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Step away from the list

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What is the biggest obstacle to adopting the Habits of Highly Effective People? Distractions.

And that to-do list you cling to may be fooling you into thinking you're more productive than you are.

According to this article in Inc. magazine, a disastrous chain of poor decision-making starts with a constant stream of interruptions ("Oh, look. I got another email!") that prevents us from focusing, which leads to an inability to prioritize.

Rather than channeling our energies into the most important tasks, as we should, says Stephen M.R. Covey, we become list-makers intent on "efficiency," which we then define as checking everything off the list, big and small. Covey is the son of the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey, the man behind "the seven habits."

We should stop substituting tasks for true productivity, he says. And true productivity is all about results.

So the questions become, what results are you looking for in your business – and in your life? And how do you get there? As Dr. Covey would say, "Begin with the end in mind." (Habit No. 2.)

Confession time – I was not focused last week. Here are some of the things that caught my attention and then receded rapidly in the rearview mirror:

"What (fill in the blank) are you?" I'm London, the French Revolution, FDR, Professor X and the Dowager Duchess of Grantham (ouch). Online personality quizzes seem to be everywhere.

I especially like the ones on Buzzfeed, because they are hard to game. A short series of seemingly unrelated check boxes ("Pick a color." "Choose the most beautiful word.") with equally off-the-wall choices produces a result that often seems like a good fit. Or not.

I'm not giving you a link – you won't get anything else done today.

If you succumb, though, think before you happily waste time learning which historical era you should have lived in or what your patronus is. Clicking on the answer boxes is a bit like being a lab rat pushing the lever for food pellets. The same goes for clicking Facebook "likes," for that matter.

Behind the scenes, someone with a clipboard is watching and taking notes, and your data is being collected.

Moving on…

A lot of articles and tweets last week centered on women in business and women in the workplace. These are topics important to our society and to our economy, so I was very excited to see them getting attention. Then I realized it's Women's History Month, and my excitement deflated a bit.

As a colleague asked me last week: Will we ever get past the "first woman to…" headline and just accept that women are as diverse in their abilities, interests and goals as men are? When will we stop devoting one month to women and fold women's achievements and struggles into just "history?"

Which leads to …

Along with all you have to worry about in hiring today – skill levels, work habits – add trust. A recent study by Pew Research found that millenials (that's now ages 18-33) have trust issues. They've detached from institutions like politics and religion and are extremely connected to each other, which makes them more liberal on social questions and, encouragingly, more upbeat about the future.

The best news in the study, though, is that diversity to them is as natural and invisible as the air they breathe. "First woman/minority to" may draw blank stares sooner than we dare hope.

The week ahead

There may be a new competitor on the market for compressed natural gas and propane as an alternative fuel, and both local and national companies are getting into the game. Reporter John Hilton will have the report in this week's issue.

Also Friday, Jason Scott catches up with recently departed TeamPA Foundation head Matt Zieger and talks to him about his new endeavors.

The Inside Business focus is on executive training and education, with lists on state MBA programs, school districts and private schools.

Find the week's networking opportunities here.

Finally, are you receiving our new day-end enewsletter? It caps off the work day with top news of the afternoon, the market close and a look ahead to tomorrow. Subscribe to the Evening Rush here and look for it around 4:15 Monday-Friday.

The rewind

Please indulge me in one last gripe about daylight saving time, which is now upon us. The New York Times assembled a panel Friday to evaluate its worth and, no surprise, only two of the six – an economist and a novelist – had anything good to say about it. Please drive extra carefully this week and be kind to your tired, grumpier employees.

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan

Hope Stephan is editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. A Pennsylvania native, she is a graduate of Penn State and Xavier University. Have a question or tip for her? Email her at hopes@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @hstephan. Circle Hope Stephan on .

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