Opinion

Back to School

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.

Journaling Prompts:
What personal patterns of growth have you noticed?
How do you harness that energy?

Opinion

Happiness isn’t 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.

Follow your energy and your passion will find you.

I’d like to know how you manage your energy – both how you amplify what works for you and diminish what doesn’t. Drop me a comment below or email workyourhappy(@) gmail.com.

Opinion

Visualizing and Interacting with Time

Vanessa Shaw prioritizes her week in under 30 minutes using sticky notes to physically categorize, organize and prioritize work. I have a similar-in-intent strategy with my paper planner. Vanessa captures why I love my paper planner: it allows me to both visualize and interact with my time. 

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!

Opinion

Call the Experts

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!

Opinion, Yourself

Aggressive Simplicity

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.

Goodbye, summer! Hello, fall!

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.

Last year, I introduced 5 questions to find your Happier Labor Day. This year, there is only one question: How can I strip things down to what is essential?

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?

Opinion, People

Fellowship of the … Cubicle?

“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 Americans dropped 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. 

I’ve noticed a trend of talking about “resiliency” at work: a new fancy word for stress management. Work is the number one source of stress for a quarter of Americans, and the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an official syndrome earlier this year. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article on 5 Ways to Boost Your Resilience at Work put the heavy lifting of changing this culture on the individual, recommending mindfulness, taking breaks and avoiding context switching.

All great ideas – yet the burden is placed on the individual to “fix” the problem.

Sounds suspiciously like “self-care”, doesn’t it? I’m talking about the trendy self-care of scheduling bubble baths and walking meetings, sheet masks and stretch breaks rather than the real self-care of setting boundaries and, as Ravishly so perfectly puts it, respecting yourself instead of spoiling yourself.

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.

From Heather Dockray’s May 2019 Mashable article, Self-care isn’t enough. We need community care to thrive:

“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.

apparently stock photo work friends go shopping together.

Opinion, Yourself

Saying Yes… and No

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 Yes shares 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.

Opinion

Game of Cones: Why Ice Cream Matters

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. 

The key word here is “social”. One undisputed fact about happiness is that people who feel socially connected are generally happier than those who aren’t.

So, why should we care about cultivating true social connections and happiness in the workplace specifically?

It turns out building social connections increases engagement and productivity – one 2015 study found that the difference in productivity between happy and unhappy employees could be as much as 12%. Not only is fun key to getting work done, it keeps us healthier – meaning lower healthcare costs and fewer sick days. From a recent Harvard Medical School article: Positive emotions have been linked with better health, longer life, and greater well-being in numerous scientific studies. 

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. 

Opinion

The hope I needed this week

When I graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2000, I didn’t give much thought to what I was leaving. My experiences at MHC weren’t all strawberries and champagne. I applied to transfer my first-year, staying only because my parents let me know that a transfer meant no study abroad in Ireland. After graduation, I moved into a shared house with three other alums. I was ready to start a new life, and thought MHC was part of my past. While transitions are hard, and I cried a lot, it wasn’t like I wanted to stay. 

I wanted to take on the world. 

This weekend, I “watched” my favorite tradition of all time, Laurel Parade, pop up throughout Instagram and Facebook. Laurel Parade is magic: Saturday before graduation, an alumnae parade walks through campus. All returning alums and the current class wear white to honor the suffragist movement. There are accents of red, yellow, green and blue: each class has their own color, sort of like Hogwarts. The graduating class walks last, carrying a laurel chain, and pass through all the other classes before placing the laurel chain around founder Mary Lyon’s grave. This means that when you graduate, you’re pretty much walking through time, passing the classes who gradated 2 years, 5 years, 10 years before you. It’s like you can see your future. And now that my class is the middle, it’s also like I can see my past. 

(There’s a bagpipe player, too, for reasons I don’t really get, but absolutely love.)

I only started to “get” what MHC really gave me at my 10th reunion. I knew I’d stay in touch with my closest MHC friends, and that we’d show up for each other through celebrations and heartbreak. I didn’t know some of my closest friends would be MHC alums I met after graduation. I didn’t know I’d end up marrying another alum! I couldn’t imagine the Over 40 Facebook group, or that the Harvest sandwich from Tailgate picnic is my #1 comfort food. I’m old enough that I don’t love the “MoHome” moniker, but I do agree that the air feels different on campus and I breathe a little easier each time I’m there.

* * *

There was extra sparkle in the pictures this year. Not only was there finally gorgeous, perfect New England sunshine, the class color for the Class of 2019 is yellow. Everything looked and felt gilded and special. Seeing these strong, inspired and confident women gave me hope after a long and difficult week that saw attack after attack on fundamental women’s rights across the United States.

Seeing these pictures of Laurel Parade reminded me that I want to take on the world and that it’s not too late.

Yesterday, I met a young woman who is starting her MHC journey this fall. She is part of the Class of 2023. She’ll graduate wearing yellow, too. The reach of MHC alum network continues to surprise and humble me. Afterall, joining the MHC alum community starts when you pick up that Laurel Chain and carry it with your friends. 

You just don’t realize you never put it down.

See you next year, Class of 2000. 💙 🦁

Book Reviews, Opinion

Getting to Neverland

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Leading with Purpose workshop with Nick Craig. For anyone not familiar with Nick’s work, he coaches leaders to find their purpose by focusing on magical moments from childhood and crucible stories. Exploring these life experiences, both positive or negative, is how Nick guides others to find where and how their unique purpose shines. He then coaches individuals to articulate purpose in a way that resonates across the varied facets of real lives. What was fantastic about attending the workshop was seeing – and feeling – how someone’s energy shifts when they literally light up once they find the right words to summarize their individual purpose.

Purpose progress!

I’m still working my way through both what I learned from Nick in person, as well as his book. I’ve been taking the time to pause, reflect and internalize what I’m learning – about leadership, purpose and myself. One of my biggest lessons is that I’m in the middle of a new crucible story. *right now at this very moment*.

I know in my bones that my HAPPY^2 strategy is “something”… I’m just not sure what it is yet.

As of today, I think it might be a class|workbook|presentation kind-of-something. Working with Nick and my cohort helped my tie together what I am doing with this side hustle with what I am doing with my career:

I am helping others believe in their Neverland again.

I want everyone to feel empowered, engaged and enthusiastic to the point where life feels magical. Since we sometimes teach what we need to learn, I’m learning how to do this as I go. My HAPPY^2 message is that each of us can choose to either tweak or transform our own lives so we feel in control and more content. My mission is to share what I know and what I am learning with others, to increase happiness exponentially.

If you’re looking for a map to your Neverland, consider setting aside time to write down dreams for the following 5 focus areas:

  • Health           How are you feeling in mind, body and spirit?
  • Assets            How well is everything you own, from your guest room to your savings account, serving you?
  • People           Why are you spending time with the people you see regularly?
  • Purpose        When do you feel the most you?
  • Yourself        What wild and crazy ideas or wishes do you have that are just for you?

I’ve explored each of these focus areas in more depth on my @workyourhappy Instagram page, too. Dreams are the best place to start, as they provide inspiration and motivation. I hope your dreams help you move towards your Neverland. I also hope you’ll stay with me as I find out how #workyourhappy evolves.