Monthly Archives: August 2016

What Burning Out Taught Me About Prioritizing My Work

By Carson Tate, Founder of Working Simply and Friend of Simple Intentions

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It was December 26. The day after Christmas; 10 days after my daughter’s first birthday. I was sitting on the floor coiling Christmas lights when I began to try to stand up. Almost immediately, I sunk back down to the floor.

I was tired: physically tired; emotionally tired. Even my soul felt tired.

How did I get here?

Six weeks after the birth of my daughter, I chose to jump back into the whirlwind of busyness—airplanes, travel and meetings—striving to build my consulting business. I spent the entire first year of her life haunted by my ego as I frantically tried to grow my business, serve my clients all over the world, and prove to myself that I was needed and valuable.

This was all part of something bigger for me personally. I wanted to live up to my image of the successful woman—smart, driven, professionally accomplished; a Mary Poppins mom; a loving wife; a leader in the community. That superwoman was my gold standard, and I had spent years, and especially the last year, trying to live up to it.

But now, on December 26, I’d awakened only to realize that as much as I was chasing the dream of the superwoman, I wasn’t living my life.

And the words of Socrates—”beware the bareness of a busy life”—were suddenly eerily real. It was time for me to face my fears and make bold choices about my life and the way that I worked.

I started to make these bold choices for my life with three key strategies that not only anchored me as I picked myself up that December 26, but also continue to support me today as I work to overcome my fears and build a life where I live fully.

FOCUS ON IMPACT NOT OUTPUT

For many years, I prized my ability to produce significant amounts of work—my output. It became something I was known for, however, it came at a tremendous personal cost. There is work and then there is the real work, work that has an impact on the bottom line, your clients, and your organization. Where are you focusing on output instead of impact? What would shift for you personally and professionally if you appreciated impact more than output?

HONOR THE WAY YOU WORK

I cannot sit still. I prefer to stand when writing. My brain shuts down after 9:00 pm. I do not pull all-nighters well. I am grumpy and unfocused if I do not exercise. And, if I am hungry, there is nothing that can keep me focused. It took me a long time to admit these things to myself. Then it took even longer for me to actually honor that as the way that I worked.

Honor the way you work. When do you do your best work—in the morning, afternoon, or late at night? Under what conditions do you produce your best work—when you exercise, have adequate sleep, or are listening to great music? Resist giving into work cultures that undermine your productivity. Let the quality of your work and the impact you are making speak for themselves. If you do, no one will question how you work.

STOP GETTING DERAILED BY WHAT YOU “SHOULD” DO

It is difficult for me to say no because I get seduced and derailed by something I call the “shoulds.” The shoulds are those voices in your head—you know the ones—saying “You should be doing this,” “You should like that,” “You should spend time on this,” “You should stop doing that,” and so on and so forth—endlessly. The problem with the shoulds is they lead you to over-commit—and when you over-commit, the quality and impact of your work suffers. To combat the shoulds I use the “POWER No.”

It’s based on the acrostic POWER—Priorities, Opportunities, Who, Expectations, and Real. Here’s how it works:

Priorities: When that voice in your head tells you that should complete this task, lead another project, attend another meeting, or make cupcakes from scratch, evaluate the priority of that message. How does this should align to your priorities, the organization’s strategic priorities, and/or your families’ priorities?

Opportunities: Explore the opportunities. What opportunities does this should create for you? Is there something that does actually need additional attention in your life? This should could be shining a light on something that you need to address.

Who: Who or what triggered this should? Was it an old script from childhood? Was it an ad in a magazine? Was it your colleague?

Expectations: Whose expectations are these really? Your manager? Your mother? Your spouse? Your child? Society’s?

Real: Get real. What is this should really about? Are there real priorities that are driving this should? Or are you taking on societal expectations that are not in alignment with your priorities?

Say no to the many things that threaten to distract you and derail you, so you can focus your energies on the handful of things that will lead you to your success. The POWER puts you back in the driver’s seat, empowering you to respond rather than merely react. Stop shoulding all over yourself and take back control.

Facing my fears was hard. I am not sure I would have done it if I had not been sitting on my family room floor that December 26. My advice to you is this—don’t wait until you reach your breaking point or there is a catastrophic event to start making bold choices about your life and the way you work. This is your work. This is your time.

 

[This content was originally published via FastCompany.com on June 25, 2015.]

Carson Tate is a productivity consultant and the founder of Working Simply, Inc. She is the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style (Penguin Random House, January 2015). She serves as a coach, trainer and consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies including AbbVie, Deloitte, Wells Fargo and United Technologies.

 

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Playing in Lava

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Program & Marketing Manager

On the most foundational level, to be in play means to be in a state of presence, spontaneity, and above all to allow yourself to let go. The highest form of play taps into our inner child and allows us to experience a pure lightness and joy that temporarily washes away all the heaviness that can come with adulthood. We abandon our worries, doubts, mortgage, and perhaps just for a moment truly experience play.

A few weeks ago I was able to attend my very first Seattle Wisdom where we gathered to explore the topic of play both in and out of the workplace. When our host Sameer placed a large box of toys and coloring tools in our midst, the room grinned at each other shiftily, everyone fully aware that as adults most of us would feel more comfortable talking about play than actually playing. One participant even bravely announced she was feeling a bit anxious about “playing wrong” – a worry that I think was on more than one mind.

It seems our confidence around play (and often a slew of other things) that we had when we commanded the sandbox inevitably starts to fade, or rather, is pounded out of us by a demanding and often anti-play society. As a result, I realized that I am a culprit of halfway play. Similar to halfway conversations, halfway play is a suppressed expression that usually doesn’t accomplish the desired outcome (which in this case would be having fun). Perhaps your body is playing but your mind is preoccupied with tomorrow’s meetings or your upcoming move. When we are merely going through the motions of play, it is because we are unable to be fully present. We may be uncomfortable, anxious, or uncertain about something which prevents us from truly surrendering to play.

Funnily enough, we were experts at playing through those very situations as kids. We thrived in the unfamiliar as children and gravitated towards the thrill of the undiscovered, the delight of fear. Games like Hot Lava Monster, Marco Polo, even Hide & Seek all encouraged us to find exhilaration in the unknown. Everyone faces difficult circumstances as well as unpleasant or just boring situations. What if we chose to exercise a playful spirit during these times and embraced uncertainty just like we did as a child? Next time you find yourself preparing for an audit at work, assembling your new couch, or in an awkward social situation, take pause and think of Hot Lava Monster. We have the choice and the capability to smile and challenge ourselves to see some small shred of humor, exhilaration, or beauty that is likely lingering near the moment.

The act of play is spontaneous by nature, making it something you can’t really plan out. Though you can’t plan play, you can plan playtime! Set aside an hour a week, 5 minutes a day, or whatever you are able to achieve – just make sure that play is on your schedule.

Play in fear, play in fun, just play on!

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The Linchpin To Balance: Boundaries

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post]

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Setting and communicating clear boundaries is the fulcrum to creating sustainable balance in whatever way you define balance for yourself (and for your team if you are a manager). Odds are strong that when you are feeling out of balance, it has to do with values. Sometimes it’s because your values may feel threatened, or you have gotten away from them, and a lot of the time it is has to do with the boundaries you set (or don’t set) to protect and honor your values.

This is just as much true at work as it is outside of work. On a simple level, boundaries teach other people what your values are and how to treat you. Communicating your boundaries helps those in your life to be clear around how to treat you, what your limits are and how far you are willing to go (or not go) in certain situations and circumstances. At work, boundaries keep you clear on your business purpose, priorities, and time management. Regardless of whether or not they are talked about at work -boundaries exist in the workplace.

Boundaries are tricky because you cannot see, smell, taste, or touch a boundary, but you know when it has been crossed, and you know when you are in a relationship with someone at work who is crossing the line. A good indication someone has crossed the line with you is that you might find yourself pretending that you didn’t actually see what you saw or hear what you heard in order to avoid conflict or confrontation. For example, “I can’t believe he sent that as a text message!” or “I can’t believe he said that to the room of customers.” Or, “That’s not part of my job!”

Before you can set and maintain workplace boundaries it’s important to figure out what you need. For most people, not much conscious attention is paid to how, why and what boundaries we set at and about our work. Boundaries as they apply to work can be divided into team boundaries and individual boundaries.

At the team level the best example of a boundary is a job description. (We all know what happens when one is not clear — it causes confusion, frustration and the team is not very productive.) Other common boundaries include your actual work and workflow. Question to help define team boundaries include clarity around reporting structure and who generates assignments, which isn’t always the same in many offices. Also worth considering is who sets your work priorities? (Answer: it’s a trick question as often times many people play a role.)

At the individual level the best example of a boundary is when you arrive and leave “work,” which in today’s world doesn’t always mean a physical space. Other commons boundaries include accepting meetings over lunch or breakfast, blocking time out for yourself to do work, attending (or not attending) every meeting you are invited to, how often you work from home and if you take vacation (and work from vacation).

When setting and maintaining boundaries, it is helpful to become aware of the choices you make around your needs and see where your actions support what you need. Answer the questions for yourself. Share the questions with your team and your family. Be consistent about the boundaries you set and have the courage to have the conversation.

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Compassion Works

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Mindful Magazine]

Compassion_0810Have you ever seen compassion listed as a required skill in a job description? Likely not, because most workplaces don’t consider compassion a skill—let alone a desired attribute of employees. What does it mean to be compassionate at work? It can be as simple as assuming others have good intentions even when a situation (for whatever reason) doesn’t go as planned, rather than defaulting to blame or confrontation. Despite the many tensions and errors that often arise at work, most people don’t wake up actively planning to act like a jerk or make others uncomfortable.

“For too many people, their workplace is an interruption from their time off, a form of paid suffering,” says Jon Ramer, founder of Compassion Games, a global organization dedicated to creating compassionate thinking and compassionate action in everyday life. “If more workplaces built their culture on a foundation of compassion, people would be more satisfied and dignified at work. They would see a connection between their deepest human values and the way they’re treating others—and are being treated—at work.”

Getting business leaders to care about compassion can be difficult because, as Ramer explains, “measuring the impact of compassion and how it translates to the bottom line is a new concept, making it hard to justify resources to build this skill at work.” But without it, employees burn out, managers become fatigued, and customers can feel it in the quality of experience.

What are some benefits of creating caring workplaces? “When businesses commit to developing compassion, they benefit by demonstrating a genuine concern about the culture in which their business operates. This impacts the quality of customer service as well as how employees interact with each other and with vendors,” Ramer says. “Compassion can build camaraderie among staff and directly impact the loyalty and retention of employees as well as customers.”

For many, compassion isn’t easy, especially at work. That’s because, as modern humans, we have created a work culture that generally doesn’t support failure and humility. At work, we seek recognition in the form of “getting credit.” When, for whatever reason, we aren’t given credit, it has become a habit to blame others rather than practice self-compassion (through self-reflection, self-accountability, and acceptance of our own imperfections). Being compassionate means being vulnerable, which means not being “perfect.” In a world often fixated on perfection and recognition, vulnerability can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. But compassion is a worthwhile risk to take, and it’s started gaining workplace acceptance, supported by the works of Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, and Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication.

Compassion in the workplace is not unlike compassion in any other place. It starts with a simple choice. A choice to be open to feel what others are feeling, or at the very least acknowledge that people don’t show up with the intention to be mean, difficult, or rude. It’s possible your colleagues are facing struggles: single parenting, health issues, divorce, deaths, disabilities, etc. We really don’t know another’s experience before we come together in our common workplace. So next time you’re at work and things don’t go your way, take a deep breath and assume your colleagues have positive intentions.

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What If Uncertainty Is Really Possibility?

By Nicole Christie, Principal + Creative Director of NICO, Inc. and Friend of Simple Intentions

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No matter what we want to believe, nothing is ever certain, nailed down, or set in stone. Nearly half the population is divorced. Job security is non-existent (if it was ever a thing anyway). And let’s not even get into technology, our economy, or the climate.

Ah, the times—they’re always a-changin’.

Yet we all want stability, certainty, answers. We want a crystal ball to tell us when our misery will stop, when the good times will start, when we’ll get what we’re after. But even in those moments when something finally arrives, there’s still uncertainty, worry, and fear. When will the other shoe drop? What now? What’s next?

Oh, friends. We’re never satisfied.

So we have no choice but to snuggle up with uncertainty and use it to our advantage. Instead of seeing it as a dust cloud, we can see it as possibility. As long as something has yet to happen, anything can happen. In the meantime, we can keep our eyes open and entertain other options. Instead of staring at a closed door, we’re free to roam the hallways, wandering into other rooms and knocking on different doors. The roaming is often far more enlightening—and definitely more fun. (“Hey, there’s wine and cheese hour down the hall!”)

That’s what we stumble on during times of uncertainty—if we let ourselves stumble. We avail ourselves to new information, new experiences, potentially a whole new life. One we wouldn’t have known was a possibility had we not aimlessly wandered and roamed. So let’s walk past the closed door, the one we believe has certainty behind it. We can always come back later. In the meantime, let’s keep our minds open. And help ourselves to the wine and cheese.

 

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