Creative Cocoon of Productivity

I recently wrote about the most productive place on earth.  I think this is, of course, on an airplane.  Thirty thousand feet in the air with nowhere to go, no one to interrupt you, no cell phones, no Internet, has all the advantages of being what I call a creative cocoon.

You can access my post about productivity on an airplane by following this link.  At the end of the post, I discuss the idea of turning your office into a creative cocoon to foster the same level of productivity as on an airplane.  One of my twitter followers and a fellow blogger Carol Dublin, who blogs at, commented on the post about the creative cocoon of productivity and motivated me to go after it.  I began setting up a creative cocoon of productivity in my office

Of course, you cannot lead and influence others while you’re sitting behind a desk.  So, I had to set up a temporary cocoon of productivity.  This had to be something that I could set up in times when I needed heightened focus to achieve a high level of productivity.  On the other hand, I need to be able to put my cocoon away at a moment’s notice.

So I began with the basics, what does a creative cocoon look like?  The key features are as follows:

  1. White Noise – Blocks out distracting noises
  2. Phones are off – Essential for avoiding interruption
  3. Restricted Mobility – You’re stuck in your chair
  4. Unplugged – No Internet or TV

I took these four areas into account and began working away on systems to make my office more like an airplane.

  1. White Noise – Our ears are always on.  To increase productivity, I find it helpful to turn them off and force my mind to focus.  I have always been a baseball fan but l never knew how much it would benefit me.  I subscribe to MLB.TV and can listen to any baseball game via my iPhone.  I plug it into my beautiful Crosley iSolo Radio and play a game very softly. If there are no live games I playback an old dodgers game.  Vin Scully is my favorite play-by-play man.  This noise is easy for me to tune out but also masks the various noises around the office.
  2. Phone is off – – I once set a timer on my watch, set a sheet of paper and pencil to the side, and began to work for 30 minutes.  I used the paper and pencil to tally every time my office phone or my cell phone went off.  In 30 minutes, I was interrupted 12 times!  In fact, I have received two office calls, one intercom communication and three texts while writing this post!  Now, I put my cell phone on silent while it plays a baseball game and turn my phone to DND.
  3. Restricted Mobility – I create this creative cocoon of productivity during my “alone zone” time.  See my schedule for more about this.  This way, people know that while I’m available to them, I’m busy on a task.  I close my door and sit down in my seat.  I set a timer and resolve to not move from my chair until the timer goes off.
  4. Unplugged – I use MacFreedom on my Mac to ensure I won’t be getting onto Facebook or Twitter when I should be focused and productive.

Always remember to try and use my 50/10 rule when working in a focused environment to avoid fatigue.  Here’s an additional bit of advice: try a little human interaction and outdoor time before and after your time in the cocoon.  This will help you to avoid “office jet lag.”

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Five Daily Leadership Tools

No one ever became a leader and thought “I want to be the worst leader I can be.”  Instead, we aspire to become leaders who incite great influence. The larger our following, the more people counting on us, the more good leaders feel an urge to improve. We know that we lead by permission and if we don’t invest in ourselves to get better, we’ll let down those we influence.

“There it is again, that smile, that attitude. How do you do it even on a Monday morning?” This is what my director of first impressions (receptionist) asked me one morning. As she asked it, I noticed a smile on her face and her eyes lit up. At that moment, I knew that my contagious attitude had just brightened her day and improved her mood.

We joked a little bit before I walked through the doors and back to my office. I like to walk through the building rather than take the back entrance right next to my office. I realize that this is my first opportunity to set the tone for the day. I greet everyone with a smile and an upbeat attitude.

What my director of first impressions didn’t know was that this particular Monday, I was having a really bad day. I hadn’t slept well, I had to skip breakfast, and I hit a little traffic on my way to the office. Between my truck and the front door, however, I reached into my leadership toolbox and pulled out my leader’s attitude.

As a leader I am often a liar. Sometimes I don’t have a great attitude, but attitude is one of my leadership skills I pull from my toolbox every day. Below is a list of tools I use as a leader every day.

Feedback – Employees yearn for encouragement. If you asked all your employees if they receive TOO MUCH positive feedback each day, I bet you wouldn’t receive a single yes. Feedback on performance offers encouragement and intrinsic value.

Encouragement – In John C. Maxwell’s book the The 360 Degree Leader, he says the following about encouragement. “When we catch people doing something wrong, they become defensive. They make excuses. They evade. On the other hand, if we catch people doing something right, it gives them positive reinforcement. It helps them tap into their potential. It makes them want to do better. ”

Love of Learning – The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know much. Continuous learning is key to growth. If you are a seven as a leader, your people are all sixes or less. When you learn and improve and grow into an eight, your people don’t automatically become sevens. You must teach them to learn. Ask questions. Force them to research things rather than just come to you for answers. Soon they’ll grow with you and become sevens.

Optimism – This is the tool I use on my way into the office every day. Emotion is contagious. A bad attitude from a leader can kill the whole room, but an optimistic approach to problems provides a mind shift that centers thoughts on positivity. Michael Hyatt has a great post about this here.

Resilience – This is often the difference between success and failure. Think of someone on a diet. Only a person who is resilient and sticks to the diet long term will see results. Allan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company, attributes relentless implementation to his successful turn around of the company. He came up with the ONE FORD plan and then implemented it relentlessly every single day. His resilience led the company out of its downward spiral and into prosperity.

Every day as a leader is a day in which you must use these five tools to help your followers achieve their best. It is your job to create an environment in which the team can grow and flourish. The world rises and falls on leadership. These tools will ensure that the world doesn’t fall on your watch.

Technology To Take On Travel

This summer has been a crazy summer full of travel for me. I have yet to spend five consecutive days in the office in the last three months. This means fewer days to achieve the tasks I need to achieve. It also means more time planning my trips.

Unfortunately, I can’t stay on top of my tasks if I have to spend more time planning my trips. So, I had to find a way to maximize my time at the office while minimizing my time spent preparing to travel. The answer to my travel problem was technology.

We have the privilege of living in the era of apps. “There’s an app for that.” It’s true; there is almost an app for everything. I use many apps for travel. Below is a list of my favorite apps and technology, to ease my planning pains and improve my efficiency on the road.

Tripit – My EA from eaHelp recommended this app to me and it has literally replaced the large manila folder I used to carry. Tripit can keep all your travel information in one place. It keeps your airline ticket confirmation, digital boarding pass, and can even let you know if your flight is delayed. On a recent trip I couldn’t find my hotel. The address was in Tripit with a map and their phone number, how cool!

TripAdvisor – With one click this app can tell you the best place to eat near your hotel. It can recommend things to do or places to see. It also has reviews of everything, so you can read what others thought. This app pointed out a gem on my last trip to San Diego. The best breakfast in town is at Mission Cafe. I never go on a trip without having this app.

Maps – I always make sure I’ve got a full charge on my iPhone and my google maps. It’s my go-to GPS anytime I’m traveling. I actually use the walking feature quite often in big cities.

Audible – I subscribe to and listen to my favorite books as I travel. It’s also a great way to take a book but not have to pack it. Plus, you can’t read a book if you’re driving.

FaceTime – If you don’t use Apple products you can also use Google Hangout. This is a family man’s best friend. It makes going to bed in a hotel a little easier. You can talk face-to-face with your family. I find this the best tool for curbing homesickness and allowing me to focus on my work.

TeamViewer – I use this app to log into my computer at the office or home. When I travel I only take my iPad. Then, if I need to access something on my computers, I can do it remotely. This way I have all my information and work at my fingertips.  I don’t have to carry around a large laptop and USB disks only to get to the destination and find out that my presentation didn’t load to the disk!

These travel apps have allowed me to keep my head without having to do much planning. If I had to get up this second and leave for a business meeting, I could do so without any preparation. Load these few tools and you’ll be able to access everything you need when you’re away.

A New Era of Leadership – Virtual Teams

More often, companies are looking to lower overhead and allow teams to work from home.  Gone are the days when everyone was in the office every day of the week.  These days, teams are often spread across the state, country, or even the world.  Leadership has certainly been changed by this movement.  Leading a virtual team is not like leading a team who is around you all week.  The game has changed


After reading the Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, my eyes were opened up to the possibility of never having a formal office again.  In my current position, however, that is impossible but I have since hired several people who do not office in a building.  They have home offices.

Recently, I have hired both a new outside salesman, who has only seen our offices once in his life, and an Executive Assistant who has never seen our offices.  I have also hired outside work from suppliers in India who will never see our offices.  Managing these employees is easy with today’s technology, but leading them, that is a new frontier.

Good Leadership knows no bounds and applies to all who follow you.  One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to adapt to each person.  Each person on your team will respond to your leadership differently.  See Maxwell’s 5 levels of leadership for an in depth discussion of this idea.  In addition to each person responding differently, your medium for leadership must be flexible as well.  In a virtual world, you must be able to utilize these three keys in order to reach your followers.

Communication – When you don’t run into someone in the hallway every day, it is difficult to keep up and keep tabs.  When working with a virtual team, communication can suffer.  I have learned that scheduling, at minimum, one phone call per week is essential.  Often, as you speak with someone, new ideas form.  You may not have much to say prior to the call, but as you catch up with one another, more ideas and thoughts will form.  Without this weekly call, this type of thought incubator will not occur.

FaceTime – There is something about meeting face-to-face that solidifies relationships with your followers.  If you can’t meet a person face-to-face you should at least try to video chat with them at least monthly.  55% of all our communication is nonverbal.  If you’re not meeting face to face with your virtual team, you’re missing more than half of the conversation.  This is a mistake many leaders make and it is a deal breaker.  You could lose highly qualified people because of lack of face time   Without seeing your reactions, people often don’t know how you feel, this can cause grave misunderstandings among your team.

Technology – Learn to utilize apps and web software to increase team collaboration.  I have found Text Messages and Online Chat the easiest way to handle what would be a quick pop in at the office.  FaceTime and video conferencing software are important for face-to-face meetings.  My team uses Teamviewer to access one another’s computers to explain things in a more hands-on manner.  We also use apps like Orchestra, Tripit, and Jing.  I’ll go into more depth on how my virtual team uses these apps to increase productivity and leadership in a later post.

To date, my salesman has blown away his quotas, my EA has taken more off my plate than expected and frankly made me look better to others than I really am.  Leadership, especially as it pertains to virtual teams, can sometimes be mystifying.  Using these three keys will help you make the transition from an office leader to a virtual leader.


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Increase Productivity with the Most Productive Place in the World

Where is the best place for you to increase productivity? Perhaps it’s a well lit corner of a cozy Starbucks, or maybe a long table of college students at the campus library. I think it’s an airplane. As I write this I am on my fifth flight in three weeks. This, however, is my first opportunity of those flights to write. Thus far I have completed 6 blog posts.

Increase Productivity

I’m using Evernote to remember all my great ideas for things to post on. I’m using my iPad and Byword to then write. I am writing with a level of output I have yet to achieve in any other place. Not my office, my recliner, a Starbucks or a library. I am convinced that an airplane is the ideal setting to increase productivity and achieve a high level output.

I got the idea from Michael Hyatt.  He posted here, that he and Gail both enjoy working on an airplane. I have to agree. It is one of the best places in the world to increase productivity.

How Plane’s Increase Productivity

White Noise – I can hear myself think, and not much of anything else. Once I got tired of the silence I turned on some music. I have a pair of Bose noise cancellation headphones as well and am currently enjoying Lyle Lovett. Don’t fault me, I’m a Texan. The great thing about white noise is that it works for others as well. No one can tell I’m totally jamming out with the volume a little too high.  Another tool I use to increase productivity.

Phones off – Alec Baldwin will back me up on this one. You can not have your phone on. What this means for many of us is NO interruptions. Apart from the occasional gurgled pilot talk over the PA system, or the flight attendant serving me drinks, I can increase productivity by staying focused without interruption.

Restricted mobility – In my office I have a Free Flexor, a kettle bell, some golf clubs, an iPad, iPhone, computer, and about a million other things around me that I can occupy my time with. On an airplane, I can either go to the restroom or sit in my seat. In fact, as I write this, the fasten seat belt sign is on so I literally can’t even get out of my seat. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fasten seat belt sign in your office?

Unplugged – I have no television, and even worse, no Internet. This means no email, no Facebook or Twitter, no Netflix or Youtube. I am, for the most part, unplugged. In other words, I can’t kill my own productivity.

Writing on an airplane is pure bliss. It’s like being in a creative cocoon. When you find yourself struggling to meet a deadline or struggling to find the time to work on a project you’ve been putting off, you don’t have to buy an expensive airline ticket, instead, try making your office an airplane. Recreate the scenarios above to create your own creative cocoon.

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