What the Brain Wants

Emily and Paul are just trying to get some work done. But they don’t do it very well until they learn to understand their brains. Author David Rock uses their stories to illustrate how the brain works in the fascinating book “Your Brain at Work.”

To think and work effectively, it is important to understand the brain and be aware of our thought processes. In the first act of the book, the author uses a metaphor for what goes on in the brain. In this metaphor:

  • The Stage is our attention
  • The Actors are our thoughts
  • The Audience is the thoughts already in our brain

The Five Functions of Conscious Thought

  1. Understand: put new actors onstage and hold them long enough to see connections to audience.
  2. Decide: hold actors onstage and compare them to one another, making value judgments.
  3. Recall: bring audience members onstage to interact with actors. (it’s easier to get recent thoughts back onstage)
  4. Memorize: get actors offstage and into audience. (practice, practice, practice: go over connections frequently)
  5. Inhibit: keep actors offstage that aren’t contributing to the story.

All of these functions require a lot of resources. It is best to tackle these tasks at times when your energy levels are high, and to use strategies to focus, gain insight, eliminate distractions, and manage emotions. There is only room onstage for so many actors, so choose them wisely. (Yes, you are the director, as we learn in the intermission.)


To Focus: be aware of energy levels, and do tasks in the best order. This usually means doing important work first. Develop routines so attention reserves aren’t used up by non-essentials, and use that brainpower for more important thought.

To Gain Insight: add interest with some novelty, (but not too much) choose to be curious, know when to take a break, take a walk, change perspective, and use visuals.

To Manage Distractions: Novelty gets our attention, and the brain is easily distracted. (which is summed up beautifully in this clip from the movie “Adaptation.“) Distractions have a big energy cost, and vetoing distractions also takes energy. Practice braking by learning to veto impulses before they turn into action. Stop impulses so that distractions are kept off the stage before they get on it. Once they are on stage they like to stay there.

The Director

In the intermission part of the book, we learn about the director. Awareness: the ability to observe our own thought processes, is central to managing them.


Mind map of “Your Brain at Work” by David Rock created with mindmup. Click image to download.

The Brain is Social

After the intermission, we learn about five things that are powerful drivers in our social interactions. These are things that we want, and move toward. If we don’t get them, we feel pain and move away.

The SCARF model

  • Status-our relative position, confidence in our abilities
  • Certainty-the ability to predict what’s next
  • Autonomy-the ability to make choices
  • Relatedness-connection with others, belonging
  • Fairness-equal and just treatment

An increase in any of these is viewed as reward and desired. Loss of any of these is viewed as threat and avoided. To handle a loss of any of these, first label the emotion, then reappraise by looking at the situation from different perspectives. Handling threats is easier when you practice emotional awareness, reappraise, and have strong self-esteem. If you are tired or your attention is fragmented by many demands, it is harder to handle them.

To reappraise, ask: What’s going on with the other person? Are you interpreting the situation accurately? Are expectations realistic?

Reappraisal is the Killer App

  1. re-interpret (re-frame)
  2. normalize (for example, expect to experience stress when starting a new job)
  3. re-order (increase or decrease value placed)
  4. re-position (get a different perspective)

Things to do when working with others: start off with icebreakers to connect, be open and transparent about your goals, outline expectations upfront, make it visual, ask questions that will lead to insights, focus on solutions (rather than problems), use humor, use your strengths, play against yourself (rather than compete with others), take steps to correct unfairness like volunteering for a cause.

Knowing what the brain wants and how it works may be the best thing you’ve ever done for your productivity.

To learn more, read David Rock’s book and watch his TED Talk, Learning About the Brain Changes Everything.


Top 10 Posts of 2015

Here are the top 10 posts of 2015 at the Daily PlanIt:

  1. Free Tools
  2. Home Page
  3. Time Management 101
  4. Identify Emotions
  5. Run Your Day Like an Athlete
  6. Practice the Four Agreements
  7. Personal Development Tools
  8. GTD Essentials
  9. Top 10 Personal Development Sites
  10. Measuring Productivity

When I reviewed the top posts of 2014 I concluded that three skills: communication, productivity and goal setting, contribute the most to three important areas:

  1. happiness
  2. personal development and
  3. skills for success

When I saw that productivity contributes to success in so many life areas, I really intensely focused on it this year. I put together a collection of videos to learn more and created infographics to summarize the results of studies.

Another discovery this year was the strategies for motivation from Alex Vermeer, which are summarized with 25 quotes and affirmations you can receive when you sign up to receive updates from the Daily PlanIt.

The updates include a link to the monthly Flipboard editions which compile highlights from the Daily PlanIt. I also share information about all kinds of skills at the Daily PlanIt Facebook page, and invite you to join us there too.

A shiny, newly updated post on how to do An Annual Review includes a free printable Annual Planner for charting results of regular reviews, and an Annual Metrics Chart, just in time to keep you on track for 2016.


2015 Book Roundup

booksTo prepare for planning goals for 2016 I am reviewing the past year. Here is a look back at the top five books I read in 2015.

  1. 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman – Getting the Important Stuff Done
  2. Start by Jon Acuff – How to Be Awesome in 10 Steps
  3. Give and Take by Adam Grant – Book Review
  4. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson – Top Ten Ways to Improve Productivity
  5. The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry – Finding Your Sweet Spot. I didn’t write a post about this book, but I especially liked the concept behind the Personal Idea Pad. It was a good reminder that combining ideas to come up with new ones is fun, and should be part of a regular review.

I plan to keep track of the books I read in the upcoming year with a printable My Reading List from Money Saving Mom. (pdf) For a free printable annual metric chart and annual planner for tracking regular reviews, see an annual review.



An Annual Review

Once a year, it’s good to take a look at how things are going in different areas of your life. This big picture view let’s you evaluate how things are going and plan for what’s next.

Steps for an Annual Review

1. Review the past year. What went well, and what have you learned? What obstacles have you encountered and how have you handled them?

2. Review the results of your weekly and monthly reviews.

What’s that? You haven’t been doing regular reviews? Below are two free printable tools to stay on track with weekly and monthly reviews for the next year. Use the Annual Planner and Annual Review Metrics Chart for a years worth of information that will be invaluable for the next annual review. Choose a day and time for a weekly review that works well for you, and commit to following through.

3. Choose the life areas you want to focus on in the upcoming year. The Life Area Energy Gauge is a tool to see which areas of your life need more attention. This is similar to the Wheel of Life, but I think the Life Area Energy Gauge is quicker and easier and gives a better overview.

4. Plan for the coming year. When you have identified the areas that are most important to you, look for the most meaningful metrics.  Attempting to track too much can be overwhelming, so choose carefully. Some ideas for metrics and tools for tracking them are below.

5. Review your value statement: does it still pinpoint what you do and why, or does it need to be updated?

6. Review your work space and task management system. Do they still work well for you, or are there changes you could make to increase your efficiency? See Time Management 101.

7. Print calendars and any updated lists if desired.

Ideas for metrics to track for an annual review:

  • Physical: weight, body mass index, blood pressure
  • Financial: Income, savings, investments, net worth
  • Career: Work projects completed, time audit of productivity
  • Mental: goals achieved, books read
  • Emotional: Acts of kindness, emotional intelligence score
  • Relationships: activities with family and friends, loving actions for closer relationships
  • Character: volunteer activities, creative work
  • Social: group activities
  • Organizational: Home projects completed
  • Spiritual: frequency of prayer, meditation, gratitude
  • Purpose: time spent in flow or contributing w/talents, Work/Life balance score
  • Recreational: trips taken, new activities tried

Tools for Tracking Metrics

Free Printables:

  • The Annual Planner from the Daily PlanIt is a free 9 page pdf booklet with forms to capture the results of weekly and monthly reviews for a year. It includes weekly and monthly review action steps & review questions, ideas for metrics, and an annual chart to record progress.
  • The Annual Review Metrics Chart is a free pdf from the Daily PlanIt.
  • time audit chart from the Daily PlanIt.
  • The Annual Calendar from Vertex42 is great for planning and tracking progress.
  • My Reading List from Money Saving Mom. (pdf)


Review your goals: Are you still excited about them, or is it time to choose some new ones? (see Goal Plans for ideas) To learn more, check out the free Daily PlanIt short course on How to Set Goals, and my eBook, “Get Goaling.

See also:

Passport Cover for Book Lovers


Turn a Mead pocket calendar into a Passport Cover

Are you looking for a simple, inexpensive gift idea? You won’t believe how easy it is to make this for your favorite book lover!

  1. Buy a Mead pocket calendar. These are available lots of places and only cost a few dollars. I found mine at Big Lots this year. The kitten in the picture is the calendar removed from the plastic cover.
  2. Find an image of a book cover that the person loves online.
  3. Right click and copy the book cover image, then paste it into a wordprocessor.
  4. Resize the image to about 6″ x 7 1/4″ and print it-I used cardstock.
  5. Alternatively, you could right click on the image and “save image as…” to save it to your computer. Then open the image in a photo editor to resize and print it.
  6. Cut out the book cover image and slip it into the plastic cover of the Mead pocket calendar.

This can be used as a passport cover, a checkbook cover, or even as a pocket calendar. Anyone who loves books will appreciate this personalized gift!

In the Now

From a post at the Productivityist, I learned about the movement to create a now page started by Derek Sievers. What a great idea, and a wonderful way to stay focused on current projects!

I write about work skills, productivity and personal development to inspire learning skills for success that are not often taught. I do this to increase the skills employers want in the workforce to close the gap where skills are lacking. I create tools for life skills and share information.

What I’m doing now.

  • recently updated the Get Goaling ebook with new information.
  • reviewing metrics for an annual review, creating an annual planner, and plan to update that post soon.
  • creating an outline for a series of videos to delve into the motivation techniques from Alex Vermeer.
  • planning to put polishing touches on a release of all the information I’ve learned about productivity for a launch of a guide to creating a system that works the way you do: the Your Time, Your Way Workbook.

Keeping in mind that time is relative, in the now now I’ve been preparing for Christmas, shopping, getting cards and presents ready to go.


I’ve come up with an awesome gift idea for your honey or really for anyone, on many occasions, and it can be repeated each year for those hard-to-find-gifts-for people! Introducing the Have a Beary Merry Christmas present. (For birthdays, it can be Bearly 80, or whatever the age) I found the gift bags with bears at the Dollar Tree store, and many of the inside ingredients can be found at either a dollar store or the grocery store. I got all the ingredients for around $10.00. Here’s some things to include:

  • A honey bear
  • Bit-o-honey
  • Honey grahams in a bear shape
  • Honey roasted nuts
  • Gummy bears
  • Honey buns (these are dated, so don’t get too far ahead of time)

I can hardly bear what a sweet idea this is!

In the now, nowest:

I invite you to follow the Daily PlanIt, right now!

Learn How to Use Google Apps for Productivity

If you have read about the Daily PlanIt Keep It Super Simple System, you know that I am a big fan of Google Apps. The KISS System is a simple, free, task management system that combines the benefits of electronic systems with the ability to print lists and calendars if desired. Learn more about how to use Google Apps to increase productivity with the following resources.

This Youtube video demonstrates Creating tasks and to-do lists in Google calendar.

Steve Dotto also has several helpful videos on Google apps at his DottoTech channel.

Learn more about productivity at the free Time Management 101 tutorial.

10 Ways to Be Like Dollar Shave Club

I have a new goal: Be Like Dollar Shave Club, because they know how to do things right.

  1. First they captured my attention with humorous commercials. They made me feel like this would be a fun club to join.
  2. They offer a great solution to a really annoying problem at a great price.
  3. Their fun vibe continues on their website. At the same time, they simply and efficiently answer questions and make it easy to sign up.
  4. They follow up. I received a friendly email to check and see if all was going well, and if I was happy with what I ordered. As it happens, I hadn’t received the package and wasn’t sure what to do next.
  5. They give great customer service. They immediately responded, apologizing and sending out a replacement package. They even said the next set of blades are on them for the inconvenience.$Shave
  6. The new package arrived exactly on my husband’s birthday and I was able to give him his gift on his special day. Woo Hoo!
  7. The packaging is really fun too. 
  8. It’s a great product. The razor is way superior to the products we had been using, and my husband absolutely loves it. Plus we never have to think about replacing the blades. Win Win!
  9. When you get great customer service, and become a devoted fan of a brand, you want to share the love. I put a post on my Facebook page, and now I’m sharing on my website. And the positive word of mouth continues to spread.
  10. I’m thinking about how I can be like Dollar Shave Club. Anyone who provides a product or service should consider it too.

The Empty Box

It’s the time of year when we think about the things that scare us the most. Ghosts, monsters, zombies…and the grim reaper standing over an empty coffin with our name on it.

There is another box that is even scarier. Imagine a box that represents your time here on earth, that is either filled with the things that you wanted to put into it. Or it’s not. The thing is, you get to decide what goes in it. That is a thought that is both liberating and frightening.




What will you put into the box of your time today?

What do you want to put into the box of your time? Do you want to fill the box with creative, completed projects, with good work well done? Do you want to build great friendships, raise wonderful kids, share big ideas? When you think of each day as a file box, can you put what you wanted to into the box by the end of each day? This is the only way to have a box full of treasure when you see the other box with your name on it. If you get side-tracked by procrastination and other time-wasters, you end up putting nothing of value in your box. Nothing is scarier than the final grains of sand in your hourglass running out while the box that represents your time is empty of the things you wanted to put in it.

To fill the empty box, first spend some time thinking about what you want to put into it. Think about the personal qualities you want to reflect in your character, the values you want to express as part of your life, the goals and important work that you want to accomplish. Maybe you want to focus on Stephen R Covey’s Quadrant II of the Time Management Matrix: things like creative thought, planning, relationship building. Perhaps there are small Daily Disciplines that you want to develop into habits for a daily routine to maximize your time.

Next be very aware of the time thieves that will sneak in and quickly kill your time if you let them. Defeat procrastination and fear so you can fill the box of your time each day with the treasure you value. Are you spending your time on the things you treasure, or on things that have no lasting value to you? Remember the final line of the book “The Pigman” by Paul Zindel: “Our life would be what we made of it.  Nothing more, nothing less.” Look into the empty box of the day ahead of you, but don’t let fear stop you from filling it with what you want.

See also The Angst Guide to Motivation

Top Ten Ways to Improve Productivity

I recently read the book “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson, which is about the small choices we make about the daily actions we take that, over time, either lead us closer to success, or farther away from it. They are simple small actions that are easy to do, but they are also easy not to do. Often results are not immediately visible, and the actions that make a difference seem insignificant. But they aren’t.

Daily Disciplines that can make a Difference:

Simple, right? We all know these things are important. It’s all about making the right choice in the moment, on a regular basis. And it will make a difference. To apply the Slight Edge to productivity, start with small daily disciplines.

Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan. Picture Quote #1

Top Ten Ways to Improve Productivity

  1. Choose a system to manage your calendar, tasks, and lists that works well for you.
  2. Set priorities.
  3. Use your system to Plan weekly, Plan daily, schedule, add and delete tasks.
  4. Eliminate clutter and unnecessary stuff.
  5. Break large tasks down.
  6. Remind yourself of tasks with timers, alarms, and/or a tickler system.
  7. Organize the information you need in files.
  8. Automate repeating tasks as much as possible.
  9. Maximize your use of available free time.
  10. Have a regular time to review progress.

See also The Keep It Super Simple Productivity Award, the Daily PlanIt Keep It Super Simple (K.I.S.S.) System, and The Science of Productivity.