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January and February always seems a good time to publish a book. The bookshelves, publicity channels, and potential readers' attention spans are jammed in the months before Christmas. It's easier to attract attention in the start-of-the year lull.

Two new books would draw some consideration at any time of the year but will be assisted by publication in this period, allowing them deservedly to stand out. Morten Hansen, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author with Jim Collins of Great by Choice, tested various personal productivity possibilities and came up with seven for our consideration in Great at Work. Daniel Pink, author of several books including A Whole New Mind and Drive, presents When, which he calls a "when-to" rather than "how-to" book on the scientific secrets of personal timing.

Prof. Hansen tweaks or upends some of the existing theories on personal effectiveness. His prescription:

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  • Do less, then obsess: He points to the management consultant in his first job who put in far fewer hours than him and was more effective. So doing more is usually a flawed strategy, he learned. But doing less can be too, unless you’re also obsessing about the few priorities you have delineated. Channel all your energies into those activities.
  • Redesign your work: Change your approach to eliminate low-value activities you presently handle; spend more time on the high-value activities (including adding new activities of high value); find new ways to improve the qualities of these activities; and learn to do it all more efficiently.
  • Don’t just learn but also loop: We have heard about the value of deliberate practice, and he underlines that by advising you to spend a little time each day improving the way you do aspects of your work, testing new approaches and learning from the results, which he calls a “learning loop.” He stresses: “It isn’t how many hours you practice. It’s how you learn … The best performers at work implement the learning loop, in which the quality – and not the quantity – of each iteration matters most.”
  • Add power to passion with purpose: You need passion, but doing only what you love can lead to failure. Match your passion with a strong sense of purpose – he dubs it P squared – be it around achievement, creativity, people, learning or the feeling of competence.
  • Champion forcefully: Inspire others to join you in your efforts and apply smart grit to your work, adjusting in the face of opposition.
  • Fight and unite: Given the time spent in meetings, their quality is important. Make sure your meetings involve fighting – debating possibilities strenuously – but also uniting afterward in order to implement.
  • Avoid the two sins of collaboration: We are supposed to collaborate, but dangers can come from under-collaborating and over-collaborating. You need disciplined collaboration, assessing when to collaborate (and when not to) and carrying it out effectively so that people commit to and deliver results.

Prof. Hansen's research found that those seven practices determine 66 per cent of the variation between people's performance, a highly significant amount.

Mr. Pink takes you through the mood swings of the day and asks you to consider your chronotype by how you operate on your days off. Are you a lark (early morning bird, 14 per cent of the population); night owl (active in the late hours, 21 per cent of us); or a third bird (the majority, 65 per cent, in the middle between those two extremes)?

He advises we experience the day in three stages: A peak, a trough, and recovery. Larks and third birds experience the stages in that order, but for night owls, it's the reverse: recovery, trough, and peak.

Know which works for you. If you're a boss, know which works for your staff, and adapt.

Mr. Pink hates naps but makes the case for restorative siestas, observing that afternoons are "the Bermuda Triangles of our day." He looks thoroughly at beginning, middles and ends, mixing the research with practical tips. For example, if you flubbed your new year's resolution, he lists 86 days in the year when you can make a fresh start, including the first of every month, your birthday and the first day back from your vacation.

Speaking of time: This is a good season, with dark evenings and wintry weather, to make a fresh start with the ideas in these two books.

Achieving equity in tech hiring: a success story (and lessons)

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Duolingo, an online language-learning platform, hit an enviable milestone: Its software engineer hires from universities have reached a 50:50 gender ratio.

"This is a significant achievement in light of the historical gender imbalance in the tech industry. However, it didn't happen by chance. Instead it was the result of a new recruiting strategy that required changes to how we approach hiring software engineers," Jeesoh Sohn, a recruiter with the company, writes on LinkedIn.

Its approach may be of interest not only to tech companies, but others where one gender is less likely to be hired.

It started by analyzing where the company was spending its hiring time and effort. Inevitably, it was at colleges and universities traditionally canvassed, rather than studying their percentage of female computer science undergraduate majors.

With the U.S. average of female computer-science graduates at 18 per cent, the company set out to only visit universities that had more than that number of female undergraduate computer science majors. "We wanted to prioritize schools that were making gender balance a priority; this meant going to some never-before-visited schools, as well as cutting out a few schools that had been on our list before," she notes.

The company also reached out to relevant women's groups on those campuses, such as Women in Computer Science, Women@, and the Society of Women Engineers. Often those groups were hosting networking dinners, luncheons or an information session that company representatives attended. It also sponsored a Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference – designed to highlight the research and career interests of women in the field – for the first time, and made sure all its female software engineers attended.

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As well, it arranged unconscious bias training for its interviewers.

None of that is remarkable. It's solid managerial problem solving, designed to not take the ratio of female software engineers at the company as a given but to aim for equality.

Quick hits

  • Plan your career in reverse. Robert Wong, the co-founder and vice-president of Google Creative Lab, says you can counter your discomfort about being asked where you intend to be in five years – and boost your career – by imagining where you want to be in 20 years, and then figuring out where that means you should be in 10 and five years’ time.
  • Research shows that a sense of fulfilment seems to offset the unhealthy stress of workaholism. Specifically, workaholics who didn’t like their job and were not “engaged” at work reported more psychosomatic health issues and were more likely to show high blood pressure and high cholesterol. By comparison, workaholics who said they were dedicated at work tended to report good health.
  • Presentations expert Nick Morgan urges you to review the stories in your talks and see if you can start later in the story arc – find the last possible moment in which the story can begin and still make sense.
Expatriate leaders don’t necessarily have to speak the language, but they have to do their homework Globe and Mail Update
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