being productive

The Top Way to Be More Productive at Work

What do you think the top way to be more productive at work is? Time management? Delegation? Clear goals and strategies? Singular focus? Prioritization? Managing interruptions?  

The winner is: Be happy.

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley (GGSC) posits that we are not only more productive, but also more successful in our work when we are happy. To get a pulse on your happiness at work, take their quick quiz.

Here are a few suggestions GGSC gave post-quote about improving happiness at work even more.

Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Make It Meaningful

I noticed this one right away in the questions asked. Find work that is more than a paycheck. As Malcolm Gladwell says, “It’s not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between 9 and 5. It’s whether our work fulfills us.” When our work serves a greater purpose, contributes to our personal growth, and aligns with our personal values and beliefs, we have found something we can’t wait to wake up in the morning to do.

An interesting question in the quiz which I believe is tied to the meaning of our work, is having curiosity in our work. To learn and grow, we need a certain curiosity, a desire to explore. This may as part of the actual work – like a scientist who wants to know how and why things work – or it could be how we approach the work – like someone on a production line who wonders if changing the sequence will speed efficiency. It helps to have an open, child-like curiosity leading us throughout our day. When we are open and growing, we are improving our work and our lives – and we are happier.

In the Flow

Hopefully your work allows you to fully engage. It is not too boring or too stressful for you. Sports often uses analogies of “being in the zone” when all our energy and focus is centered on our actions. Our work can be this way too. When we are distracted, not interested in, or overwhelmed by our work, we are not in the flow. Working smart not hard is one way we stay in the flow.

Back in the day, I was very (underline very) bad at being in the flow. I was a bull in the china shop. Pushing. Rushing. Ruled by the checklist. Pushing up stream did not make me more efficient. It made me, and those who had to work with me, less happy. I find now that being in the flow, I can be as, if not more, efficient and I am a heck of a lot better to work with.

Balance

I have written about work-life balance ad nauseum, mostly because we still need to learn and embrace the concept. Constantly check your work-life balance, where do you need to make adjustments to find equilibrium. Be present in each moment and in each task. Gift yourself with breaks when and how you need them. Reassess your relationship with time.  Manage your stress levels. Don’t let your work consume you; it should add to, not take away from your life. We work to live, not the other way around.

Be in It Together

Our Western society it based on independence, but we really need others and a sense of community to make us happy. Don’t go it alone. Ask for help. Give help. Give recognition. Accept recognition. Be compassionate to those around you. Laugh with your co-workers. Make real connections. Celebrate group wins. Be understanding. Mentor. Be mentored. Being connected not only makes you happy, but it decreases your stress level as well.

How did you score on the quiz? What are things you can do to be happier and therefore more productive and successful at work? Share your thoughts with us here.

maslow needs

The Quest for Improvement

Today I was going to write about the story of the two monks and the river in order to show how most of the time our mental pain hurts us more than our physical pain. Then I realized I shared the monk story back in 2010. So . . . I thought about a different angle to take so we could explore how we usually cause more pain and discomfort in our lives by how we think about others, ourselves, and situations then by anything that is actually physically happening to us. I looked up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to use that as a basis to show how for most of our current society the base human needs are taken care of, yet we are torturing ourselves so much more from our mental pain. In researching Maslow I found this great article giving the basics about Maslow’s psychology and found some solace for my own current angst.

maslow needs
From Simple Psychology

Being a perfectionist, I unfortunately tend to beat myself up for the times I do not act how I know I am capable. Instead of seeing these struggles as part of my growth, I wallow too long beating myself up for my imperfections. Yet they are not imperfections. They are the bumps and struggles we all have as we strive to become the best people we are meant to be. It is our challenges, our setbacks, the adversity we face (from others or self-created) which give us the opportunity to grow. Not that I am anywhere close to this, but I looked at the list of characteristics of self-actualizers in the article and can see that at my core this is who I want to be. Seeing the goals of life this way has always made me feel different than others and yet it is what I feel driven to become. It is my goal. It is my definition of happiness and contentment.

Lately I have been praying for help because I have been so down on and overcritical of myself. Finding this article was Spectacularly Perfect for me as it told me that although the path is currently bumpy, I am heading in the right direction because I share many of the behaviors, or strive to have the behaviors, that lead to self-actualization. I am trying to be fully and completely in each moment. I am listening to my inner guidance (even when it is not popular or when it is scary) and sharing my truth honestly. I am willing to try new things, to walk the road less taken. I am surrendering my defenses and having the courage to take responsibility for my growth.  And I promise to remember what Maslow said, “There are no perfect human beings.”  I’ll just continue to do my best every day and accept when my best is the bare minimum.

What are you currently struggling with? What are your goals? What obstacles are in your way? What Spectacularly Perfect Events help you to know you are on the right path or give you the next step on your journey? How do you accept the hiccups and imperfections of the human experience?

Have hope. Keep walking. Keep growing. Keep loving.

baby shark

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Do-ing

Baby Shark overtook our household for a while. Everything got the Baby Shark treatment. Baby spinach doo doo doo doo doo doo. Gato Blanco doo doo doo doo doo doo. It was silly and fun. When I started to write this post, I thought of a new variation, Stressy Me doo doo doo doo doo doo. When I was younger, stress was a way of life. I always overcommitted and put my work above my relationships and my health. I was always doing, doo doo doo doo doo do-ing. I thought stress was normal. It was what life was all about, right?


Thankfully through my awakening in Peru, I started to see that there was more to life than stress and that there were ways to minimize the amount a stress I experienced, such as practicing patience. This brought a brand new world to me. A world where I could choose what I committed to and what I didn’t. A world where I had the right and the responsibility to put myself first. I began to live and not to do. Instead of being a victim of stress, I used tools to minimize and prevent it. Life was wonderful. My belief became that stress is part of life, but we don’t have to let it overtake our life.

This new way of being has served me for about the last decade and my life has changed because of it. I left a high-pressure career (or what I made a high-pressure career) for one that fits my outlook on life. I simplified my life and moved to a country that moves at the speed I want to live. I thought I had made it. This was great. Then I learned that I can even go deeper. I am now learning how to stop creating any painful negative stress in my life.

I may experience the positive stress of an upcoming event like a trip or a birthday; to me this should really be called excitement not stress. And yes, there will be negative stress events in my life like deadlines, losses, and accidents. But I don’t need to make these negative stress events into more than they are. The event is stressful. My thoughts about the event are what makes it painful.

Brené Brown reminded me of this in her book, Rising Strong. The stressful event itself is not what causes the pain. What really causes the pain of negative stress is our thought or our story about the event. It is not that there is a deadline. It is the thought that if we don’t meet the deadline we are imperfect and unlovable. It is not that we lost a loved one. It is that we didn’t do enough for them when they were alive which makes us a horrible person. It is not that there was an accident. Our story tells us that we were a worthless stupid idiot and that is why there was an accident. When we can keep our stories at bay, the pain of stress naturally minimizes.

Recently I had an off week. I really didn’t know why but I felt anxious, tired, and worried. Yes, I was having a busy week but I have had busy weeks before and I didn’t feel this poorly. What I realized was the story I was telling myself about my busy week was what was causing me pain. I felt I had to take on more clients at work or I would be seen as unproductive and maybe lose my job. I felt I had to put my needs to the side to take care of others or I would be a failure. I believed I had to do everything myself and not ask for help or I was not doing my share and was unworthy of love. Once I identified and released the stories I had made up, it was easy to look at my week, schedule in downtime/self-care, and approach my work from a space of giving instead of being taken from. And the pain was gone. Painful negative stress is caused by our thoughts and beliefs around issues. I was stressed because I had poor boundaries and was choosing to take too much on because I thought I had to or I was worthless. Once I removed this dishonest thinking, I moved forward to solve problems without the crippling effects of stress.

Where are you feeling stress right now? How much of it is fact? How much is it a story you have made about yourself or other people? If you release your false story, how much stress do you feel?

a delicate dance

The Delicate Dance

It has come to my awareness recently how much of my anger, sadness, resentment, and victimization all stem from focusing on my ego. It is important to differentiation what the ego is and is not.  Lately every time I am triggered by something it is because I assume someone is doing something to me or not thinking of me, therefore bruising my ego. The truth is, I’m not that important. Others are taking care of themselves. They are thinking about themselves. They are doing what they are choosing to do. All with zero or minimal thought of me. And rightly so. I do the same. We are all the lead character of our play, while everyone else is but a small bit part. My ego takes over when I assume I am the leading character in everyone’s play therefore making everything being done because of or to me. Not true.

Our ego gets us in trouble. The ego is constantly wanting to be seen, protected and focused on. The truth though is we are not our ego. We are not our career; we are not our role as mother/sister/daughter; we are not the labels we have adopted (conservative, liberal, feminist, gun rights advocate). We are not the star of anyone’s play, even our own. What we truly are is what I choose to call our soul. Our soul is our being without any title or label. It is that ephemeral drive which makes some of us love horses and others love Shakespeare. It is what has created our theme and challenges in this life. It is what exists no matter where we live, what we do, and who we interact with.

Our ego is of this world. Our soul is beyond it.

What is fun – and challenging – about this lifetime is we need to be in this world, but much of our happiness steps from being beyond this world. When I returned from Peru, I did not feel or act of this world. I stopped playing the game of wanting a certain job, being consumed by the latest television show or fad, and being worried about anything this transitory world produced. I had never known peace like that before. Think about it. Write down the top five things you are focused on or concerned about right now. Would they matter to someone on the other side of the world? Will they matter in five years? Is your belief about its importance based solely on your chosen societal values? Did you value the same things ten years ago? Will you still value them ten years from now?

a delicate dance
Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash

All of the anger, sadness, and resentment I experience is based on and in the transitory world. Remember being devastated at not receiving an A on your college thesis or not being asked to the dance by the person you were smitten by? How important is that class now? Can you remember your crush’s name? Remember the 5×5 rule and release any pain being created by the transitory. Releasing the focus on our ego world is what gives us peace.

And yet, we have to focus on the world around us. Unless you are a monk cloistered away for the rest of your life, you need to be in and deal with the world around you. That is the dance of life. Meditate in the morning to touch the great beyond. Deal with traffic going to work. Open your heart to a friend who needs love and support. Spend five hours on hold with your cable provider. Use music, movement or creativity to release your passionate soul. Spend an hour making a meal that will be consumed in five minutes.

As the saying goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” It is amazing and wonderful to touch on the enlightenment of seeing beyond this world. While we are simultaneously loving and dealing with living in this world. That is our delicate dance.

dog on tightrope

Achieving Balance

Here is a dog on a tightrope. Really. It. Is. A. Dog. On. A. Tightrope. I don’t usually share cat, or in this instance, dog videos in my posts, but better way to get your attention about what balance really means. As you watch this talented guy, you will see that he doesn’t get on the rope and stand perfectly still. He is in constant motion. He is constantly readjusting. To balance on the rope, he is moving and adapting in every moment.

dog on tightropeIt is the same with our balance. To be in a state of balance takes continual readjustment.

I think the pain many of us feel is that we expect to one day reach a state of perfection; to find the perfect way to be and handle our day – and that it is repeatable in the same way every day. We believe there is one perfect state of being and once we find it life will be steady.  This steady state of perfection does not exist. As life constantly changes, so too do we need to continually shift. Balance is not a point on a graph, it is not a timetable to be adhered to, it is not the perfectly planned execution of our day. Balance is our ability to constantly shift and adapt to the ever-altering and ever-changing way of life. When things are not shifting and changing, they are dead. To be alive is to be constantly moving, shifting, changing, and growing.

Somewhere along the line, work-life balance was assumed to be a steady-state. It was assumed there was a mythic point were the needs of our personal lives meet perfectly with our work responsibilities; 8.75 hours at work, 10.2 for personal care, and 5.05 for our family each and every day, not shifting, but uniformly working like clockwork. Sorry folks, a perfect ratio of time does not exist. Work-life balance takes constant readjustment. Child gets sick – life needs a bit more time. Deadline for your work presentation is tomorrow – your career gets the focus. Unexpected guest pops by – plans are dropped and redeveloped. Throughout the week, day, and each hour we are constantly adjusting our focus and efforts to maintain balance based on the changing world around us.

To gain balance sometimes we need to add one thing, sometimes another. As I tend to lean towards being a stressed-out Type A, I often write about bringing calm and self-care to my life. But sometimes I need deadlines, focus and concentration. Perfect balance is not just adding one thing. It is the pendulum swinging from surrender/peace to concentration/effort. Back and forth, and back and forth, in a continuous state of movement.

As you head into this new year, do not set resolutions to bring you what you think is perfect balance. No one formula exists which will work every day and in every situation. Instead, set a resolution to go about your day in a state of constant readjustment. It is in the moment by moment choices we make that we find happiness, good health, and success. The plan you make now for the rest of 2019, will be foiled by the gifts, glitches and unexpected changes which will happen over the next 365 days. Focus on the next 24 hours, not the next 12 months. See how focusing on the moment will give you the power to find as much balance as you can each and every day.

Wishing you all the best in the new year!

building blocks

Building Blocks

I work with a lot of perfectionists. The reasons they became perfectionists may differ, but they do share a few challenges because of their desire for perfectionism. First, they have high expectations for themselves and others. This can be a good personality trait when used with realism, otherwise it can be very detrimental. Second and surprisingly, sometimes perfectionists give up too early; we lack persistence. If we are not immediately perfect, we quit and stop trying. And finally, we perfectionists lack patience for completion which can affect our happiness. By focusing on the building blocks instead of the overall achievement, perfectionists – and others – can accomplish what they desire without unnecessary stress and hopefully also find joy along the way.

Expectations

The other day I spoke to a driven overachiever who had just taken on a new challenge. She was attacking herself for not perfecting something new immediately after setting the goal. I compared it to deciding to start running and berating oneself for not winning the Chicago Marathon the next weekend.

Building Blocks: It is important to have realistic expectations for what we c

building blocks
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

an accomplish. If we decide to take up running, winning the next marathon is not a realistic immediate goal. However, waking up the next morning, stretching our legs, and putting on our running shoes is a good first goal. Trying to do too much too fast will only hurt us (and maybe others) and we will probably not achieve what we want. Analyze what you are capable of doing in this moment and set realistic goals. Then as you master each level move on to the next, but only when you are ready.

Persistence

Another aspect of expecting immediate mastery is that if we can’t achieve perfection on our first attempt, we attack ourselves for incompetence and stop trying. If we are not first, we are last so better to get out of the game before we are labeled a “loser.” A recent client had this all or nothing attitude. Either she was amazingly accomplished or she was a failure. She saw no middle ground. She gave no credit to her progress. Her success at the overall goal determined her self-worth.

Building Blocks: By breaking down our goals, we can celebrate our wins during each step. Instead of thinking we are a failure because we don’t have our degree on our first day of class, we can celebrate showing up for that class. Then we celebrate passing each test then passing each class then finishing semesters then completing years, until finally we can celebrate our degree. The key to persistence is constant recognition of how far we have come.

Patience

I heard you perfectionistic Type A’s laughing. Patience is not part of our vocabulary. Even if we create realistic expectations and break them into smaller goals that we persistently work through, we may feel very impatient with how long things take. I ran across a story the other day about how it took Ann Dowd until her 50’s to really make it in acting. This article is a great read for many reasons. For us, it is a lesson in staying in gratitude and joy throughout the process, even if it takes decades.

Building Blocks: Focusing on the end goal creates impatience and disappointment. Achieving the goal gives you 30-seconds of satisfaction. The processes leading up to that goal may give you years or even decades of enjoyment. When we stop looking at the accomplishment, we can tune into how blessed we are to experience the journey that takes us to our goal.

I agree with Daniel Burnham when he said, “make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” And . . . I think we have to cut ourselves a bit of slack. Mr. Burnham didn’t say one had to accomplish those plans immediately or perfectly. He didn’t say that failing was the end of the world. And from what I can tell, he had a pretty good time accomplishing what he did. Look at your goals. Are they realistic? Are you trying to accomplish too much at one time? Are you berating yourself for not doing as much and as perfectly as you would like to right now? Slow down. Accept what you can truly accomplish in the moment. Celebrate where you have come from and how far you have progressed. And please, enjoy the ride.