Reflection: When preparing to deliver a conference presentation or seminar for a group, I’ll often interview a sampling of attendees ahead of time to find out more about their workplace stresses and satisfactions.
In a recent series of interviews for an upcoming conference, I asked about successful strategies for coping with high demand, stressful times. I heard a predictable assortment of suggestions: adopting time savers, planning ahead, taking time out, celebrating successes and having some fun.
However, one unusual response stood out. This particular fellow described his stress reduction strategy as ‘puttering’. He explained that when life and work grow demanding, he narrows his attention and focuses only on the high priority items.
But, after several weeks of that high level focus, he finds he has sidelined a whole pile of lesser tasks. These smaller, less important bits and pieces build up to create a pressure all their own.
At that point, he devotes a day to puttering. No major projects and no big decisions are allowed. Instead, he putters around clearing away the small stuff.
He calls A, repairs B, stores C, answers D, files E, replaces F, cleans up G, and so it goes.
As he moves from one small task to another with ease and a meandering spirit, he fuels a sense of accomplishment and feels a sense of relief. (more…)
PAUSE – 13.31 – Al Desko or Al Fresko?
November 13, 2013
Reflection: If you’re reading this on Wednesday morning, you still have time to make a date for lunch. Why do I mention it? Because it turns out that an astounding number of folks are eating Al Desko and not Al Fresko.
A recent poll found that 60 percent of workers eat lunch at their desks every day, while two thirds take less than half their entitled lunch hour. A quick math check shows those people are working (or at least sitting in front of their computers) an extra 128 hours (or 16 eight hour days) a year.
We’re discovering more all the time about the physical risks of too much sitting and too much desk time. When we closet ourselves away – brain glued to screen and bum to chair – we end up numbed on both ends.
Move around mid-day and you clear out the mental cobwebs and top the energy tank. You’ll return to your afternoon tasks with a fresh mind and body.
Reflection: Are there any life lessons you seem destined to learn over and over and over again? I know there are a handful that are very much alive in my world. I’m reliving one of them this week.
As I prepare for the December release of my new ‘Sketches of Saskatoon’ book, I find myself mired down in detailed marketing tasks, many of which I could have handled differently.
Had I been thinking and working a bit further ahead, I could have farmed out various tasks to others who have the experience, the resources, and the talent to handle them with ease. Alas, in the crunch and press of time, the opportunity is lost.
Maybe this happens in your world, too. You leave a project just a tad too long on the back burner. All of a sudden (or so it seems) it pops to the top of the list and you find yourself cradling a bona fide DIY (Do It Yourself) hot potato in your hands. (more…)
Pause Gem #19 – Will You Ever Be Done Again?
July 3, 2013
During the months of July and August, your weekly Pause blog postings will feature the ‘Best of Pause’. These are readers’ favorite messages from the earlier years of the Pause e-zine. Featuring these Pause Gems will give me a bit of a breather, and also introduce our newer subscribers to some of those early gems.
Whether you are a long time subscriber, or new to our list, I sincerely hope you enjoy these messages. Come September, your messages will once again feature all new info and resources.
Reflection & Action: Take a close look at your to do list and a serious glance at the piles in the corner. How much of a backlog do you see?
If you are anything like the rest of us, you are anywhere from four to six weeks behind in your work. According to research reported by David Beardley, the average business person faces a backlog of 200 to 300 hours of uncompleted work. That doesn’t even begin to consider what’s waiting for us at home or in the community.
How’s that for redefining normal? It’s little wonder you might feel overwhelmed and overloaded on any given day.
Stop giving yourself grief because you’re not all caught up. It isn’t going to happen! In fact, getting to the end of your list or reaching the bottom of your pile is more likely to be an abnormal, extraordinary, other-worldly experience. Look in the mirror and remind yourself, “You will never be done again!”
Then check today’s to do list and actions against the backlog to be sure you really are acting on what matters most. Credit yourself for the valued tasks you do tackle and complete.
Learn to see a sizeable backlog as just another normal fact of life. Don’t look at it as an Everest summit that must be conquered every day … or else! (more…)
PAUSE – 13.22 – Who Needs A Mental Wealth Break?
June 5, 2013
Reflection: I’d had a busy couple of weeks with projects, commitments and deadlines on every front. When the calendar cleared last Wednesday, I decided to pause and step away for a mental wealth day. That’s the kind of day when you focus on making a few sizeable deposits in the sanity bank account.
I spent ten minutes in the office, cleared a few urgent messages, put an away message on my phone, and settled in to enjoy the open space.
As the day unfolded, I puttered in the garden, visited on the street with several of the neighbors, lunched in the sun on the back deck, napped in the hammock, chatted by phone with several family members, and simply enjoyed the fish in the pond, the birds in the trees, and the tulips in the flowerbeds.
A greeting card from my sister arrived in the mail that morning and set the tone for the day. The front cover featured a figure reclining in a hammock under the palm trees with these words: “Nowhere to go and all day to get there….” That became my mantra for the day!
I love that sentiment, it’s such a contrast to what we are more likely to experience in our everyday lives: “Everywhere to go and no time to get there!”
Action: Life doesn’t always lend itself to a mental wealth day. But, it may be possible to create a mental wealth moment or hour. And as you step into that openness of time, try breathing in the possibility that just for now, you have: ‘Nowhere to go and all day to get there!” (more…)
PAUSE – 13.21 – Antidotes For Overload
May 29, 2013
Reflection: Suppose you’re chatting with a friend and she tells you that, in addition to working full time as usual, these are the projects she has planned for the summer: repaint the house, dig up a new vegetable garden, xeriscape the front yard, host a friend’s outdoor wedding, build a new deck on the cabin at the lake, take her parents on a weeklong roadtrip, manage her son’s softball team, and chaperone her daughter’s soccer team on a trip to Minneapolis.
Any thoughts? Any advice?
Suppose the list shifted from personal projects to an equally lengthy list of workplace assignments with the regular family and community responsibilities ‘on the side’.
Any thoughts? Any advice?
I can’t help but think of the old parenting adage: “Be careful how you load up your plate. Your eyes could be bigger than your stomach.” The same caution applies to our ambitions beyond the dinner table. Far too often, our aspirations outweigh our capacity. It’s little wonder that overload is so often the order of the day.
Action: What, then, is the preventive medicine to keep us from landing in a state of overload quite so often – especially with projects that are within our control or under our influence? (more…)
PAUSE – 13.20 – How Well Do You Pace Yourself?
May 22, 2013
Reflection: Have you ever walked alongside someone whose stride was much longer or shorter than yours? Have you ever partnered on a project with someone whose pace was entirely mismatched to yours? They moved, spoke and concluded everything in a flash – or they ambled, pondered, and decided waaaay toooo sloooowly for your comfort?
If you have, chances are that you know first hand the frustration of trying to keep up or the irritation of needing to slow down.
Our set points vary one from another; and they may shift over time. Life experiences can temper our choices along the way. If we’re paying attention, through trial and error, we learn when we need to give a person or an issue more room, and when the time is ripe to urge to action.
In any given situation or relationship, the ‘right’ pace energizes, while the ‘wrong’ pace exhausts. And, of course, it’s all terribly subjective and situation specific.
When lives are on the line (think fire or medical emergency), a fast paced response is essential. But not everything we face falls in that urgent category – even though much is presented that way.
There’s a leadership style known as ‘Pacesetting’ that invigorates some and frustrates others. Pacesetters are notorious for setting very high performance standards and modeling them for others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – except that pacesetters tend to be obsessively high on expectations and perilously low on empathy. Without empathy, this kind of leadership may not even register – much less respond to – the stress that others experience along the way.
Action: So, how do you put these ideas about pace to work? (more…)
PAUSE – 13.03 – Are We Progressing or Regressing?
January 23, 2013
Reflection: What do you think? When it comes to work-life conflict and balance, are we making progress or sliding deeper into the morass? Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.
To help us determine the results, Ontario researchers, Duxbury and Higgins, have just released their 2012 survey of Canadian employees. It’s the third time in two decades (1991 and 2001) that they have gone to the proverbial well to set benchmarks for how we are doing on the work life frontier.
I can tell you now, if you placed your bet on ‘backsliding’, you are a clear winner. But, of course that means, that Canadian workplaces and employees are the losers. Here are a few highlights from the survey info provided by 25,000 Canadian employees.
Work demands continue to increase dramatically. The typical employee now spends 50.2 hours in work related activities each week. By gender, 68% of men and 54% of women now work more than 45 hours per week compared to 55% of men and 39% of women in the 2001 survey.
Work spills into ‘off-hours’. 54% of employees take work home on evenings and weekends where they spend another 7 hours/week on work (much of it email).
Role overload is common. 40% report high levels of total role overload. The source? 32% report high work role overload and 26% report high family role overload.
The impact of work life conflict on the workplace includes absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased draws on employee benefits. The personal impact includes loss of sleep, low energy, and less time for selves – notably fewer social and recreation activities.
As you might guess, stress levels are up. 57% report high levels of stress, and 40% report moderate levels of stress. Only a lucky 3% report low levels of stress.
Action: D & H offer these recommendations for organizations. (more…)
PAUSE – 12.34 – Chiaroscuro
December 12, 2012
Reflection: Clients tell me all the time that the most difficult challenge in the midst of overload is to know where to focus your attention and how to keep it there. Tasks seem equally important and there are lots of them in play. It’s easy to find yourself bouncing around accomplishing little or nothing at all – an experience that adds to the overwhelm.
When this happens to you (and this is one of those seasons when overload runs rampant), it’s time to practice chiaroscuro. What, you say? Chiaroscuro? No, you don’t need to know how to spell it or pronounce it, you just need to know how to use it.
In the world of art, chiaroscuro is a technique that highlights the main subject in the foreground, while shifting the lesser details into the shadows. When applied to a painting for instance, your eye may wander through the entire image, but because of the high contrast your attention repeatedly returns to the main event.
It’s a formal term for what my most recent art instructor told me would strengthen my watercolors. In his words, “Show more gumption with your darks.” And truly, when you add contrast, when you force a few elements into the background, the main focus pops to the fore. (more…)
Pause Gem #16 – Less Flap…More Focus
August 15, 2012
REFLECTION & ACTION: Why did the chicken cross the road? Could it be that in her efforts to lay more eggs, the poor bird found herself spinning out of control? Caught up in a frenzy of flapping and fussing, she flew the coop and hit the highway – losing both her why and her way!
It happens. The flying feathers scenario reminds me of a cartoon that features an old-time manager mentoring a newcomer on the need to look busy in the workplace. The old-timer schools the novice in the fine art of rushing and paper-carrying, stressing both are vital to success in the ultramodern, ultrabusy workplace.
Given this mindset, it’s not surprising that Bruch & Goshal’s study of managerial effectiveness concluded that only 10 percent of the managers they studied spent their time in committed, purposeful, and reflective ways. Yikes!
According to these researchers, managerial effectiveness needs two things: (1) focus (targeted action and follow through) partnered with (2) energy (the vigor that comes with strong personal commitment). Distracted managers who pour great gobs of energy into poorly focused tasks confuse a frenzy of activity—such as briskly carrying papers—with purposeful action.
If you, like the poor misguided chicken or the managers studied by Bruch & Goshal, find yourself running off in all directions with little to show for it, flapping harder may not be your best approach. Slow down, check your position, consult your plan, and rethink your intentions.
Just those simple actions will help you avoid a chicken-with-its-head-cut-off approach to life. All flap, no focus! All fuss, no egg! (more…)