Tag Archives | work

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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Create Your Own Paycheck and Cash in on Life


Photo courtesy of blakespot
So many of us spend upwards of eight hours a day behind a desk in an office somewhere, wishing we were free to come and go as we please. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say, “I’d give anything to be my own boss.” However, it’s rare that anyone does anything about it, and instead there are millions of Americans resenting their jobs on a daily basis due to feeling unfulfilled, under-appreciated, under-paid and overworked. Most people are too afraid of the “unknown” to take a dip in the entrepreneurial pool, but what they don’t realize is that unless they are the boss, their 9-5 job is the unknown. In most workplace settings, employees can be fired for virtually any reason, at any time.

I have been on both sides of the job fence. I went from teaching to motherhood and then changed courses after a divorce to pursue a job as a legal assistant. During the motherhood phase of my journey, I discovered my innate ability to be my own boss quite by accident by freelance writing while my children napped. However, like most people, I became concerned about my lack of health insurance coverage after I went through a divorce, and headed back into the corporate world, working eight hours a day and commuting an additional 80 minutes, making the total time I dedicated to my job approximately 9 1/2 hours a day.

Personally, I loved that job, and it is probable that I would have continued working there were it not for health reasons that forced me to re-think my entire life strategy.  I decided that my original intuition about being my own boss would be my new direction, as I was given no other options and had to make it work. I began by making as many contacts as possible in my field, building up experience and clients. It slowly dawned on me that I was branding myself, creating my own job, making my own rules, setting my own income, and working the hours that I wanted to work. I don’t know if I would have been so successful at creating my own business if I hadn’t been forced into the situation, but what I have learned is that anyone can do it.

I would never have described myself as a business woman , and yet I was able to create a job for myself based on my innate talents and skills . I found a niche where I could be successful using what I know how to do well. I  decide what things I want and need and then I set out to make enough money to pay for them.  Rather than letting my boss tell me how much my efforts are worth, I decided to tell my clients how much my efforts are worth, and it turns out that they agreed.

If you’re completely fed up with letting your paycheck dictate what you can and cannot afford, take the time to re-evaluate your view on who you really want controlling your income. If you have a talent or skill that is in demand and want or need to work in a non-traditional setting, take it from someone who made it work: anything is possible.

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How Small Changes Can Rejuvenate Your Productivity

flower
Photo courtesy of Theophilos Papadopoulos

We’ve all been there at some point in the past—one day we’re working fine, efficiently, and then the next, without explanation, we discover we can’t work anymore. Writers get writer’s block; artists find they can’t decide where the next brushstroke should go. For whatever reason, something in our brain clicks and we lose that spark that tells us we’re good at what we do.

This condition of ‘being stuck’ is often attributed to feelings of inferiority as a professional. Sometimes the effects can be trivial, lasting mere hours or days, but in worse cases they can lead a person to go years without successfully returning to work, or sometimes giving up their craft altogether.

I’ve been in this situation several times in the past, and it isn’t pleasant. I was frustrated with myself because I just wasn’t feeling motivated to work. So I decided to change things up. Instead of working at home like I was used to, I went out and tried working at a local coffee shop. At first, nothing seemed to change. In fact, I found the new environment distracting. Then over time I started to work again, just a little at first, but enough. Then I returned home, and astonishingly I was able to work more efficiently than I had before. I’d killed my artistic block.

If you really want to get out of your creative rut, I would suggest changing something in your workflow in order to rejuvenate your productivity. Change your environment – go outside, work in park, a coffee shop, wherever. Change your tools – your paints and brushes, your software. Change the people you surround yourself with on a daily basis. Change your hours. Change everything about your workflow if you think it’ll help.

And make the decision to take time off too. Listen to music. Watch movies. Play video games. Read. Study the work of other professionals in your craft. Just because you’re not working at the time doesn’t mean you won’t take something positive away that will benefit your workflow later. Inspiration can be found in absolutely anything, so enjoy yourself while you’re not working.

It’s surprising how a little change can make all the difference to your workflow. If you’re stuck in a rut, try changing something in your day-to-day life and see your productivity flourish.

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Working in the Present: 3 Ways to Tackle Seemingly Endless Tasks

Flying Kick
Photo courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin

Have you ever been stuck in the middle of a task you couldn’t see the end of? A few months ago, I was involved in a project that required a huge amount of perseverance (not to mention several gallons of coffee) to see it through to the end. After the initial excitement of starting something shiny and new had worn off, I began to realize the enormity of the task I had set myself, and somewhere along the way, I lost all hope that the project would be completed at all.

An overreaction? Perhaps. But all too often this occurs with large-scale projects. After weeks of repeating the same tasks without respite, team members can become frustrated at the seeming lack of progress, and the whole project starts to crumble under the weight of its own ambition.

In these situations, we often convince ourselves that everything is far more difficult to complete than it actually is, simply because we can’t see the end. Instead of looking for the finish line, however, we should try to be more concerned with what is happening right in front of us, so as to better manage the task at hand. Here are a few tips for breaking down the monotony:

1. Take each day as it comes. Start each day by making a list of attainable goals to be completed before the end of that day; don’t think any further than that. By only concerning yourself with what needs to be done in the present, even the most gargantuan tasks can seem a lot more manageable.

2. Treat yourself. Reaching particular milestones in your project deserves rewarding. Allowing yourself some kind of treat – be it food, drink, or an entire day off (see below) – can be just what your body and mind need before hitting the work again.

3. Take time off. Seriously, taking 24 hours away from your project can work like a miracle cream for morale. Do whatever helps you to de-stress in that time, whether it’s taking a bike ride or killing zombies with peashooters, and see your productivity return stronger than ever on your return to work.

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Can Being a Team Player Actually Make You Dumber?

Office Party
Photo courtesy of Jason Pratt

You might think this is the setup for an elaborate Jersey Shore joke, but according to recent research from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, the social dynamics of small group settings, such as office meetings or get-togethers with friends, can actually affect cognitive function negatively, making you behave less intelligently than you would if you were on your own and not receiving social feedback.

While it may be tempting to use this as an excuse for your behavior at the Christmas party last year, a more relevant issue is how your performance at work or on personal projects could be affected by the subtle dynamics of the group you’re working with. According to the study, group members exhibit decreased cognitive function when they feel concerned about their social status and ranking in the group. The stress of worrying about how you are being perceived can temporarily interfere with your ability to solve problems and make decisions. That interference goes away when you stop receiving social feedback cues that you interpret as being indicative of your standing in the group.

Employers often seek out people who are eager to work as part of team, but could that tactic be backfiring on them? Do you feel that group situations bring out the best in you, or do think you do your best work on your own? Do you think there is a way to create more of an even playing field in group settings so that people are less likely to be made aware of differences in social standing?

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How Do You Tell a Renaissance Man from a Bum These Days?

Feeling locked into a career choice?
Photo courtesy of Jhayne Holmes

I’m not a great fan of chit-chat at the best of times, but one of the questions I really hate answering is “so, what do you do?” Most people think it’s a simple question, but for me the answer is pretty complicated. I do a range of things, and the range varies from year to year, or sometimes even month to month. A lot of people find this difficult to understand, and often assume that “I dabble in various pursuits” is a euphemism either for mafia involvement or chronic unemployment.

When I came up through the education system, a jack-of-all-trades was definitely seen as a master of none.  The only accepted “right” way to go about choosing a career was to pick something and stick with it, to go as far as you could in one field while ignoring everything else.  If you had several interests you wanted to pursue and weren’t willing to give up any of them, you weren’t seen as ambitious – you were seen as flaky, wishy-washy, and unable to commit. The question of “what do you do?” was supposed to have a one-word answer, end of story.

Fast-forward to the present day: this attitude is slowly changing. It’s becoming more common for people to cast nets in several directions, and then use the knowledge they gain through experience to move on and explore other avenues of interest. Even ten years ago, confusion was pretty much the universal response when I said, “I’m working on several things right now.” These days, I’m encountering more and more people nodding and saying, “yeah, me too.”

What’s more, companies are starting to perceive the Renaissance employee as being flexible and diverse rather than wishy-washy, and there’s much less stigma surrounding a desire to do many things. That desire, after all, does not necessarily indicate a tendency toward laziness; many energetic and accomplished people find it difficult to settle on one particular area of work.

Does that mean that by doing lots of things, you’ll never be a real expert in anything? Not necessarily. If we use Dr. K. Anders Ericsson’s “10,000-hour rule” as a general guideline, given a 40-hour week, it takes approximately five years of study and applied effort to become an expert in any particular field. Obviously this measurement can vary depending on your natural proclivities, but even if we use a conservative estimate of being able to master three professions in a twenty-year period, that’s still two more than most people take on in a lifetime.

If you’re less concerned with being at the absolute top of your field in everything you do, and more concerned with simply enjoying a wide range of experiences, you can do even more. You don’t have to be the number one world leader at something to make decent money or be respected for your ability level.

If you only have one passion in life, great, go for it.  If you have several, that’s also great – there’s no reason you can’t go for all of them, and it may even help you out in the job market when a potential employer sees that you are bringing more than one set of skills to the table.

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