New ideas give me energy. Specifically, ideas on how to make work better. You know, so we’re all a little happier at work. So I’ve created a bit of a “class” for myself: reading up on what makes work “work” for individuals, the economy as a whole and our communities.
If pumpkin spice can be a season as well as a flavor, why can’t we all go back to school in the fall?
Just like coffee flavors and maple trees, I’ve come to understand that I also have my own growth “seasons”. I began to notice these patterns the first time I didn’t feel like knitting. I love knitting! And it didn’t interest me. I realized that there were months where I couldn’t find a good book, while at the same time feeling disappointed that I know I’ll never be able to read all the wonderful stories already published. Sometimes there is growth and blooming, and other times, allowing for recovery and change.
Right now, I’m in a read-to-learn season. I’ve torn through a stack of business and personal development books, and have more in the queue to be read. I’m thrilled with the new ideas I’m coming across. Energized by how these ideas can change my own work. Recommending each book to different people and taking notes along the way.
As I’ve started to notice these trends for myself, I’m able to harness energy that comes from recognizing a personal season. Just like I make seasonal bucket lists, I now lean in to my own patterns of growth and creation. Knitting in the fall, baking in the winter. Fiction in the summer, cleaning in the spring. Writing always, although I bounce between blogging, journaling, creating workshops and my great American novel. I’m sure you have your own growth seasons and phases of creativity.
What personal patterns of growth have you noticed? How do you harness that energy?
One of the questions for the September Journaling Challenge* is to reflect daily on what gives you energy. Not what makes you happy, or what are you grateful for, but focusing on what gives you energy. Less than two weeks in to the challenge, and I’m already surprised at what an impact that mental shift from focusing on energy in addition to happiness has.
I’m a bit of a broken record that “I love the fall, and could skip September”. It’s just a reality for our family that back to school time is back to a wicked hectic routine time. I went in to September with a low bar: get through each day with some semblance of grace. Last year, I wrote about Owning Your Energy, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that new insights around “energy management” popped up again this September.
Christine Miserandino’s the spoon theory is her personal story about what it’s like to live with a sickness or disability. Her point is that most of us have the energy we need to get through our days. Which is true. What’s also true is that we don’t end our day with the same energy we started with. We’ve spent it throughout the day.
Our daily energy supply is finite.
Finite resources need to be managed – like any other finte resource: water, time, money, or real estate. We’ve all had those days where we “hit the wall”: the bottom of our energy reserves. Rather than running down to empty, I’m finding that documenting what’s amplifying or diminishing my daily energy is helping me see where I can make changes. I’m adjusting my schedule, my conversations and my priorities for each day. Check out Levi King’s Inc. article How To Reserve and Replenish Your Emotional Energy for more ideas.
Reflecting on and adjusting my decisions related to my energy levels means I’m having better days more consistently … Which makes me happier.
A huge thank you to my friend and yoga instructor, Jenny Smyth for hosting the September Journaling Challenge! If you’re interested in learning more about your own energy, start with an energy audit: as yourself what is both draining and charging your emotional energy battery for at least 21 days and look for patterns.
As I re-read the article, I realized that Vanessa’s focus was work, rather than a holistic view of all priorities in a week. One of the most helpful aspects of my paper planner is that it integrates what is most important at work and at home. I don’t write everything in my planner, just the things essential to get done each day and week. Investing that bit of time to see what is critical each week (meetings that honestly couldn’t move) and what can be postponed (typically meetings with more than 8 people) helps both get things done and maintain healthy boundaries.
Luckily, I now have the competing priorities of a toddler (sorry, “big kid”) and a wife who’s busy season is the fall. Even with my paper planner, I’m still overwhelmed and not able to find the time I need to get to everything important to me. First to make the cut are the things related to my own health: exercise, meal planning, getting enough sleep.
I took a page from Vanessa’s under-30-minute strategy and integrated it with my planner and my need to be healthier. So I…
made list of all the healthy things I “should be doing”
freaked out a bit because apparently I could make this a full time job
went through the brain dump, and made a top 7 list: meal planning, exercise x 3, yoga, writing, and a free space
realized setting the bar low (for now) would give me my type-A sense of accomplishment
wrote each one on a sticky tab and then
assigned each tab to a day of the week, depending on my week
Each daily sticky is The One Thing that must get done each day. Once it’s done, I move the tab to the next week. And so on.
Capping my to-dos at seven – one per day – gave me a sense of relief. I don’t have to do everything, I just have to do something, and do something constantly. Daily progress is better than the overwhelm and avoidance that clearly isn’t going to lead to change.
Sticky notes and ruthless prioritization could change the world!
That might be dramatic, but that’s how I felt after figuring out this tactile way to make something that feels intractable actionable. Do you have ways you visualize and interact with your time? Tell me about them!
I know that when my car has a flat tire, there’s no way I can drive it without doing serious damage*. I’d pull over and fix it, then get back on the road. I’d be both annoyed at the inconvenience, and proud of myself for fixing it. But if anything else more serious happened, I have to take my little blue car to Kareem, the awesome owner of the service station and car repair shop in our town. He’s the expert I trust with my little blue CARDIS.
As I focus on reclaiming what is essential, I’m realizing there are things which happen in life that are more serious than a flat tire. Trying to fix some of these things myself isn’t working – or worth it.
Figuring out a weekly meal plan. Not knowing what to do when nursing my infant son was not easy. Dealing with a challenging coworker. Having ice dams in Winter 2015. Being intimidated at all the equipment at the gym. Planning my family’s first trip to DisneyWorld.
I could try to figure each of these out on my own – but why? Calling the expert saves me time and money in the long run, not to mention stress, frustration and lost opportunity to focus on the things that come much more easily to myself. For each of these experiences, there is an expert to invite in and to learn from.
My solutions varied: Themed meal nights. A lactation consultant. A peer coach. Our roofer. A personal trainer. My best friend and Disney expert.
Experts are all around us – and not all of them are prohibitively expensive. Some might even be your friends, who would welcome helping you out. Again, my Disney-expert BFF who also doubles as a sleep consultant and shares parenting advice. Strategic planning and prioritizing come easily to me – and when someone asks how I manage my week, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned and how I approach it.
Where have you benefited from calling in an expert?
Where are you the expert willing to share your knowledge?
*I learned this in high school after driving a car home to ask my dad for help. Oops! Sorry, Pops!
You know how sometimes at work you’re asked what your super power is? Sometimes I think mine is “finding complexity”. I love lists so much I could make a list of my lists. I add things to cross them off, which makes it easy to replace accomplishments with activity. Over the last week, I’ve even started referring to work I’m trying to lead as a Rubix’s Cube.
This summer, my family tried out – and loved! – family camp. Rustic cabins, communal bathrooms, family-style dining, new friends and no WIFI. As I told friends what our summer vacation plans were, I’d get two responses: either that it sounded like heaven or like the worst vacation ever. You’d either love or hate family camp – being lukewarm about it all seems unlikely. Camp has an intrinsic simplicity: meals are at set times, rustic means that when the sun goes down it gets dark, and that since we were on an island, swimming and being outside was a default. Being disconnected from our devices meant connection and community existed all around us. All the “science” behind what makes us happy happens naturally at camp – and we were happy at camp. Obviously, I fall in the “I love camp!” camp, and can’t wait to go back.
I’m open about the last weeks of August and first week of September being … not my favorite time of year. It’s when my good days are the days I own my energy. It’s when all my systems and strategies are tested. It’s when I may not be at my best, and hopefully I’m not at my worst, either. Gretchen Rubin writes about September being the new January, a way to mark a fresh start without “waiting” for the new year.
This year, I’m challenging myself to continue the “aggressive simplicity” I learned from camp. “Aggressive simplicity is the counterbalance to toxic American busy-ness” is one of my new mantras.
That means a daily to-do list of no more than three things – which requires ruthless prioritization. It means one personal priority a day – which diminishes my also amazing superpower of being able to rationalize almost anything – including not doing something.
Help me learn from you! How do you simplify when things seem complex?
“Do you have a best friend at work?” was one question on the first “employee engagement” surveys I took. The question was considered somewhat of a joke at the time. After all, work is for work. You could have friends on your own time.
Fast forward a decade or so, and suddenly both having social connections and the safety of friendship seems like obvious indicators of strong work environments.The Gallup organization says it best:
Human beings are social animals, and work is social institution.
The Gallup organization notes that the “best friend” question is the most controversial of the 12 dimensions that drive employee retention, customer metrics, productivity and profitability, However, the organization’s in-depth research also uncovered that employees who report having a best friend at work are also more likely to report that:
They received recognition or praise in the last 7 days (43%)
Someone at work encourages their development (37%)
Their opinions count at work (27%)
Having friends at work sounds like the “social institution” of work is being part of a community: a system of relationships based on common interests that create a feeling of belonging.
Relationships fostering a sense of connection and support are critical to overall happiness. A quality social network – a real, in person social network – is critical to your happiness. What is a quality social network?
Berkley’s The Greater Good Magazine identifies three areas of relationships to teach children to help create happier, resilient adults: social and emotional intelligence, successfully resolving conflicts and altruism.
From The World Counts: Strong relationships are when you feel like you belong, are valued for who you are and have comfort and security. Between 1985 and 2006, the number of close friends reported by Americansdropped by a whole person. A full quarter of survey respondents reported that they couldn’t name on person they could rely on fully.
We’re social animals, and we need a community to thrive.
Here’s where I want you to take a bit of a jump with me.
Here’s where it all comes together: self-care will only get us so far in the fight against social disconnect, distress and burnout. It’s community care that will create the seismic shifts necessary to create true change. Nakita Valerio is a Toronto-based researcher and community organizer who’s tweet about community care and self-care recently went viral.
“Community care can look like a lot of different things,” Valerio says. “It can be as simple as reaching out to somebody over text when you just need someone to talk. It can be someone grabbing groceries for you or … somebody coming and doing your dishes and watching your kids while you’re grieving.”
Let’s take the friends-at-work thing one step further and test community care in the office. Ask a coworker if you can bring them a coffee on a tough day. Send a quick note letting your cube neighbor know they handled a tricky situation well. Drop off a meal for a new parent just returning to work. Give someone a high-five for running their first marathon over the week. Celebrate and support each other – you know, be the friend at work.
You know that feeling when there are ideas swirling around your head that keep bumping up against each other, yet haven’t yet been distilled into what is essential? I’m there with thoughts about setting boundaries at work, self- and community- care and how I define both happiness and success.
I need Dumbledore’s pensieve so that I can poke at all these thoughts and eventually have clarity emerge.
In the meantime, the conflict between when to say yes and when to hold the line of no when it comes to work, family, friends, and my own priorities keeps bubbling to the surface . This is likely because our summer is pretty booked up – to the point I’ve added a few “DO NOT SCHEDULE ANYTHING” days to the family calendar. We need to protect a few scattered and precious “home days” to keep the home front in balance.
Two of my favorite happiness-adjacent books also highlight this yes/no conflict: Shonda’ Rhimes’ The Year of Yesshares what happened when she said yes to anything that scared her for one year. Katrina Onstad’s The Weekend Effect makes a strong case for saying no to being overcommitted so that families can reclaim weekends and time to unplug.
So when to say yes and when to say no?
A guidepost I use is the reminder that saying yes (or no) to something is by default saying no (or yes) to something else.
Yes to reading means no to some sleep. Yes to checking in at work after my son goes to bed means no to chatting with my wife. And so on.
The self- and community-care confusion gets woven in when self-care slides into “treat yourself” appointments to be scheduled rather than ongoing self-nourishment. There’s something there, too, about self-care morphing into an additional task over an authentic community connection. A manicure isn’t self-care when I’m exhausted and dehydrated.
The Yes/No check-in with myself has been incredibly useful over the past few months: I’ve caught myself saying yes to things that then forced a “no” to the things I honestly, truly need and care about. Yes to an additional volunteer activity means a no to additional time writing. Yes to designing my own workshops means no to Schitt’s Creek. It’s a prioritization short cut that’s helping me set new boundaries at home and at the office.
I’d love to know how you set boundaries and decide on your priorities… or if you have a pensieve you can to share.
I’ve been feeling as if life is more hectic than I’d like recently. The end of the school year does this to many of us – I know I’m not alone! Mix in a threenager, some big projects at work and increased commitment to this blog and helping other to “work your happy”, and some days it feels like lazy days of summer are something of a nostalgic past, not my immediate future.
I came across a Harvard Business Review article encouraging focus on just a few key habits to help introduce stability when life is busy. It was a good nudge to reflect on what habits I’d slipped into – or given up – that could help reclaim a little more space for myself.
I found myself wondering what three habits I could promise myself I’d stick to – no matter what. I can’t pledge to give up coffee, but I can pledge to drink enough water each day. After all, I can hydrate well even if I end up on video calls for most of my day. Meditation for five minutes? If I can’t find five minutes… well, let’s be honest – I can. And I can get to bed by 10 PM each night. It’s a well documented if not well-researched fact that if I don’t get enough sleep I turn into my own evil twin.
I’ve started thinking of these three habits as my cornerstone habits – if they slip, I’ve basically lost my foundation and everything is shakier than necessary.
I kicked off my Memorial Day weekend – the official start of summer – by emailing a group of coworkers inviting them GAME OF CONES*: a series of informal, ice cream-based summer meetings.
Immediately after hitting send, I regretted it. Not because I don’t want to hang out with my coworkers and have ice cream. Rather, I worried that I may have crossed the line between “Wendy’s fun to work with” and “Wendy has too much fun at work”.
I’ve gotten “feedback**” throughout my life that I’m too social or that I joke around a bit much. I’ve been asking myself “when is a bit much too much?” when it comes to the work place. I decided to do some research around when fun at work is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
I’m defining fun as the social aspects of work: establishing friendships, leaving the conference rooms for a little while and celebrating the people I see more than some members of my family.
Ok, so fun at work increases social connection, which increases happiness, which increase productivity and makes us healthier. I’m feeling less guilty already!
How to fit social time with coworkers into to our already packed schedules? After all, no one really works a 9-to-5 anymore. Good news! It turns out that the average person is productive for 3 hours a day. I thought it was closer to 6 hours: one of my go-to work theories is that after a typical 8 hour day (let’s be honest, for most of us it’s closer to 10), is that you start to see diminishing returns and the need to do rework. So, if we’re only productive for 3 hours a day, surely we can spare 20 minutes occasionally for an ice cream social.
Fun at work isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have! Shawn Achor, author of one of my favorite happiness books, The Happiness Advantage, sums it up by saying, “How much you give at work directly affects how much you get at work.”
So, a guilt-free Game of Cones it is!
*Game of Cones: the simple rules are to organize a team of 5 or more people, go to a local ice cream establishment, take a picture and share it with #gameofcones2019.
**On Feedback: Not always a gift, always a data point. My new mantra is that not all feedback requires change.