Series on Work-Life Balance – Sheryl Sandberg

If you think that the busy life of Silicon Valley superwoman Sheryl Sandberg would hardly have any time for friends, you are mistaken. Nobody close to the COO of Facebook, is surprised to find her running the company that turned friend into a verb, an action verb. She truly epitomizes someone who has found the balance between work and life, ensuring that one does not prevent you from fully enjoying the other.

Sheryl Sandberg remembers birthdays. She texts people seconds before big presentations (“Smile. Talk into the mic. Good luck”). She has a system for answering all her E-mail. Her late husband, Dave Goldberg, once said so many people stay overnight at their house on such a constant basis that they practically run a small hotel. “There’s no such thing as an intimate dinner for six,” he said. “She’s like, ‘I really think our dining room table is too small.’ ” (It seats fourteen.)

With Sandberg at the table, big gatherings run smoothly—which partly explains how, back in the Clinton administration, when she was 29 and fresh from Harvard Business School and the World Bank, she landed the chief-of-staff job in the Treasury Department. An hour after work on a Thursday evening, she can, without a hitch, welcome 40 women into her home for dinner; just before the first guests arrive, she tucks her two pre-schoolers into bed, disappears for ten minutes, then emerges to answer the door in a sleeveless Calvin Klein dress and black Prada ankle boots.

She calls these informal gatherings—a mix of venture capitalists, tech-company execs, moms, book-club friends, and her sister, Michelle—the Women of Silicon Valley, and they meet roughly once a month to listen to notable speakers pulled from Sandberg’s Rolodex (Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer; Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO turned California Senate hopeful; Eve Ensler, playwright and women’s-rights activist). There’s a high-minded purpose behind the get-togethers—female executives tend to become more isolated the higher they climb in the corporate world, and these meetings help correct that. But Emily White, who replaced Sandberg as Google’s chief of online sales when Sandberg moved on to Facebook, thinks the evenings also help her gregarious ex-boss stay in touch with her inner circle. “No question,” Sandberg says. “I see all my friends in one fell swoop. I’d love to have dinner with all of them separately, but I don’t have the time.”

Her friends don’t object to Sandberg’s multitasking, probably because so many of the tasks on her to-do lists involve them. Marne Levine, who worked with Sandberg at Treasury and is now Larry Summers’s chief of staff at the National Economic Council, remembers arriving in Carefree, Arizona, late at night for Sheryl’s wedding weekend. “I had to take a business-school exam the next day,” Levine says, and in order to download the exam and to hand it in at the appointed hour, she needed a private room with Internet access. “Sheryl had a million things to take care of, but she was worried about whether my test-taking conditions were satisfactory. On the wedding calendar, my test was listed as an event!”

In pictures, the 40-year-old Sandberg looks keen, pretty, petite; but snapshots don’t account for her energy face-to-face. Her oldest friends like to point out—and it’s about the meanest thing they’ll say—that as an undergrad back in the late eighties, when she wore leg warmers and blue eye shadow, she founded and ran the Harvard aerobics program almost singlehandedly. She’s quick and relentlessly upbeat, and she likes to toss her head when a subject changes. In intimate conversation, she tends to lean forward; when addressing a room, of four or 40, she rocks back with an almost ironic air of command. “She has an infectious insistence,” one Harvard friend says. “And she has two kids now, and I see the trait in them. Her four-year-old is very much the same: totally happy, but completely insistent. He will negotiate his way to getting a second dessert.”

Her sister, Michelle, a pediatrician at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and no slouch in the accomplishment department herself knows, probably better than anyone, what it’s like to be the beneficiary of Sandberg’s focus. “I got very sick when I was pregnant,” she says. “And she called every day. She did not miss a day for nine months. She really sets an example for how people should treat each other. I often aim to do 50 percent of what she does. That’s a pretty lofty goal, actually.”

Categorized as Media

Series on Multi-tasking: Doing it the CEO way

Your inbox has more email than a Nigerian spam ring. Your deadlines are stacking up like a rush hour car wreck. You have more meetings than a track team. In other words, you’re really behind on your work. Sure, everyone’s productivity takes a hit now and then, but tech CEOs aren’t just anybodies. They can’t afford pedestrian productivity problems that set their businesses back. Read on to see how some of the world’s busiest tech executives multitask, like a boss.

Elon Musk: Master Your Email – When Elon Musk isn’t revolutionizing e-commerce, building electric cars, or trying to make self-landing reusable rockets, there’s one sure-fire place you can find the Tesla and SpaceX CEO: on email. “I do a lot of email—very good at email. That’s my core competency,” joked Musk at a 2013 conference. But there’s a lot of truth to Musk’s aside, considering the high amount of delegation the multi-company CEO must administer. According to Musk, staying on top of his inbox even requires pecking out replies during family time, something we’re probably all guilty of. Still, it’s not like his email account is getting pummeled with pitches from everyone under the sun. His inbox is insulated from people looking to go to Mars or even get off the Tesla Model S waitlist. That’s good, because the man has work to do.

Jack Dorsey: Give Your Days a Theme – Now the CEO of both Twitter and Square, Jack Dorsey recently made news for permanently returning to the social network that he helped launch. But running one high-powered technology company can be hard enough, so how will he juggle two? Dorsey has done it before, and he credited organizing his week into “themed days” as part of his success. For instance, on Mondays, Dorsey focuses on management, he revealed while speaking at a 2011 conference. So that meant he would take in a directional meeting at Square and an operations committee at Twitter. Tuesdays are for products—nowadays he might be meeting about Twitter’s new Moments feature and Square’s NFC reader. Wednesdays are for marketing and growth, and so on. And believe it or not, he takes the weekend off—well, sort of. “Sunday is reflection, feedback, and strategy,” he said.

Jeff Bezos: Work Backwards – After buying The Washington Post, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos gave his new employees a great peek inside the mind of one of America’s most daring entrepreneurs. From the “everything store” to the Kindle to the new Echo voice assistant, Bezos has used one simple productivity trick to introduce some of the world’s most innovative products: he starts with his goals and works backwards. Of course, reverse engineering is nothing new — curious children have been rewiring gadgets since the early 20th century. But starting with a dream and walking backwards towards the present day requires dedication and planning.

Mark Zuckerberg: Personal Goals Create Professional Structure – The eccentricities of Facebook’s founder have been well-documented—he often wears the same style gray t-shirt every day, dons his signature hoodie in business meetings, so on and so forth. But there is a method behind his madness, and that’s a relentless pursuit of simplicity to help add structure to a chaotic professional world. Another of Zuckerberg’s quirks are his annual challenges. In 2010, he sought to learn Mandarin. In 2011, he vowed to only eat meat that he slaughtered himself.. These efforts require discipline, the kind of self-regulation that often demands that you say no (or “not now”) to work, so that you can improve yourself personally. And the hope is those refinements will spill over into your professional life.


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Series on Multi-tasking: Being focused

What did Steve Jobs, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the century, think about Multitasking? Regardless of how you feel about Apple, Steve Jobs was an incredibly prolific CEO who was more than just the face of the company. Before his death in 2011, he managed to change the face of Apple and provide a unique workplace lauded for its productivity.

Jobs was certainly a complicated person and for every genius idea he had plenty of bad ones. His management style was confrontational, he was rude, and his authoritarian outlook on Apple’s openness is well known. In short, he was a jerk who was tough to work with. Still, he managed to change the face of a company and push for innovation in the marketplace. He helped shape Pixar in the ’90s and brought the failing Apple corporation back to life when he returned in 1997.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he walked into a company struggling to sell its wide variety of products. One of Jobs’ first moves as the new CEO was to reduce the number of products sold by Apple. Jobs condensed Apple’s offerings and made it easy to pick a Mac. From there, it branched out to introduce the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but has always kept their main product line limited to just a few different choices.

Jobs didn’t just do this with Apple. He’d pass along the advice to just about anyone who asked. He told Nike to cut the crappy stuff as well:”Do you have any advice?” Parker asked Jobs. “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle. But Jobs didn’t laugh. He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker. “We had to edit.”

Jobs’ point here can easily be applied to everyday life. If you have too much going on, start saying no more often. Get rid of any activities that aren’t actually helping you in your career and life. If you have too much going on, focus in on what matters.

Of course, focusing on what matters is easier said than done. Jobs had a system for making sure people could do their best work by ensuring that everyone was working on what they should be and nothing else. During meetings Jobs would assign tasks and a person responsible for them. The hope was that with proper delegation, everyone would work on what they’re supposed to and not have to worry about anything else. Wired sums it up:There’s no excuse for employees to have any confusion after a meeting. An effective Apple meeting will include an “action list,” and next to each action item is a “DRI” — a directly responsible individual who must ensure the task is accomplished.

For the rest of us, the lesson here is about delegation. In order to do your best work, you need to stop multitasking and concentrate on one task at a time. The more things you can delegate, the more time you have to work on what matters.


Categorized as Media

Series on Multi-tasking: Effects on Productivity

So we have read that multi-tasking might not be the most optimal way to function however, are there are any numbers which can peg the harmful effects of the same? Realization, the leading provider of Flow-based Planning and Execution solutions that help organizations complete projects 20 to 50 percent faster, has released a report, “The Effects of Multitasking on Organizations” which reveals that organizational multitasking, a problem that typically goes unnoticed within large companies, annually costs the global economy more than $450 billion in lost productivity.

Job seekers around the world still tout their ability to multitask as a desirable skill, and in many organizations, multitasking is worn as a badge of honor; however, research consistently shows that people who attempt to multitask suffer a wide array of negative effects, from wasting 40 percent of their productive time switching tasks to experiencing a heightened susceptibility to distraction.

The new report from Realization examines a problem that previous researchers have paid little attention to: the effects of multitasking at the organizational level. Just as individual multitasking occurs when a person’s time is split between too many tasks, organizational multitasking occurs when a group is focused on too many things and its overall capacity is adversely affected. The end results are delays and interruptions, reduced quality and rework, peaks and valleys in workflow, and lack of proper preparation before tasks and projects.

To examine the effects of organizational multitasking more rigorously, Realization, a provider of Flow-based Planning and Execution systems for engineering and projects, studied 45 organizations with between 1,000 and 50,000 employees with an average annual revenue of more than $1 billion from a diverse range of industries – including automotive, aerospace and defense, aviation, energy, semiconductors, software and pharmaceuticals – that consciously implemented measures to reduce multitasking in their organizations.

The results speak for themselves. The organizations were much more productive. The mean increase in throughput was 59.8 percent, while the median increase was 38.2 percent. In addition, organizations finished projects faster after organizational multitasking had been reduced. The mean cycle-time reduction was 35.5 percent, while the median cycle-time reduction was 31 percent.

“Our study clearly demonstrates the massive impact that organizational multitasking is having in many different industries, and the real tragedy is that most of the organizations that suffer from it don’t even realize that it’s happening,” said Sanjeev Gupta, CEO of Realization. “Everyone appears to be working very hard, but in fact, they are spending a lot of their time simply spinning their wheels, switching from task to task, without ever having the time to finish something before another ‘urgent’ item is put on their plate. Organizational multitasking can be addressed, but first, managers have to recognize the problem.”


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Series on Multi-tasking: Supertaskers

So most of us by now agree that multi-tasking is not always the most efficient way to get work done. However, scientific research has proved that there does exist a small number of supertaskers whose ability to multitask improves each time newer tasks are added to their existing list. They comprise a minuscule 2% of the population.

In 2012, David Strayer found himself in a research lab, on the outskirts of London, observing something he hadn’t thought possible: extraordinary multitasking. For his entire career, Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, had been studying attention—how it works and how it doesn’t. Methods had come and gone, theories had replaced theories, but one constant remained: humans couldn’t multitask. Each time someone tried to focus on more than one thing at a time, performance suffered. Most recently, Strayer had been focussing on people who drive while on the phone. Over the course of a decade, he and his colleagues had demonstrated that drivers using cell phones—even hands-free devices—were at just as high a risk of accidents as intoxicated ones. Reaction time slowed, attention decreased to the point where they’d miss more than half the things they’d otherwise see—a billboard or a child by the road, it mattered not.

Outside the lab, too, the multitasking deficit held steady. When Strayer and his colleagues observed fifty-six thousand drivers approaching an intersection, they found that those on their cell phones were more than twice as likely to fail to heed the stop signs. In 2010, the National Safety Council estimated that twenty-eight per cent of all deaths and accidents on highways were the result of drivers on their phones.

What, then, was going on here in the London lab? The woman he was looking at—let’s call her Cassie—was an exception to what twenty-five years of research had taught him. As she took on more and more tasks, she didn’t get worse. She got better. There she was, driving, doing complex math, responding to barking prompts through a cell phone, and she wasn’t breaking a sweat. She was, in other words, what Strayer would ultimately decide to call a supertasker.

About five years ago, Strayer recalls, he and his colleagues were sorting through some data, and noticed an anomaly: a participant whose score wasn’t deteriorating with the addition of multiple tasks. “We thought, That can’t be,” he said. “So we spent about a month trying to see an error.” The data looked solid, though, and so Strayer and his colleagues decided to push farther. That’s what he was doing in London: examining individuals who seemed to be the exception to the multitasking rule.

A thousand people from all over the U.K. had taken a multitasking test. Most had fared poorly, as expected. Cassie in particular was the best multitasker he had ever seen. “It’s a really, really hard test,” Strayer recalls. “Some people come out woozy—I have a headache, that really kind of hurts, that sort of thing. But she solved everything. She flew through it like a hot knife through butter.” In her pre-test, Cassie had made only a single math error (even supertaskers usually make more mistakes); when she started to multitask, even that one error went away. “She made zero mistakes,” Strayer says. “And she did even better when she was driving.”

Strayer believes that there is a tiny but persistent subset of the population—about two per cent—whose performance does not deteriorate, and can even improve, when multiple demands are placed on their attention. By 2012, after Cassie and her other supertasking U.K. colleague had been tested, Strayer’s team had identified nineteen supertaskers in a sample of seven hundred.


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Series on Multi-tasking: Is it needed for success?

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? Read on…

The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch. Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multi-tasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child. So the next time you’re writing your boss an email during a meeting, remember that your cognitive capacity is being diminished to the point that you might as well let an 8-year-old write it for you.

It was long believed that cognitive impairment from multitasking was temporary, but new research suggests otherwise. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control. While more research is needed to determine if multitasking is physically damaging the brain (versus existing brain damage that predisposes people to multitask), it’s clear that multitasking has negative effects.

If you’re prone to multitasking, this is not a habit you’ll want to indulge—it clearly slows you down and decreases the quality of your work. Even if it doesn’t cause brain damage, allowing yourself to multitask will fuel any existing difficulties you have with concentration, organization, and attention to detail. Multitasking in meetings and other social settings indicates low Self and Social Awareness, two emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that are critical to success at work. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers have high EQs.


Categorized as Media