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Almost from the time we’ve learned to walk we begin to learn how to be unhappy.  So says Dr. Srikumar Rao at a recent conference on workplace happiness and I couldn’t agree more. From that cookie being the ultimate source of our happiness we quickly graduate to that car, fridge, promotion, vacation, etc.  Have you ever noticed that once you got what you wanted, that you were soon yearning for another accomplishment or something more?  The afterglow just doesn’t seem to satisfy as much as anticipated. Rao believes this is because we’ve adopted a flawed model that often leaves us perpetually striving for but never quite finding lasting happiness.

Many of us, I believe, experience lasting happiness as a brass ring that remains stubbornly just out of reach.  Much of our business and personal world revolves around the continual chasing and attainment of goals of one sort or another.   And not that business or personal goals are bad in and of themselves.  It is just that so much of our emotional effort is tied up in their achievement that we may rarely experience lasting feelings of deep down satisfaction.

Undue Influence

In our media saturated world we are up against some strong influences.  Hollywood has a penchant for creating some fairly convincing tales of how to live happily ever after.  The pitch is that if you do or get this you will then live in perpetual bliss.  Advertising employs the same message…if you drink this, you’ll attract the mating pool of your dreams, or, if you wear this you’ll be desirable beyond measure.  If only!  By the time we reach our first jobs, we are well prepared to pursue our work with this mindset.

Shifty Goals

But as we grow and evolve so do our goals and desires.  What once revved us up no longer turns the crank quite the same way.  So we dig in and begin chasing another goal.  As soon as we accomplish one others appear and others change.  And so a vicious cycle of perpetual striving sets in…we begin to ask ourselves if we’ll ever be happy, like in the movies or as diamond ads promise.

T’is the Journey Grasshopper…

Rao offers what many other sage folks have told us, that joy is in the journey.  To experience this you must learn to shift the main focus from goals or outcomes to the process and the actions you take on a daily basis.  Whereas actions are within your control outcomes are rarely guaranteed.  Different outcomes can happen that weren’t anticipated.  Bummer.  As well, the rush of achievement you thought would buoy you longterm can turn out to be fleeting.  So you respond by chasing another goal.  Rao’s solution is that we should instead invest much more heavily in the actions we take and that at the end of the day, if we can say we did our best, then that is what should be savoured.  This way, you control your own sense of wellbeing and success instead of relying on some external variable that might not deliver on the promise.

What do think?  Have you ever found yourself wondering why the goal or thing that you’ve just achieved doesn’t give you the kick you thought it might?  How do you keep yourself mindful or your goals yet pumped and happily engaged on a regular basis?

Stop the swirl, take a moment and maximize your resources

 

So you’re working harder than ever with fewer resources and yet more is expected. You find yourself wondering how long you can keep it up.  You wonder how you are going to muster the energy to tackle that next big project hurtling your way.  You worry that you might become like Joe down the hall who completely burned out.  Well you are not alone, not by a long shot.

Stress and burnout in the workplace have reached near epidemic levels across all business sectors.  While there is no magic wand to help you deal with this regrettable situation there are things you can do.  So take a deep breath and examine what choices and actions you have to change this situation.  The biggest resource you have in this situation is likely yourself.

 

An ounce of prevention…

 

When it comes to dealing with stress and avoiding burnout, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Research overwhelmingly shows that finding the right balance between career and personal endeavors drives long-term happiness and workplace productivity. The equation is really quite simple. ‘All work and no play’ will serve as a very poor foundation from which to continually launch yourself into the next big project.

 

Mother’s Five

 

Remember some of those things our mothers seemed to endlessly repeat? Well, it turns out they were spot on when it came to what I call the big five: nutrition, family, friends, exercise and sleep. Basic as they are, they still serve as the most fundamental aspects of long-term well-being.

  1. Nutrition: No mystery here.  Eat at least three meals a day with small snacks in between.  Eat healthy.  Limit or eliminate the big burger chains.  Unfortunately in times of high demand these purveyors of nutritionally deficient pap have become all too frequent meal providers. Instead, identify ahead of time which are your best food options.  This will help you avoid the nasty ones.
  2. Family: If you have a spouse, significant other, children or a pet(s), set aside a time of day that belongs to them alone.  If you are single, it then becomes your friends and preferred family that you want to carve out time with. The investment in this area can be invaluable.
  3. Friends: A strong and active social life is key to feeling good and of lasting happiness. Even as you expand or build your career, make sure that you don’t neglect your friends. It may be difficult to actually meet with them but a quick email or phone call can provide a nice boost.  Similarly, social networking sites like Facebook can be a great way to stay in touch.
  4. Exercise: Make exercise nonnegotiable. Think of exercise as something you do without question, like brushing your teeth or going to work. Exercise 3-5 times per week, 20-60 minutes each time.  If you can’t afford a trainer, there are many great apps for your iphone or smartphone that are only a few dollars.
  5. Sleep: 8 hours of sleep each night is what is recommended for adults.  Adequate sleep is essential for optimal functioning and health.  You’ll have more energy and be able to think clearer.

So, take a long hard look at your lifestyle. Does it include healthy doses of the above? If not, what are the costs of doing nothing to change it?  What things do you do to take care of yourself on a daily basis?

Showing meaningful appreciation to your staff does not have to cost money. I would argue that the most important elements of creating a positive culture have less to do with the benefit plan and more with the ‘softer’ sides of the equation. Certainly fair pay, vacation and health benefits are important, and necessary. However, often overlooked are those key aspects of relationship building, or ‘soft skills’, that are critical to showing an individual or team the commitment that you have to them.

First off, let’s dispense with the term ‘soft skills’. This needs to go the way of the dinosaur. Increasingly, companies large or small are coming around to realize the impact to the bottom line that these people skills impart. I prefer to call them ‘primary skills’ which is more reflective of their enormous impact on corporate culture and long-term success.

It Begins With You

Showing staff you care for them should extend beyond the workplace. Work Life Balance programs are critical pieces of the organizational sustainability puzzle. Helping staff to find the right balance between their career and personal endeavours results in a more happy, committed, and effective team capable of delivering sustained high performance over the long-term. Really. But, we will save this discussion for the next article in the series.

Creating the day-to-day glue that binds a successful company together begins with you as a leader. The nature of the relationships that you have with your team is a large contributor to the type of workplace environment that you have together.  Are you someone that they can trust? Do you treat them with respect? Are you fair? Affirmative answers to these types of questions go a long way to establishing a positive culture where staff feel valued. There are both informal and formal things that you can do to help create an environment where people say it’s a great place to work.

 

Small Touches, High Leverage

Your daily interactions with your team influence more than you might expect. Small touches like simply saying ‘hello’ to your team every day go along way. Occasionally taking the time out to spend a few moments with individual team members also demonstrates your interest. ‘Managing by walking around’ affords you an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them by creating a leadership style of mutual approachability. Having a boss that people feel OK to share feedback with is a key element of establishing trust.

Notice What’s Working

Recognizing the accomplishments of your team and of individuals regularly builds feelings of loyalty and respect. Unfortunately, attention paid to what needs to be fixed often far outweighs the times an employee hears about what’s right.  Given the workload of so many in business today, quickly zeroing in on the problem is often what time and the current situation seem to demand.

The problem here is that the impact of hearing only what needs to be done differently can be highly discouraging over time and many leaders remain unaware of this.  Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that critical feedback isn’t important. It is just that more often than not, it becomes the primary focus of feedback in a working relationship.  So start looking for more of a balance and strive to acknowledge things that have helped out, large or small.  It’ll go a long, long way to building your employees feelings of competence and value.

No Big Bands Please

Speaking of recognition, it doesn’t have to be of the high-octane big band variety either. Most folks don’t want a band to play when they have achieved something. Many simply want a plain and simple ‘thumbs up’. They only need to know you are aware and appreciative of their bit. The same holds true for team recognition. Although a good celebratory party can be fun and effective, simply showing up to employees’ team meetings or work areas and congratulating them is powerful. Too often this is overlooked because of the belief that only a big event will do. Daily or ongoing acknowledgement has by far the most impact on team and individual motivation.

How Am I as a Leader Doing?

Not only is it important for you as a leader to be providing your employees with information they need to have about their performance, it is equally valuable for them to be able to provide you with similar feedback. This shows you are serious about their input.  The information garnered about your leadership style and impact can be crucial to theirs and your success. Knowing your successes and opportunities for growth with each team member allows you the chance to create higher levels of staff engagement. And engaged employees have always been the engine of corporate success.

A good place to begin generating this type of reciprocal feedback is via a 360 feedback tool, of which there are many.  The important piece will then be to take action on the learning.  This action will then go a long way towards creating a workplace where people show up giving their all.

In a Nutshell

As we’ve seen, creating staff value does not have to cost money. Far from it. It is the tone and content of the day-to-day interactions that you share with your team that build a place where people like to come to work. From simple greetings to uncomplicated and ongoing acknowledgement to seeking leadership feedback, these are the raw materials for creating a solid foundation of positive culture. Now what is the return on investment of that?

I’m interested in hearing about some of the things that you or your company do to create a fun and rewarding work environment.  What things do you see as making the biggest difference?  What have you seen in other workplaces that make it a great place to work?

I was on a long drive in my car the other day when it struck me just how lucky I felt not to have to answer my cell phone should it ring. Given that I forgot my headset, the new laws where I live prevent me from answering the phone without one.  I then got to thinking how nice it was to have some unplugged time where I didn’t have to answer or respond to anyone or anything.  I also noticed how many creative and generative ideas I was coming up with regarding my business and various projects.  I then got to thinking how interruptions in the workplace stifle creative thought and hamper productivity.

So often in our workday world we are interrupted constantly by a barrage of beeps, rings, tones or requests.  Have you ever noticed that whenever you seem to just get your head wrapped around something that you are abruptly interrupted by a rarely quiet piece of technology or someone in your environment?  And that when you then get off the call, text or email you find that your brilliant insight has faded or gone into deep hiding?

Time blocking

The truth is distractions cost money.  While being available to clients and co-workers is part of your job, important work requires total attention and focus.  In a recent video from Fast Company, Gina Trapani cites a study that claims that unnecessary interruptions cost the U.S. economy $650 billion dollars in lost productivity per year.  A solution to this is Time blocking, whereby you block out hour long “meetings” with yourself to devote your full attention to important tasks.  We all know that our brain requires uninterrupted time to get into the zone where we are most productive.  Trapani puts this number at the 15 minute mark and it is at this point that we are then able to carry out our best work.

How to do it

Set aside a definite start and end time when you have no meetings planned. Commit to getting your task done within this single block of time. Book a meeting room if you can, forward your phone to voicemail, silence your instant messaging and take with you only those supplies that you need for your task.  Let your assistant or others know that you’ll be unavailable for however long your time block is.  Be sure also to take whatever food or drink you might need to snack on.  Then get set to unleash your full creative mind on that task that has been taking on an ugly odor.

Once you get in the habit, begin looking at your week in advance and schedule blocks of time to deal with your most important to do’s of that week. Certain days may prove to be better than others for time blocking.  Be consistent with this and soon this new productivity boosting habit will become entrenched.

What are some of the ways that you can be your most creative and productive?  How do you create that space within your office?

By Ben Rutledge

The anthem plays, the flag is raised – it is that moment – the one inspired to live every hour of every day of training – year after year.  There I stood with my eight teammates savoring the thrill of Olympic victory, knowing that, in that moment, I, together with my eight teammates, now were considered the best at what we do. The hopes of our nation sealed in gold as each one of us waved at the crowd gathered in Beijing’s hot summer sun.  It was a humbling feeling for me.  Our team had moved past our crushing fifth place defeat at the 2004 Athens Olympics; yet we kept on believing for four more years that we could do it – and we did.

Yes it was wonderful to have the spotlight on us – it felt so good to feel proud of all our hard work. Still, it was surprising to me how quickly that feeling was taken over by one thought – now what?  Should I leave the sport at the top of my game, should I push myself hard for another four years for another shot at gold – am I being greedy wanting more than one Olympic gold medal?  Why haven’t I thought this through?

That’s when I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Doug Brockway.  Doug helped me to better understand all the different qualities and skills, all the support systems, all the challenges, and the opportunities that it took in order for me to have achieved my gold medal.  It was much more than that one moment – it was eight years of moments; Doug helped me to gather them all together so that I could see all the skills and choices I did have to draw on as I began my journey after the gold.

Doug didn’t tell me what I should be doing; he helped me to find my own answers.  I really felt that he honestly wanted me to see how much more I could be.  We worked together for about eight months – you know, it didn’t feel long – it felt necessary.  I had been in a strict routine for the past eight years which meant I had to really stretch my thinking to see my life from a new perspective.

I started my new journey by becoming a public speaker.  That was definitely something that scared me.  Sure, I had been in the public eye as an Olympic athlete, but it is quite another to get up and think that I had anything important to say to other people.  Doug invited me to see that each of us is always evolving – we are never “there”; by accepting my life and myself as ever-changing, I could freely choose to engage in different activities – to be more of who I might not think I am.

I am proud to be working as a rowing coach at the University of British Columbia, to be giving back to my community and to the environment through my work with Clean Air Champions, as well to be giving my time to help promote Right to Play, and enjoying the process of building up a real estate holding company; and still believing I can go for gold in 2012.  Doug has helped me to create a balanced lifestyle in which I can achieve both the big and small goals that I set.  I learned from my public speaking that I enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone; in fact, every day I try to do at least one thing that scares me.

Congratulations to each of the athletes competing in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics!  You know what it takes to be great – every choice – every action – your belief in yourself has got you here – and it is what you take with you – that knowledge is and always will be golden –so make a plan and shine on!

– Ben Rutledge

I was reminded of juggling priorities recently when I experienced them crash down around me. It got me thinking about productivity and the tornado of activities we sometimes find ourselves wrapped up in. At times it seems like an ever increasing juggernaut of to – do’s and impossible deadlines. Looking back though, I realized that the slippery slope I was racing down was much of my own doing. Here’s how I got back on track.

Think big pic

It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. I realized that I had become too lost in the vortex of details and tasks which only increased as I got further from the big pic. By re-focusing on my main priorities, I was able to get clear again on which tasks weren’t pressing, which could be handed off and which simply weren’t strategic. And indeed a great deal of productivity is lost because people can get caught up in directions or efforts that just aren’t essential to the big pic.

See your goals

While it may sound trite, getting clear on your goals helps immensely. So often people leave strategic planning sessions and get lost again in the swirl of usual activity. By creating a visual reminder of top priorities, people are helped to stay on track. This can involve something as simple as placing your top goals somewhere where they are easily viewed. A binder on your shelf, or a file on your computer, is often as good as hiding them. They need to be reviewed frequently. One senior manager I was working with recently put his yearly goals on his screen saver. This really helped him to stay focused on the big pic.

Habit time…

Put time in your schedule to review your weekly and daily ‘most important tasks’ (MITs). At the end of each week, list your top MITs for the coming week and schedule them in before launching off for the weekend. Review this again first thing Monday a.m. Each day before heading home, create a list of 1-3 MIT’s for the following day then review first thing next morning. These habits not only help you reach your goals but set your mind at ease that you’re actually doing something and moving forward. And that feels mighty good.

Do not disturb

Okay, the research is in…multitasking is not the ideal way of working, especially if you’re needing to get that big project in. Creative juices flow when a bit of reflection and focused time is applied. So close your door, let folks know that unless a space ship has landed, you do not want to be disturbed. Better yet, have a work from home day once a week. The results will surprise you. You’ll be happier and more will get done.

So what works for you? What tips do you have for getting things done? How do you stay on track amidst the flurry of requests and to-do’s?

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