My book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, is shipping from Amazon!

Here is tip #21 from the book: Mud Slinging Means You’re Losing Ground

If you want people to like you, give them compliments. I know, that sounds like I’m telling you to brownnose. Instead, I’m telling you to find genuine ways to compliment people, which requires spending a lot of time looking for the good in people.

The difference between a genuine compliment and a desperate brownnosing attempt is empathy and insight, according to Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Harvard Graduate School of Education psychologists and co-authors of How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation.

If you understand what worries someone, and what he is trying hardest to achieve personally, then you will easily spot opportunities for praise. Don’t just say “good job” for the sake of it. In fact, don’t just say “good job.” The most effective compliments are very specific. And creative words are more memorable than standard words, according to Mark Knapp, communications professor at University of Texas. The most common types of praise are about possessions “Nice car” or about actions “Great shot.”

Praise of character is the most rare and most memorable praise of all. But it’s also the most difficult because it requires you to understand the person you’re praising and be thoughtful about how you talk to them. For example, “I appreciated the compassion you showed for the team when you were canceling the project.”

To increase the weight of your compliments, establish yourself as a trusted resource. This means you need to be able to give people bad news as well as good news. I will never forget the employee who told me, “You know how everyone laughs at your jokes at the staff meeting? Well, the jokes are not that funny, but since all those people report to you, they laugh. You should stop with the jokes.”

I was crushed to hear that I was not funny. But it would have been worse if I had been allowed to go on and on. (Though sometimes I tell myself that I really was funny and that particular employee just didn’t get my humor.) Still, this person’s subsequent compliments meant more to me because I knew she was honest.

Complimenting your boss is an important part of building a good relationship. Don’t be shy because you have less experience. In fact, powerful people think that people who praise them are smarter and more likeable than those who don’t, according to Knapp. On top of that, powerful people receive fewer compliments than the rest of us.

I never knew how important it is to compliment a boss until I complimented mine, mostly by accident. My boss gave a speech packed with bad news to employees, and I knew it had been hard on him. So after the meeting, I stopped by his office to tell him privately, “You delivered the bad news really well. People were shocked, but they listened to you, and you made them hopeful.”

His face brightened, and he said, in a surprised voice, “Really?”

I realized immediately how much my input had meant to him. How surprised he was to know I thought he did well and how much he respected my assessment. It seemed pathetic, really. I had thought he was a more confident guy than that. But that’s the thing about complimenting your boss: It’s disarming and makes your boss think of you as an equal.

To make a genuine connection, give genuine compliments, but balance them with insightful criticism. With the right balance people will view you as a smarter person and they’ll take all your comments more seriously.

So concentrate on the good in people, and compliment it throughout the day, you just might feel like you’re actually surrounded by kind, competent, and interesting people. And the research shows that they will find you to be more kind and competent as well.

Most people don’t need to go to graduate school. Sure, you need an MBA to run a Fortune 500 company, and you need to go to medical school to be a doctor, but in most cases, a graduate degree doesn’t provide a ticket to play – because anyone can play – but rather, the degree provides a security blanket.

And at some point, you need to admit that walking around with a security blanket makes you look bad. You can do adult life without one. Wondering if this applies to you? Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t go to grad school:

1. A humanities PhD makes you less employable not more employable.
Most people who get degrees in humanities will not get teaching jobs. And people who are looking for jobs in the corporate world, with a humanities PhD under their belt look like someone who tried to teach but couldn’t. Or, worse yet, it looks like you spent five years getting a degree you had not made a plan for using. Both cases serve to make you “probably not even qualified to run a cash register,” according to Thomas Benton, a columnist in the Chronicle of Higher Learning who is discouraging people from pursuing these degrees.

2. You can shift careers by enrolling in a night-class.
Marci Alboher did this – she was a lawyer and took a class in writing, and now look: She’s writing for the New York Times about, what else? How you don’t need to get a degree to change careers, you just need to take a class. Of course, this won’t work in all circumstances, but the majority of fields require some knowledge, but not a degree.

3. Grad school is a bad way to deal with uncertainty.
If you don’t now what to do, and you go to grad school to buy time, and then you figure out what you want to do, you will always have to answer the question, why grad school? It will be hard to come up with an answer that doesn’t reveal that you went back to school so you didn’t have to deal with adult problems. Better to flail in the work world and learn what you like then put it off. Grad school is too expensive to be a backup plan.

4. People who love to learn don’t need a degree for it.
Don’t go to grad school because you love poetry. If you love poetry, read it. No one dictates to you what you have to do after work. If you want to read poems, fine. Why do you need a degree? What will that accomplish besides putting you into debt? Anyway, a good job allows you to learn so much that it is like a continuation of school anyway.

5. Use LinkedIn instead of an MBA.
Okay. I’m sort of exaggerating here, but so many people say they are going to business school for the networking opportunity. Instead, these people should consider spending all that time on networking instead of going to class. Business school makes connections for you, but they might not be for the best; I once read an essay that suggested that business schools are merely headhunters who charge a fee to the employee.

By Ryan Healy — I recently received an email from career coach and corporate consultant, J.T O’Donnell. She attached a link to a new e-learning course that she gives to young employees, and she asked for my input. For days, I debated how to respond. Eventually, I replied and told her that I hate all e-learning.

She said that most millennials she works with dislike e-learning. So, she only designs e-learning tools that are coupled with personal teaching and discussion.

After mentioning my desire to write a post about doing away with e-learning, J.T gave me some great insight. She told me, “It helps save companies thousands in training costs.”

Bingo! Now I know why companies are using e-learning to replace hands-on mentoring and teaching – it’s cheap. Clearly, a company’s main goal is to make a profit, and this means minimizing costs wherever possible. However, training and developing your employees, especially the confused new hires, is not the right area to cut costs.

At orientation, the first time my peers and I logged in to complete an e-learning course, we all looked at each other with puzzled faces. I thought, “Is this serious?” Others snickered throughout the whole assignment and most of us jumped through the course totally bored. Without discussion or one-on-one teaching e-learning is cheap, ineffective and gives the impression that a company does not care enough to invest time or money into training. Which in turn, gives the impression that employees are unimportant.

I don’t necessarily think that loathing e-learning is a millennial trait. My Gen X co-workers constantly complain about the thoughtless “busy work” that comes from e-learning tools. My mother even called the other day to rant about the stupidity of her e-training classes. So who actually benefits from this?

Maybe companies use this cheap training because they expect people to job hop and don’t want to waste budget dollars on employees who won’t be around for long. But in reality, not focusing on personally training and developing entry level employees is probably what causes them to job hop in the first place.

If an e-learning tool can somehow be coupled with actual face-to-face learning or mentoring then I am all for it. Just don’t use it as a replacement for real teaching. I crave the personal connections that come with one-on-one or classroom teaching, even if the rest of my life is spent online.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

The topic of should women work or should they stay home is a baby boomer fetish topic, with Leslie Bennetts being the current poster girl.

Joan Walsh, writing at Salon, points out that we are generally sick of baby boomer women telling younger women what to do and what not to do. But we are also generally disgusted with the baby boomer infatuation with the opt-out topic since only 4% of women in this country are so lucky to have both a hotshot career and a husband making enough money to be the sole breadwinner. For the other 96% of us, opting out is about gutwrenching financial decisions, not feminist platitudes.

Nevertheless, women like Bennetts approach the issue of staying home with kids as if many women are considering this option. She says that women who quit working and stay home with their kids will decrease their earning power and put themselves at risk if there’s a divorce.

First of all, we know that baby boomers divorced at a higher rate than any group in history, and today the risk of divorce is only 20% for college-educated women, and the trend is for divorce rates to continue declining. Yet Bennetts writes about divorce among women who can afford to stay home as if it’s an epidemic.

Second, when a woman stays at home the marriage is more likely to stay intact, and when a marriage stays intact, the kids do better. So you can argue forever that a stay-at-home parent (male or female) loses something by not going to work, but clearly their family gains something, so if women want to stop working for a while, fine. Why get all up in arms about it?

The problem is when there is a divorce. Divorce doesn’t just hurt stay-at-home parents, who have to go back to work after being out of the workforce for years. It hurts breadwinners, who, because of child support issues are very limited in the career moves they can make. But most of all, divorce hurts kids.

Divorced parents routinely walk around saying that their kids are doing fine and that their kids are better off because the parents are happier. However there is little evidence to generally support either of these claims. Both are very psychological and complicated and parents are hardly good judges of their own case since they have already made the decision and want to feel it was not selfish and terrible to do to their kids.

Here is what there is research to support: Even amicable divorces do permanent damage to kids, yet the media practically ignored this evidence when it came out. Kids with divorced parents do worse in school, and this research is independent of socioeconomic status, and it gets worse if a parent remarries. Also, if you get divorced, you make your child almost 50% more likely to get a divorce.

So here’s what we know for sure, today: Women who work have a higher chance of having a divorce, and women who stay at home are very vulnerable in the case of a divorce.

Here’s what we should do with this information: Start talking about how to keep a marriage together. Making marriage last is a workplace issue because work factors play such a very large role in the equation. Work needs to help us to keep marriages together instead of hurt it. And advice about work needs to focus on improving marriage rather than preparing for divorce.

This issue hits close to home to me because my marriage is under stress right now. We have two young kids, both of whom have special needs. Additionally, I’m at a time in my career when I have a lot of work, while my husband is lost in his career.

Sometimes I think of getting a divorce, and I tell myself I’m not doing it. I tell myself that no one is in love every second of their marriage. I tell myself that this is a really bad time in our marriage and I will have to work really hard to make it better.

And then I think, how will I find time to do that? I actually have very little guilt about how I have dealt with my kids. I spend tons of time with them because my work is flexible. But I have not focused on my marriage. I have focused on my kids and my career and myself.

But what about my marriage? It’s a big part of the equation. I hear a lot of women saying they have a problem keeping their marriage together. And in general the group that shouts the loudest about advice for keeping a marriage intact is the Christian right. (Check out the fourth result on the Google list from the search “how to keep your marriage together“.)

So this is my call for a shift in discussion about women and work. Both men and women need to figure out how talk about how to make better marriages. We need to take all our energy we spend talking about the risks of stay-at-home parenting, and the risks of dual-career families, and put that thinking power toward what makes a marriage strong.

Here are more reviews of my book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, which is already shipping from Amazon.

I send a big thanks to each of these bloggers for taking the time to review the book!

Sarah van Ingen at Armchair Interviews
Trunk’s writing is tight, energetic and enjoyable to read. After spending a couple days with the Brazen Careerist, I felt like I had been given a shot of adrenalin for my career. And who isn’t in need of that?

Devin Reams at
A must-read for upcoming or recent college grads. This is a guide for how successful careers work.

Heather Mundell at lifeatwork
Trunk’s advice is refreshing and her arguments are thought-provoking. She challenges us as readers to take a clear-eyed view of what we want in our careers and consider new ways of getting it.

Jason Alba at JibberJobber
No matter what generation you are in, this book is a must read.

Dawn Papandrea at CollegeSurfing Insider
For anyone making their way through corporate struggles, deciding if they should go for an advanced degree or launch a new business, or discovering a completely new line of work, Trunk’s renegade advice is right on.

Alexandra Levit at Water Cooler Wisdom
Penelope Trunk knows herself, she stands by her beliefs, and she can always be counted on for a unique and often provocative opinion. As she mentions her own leadership achievements and her worst social faux pas in the same paragraph, Penelope’s tone and examples balance confidence and assertiveness with authenticity and a little healthy self-deprecation. It’s a fabulous resource for anyone who’s searching for fulfillment in a career or in life!

Interviews with me about the book:

Audio! Chris Russell at Secrets of the Job Hunt

Allen Holman at Management College

Carmen Van Kerckhove at Racialicious

Toby Bloomberg at Diva Marketing

Previous reviews of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success are here and here.

A job cannot make you happy, but it can save your life. People spend so much time looking for that perfect job, the perfect boss, the salary that will finally make them feel secure. But in fact, the impact a job can have on your life is overrated. Unless your life is completely falling apart. Then a job can save you. I know because I have seen this many times in my own life.

When we think about a job saving someone, we usually think about people in poverty. For example, Richard Easterlin, an economics professor at the University of Southern California found that earning enough to pay for food and rent can drastically change the lives of people in poverty–and give them the ability to achieve happiness. But he found that anything beyond around $40,000 a year does not have much impact on your level of happiness.

The reason for this is that our happiness comes, for the most part, from the amount of optimism we have. Daniel Gilbert, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, spends 300 pages talking about all the research that shows how misguided we are about our ideas of happiness. The biggest mistake is thinking we can influence it much. Mostly, we can’t. Mostly we have no idea what will make us happy in the future — although we think we do.

What’s the best way to influence your happiness? Personal relationships. People with strong, supportive personal relationships are happier than people who are isolated. The statistic that best shows this comes from Dartmouth College economics professor David Blanchflower.

He says if you go from having no sex, to having sex once a week, you will have a large jump in happiness. This research isn’t about orgasms. It’s about forging reliable, steady relationships that you make time for every week. It’s hard to measure that, but sex is a good way.

So back to the job. Imagine someone who hates her job. If she’s fallen in love, she’ll have that glow about her even though her job is boring. Because love trumps interesting work in the happiness charts. And imagine an inherently optimistic entrepreneur whose business fails? She probably starts another business. Because an optimistic outlook often trumps reality, for better or worse.

Trying to influence your natural set point for optimism is like trying to influence your natural set point for weight. Your body pushes to go back to where it was, no matter how you try. So only the most extreme diet can move an inherently husky woman into skinny-girl mode. And only the most extreme job situation can move an inherently optimistic person into the realm of negativism.

Here are attributes that The Economist reports that your job must have in order to make you feel productive and happy about your work:

1. Stretches a person without defeating him

2. Provides clear goals

3. Provides unambiguous feedback

4. Provides a sense of control

The range of jobs that meet these requirements is wide. And they include jobs you might not expect. For example, hairdressers report they fire clients who treat them poorly, and janitors say that they get feedback from the people who are happy the floors are clean. Conversely, lawyers report having little control over their goals, since the clients frequently change them, and that they have little control over outcome because they are beholden to a judge, jury or ambiguous law.

So a job cannot make you happy, even if you wish it could. But it can save your life. People report that in times of extreme negativism and sadness — depression, poverty, or complete lack of connection to the world — a job has saved them. I have found in my own life, and experts agree, that work can rescue a dangerously unhappy life by providing routine, a connection to other people, and the feeling of contributing to the world.

Martin Seligman is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and founder of the positive psychology movement that is behind most of this research. He encourages people — those at the far edge of unhappiness and the more optimistic as well — to spend time and energy learning how to increase their optimism set-point.

He explains how in his book Learned Optimism: “Positive psychology is not only about maximizing personal happiness but also about embracing civic engagement and spiritual connectedness, hope and charity.”

These are the things a job can give you that matter. Wyeth Windham grew up in Montana. His dad was gone and his mom cleaned houses. He was bored in school and hung around with kids who did poorly. He had little future. In his junior year of high school, he started volunteer work with a group that funded youth programs. Six months later, while Wyeth was involved in his work every day, his friends robbed two restaurants.

It was a turning point. Windham saw, maybe unconsciously, a literal example of how work can save you. And he stuck with it. He was the youngest member of the board at his local Boys and Girls club. And an Oprah Winfrey fund recognized his achievement and sent him to college on scholarship.

Today he works at, and recently, he visited Boston for a conference about digital printing. He has a good job, to be sure, but what matters is feeling a part of a larger community, and a spirit of connection to the world. So he skipped out of the conference to walk the historical Freedom Trail of the American Revolution. And this just might be a good little lesson in career happiness for us all.

The difference between an MBA from a top school and the other schools is large. For example, one of the biggest benefits of business school is the connections you make while you’re there. So, the more superstars you go to school with the more superstars you connect with.

Another benefit that business school gives you is they bring the recruiters to you. And in this case, you’ll have a wider range of opportunities brought to you if you’re at a top school.

So it’s no wonder that people are willing to pay consultants to help them get into a top school. One of these consultants is Stacy Blackman. She went to Kellog (yes, top ten) and now owns a consulting firm that has helped hundreds of people get into top ranked business schools.

What does it take to get in? A lot of it is about personal marketing, which is what Stacy’s company focuses on. But there are some tactical issues as well. Here are five things you can do:

1. Know the general benchmarks.
Blackman says that for getting into a top school, a 3.5 GPA and a 700 GMAT score is “a nice place to be.”

2. Target schools that value your strengths.
Sometimes people are really good fit for a top school like MIT but Stanford would be a reach. For example Berkeley looks at test scores more than other schools. Harvard and Stanford look at test scores less than other schools, (although most people applying there have phenomenal scores.) Columbia emphasizes the GMAT score over the GPA.

3. Manage your work experience to have a clear trajectory.
You should be able to show that during the time you have been working, you progressed with increasing levels of responsibility, held leadership roles in diverse settings, and can list achievements.

4. Consider volunteering in the community.
This gives you an opportunity to show a range of leadership, and civic engagement. It’s also an opportunity to show commitment to your vision for where you are going. For example, if you want to go to business school to become a consumer marketing guru, volunteer to help market a local charity. Just make sure to start doing this early enough so that it doesn’t look like you did it merely for the application.

5. Show your true, best self in the application.
You want to look like an attractive candidate, for sure, but you need to look real. Stacy says too often people “try to be Joe Business School, try to say what should say instead of being who they really are. If you have something really interesting about yourself, it can reflect your originality even if it’s not in a business environment.”

To hire Stacy’s company to help you, you pay by number of applications and receive unlimited help for each application. The cost is $3250 for one application and fees go down as the number of your applications goes up. The best time to start with her is a year before you want to apply.

One lucky person will get a taste of this consulting for free – for 90 minutes. If you’d like this help, and you are considering applying within the next year, send an email to me with three sentences about why you think you could get into a top school and why you think you need help. Deadline is Sunday, May 13.

By Will Schwalbe — Many people who are nice in person do things with their emails that they wouldn’t think of doing face to face. Here are five ways to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

1. Remember chain of command.
When you email people several rungs above or below you and forget to cc: one or two of those in between, you can create an environment where paranoia thrives. Unless your workplace is totally apolitical, try to remember to include on your emails one or two key people between you and the person you are emailing.

2. Thank appropriately, not indiscriminately.
If one person worked really hard on a project, and six others just worked on it a bit, don’t write one thank-you email where they are all in the “To:” line. That just shows the one person who worked the hardest that you either don’t know or don’t care how much he or she did. Either delineate the contributions, or write separate emails.

3. Be specific what you want.
And name the time period in which you hope to have it done. Many people have noted the damage done by bosses who muse on email, “I wonder what teenagers think of our product,” and then find out that a whole division of the organization has diverted itself from the tasks at hand to engage in months of teen focus groups.

4. Managers should respect the impact an email can have on an employee.
When an employee sees an email from their boss, their blood pressure actually goes up, no matter what the content of the mail is. But, understandably, blood pressure went up even more when employees got angry emails from the boss, or emails from a boss they perceived to be unfair. If you get in the habit of sending little bombs throughout the day, you will create a truly deadly workplace.

5. Be consistent.
People read a lot into emails because the emails are devoid of the nonverbal cues we use to judge a message delivered in person. If you usually send very cordial ones, and then send a cold one, people who depend on you will spend hours analyzing it. The more consistent you are, the more people will focus on your content and stop wasting time trying to figure out subtext.

Will Schwalbe is the co-author with David Shipley of Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home.

My book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, is shipping from Amazon!

Buy it there now. Or buy the book in local book stores starting on May 25.

Here is tip #26 from the book:

Leverage Your Core Competencies by Off-Loading Jargon

Don’t use jargon. I know you’ve heard this rule before, but maybe no one has ever told you the real reason for the rule. You lose your authenticity when you reach for cliched phrases, and your choice of jargon reveals your weakness. Today business writing is “mired in cliche. It’s very stiff, striving to impress. It’s not honest: Here’s who I am,” says Tim Schellhardt, former bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal and now a public relations executive.

Phrases like “leverage your core competencies” spread through corporate life because the pressure to conform at work can be intense. Once you hear other people using the jargon, it’s easy to use it yourself. The result is an environment in which no voice stands out as authentic, according to the authors of, Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide.

There’s also jargon that goes across most industries. The phrases you hear whether you’re an accountant in consumer products or a programmer in health care. Most people understand this jargon, but using it makes you look bad because most cross-industry jargon is a euphemism for being desperate or incompetent or calling someone else desperate or incompetent. Here are some examples:

“Let’s think out of the box.” Really means, “Can you creatively anemic people please come up with something?” People who really do think out of the box do it whether they are told to or not. That’s how they think. If you feel like you need to tell someone to think out of the box, then it’s probably hopeless. The person who says, “Let’s think out of the box” is usually desperate for a new idea and surrounded by people who are not known for generating ideas. So the phrase is actually an announcement that says, “I’m in trouble.”

“I need someone who can hit the ground running.” Really means, “I am screwed.” Because no one can hit the ground running. You need to at least assess what race you’re in and who else is running. Everyone has a race strategy when they are in the blocks. You need a little time to get one. In the case of a new hire this means taking some time to assess company politics. If your employer needs you to hit the ground running then you’ve already missed your window to achieve success.

Let’s hit a home run: “I’m desperate to look good. Even though the odds of a home run are slim, I’m banking on one because it’s the only thing that’ll save me.” Something for all your sports fans to remember: If you have a bunch of solid hitters you don’t need a bunch of home runs.

You and I are not on the same page. “Get on my page. Your page is misguided.” No one ever says, “We’re not on the same page, so let me work really hard to understand your point of view. If you want to understand someone else, you say, “Can you tell me more about how you’re thinking.”

I’m calling to touch base. “I want something from you but I can’t say it up front.” Or “I am worried that you are lost and I’m sniffing around for signs to confirm my hunch.” Or “I’m calling because you micromanage me.”

My plate is full: “Help I’m drowning,” or “I would kill myself before I’d work on your project.”

Let’s close the loop. “Let me make sure I’m not going to get into trouble for this one.”

Let’s touch base next week: “I don’t want to talk to you now,” or “You are on a short leash and you need to report back to me.”

Keep this on your radar. “This will come back to bite you… or me.”

I sent this list to Peter Degen-Portnoy, inventor and president of Innovatium, and he pointed out one I missed: We’re not communicating well means “I don’t like you.”

I have never met Peter in person. But he sends me smart and soul-searching emails that reveal an authenticity that makes me feel like we’re friends. He never uses jargon, at least with me. So I like him.

Those of you who strive to be authentic every day of your life will not be derailed by jargon. To people who are connected to their work and their co-workers, jargon will not feel appropriate so you’ll rarely use it. Use jargon as a sign that you are disconnected to whatever is going on that is related to the jargon. If you treat the disconnectedness, and reestablish authenticity, the jargon will go away.

Buy the book now!

One of the best ways to distinguish yourself at work is through productivity. We’re all sifting through too much email, we all have more work than we can ever get done, and we all have access to more information than we could ever consume.

The people who make the best decisions about how to process this information quickly and effectively are the people who will stand out in the workplace.

Productivity Is a Skill

It used to be that people went to work from 9 to 5, and if you were serious about your career you worked much longer hours. But few people still aspire to a 9-to-5 job, and most of us use productivity tools to manage our time in a way that facilitates a great personal life and a great work life.

Thousands of people read productivity tips on every day of the week, and dissect David Allen’s bestselling book Getting Things Done with the fervor of an English lit student explicating Ulysses.

Productivity skills are a new measure of career potential, so you need to develop them. Here are five suggestions for how to excel at productivity.

1. Do the most important thing first.

Gina Trapani, the editor of, calls this a “morning dash.” She sits down at her desk and does the No. 1 item on her to-do list so that she knows it’s finished.

This requires a lot of prior planning. You need to write an accurate, prioritized list and you need to block out a portion of your morning to accomplish your No. 1 task uninterrupted.

The hardest thing about living by a to-do list is that you have to constantly ask yourself the difficult question, “What’s the most important thing to me right now?”

A good to-do list includes long-term and short-term projects, and it integrates all aspects of your life. “Pick out lawn furniture” is on the same list at “go to the board meeting” because both are competing for the same, limited amount of your time.

2. Keep your inbox empty.

Your inbox is not your to-do list; your to-do list is something you compile and prioritize. If your inbox is your to-do list, then you have no control over what you’re doing — you’ve ceded it to whoever sends you an email next.

Productivity wizards experience less information overload because they deal with an email as soon as they’ve read it — respond, file, or delete. Nothing stays in the inbox. Reading each email four or five times while it languishes in your inbox is a huge waste of time, and totally impractical given the amount of email we all receive.

3. Become a realist about time.

You can schedule and schedule and schedule, but it won’t do any good unless you get more realistic about time. Develop a sense of who in your life is good at estimating time and who isn’t, because you need to be able to compensate for the people who mess up your schedule with poor time estimates.

In general, though, we’re all bad at estimating time. We overestimate how much time we have and cope poorly with the fact that what we do with our time changes from day to day. So the first step toward being good at estimating time is to understand your own inherent weaknesses. Then, at least, you can start compensating.

4. Focus on what you’re doing so you can do it faster and better.

Most of the time, multitasking doesn’t help you. It works for short, repetitive tasks that you’re very familiar with. But you don’t want to develop good work habits for boring work. You’d probably prefer to stretch your brain and try new things, and that kind of work requires focus.

A wide range of research has shown that even if you can talk on the phone and use email and IM at the same time, multitasking decreases your productivity. Our creative powers are compromised when we multitask.

The other common culprit to focusing is lack of sleep. Some people think they can use caffeine to dull the need for sleep, but it catches up with them. Fortunately, you only need a 10-minute nap to get your brain back on track. And when you’re making up for several nights of lost sleep, you don’t need to make it all up — you just need seven hours to get back on your game.

5. Delegate.

Once you know what’s most important to you in all aspects of your life, you’ll know what to delegate. And the answer will be almost everything. The hardest part of productivity is admitting that you can’t do everything.

In fact, it’s the core of what being an adult is — as a child, everything looks possible. Adults are hit quickly with the cold reality that they can only do what’s most important. So be very clear on what that is, and delegate as much of the other stuff as you can.

At work, good delegating doesn’t mean dumping your worst tasks on your co-workers. In fact, you often need to delegate your most appealing work and do some of the grunt work yourself. Because in the end, your No. 1 productivity goal is to get what’s important done — it doesn’t matter who gets it done, and you’re more likely to get a lot of help if you offer your fun stuff.

This holds true for your home life, too — you can delegate a lot more at home than you think you can without losing the things you care about most.

Productive to the Core

The core of productivity is self-knowledge, which is emotional intelligence.

You have to know what you want most in order to know what to do first, and you have to know your goals before you can productively meet them.