5 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Cognitive Success

Stop me if you’ve ever spoken or heard this during the work day:

“He was depleted after a long day of meetings.” ”She did not forget about the meeting. She was completely focused on something else when the meeting was set and just didn’t hear you.” ”He didn’t bother to check whether what he said made sense.”

Once, I would have thought those to be incongruous statements. Each has happened to me many times, and looking back on each situation I could easily explain the reasons why. The meeting was not as stimulating, I was rushed by a tight deadline, or I had too much on my plate at the time. See how easy it is?Thinking Fast and Slow

While they have to do with some sort of mental capacity, it’s easy see them at face value and miss the deeper message: we are sometimes misled by our fast and slow-thinking processes. That’s what Daniel Kahneman is teaching me through reading his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

The Israeli-American psychologist, along with a long-time collaborator, did so much research into our instinctive and deliberate thought processes that he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2002. The 80-year old academic did so much for the psychology community that the APA give him a lifetime achievement award seven years ago. The man is a legend.

Our mind works in two states. There are some things our mind is asked to negotiate intuitively, and on the spot. A question that qualifies is, “what is your favorite color”. This is referred to in the book as System 1.

Some things take a little more thought. If I were to ask you to count the number of punctuation marks on this post, that would qualify as something that takes a little more concentration and time to accomplish. Kahneman refers to this as System 2 in full effect. It is possible that some activities could become more intuitive, as does our driving ability. Just takes effort and time.

The research in Thinking, Fast and Slow blows you away when you see what exactly it takes to be a deliberately thoughtful person on a daily basis. So much of what we do during the day, and how we behave, can be explained with science. Got me thinking of how this could be applied to improve things, if even only a little.

I’m not even halfway through the book, but here are five things you can try tomorrow that will show immediate improvements.

1. Mentally challenging tasks should be saved until you are not just rested, but fed well.

This is because of the revelation I learned that thinking takes actual energy. Eight parole judges in Israel were unwitting participants in a study that measured how we perform cognitive activities throughout the day.

Spending entire days reviewing cases, their response time and approval rates were measured. The overall approval rate of parole during the study was 35%, but the approval rate jumps to 65% right after meals are eaten. It dropped to nearly zero right before the next meal.

What does this mean for your day? Why not schedule your most difficult mental task, such as a tough feature to implement or that meeting you really need to concentrate during, right after lunch? Your brain not only needs that energy, but will respond better.

2. Our intuition lulls us into a false sense of security when problems arise.

Quick, give this math problem a quick glance and blurt out the first answer that comes to mind:

“A ball and bat cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball.How much does the ball cost?”

Most would say the ball costs $0.10. When I say most, 80% of college students give that answer (ivy leagues aren’t immune either, 50% of them fall for it). The correct answer is actually $0.05, and no I did not get it right either.

It’s important to note that our mind would preferably solve problems quickly, because there are surely more important problems in the world to solve. Kahneman calls this concept a “Lazy System 2″. If we can negotiate something quickly, our ego kicks in and sorts the task under System 1 as opposed to question how easy a problem actually is. Action item from this section is to do just that: question your problems more. Are you putting the right amount of mental effort into this task? Don’t let your mind be lazy!

3. Slow down; we are never as hurried as we think.

Another reason the ball and bat problem proves difficult is we are prompted with the request to just give the first answer that comes to us. If we were prompted with the directive to take 3 minutes before answering, I think the correct percentage rises.

Part of the mind’s need to solve as many problems intuitively as possible is because we all have an internal metronome. As Kahenman states in the book:

“Just like the juggler with several balls in the air, you cannot afford to slow down; the rate as which material decays in the memory forces the pace driving you to refresh and rehearse information before it’s lost.”

If you are feeling hurried by something that you doing during your day, there is a good chance that you’re mind is just juggling different ideas at the same time. In fact, the more ideas a task involves, the more hurried we will feel. A little organization and reflection on your task can take these multiple ideas and transform them from airborne balls to grounded principles. Kind of like a mental Kanban board.

4. There is something to be said for batching your tasks.

After we are fed, set aside laziness, and organized our thoughts, what have we done to ourselves? Quite simply, we have prepared ourselves for long periods of effort without having to exert willpower. It’s what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”. The book defines this term as:

“People who experience flow describe it as, ‘a state of effortless concentration so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems,’ and their descriptions of the joy of that state are so compelling that Csikszentmihalyi has called it an ‘optimal experience.'”

The quickest thing that can pull us out of our flow is having to exert mental energy to switch back and forth between certain tasks. Instead of taking advantage of this heightened mental state, we stay stuck in Interruptville. Cut to every single developer on my teams nodding their heads vigorously.

It takes effort to set this zen garden in our mind up, why would we intentionally trash it with answering the text you just got? Pomodoro is a technique I have written about before, and can easily give you the freedom to offload unimportant tasks until you have the time and mental capacity for this.

5. You can prime your mind for success.

Ever hear of word association? It’s a fun game that we’ve undoubtedly all played, but did you know we can be primed to give specific answers?

Take the word “SO_P”. Now if I were to mention food before asking you to tell me what word you are thinking of, what would you say? This time, if I were to talk about washing my clothes, would you answer differently? Kahneman thinks so. The greatest example is in a study that uses the “Florida effect”.

An NYU study asked two groups of students to assemble four-word sentences from a group of five words (the example is “finds he it yellow instantly”). One group involved words associated with the elderly, such as “Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle”. The others didn’t. Once finished with the task, each set of students was timed walking down a hallway to exit the room. Which group do you think walked significantly slower than the other?

As funny as that study was, we can prime ourselves for mental success with some playful word association. Instead of the family photo as your desktop background, try using a solid color or a positive trigger word. Before you have a difficult call or meeting, there’s nothing wrong with pumping yourself with some stickies with positivity abounding. Triggering success can be that simple every day.

Which ones have you tried before, and what kind of effect did it have on your day?

About the Author: 

Chris Murman is an Agile Coach for Bottle Rocket – a multiple Apple Hall of Fame award winner and #61 on the Forbes America’s Most Promising Companies List. With over five years of combined experience in the mobile and agile technology worlds, Chris marries both worlds in his blog located at chrismurman.com. In February, along with co-author Matthew David, Chris has the upcoming release Designing Apps for Success from Focal Press. He can be reached at chrisdmurman@gmail.com or @chrismurman.

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How to Start a Job Search at 55: What I've Learned

This is Part IV of Glen Bradley's blog series. Read Parts I-III here.

I’m now a little over two months into my job transition, at least from a focused perspective. Since there are so many times for reflection in this process, I was recently thinking about some of the lessons that I’ve learned from this experience that I will now take into my work as I land in a new career. It never occurred to me at the beginning that I would grow in areas through this process. That it would make me a better leader at my next company. How to Start a Job Search at 55: What I've LearnedHere are four areas where I feel I will be improved:

1. With all of the work I’ve done to understand and articulate my value proposition, I’ve realized that I can be better about communicating the value of work proposals. Whether developing a business case for the C-suite or simply gathering support within my team for a new company initiative, I think I may have assumed that my audience saw the proposal, its value and possibility, in the same way I did; without really ensuring the communication was fully presented. I will be better at the sales pitch in the future.

2. While I was always a believer and encourager of networking, both personally and with my teams, I really understand the importance now. In my last role, I insisted that my customer relations managers have a performance objective around their networking actions i.e. so many contacts made while attending a trade show, etc. However, because my job was so spread around North America and even Europe, I had a dearth of contacts in my own city. I have since began to “think global but network local”.  Networking is as critical to those employed.  Whether it is benchmarking, needing a reference for a service provider, learning about needed partners or competitors - having trusted advisors to discuss business is crucial. I have vowed to continue to join local organizations and attend events despite the busyness of a new position.

3. The development of resilience. Wow, this is a big one. I now understand that being an executive in a global iconic company buys you an often rapt audience both internally and externally. If I left voice messages, I did get a reply. If I made proposals that weren’t accepted they were at least listened to and considered.

Welcome to my new world! Applications made to online postings are basically ignored by software programs and in some cases HR gatekeepers, who count keywords rather than connect the value on resumes. To be fair, I realize there are too many resumes submitted to be handled much differently, but rejection seems to be the dish that HR serves cold.

Additionally, LinkedIn “inmails” to recruiters or hiring managers are returned unopened. Gaining contacts within a target company is both tenuous and tedious. I could go on but the point is that job seekers have learned to pick themselves up off the ground on an almost daily basis. There is no choice but to persevere and carry on to the next opportunity. I know that my resiliency in my next role will be considerably stronger than when I was accustomed to ongoing success.

4. This leads into the final trait to take forward: empathy. I am somewhat embarrassed to think how I came across to others seeking work, information, etc. when I was always employed. The old adage of walking a mile in another person’s shoes is true with the job seeker. I now know the frustrations, the roller coaster ride, the daily “twenty-mile march” that is required to find new employment.

Again, I have resolved to be accessible and willing to help where I can in the future as a job seeker comes my way. The Southlake Focus Group (networking for those in transition) uses the acronym of HOPE – “help one person everyday” as a way of maintaining the right attitude and spirit while in the job search.  The attitude shouldn’t stop with the job landing. If we can all take that charge into our next workplace, cube by cube, we’ll see a difference in our offices. Stephen Covey calls the ongoing learning process the “sharpening of the saw”. Never thought it would apply to the job search but there you go, the blade is a little sharper.

About the Author: 

Glen Bradley is an executive with a diverse background in IT, Logistics, and Commercial Operations. He is passionate about getting stakeholders aligned to deliver the strategic goals that help companies win in the marketplace. Learn more about Glen or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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It’s Summer - Is Your Career on Vacation?

School is out, everyone is either on or going on vacation, and something other than work is calling your name. Sound familiar?

It’s Summer - Is Your Career on Vacation?Aside from seasonal jobs and internships, summer isn’t known as the high season for career moves. Most professionals just aren’t focusing on their careers in these months - but business still goes on. In fact, our data shows that job postings increased by 5% in the past eight weeks. On the flip side, candidate applications actually decreased by 14% - meaning that, at least for us, there are more jobs available, and fewer candidates to fill them, right now.

So while everyone else is working on their tan, it’s your opportunity to retool, get noticed, and land that killer job/career you covet. 

Below are a few simple steps you can take today to get started:


Not saying you have to be all work and no play. Want to get some sun? Grab your iPad and work on your resume while you do. Don’t miss out on the summer, but make sure your career doesn’t take a backseat in the meantime.

Learn a New Skill / Get Certified

If business is slow right now, then it’s a great time to get that certification that’s been on the back burner. Or maybe there’s a new skill out there that would make you more marketable. Be proactive with the spare time that you have.

Reach Out to a Recruiter

If the thought of looking for a new job is overwhelming to you, just remember that there are people out there who get paid to do it for you. Reach out to a recruiter specialized in your industry and fill them in on your situation. Maybe you’re comfortable in your current position, but would like to know if there’s something better out there. A recruiter can get a good feel of what you’re looking for, and find out if there’s a better match for you. For experienced IT professionals, you can update your job status here and engage with MATRIX.

Say YES to Happy Hour

There is a high volume of after-work events happening in the summer. Pick out a few groups (check out the MATRIX Events Calendar for some suggestions) that could be beneficial to you, and get out there and network. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 70% of all jobs are found through networking. You can’t ignore that number!

Automate your Job Search

This one doesn’t have to be daunting. Job boards, staffing agencies, and many direct employers have search agent technology built into their career portals and job boards. Spend five minutes crafting the perfect search, save it, then sit back and wait for relevant positions to land in your inbox. And don’t forget, many companies now allow you to apply using LinkedIn or Indeed.com profiles. And some (like MATRIX) even allow you to upload resumes and cover letters via Google Drive or Dropbox.

Lastly, don’t get too caught up that you forget to take time for yourself – after all, that’s what summer is all about. By adopting even a few of the tips above, you can keep your career on track without derailing summer plans and fun.

About the Author: 

Jennifer is the Digital Content Specialist for MATRIX. Her primary mission is to understand what information our various communities want and need from MATRIX, and to deliver it to them in ways that are enlightening, engaging and in sync with who we are as a company. She loves pop culture, Oklahoma football and the great state of Texas. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Make July Your Month of Independence

In the United Stated we have just finished celebrating the 4th of July. It’s a special time to Americans. Not only are there picnics and parades, there is an understanding that over 200 years ago people got fed up with the way things were and pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” to making the changes they saw necessary for long-term success as a nation.Make July Your Month of Independence

July is also halfway through the calendar year, six months away from the hopeful exuberance of New Year’s resolutions. This makes it a perfect opportunity to make July a month to declare your personal independence from the things that are standing in the way of your resolutions and goals. Revisit those grand dreams and declare your independence from the tyranny holding you back – pledging with the same revolutionary fervor as the patriots did to make the changes necessary for your success.

Declare your independence from failure.

How are you doing on the goals you made at the first of the year? Have you fallen so far behind that you have shoved them back into a corner, pointedly ignoring them because you feel that you have failed?

This is the tyranny of failure. It stalks along beside you, assuring you that each and every time you try something new it will not work out and you will not be successful. Often it has helpers – your friends, co-workers, possibly even those closest to you. Regardless, the largest ally of failure is the voice inside of you. Before you listen to all these voices, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Have you given this goal your best effort?
  2. If you have – what are the reasons you could not be successful? Is it a lack of resources, knowledge or skill?
  3. How can you learn from where you are and make a plan to acquire what is missing – the resources, knowledge or skills – to allow you to be successful?

The great Roman general Marcus Aurelius asked the question a different way: “Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness?” In other words, does what you perceive as failure change your basic nature as a human being? If not, don’t waste time being held back by the failure. Instead use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Take that learning and growth into the future and continue on to achieve your goals.

Declare your independence from fear.

Television personality Mike Rowe tells a story when he stood before the camera to begin his first night as a host on the shopping channel QVC. He had a product he knew nothing about, he had no experience in live television, and he knew that QVC was not interested in on-air personalities who could not sell products.

In his story, Mike points out a key in declaring your independence from the tyranny of fear: Don’t hide your fear. Acknowledge that you are scared to yourself and to those around you. In Mike’s case, he started out his segment letting the entire television audience know that it was his first time, he didn’t know anything about what the product did, and then he asked them to get involved and help him out.

The audience responded by filling the phone lines to talk about their experience with the products, encouraged by Mike’s willingness to be truthful and authentic with them. Most importantly, they were willing to purchase the products being pitched.

What Mike Rowe did was eliminate the best weapon of fear, which is the uncertainty that comes with doing something that you have not done before. By openly acknowledging the fear he made it clear that he was committed to success, and was able to tap into those who were waiting for an opportunity to make that success possible.

Declare your independence from going it alone.

The story that Mike Rowe tells also shows the futility of trying to go it alone. Many people set goals – whether they are related to education, fitness or career – then attempt to achieve those goals in the absence of any type of support system.

The self-made man is a myth. Throughout history, leaders who have been successful have had carefully developed support systems around them. Whether they are formal advisors, technical assistants, or just sounding boards who can help in the development of ideas, a support system is invaluable in helping you reach a goal.

Make yourself accountable to those who care about you. It does not have to be a formal accountability framework; something as simple as online social media can be very powerful. When I first started a fitness program, I posted each day’s run to my Facebook account. This was not so much that I wanted to be sure that my friend saw me run, rather, it was my motivation when I did not want to go run.

Declare your independence.

Make this July your personal “Independence Month” – a month to recommit to the goals that you want to achieve this year. Adjust where necessary, learn from the attempts of the first half of the year, banish your fear, and re-engage with your support system. You have the second half of the year to make your goals a reality, and the experiences of the first half of the year to get you there.

About the Author: 

Kevin Dunn is a technology strategist, speaker, and thought leader with over 20 years of experience in highly available infrastructure, e-commerce, mobile application and payments, BYO Enterprise strategies, and the leadership of technical teams. Currently in independent practice, Kevin assists clients in creating innovation through a combination of people, process and technology. Follow him on Twitter @KevinTechExec and connect on Linkedin.

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The Three Hardest Words in the Job Interview

Joe was knocking the interview out of the park. I was a part of one of those abominable panel interviews and Joe had nailed a few hard analytical questions I had aimed between his eyeballs. The interview was less than half complete and in my mind, he had the job.The Three Hardest Words in the Job Interview

Then, it happened.

One of those traffic wrecks that you watch unfold in what seems like old-time, stop-motion cinema. Fenders crushing under the momentum of panic. Brakes squealing. And as quick as a Red Bull guzzling Mongol’s scimitar, Joe’s future with my company was lopped off unceremoniously.

And it wasn’t what he said: It was what he didn’t say. Joe could not say those three irksome words. The three words that separated him from where he was, and where he wanted to go: “I don’t know”.

The question was actually a pointless question from someone who had no business conducting an interview. But there it was: a soul-crushing, unfair question that should never have been asked, but it was Joe’s lot in this interview.

I am far from the first to suggest that admitting “I don’t know” is difficult. Just Google it. It’s hard. REALLY hard. I did my best damage control on Joe’s behalf because I can look past a few dents on an otherwise pristine Porsche, but his panic had sealed his fate with the others.

Don’t let this moment pass without trying it yourself out loud. Say it firmly and add a little staccato: “I. DON’T. KNOW.”

That didn’t feel very good, did it? It doesn’t feel very good for anyone, least of all me.

I’m asking you to commit yourself right here and right now to embrace this discomfort. Think of it like that tie you overpaid for at Brooks Brothers (yeah, you aren’t the only one): Once you get past feeling like the tourniquet is about to turn you into worm food, your step has a little extra spring because you not only are the right person for the job, but you look the part as well.

It’s like that, but harder.

If Joe had answered, “I don’t know”, he would’ve had a new job. And if he had some relevant insight, and was calm because he was prepared, Joe probably could have negotiated more money than what was on the table.

Listen to the power of these three difficult words when framed with the kind of wisdom any competent professional has inside: “I don’t know. But, if I understand your question clearly, here is how I would approach solving the problem…”

Joe was the most competent person that panel interviewed—by far—but that did not get him the job. Lack of preparation left him powerless. My passion is to help you find power through preparation. Wielding power with those three tongue-incapacitating words is a good start on mastering one of the most critical job skills you have never been taught.

In the rest of this blog series, I will share more techniques to help you interview with confidence. To interview with the confidence to speak those three despicable words.

The confidence to get the offer.

About the Author: 

Tony Plank is a polymath with an extremely diverse background including Information Technology, Law, and professional coaching. Three decades of success on both sides of the interview desk gives Tony a unique perspective on how to not just succeed in professional job interviews, but to master and control these critical career milestones. Mastering the interview demands preparation and planning. In an evocative series of blog posts, Tony will provide you with the basic elements of what it takes to walk into that next career changing event with confidence and walk out with the offer you want.

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