There I was, on the couch with a heating pad over my shoulder again, zoning out in front of the TV with a blistering headache. If you came to my house and found me in this position – sinking into the couch, glass of red wine close at hand, pajamas, heating pad, and a ghostlike look in my eyes – it would be because I had pushed myself over the edge at work again. When I end up being that lady in the evenings, I’m reminded that this whole “learning to work in a healthier way” thing is a process.
Many us are slow to change, and layers and layers of old habits make it feel impossible at times.
That’s why small, daily steps to keep yourself headed in the right direction are so important.
I’d venture to guess that most of you reading this would like to change the way that you work. You’d probably like to feel more energized throughout your day, more balanced, and more attuned to what’s going on around you.
Changing the way we work from “Herculean effort that feels horrible” to “focused, integrated approach that is sustainable” is possible – totally possible. It’s also a process, and those of us in the industrialized West tend to expect big, instant results without having to put in much effort. “One McLifeChange with fries, please.”
Instead of waiting for a silver bullet that’s going to turn your worklife into the creative, prosperous, rejuvenating experience you’d like it to be, you can start by changing the way you approach familiar problems today.
What are some common issues that come up in your workday, and how can you approach them with a fresh set of eyes?
What one small thing can you do to feel more integrated and balanced at work today?
I’ve got some ideas to get you started in case they’re helpful:
Problem: Total email addiction and inability to focus for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Small tweak today: You could close your email (I know, I know – this would have felt impossible to me a few years ago, too) for 30 minutes while you focus deeply on something you’re working on. Bonus: according to research cited by Jennifer Ackerman, you will literally feel like you’re gaining time by doing this. As she puts it, “when you’re engaged in one thing, time expands. When you’re dual-tasking, it contracts…” Magic, people.
Problem: You spend almost your entire day in meetings and have no time to actually work on anything unless you push it to this evening or later this weekend. Small tweak today: Find out how much one of your meetings is costing the company using Harvard Business Review’s Meeting Cost Calculator and use that information to justify cleaning up your schedule. Most meetings are useless anyway.
Problem: You answer customer calls all day and hate it. Small tweak: Go off-script. Be more human and ditch the pressure to sound like an automaton. Your customers will appreciate it, and you’ll expend less energy by simply letting yourself be authentic. If you can be genuine and have more energy to serve your customers well, I bet your manager will be less adamant that you stick to the script.
Problem: You make decisions all day and are so overwhelmed that you’re worried you aren’t making the right decisions. Small tweaks today: First, you could just admit that you have no idea and ask for the help you need. Second, you could try to limit your decision-making time to your “peak” hours (usually 2.5 – 4 hours after waking) when your brain is better able to focus on analysis and data without distraction. Third, you could remind yourself that there’s very rarely one right answer to any problem and trust your intuition to guide you.
Problem: You hardly ever have any fun at work. Small tweak today: You can [almost] always have fun, so this one’s pretty easy if you’re willing to play along. Maybe instead of writing out a note to Sally to let her know that Jim called for her, you draw a photo and see if she can guess what it means. Maybe you make up a new dance move in the bathroom stall before your next meeting. Maybe you just start smiling more and work backward. I don’t know! Just start shaking things up in whatever way you can.
Our beliefs about work – that it’s a daily grind, not a dance, or that it’s supposed to be hard all the time – are deeply ingrained in our brains, and changing them won’t happen overnight.
But today you can start small and simply approach an old problem in one new way.
When new neurons start to fire as you encounter old problems, your brain’s chemistry will begin to change and expand to new ways of seeing, being, and doing. You are learning to work in a more integrated, healthier way, and that takes time and practice.
As long as we commit to work life integration on a small daily basis, we’ll get the results we’re looking for: no more comatose Friday nights or emotional breakdowns on Sunday afternoons, just sustainable, harmonious worklives with healthy ebb and flow.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can integrate work and life, I invite you to sign up for an online class I’m offering this month! You can learn more and enroll by clicking this link.