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12 Weekly Challenges For Happier, More Productive Employees

12 Weekly Challenges For Happier, More Productive Employees

If you manage a team, you know hard it can be to keep everyone engaged, happy, and productive.

Some days, simply getting your employees to show up and get the job done feels challenging enough. But as a manager, you have a unique opportunity to help your team members learn and practice life skills that will help them become happier, healthier, and more productive, both at work and at home. They’ll love you for pushing them in new directions, and you’ll love seeing the increased collaboration and energy in the workplace.

One way to engage your team is to issue a new challenge each week that’s fun and simple to do — and if adopted as a habit, can become a powerful new life skill.

Here are 3 months’ worth of weekly challenge ideas. Announce a new challenge every Monday and check in with everyone during the week. A weekly team meeting is a great time to ask each team member to report on their progress, experience, and learnings.

These challenges were borrowed from the free e-book: 26 Weekly Challenges For Happier, More Productive Employees.

Week 1: Tiny Steps

Procrastination is a huge time waster, but overcoming the inertia can be as easy as taking one tiny step. After that the Zeigarnik effect kicks in — the voice in your head that prompts you to finish what you start. For this challenge, organize your team into pairs. Ask each person to choose one task they’ve been avoiding at home or work and break that task into 5 tiny steps. Starting Monday, each person’s goal is to complete one of the 5 steps each day and report back to their accountability partner by an agreed-upon time. For some people, finishing one step may generate the momentum to complete all 5 steps on the first day, and that’s great!

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    Week 2: Mindful Meetings

    When everyone is present and tuned into the discussion, meetings are more fun, productive, and efficient. For this week, challenge your team to commit to being mindful during meetings. This means taking a couple of deep breaths before the meeting, setting an intention for what they will each contribute and take away from the meeting, and staying engaged for the duration of the meeting by taking notes, listening actively, and speaking up thoughtfully.

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      Week 3: Authentic Smiling

      A genuine smile conveys warmth, trustworthiness, and interest. It’s the number-one way to boost likeability. To smile authentically, you have to engage the muscles around your eyes, not just those around your mouth. Practicing this in the mirror first may seem silly, but it does help! Challenge your team this week to smile at everyone they pass in the building or, for extra credit, everyone they come in contact with inside and outside of work.

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        Week 4: Hunger Awareness

        Overeating during the workday can leave you feeling sluggish and unproductive. Tuning into your hunger will help you slow down, enjoy your food, and feel satisfied with less, so you finish your meal feeling light and energetic. This week, challenge your team to stop and note their physical hunger level on a scale of 1 (famished) to 10 (stuffed) before, during, and after eating each meal. By the end of the week, their goal should be to start eating when their hunger level is at a 3 and stop when it’s at a 7.

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          Week 5: Walking Breaks

          Walking breaks ease mental tension, free your mind for creative thinking, and help to counteract the physical stress caused by long bouts of sitting. The challenge this week is to integrate 10-minute walking breaks into the work day. Have your team schedule their walking breaks into the calendar the day before to ensure they don’t forget them. You can set a good example by converting any 1:1 meetings you have this week to walking meetings, whether you walk outside or just around the building.

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            Week 6: Tech-Free Hour

            Disconnecting from technology, even just for an hour a day, can help you reconnect with the people in your life and experience the world more fully. Challenge your team this week to pick one hour every day when they would normally be connected and completely unplug — no phone, tablet, or Internet access of any kind! It could be during the work day, first thing in the morning, or right before bed. Encourage them to use the tech-free time to do something no-tech like writing with pen and paper, reading a book, sketching, or having a face-to-face conversation.

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              Week 7: Must-Do List

              Taking a few minutes at the end of each day to set your top priorities for the next day is a powerful time management and productivity technique. This week, challenge your team to set aside time at the end of every day to write down the 3 most important tasks they will tackle the next day. For extra credit, ask each person to post their 3 tasks in a shared document. This will add both transparency and accountability, and you might be surprised by the discussion and collaboration it creates.

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                Week 8: Small Talk

                Small talk at the office may seem like a waste of time, but it’s actually one of the most effective ways to build rapport with other people, and that leads to open communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving. This week, challenge your team to practice making authentic small talk with someone they barely know, whether it’s a customer, client, coworker, or even their barista. To establish genuine rapport, you need to go beyond “Crazy weather we’re having!” and generate conversation by offering up an opinion or story: “What did you do over the weekend? Even though it was crazy cold, my kids wanted to go out for ice cream, so we did!

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                  Week 9: Posture Check

                  Chronic sitting triggers back pain and neck tension, contributes to stress, and saps energy and productivity. While a daily stretching regimen can help counteract all that, what affects your posture most is how you hold your body throughout the day. This week, challenge your team to set a reminder on their phones or computers for an hourly posture check. At each reminder, they should adjust their seated position, stand up straight and stretch for 5 minutes, or scooch forward to sit upright on the edge of their chair.

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                    Week 10: Mindfulness Meditation

                    The idea of stopping to meditate for even 2 minutes during a hectic workday may be hard to contemplate, but the benefits make the sacrifice worthwhile. You’ll notice reduced stress, improved creativity, and enhanced focus. This week challenge every person on your team to stop and take 2 minutes during the workday to meditate (this guided track will help). For extra credit and to help reinforce the benefits, encourage them to take note of how they’re feeling before and after each session.

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                      Week 11: Eye Contact

                      Eye contact is one of the best ways to establish trust and rapport with other people, but many of us struggle to make and sustain eye contact, especially with people we don’t know well. The challenge this week is for your team to practice making eye contact with everyone they pass in the building or with friendly strangers. They should try to hold the contact for a few seconds before looking away, and for extra credit, add an authentic smile.

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                        Week 12: Pomodoro Technique

                        Do you often look back after a day at work and struggle to identify what you actually accomplished? We have so many temptations and distractions vying for our attention that it’s hard to get anything done. The Pomodoro Technique helps solve that problem: You carve up the work day into 25 minute chunks separated by 5 minutes of indulgence in social media, online shopping, or socializing. Challenge your team this week to work in “pomodoros,” using a phone, an app like Freedom, or a kitchen timer to signal the start and end of each break.

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                          These challenges were borrowed from the free e-book: 26 Weekly Challenges For Happier, More Productive Employees.

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                          Last Updated on September 20, 2018

                          8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

                          8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

                          You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

                          Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

                          When you train your brain, you will:

                          • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
                          • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
                          • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

                          So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

                          1. Work your memory

                          Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

                          When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

                          If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

                          The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

                          Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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                          Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

                          What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

                          For example, say you just met someone new:

                          “Hi, my name is George”

                          Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

                          Got it? Good.

                          2. Do something different repeatedly

                          By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

                          Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

                          It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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                          And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

                          But how does this apply to your life right now?

                          Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

                          Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

                          Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

                          So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

                          You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

                          That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

                          3. Learn something new

                          It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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                          For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

                          Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

                          You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

                          4. Follow a brain training program

                          The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

                          5. Work your body

                          You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

                          Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

                          Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

                          Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

                          6. Spend time with your loved ones

                          If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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                          If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

                          I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

                          7. Avoid crossword puzzles

                          Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

                          Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

                          Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

                          8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

                          Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

                          When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

                          So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

                          The bottom line

                          Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

                          Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

                          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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