We all need to grow — not only to stay engaged in our work but also to keep up with our employers’ changing needs. And this is the perfect time of year to set personal development goals and start making progress on them.
No matter what skills you’d like to improve, it’s important to know where to begin. So we’ve pulled together several of HBR’s best assessments and quizzes to help give you a sense of what you need to work on and how to go about it.
Productivity. Time management is a perennial thorn in most managers’ sides. How can you possibly get everything done with not enough hours in the day? A lot of the advice out there presumes that one size fits all. But in fact, your cognitive style — that is, the way you prefer to perceive and process information — can have a dramatic impact on how you manage your time. So before you try out a new program or app, take this assessment to understand your own style and discover productivity tips that like-minded people have found most effective. Then, if you want more information on the different styles, read this article Take charge of your own development.
Work/life balance. If your New Year’s resolutions included making more time for family, volunteering more regularly, or even just going to the gym, you’ll probably need to figure out how to fit those activities into your schedule. In this assessment, you can compare your priorities with how you actually allocate your time and energy. Once you’ve answered questions about four key areas — work, home, community, self — Wharton professor Stewart Friedman provides practical guidance and a useful exercise for addressing the critical gaps.
Cultural skills. In this increasingly global world of work, it’s essential to collaborate with people from different cultures. Yet even seasoned, cosmopolitan managers often have oversimplified ideas about how other cultures operate. This assessment helps you see key differences in eight areas where cultural gaps are most common, like communicating, scheduling, trusting, and disagreeing — and shows you how you compare with the norm for your culture in each area. The questions and feedback are based on comprehensive research by INSEAD’s Erin Meyer, an expert in cross-cultural management.
Emotional intelligence. Relationships matter at work, and you need emotional intelligence to be an effective manager. With this quiz, you can test yourself on five critical EI skills — emotional self-awareness, positive outlook, emotional self-control, adaptability, and empathy. In addition to your score on each component, Annie McKee of the University of Pennsylvania shares an exercise to help you enhance your self-awareness by getting feedback from trusted friends or colleagues.
You might also take this assessment on emotional agility — the ability to manage your thoughts and feelings. Everyone has an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that includes criticism, doubt, and fear. By answering the questions in this assessment, you can identify your own patterns when it comes to avoiding or buying into those negatives thoughts. At the end, you’ll receive advice on how to respond more mindfully.
Communication skills. If this is an area you’d like to improve, you’re not alone. The popularity of our grammar quiz shows just how many struggle with writing. Review the 10 sentences and decide whether you think they’re grammatically correct. You’ll find out if you’re right, get feedback on how to improve the broken sentences, and receive a final score benchmarking your results against other test takers.
Finance skills. Of course, it’s equally important to be financially literate, especially if you’re eager to advance in your organization. This 10-question finance quiz comes from the HBR Guide to Finance Basics for Managers. When you finish taking it, you’ll see which answers are correct, and why, so you can brush up on key concepts you need to learn to become a more effective manager.
Managing your boss. This assessment asks what you would do in five “managing up” scenarios. After selecting your answers, you learn which approaches experts recommend. You also receive links to further reading on how to cultivate your most important relationship at work — your relationship with your boss.
11 Simple, Proven Ways to Optimize Your Mental Health
Stay in the moment.
We all sometimes seek to avoid uncomfortable situations, either by physically removing ourselves or checking out mentally. “That’s normal … it’s just that when you do that very chronically and habitually, it could develop into significant problems with anxiety and depression,” says psychologist Brandon Gaudiano, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Experts recommend practicing mindfulness instead to help deal with difficult circumstances and emotions. “It’s paying attention to the present moment and what your experience is,” says Gaudiano, noting that approaches vary. “Bringing awareness, acceptance, self-compassion, curiosity and just noticing non-judgmentally those internal experiences as they’re arising.”
Meditate about the ones you love.
Want to get even more from that wonderful vacation or visit with family? Focus your mind on it. In researching different forms of meditation, Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, has found that so-called kindness meditation or loving-kindness meditation can improve a person’s emotional well-being and reduce symptoms of depression; she adds that other researchers have found it eases anxiety. “It’s a very simple meditation based on … sending well-wishes to yourself or others,” Fredrickson says, describing it as somewhat similar to mindfulness meditation.
Keep a journal.
Just as mindfulness can help a person recognize and cope with difficult thoughts and emotions in the moment, experts say it’s important to have outlets to process complex experiences. Journaling, or expressive writing, allows a person to put negative thoughts, feelings, aspirations and anything else that might be going through their mind to paper – and, Gaudiano says, to get some mental distance from those experiences. “It has been [shown to be] very helpful in some of the research I’ve done as well for [addressing] anxiety and depression,” he says.
Prioritize – and schedule – positivity.
Pay bills, do work, spin wheels. Check, check, check. Lunch with a friend? Not on the list. “Basically when people make their ‘to-do’ list, they are often thinking of achievement, as opposed to scheduling something in their day that they know is a boost to their positive emotions and their mood,” Fredrickson says. But her own research finds those who prioritize positivity, such as allotting time to visit loved ones or engage in a beloved hobby, tend to be mentally healthier.
Stay socially connected.
Social support plays a vital role in helping optimize our overall mental well-being, Klitzman says. He recommends “surrounding ourselves with supportive people – loving friends and family – and avoiding, if we can, ‘difficult’ people who may bring us down.” By contrast, a lack of social connectivity can put us at risk for health problems that affect body and mind and contribute to premature death. “Lack of socialization is … the leading cause of geriatric depression,” Bhati says.
Don’t wait for a crisis to get your mind right.
Assess your stress.
Avoiding high levels of stress and finding ways to cope can make a big difference. “Many times, we can actively avoid difficult, stressful situations,” Klitzman says, When we can’t, “framing our experiences positively, and trying not to worry (especially about things you can’t change) can also be beneficial – focusing on the positive, not stewing about the bad things that may occur.” Under such circumstances, he adds: “Mindfulness – relaxation or meditation – can also help.”
Sleep on it.
Whether you’re wrestling with serious mental anguish or just smelling the roses, it’s important to get ample rest and practice proper sleep hygiene – room-darkening blinds in the bedroom, TV out. “Poor sleep wreaks havoc on the brain and circadian rhythms, [and it can] alter brain function and gene expression,” Bhati says. In short, whether you’re predisposed to mental health issues or not, skimping on shut-eye can awaken psychological problems that make it even harder to function during the day.
Just as making time to visit with friends can change the complexion of a day, mental health experts say doing something meaningful and finding purpose can ground a person in psychologically beneficial ways. “Engaging in activities that give us meaning in our lives can further aid us,” says Klitzman, in terms of improving mental health. That might include volunteering to help others, engaging in hobbies as well as doing other things we enjoy, he adds. Bhati echoes that doing things with a sense of purpose or meaning is a proven way to improve mental health.
Fortunately we don’t have to wait 7 years. Day-to-day changes to our diet can have a massive impact on our productivity. Something like this:
“Adequate nutrition can raise your productivity levels by 20 percent on average.” ~ WHO
When I grew up, there were tons of cliché wisdoms thrown at me. Eat at least 5 different fruit every day. Drink plenty of water. Eat 3 separate meals every day. Do this , do that, that’s “healthy”. I realized recently that most of this I’ve just taken for granted and never looked into it.
Whilst we have uncovered the 2 other major factors that contribute to your productivity, explaining how much sleep we really need and how science looks at the impact of exercise on our brain, it’s time to tackle the probably hardest and most ongoing challenge we all face: nutrition.
How foods interact with your brain
One of the most fascinating things about eating is how various ingredients enter your brain through your blood stream. Whichever elements make it through to power your brain will help you to either focus or lose focus.
Most of what we eat will be broken down to one thing: Glucose. Glucose is our fuel, keeping our brains awake and alert. So at all times, we have a certain glucose level in our blood, kind of like gasoline in a car.
The most important part here is that we are in full control of how we release glucose to our blood and our brains. Certain foods release glucose quickly, whilst others do so more slowly, yet sustainably. For your brain researcher Leigh Gibson found this to be optimal:
“The brain works best with about 25 grams of glucose circulating in the blood stream — about the amount found in a banana.”
And this is the tricky part: the way you can get those 25 grams of glucose into your blood stream is pretty easy. You can eat a donut. Or you can eat a small bowl of oats. There is virtually no difference in the very short term for your brain activity.
Over the stretch of a normal 8 hour day however, the differences are spectacular. After eating the donut, we will release glucose into our blood very quickly. We will have about 20 minutes of alertness. Then our glucose level will drop rapidly, leaving you unfocused and easy to distract. It’s like putting the foot down on the gas pedal until you’ve used all your fuel.
The oats on the other hand will release their sugar as glucose much slower. This means we will have a steady glucose level, better focus and attention levels. Another important factor are your Leptin levels. Leptin will signal to your brain how full you are. If you are now guessing that a donut won’t signal your brain to be full for a long time, whilst oats will, well, you are right:
What we are also measuring here as the difference between a donut and a bowl of oats is called your “glycemic index”, coined by the Franklin Institute:
“Foods with a low glycemic index number gradually release glucose into your bloodstream. This gradual release helps minimize blood sugar swings and optimizes brainpower and mental focus”
In fact, the lowest glycemic index of all comes from Soy, at only 18 and the highest comes with white rice of 88 or jelly beans at 80. Thorin over at Lifehacker also looked into some more longterm insights of how eating affects your brain.
What really matters with eating: when, where, and who you’re with
That’s funny now. We’re going through all this stuff about blood streams and brain fuelling only to find out it doesn’t actually matter?
Rest assured, it still matters, yet the context of when, where and with whom we eat has an equally powerful impact on our eating activities and hence our creativity.
Let’s start with the “when”. The most important part here, is that you make sure you are never hungry. To put this better: Hungry judges give in fact harsher sentences.
For our case, being hungry, or skipping breakfast can ruin several hours of your productivity until you get your first bite. Let’s take a look at this study:
All the children in a class were told to skip breakfast one morning, and then, by random assignment, half of the children were given a good breakfast at school. The others got nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who got breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by monitors who didn’t know which children had eaten). Then, after all the students were given a healthy snack in the middle of the morning, the differences disappeared as if by magic.
Eric Barker, one of the best productivity and lifehack bloggers out there, put it like this:
“Across the board, yeah, food puts you in a better mood. To be more exact, research has shown that 2 cheeseburgers = one orgasm.”
Using context to control your eating is one of the most important aspects. If you are like me, you always end up eating portions that are too big, which makes me overly full at lunch and very tired a few hours afterwards.
One of the best proven techniques here is to eat from a smaller plate. Why? Because Delboeuf has told us so a long time ago with his illusion experiment of thinking the right circle looks bigger:
The portion on the smaller plate will always fill you up more. This can make the difference of 1 hour of productivity gained each day, simply by reducing the size of your plate and being less full. Joining the small plate movement is definitely something worth trying.
Another aspect comes in regarding the people you are with as Barker points out:
3 most important aspects to get the most out of eating food
It’s time to get our hands dirty. I think we’ve got a basic understanding of how food determines our daily productive output. But what are the best ways forward to act on this information?
- Reorganize the positioning of food stored in your cupboard: One of the most interesting aspects about eating is that we are extremely likely to eat what is in close sight. In fact famous researcher Brian Wansink mentions that “You are 3 times more likely to eat the first thing you see in your cupboard than the fifth thing you see.” Make sure you organize your food in way that brain powering foods get more exposure. It’s an incredible trick to start eating better food that will give you more daily alertness.
- Learn to graze: From the first section in this post, we’ve learnt that the brain needs very specifically portioned amounts of food. Too much will give you a spike that rapidly declines. Too little won’t bring your brain up to speed. A great way to go about it, I’ve found, is to make your 3 daily meals a bit smaller (potentially by making the plates smaller). And then add 2 very specific, healthy snacks in between meals to keep your brain plugging away at full speed. This way you don’t have to change your core habits too much, yet can still fuel up your brain more efficiently.
- These foods will give your brain the most power: For the whole post, we haven’t actually looked into which kinds of foods you should consume specifically. Here is a great list of brain powering foods, that you can eat, especially for snacking. The WHO particularly emphasizes the following: Dark Chocolate, nuts, seeds; Nuts, seeds, chocolate; Fish
Quick last fact: What you eat will also decide your grandchildren’s productivity
As a last quick tip, here is something that blew my mind. Yes, what you eat will affect your productivity today. But even more so, it will also determine the productivity of your children and grandchildren’s productivity:
“Evidence indicates that what you eat can affect your grandchildren’s brain molecules and synapses,” Gómez-Pinilla said
What you eat, can according to Gomez-Pinilla rewire your genes, and the more you strengthen the synaptic connections, the better your kids and their kids will perform.
What you eat affects your productivity!!!
Think back to your most productive workday in the past week. Now ask yourself: On that afternoon, what did you have for lunch?
When we think about the factors that contribute to workplace performance, we rarely give much consideration to food. For those of us battling to stay on top of emails, meetings, and deadlines, food is simply fuel.
But as it turns out, this analogy is misleading. The foods we eat affect us more than we realize. With fuel, you can reliably expect the same performance from your car no matter what brand of unleaded you put in your tank. Food is different. Imagine a world where filling up at Mobil meant avoiding all traffic and using BP meant driving no faster than 20 miles an hour. Would you then be so cavalier about where you purchased your gas?
Food has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon.
Here’s a brief rundown of why this happens. Just about everything we eat is converted by our body into glucose, which provides the energy our brains need to stay alert. When we’re running low on glucose, we have a tough time staying focused and our attention drifts. This explains why it’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.
So far, so obvious. Now here’s the part we rarely consider: Not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate. Some foods, like pasta, bread, cereal and soda, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump. Others, like high fat meals (think cheeseburgers and BLTs) provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.
Most of us know much of this intuitively, yet we don’t always make smart decisions about our diet. In part, it’s because we’re at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when deciding what to eat. French fries and mozzarella sticks are a lot more appetizing when you’re mentally drained.
Unhealthy lunch options also tend to be cheaper and faster than healthy alternatives, making them all the more alluring in the middle of a busy workday. They feel efficient. Which is where our lunchtime decisions lead us astray. We save 10 minutes now and pay for it with weaker performance the rest of the day.
So what are we to do? One thing we most certainly shouldn’t do is assume that better information will motivate us to change. Most of us are well aware that scarfing down a processed mixture of chicken bones and leftover carcasses is not a good life decision. But that doesn’t make chicken nuggets any less delicious.
No, it’s not awareness we need—it’s an action plan that makes healthy eating easier to accomplish. Here are some research-based strategies worth trying.
The first is to make your eating decisions before you get hungry. If you’re going out to lunch, choose where you’re eating in the morning, not at 12:30 PM. If you’re ordering in, decide what you’re having after a mid-morning snack. Studies show we’re a lot better at resisting salt, calories, and fat in the future than we are in the present.
Another tip: Instead of letting your glucose bottom out around lunch time, you’ll perform better by grazing throughout the day. Spikes and drops in blood sugar are both bad for productivity and bad for the brain. Smaller, more frequent meals maintain your glucose at a more consistent level than relying on a midday feast.
Finally, make healthy snacking easier to achieve than unhealthy snacking. Place a container of almonds and a selection of protein bars by your computer, near your line of vision. Use an automated subscription service, like Amazon, to restock supplies. Bring a bag of fruit to the office on Mondays so that you have them available throughout the week.
Is carrying produce to the office ambitious? For many of us, the honest answer is yes. Yet there’s reason to believe the weekly effort is justified.
Research indicates that eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day isn’t simply good for the body—it’s also beneficial for the mind. A fascinating paper in this July’s British Journal of Health Psychology highlights the extent to which food affects our day-to-day experience.
Within the study, participants reported their food consumption, mood, and behaviors over a period of 13 days. Afterwards, researchers examined the way people’s food choices influenced their daily experiences. Here was their conclusion: The more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), the happier, more engaged, and more creative they tended to be.
Why? The authors offer several theories. Among them is an insight we routinely overlook when deciding what to eat for lunch: Fruits and vegetables contain vital nutrients that foster the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the experience of curiosity, motivation, and engagement. They also provide antioxidants that minimize bodily inflammation, improve memory, and enhance mood.
Which underscores an important point: If you’re serious about achieving top workplace performance, making intelligent decisions about food is essential.
The good news is that contrary to what many of us assume, the trick to eating right is not learning to resist temptation. It’s making healthy eating the easiest possible option.