Friday, March 24, 2017

Why Multi-Tasking Is a Myth, Part 1

Thomas Edison famously said, “There is no substitute for hard work.” Most of you on this distribution list already know that. You are among the hardest working people we know and have probably never been called slackers. You’ve paid your dues, you’ve kept your nose to the grindstone and burned plenty of midnight oil to get to where you are today.  Congrats on that.
You can’t possibly log or bill any more hours than you are currently working, but deep down you sense something’s missing, right? You know you could be getting home from the office a little earlier and feeling less stress in the evenings and on weekends. You know you could be spending more quality time with your friends, family and spouse—without making any less money. But how?

The solution doesn’t require you to clone yourself or consistently hit the lottery. You just need a better understanding of what makes you tick at work.

Step 1—Realize that no two people are the same when it comes to personal productivity. So don’t look for a magic “system” or training aid to give you a 10x boost in what you already get done in a day. It’s a personal challenge that only you can solve.

Step 2—There are probably times of the day or week in which you find that you’re more productive than others. Not sure? Try going over you daily time logs, journals, diaries, CRM system or any other places in which you keep track of your work activities for clues.

The main thing is to know when you are most likely to be “in the zone” and schedule you’re heaviest mental lifting for those times. Many productivity experts suggest doing your toughest tasks of the day, first thing in the morning. But, not everyone’s a morning person. Others do their best thinking late at night, when everyone else is asleep and your household, phone and mobile devices are quiet. Others need to clear their desks and heads mentally in the morning and use the afternoon to hit it hard—often right after a vigorous walk or workout during lunch. Some don’t even bother with high-agenda items on Mondays and Fridays when they’re likely to be distracted or exhausted and use the middle days of the week to hit their stride.

Again, the key is to know when you’re most likely to be “in the zone” which is increasingly limited these days. Case in point: Four out of five of you (78%) who responded to our
recent InstaPoll said that you your work life has become more complex than it was five years ago.

In response, it’s tempting to try to cram more into the day and juggle as many responsibilities and assignments as you can. Multi-tasking has become a badge of honor in many circles. IT SHOULDN’T BE!

Multi-tasking increases errors and impedes creativity

Many professionals think they can juggle multiple projects, responsibilities and tasks simultaneously. They think they can finish a presentation while booking cross-country flights and taking urgent calls from frantic clients all at the same time.
In reality, experts say, you’re not really multi-tasking as much as you are switching back and forth very quickly from one activity to another.

Unfortunately, with all that rapid-fire switching, you’re not doing any of your activities particularly well. That’s because your brain is working extra hard to handle multiple thoughts simultaneously. It’s like what happens when you have too many windows open on your PC or too many apps running on your phone.

As Dr. Matthew MacKinnon explained in Psychology Today, “science has consistently shown that the human brain can only sustain attention on one item at a time. Our overestimation of our attentional capacity stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of multitasking and of the human attentional system as a whole,” added MacKinnon.

New York Times
columnist, Phyllis Korkki recently wrote that “Your ability to get things done depends on how well you can focus on one task at a time, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour.”

When you multitask, experts say you tend to make more mistakes. Earl K. Miller, a neuroscience professor at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory argues that when you toggle back and forth between tasks, “the neural networks of your brain must backtrack to figure out where they left off and then reconfigure.” Miller, who was interviewed for Korkki’s article series, said the extra brain activity causes you to slow down and errors become more likely. That’s why Miller believes people are much more efficient if they mono-task.

According to Miller, the brain is like a muscle that becomes stronger with use and weaker when not challenged. “As with physical exercise, the more we strengthen our mental connections by focusing on one task to the exclusion of all others, the better we can perform,” added Miller.

As far back as the 1930s, Allan F. Mogensen, the creator of work simplification, coined the phrase "work smarter, not harder." Sorry multi-taskers, but that means doing one thing well at a time, not doing many things half-ass all day long. Next week we’ll look at ways to prevent you from falling into the multi-tasking trap.

Have a good weekend. HB


TAGS: Mutli-tasking unrealistic, Matthew MacKinnon, Phyllis Korkki,
Allan F. Mogensen

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why Can’t We Look Away from Our Screens?

As parents of two teenage boys, my wife and I went to see the award-winning documentary Screenagers the other night at our local community center. We weren’t alone. If you are worried about the amount of time your tech-savvy kids or grandchildren are spending on their devices, then this film is a must-see. Since Screenagers isn’t shown in most commercial theaters, you’ll have to find it at a local school, church synagogue or community center. It’s worth the effort.

Screenagers is directed by physician Delaney Ruston who set out on a journey to see if she should be concerned about the amount of time her own teens were spending on their devices. As Ruston and other researchers discovered, the average American kid spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens (not including time spent online doing actual homework). In short, she found that screen time is definitely affecting concentration, development and family relationships although not entirely in bad ways. If you set some reasonable boundaries, then you kids can maintain their social status without turning into one of those gamers you hear about on the news who doesn’t leave their room for weeks at a time.

Kids aren’t the only ones with screen addiction

In a new book,
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, social psychologist Adam Alter warns that our devotion to digital devices has morphed into something very much like addiction.

As Alter described in a recent New York Times interview, addiction is no longer limited to getting hooked on chemical substances such as heroin, cocaine and nicotine. It’s really about seeking any experience that makes us feel good. That’s because when we do, our brains to release the neurotransmitter dopamine and we keep coming back for another hit of the feel-good chemical. It could be getting likes on social media or getting to the next level on your favorite online game.

“We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more,” noted Alter.
Not surprisingly, Alter found that game producers often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It must be working.

A Gallup poll found that half of U.S. smartphone users check their devices at least several times per hour and that 60 percent of adults
keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. A Good Technology survey of 1,000 workers found that half of respondents check their emails during the night. Sure, some of that checking in is for work-related purposes (or work-related paranoia), but gaming companies and social media platforms know our gadgets are perfect delivery devices for addictive media. If games and social media were once confined to our home computers, portable devices permit us to engage with them everywhere.
The problem, said alter is that, “We’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many ‘likes’ our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.” If you’re on the phone for three hours a day, Alter said you’re not spending enough time on face-to-face interactions with actual people. “Smartphones give everything you need to enjoy the moment you’re in, but they don’t require much initiative. You never have to remember anything because everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to develop the ability to memorize or to come up with new ideas.”
Solutions for tech addicts (and near-addicts)
Our January post, Time for a Technology Timeout, described a number of tech detox facilities and we talked about our 24-hour weekend tech-fasts here at HB. Alter suggested being more mindful about how we are allowing tech to invade our lives. Instead of going cold turkey, Alter suggested cordoning off your tech usage. For instance, not answering email after six at night or only posting or responding to emails at selected times of the day. (We recommend 9am, lunch time and right before you go home).
Alter said, “find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”

In the film Screenagers, one good strategy that Dr. Ruston suggested was drawing up a contract with your teen about how often they can use their smartphone every day. The key is not to ram the contract down your kid’s throat. Instead, present it to them as a first draft, let them make some modifications and negotiate a little. That way, they’ll feel they had some say in the rules and will be more likely to comply.

*** New Insta Poll: How many times per month are you communicating with clients? Early results show that about half of you are not communicating often enough. See how you stack up to your peers (Our latest Insta Poll is on the right side of our home page). Maybe it’s time you put the devices down and picked up the old fashioned phone a little more.


Walking out of the Screenagers showing, my wife and I couldn’t help noticing how many adults whipped out their smartphones the minute the film was over. If you want your kids, employees and co-workers to be more present in the real world, you need to start setting an example. Use mobile technology as a powerful communication and information gathering tool—don’t let it own you or define you.


TAGS: Screenagers, Delaney Ruston, Adam Alter, tech addiction

Friday, March 10, 2017

Written and Spoken Credibility Killers, Part 2

Last week’s post about Written and Spoken Credibility Killers hit home with many of you so we thought we’d do a follow-up post. Thomas Greve, a business development manager at EMS World wrote in, “Spot on Hank. Another pet peeve is ‘lets' nip it in the butt.’ Say what?? It is nip it in the bud as in plant reference. Drives me nuts.’”

Thanks Tom. We know many of you are extremely busy professionals who do the bulk of your writing and thinking over the weekend. Before you do, we’d like to share a few more credibility killing red flags that seem to trip up even the most intelligent and articulate of business leaders.

Look at the paragraph below. How many errors do you see?

Irregardless of where you sit on this issue, we should take positive steps towards making less grammatical errors in our daily communications.
After apprising the situation, it seems to be a continual problem in business today. By correcting these common errors, you’ll sound more intelligent and you’ll go much farther down the path of being a respected business communicator. If nothing else, that will insure you’ll be complemented for your sterling intrapersonal skills. 

If you didn’t find at least six errors, then you’re not trying hard enough!
Here are some other common misuses (and abuses) of every day language in business today that I’ve assembled courtesy of the good folks at Chartec,, and How many of these grammatical gremlins and oratory oversights sound like you?

·         Accept vs. Except

Accept- (verb) to agree with, take in, receive. Example: We accept your decision.
Except- (preposition) Apart from. Example: All committee members are present except for Ms. Brown.

·         Adverse, vs. Averse

Adverse - (adjective) Unfavorable, opposing one’s interest. Example: They found themselves in adverse circumstance.
Averse -(adjective) Antipathy, repugnance, having the feeling of being opposed. Example: She is not averse to increasing her workload.

·         Affect vs. Effect

Affect - (verb) to influence something. Example: How will that affect the bottom line?
Effect - (Noun) the result of (Verb) to cause something to be Example: Her speech had the effect of motivating the listeners.

·         Apprise vs. Appraise

Apprise - (verb) Give notice to. Example: Please apprise me of the situation.
Appraise - (verb) determine the worth of something. Example: The ring was appraised before we purchased it.

·         Beside vs.  Besides

Beside - (preposition) at the side of, next to , near. Example: Take a seat beside me.
Besides - (adverb) Furthermore, in addition to. Example: Besides, several of us will be out of town next week.

·         Compliment vs.  Complement

Compliment – (Verb) To give praise. Example: I complemented Steve on his speech.
Complement – (Verb) To complete something or match it well. Example: Her skills complement the needs of our department.

·         Continual vs.  Continuous

Continual – (adjective) Often repeated, very frequent – but occasionally interrupted. Example: They've received continual complaints.
Continuous – (adjective) Uninterrupted. Example: We couldn't hear over his continuous talking.

·         Discreet vs. Discret

These two can create some awfully funny incorrectly worded sentences. “Discreet” means having discretion; that is, being careful in what you say or do. But “discrete” means separate or distinct. (Example – I would prefer we kept our relationship discreet since we do not have a discrete office setting.)

·         Different than vs.  Different from
Although these seem to have become interchangeable, many people still require that formal written English fit the following: use “different from” when comparing two things, and use “different than” when you use a whole clause to create the comparison. (Example – Your format looks different from mine. Perhaps this is because the format I used is different than the most common business letter formats.)

*** NOTE, Hank Berkowitz was the featured guest this week on Josh Patrick’s Sustainable Business podcast. The topic was Thought Leadership Content.

·         Farther vs.  Further

Farther – (adverb) At or to a greater distance. Example: We are located farther down the highway.
Further - (adverb) More or additional – but not related to distance. Example: We need to have a further discussion on that.

·         Fewer vs.  Less

Fewer – (adjective) Of a small number, only used with countable items. Example: He made fewer mistakes than last time.
Less – (adjective or adverb) To a smaller extent, amount or degree – used with quantities that cannot be individually counted. Example: If they made less noise, we could concentrate.

·         Lay and lie

The key difference between these two words is intent or will. It involves a choice – a person or animal, etc. can choose to lie upon something, but a book or pencil cannot choose to lay upon something. Someone must put it there. Also, another clue is that “lay” always has a direct object. (Example – Before I lie down to sleep each night, I lay my book on the nightstand.)

·         Principal, Principle

Principal –(noun) Person who has controlling authority. (adjective) Something essential or important. Example: Let’s talk about the principal reason we’re meeting today.
Principle – (noun) Basic truth, policy or action. Example: It’s important to stick to our principles.

·         Regardless, Irregardless

Regardless – (adjective or adverb) In spite of. Example: We are leaving regardless of whether you’re ready.
Irregardless – This is not a word. (Yes, you may find it in your dictionary, but you’re only embarrassing yourself if you use it.)


Your clients and followers don’t expect perfection every time you communicate with them. But, keeping these credibility killers in mind (or posted near your computer or tablet) will go a long way toward keeping them engaged with you and your batting average well above the norm.


TAGS: Credibility killers, poor communication in business, confusing similar words, better business communication

Friday, March 03, 2017

Avoid These Written and Spoken Credibility Killers

Not sure if it’s the weather, the financial markets or the volatile geo-political climate, but, many of you have been hunkering down lately to do some deep reflection and writing. Bravo. We know most of you don’t make your living as wordsmiths, so we’re pleased to see how many of you are blogging or writing articles, newsletters, eBooks, white papers and more.

This type of short-form writing is one of the most effective ways to position yourself as a thought leader. Just make sure your followers aren’t distracted but some of the most common author (and speaker) credibility killers.

You work hard to burnish your reputation from your office setting, to your professional bio, to your website, to your LinkedIn profile. Then wham, you lose your focus when writing, speaking or presenting. The danger is, you never know who might be reading, listening or overhearing.

Don’t pollute the personal space of others

Here’s a conversation I overheard at a recent conference between two professional women--not teenage girls--who were lamenting the cold temperature in the auditorium: “Oh my God! Why do they always blast the AC in these places?” complained one. “It is what it is,” replied her companion, sighing.…… “Brrrrr. Tell me about it,” said the first.…... “Brrrr. I know, right?” replied the other. “Brrrr. Really,” added her friend.

It’s like being forced to overhear a stranger’s embarrassing cell-phone conversation. There are better ways to make small talk in a professional setting. You don’t want to be accused of eavesdropping, but your personal space is being invaded and you’re not forming a very positive impression of the yakkers you are overhearing. Chances are they are highly accomplished professionals who are attending the conference for the same reasons you are. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and they didn’t make a good one on you. It’s not likely you’re going to network with them.

*** Work life getting too complex? Take our 10-second insta-poll and find out how you stack up to your peers.

I’m telling you why you shouldn’t trust me

To be perfectly honest with you, if you can’t chose the right words, don’t fill the space with empty verbiage. Wait a minute. Run for the hills if someone keeps using the phrase “to be perfectly honest with you.” Why? Because their credibility is shot. Whether you’re in a restaurant, in a car dealership or in a tense business negotiation, when someone says to you, “to be perfectly honest with you,” it implies they’ve been lying to you up until this point. Inc. Magazine recently published a list of 15 other phrases that make people mistrust you. It’s a great piece, but in all honesty, you have to navigate through an annoying slider to get to each one of the fifteen.

For all intents and purposes, people are lacking in confidence and conviction, not just integrity, when they resort to phrases like “to be perfectly honest with you.” Speaking of “for all intents and purposes,” that one gets butchered frequently, too. How many times have you seen it written as spoken as “for all intensive purposes?“  Ouch!

In fact, we’re betting that 85 percent of you would admit you need to improve your written and spoken communication skills…..notice we wrote 85 percent, not “85%.”Many of you are numbers people, but please, use the percent sign “%”sparingly. It’s best used inside charts or when describing parenthetical ratios, such as “nearly three out of five investors (59.5%) feel they are unprepared for retirement.”
Speaking of numerical relationships and trendlines, how many of you say something went from this number to that number? Sounds logical, but the preferred way to express a numerical change over time is to/from.

EXAMPLE: Don’t write: “The fund’s rate of return increased from 7.7 percent in 2015, to 9.8 percent in 2016. Instead, it should be: “The fund’s rate of return increased to 9.8 percent in 2016 from 7.7 percent in 2015. When in doubt, go present first, past second.
So, next time you really want to convey your point to your readers or listeners. Oops, there’s another flag. This one’s on me and I fall into this trap often.

Let’s take the innocent looking word “so.” Kill it as a sentence starter from your written and spoken vocabulary. According to communications coach Sabina Nawaz. Starting with “so” implies that you’re tentatively asking for permission. You don’t need to waste time and bandwidth clearing your throat. Just get right to the point. You’re an expert. You don’t have to qualify your remarks.


Again, we’re not here to be your high school English teachers. But, the sloppy written and spoken word has become an epidemic in today’s tweeting, texting, too-busy-to-think before-I-send world in which we live.

If you have a lot to share with the world and don’t have the time to codify it, there are plenty of excellent writing coaches, ghost-writers and content collaborators around. They can help you clarify your thought and get your expertise swiftly from your brain to the published page or screen. Many have technical expertise in personal finance, tax, insurance, business succession planning and medical topics. Contact us any time and we’ll be happy to assist.


TAGS: conversation killers, top business writing mistakes, phrases that make people mistrust you