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A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17

Sometimes, productivity science seems like an organized conspiracy to justify laziness.

Clicking through photos of cute small animals at work? That's not silly procrastination, Hiroshima University researchers said. Looking at adorable pictures of kittens rolling helplessly in balls of yarn heightens our focus, and the "tenderness elicited by cute images" improves our motor function on the computer.

Going on long vacations? You're not running away from your responsibilities. Studies show that long breaks from the office reboot your cognitive energy to solve big problems with the mental dexterity they deserve.

Working from home? Shut down your boss's rude accusations that you're too slothful to put on a pair of pants in the morning by handing him this 2013 study of Chinese call-center employees, which found that "tele-commuting" improved company performance. (Actually, don't hand it to him. That would require going into the office.)

The scientific observation underlying these nearly-too-good-to-be-true findings is that the brain is a muscle that, like every muscle, tires from repeated stress. Many of us have a cultural image of industriousness that includes first-in-last-out workers, all-nighters, and marathon work sessions. Indeed, there are many perfectly productive people that go to the office ...

Employee Recognition: Try It, You’ll Like It

Virtually every organization has employees, possibly many, like Bob, the focus of a brief story I read recently. The author and storyteller is David Novak, the CEO of Yum! Brands.

In his book Taking People With You, Novak writes: “I asked [a group of employees] what I thought was a straightforward question about merchandising . . . I wanted to know what was working and what wasn’t. Right away someone piped up, ‘Bob is the expert in that area. He can tell you how it’s done.’ Someone else added, ‘Bob taught me more in one day than I’d learned in two years on the job.’ Every single person the room agreed: Bob was best there was. I looked over at Bob, thinking he must be thrilled by this praise. Instead, I saw that he had tears running down his face. When I asked him what was wrong, Bob, who had been with the company for over forty years, and was about to retire in just two weeks, said, ‘I never knew anyone felt that way about me.’”

Looking back there have been times in my career when I felt good about an accomplishment, but it was ignored or worse. My ...

5 Things to Know About Phased Retirement

I’m happy to report that the Office of Personnel Management last month issued its final phased retirement regulations. I know that many agencies and federal employees are eager to take advantage of this new, innovative alternative to traditional retirement.

I think that this new policy, once it is in effect, will meets the needs of employees while allowing managers to continue to tap into the experience, the wisdom and the judgment of our talented federal workforce. Like any policy, it will come with many questions, so let me try to address some of them today.

1. What is it?

Under phased retirement, a full-time employee will be able to work part time and start collecting retirement benefits. Phased retirees must also spend 20 percent of their time mentoring their fellow employees as a way for them to pass on their knowledge and skills to their colleagues. OPM will begin accepting phased retirement applications on Nov. 6.

2. Who can participate?

This is not a one-size-fits-all program. Whether you are eligible will depend on which retirement system you belong to and how many years of service you have.  

3. What do I do if I want to participate?

If you ...

Agoraphobia and the Telecommuter

Labor experts and industry analysts have written at length about the explosion of telecommuting in the last decade. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban workers from telecommuting earlier this year attracted the ire of working moms and other critics who call the work-from-home trend the “inevitable wave of the future.” A growing body of evidence shows that full-time employees who work from home tend to be more productive than their cubicled counterparts, but some say telecommuting promotes disconnection among colleagues.

Just over 3 million Americans qualify as telecommuters, or those who work full-time at home for someone other than themselves. Coincidentally, the same number of Americans also suffer from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder and the most common type of phobia. Not exactly the fear of open spaces, as the popular definition would have it, agoraphobia is, simply put, the fear of being trapped in a place or situation where you think you can’t escape or get help.

A term first used in 1871, agoraphobia has also been known as “locomotor anxiety” and “street fear.” These names make sense, considering thatmodern wide boulevards first emerged in Paris in the 1870s and, around the same time, technological breakthroughs ...

Reflections on 9/11 and Excellence in Government

As we paused last week to remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, I am reminded of how that event changed so much of our history—including impacting how government moved forward to manage technology and people who care deeply about serving the American people, and working with our international partners to do the same. We learned important lessons on that day, which have carried forward since and will long into the future.

First, a reflection of events from Sep 11, 2001: I was the career deputy adviser on information technology and e-government issues at the Office of Management and Budget. On that day, our office was working closely with the Council for Excellence in Government to host a meeting of international IT leaders—one of the early meetings of chief information officers and equivalent executives from multiple countries, done in partnership with the council. CEG for many years led government, industry, academia, nonprofit and citizen groups generally on technology and management excellence initiatives.

After the plane hit the Pentagon, OMB quickly evacuated its building, as did much of downtown Washington. I recall with great clarity the thousands of people walking in the street, unsure about where to go ...