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How to Unblock Your Flow for Optimal Productivity

Photo courtesy of Drew Coffman

For optimal professional productivity in our lives, we must be in a free “flow state” – which essentially means that we love what we are doing. Time flies when your flow is open and your creativity is sparked.  Everything else in your world becomes background noise as you focus in on the task at hand.

As a writer, when I experience a loss of flow, it’s called “writer’s block,” but this problem definitely presents itself in a wide variety of professions.  Even what appear to be the most mundane and routine jobs and tasks can be engaging and fun as long as you enjoy what you do.

To develop good flow and to keep it unblocked, you’ll need to have clear professional goals, good concentration skills, an established pattern of feedback, and the appropriate skill level to accomplish what you’ve set out to do.

Tips to Open Your Flow:
Always have a conclusion in mind. (When will your task be “finished?”)
Stay focused by practicing concentration every day. (Form a healthy, positive habit.)
Know where you can get reliable feedback.
Stop while you’re ahead (or excited.)
Find a new location, even if it means simply moving to another desk for awhile.
Unformat your regular task process and come at it from another direction.
Never forget to have fun! As soon as the fun stops, your flow becomes blocked.
Find new ways to constantly challenge yourself.
Love what you do.
Open your thoughts. Live and work mindfully.
Work productively, feel satisfied, and be happy.


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Take This Job and Love it: How to Practice Mindfulness in the Workplace

Photo courtesy of Sukhasanachair

Since today is officially Labor Day, we are supposed to recognize all of the economic and social contributions of our country’s workforce, which happens to include most of us. Since it’s us that we’re appreciating, I propose that we view today as a welcome day off and a last goodbye to long summer days and family vacations. Enjoy each and every moment of today – whether you’re sleeping in late, cooking burgers, or watching movies all afternoon. Be thankful that you have a job to have a day off from.

Make tomorrow your Labor Day! You’ll be back at work, after all, and you will have had the benefit of a long weekend to fuel your professional engine.  As your way of celebrating your Labor Day, find small ways to bring mindfulness into your workplace. We already know that thinking, moving, and eating mindfully keeps us centered in the moments of life, bringing us more in touch with ourselves and our experiences. As we practice mindfulness, our cortisol levels drop, leaving us with a feeling of evaporating clouds of stress and a sudden clarity of the here and now.

Although job-related situations may not typically be on your radar as appropriate mindfulness opportunities, they should be. Another benefit of living mindfully is an increase in productivity and the ability to come up with new ideas.  In fact, many companies today have begun encouraging mindful practices within the workplace. Although it has proven challenging and has seen some resistance, the movement toward corporate mindfulness is definitely on the rise.

To be more mindful at work, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Observe before you react. Allow situations to unfold completely. Gather information with clarity and purpose, but without judgement. This will allow you to react more calmly, effectively, and creatively.
  • Window gaze. Ideally, take at least a 30 minute walk to be one with nature every single day.  Identify with a particular tree and the way it moves in the breeze, or the brilliant colors of the flowers. Optionally, find a window and gaze out of it for at least 5 minutes to remind yourself that you’re part of a bigger universe than the walls that surround your desk.
  • Hit the pause button. Transitions at work can be jarring and can destroy your focus.  To avoid this effect, work at a steady pace and schedule breaks in between transitions so that you can give yourself time to decompress and find your center before the next meeting or event.
  • Check yourself. If you need a reminder to check in with yourself during the day, download The Mindfulness App, or set an alarm or timer. At intervals of your choice, do a self-check during which you simply focus on your breathing and being in your body.  Remember that you are a living, breathing person and not just a work drone!
  • Humanize your coworkers. Recognize that everyone you work with is dealing with challenges every day, just as you are, and chances are good that all they really want is to be happy too. This will make it easier to interact with them, even if their behavior hasn’t always pleased you.
  • Use the ‘three breaths’ technique. Anytime you’re ready to hit ‘Send’, ‘Save’, or ‘Publish’, take three slow deep breaths to clear your mind.  Then revisit the email, memo, or article in order to verify that your intentions, words, and ideas are all in order and that they make sense.

If you’re a leader in your workplace, lead with mindfulness by keeping an eye on the big picture.  By staying focused on yourself and the others on your team, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what is happening, why it is happening, and the decisions you need to make to be effective.

Mindfulness helps us gain clarity, achieve balance, and get more pleasure out of any situation or setting. On your journey toward living a more fulfilled life, remember to let your work persona in on the enjoyment, too.

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Can Taking a Mental Health Day Get You Fired?

Photo courtesy of Jinx!

Taking a sick day when you’re feeling physically horrible is generally considered acceptable by most employers, as long as it doesn’t happen all the time. However, tending to your mental health can be slightly more controversial if not handled correctly.

Nearly every job entails some amount of stress.  Add to that the high paced personal lives that many Americans are living, and you end up with a very mentally weary workforce, pushing themselves day after day to make it to their jobs. If you’re not physically ill –  is it ok to call in “sick?”

The answer doesn’t seem to be very cut-and-dried in very many employee handbooks.

If you’re feeling mentally drained, your workplace probably won’t benefit from your presence anyway, so taking an unscheduled day at home recovering your brainpower might be really beneficial. Just keep a few things in mind:

  • Remember to call your boss.
    Forgetting to let your superiors know that you won’t be at work is definitely not a good start to a relaxing day off. Call (don’t text) any and all management who need to know of your absence.
  • Use generalities.
    Explain that you are just not feeling well and that it would be best if you did not come in to the office that day. Avoid saying that you are sick so that you aren’t actually lying and to avoid the day after ”How are you feeling?” conversations.
  • Choose your day appropriately.
    Taking a day off when the office is already understaffed or super-busy will irritate co-workers who have to pick up your slack. Choose a slow day to take a mental rest.
  • Plan ahead.
    Avoid anything stressful on your mental health day - figure out how you’re going to spend your time before the actual day. Rent movies, borrow books, buy that ice cream you want to indulge in. Have everything on hand so that you don’t even have to leave the house.
  • Unplug.
    If you must, give yourself 30 minutes to answer personal emails, and then disconnect from the outside world. Turn off your computer and cell phone in order to focus entirely on relaxation.
  • Choose your company wisely.
    Spending your mental health day with a friend might possibly lead to drama or conflict. Don’t take that chance on your day off. Go solo and make all of the decisions yourself.
  • Don’t be seen in public.
    Why take the risk of being spotted by a coworker or superior? Stay at home, where you can recover your mental clarity while staying out of the spotlight.

The bottom line is this: your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and although a small number of managers still expect their employees to tough it out, many employers today understand the value of a mental health day. In order to limit your need for excessive absences, though, make sure you are constantly making tiny improvements in your everyday life, leaving you better equipped to handle stressors without becoming overloaded.



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How to Beat Burnout Before it Beats You

Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army
There are several professions that tend to have high rates of burnout, and in my lifetime I’ve been deeply ensconced in two of them. For seven years I taught elementary school, and I can tell you that teachers everywhere are dropping like flies. That job is tough.  People in professions that involve helping others are highly likely to burn out because of the amount of emotional attachment that develops, causing an incredible amount of mental strain.

I’m now considered an entrepreneur, in that I’ve started up my own business and I’m my own boss. Studies show that entrepreneurs are also more likely than most “typical” professionals to experience burnout. This is due to the fact that there is no limit to how much success we can attain, and because of that, we have a hard time turning down opportunities.  Before we know it, we’re exhausting ourselves by taking on more projects than we can reasonably handle.

If you’re making your living in a job that has the potential to evoke excessive amounts of stress, involves a high level of responsibility, or demands long hours, be proactive about avoiding burnout. If you’ve started to feel the first twinges of distress surrounding work, use the following list as a guide to avoid causing a major professional setback.

  • Pin point the source of any discontent and fix it. It’s not the job itself that will bring you down, but its interference with the things you love to do most – like spending time with family, working out, or getting a good night’s sleep every night. What do you wish you had time for?

  • Set boundaries for those above events to ensure that they will always come before work in order to refresh your energy and motivation.

  • Make sure you’re keeping it interesting! Even as an entrepreneur, if your projects all start to look the same, you’ll get bored fast. Pick and choose a variety of assignments, or simply make a change to your daily routine.

  • Pace yourself for the long haul and don’t expect miracles.
  • Take vacations! If you have a corporate job, USE your paid days off – don’t just bank them. If you’re self-employed, start setting things up so that your business can remain successful even when you take a few days off.

It’s extremely important to be able to recognize the early symptoms of burnout so that you can attain the level of success that you’re reaching for while remaining in good physical and mental health. Once burnout occurs, it can spell disaster and is quite difficult to reverse. Always keep that fire extinguisher nearby and at the ready, because if you don’t beat burnout first, it can most certainly beat you.

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Do You Have What it Takes to be a Great Leader?

Photo courtesy of The Eggplant
This morning, my doctor (a specialist, nonetheless) told me, “You know more about this than I do,” and sort of let me lead him through the rest of the appointment, during which I had to correct him several times about well documented medical information.  I left there with only sort of what I needed, but with a new resolve to find a doctor who can lead me, rather than vice versa.

When it comes down to it, what all people really want, in virtually every situation,  is leadership. Whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, nanny, auto mechanic or handyman, people want to feel like you know what you’re doing. When we seek out others for their services, we expect them to take a leadership role in the relationship that develops.  We specifically sought them out because we needed guidance, and if they have none to offer, what transpires is just wasted time, energy and money.

In our own lives, we can alleviate this problem by providing leadership in our area of expertise. I feel fairly confident that most people have what it takes to be a leader in some capacity.  Whatever your role is in society, master it.  Along with learning everything you can about your leadership position, work on improving the following general leadership skills:

  1. Confidence – People will feel comfortable taking your advice and turning to you for guidance if you present yourself with a strong demeanor.   Be self-assured, firm, make eye contact, avoid nervous laughter, and speak with certainty.
  2. Acceptance –  A good leader listens well and is able to hear points of view that differ from his or her own.  Be prepared to face conflicting opinions, attitudes, and viewpoints without being condescending or mean. Also – know how to ask appropriate questions when gathering information from others.
  3. Decisiveness – Ultimately, many final decisions will be up to you. Anticipate some people disagreeing with you and perhaps disliking you.  You are there to lead, not to make friends.
  4. Empathy – You’re not out to make friends, but it is important that you care about helping the people that you are leading. A well-respected leader has a heart. Motivate those who look up to you by encouraging them often.
  5. Consistency –  Avoid erratic behaviors and irresponsible decisions. Offer people the stability that comes with knowing what to expect from you. Offer quality, sensible solutions that follow a similar pattern. Avoid being aggressive one day and passive the next. That only confuses people and makes you seem like anything but a leader.

We all provide leadership – whether  in business, parenting, education, love or friendship. Being a quality leader is a desirable trait in many aspects of life. Leaders solve problems and get results. What’s your leadership role?

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Talk Might be Cheap, But it’s Still in Demand

Photo courtesy of LifeSupercharger
“The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation…”
~Deborah Tannen

I’ve been married twice now, and although it is true that it’s markedly easier the second time around, any relationship requires attention and tune-ups in order to thrive.  You know when they show those clips at the end of romantic movies where they ask old couples, “What is the most important part of a happy marriage?”  Nine couples out of ten enthusiastically say, “Good communication!” Sometimes one of the old men will give a sly grin and say something about a good sex life, but we know (and he knows) that without communication, everything else just falls apart.

My husband and I have been married for just under a year now and are refining our relationship brilliantly. We work extremely well as a team, and we continue to grow stronger and happier the more we each listen to each other. What we have realized is that, since we met and married in our 30s, our communication skills have already matured quite a bit, as have we. Since we have both been previously married and engaged in professional careers, we have become quite adept at communicating with a variety of different people in our lives: spouses, children, parents, bosses, coworkers, friends in need, neighbors, in-laws and even people we don’t really like.  We’ve learned how to adjust our interactions with others based on each individual person’s personality.

What my husband and I recently discovered, however, is that some key aspects of communicating are actually quite universal and will be effective whether used with a spouse, a child, a stoic neighbor, or a boss.  In fact, my husband actually inspired me to write this blog post when he found himself in a difficult situation professionally.  He relayed to me that he ended up referring back to something he had learned by communicating with me, applied it to his work situation, and voila! Instant success!

We spend most of our time communicating with our spouses and children because we view them as the most important relationships in our lives. Why not apply bits and pieces of what we learn through making our most meaningful relationships successful to other relationships as well? Newsflash: If your wife likes hearing that you’re sorry, chances are good that your boss does too.

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