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4 Methods To Find A Superstar Mentor – How To Talk to Nobelprize Winners, Presidents and CEOs

4 Methods To Find A Superstar Mentor – How To Talk to Nobelprize Winners, Presidents and CEOs

How do you talk to a Nobelprize winners like Daniel Kahneman, write emails with presidents, share a pizza with Martin Seligman or interview Paul Ekman and discuss coaching techniques with Europe’s best-paid coach? In this article I show you my favorite techniques to get in touch, hangout and learn from the superstars in your field.

Early on in life I learned that if you want to become really good at something, you have to learn from the best. But “the best” are often hard to reach, super expensive and super busy. So you need to develop some methods to get in touch with them and eventually learn from them. Here are my four favorite and extensively field-tested approaches:

1. The Quick-and-Dirty

At least twice a week I reach out to ueber-successful entrepreneurs, famous psychologists and other possible superstar mentors. Nowadays you can find almost everybody’s email address somewhere in the web. So sending your role-model a short email is an easy way to start an interaction.

Most of the time I use exactly the same email structure for all approaches and simply adapt it to the specific person. The mail should be as short as possible, concise and straight-to-the point.

This my typical 4 sentences email:

Dear Prof. Kaslow,

My name is Till and I’m a 22-year old psychology student (entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, author, blogger – whatever fits the occasion). I got asked to give a talk at the European Congress of Psychology, where I will give a talk on the topic of self-education (the reason why I am writing).

Since you are one of the most accomplished psychologists in the world right now, president of the APA, editor of journals, board member and have numerous other responsibilities (I show that I know who she is and what she is doing; and I flatter her), I have one quick question for you.

How important is it to have a good mentor? (a small, easy to answer question)

Respectfully yours,
Till

75% of the people actually answer. Though their answer is often a one-liner like “A mentor is important, but not essential”. The magic lies in keeping the conversation going and creating a stimulating interaction, which is not an easy task.

Using this structure I reached out and got answers from Nobel-Prize Winners, successful CEOs, MIT-professors, star psychologists and presidents of organizations. It is easy, quick and you have a huge success rate, but the hard part is to build a relationship from there.

2. Creativity & Courage

The best thing you can do is to make a possible mentor actually interested in you. Obviously this is not an easy task but it can be a lot of fun and the benefits are definitely worth the struggle. Also, the only limits you have are your own creativity and courage.

Simply being creative and courageous is sometimes enough to catch the attention of a possible mentor. Your creative act can be completely unrelated to your mentor’s profession or your field of interest. A great example is Jerome Jarre. I met the vine guy at a TEDx event two years ago. One of his strategies to connect with business leaders, was to walk up to, for example, the CFO of Facebook and ask him to play rock, paper, scissors with him. If he wins he gets a meeting with him. This is completely unrelated to their profession but it is definitely creative.

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Another method is to display your skill in a creative way. I did this when I tried to contact Roman Braun, the best-paid coach in Europe. I knew he worked with clinical hypnosis. So after a couple of failed attempts to get his attention I wrote him a letter that was actually a hypnotic trance induction. The letter read like this:

“…and while your eyes glide over the lines, you can notice how your breath goes in and out completely unconsciously and pleasantly relaxing and becoming aware of what will only put you in the nice and sound state of enjoyable comfort….”

This continued over the next 6-pages. After ignoring my prior mails he actually answered to this letter and I got a 3,500 € scholarship for his next seminar.

So summon all your creative spirits and just go out there and try it.

 

3. For the Long Haul aka Hustle

Let’s face it, some of the people I contacted charge up to 1,500$  per hour and are continuously surrounded by some of the smartest and most creative minds of our planet. So I could be as creative as I want and it still took me nowhere and I failed to make an impression on the person. But there is one-method that is almost fool-proof. When I started reaching out to people I focused extensively on this method and it worked almost every time. I recently found out that Charlie Hoehn actually mastered this technique to incredible high degree.

What I would do is, I would approach famous therapists or coaches and tell them I wanted to attend their workshops but I don’t have the money, still I am incredibly motivated and willing to work off the costs. So basically I offered them free work (as Charlie Hoehn would call it).

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Almost every single time the person agreed and they let me work for them. So I did stuff like selling their books, doing marketing, promoting their workshops, working in their office and other small tasks. In return I would get a spot in their workshops.

But here is the important thing: Not just do the job but actually dazzle them with your effort. One time a well-known German therapist was kind of skeptical and told me I should prove how motivated I am. To prove it I should sell some of his books over the next month. Within the next 24 hours I sold almost all of them. He was so intrigued by my effort that he invited me over, let me attend his seminar and even gave me a real job. Half-a-year later he took it a step further and I was travelling through whole Germany giving talks in his name in front of hundreds of people at the age of 19.

Everybody loves good work and if it is for free they love it even more. Offer them a clear idea of what you can do for them and then exceed their expectations. Free work is your foot in the door and then you can easily work your way up.

 

4. Leveraging existing structures

All of the prior methods rely on your ability to contact stars of a field and enchant them one way or the other. It also means that you need to work your way up all by yourself. This can take time and a lot of effort, but it creates a stronger bond and a solid mentor-mentee relationship. By using existing structures you can meet the luminary of your field with less effort. However, when you do this it is very important to create a situation where you are not just a fan but rather a colleague or somebody else with a certain status or position.

My two favorite ways to easily meet and talk to an important person at almost equal footing is by volunteering at conferences or interviewing them.

When you volunteer at a conference always try to be responsible for the speakers. This way you get a lot of opportunities to interact with your hero on a more personal basis.

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The other method is to ask a big magazine if they are interested in an interview with a certain person. Nowadays everybody is looking for quality content so they are very likely to say yes. Then just reach out to the person and interview him. This is a great way to have a chat and even build some sort of connection. (Tim Ferriss actually gave me this idea to approach stars like this)

Two recent examples of how I did it:

Two weeks ago I was in Berlin at the International Positive Psychology Congress where I worked as a translator for the German speakers. How did I get this chance? I just wrote the organizer an email and hustled for a spot in the team. I never did translation work before. Being part of the team I got the chance to go to lunch with guys like Martin Seligman and Robert Biswas-Diener or chat casually with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who are the stars at the positive psychology sky

The chance to talk to Paul Ekman came up by interviewing him for lifehack. So I used the prestige and structure of the lifehack magazine to talk to one of the greatest psychologists of our time and ask him a bunch of questions.

I continuously hone my skills in finding mentors and getting in touch with important persons, because I noticed how it contributed to my own development. I think there is hardly anything more valuable than directly learning from the greatest minds of our time. So go out and reach for the stars. Literally.

Featured photo credit: seeveeaar via flickr.com

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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

Where you work has an enormous impact on how you work – on your ability to focus (and stay focused) and your overall ability to be productive. That means the design of your office, whether you work at home or in a larger company environment, is of supreme importance. This isn’t just about Feng Shui, this is about producing results and getting things done.

According to studies done on workplace and productivity, the most significant factor in determining an employee’s ability to focus is their physical environment. In fact, it’s been said that a well-designed office can increase your productivity about 20%. However, despite the studies and statistics, nearly half of the employers interviewed don’t consider workplace design a good business investment.

So what is a productivity hack to do? What if you work in an environment that doesn’t promote focus?

Check these 15 factors and make changes where you can. A little adjustment can produce a lot of impact.

Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important factors in staying focused and feeling inspired to create, yet it’s one of the most overlooked and least invested in. Bad lighting can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches and overall irritability. Dark spaces can actually produce depression.

If you work in a company office:
You probably have no control over your general lighting so bring in your own, if need be. Consider using natural light bulbs or a light therapy device.

If you work from a home office:
Open the windows and doors and let natural light in. Using lamps in a variety of areas for cloudy days or when it’s dark.

Chair and Table

If you’ve ever sat at a desk to do work but found yourself adjusting, stretching and moving too often to actually stay focused, then you’re aware of the importance of having a correctly fitted table and chair. In today’s work environment where so many of us are sitting for most of our day, it is critical that your throne fits your body probably.

Consider these quick ergonomic checks:

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  • Eyes 24-36 inches from the computer screen. The top of the monitor should be below or at eye-level.
  • Feet should be on a foot rest or resting on the floor.
  • A slightly reclined chair posture is best to reduce pressure on your spine and minimize lower back pain.

If you work in a company office:
Ask for an adjustable chair. Add pillows for your lower back or bum, if you need it. Many companies will also provide risers for computers to adjust the height of your computer screen (and a separate keyboard to keep your hands and wrists in the ideal position)

If you work from a home office:
Invest in a decent chair or at least use a few pillows to make the chair more comfortable. If the table is too high, add pillows to your chair. If it is too low, consider buying leg risers from your local hardware store and using books beneath your computer to raise the screen. Use a separate keyboard.

Clutter

Your mama was right, it’s important to clean up your room. Clutter may help the creative mind create, but it isn’t necessarily helpful for focus and productivity.

If you work from a company office: While you can’t control the cleanliness of the office at large, do keep your own environment around you clean. Spend 10 minutes every morning or evening making sure things are put away, filed, organized and generally out of sight so you’re not distracted by it later.

If you work from a home office: Because you work from home, the entire house or apartment is potential for distraction. If you can afford it, hire a professional cleaning service to keep your home clean. If not, schedule a specific day and time to clean your home. Commit to doing daily pickup at a specific time. And spend at least 10 minutes every day making sure your office  is organized and tidy.

Room Color

The colors around us all have an effect on our moods and brain function. It evokes both a physical and emotional response. So choosing the right colors for your work space has the ability to affect your productivity. For instance, blue has been said to illicit productivity. Mind you, too much of anything can be overwhelming, even color.

If you work from a company office: Bring in items from home that are a certain color that inspire you and keep you focused. Use postcards, magazine cutouts, even just blocks of color will do.

If you work from a home office: If you work from home, you have much more control over the colors around you. Consider repainting a wall, adding color to the table you work at, or hanging pictures that are dominated by a specific color.

Room Temperature

Most offices keep their temperatures around 65-68 Fahrenheit but it turns out that this might not be good for productivity. Warmer rooms actually make people more productive.

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If you work from a company office: Most offices are regulated by somebody else, so bring a space heater, sweaters and blankets to your work space.

If you work from a home office: Depending on the season, open the windows or adjust the heat or a/c so that you’re more comfortable and warm. Pile on the sweaters in the winter or add a space heater to your feet.

Room Scents

Like the color of the space you work in, our sense of smell can powerfully affect our mood, mindset and thus our productivity. Consider adding scents to your work space to jar your mind into focus when you start to notice yourself drifting off.

Try using these scents to stay focused:

  • Pine – Increases alertness
  • Cinnamon – Improves focus
  • Lavender – Helps to relax you during a stressful work day
  • Peppermint – Lifts your mood
  • Citrus (any) – Wakes you up  and lifts your spirits

If you work from a company office: Most people will not appreciate added scents to their work environment so you’ll need to keep it subtle. Keep essential oils in your bag or drawer and when you’re in need of a boost put a few drops on a handkerchief or cotton ball.

If you work from a home office: Use candles, incense or essential oils. You can also simmer herbs and spices in the kitchen to fill your home with a warm scent.

Noise Level

The noise level in a work environment can vary greatly depending on the size of the team you work with, the office design and company culture. But make no mistake, the noise around you affects your ability to stay on task. Not only can it be distracting, it can also raise stress levels making your ability to sustain productivity far more difficult.

If you work from a company office: Bring in noise cancellation headphones and use music services like Spotify or Songza and choose concentration boosting sounds, like white noise.  Find out if your office offers quiet work spaces for times when you need the utmost focus.

If you work from a home office: Sometimes the complete quiet can be as distracting as an office. Use a service like Coffivity to mimic the noise of a coffee shop, which has been said to help with concentration.

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Air Quality

Air quality can drastically affect our ability to focus and think clearly. Get this: OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of poor air quality in office environments costs employers $15 billion “due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.” Yeah, it’s serious business.

If you work from a company office: Talk to them about installing air filters. If there is a way to bring in fresh air through windows or doors, arrange to have them opened for at least a portion of the day. If nothing else, get a personal air filter to have on your desk or nearby.

Also, get a plant (or better yet, have the company buy and use more plants in the office!). Plants are great at filtering the air and providing clean, purified oxygen.

If you work from a home office: Open windows and doors and let in the fresh air. Install an air filter or get a portable air filter to keep near your desk. And, yes, you too should get a plant.

Different Spaces

If you can manage it, give yourself more than one space to work from. Putting yourself in a new space with different qualities and things to look at quite literally shifts your brain and helps you stay focused.

If you work from a company office: Many offices offer a variety of environments to work from: your personal space, lobbies, break out rooms, conference rooms, kitchens and eating areas and, if you’re lucky, they also provide lounge areas. Use all these spaces to vary your routine. Make sure your supervisor knows so they don’t think you’re slacking off and know tat you’re actually getting more done!

If you work from a home office: If you work at a desk, add a comfortable couch or chair to the room. If your space is less flexible or ultra tiny, think about more creative ways to change your work space. Rotate the pictures on your walls every couple of days. Sit on the other side of your desk. Get a lamp and multiple colored bulbs. Or go work at a café, the library or in a park.

Organization of People

Most employers organize employees around job function or in specific divisions. Instead, studies show that people are more creative and productive when they are sitting with colleagues that share the same goal or client. Not only are you able to get answers and generate solutions quicker, but because you’re directly accountable to the people around you, you’re more likely to stay on task and productive.

If you work from a company office: Ask your employer if you can experiment by clustering your group together in a conference room for a day or a week. Get feedback from everybody involved. Show the results. If your company won’t make permanent adjustments, perhaps they’ll allow you to work together a couple times a week when the conference room or lounge area is free.

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If you work from a home office: This is a little bit more difficult because when you work at home you’re not with colleagues. You can recreate a similar space digitally, however. Create a Skype group and have everyone logged in during working hours. You can do morning accountability and check-ins while remaining available for questions, solution-finding and general banter that promotes creativity.

Idea Storage

Ever been working hard when you’re suddenly distracted by a great idea? At first you try to push it away, but then the next thing you know you’re 20 pages deep into an online search on the topic. Ideas should be encouraged and cultivated, but when they come right in the middle of another task it can be incredibly distracting. Instead, create a place to store your ideas that’s easily accessed from your work space.

For both a company and home office: Keep pads of paper around, have a chalk wall, get a white board – when you have a spark of inspiration write it down right away to get it out of your head then return to the task at hand. Then, at the end of the day or when you have free time, collect all the ideas and review them. With a little time and space you can better decide if it’s worth pursuing or better to leave it on the back-burner.

Refreshment

Our brain needs nourishment to keep going, especially when we’re driving hard and staying focused. You can let a rumbling stomach go on for only so long before the brain shuts down. Assuming your different is like wanting your car to keep driving without having to stop and fill it with gas. A novel idea, but not realistic.

If you work from a company office: Pre-make snacks for the day and/or week. Or, bring in prepackaged snacks. Keep in mind that junk food has properties of diminishing returns so if you’re buying your food prepackaged think nuts, fruit, unsweetened yogurts, and hummus and crackers. Likely, your company provides coffee, tea and water so you don’t have to worry about supplying that for yourself.

If you work from a home office: If you work from home, this can be a key distraction. Try to reduce the number of times you walk into the kitchen each day. To do this, keep quick and   easy snacks pre-made or prepackaged ready and near your desk. Keep a water bottle nearby. And consider bringing a kettle into your office and stocking tea and coffee so you’re   not tempted to wander around the house and lose time poking through the pantry.

Bring in Nature

We are biological creatures, first and foremost. So we are deeply affected by our access to (or lack of) the natural world. It’s important for our psychological and physiological functioning, which directly affects our ability to be productive.

If you work from a company office: If you don’t have windows in or near your work space, bring in pictures of the outdoor world. Keep a picture of something natural as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks outdoors at lunch or in between major tasks. Just a few minutes outside in the fresh air and sunshine can boost our mood and shake out the doldrums. Be sure to add a plant to your desk, too!

If you work from a home office: Keep the shades open and, if you can, let in fresh air. If you can’t see anything natural out of your window, keep pictures of the natural world as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks. Or, just step outside and put your feet on the ground. Put plants in your office – research shows that having live plants in your office makes you more productive, happier and less stressed.

Digital Space

For most people, our primary work is housed within our laptops and our physical environment simply the backdrop to our digital lives. Make sure your computer has software that helps you sculpt the digital environment that best elicits productivity. Use focus apps like this one or this to decrease distractions. Or design your day using intervals with an app like this one to keep you at your peak focus throughout the day.

Featured photo credit: Phil Desforges via unsplash.com

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