We all know the workers who are the first to arrive and last to leave. They don’t take time off. You wonder if their kids even recognize them anymore. Contrast that person with an employee who leaves early for parent-teacher conferences and usually walks out the door in time to have dinner with his family.
Which is the preferable employee? That question is being bantered about more than ever, as young workers in particular strive for a life that balances work, home and community.
Kate Rogers wrote “Might Be Time to Tell Your Employees to Get a Life” on foxbusiness.com. She notes that more top-level execs are embracing a flexible approach to when, where and how work is done. They hold themselves and others accountable for the quantity and quality of performance – because that produces business results.
Rewarding “face time” at the office encourages people to look busy and be present, even when they’re not giving it their all. For some, being busy becomes a way of life and a means of avoiding other brutal realities. Tim Kreider notes in “The ‘Busy’ Trap at NYTimes.com:
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
Think about how you use your time and help your team create real success. Is it all about being busy, or are you zeroing in on the business results that matter?
You may be wondering why a leadership blog would focus so often on stress relief. We focus on stress because we live in a chaotic, fast-paced world that naturally creates stress. No one can be a great performer with a stomach in knots, a racing heart and little sleep. Even the most knowledgeable and well-intentioned person will falter under extreme stress.
You owe it to yourself and your people to take action.
Many companies recognize the impact of stress and are teaching techniques to manage it. A recent Wall Street Journal post profiles Dow Chemical and Union Pacific as two examples of organizations that are helping their people chill out:
“…meditation techniques like breathing and bringing thoughts back when they wander, says Diana Kamila, a senior teacher at the university’s Center for Mindfulness. Participants also learn stretching, yoga and “body scans”—noticing their responses to stress, softening their muscles through breathing and tuning in to the feelings and sensations of the moment.
Employees learn to practice periodic “check-ins” while working, walking, driving or eating. And they are encouraged to blend the techniques into their daily routines, at their desks, in meetings or during talks with colleagues.”
Adjust work hours, if possible, to suit your personal body clock. Not a morning person? Try to adjust your hours so you can come in later and work when your brain is most ready.
Plan for delays when traveling. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, take a long walk around the airport or work out at the nearest gym.
Keep perspective by asking, “Will I care about this in ten years?”
How can you help your organization manage the stress that is part of the job? A disciplined focus on wellness, including managing stress productively, ensures that your people get a handle on stress and bring their best selves to the job at hand. Make it clear that you value people who take care of themselves on their off hours as well. “We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie (David Mamet).”
My mantra for 2012 is “me first.” Self-care is something I struggle with, since I usually define myself as the person who takes care of others. In fact, somewhere deep down, I believe that doing something for myself is selfish.
As difficult as this may be, you do need to prioritize yourself. Otherwise, you will not be as effective in any of your roles in life. If you need some excuses to put you first, here are a few:
Your brain will work better. An article in the New York Times promotes physical exercise over “brain exercises” like computer games or sudoku to boost our brains as we age. In humans, exercise improves what scientists call “executive function,” the set of abilities that allows you to select behavior that’s appropriate to the situation, inhibit inappropriate behavior and focus on the job at hand in spite of distractions. Take a break for a noon workout or come in later, so you can hit the gym. You don’t need a better reason than enhancing that all-important executive function!
You will do more in less time. Corporate fitness programs have been shown to improve productivity. Ironically, the very executives who institute these programs are often the least healthy of the bunch. The excuse? They’re too busy. Your productivity as a leader matters as much as that of your employees. Don’t shirk your responsibility to bring your best self to work each day.
Exercise, eat right and get enough sleep. It sounds simple, yet is profoundly hard for many of us….myself included.
I’m following the Mayo Clinic’s guidelines for fitness, which means at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity — a week, plus strength training at least twice a week. I’m tracking my food intake, and I’m pausing at the end of each and every day to be thankful. What really makes a difference for me is public accountability. I am connected with a group of dear friends (and friends of friends) on Facebook who are mutually committed to support and kick each other in the behind as needed.
Take the plunge and put you first. Self-care isn’t selfish. It is a wonderful gift to yourself and others.
(Today’s post is courtesy of Humanergy’s very own Lynn Townsend, a veteran of the rat race who has lived to tell the tale!)
Recently a former colleague of mine, HK, retired. HK had spent more than two decades as an engineer for a Fortune 500 food company. One of my favorite memories of HK came from a long week on the road. HK and I, along with other team members, were working long days and nights to start production of a new product. One evening, after the rest of the team had finished for the day, HK and I left the plant for dinner. We were tired. Dragging. Exhausted.
On the return trip to the plant, we saw a dead raccoon at the side of the road. It looked like most road kill after a few days in the sun – like a balloon with four paws. As we passed the animal with the unfortunate fate, HK said: “That’s just how I feel,” stretching out his arms to mimic the bloated animal. I laughed. I don’t think I’ll ever get that image of HK out of my head.
Business road warriors, those who travel regularly for work, usually have great stories. Some, like the road kill, are funny. Others not so much. Like the time I returned to my hotel room to find the cleaning lady using my fingernail clippers. Not joking! Or when it took me 14 hours to make a 2-hour flight. Oh, and that subzero night when the hotel heat was out and the mattress factory two blocks down caught fire at 2 a.m. Ahh, business travel.
Fortunately, I did learn a few survival tips while my colleagues and I racked up the frequent flyer miles:
Play a little. Traveling with a team and working side by side for 14 to 20 hours, day after day, can max the most easy-going person. Take time to do something fun with your team. Order pizza. Sing karaoke. Cook dinner together. Shoot hoops.
Laugh! A shared team humor, like fun nicknames and inside jokes, is great glue to bond your team. Remember: Humor should be in good taste and acceptable to all teammates.
Put your own oxygen mask on first. Don’t forget to take a few minutes or an hour or two each day to revive yourself. Exercise. Read. Relax. A little down time helps restart your engine and gives both you and your colleagues a break from each other.
Stick together. When the speed bumps pop up in the road, stick with your team. Challenges will come. See past each other’s flaws and fatigue. Give a little grace, kindness and forgiveness.
Frequent business travel isn’t for the faint of heart (and apparently doesn’t bode well for raccoons). Nevertheless, you can survive admirably on the road when you know: Travel is glamorous only in retrospect (travel writer, Paul Theroux.).
Most of us go through our days wondering how we’re going to do it all. Meetings and deadlines collide with family and personal needs. Before you know it, we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
There is no time like the present to give yourself the gift of a little sanity. Take on these three quick tasks to take control and increase tranquility.
Cancel a meeting. Look at your calendar and figure out one meeting this month that does not need to happen (or you don’t need to attend). Block this time for you to accomplish something else that is important to you.
Declutter and replace. Find one spot on your desk that you can clean off. Replace that pile of folders with a small plant, photo or other object that you love. That visual space will be your ongoing cue to relax and refocus.
Give something away. We all have too much stuff. Donate an item to charity, and don’t replace it. If the spirit moves you, give something away each month. Think of it as one less thing to find a space for or organize in some way.
Keep what is meaningful, useful or beautiful. Everything else is a distraction. Eliminate the clutter, so that your life is focused on making a difference in the world.
A dear friend used to talk about the “elasticity” of time. That was his way of describing his cultural perspective on time, which was in stark contrast to mine. I think of time as finite and concrete. (“You’re either on time or you’re not.”) In his culture, time is more flexible and flowing. (“Late? No, it’s only 30 minutes after the start time.”)
One thing about time that is universal: People only have so much of it. It seems that many people operate as if time truly were endlessly elastic – piling more and more on their (and others’) plates. It is as if there were a contest to see who can work the most hours or take on the most responsibilities. Overcommitment is too often worn as a badge of honor.
This overcommitment can have disastrous results.
The Hard Side of Change Management, an article published by Harvard Business Review, outlines four critical factors that can make the difference between failure and success in a change process. One factor is effort – how the impact on people’s schedules is managed. It notes that adding more than 10% to people’s workload may doom your project. Multiply this effect by the sheer volume of projects underway in many organizations, and you have a recipe for failure.
I like to think that if I were a better manager of my time, I could do everything. However, even with the most ruthless time management, there is a limit to what one human being can do. Capacity is not unlimited, even if I were willing to sacrifice my family, friends and health.
Maybe the answer is to be thoughtful and intentional about what you commit to and how you use your time. Consider the fact that there are a wide range of possibilities – from saying “OK” to everything to living a relatively commitment-free existence.
Believe it or not, there are professionals who strive to operate without a calendar, like Teresa Basich, a guest blogger on the Life Without Pants: Perspective on Life Less Restricted blog. (In spite of the ultra-provocative title, this blog actually contains a lot of thoughtful content.)
Take your two seconds (and preferably more) now to review your commitments. Can some be given away or discarded altogether? How will you decide what new challenges to take on? In other words, do your daily choices about time align with your life’s priorities?
Plan if you can. Give some notice to your spouse and kids, if at all possible. Depending on the ages and personalities of the children, they may need more or less time to prepare emotionally. Don’t spring the news on them by bringing out the suitcases.
Create a connection plan. Let the folks back home know when and how you’ll stay connected. Use Skype, phone or email to stay in touch. It is better to have fewer, less distracted contacts, so plan a chunk of time when you’re not engaged elsewhere. Avoid noisy restaurants and brief check-ins during meeting breaks. No one will enjoy those interactions, and you may actually increase the frustration and anxiety on everyone’s part.
Rethink the gifts. How many times have you run yourself ragged to purchase a gift, only to find the trinket discarded the next day? Consider nixing travel gifts in favor of a family outing when you return. If you must bring something home, make it meaningful and simple. You might even consider doing this gift selection in advance – ordering that book your spouse wants to read or the latest Nintendo game for the kids. Above all, don’t do the last-minute search for gifts in the airport shop. Those are the ones you find stuffed under the sofa shortly thereafter.
Plan for a civilized re-entry. If you can’t be fully present when you walk through the door, take a break. Jump into the shower or take a short nap before re-engaging with the family. You’ll be more pleasant, engaged and able to catch up on what you missed on the home front.
Outsource distractions. Rather than jumping right into mowing your two acres of lawn, hire someone to take care of your household chores. This will free you up to spend time with family and get some much-needed rest.
Ditch the )*^%(_#$ Blackberry. They’ve missed you and can’t wait to talk, snuggle and other stuff we can’t mention. Turn off your Blackberry (or equivalent) and have a meaningful conversation with your loved one. By no means should you ever bring it into the bedroom.
Have some fun. There’s nothing like playing together for reuniting a family unit. Get outside if you can and do something active together. Like cricket! The picture above is of our Humanergy family members after a fun-filled time learning to play the game.
Appreciate the same-old-sameness of it all. Unwind in your favorite chair, sit on the deck or whatever it takes to soak up the familiarity of home. Enjoy the simplicity of home and forget the travel upheaval and hassle – not to mention the language barriers. “Boy, those French. They have a different word for everything” (Steve Martin).
Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!
“If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.” Author unknown
Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit to you that I’m working on this blog at the very last minute, and I’m woefully behind on a number of projects that really need to happen. So one of my resolutions is to get off my butt and address the pressing issues I have been ignoring.
Are you starting 2011 with a renewed commitment to stop procrastinating? Millions of people are in your (our) shoes, but how many of them will succeed in tackling those critical things that never seem to get done? Sadly, not many. How can you banish procrastination once and for all?
Be brutally realistic. Subconsciously, you have already decided that some of the items on your list are never going to happen. Maybe they’re not that important to you, and you’ve taken them on simply to please someone else. You may be incapable of doing a task, but reluctant to accept that fact. It could be that it’s really not essential. Whatever the reason, erase the work you realistically won’t do from your list. Then you can direct your energies to the things you must do.
Conquer time. Many people complain that the reason they don’t get important work done is that they don’t control their schedule. That simply isn’t true (unless you are in prison, perhaps). The real truth is that although you may not have a lot of time, you have some. What you do with that time is your choice. Read our blog called Ruthless time management for the frantically busy.
Do it first. Don’t allow yourself to start the day without addressing the most vital of your put-off-tasks. Otherwise, you’ll get distracted from what is truly most important. See our blog post called Act strategically. Eat the frog first.
Chunk it up. If just thinking about the enormity of the job makes you queasy, start by breaking it up into manageable bits. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in the vastness of the task; as Dorie in the movie, Finding Nemo, said, “Just keep swimming…just keep swimming.”
Get help. If you think you have to do it all yourself, think again…and read our blog post called Help! I need somebody. Recruit someone to tangibly help, be a sounding board or hold you accountable.
Make a public commitment. Nobody wants to be caught not doing something they’d committed to do. Use your fear of embarrassment by making your resolution specific, deadline-driven and public. Explicitly tell people how they can help keep you on track.
Build in consequences. Finally finished that basement renovation? Schedule a massage. (You might need it.) Consequences can be positive or negative, but they should be incentive enough for you to do this hard work.
Give up on perfection. Remember The Cult of Done Manifesto, part of which states, “Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.”Perfection is unattainable and unnecessary. Your best has to be good enough. Otherwise, delegate it to someone else who could do a better job.
You show what you value not by what you talk about, or lay awake pondering, but by what you do. So get off the computer and spend a few minutes zeroing in what you’ve been trying to avoid. You may find that it’s easier than you think. Olin Miller said, “If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.” Like writing blogs, for instance.
Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!
It’s a new year, and if you are like most people, you’ve come up with some resolutions. I will lose 20 pounds, read all of the classics and be a perfect leader. It’s no wonder that most resolutions sputter by the first of February. We set completely unrealistic goals, with no view to potential obstacles. It may be enthusiasm that sets the stage, but it’s also the fact that we can be pretty self-critical, expecting that we should be able to achieve the unachievable.
Perfectionism, in the extreme, can predict mental illness, according to an APA Monitor article. For others, while perfection isn’t taken to the extreme, it can still lead to undue stress and anxiety. Instead of adopting resolutions that are doomed to fail, try some of these:
Do your worst. This British saying will help you to stay balanced. Essentially, it means that even if you make a mistake or don’t do your best, it isn’t the end of the world. If you only exercise twice this week, it will not derail your healthy lifestyle, unless you let it. It debunks our internal message, which is, Hey, I ate three cookies. I’ve blown it. I might as well eat the whole bag.
Take some time. Working every minute of the day is actually bad for productivity. Go for a walk, grab a cup of coffee or even take a power nap, and you’ll get more done in less time. If that isn’t enough incentive, research has shown that you’ll look and feel better too. People who take breaks have healthier skin, fewer problems with weight gain and sunnier outlooks.
Giving up on perfection, taking breaks and sleeping more may seem counter-intuitive. Aren’t we supposed to be driving hard and seeking excellence 24/7? Nope. What leaders are supposed to be doing is what works. Why not start now? Step away from your desk and take a walk – a boost to your quality of life and your performance.
Have a question about this topic or want some input from Humanergy? Contact us!
Ever work in the hot summer sun mowing the neighbors’ lawns? Do cold call sales for three bucks an hour? Sweat through the night making widgets in a factory?
As a young person, your jobs may not have been glamorous, but you learned lessons that have lasted a lifetime.
At Humanergy, our team members have worked an assortment of menial jobs with all the benefits, like an allergic reaction to corn pollen, sun poisoning and mind-numbness caused by separating bran flakes from raisins hour after hour.
Here are three lessons we’ve maximized from our days making minimum wage:
Honesty is always the best policy. During a summer job as a youth program worker making $4 an hour, the boss – we’ll call her Mandy – decided our summer team needed a paid day off. Instead of telling her boss – we’ll call her Joyce – that we were going on a road trip to let off some steam, she lied. Mandy told Joyce that we had supplies to buy and errands to run.
Our day of “errands” included a leisurely breakfast at a homegrown cafe, then a visit with Mandy’s Dad. The next stop was the county fair for coney dogs and funnel cakes. The day ended with a scenic drive home and a pit stop for banana splits.
Sure enough, Mandy’s scam was discovered, and the summer employees had a choice to make. Either lie and back up Mandy’s story—I’ve got my boss’ back and she’s got mine, right?—or tell the truth.
For Mandy, the road trip facade was one lie in a long line of deception and poor choices. My co-workers and I didn’t get paid that day. And Mandy got fired a few weeks later. Lesson learned? Choose the truth and your own integrity over keeping the boss’ secret. Choose the truth over anything, really.
Smiles work wonders, even on the phone. One temporary job as a receptionist provided countless opportunities to say, “Hello! ABC Trucking. How may I help you?”
Between phone calls, the job required typing invoices, greeting visitors and keeping the coffee pot full. Drivers would call from all over the country with questions about their customers and their schedules and to let the home office know when they were headed home.
After hundreds of calls, it was challenging to keep up the cheerful tone at the end of the day. Remembering that every job is important, I smiled once again and picked up the phone. Mike, one of the long-haul drivers, said: “It’s so great to hear you on the other end of the line! I’m in North Dakota, such a long way from home. Thanks for sending me a smile through the phone.”
When we interact with others, we have a choice. We can either just pass along information or convey warmth and humanity – a priceless gift that we can share in person or even over the telephone.
Humor makes the daily grind liveable. The 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift meant pounding the alarm clock at 3:30 a.m. each morning followed by a big dose of Coast deodorant soap—the eye opener. Another day of making samples, cleaning floors and scrubbing equipment.
Sprinkled throughout this messy job was humor. The dirty dozen shared stories, fun nicknames and inside jokes. One example of a nickname was The Weather Man. This co-worker always predicted the weather for the day. And he was always wrong. We worked hard, and humor helped us get through the tough projects, demanding bosses and overtime hours.
The Humanergy team members have changed career paths since those first jobs. And we’ve expanded our understanding of the power of honesty, warmth and good humor. In fact, we try to share those qualities with each other and with our clients as well. Try to stay in touch with your “minimal wage self,” and you’ll probably live by another valuable lesson, which is to keep perspective on what matters most. As Bertrand Russell said, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!