Breaking the binaries‘ is one of the ideas that has emerged during some wonderful facilitation work I am doing with Rajni Shah Projects. You know – like right or wrong, good or bad, true or false, task or relationship, reason or feelings, happy or sad, your way or my way, here or not here…? And I am carrying the invitation to break the insistence of these enforced choices into this week’s Happiness At Work headline theme:
How much of our thinking is governed by either/or expectations?
And what does this leave out, or push us into or away from, or force us into making unnecessarily limited or just plain bad decisions and choices?
The following stories from this week’s collection all play with this theme somehow, across of spectrum of different contexts, from debunking the myths that separate creative people from analytical people, and several stories that rattle the supposed high income OR do-what-you-really-love career choice we are supposed to have to make, and a couple of different stories that trouble some of our assumptions about what employees should do to impress and delight their managers and what managers should be thinking and doing in today’s organisations, and a fresh look at how to think intelligently and helpfully about getting and keeping a good work-life balance.
I am headlining with this post written by our lovely friend Stella Duffy, questioning a great deal of what we assume are fixed either/or alternatives in our work…
Stella Duffy publicly outed her new breast cancer this week, and, in doing so, breaks a whole rulebook of unwritten (and quite probably rotten) conventions about keeping illness hidden and private and ‘away from work’ (now there’s a phrase that needs interrogating). In the same week as Radio 4’s Women’s Hour also highlighted professional women who speak out about having cancer, Stella courageously challenges our stereotypes about how ill people are, or or are supposed to be. Perhaps this is especially so for women, historically expected to suffer invisibly in silence and carry their loads without any palaver to bother our expectations for keeping business-as-usual. Her honest unapologetic straightforwardly “this is just how it is announcement” challenges, too, our probably outmoded ideas about the relationship between illness and work, and recovery and work, as well as resilience and work.
And it makes me wonder just how many working women are out there in the world at this moment, doing extraordinary work and making small and wonderful miracles happen, beneath an enforced mask of inordinate difficulty and hardness in another part of their lives? Men too. But today I am wondering about the unheard unseen experiences the women of the world are quietly carrying, to the benefit of the rest of us?
So. I have breast cancer again.
This is rubbish, depressing, worrying and also kind of amazing – 14 years since the last one! My body (and the medics) did good…
Please don’t tell me to rest. Why? IF this is a bad one (and we won’t know until post-surgery) why on earth would I live my life any less than I’m already doing? Work (writing, speaking, Fun Palaces) is not WORK, as in a horrible thing, to me. It is WORK, as in what I care about, what I believe in, what I am driven to do and passionate for, what I am living for. I AM passionate and driven. I do not see these as bad things. (And yes, of course I’ll rest post-surgery, but after that, no, I won’t be cutting back on LIVING.)
What does it do to Fun Palaces? Nothing at all, except make me even more passionate about inclusion, engagement. Can we get more hospitals engaged? Can we enthuse more venues to engage with medical scientists? Can we make sure our Fun Palaces are accessible for sick and/or disabled people too? Can we do it all, and more? (Also had a wonderful conversation about Fun Palaces and arts and medicine with doc WHILE he was taking biopsy the other day. Really inspiring and hopeful for our professions, our missions, working together.)
There’s also a brilliant team of already-engaged, already-enthused volunteer Fun Palaces maker-mates, who are ready and willing to take over the email-answering while I have a couple of weeks to get my strength back post-op. (But hey, post-op from-bed emailing is what laptops are all about, right?!)
And of course there is Sarah-Jane. My work partner, my friend, my co-believer in the brilliance, strength and NECESSITY of the project. If I happen to be too tired to come to those speaking engagements we’ve already talked about, she’ll do it. Fun Palaces is hers too….
What does it do to my writing work? Nothing at all. It all stays on track, new book to deliver (third draft!) to agent in spring. And I’m totally up for all the same events/workshops etc as soon as I’m recovered from surgery. The mentoring continues – that one can be done prone!
What does it do to my directing work? See above. Working on the new idea with Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence will continue. Work with Shaky Isles will continue. Times and people are flexible and willing.
So, finally, what does it do to my life? Everything and nothing.
I had cancer 14 years ago. It was terrifying and awful. In many ways the worst part about it was that chemo led to my early infertility and me not being able to be a mother.
Having had cancer means I’m fore-armed. I know loads now. I know my surgeon and breast care nurse. I know they know me. I do not have to persuade them that I’m freelance and need to work. They know that, just like last time, I have no sick pay. And unlike last time, I’m not about to go to the US to do a show (and taking chemo with me!)
I have never felt like I was “all clear”. I had a grade 3 breast cancer, surgery, chemo and radiotherapy at 36. OF COURSE I have always known it might come back. I think my body has done so well to get me this far. I trust it will get me through this and on to the next part of my life.
It is horrible for Shelley, it is horrible for my family and friends, it is horrible for me. None of us wants to go through pain and illness.
BUT, even when I’m down and sad about this (and I have been, and will no doubt be again), I know I have waves of love and determination coming at me from those who love and care for me.
I know I have a HUGE dream – the Fun Palaces project – to achieve. I believe that my being ill now can feed that dream, can help us make even better Fun Palaces, more inclusive Fun Palaces, I don’t think this will detract from the project at all, not my ability to create it, nor OUR ability to make it the best we ALL can.
by Tammy Plunkett, Author of ‘Being Human‘, International Speaker, and Life Coach
At what age did you go from being loved unconditionally to feeling that you have to earn someone’s love? Conversely, how old do you have to become to automatically earn respect? I believe the whole earning concept is at the bottom of many of our self-worth issues. Think about it.
I understand the notion of earning an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, but where did that translate into earning a living? The thought that we are not good enough to enjoy the good life until we have accomplished a goal (a number on the scale; the honor roll; acceptance into a particular college; a sales target or a salary; a square footage in our home) sets us up to feel inadequate from the start. Even if we persevere long enough to reach our chosen goal, more often than not, we are still unhappy. Perhaps our goal wasn’t high enough, and we then feel inadequate for setting such a feeble goal. If your inner critic is half as mean as mine, you don’t need to feel any more inadequate.
I am not, by any means, saying that we should not leap out of our comfort zones, aspire for great things, hold ourselves to a higher standard and strive for excellence. After all, I’m a coach and I help people do this on a daily basis. But what happened to enjoying your life while pursuing your goals? Why have we self-imposed this weighty condition that we will never be good enough until we have earned our happiness, our partner’s love or our coworker’s respect?
Some things are a birthright.
Like human rights. … The right to rest and leisure is a birth right — look it up. You are allowed to have fun while pursuing your goals.
Some things are a gift.
A gift is defined as a thing given willingly to someone without payment. And here I want to elaborate that a gift does not require payment of money, a favour, or reciprocation of any kind. I like the definition of grace even more: a free and unmerited favour – unmerited being the important part. … A sunset is a gift. A child’s giggle is a gift. Happiness is a gift that you are allowed to indulge in as much as you like without having to prove anything to anyone.
Some things don’t matter.
The opinion of others – your in-laws, your neighbors, or anyone who doesn’t share your values or the vision for your life’s purpose, these opinions do not matter. Yes, we are social animals, and most of us would prefer to belong to some sort of tribe or social circle, so I am not advocating that you tell everybody to take a hike. But, within your own inner conversations and your thoughts, don’t give weight to the unreasonable expectations of the heights you must climb to earn the approval from the toxic people in your life.
Happiness is not earned, it’s a choice every step of the way towards whatever life goals you have set. Delight in your journey.
In this report from interviews with bosses about what made the positive difference in someone’s performance, one or two of these tips might be expected, but many will rattle and recalibrate our preconceived ideas about what the terms of engagement between employees and their managers are supposed to be…
…nearly a dozen bosses, in fields ranging from marketing and tech to new media, executive recruiting, and financial planning spoke to LearnVest on the condition of anonymity, to share exactly why they’d promoted a direct report in the past. From telling the boss when she’s wrong to schmoozing at happy hour, their answers just might surprise you.
Tell Me I’m Wrong
“I love when someone smart challenges my thinking,” says one boss.
That’s not to say you should be arguing with your supervisors on a regular basis, but if you have a well-thought-out point that disagrees with your boss’s plan, consider bringing it up directly. As this boss says, “I love it even more when a person has the data/facts or examples to actually make their point.”
Bring the Bad News First
“Don’t tell me how fantastic you are. Tell me what is going wrong and, even more importantly, what it is you are going to do to fix it.”
Ultimately, a mistake or issue is your boss’s responsibility, so make sure your supervisor is aware of any large-scale or constant problems. This doesn’t mean you should email every time the printer is a little wonky, but you should make sure your boss is apprised of any serious issues.
This serves two purposes: First, it lets your boss know you’re on top of the problem and working to fix it. Second, it gives your boss the time to work on her own solution, or at least prepare for a different course of action, and to present it to her boss.
“I don’t care if you don’t like the person you sit next to or think the the Post-It notes should be yellow, not blue. Bring me drama and I am certain that you are not worthy of the next step.”
Especially in an office environment, we have to work closely with different personalities and in less-than-ideal situations. Unless there’s a real problem (read: you feel unsafe or can’t complete your work), keep complaints to yourself. As one boss says, “Your job is to make your boss’s life easier, not plop your drama on his or her lap. Save that for your friends and family or your diary.”
Another boss agrees: “If you gossip a lot, it’s a problem.”
“Your boss would like to harbor the fantasy that you actually like your job, since she is paying you, spending more time with you than her family, and helping you more than you realize,” one boss told us. “You can at least smile and seem like you are enjoying things in return.”
You don’t need to blind every passerby with your pearly whites, but remember that no matter how close your deadline or how heavy your workload, other people will take their cues from you. If you’re snapping at co-workers and frowning, they’ll snap and frown right back. Instead, take a breath, put on a smile, and show your boss you appreciate the opportunity.
“We hate having to tell you things over and over. No boss should ever have to go over directions more than once. If you don’t understand the direction when it is being given, clarify right then and there and take good notes instead of depending on your memory.”
We’ve all been there — nodding and smiling and filing away the tasks we’re given in a meeting, only to get back to our desks having lost those mental files. Impress your supervisor by keeping a paper and pen (or laptop, if that’s acceptable at your office) at hand, ready to record the things you need to remember.
Taking the time to write things down is especially helpful, as it gives you a minute to process your instructions and think of any questions you need to ask then and there.
Never Skip the Office Party
You know how they say that as many business deals are made on the golf course as in the office? That same principle applies to the office party. One boss points out that skipping the chance to socialize with your co-workers means you’re missing basic office news (think: who is preparing to leave) and alienating yourself from the people who sit next to you eight-plus hours of your day.
When it comes time to pick a team member for an advantageous project or conference in Hawaii, who will be chosen? Not what’s-her-name, that girl who never comes to the party.
Don’t Expect to Be Rewarded
“In order to get a promotion, you need to actually be worth it!” says one boss. “Don’t walk around with the air that you deserve it, because that sense of entitlement is going to get you nowhere.”
Confidence is one thing; arrogance is another. Yes, you were the top of your class in college and yes, you dominated your last project, but it’s a fine line between letting your work speak for you and duct-taping it to your boss’s computer. Worried your boss doesn’t notice your achievements? Set up a meeting to talk about what you’ve been working on, and ask for feedback.
But don’t get too worried your accomplishments are going unnoticed. As one boss says: “Let’s be honest — I promote people with good personalities. Your ability to be professional and also eager, motivated, and thoughtful about decisions and interactions with others is significant.”
Hold Up Your End
“It’s awful when you claim to be a team player, but complain when you are given responsibilities to help on a project.”
“Team player” is cliched for a reason — because every boss wants to see that quality in a potential employee. In recent years, “team” has come to replace every office unit from department to entire company, and every employee is expected to be a team player.
Complaining about your role on the team is both futile and aggravating to your boss. Where is she supposed to find you a sub? If you aren’t a team player, the real fix is to learn the rules of the game, and fast.
Ask How You Can Help
“You should be asking me if there is anything else you can be working on to help grow the company or the project, instead of waiting around for me to tell you what to do.”
There’s another word for that, one that appears next on the cliched-for-a-reason list: initiative. Clearly, you shouldn’t be asking your boss to hold your hand during every step of a project, but a well-timed “What can I do to help?” or “I noticed that [task] needs doing — I’ll tackle that,” is much appreciated.
Have a Solution
Wrong: “You tell me you have a problem — well, actually, you whine about something which I understand means you have a problem — and you come in with zero solutions on how to fix it.”
Right: “You come up with new and successful ideas on your own and take initiative to do something we already do and do it better without being asked.”
One boss told us she’s happy to give advice to people who ask for it, but she’s “looking to promote people who can think their way out of something on their own.” To please a boss like this, you can follow one rule of thumb: Never bring up a problem without a possible solution to recommend. Brainstorm feasible, reasonable solutions to the problem you have (tips on being a better brainstormer here). When you present it to your boss, launch right into what you recommend as a solution.
Know Your Job — and Do It
“If I have asked you twice and you don’t pay any attention to what you need to do as a part of your job, I will not see you as valuable or smart,” says one boss.
Since you’re already taking notes (see: tip 5), make sure you scribble somewhere exactly what your responsibilities are, and make sure you prioritize them. Along the same lines, it’s important to know which tasks are crucial, and which can take a backseat.
One boss had the following recommendation: “I think the best candidates for promotion are those who best can gently ‘manage up’ within their ranks and can find the balance needed to do gold star work while still knowing when to draw the line and say, “I can do this for you, or I can do that for Mr. Smith, but I cannot get both done today. I feel like [this task] is the priority — would you agree?”
And in the interests of balance – here are…
Leaders fail when they don’t think like leaders.
Leaders who think like individual contributors demoralize their team and devalue their leadership.
Lousy leaders think like individual contributors.
10 radical shifts in thinking:
- From “I” to “we.” Leadership begins with we.
- From controlling people to aligning passions. Raise your hand if you enjoy being controlled. I didn’t think so. Successful leaders align the passions of their teammates with organizational mission.
- From complexity to simplicity. The courage to cut away at complexity until simplicity emerges is a rare gift. Most just muddle through. Some leaders enjoy the feeling of importance that complexity creates. But, any fool can make something complex. Leaders simplify.
- From who is right to what is right. In one sense leadership isn’t personal at all. The issue is the issue. It doesn’t matter who comes up with solutions. The person who screwed up last week, may be this week’s genius.
- From talking “at” to talking “with.” Engagement requires “with.” The more you talk “at” the more you lose “with.”
- From right and wrong to better and best. Complex issues have more than one answer. Usually, there is no “right” solution.
- From symptoms to causes. The reason you’re always putting out fires is you haven’t addressed the root issue.
- From feeling confused to pursuing clarity. Most people don’t have the discipline or endurance to bear the frustration of pursuing clarity. They just want to get something done.
- From how can I step in to how can I step out. Fixers struggle to make room for others. Stepping in means you’re in the way.
- From receiving praise to giving it.
A business whose only ambition is to continue doing tomorrow what they did yesterday, will wither as both its competitors and customers change around it. The central role of creativity in business survival was recognised in an IBM survey of more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries. They reported that – more than rigour, management discipline, or even vision – successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity. But despite the focus on creativity and the proliferation of good advice, the solution still seems to be illusive. Maybe this is because there are three underlying cultural beliefs about what creativity really is, who has it, and how it can be managed (or not) that are acting as unseen barriers.
Myth 1. Analytical thought and creative thought are fundamentally different
Neuroscience is giving us ever deeper insight into the mysterious processes of the human brain. It is revealing that new ideas often emerge from the juxtaposing of existing information in the parts of the brain that we associate with more ‘rational’ processing and analytical thought. Understanding this, we can elevate the pursuit of creativity to a discipline that mirrors this neural process; systematically assembling, analysing, and challenging data about today in order to develop new possibilities for tomorrow…
Myth 2. Analytical people are generally not creative people
This often follows from the first myth. If the modes of thought are so different, then maybe the people having those thoughts must be different too. So if businesses need more creativity, it is a problem to be solved either through recruitment or external consultants. Either way, this perpetuates the division between ‘creativity’ and the core disciplines of business. And as we learn from organisational psychology, this cultural separation means that creativity, where it occurs, will remain largely peripheral and low impact.
By contrast, smart companies such as Procter & Gamble and GSK are especially strong at integrating scientists (often seen only as strong rational thinkers) into the early stages of innovation where capabilities in consumer empathy and imaginative thinking are equally vital.
Myth 3. Creativity is about making great leaps of imagination
The myth of the creative genius suddenly arriving at great ideas in a puff of brilliant inspiration continues to do much harm because it prevents us from recognising what is really necessary in the creative process; the on-going, painstaking, development of fresh perspectives and the nurturing of initially small ideas in order to gradually create something significantly innovative.
The problem with our observation of change is that we tend to see only the end result and we don’t see the process that led to it. Beethoven, for instance, would gradually develop a whole symphony based on taking a short melody which he would then adapt and restate. This process of continually building on, and nurturing, an initial (small) idea is more realistic and systematically effective.
- The first step to an idea is not to try to have one, but to marshal the perspectives and inspiration from which ideas originate. Focus on collecting, not judging; the relevance may only occur to you later
- Think ‘outside in’: use empathy to view your business from the customer’s point of view. Stop seeing them as merely a chooser and user of your services, but as a real person. Put yourself in their shoes.
- Systematically challenge everything that’s important to the way you do business now. Nurture ideas that initially seem flawed to explore whether they lead you somewhere significant.
“The first step toward being creative is often simply to go beyond being a passive observer and to translate thoughts into deeds. With a little creative confidence, we can spark positive action in the world.” -Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack and Jill were very sure why they were going up the mountain and what they were after. As to whether that well and pail of water existed at the top of the hill, we will never be sure. For, according to Wikipedia…”the rhyme has traditionally been seen as a nonsense verse, particularly as the couple go up a hill to find water, which is often thought to be found at the bottom of hills.”
Which provides us with an interesting perspective as we determine how to better infuse and engage creativity and innovation…in our schools and our organizations.
Unlike Jack and Jill…
Do we always know why we are going up the hill? Do we even really and truly know what we are after? Is the hill even where we need to go?
Or, are we making our way up the hill in search of answers to questions that we haven’t even truly clarified for ourselves, let alone for others…and our organization as a whole.
And even if we make up it to the well (network), have we equipped ourselves with the necessary questions (the pail), to pull up and gather the water (ideas) that can drive us towards the vision and direction that we seek.
As we consider our next steps…
We understand and see the necessity and need for infusing and weaving creativity and innovation into all that we do. but we struggle to visualize what that truly looks like…or even means.
So, in regards to creativity and innovation, we’ve sounded the trumpets, we’ve rolled out the red carpet, we’ve even opened the gates of the kingdom wide to welcome both of them in. The only problem…
Neither creativity or innovation may be standing at the gate waiting to come in…and if they are, we may struggle to recognize who they are…
Which is why it will be so important for us to push forward in our efforts to infuse and engage creativity and innovation at all levels of our organizations…
So even though we know it, we say it, and we expound their benefits…it often comes to a screeching halt at this point. Knowing about the importance and benefits of something is much different than taking action and determining ways to experiment with, incorporate, and weave it into the processes of what we do…on an ongoing and daily basis.
And while we know they are both necessary, needed, and important…we are still often not sure how to truly infuse and engage creativity and innovation…especially as sustainable and scalable processes across our schools and organizations.
Which is why we not only have to determine and define for ourselves what creativity and innovation is, but where it comes from, and even what it looks like…
We have to look at those methods, strategies and processes that allow them to cascade and flow across and at all levels of the organization.
And that begins first…with our mindset.
And unfortunately, most of us fail to consider ourselves to be either creative or innovative. We lack what Tom and David Kelley refer in their new book as “Creative Confidence”. Which is where the discussion must begin…our starting point. Especially, if we are going to move towards increased creativity and innovation across the organization. If we are going to move it beyond small pockets and just a few individuals…
Which will require us to figure out what that looks like, sounds like, feels like, is like…when engaged and active. To determine how we, as educational organizations, districts, classrooms, teams, and individuals…create that necessary “Creative Confidence” that the Kelley Brothers refer to.
So, instead of trying to take it all on, maybe we need to just start here…
We need to make sure we know why we are going up the hill.
“To overcome inertia, good ideas are not enough. Careful planning is not enough. The organizations, communities, and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that launch rapid innovation cycles, that learn by doing as soon as they can. They are sprinting forward, while others are still waiting at the starting line.”
Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence
In an age when we’re constantly being distracted, being able to focus is the golden goose.
We may thank technology platforms like Twitter and Facebook for shrinking our attention spans down to nanoseconds, but the executives of those selfsame companies know that to grow their businesses, they need to put a priority on focus.
At the Wisdom 2.0 conference being hosted in San Francisco next month, a group of tech heavyweights will come together with yoga practitioners, mindfulness specialists and even a Benedictine monk to learn how to work and live within the demands of technology more effectively….
The growing interest in the conference mirrors a growing trend in our relationship with technology: As we become increasingly dependent on mobile devices and social networks, we struggle to not feel controlled by them. These questions and struggles pervade both our personal and professional lives, but business leaders and executives at the Wisdom 2.0 conference will specifically address how to perform more efficiently in the workplace.
For example, last year, Gopi Kallayil, the chief evangelist for Google+, talked about how to integrate the fundamentals of a yoga-practice to be a more productive professional. Kallayil, who was born in India and grew up practicing yoga, has five fundamental rituals that he implements in every single day:
focus on the essential,
do one thing at a time,
take time to listen to your own body’s needs,
make at least one minute for mindfulness each day
and set appointments for the activities that will help you stay mindful.
…As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, the line between our work and our personal lives is often blurred. Nearly half of American workers have jobs suitable for part-time or full-time telecommuting (aka working from somewhere outside the office). That means more people are checking work email at the dinner table and typing up project reports in their pajamas. In fact, the physical separation between our work and our personal lives (aka an office building) may be somewhat outdated. One survey found that as many as 70 percent of college students believe it’s unnecessary to be in an office regularly.
For younger workers, these relaxed boundaries may actually be desirable. When they look for a job, many millennials say flexibility (in terms of where and when they work) is especially important. That’s possibly because employees in this age bracket want the freedom to develop relationships and pursue personal hobbies: Research suggests millennial workers place a higher value on being able to spend time with friends and family than Boomers (people born between approximately 1946 and 1964) did when they were younger. Likewise, millennials are less likely to define themselves by their careers.
But flexibility in the form of having constant access to work email and never technically “clocking out” for the day can have some negative repercussions. Research suggests it’s important to take breaks from professional demands and to recover from a busy workweek in order to reduce stress.
Unfortunately, there’s no one “right” approach to balancing work-related and personal commitments. For those worried about whether, where, or how to draw the line between work and play, follow the practical steps below to create a life that’s all-around fulfilling.
1. Pick and choose.
One of the hardest parts of achieving work-life balance is recognizing that we’ll never have it all. That is, we’ll never make it to every social event while also working extra hours and making home-cooked meals every night. Once you’ve decided which responsibilities and relationships you find most important (see number two), it’s all about prioritizing. So cut yourself some slack when it comes to other achievements in your personal and professional life, and remind yourself that you’re making progress where you believe it really counts.
2. You do you.
The definition of work-life balance varies pretty widely between individuals. Instead of trying to conform to someone else’s lifestyle, figure out what’s personally meaningful to you, whether that’s developing a relationship with a new partner or working toward a promotion at a new job (or both). As long as you find your life fulfilling, it doesn’t matter if your schedule looks different from someone else’s.
3. Be open to change.
Even once you’ve searched your soul to figure out what truly matters to you, accept that those priorities might change over time. Maybe you’ll start a family, take a new job, or pick up a new hobby — whatever the situation, be prepared for your values and schedule to shift, and make adjustments accordingly.
4. Accept imperfection.
Let’s say you’ve established that friendships are the most important aspect of your life right now. That still doesn’t mean you need to freak out if you miss your BFF’s boyfriend’s birthday bash because you’re working late on a big project. Know that you’ll make mistakes, and that obstacles and challenges will pop up unexpectedly. Instead of feeling like a terrible person, try to enjoy yourself and be productive and present with whatever you’re doing. Then refocus on your main priorities as soon as possible.
5. Take it day by day.
One clever tip is to combine your work and personal calendars so you don’t necessarily prioritize one set of responsibilities over the other in advance. Each day, you can decide whether the staff meeting is more important than getting lunch with an old high school buddy, or vice versa.
6. Pursue your passions.
Just because you’re working a lot doesn’t necessarily mean your life isn’t awesome. Some of us (ideally, all of us!) love our jobs, so much so that we’re willing to spend hours brainstorming, emailing, and sitting in meetings. If it makes you happy to bring your laptop home and continue working after dinner because you feel like you’re making a difference in the world or you simply love the work, go for it!
7. Keep track.
One of the first steps to figuring out how we can spend more time on the things that are really meaningful to us is learning how much time we currently spend on all our activities. For one week, try keeping a log of everything you do, from washing laundry to browsing Pinterest. Then go over the lists, pinpoint potential “time sucks,” share your concerns with your family and coworkers, and create an action plan for refocusing on the activities that really matter to you.
8. Open your options.
A growing number of workplaces allow employees to work remotely or have flexible schedules. If that possibility interests you, and if you think a new work style could make you less stressed, talk to your employer and see what you two can work out. (The worst that could happen is your boss will say no.)
9. Rock to your own rhythm.
Researchers are increasingly paying attention to the topic of chronotypes (biological schedules that determine when we feel tired and awake), and they’ve found that people vary widely in terms of when they’re most creative, energetic, and productive. Think about how your own abilities evolve throughout the day — if you’re most alert in the mornings, try getting to the office early; if you really come alive after 9pm, consider creating a less traditional work schedule (see number eight). That way, you won’t feel like you’re wasting valuable time at work when you’re half-zoned out anyway.
10. Reconsider your commute.
The physical trip to and from the office can be more draining than work itself. If standing like a sardine on a crowded subway is making you sick, consider moving closer to your workplace: You’ll have a better attitude toward work and feel less like you’re wasting a big chunk of your day. On the other hand, don’t be afraid of a long commute if it means going home to a neighborhood you love and feeling happier in general.
11. Seek support.
Ultimately, work-life balance is about finding a way to juggle all the different kinds of relationships in our lives. So don’t be shy about asking other people to help you manage your responsibilities. Talk to coworkers about filling in for each other when one of you has an outside commitment, or to family members about sharing dog-walking or babysitting responsibilities on days when someone needs to stay late at the office.
12. Don’t tear down this wall.
Working from home can be liberating, but it comes with challenges, like potentially getting distracted by the pile of dirty laundry on the floor. To avoid these issues, set up a physical boundary between work life and home life by designating a whole room (or even just a corner) as your office space. Try to keep all work-related paraphernalia and tasks contained to just this area.
13. Squeeze it in.
In an ideal world, we’d be able to spend two hours lunching with pals every day and attend salsa lessons every night. But sometimes it’s more realistic to grab coffee with a friend and go dancing every other weekend. This schedule might not be exactly what we’d like, but it’s certainly preferable to not socializing or letting loose at all. Let yourself enjoy the time you do have, instead of lamenting the time you don’t.
14. Find fun anywhere.
These days, lots of workplaces are embracing the idea of organized fun, like bonding activities for staff members. And nearly three quarters of millennial workers say they want their coworkers to be a second family. If you enjoy the workday and the company of your coworkers, this experience in itself can count as socializing. Don’t feel like you have to create “balance” by spending your weekends and weeknights doing non-work-related activities unless you really want to do them.
15. Tackle technology.
Smartphones, laptops, tablets, spaceships: All these tools are designed to improve our productivity and our lives overall. But when these gadgets make us feel like we’re supposed to be responding to work emails or finishing up projects at home, we can start to get overwhelmed. On the other side of the spectrum, constantly checking our Facebook feed while at work can lead to some serious FOMO. Manage all this technology-induced stress by unplugging for a little while or by setting limits on when and where to use it.
The most important thing to remember in the quest for work-life balance is that we’ll never achieve perfection. There will be nights when we miss dinner with our partner because we stayed late at the office, and days when we skip a staff meeting to bring a pal to an emergency dental appointment. What matters is that we create a personally meaningful life that helps us feel happy and healthy overall.
Anna Dumitriu turns bacteria into art. She has stitched strains of MRSA into a quilt; she has crocheted with the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis, found on her own bed. For her latest exhibition, The Romantic Disease – just opened at the Watermans arts centre in Brentford, west London – she has made a series of tiny lungs out of felt, dust and tuberculosis samples.
Dumitriu is at the vanguard of a new wave of collaboration between artists and scientists. There has, in recent years, been a surge in the number of projects, across all artforms, with a health or scientific issue at their heart, and a scientific or medical organisation as a key funding source.
Take, for example, Mess, the 2012 show by theatre-maker Caroline Horton, drawing on her own experience of anorexia; or Our Glass House, a compelling, immersive piece of theatre about domestic abuse, staged in various cities around the country with the financial backing of local NHS services.
To see artists and scientists working together in this way is nothing new. Historically, both artists and clinicians were often polymaths, with their feet firmly in both camps, and the distinction between science and the arts can be viewed as a modern one, imposed by an education system that requires children to specialise at an early age.
But to see scientific organisations choosing to fund art – stating, in effect, that it is through art that a particular scientific message can best be communicated to the public – is a relatively recent, and intriguing development. So why are these organisations choosing to fund arts projects? And what do both artists and scientists get from the close working relationship that should, in theory, result…
Can art play a wider role in enhancing health and wellbeing? In a speech last September, Arts Council chief Peter Bazalgette quoted Alan Yates, former chief executive of Mersey Care NHS Trust, as saying that “if the arts had not been invented, we would now do so, as a front line NHS service”.
That was certainly the feeling I got from Lesley Johnston at NHS Lothian, one of the funding bodies behind Our Glass House, an immersive theatre piece exploring the impact of domestic abuse. “Theatre is a really powerful tool,” she said. “We’re working in this field day in, day out. [But] seeing something visual like this gets you at a much deeper level.”
This is also part of what drives Anna Dumitriu as an artist: the desire to take her own fascination with microbiology and other areas of science, harness scientific expertise, and communicate that knowledge to the wider public – together with the history and emotions that underpin it.
Ultimately, Dumitriu believes it’s something only art can do. “Art, for me, is a way of investigating the world,” she says. “In that way, I see no real distinction between art and science at all.”
Stefan Stern writing in The Guardian
This “global race” business is no laughing matter. It’s as if the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics want us all to stay in training. The language of fitness and athleticism is everywhere: we have to be flexible, we have to be agile, we have to be nimble.
And now, it seems, we have to be resilient too. The civil service is the latest organisation to support “resilience training” as a way of helping staff deal with the pressures of work. Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the ministry of justice, told the FT that colleagues could benefit from developing coping skills in today’s tougher climate.
Who could be against resilience, or greater fitness come to think of it? The healthy worker may be more resistant to colds and flu, and will have the energy to keep going when others start to tire. Economists continue to worry about the chronic poor productivity in the UK. A lack of resilience may have something to do with it. Whether you are on a late or early shift, there is work to be done and targets to be hit. That means being ready and able to perform.
But what are we really talking about when we use the word “resilience”? Calmly rising above the daily irritations of the workplace is one thing. Suppressing anxiety in an attempt to appear in control is another. If the demands being made on people are unreasonable then trying to stay resilient may be unwise. Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, says that resilience can be a useful term when it refers to ways of boosting your mental wellbeing. “Talking about mental health is still a taboo in many workplaces,” he says. He supports “any training which can equip staff with the skills they need to help look after their own mental wellbeing”.
There is a caveat, however. Resilience should not be seen as a way of putting up with anything. “Nobody should be expected to cope with ever-increasing demands, excessive workloads and longer working hours,” he says.
What really adds to stress and a sense of powerlessness at work is a loss of autonomy, either as a result of poor work organisation or the impossibility of being able to speak up. And while it might seem refreshing to hear a senior civil servant discussing the need for a more open culture and better two-way communication between bosses and employees, if in practice this doesn’t happen then stress levels are likely to rise.
If only there were a large piece of research into workplace health conducted over many years to provide the evidence we need to know how to organise our work better. But of course this research does exist: it is the decades-long study led by Sir Michael Marmot into the health of… civil servants.
What Marmot has shown is that it is status and control that matter more than resilience, cognitive skills or attitude. It may be tough at the top, but it is considerably tougher lower down. “The high-status person has a lot of demand,” says Marmot, “but he or she has a lot of control, and the combination of high demand and low control is what’s stressful.”
So while we should be encouraging employees to develop skills to help them cope with workload pressures, which will include “framing” techniques and building a more resilient outlook, it is the responsibility of leaders to organise work in a way that does not harm people’s health.
Health at work turns out to be another revealing indicator in the biggest story of our times: inequality. As Marmot says: “Health inequalities that are judged to be avoidable by reasonable means and are not avoided are wrong, they’re unjust, they’re unfair.” Tell the boss, if you dare.
Martyn Duffy reflects in the Shaky Isles Theatre blog on professionalism and what it means in 2014 Britain. He is talking about theatre and performance, but a lot of what he says carries through into many other work contexts in the new economy we are tolerating at the moment. See what you think…
There has been a lot of talk recently about professionalism and just what the word “professional” actually means.
The dictionary says:
§ a person engaged or qualified in a profession:professionals such as lawyers and surveyors
§ a person engaged in a specified activity, esp. a sport or branch of the performing arts, as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.
§ a person competent or skilled in a particular activity:she was a real professional on stage.
Seems straightforward, then. But it’s not as black and white as the dictionary seems to suggest. There are several shades of grey to navigate through before this semantic snapshot comes anywhere near the clear focus that a simple definition suggests.
In years gone by we as theatre practitioners insisted that getting paid was the marker for professionalism. We assumed that the idea of the starving artist in her garret working by candlelight (and consequently so much more creative for that) was a concept long dead and buried. Now we have “interns” and people doing “job experience” which seems to translate as: “You will work for nothing and be grateful for the opportunity.” All well and good if this leads on to better career opportunities and networking and profile raising and being taken on permanently, but sometimes – and this is my biggest worry – it leads to organizations getting cheap labour and replacing one intake with the next for purely commercial reasons.
So, yes you can argue that the idea of the professional has evolved and now means something more like:
§ a person engaged in a specified activity, esp. a sport or branch of the performing arts, as either a main paid occupation (rather than as a pastime) or engaged in this activity with an understanding that there might be a paid opportunity at some future date.
But if this truly is now the case then we really do have to fight for the principle that a job well done deserves commensurate reward. What that reward will be has become less tangible.
So many of us do produce work for nothing or practically nothing and that is our choice. The reality is that there is not enough paid work out there for members of our profession and yet we still need to do what we do because we are driven to do it and that drive and that passion isn’t so much “our choice”. We make daily compromises and generally do the best we can to offset all the demands and strains that our “real lives” throw at us. Somehow we make it work. Sometimes less so…
…Theatre is a strange world where we are often trying to bring life to imaginary worlds in different places, different times and different dimensions. We do this in order to give our audiences an unforgettable experience. I often think of this as a reflection of our own lives where we juggle different priorities and the various aspects of ourselves in the hope that we are truly making work that has meaning and that makes a difference.
For artists throughout the ages I think it has always been thus. Some things do get easier, and yes, some things do get harder, but mostly they remain the same.
And mostly that is a good thing.
Rosie Hardy also has something to say on the theme of following what you love to do and making it your work, even when you feel like you will fail, in her inspiring, exuberant and energising TEDx talk from Youth@Manchester 2014
“We live in a society where qualifications are valued more highly than happiness…”
These and many other stories are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #82 out from Friday 24th January 2014.