12 Days of Working Your Happy

The 12 Days of Christmas (December 26th – January 6th) is my favorite time of year. I look forward to the post-holiday slow-down so I can reflect on closing out the current year and set intentions for the new year. And this year, I invite you to join me in planning a 2019 to make you happier.

I’ve created a mini-workbook to act as a self-guided course for anyone else interested in Working Your Happy. Designed to take less than 30 minutes a day (with one exception), my 12 Days of Working Your Happy is a personal workbook to guide your 2018 reflections and 2019 happiness.

Download the 12 Days of Christmas 2018 Workbook

Wishing you a joyful holiday season, and happiest of new years!

Turning Up the Volume

Tomorrow, I’ll sit at one of three or four tables in the warm and love-filled kitchen of my wife’s second family. The house will be filled with three generations, two turkeys,  and one amazing brie appetizer (thanks, Liz!). What started as four couples getting together for dinner in the early 80s expanded exponentially as each small family grew.

Today, this Thanksgiving “table” is a gathering of anywhere from 30 – 40 people! My wife has missed one year of celebrating Thanksgiving with this specific group in her entire life. It is her only non-negotiable during the holiday season, and after attending my first year, I understand why.

butterturkey
Doesn’t everyone have a hand-carved butter turkey at Thanksgiving?

There is just one down side of a Thanksgiving filled with this much tradition, so many pies and lot of people. It is next to impossible to get to have a deep conversation with everyone – especially now that we have a toddler that requires at least cursory supervision. On our drive home tomorrow night, my wife and I will exchange the stories of who we talked to, hoping that together, we were able to connect with everyone.

The stories we hear (How was the marathon that Liz and Tom ran? What was the best part of Taylor and Elizabeth’s trip to Hawaii? What amazing vacations did Erica and Jason go on this year?) are both never enough and also fill us up with gratitude and thankfulness. It’s the act of sharing stories which connect us.

What prompted this sentimental holiday post? Well, I came across Can blogs rebuild America? and began to think about how stressful the holidays can be when politics come to the table. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen at our Thanksgiving. Good or bad, we’re all more or less on the same page. Our personal stories bring us closer, year after year.

In a room with so many people, sometimes you have to force your way in to the conversation. Or pay attention when someone is trying to be heard and make space for them. And the same is true for the bigger conversations happening around us.

I’m thankful for the space and freedom to express myself in this tiny little space, to forge connections with others in a conversation that can feel overwhelming and encourage others to do the same. Sharing your story can feel like work, but being heard will bring a deep sense of contentment.

#netpositiveblog

Is your tech making you happier?

The Working Parents Group at my office showed a screening of Screenagers this week.  I’m so glad I saw this movie and am starting to think critically about the role of technology in my life before I have a teenager. While my son is only (almost) 3 years old, I’ve come to be both impressed and a little scared at how fast he picks up technology.

And kids are little experiments, aren’t they? I can see everything we read about play out in my son. We’ve noticed when he has more screen time, his behavior gets worse. It creeps me out that he can be in the same room with me and if he’s watching a show, he does not hear or notice anything else. And research shows that increased screen time changes brain chemistry – permanently. Social media can be socially isolating. 

What are we doing with all this screen time?

After seeing the movie, I’ve been thinking more about what example I’m setting at home and what I’m doing with the available technology.

Actions speak louder than words, and if my wife and I are on our phones all the time, we’re sending the message to our son that what’s happening on our phones is more important than what’s happening in the room. I’ve taken to telling my son what I am doing when I have my phone out in front of him. “I’m sending a note to Mum to see what time she’ll be home.” “I’m looking up what roads to take to get to the park.”…and so on. It may be a bit much, but you’d better believe I’ve never said “I’m posting a picture of my coffee for strangers to look at” even though I’ve done that, too.

In the film, what struck me the most was how the kids where sitting next to each other, but interacting with each other through their phones. Technology is changing all the time, and changing everything. I believe strong EQ and interpersonal skills are going continue to be differentiators in what makes someone successful.

What does this have to do with work?

Work is getting more digital, and technology allows us to be more connected to the office more than ever before. I believe large organizations need to examine the expectations being put on employees and understand the role company culture is playing in home life. Have you thought about your company’s digital culture and if it aligns with your values?

If staying in touch with the office is the excuse parents are using for being on their phones, the message we’re sending is that work is more important than what’s happening at home. It’s a complex issue: if we know we’re happier the less we’re on screens, and that happier people are those who feel more in control of what’s happening in their lives… well, we have to ask if our tech is making us happier?

Technology enables the happiness trap of overwork. If how our work, technology and home life are coming together isn’t making things better, it’s time to take individual accountability and change what’s not working. I’ve personally found that the boundaries I put in place with a newborn are still making me happy: no work emails while my son is awake and I’m home with him. Period.

One last thought… my wife is a high school coach, and the team hosted a baby shower  when we were expecting. As part of the party, we asked 20 high school girls for parenting advice. The two things they told us:.

1. Play with your kids as much as you can (Dads, they all loved the “monster game”: when their dads would hide and they’d find him, he’d chase them and then tickle them. Who knew?)

2. Take away my phone. They told us they might pretend it’s awful, but they liked being able to say “my parents won’t let me…” so they get a break from the pressure of being connected all the time.

Maybe to be happier we need to take away our own phones for a bit.
What do you think about screen time, being connect to work and feeling happier?

15 minutes happier: one day, some day

When to use: When you’re feeling as if everyone else has a claim on your time.

Supplies: The outdoors, a pen or pencil and paper.

Instructions:

  • Take a 10 minute walk – preferably outside. Leave your phone and music behind. The purpose for this quick walk is to be alone with your thoughts.
  • Ask yourself: What would I want to do if I had an entire day to myself?
  • Any thought is valid – you’re brainstorming as you move, so give yourself permission to entertain ideas that might feel crazy or impossible.
  • After 10 minutes (or longer, if you’ve found the time), note the ideas which excited you most. You can save this list to your smartphone, too.
  • Bonus: make a date with yourself to put some of your ideas into action. One day to yourself every three months will have transformative and restorative impact.

 

Why it works:

  • “Take a hike!” is compassionate advice: going outside is proven to have many benefits, including increasing your creativity, focus and connection to others.
  • Walking changes our brain chemistry, and helps us each do our best thinking.
  • Articulation is the foundation“: Clarifying what you want, and being able to verbalize your intentions is the foundation for setting yourself up for success. When  unexpected free day finds it’s way on to your calendar, you now are better positioned to make the most of it.

 

Inspiration: I started thinking about how I would spend a free day to myself after another working mom asked the same question in a discussion group. Over the summer, she was going to have a furlough day each week, and wanted to know what everyone would do with it. The answers ranged from cleaning the house alone to going to a spa to reading at the beach to visiting friends. There’s no right answer, just an answer that’s right for you.

Then I remember that Julia Cameron introduced the concept of an artist’s date in her seminal work The Artist’s Way. One full day as a commitment to your own creative priorities. An artist’s date need not be artistic, just inspiring and restorative. If you’re able to give yourself a day, and are willing to share how you spent it, let me know!

Owning Your Energy

Autumn is my favorite season, and yet September is my least favorite month. After all, going back-to-school is just as frenetic for teachers and their families as it is for parents. Being married to a teacher for going on 8 years now, I’ve figured out how to prepare for the overnight change of pace that comes after Labor Day. We have more pre-made dinners, Sunday night calendar check-in sessions and of course, extra coffee.

Even knowing September is coming, the day-to-day is still hard. Throw in a few colds (me and the toddler), restless nights (the 12 year old dog), a few big projects at work, some craziness in the daily news, and it’s so much more draining than the rest of the year. September is the time of year when it feels like our good days are the days when we kept all the important things moving along and don’t drop the ball on anything majorly important.

September is when I adjust down my definition of a good day. A good day is when I’ve owned my energy. I may feel a bit frayed and run down, yet I try to not let it show. Or, to be more specific, I try to not to get snarky with other people. My goal is to not do anything in September that damages relationships for the rest of the year.

Taking responsibility for how I show up can feel a bit like faking it – except it this faking it comes with the goal of creating a virtuous rather than vicious cycle. If I act as if I’m not tired, I feel less tired. If I act as if I’ve got things in control, it feels like things are more in control. This isn’t stuffing true feelings and emotions aside, it’s pushing myself to not let them get the best of me. My feelings are still there – I just don’t react to them in the moment.

I may not be the best version of myself, but I’m not the worst, either.

We all do this to varying degrees of success. It’s a huge aspect of being an adult, and I have to believe I’m not the only person who just wants to say “I don’t wanna!” when asked to do something and instead says “I can get to it next week” or even “Sure, no problem”.

So, today, I’m giving anyone else who needs it merit badge for the times you’ve owned your energy when it’s especially hard. Nice work, everyone!

And, I want to remind you … it’s finally October.

Wear Your Happy

My “Wear Your Happy” theory:
Success starts with happiness, therefore “dressing for success”
starts with wearing what makes you happier.

What you wear impacts your behavior, and if you want to be happy, you have to feel happy. As we get ready to move into autumn, with tall boots and blanket scarves, let’s take a minute to strategically curate a capsule wardrobe that makes you happier. Limiting wardrobe decisions each morning means there is more bandwidth for more critical decisions throughout the day. It also decreases clutter and streamlines shopping. And makes it more likely you’ll be able to find your own style and signature ‘uniform’.

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A Happier Labor Day

anytime

Gretchen Rubin has proposed a #happierlaborday movement – and I am all in!

Tied to the upcoming Labor Day holiday in the US, Gretchen proposes we use Labor Day not only as the transitional holiday between summer and fall, but as a touchpoint in the calendar to reflect on our own labor. Labor in this case being the work we do – our professional lives.

I’m all in for finding ways to be happier, particularly at work. As my contribution to a happier Labor Day, I’ve come up with five questions and three I-statements to help us each inventory our work-life and to plan ahead for the following year.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself

How do I feel about Sunday nights? You don’t have to love setting an earlier alarm than on the weekends, but if your Monday ruins your Sunday, it’s time to think about significant shifts in your work. I like to have a Friday night and Sunday evening “special thing” to look forward to bookend the weekend. It helps with switching between weekend mode and work mode, both of which I enjoy. On Fridays, it’s family dinners and later bedtime for my son, and on Sunday’s it’s ice cream for when it’s warm and a mug of tea and a new episode of a favorite TV show when it’s cool.

 Do I have a career or a Career? A “big-C” career is how a good friend of mind describes the reality of wanting to advance and contribute in corporate America. I like this distinction, because a big-C career (in my book) comes with rules that are set by others for a game you’ve chosen to play. Little c vs big C isn’t a better vs worse option, but understanding how you think about your work in terms of ambition and goals can help clarify how you talk about your work with others.

Where is there friction in my workday? Everyone has some small daily annoyance that makes our workday just a little less enjoyable: a coworker who always sends an IM with just “Hi” and no question, someone who stops by your desk and talks for 25 minutes every morning, a commute that doesn’t go by a Dunkin Donuts. Identifying small things that you’ve learned to deal with but if changed would improve your day can be a good first step to being happier in the office.

Who makes up your tribe at work? There’s internet ‘wisdom’ floating around saying we’re an average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Who are those 5 people in your work life – and do they reflect how you want to experience working? Lunch with the office gossip can be fun, but it can become a source of negativity when left unchecked. Check to make sure you’re spending time with the people who encourage your work goals and who make you feel good about where you’re spending your time.

How would I describe my work without using a title? Titles are often meaningless outside a specific organization. A friend recently shared a LinkedIn profile of someone who gave themselves the title of “Curator of Dreams”. You could call yourself anything you wanted, which is why we’re seeing an uptick in creative titles. Since a supervisor in one industry might be called a president in another, what you do is more important than what your title is.  Begin describing what you do in plain English – focusing on the parts of your work you want to do more often.

Three I- Statements

I work so that…
Why are you working? Knowing why you are in a particular job at a particular company, or have chosen to be self-employed or are pursuing a new field of work is key in reminding yourself why you do what you do every day. If the reason you are working is to get a paycheck and get home so you can be a dance instructor, you only need to be doing “good enough” at work. If you’re looking for that next promotion at the office, you probably want to be stepping up at work and giving 110%. Know your why so you are working with intention.

In a year from now, I will have….
What do you want to be able to say you’ve done next Labor Day? Attended a conference? Tried a new idea? Changed jobs? Learned how to code? Whatever it is, Name it to claim it!, as Oprah says. This has nothing to do with your production goals at work – this is a time to be selfish and prioritize why you’re working. Then make a plan to set things in motion to get what you want out of your work.

In the next week, I will try…
Finding happiness at work can be a bit of an experiment. Commit to testing one change to see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, try something different next week. Consistency in the attempt is the key, not success on the first try.

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I want to hear from you: Did these questions help? Is there something getting in the way of making a small change? How are you having a #happierlaborday?