9 Ways to Be More Strategic in 2019: Our Favorite Advice From the Last Year

We read a lotta studies about money and workplace this year. Here are the best. 

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The holidays can feel like a full-time job. There’s the shopping, which is stressful and often super sweaty, and probably some travel (may your flights be on time and your train terminals be relatively urine free). If you’re hosting, there’s an intense meal to plan for a group that inevitably includes at least one vegan or gluten intolerant; towels to clean and pillows to fluff; and probably a temper tantrum or two.

I’m laying it on thick in the name of making a point, perhaps, but only because I want to use my last Strategy column of 2018 to remind you all to take some time for yourselves. Specifically, take some time to be bored.

9. Master 2030’s Most Important Skill

People hate being bored. In fact, nearly half of people who have the choice between being bored and taking an electric shock will take the shock. It’s why we tend to over-schedule ourselves and why we pick up our phone every few minutes when we’re not being immediately distracted by something that’s super urgent.

The mind is hardwired to seek out novelty (this, incidentally, is also why you’ve probably pictured your favorite cartoon character naked). But, particularly in our less-than-contemplative age, we may have taken this novelty-seeking impulse too far. And this isn’t just about annoying kids in the backseat going apoplectic when their Switch battery dies. We all should maybe be spending a little more time doing boring stuff, according to an upcoming paper from the Academy of Management Discoveries, a journal published by the Academy of Management, an industry non-profit.

Guihyun “Grace” Park, a professor of management at Australian National University, tells Inverse that her finding suggests boredom may help facilitate those “a-ha!” moments by encouraging us to be more creative. This happened both in a “save your own ass” context (having to make up excuses), and in an institutional one (brainstorming around a product.)

bored is good
People who do something boring for a half hour come up with better ideas than people asked to do something creative. 

In other words, if you really want to come up with creative ideas, you may be better off if you spend some time doing something monotonous first. Go darn some socks, maybe, or do the dishes. To arrive at this finding, Park also contrived a pretty hilarious study: She took two groups of people and gave them a bunch of beans. The control group was fancy and was told to make art with their beans. The experimental group had to sort them by color. (Park started by having them count the beans, but participants found this too stimulating.) After their bean-related activities, Park gave everyone two tasks. First, she asked them to come up with excuses for why they were late for work. Then she asked them to contrive improvements for a new kind of pooper scooper.

“Those in the boredom condition had more excuses and a better quality of excuses. They were very novel and very original,” Park tells me. “When they engaged in product development, they came up with much more innovative product designs, especially when they were high in other measures like creative thinking.”

There are a few caveats here: Some people seem like they’re more predisposed to getting something out of boredom than others. More importantly, for this effect to take place, you also have to avoid the negative feelings that come with being bored. (In other words, no stewing over your many wasted talents.) Small doses may also be part of the equation. Park’s poor bean-sorters only had to numb their brains for about a half-hour. Still, Park says you can also prime people to be better at being bored.

“These dispositions, even at the status level, can be manipulated by the right manager or right environment,” Park says. “You can manipulate people to be more learning oriented by saying it’s OK to make errors and mistakes, it’s fine to seek out challenges, or that it’s not good to [focus] on avoiding failure. If these are encouraged, people are more likely to have learning-oriented dispositions at a status level, so dispositions where it seems fine to experience difficulties, and, therefore, it’s OK to explore new things.”

boredom
Activating a sense of boredom can actually facilitate creative problem solving better than actually being creative. 

It’s rare to find a workplace study that has useful insights no matter your occupation. Everyone needs to cook up an excuse every once in a while. Creativity as a workplace skill, specifically, is also set to experience one of the biggest spikes in demand from potential employers between now and 2030, according to projections from the McKinsey Institute. Being able to brainstorm pooper scooper improvements might not seem super-relevant to the job you have right now, but that could very likely change within a decade.

Managers, too, can look to Park’s findings for advice about how to cultivate more creative, risk-taking, thoughtful employees (if you want good ideas, you gotta get people comfortable proposing potentially shitty ones).

Finally, I also think this study exonerates the staffers who at this very moment might be — just a little bit! — inclined to start running out the clock as far as 2018 goes. Frankly, if you’ve still got gas left in the tank at this point, you’re already making the rest of us look bad. (The average worker clocks out on December 16, according to a 2016 study.) So go ahead and take your time getting back down on inbox zero, restoring your desk’s Feng shui, or doing something else that’s a little mindless. The research suggests you’re getting more done with this time than you maybe realize.

On that note, I’m gonna run out the clock a little bit right now by going through and pulling together all the best advice I’ve encountered in the seven months I’ve been writing this newsletter.

8. Question the Conventional Wisdom

One of the most oft-repeated pieces of wisdom about investing is that young people should buy more stocks because, while stocks are riskier in the short term, they almost always go up in the long term. This conventional wisdom is borne out by a lot of research but, as one recently retired business school professor found, much of that research was conducted by Americans during the 20th Century who were living in pretty extraordinary times. Zoom out, and the conventional wisdom looks wrong. For much of the 19th century (which for Americans sucked about as hard as the 20th century was good; White House burned down, Civil War, etc.), it was actually the bondholders who prevailed.

investing advice
Even the most commonly-held, entrenched pieces of advice can turn out to be wrong. 

7. Use Health Tracking to Activate Your Sense of Shame

Health trackers can shame you into being better about bedtimes, I learned, after spending a week tracking my sleep with a smart mattress.

6. Don’t Be Duped by Credit Card Points Inflation

Fifty-thousand-point signup bonuses. One-hundred-thousand-point signup bonuses. Free airport lounge access! If all these new credit card perks are actually so great, why do these same two credit cards win all the big rankings, year-in, year-out?

5. Share the Meal, Make the Deal

This study owns. When you’re trying to shmooze someone over food, get chips and salsa or something that lets you eat out of the same vessel. People who do this before negotiating reach deals in, like, half the time.

4. Profit-taking! Is! Important!

If you get lucky dabbling in stock picking or some other speculative activity, please don’t forget to take your profits and to account for taxes!

3. Stop Answering Bullshit Interview Questions

People who ask brain teasers in job interviews are psychopaths. Ya dodged a bullet there, friend.

2. Send. Meeting. Minutes. Make Them Fun.

This one’s pretty self-evident, but the evidence is really compelling that we all need to step up our game when it comes to meetings, which really don’t have to suck so bad.

1. Be a Better Person In 2019

We tend to think of the characteristics that make us likable — a sunny demeanor, general kindness — as inheritable traits, but they are really muscles that you can learn to flex. Getting people to like you is something at which you can get better, though, it has less to do with having the best jokes and more to do with realizing when you’re wrong. If any of you take any of the many pieces of advice I gave in 2018, I hope it’s this one: Happy New Year, everyone, and thanks for reading. Strategy will be off next week. I’ll see you all in 2019.

This has been an adapted version of Strategy, a weekly newsletter about the most pertinent financial, career, and lifestyle advice you’ll need to live your best life. I’m James Dennin, innovation editor at Inverse. If you’ve got money or career questions you’d like to see answered here, email me at james.dennin@inverse.com — and pass on Strategy with this link!