Archive for February, 2008
We are meant to celebrate. It’s a given right that many companies don’t use to their advantage. Every company that I’ve worked for has implemented some kind of celebration in its culture, but they were usually far and few in between.
- One company celebrated every quarter.
- Another company sporadically did it maybe six times a year.
- Another company implemented an employee happy hour.
- The largest company I ever worked for had only one celebration a year.
I had a co-worker who once told me, “We should celebrate every day because who knows if we’ll be this lucky tomorrow.”
She was right. One of us might get a new job or become sick and wish that we had the same group of people to work with. Why not celebrate in small ways to keep the morale of the whole group going?
Here are a few ideas for a mini-party that will only take fifteen minutes.
- Buy ice cream for your team.
- It’s cheap and fun.
- Celebrate a birthday with a card and some decorations.\
- Noise makers are always fun. They also let the rest of the office know that work should be enjoyable.
- Tell your team a joke
- Getting the laughter going releases endorphins which induce pleasurable feelings, making people feel relaxed.
- Give hand-written compliments to each member of the team.
- Making people feel special will create loyalty.
- Share a personal story.
- Making your co-workers or employees a part of your life makes you look human and approachable, like someone they can confide in or who can help improve the work environment.
Making the Mini-Party Happen
You don’t need to celebrate every day, otherwise you’ll run the risk of creating a boring routine. I had a company that tried to implement “Compliment Friday.” We would blow up balloons and attach a thank you with each one. The first time we implemented the compliment program, it lasted three months, and eventually it faded away. We tried to re-implement the program and it only lasted for two months. It became a chore to think of some random compliments every Thursday afternoon so they would be ready for Friday morning. I tried to convince the powers that be that they should only do it once a month to build up tension and excitement, but they didn’t go for it. The program never resurfaced while I was there.
Whether you are a manager or one person out of a team of fifty, you can create a “mini-party” program if you just take the initiative. The hard part isn’t getting anyone on board, but finding someone on the team willing to take control to make sure that it doesn’t become a stagnant process.
If you are the manager I suggest that you rotate turns on your staff (and that includes you, too). You can create a sign-up sheet with your name at the top of the list. You’ll probably have a few that will sign up right away. Try to encourage everyone to participate, but don’t push anyone to do something that they don’t want to. Make sure that you allow them a small budget, so they can purchase mini-party materials if needed. Then see what happens. If they don’t take to it very well then you probably have to start creating a little motivation for them to do it. Like all great coaches, you will need to build up the event as something that everyone is looking forward to or create a little peer pressure for everyone to join in. If they still don’t participate then remind them that it’s something that should be fun and it’s a part of their job. There is only so much you can do with a downer, and if they fail to come through then leave them off the list in the next rotation and just document it in their file. This will probably only be a select few because most people want to create a fun environment.
Always make rules depending on the team. If you have a team that gets carried away make sure that the party only lasts for a half hour. If your team doesn’t want to convene in one place, make sure that they understand that they have to at least attend for a few minutes before they go back to work. Every team will require individual rules that help them understand the “mini-party” system. Some teams will want to do it every week. Some may only want it once a month. Regardless of that you decide to implement, make sure you are consistent. It will make the difference between success and failure.
If you aren’t a manager and you want to implement such a program, you will probably do it by yourself for the first few weeks or months, but eventually people will start joining in. I’ve seen an employee that always threw mini birthday parties for her co-workers and when she left the rest of the team began chipping in because they wanted to keep the tradition going. It was nice to see how close they had become because of one employee. Her department was one of the few teams that didn’t have high turnover.
Work Productivity Will Improve
Whether you are a manager or an employee, you can implement a mini-party program and start reaping the rewards. You’ll eventually start seeing a community of employees working together to make the mini-party an event that everyone wants to be a part of so they can feel connected to the group. It won’t happen overnight and it will probably take a few months to become a part of the culture, but once it does you’ll see improved productivity and happier employees.
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Many of us put all our stress in one basket. We rely on our jobs to fulfill our needs. And when something at work goes wrong, it feels like the whole world is falling apart. Like any great investor will tell you, you need to diversify yourself. If you were going to invest in the stock market, you wouldn’t put all your money in technology stocks because it’s too volatile. When you invest your energy into your life, you’re bound to get stressed out if you don’t have anything to fall back on.
Diversifying your life will help you reduce your stress. You’ll be taking all your energy out of one basket and putting it into two, three, or five baskets. You can easily do this by focusing on other parts of your life. Many of you may be thinking that if you diversify yourself too much then you won’t be able to focus on anything for long enough to enjoy it. It’s a valid concern, but easily refuted.
In the process of finishing this article I read a similar themed blog, How to Be Happier with What You Have from Scott H. Young at Lifehack.org. It’s really amazing how people can be on the same level in separate parts of the world.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Investors understand that diversification keeps one bad fall from ruining you financially. Keeping your interests diversified, ensures that one slip won’t make you miserable. Tying your entire life into only one area isn’t just obsessive, it’s dangerous.
Life balance has become a bit of a cliche. Balance implies a weak compromise where efforts are juggled. But the alternative to balance doesn’t need to be obsession. Having several areas of focus at a time will help smooth out the fluctuations in your experience. Pick 3-5 things that are critical for you and a dozen more you feel are important.
If you become too dependent on one thing to fulfill your needs, then you are at risk of allowing that one thing to dictate your emotional well-being.
Do you believe that driving for thirty minutes to spend thirty minutes eating lunch with a good friend is a waste of time?
If you really like the friend, you’ll probably be willing to stretch your comfort zone to get some quality time. If you didn’t like them you wouldn’t reach as far to be outgoing and pleasant. That’s all it takes to diversify your stress – Giving attention to things in your life that you care about. The hard part is getting yourself to spread out your attention to parts of your life that have played lesser roles.
Family and hobbies are the best stress relievers because you can get lost in them and you probably won’t worry about work problems. I don’t know many parents that don’t get caught up in an extracurricular activity that their child is involved in. It’s natural to forget about all your work worries and get swept away in how wonderful the child is. Making that extra effort helps balance out all the worries that seemed so important before you saw your child’s excited expression.
If you are a stay at home parent, you need to diversify your attention toward rewarding hobbies. I know a few parents whose lives revolve around their kids and this doesn’t help create a healthy relationship. They depend on their kid’s happiness to make them happy. Children are going to have rough days and they need guidance, so help them learn to deal with the problem they’ve created. When your child has a problem, ask them what they think the solution could be. If possible, let them figure out how to solve their own problem. After you’ve directed their mind toward a solution, then take a break and read a magazine or maybe enjoy another hobby that gives you pleasure.
Work has constant fluctuations of stress, whether you work in an office, daycare, retail, or you’re a stay at home parent. When a moment becomes overwhelming, take a few minutes to yourself as soon as you can. The bathroom is a great place to take a time out and remind yourself about something good in your life. When the moment is over, schedule a “me time” breather later in the day. You should remember that you will always need time to yourself to unwind and relax your tension.
You can learn to balance out your stress by diversifying your focus. It takes time and a little effort to steer your thoughts toward other subjects, but the more you work at it the more you’ll see your stress level decrease. If you are struggling with one part of your life then you still have two, three or five other things to enjoy.
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Laziness can be a great tool when applied in the right way. I’ve learned to apply it in small doses throughout the day. A five minute lazy break is sometimes necessary for me to get through a rough moment. Maybe it’s a slow walk to the stationary supply cabinet for a fresh pack of sticky notes that I don’t really need. Other days it’s going to the bathroom, locking the door and doing a slow dance. I try to take “lazy breaks” a few times throughout the day, so I can stop to assess how I really feel.
“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention – invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.”
- Agatha Christie
When I don’t take the time to balance out my hard working side with a little laziness I get too entrenched in my feelings, and at the end of the day I have trouble pulling myself out of the muck of emotions. Getting stuck on any one emotion is a waste of time; it is better to move on and enjoy the moment that you have before you.
Frustrated and Needing a Break
I have found that taking a lazy break is easy, but giving myself permission to do it and then getting back to my task is difficult. It takes intelligence to apply the right amount of laziness. A few jobs back I had to write up a proposal for a new project and I kept getting frustrated with my research. My Internet access was blocked from work related sites, which meant that I had to contact the “IT help desk” and get them to unblock my restrictions. The whole process probably added an extra two hours to my frustrating day. I was lucky that the IT responded back promptly; on other occasions I wouldn’t have been able to continue the project until the next day. All I felt like doing was finding a corner to crawl up in to take a nap. The obstacles lowered my motivation, making every choice a chore.
Use the Lazy Break as a Slingshot
Redirecting my focus back to finishing the project was hard, but I made it happen. I used an intelligent lazy break, talking to a co-worker about digital cameras, to get my mind moving in a positive direction. When I got back to my desk I didn’t think about all the work that I had to complete, instead I picked one of the easier tasks and finished it. Afterwards I began writing some of the proposal and I was done two hours later. I used the lazy break as a way to slingshot myself into completing the work.
The feeling of being lazy for a few minutes and not thinking about work eases the tension in my muscles and thoughts. When the tension is released, I’m able to refocus my energy to getting the job done.
Sometimes we need a little more “lazy time” than just five minutes and if you can take the time to watch a sporting event or lay in a hammock then you can really release the built up tension. Our minds can only take so much stress before they feel like they’re going to implode. If I overstimulate myself, my body gives me signals like a tight back or a headache. When this happens, I take a little longer lazy break to relax myself. I’ll go for a walk and just look at the trees or the houses in the neighborhood. If my thoughts go back to the work then I smile and refocus back on the trees. I won’t get the job done as quickly, but I appreciate feeling relaxed instead of all tense and worked up.
Every life needs a balance between action and inaction, otherwise our minds and joints will break down. Try applying a little laziness to your day; use it for five minutes and then let it slingshot your thoughts back into action.
I was talking to my friend’s girlfriend at the hospital and she told me a fantastic work story. My friend had fallen 45 feet while ice climbing. He used all the best gear: expensive ropes, a solid helmet, and the best shoes available, but accidents do happen. He had reached the top of the climb when he told his friend below that he was coming down. His buddy at the bottom held the rope in place so he could let him down slowly, but as my friend leaned back a rock sliced through the rope, a one in a million occurrence, but yet it happened. He free fell from 45 feet and landed on his left leg first, shattering his foot up to his high ankle. He also broke his other ankle, wrist, and fractured three vertebrae.
A helicopter flew him to the nearest hospital. He’s stable and went through surgery, but this story is not about doctors, but their support staff, the nurses, specifically one nurse who understood her job better than all the rest. After surgery my friend was in severe pain. The body just doesn’t understand how to deal with such a severe injury. Our medicinal tools have developed faster than our brains can evolve. At 2 am my friend’s brain was receiving signals from his foot that it was going to explode. He called for a nurse, but no one came. By the time someone did come his back went into spasms. His pain was so severe that his body was going into shock.
The nurse that arrived to his room too late left at 3 am and the next shift came in. The nurse on the next shift understood how critical swift action meant to my friend. When my friend’s pain medication wore off again he signaled for the nurse and she came running to administer the medication. There was never a chance for his back muscles to go into spasm. When her shift ended she said goodbye and told him she’d be back at 3 am.
“I’ll wake you up when I get in,” she said.
“Yes, please do.”
“I was just kidding. I’m not going to wake you up if you are sound asleep.”
“Really I want you to wake me up.”
“All right, but you have to go right back to sleep.”
My friend appreciated this nurse so much that he wanted her to understand how much he valued her by requesting that she wake him up in the middle of the night.
That’s being a difference-maker in someone’s life. Have you ever had such a caring experience with a nurse?
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Last week I had a day that was going along smoothly until my boss asked me to have the report I was currently working on done by the end of the day. My stress level shot up and I began to work like a wild turkey – no rhythm or reason to my actions. The funny thing was that I was probably going to finish before the end of the day anyway. Earlier that morning I predicted that I would be done around 3pm. The extra stress only freaked me out and it didn’t help me work any faster.
I finished the report at 3:30 and I attribute the extra half hour to me getting all worked up and having to calm myself down. That’s what spurred on the idea for this post. I wanted to share both the mistakes and the positive aspects of how I processed my stress. I lost a half hour and I don’t want the same to happen to you. If you lose a half hour every day because of stress that adds up to 91.25 hours every year. That’s over two weeks of work that could have been more productive if you could have released your stress faster. I’m not even factoring in the toll that is taken on the mind and body or the level of happiness that is probably decreased because of your worry.
It’s up to you to notice the stress and work with its effects. You can do this by applying a few tips from this article.
1. Become a watcher of your reactions – When my boss told me that the report was due by the end of the day, my heartbeat picked up and a rush of thoughts bombarded me. My first instinct was to go to the bathroom and calm down. My thoughts were rebelling: “who is he to tell me when to get my work done? Uh duh – my boss!”, “Maybe I can’t get it done.”, “I need more time.” After I calmed down, I came out of the bathroom and I knew that I needed a plan.
2. Plan out what needs to get done – I wrote out a list of what I needed to do to make it happen.
1. Just keep doing what I was doing (it was just a reminder that I knew that just thirty minutes ago I wasn’t worried, but now I am freaking out.)
2. Finish writing the report
3. Double check figures
4. Print it out
5. Check for grammatical errors
6. Submit to the boss
I was able to see the whole picture, which helped me calm down and I got my focus back on task.
3. Look for the positive side – My boss wanted me to get this report done and I knew that unless some emergency popped up that it would in his inbox by the end of the day. I also knew that this opportunity would help me look good.
4. Five minute break – Taking time for a break is the best way to ease your feelings of anxiety. Stress builds upon itself like a freight train going downhill, once it picks up speed it’s hard to stop. If you can catch stress early then you can turn it into a productive feeling. That’s why I went to the bathroom to collect myself and put the brakes on all my worried thoughts.
“We all know that we work better and feel less stressed if we take regular breaks during the working day. However, the stressed individual may feel uncomfortable and guilty about taking breaks, even when they admit that their usual driven work patterns are causing them stress (”but the work just won’t get done”). Research is beginning to establish a scientific basis for common-sense advice.
Our bodies have a Basic Rest and Activity Cycle, consisting of 90-120 minutes of activity followed by 20 minutes of rest.”
Andy Smith You Don’t Need to Feel Guilty When You Take a Break
5. Process on the way to your favorite stress relief – Many people go on their walk or to their Yoga class with their stress engines running full steam. When they get halfway into their stress-relief routine they finally start to slow down. If you can start the process of relaxing yourself on the way to stress relief, you’ll be more willing to release at the beginning of your relaxation routine. You’ll have deeper and longer lasting relief. As you’re putting on shoes or grabbing your Yoga mat, create relaxed feelings by focusing on the moment or imagining how you will feel when you are on your walk or in your Yoga class.
6. Your Patterns – We all fall into habits of allowing stress to get the best of us. It usually happens to many of us while we’re in the car. When you notice these reoccurring patterns, you must begin to work with them. Getting upset because someone doesn’t drive fast enough is a waste of energy. If you can’t pass them, then you must take a different approach. You can do this by reminding yourself that they’re trying to live life the best way they know how. Most likely they aren’t trying to upset you. Then send them a little thought of thanks for reminding you to harness your stress instead of letting it get the best of you.
7. Have a conversation with a friend – Sometimes stress becomes so overwhelming that we need to vent. I vent by writing and talking to my co-workers. After my boss gave me the challenge to have the report done by the end of the day, I peeked over my cubicle wall later that afternoon and complained to my co-worker. She agreed with me, like all good confidants do, and after five minutes I felt better and I got to work on the report.
You process stress differently than anyone else, so try a few of these techniques to help you reach past your current level of stress relief. The more you work with your stress relief, the better you’ll become at releasing your frustrations.
By giving yourself as many options as possible to process your stress relief, you’ll be able to soften the amount of time that you feel stressed out and reduce the level of pain the stress creates.
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When you feel frustrated and angry and don’t know what to do with these emotions, I would suggest a hand massage. You’ll slow down your angry thoughts and refocus on giving your hands much needed attention, and this should calm you.
Step 1: Stop whatever you are doing
If you are in the middle of a report, stop. If you are talking to an equally frustrated family member, excuse yourself and go to a different room. You need to relax your emotions and redirect your thoughts toward something more positive.
Step 2: Massage your hand
I believe you should always start between the thumb and the index finger. It has been known to relieve headaches and other minor issues. Place your thumb and index finger between the web of your opposite hand and rotate your fingers slowly, breathing and releasing the tension. Then move your attention to the tips of your fingers and around the rest of your hands. Switch and massage the other hand to balance out the muscles in both hands. Massaging your hands should help you redirect your mind toward relaxing in the moment.
Step 3: Feel the tension leaving your muscles
Take the last minute and soak in your relaxed feelings. By doing this you’re not letting your mind go straight back to the stress. Feel this relaxed state and remind yourself that you are settling down in a difficult situation. It’s better than letting your feelings overload you.
Step 4: Face your stress with your new perspective
Now get back to the report or that person who you shouldn’t have allowed to stress you out and know that it’s up to you to decide how any situation makes you feel.
A hand massage is a quick little way to bring your emotions back down to a tolerable level. When you can stop the stress from mounting, you can prevent an overload of uncomfortable feelings.
Steve Pavlina – Personal Development for Smart People believes that caffeine is a hindrance to his work day. Timothy Ferriss – Four Hour Work Week believes that getting all caffeinated up with Yerba Mate is what brings out his best writing. They were both right, but neither technique worked for me.
When I first read Steve’s “How to Give Up Caffeine” article a few years ago, I tried his “no caffeine” technique. Steve’s writing is so convincing that I thought it would work, but it only frustrated me.
“I can’t ignore the energy boost and mental acceleration that comes from caffeine. But I do notice negative side effects when I drink coffee. Caffeine seems to make part of my brain overactive and another part underactive. I become really good at doing things, but very bad at prioritizing what needs to be done. If I drink a lot of coffee, I’ll often spend hours doing a bunch of low priority tasks, and I find that other unproductive habits are more likely to be done excessively. “
- Steve Pavlina
Tim recently gave an interview to Problogger about his writing techniques.
“For actual writing, I found that identifying your peak periods in your circadian rhythm is key. Some big-name authors recommended I just sit in front of my computer every day from 8am to 6pm, and it was like living The Shining. Awful. My book only took off once I accepted that my best writing was done from 1-4am when I was highly caffeinated on yerba mate tea. The quality of my writing dropped miserably if I tried to do more than four hours per day.”
- Tim Ferriss
Reading Tim’s interview made me think back to when Charles Bukowski wrote a poem about his writing style. He needed a couple of good bottles of wine to really get his creative juices flowing. So I tried this same technique and failed miserably.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I understand that using someone else’s technique doesn’t work well. I thought that these experts knew how to get the written word down and if it worked for them then it should work for me.
I needed to find my own writing sweet spot. That’s what this site is all about: finding that place within yourself that allows you to maximize your potential.
My writing sweet spot is from 9:30 am to 2:30pm with two cups of green tea in me. Any more tea and I get too jittery. Any more than five hours of writing and I get lazy.
Creating is different for everyone, so the next time you sit down to work, start noticing what works for you. Some soft Mozart or perhaps some Yerba Mata may put you in the right mind frame. If it doesn’t work, then keep on tinkering until you find what fits your style. Eventually you’ll find your rhythm and know how to tweak it depending on what mood you are in.
Every employee, even a one-person business, deals with company Karma on a daily basis.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Karma is, its principals are based on cause and effect. For example, if you treat your co-workers kindly then the kindness will be returned.
I’ve dealt with company Karma first-hand, and every time I’ve acted like a jerk it has come back to bite me one way or another. One of the first times it happened was when I was managing a front office staff where there were only three people including me. I had just been given the duties a few months before, and I was giving some of my workload to the other employees. As the weeks went on I was doing less and less. I thought that I was working smart, until a customer called in looking for me. When I took the call from my old customer, I listened to his request and told him I would find the information and call him right back. The work that I had once done had now been changed. I searched all over for the information. I spent the whole morning trying to find out a simple tracking number for this customer’s shipment.
Instead of understanding the new system that my staff had implemented, I ignored it because I thought I was too busy. I got caught up in my own ego.
I never called the customer back, and he became frustrated by my lack of attention to his dilemma. He spoke to my boss, who came down on me hard. I thought there was a chance that I would lose my job. My staff had also lost their appreciation for their work. They didn’t know what their goals were. I neglected them because I wanted to clear the work off my own agenda, but in the process I had made my life more difficult.
Looking back on the situation, I should have seen all the signs. My staff’s disgruntled looks, my inability to find simple information, and my waning enthusiasm because I wasn’t as involved as I had once been. The company Karma that I created was building up its energy to come and bite me. It bit hard. I remember falling into a mini depression because I was sure that they were going to fire me. Well…I had overreacted and there really was no danger of me losing my job, but I used the fear to change my ways. It was a chance to improve my managing skills. I needed to open truthful dialog between my staff and I, and the first thing I did was apologize. Then we created a “to do” list of how things would change, implementing a system that kept everyone informed.
You have probably dealt with similar situations throughout your working life. Do you see problems passed from one person to the next, hoping that someone takes control? When this happens you have a perfect opportunity to improve your company Karma by taking on the task and showing the people around you that you are willing to chip in, instead of passing the work along. Watch what happens. You’ll probably see someone else taking on a different problem that they would have normally passed on. Because of you, your company’s Karma has increased. Two birds with one attitude change.
What could be better than increasing your Karma as well as the company’s with a few small changes? If you have to put in your work hours to pay the bills, you may as well have great Karma at the same time.
What kind of company Karma have you had to deal with? And has it ever come back to bite you?