ground up.

Now that you have a system in place for tracking your time it’s time to declare time bankruptcy. In other words, audit your calendar and to-do list and clear out everything except for mission-critical tasks.

Now, see what happens. Are all those “priorities” really that important? Is anything broken?

If you need a precedent for making such a huge change, just look to Dropbox. Back in 2013, the company deleted all recurring meetings from their calendars and didn’t allow new ones to be booked for a two-week period. Two years later and with triple the team size, they still had fewer meetings on the books.

  1. Create a time-blocked template for your days

If you have bad spending habits, the last thing you need is unlimited credit. Instead, you need to create guidelines that keep you on track.

For time management, the most powerful tool here is time blocking.

Time blocking is when you break up your entire day into a set of scheduled work “blocks.” These blocks aren’t for specific tasks but rather types of work:

Deep work such as coding, designing, writing, or whatever your “core” work task is

Shallow work such as daily tasks, maintenance, updates, etc.

Meetings and emails

Breaks throughout the day to keep your energy levels high

Buffers in between blocks to give you time to decompress and avoid attention residue

Thanks to something called The Planning Fallacy we’re overly optimistic about what we can get done in a day. This causes us to overschedule and take on more time debt.

When you block your day, every task has to fit into a specific time, and you become much more aware of what can and can’t be done.

  1. Prioritize what tasks, meetings, and to-dos you let back in

Now it’s time to slowly start filling in your schedule. This is where most people mess up, by opening the floodgate and letting all of those time-debt activities back in.

Instead, you need to be hyperaware of your priorities. Only you know what work is most important to you and should be included here. In our Guide on How to Prioritize Work, we highlight seven practical ways you can figure out what work should be included here.

The most time-tested method is still the Eisenhower Matrix—a simple box that asks you to score your work as urgent and important. While it isn’t a foolproof system, it will keep you thinking about what deserves your time. Score your tasks and obligations and then delegate or drop anything that’s in the bottom two squares.

  1. Pay yourself first

Recovering from time debt isn’t just about tracking time and scheduling your day.

As we wrote in our Guide to the Fundamentals of Productivity, your ability to properly use your time depends on being healthy and happy. In other words, you need to pay yourself first. This means setting aside time to rest and recharge, disconnect from work, and pursue hobbies and work-life balance.

  1. Remove energy drains and incomplete items

One of the big issues with time debt is that many of the things that contribute to it are productive.

Creative coach Tina Essmaker calls these Drains and Incompletions. Drains are things we have to do and can’t necessarily remove from our day. For example, long commute times, unnecessary meetings, phone calls, emails, putting out fires, etc. Incompletions are to-dos that take up space in your mind. For example, conversations to be had, deferred dreams, projects to wrap up, etc. Both drains and incompletions sap your energy, focus, and attention and make it harder to properly use your time. To remove them from your day, Tina suggests a 3-step plan:

Set aside five minutes to write down every single drain and incompletion you can think of

Cross off anything on your list that you can’t control

Create an action plan for the rest of your list

For incompletions, this might mean delegating tasks, not procrastinating, and just doing it, finding the resources you need. For drains, you might want to limit your time spent on them, set clear boundaries on your availability, or shift the way you use your time.

  1. Practice saying no and turning down requests

Finally, you’ll need to put some work into keeping your system in place. Practice saying no to your boss and coworkers when tasks and requests go beyond the time you have. Be open and transparent about your priorities and where your time is being spent.

For future meetings or obligations, use this simple trick: Ask if you would take it on if it was happening today. When a meeting, deadline, or call is way off in the future, it’s easy to say yes. Instead, ask if it deserves to be on your calendar at all. Would you say yes if it was for next week? What about tomorrow? Or this afternoon? Use this mental strategy to discover the true urgency of a request.

Portions of this article originally appeared on the Fast Company website.

The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

 

Employee Engagement and the Productivity Gap

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The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

How Office Design Will Change

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With cities across the country preparing to begin reopening businesses, one of the biggest questions on everyone’s mind is what will the workplace look like and how long will it look that way?

Will there be more touchless features? Closed conference rooms? The end of open office layouts? Upgraded air filtration systems? There seems to be no shortage of possibilities touted by design and office experts.

As opening dates inch closer, we spoke to design professionals about what kinds of changes operators should consider making at their properties and whether the pandemic will have a long-term effect on what offices look like.

More Flexibility

Perhaps the most noticeable and likely change to offices will be flexibility, STG Design Associate Principal Paul LaBrant told Commercial Property Executive. That can include reconfiguring desks so people are properly socially distanced or upgrading technology so more people can continue to work from home.

“Those (working from home) behaviors are starting to get entrenched and employees are finding ways to get very comfortable and productive at the same time,” said LaBrant.

Companies will have to rework their environments to fit the need, which could include more digital conference rooms and allowing for more virtual meeting spaces to happen.

“Flexibility and fluidity are going to be a big push, as well as everything associated with a social infrastructure that builds trust,” said LaBrant.

Touchless Everything

The coronavirus outbreak has brought a heightened awareness of what our hands touch on a daily basis. In an office environment, operators will have to rethink every possible touchpoint.

Expect to see as much touch-free technology as possible in office buildings. Automated doors, touchless sign-in, voice-activated controls for elevators, turnstile badges replaced with cell phone apps, and facial recognition software. Touchless bathroom fixtures, some of which are already the norm, will become more important than ever.

“There are a lot of things we require people to touch today that we have the tech to not have them do anymore,” said Lee Billington, director of connected experiences at Gensler. That can include using voice-activated systems such as Siri and Alexa, typically thought of as an in-home device, at the office.

Smaller Spaces

In a report released last week by JLL, the firm found that the number one thing tenants will want when returning to the office is more privacy and separation from others. JLL found that up to 70 percent of all spaces are designed either partially or fully in an open plan. However, the trend toward open layouts was already starting to wane before the coronavirus outbreak.

“The mixed performance of dense open plans, the new mandate of social distancing today, and the likely lingering psychological effects of this outbreak on employees in the foreseeable future could combine to create some decompression in the workplace,” researchers at JLL wrote in the report.

While we may see less dense work environments in the future, office culture and collaboration between coworkers will continue to remain important for companies.

“Because of working from home that’s being cultivated, I do think corporate spaces will get smaller, but they will be better spaces that will entice people to come back and innovate and interact with each other,” said LaBrant.

Health and Wellness

With some studies suggesting that the coronavirus could be spread through aerosols, operators will look to put a big focus on health and wellness aspects at their buildings. Better ventilation systems that bring in more outside air, the application of UV technology, and added filtration could potentially help flush out pathogens and circulate fresher air.

Dr. Joseph Allen, an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has studied the impact green buildings have on cognitive functions. He has found that proper ventilation, filtration,

and humidity in office buildings can make a big difference in the health and well-being of its occupants.

“We’ve known for a long time how important outdoor fresh air is for fighting infectious diseases,” said Allen during a recent ULI webinar on healthy buildings. “The indoor environment has this big impact on our health just by manipulation of a handful of variables and making the air a little better.”

In lobby and lounge areas, seating could be swapped out for “oxygen-creating landscaping” and green walls, according to CBRE Senior Vice President Zach Price, who listed on LinkedIn several ways buildings will operate differently when workers return.

What’s Next

Product designers and engineers are already working on new designs to meet what could become new standards for office spaces. That means for those projects still in the planning phase, developers can stay a step ahead of the game.

“We have that opportunity now to have conversations with clients to say hey, this is something we can look at and here’s a cost implication to do so and it’s minimal if it’s in the planning stage versus a retrofit,” said LaBrant.

One new office furniture design is a 6-foot module with different privacy screens attached that can immediately be deployed to an office. Others include sign-in technology that stays completely touchless and antimicrobial components associated with door hardware.

But a workplace can only do so much to ensure the health of its employees. Much of the rest depends on human behavior.

“Ultimately, the office of the future is a community of trust,” said LaBrant. “Users of space as well as owners of space have to come together to ensure that wellness component.”

Portions of this article originally appeared on the Commercial Property Executive website.

The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

 

The Life Spans of Animals

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The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

Memorial Day 2020

The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction, or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

Working From Home: Defeating Distraction

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Under normal circumstances, study after study found that workers’ productivity increased when they shifted from working in an office setting to working from home. Of course, in the current pandemic, school closures have thrown a wrench in the gears for working parents. And across the board, parenting or not, a plague of pandemic anxiety is no help.

But according to Harvard Business School Researcher Prithwiraj Choudhury, who authored one of the aforementioned studies, working from home can yield great results. It simply requires forming and sticking to routines that help you focus.

“When you’re at home, you have more distractions and disruptions to take into account,” Choudhury told The Boston Herald. In fact, distraction lurks around every corner: the laundry room, the kitchen, the dog that wants to go for a walk, the cacophony of social media trying to lure your attention away from the daily grind.

Defeating distraction and passing on to the next level of work-from-home success is easier said than done, but here are a few of the most tried-and-true recommendations.

  1. Define Your Routine

Good news: Adopting a routine can make you more productive. Now all you need to do is put it in place.

“Make sure your routine sets boundaries for yourself and whoever you live with,” Choudhury said. “This will, in turn, create a strong balance in both your work and personal life. Once you find it, follow it religiously.”

Get up and dressed for the day, carve out time for yourself in the morning as best you can, and once you arrive at your desk — whether that’s in your pristine and luxurious home office, at a worktable strewn with extension cords you’ve rigged up in your garage, or at your breakfast table — keep it sacred.

Experts recommend replicating your office desk as closely as you can, or improving on it, and creating a space in which you want to work. Pay attention to factors like ergonomics, natural light, and noise pollution.

Then, as needed, set a mood of productivity, whether that is silence, noise-blocking headphones, or programming the right soundtrack. Brain.fm — “functional music to improve focus in 15 minutes” — and Focus@Will (“personalized focus music”) each create focus-friendly soundtracks for your workday.

  1. Avoid Multitasking

Folding laundry or other seemingly “mindless” side tasks during conference calls have more of an impact than one might guess: According to researchers at the University of Southern California, a recent study found that participants who multitasked while carrying out tasks related to their job experienced an IQ score decline similar to those who have stayed up all night. Some of the multitasking men had their IQ drop 15 points, leaving them with “the average IQ of an 8-year-old child.”

Once you get to work, “keep the boundaries,” organizing and productivity expert Julie Morgenstern recommended on CNBC. “Do your work during your workday and only stop for self-care. That’s it. Do not do household chores.”

In the category of self-care, Morgenstern files activities including eating lunch, taking breaks to stretch and get fresh air, and anything else utterly demanded in the scope of maintaining one’s sanity.

  1. Get Your Web Surfing Under Control

If your distractions of choice are of a more digital persuasion (attention: Facebook and Twitter addicts), there’s an app for that. Freedom and LeechBlock are two that help you block apps and websites, thus allowing you to lock yourself out of your biggest online distractions for whatever length of time you choose.

For a lighter touch, Mindful Browsing is a browser plug-in that issues gentle reminders instead of barricading access.

Phones and email inboxes are other irresistible muses that tend to pulverize productivity. If your job allows, only look at your phone or email at certain intervals. Tools like the Tomato Timer, which breaks work into 25-minute increments per the Pomodoro Technique, may help.

  1. Mind Your Mental Health

Per physicist and theologian Blaise Pascal, “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”

Researchers have found that focus is like anything else, one can only do it for so long before efficacy begins to erode. Quick, refreshing breaks — like going for a walk (even if it’s just walking around the room), making a snack or taking a shower — are crucial when it comes to staying productive.

Portions of this article originally appeared on the BISNOW website. 

The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction, or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.

 

Top 10 Modern Construction Marvels

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The Sundance Company                                                                
Established in 1976, The Sundance Company has the experience to help you with your commercial real estate needs throughout the Boise Valley. If your requirements include property management, leasing, real estate development, project planning, construction or space planning then look to us. The Sundance Company has more than 1.5 million square feet of office and industrial space available in prime locations in the Boise metropolitan area. More information is available at www.sundanceco.com or 208.322.7300.