One little word

I bet your job contains tasks you don’t enjoy. Some of them, you may even dislike. You still need to do them, though; there’s no choice about that. But you do have a choice about how you tackle them.

You can approach them with an ‘I have to’ attitude or you can approach them with an ‘I want to’ attitude. One little word makes a huge difference.

The first choice, ‘I have to’, means you’ll do those tasks half-heartedly, resenting every moment and getting them over with as soon as possible. The ‘I have to’ approach won’t help you do a good job or take any pleasure from doing it or completing it. That choice makes you miserable.

The other choice is to change the ‘I have to’ into a ‘I want to’. That one little word shifts your approach. It makes those dreary duties more agreeable and helps you not only do them better but take some pride in the results. In fact, that one little word can make you twice as productive.

What? You truly don’t want to clear your in tray, wade through those reports or knuckle down to study? You can always find a reason to want to. It might only be to ‘get it over and done with’ or so your heart doesn’t sink every time you see your in tray out of the corner of your eye. It might be so you can feel proud when you pass that exam.

Replacing ‘I have to’ with ‘I want to’ helps you attack those irksome chores with a positive outlook and feel some satisfaction in doing them well.

The next time you have a tedious task to do, say ‘I want to’ do this. Add a ‘so that’ or ‘because’ to so you know why you want to do it. Knowing your purpose gives that task meaning.


Banish brain fog

If you’re like most leader-managers, you sometimes feel your thoughts are swirling, you can’t think straight or concentrate, or that a problem you need to think through is just too much for you and you don’t even know where to begin. Maybe you occasionally sit staring at the computer screen or the paper or journal in front of you with ‘the lights on but no one home’, as the saying goes.

There’s a term for that: brain fog. It happens to us all, especially when we’re feeling stressed or worried, or when we have so much to do, we feel we can’t possibly get through it all. Here are four tips to clear your brain fog when it sets in.

  1. Go outside and get some fresh air. A few deep breaths and a short walk work wonders. It clears your brain and lets your subconscious get to work sorting out what you need to concentrate on.
  2. Clear the clutter in your workspace. Brain fog finds it hard to stick around when the space around you is clear.
  3. Avoid sugar, pasta and other simple carbohydrates. They drain energy away from your brain into your stomach to digest them.

  4. Get a good night’s sleep. No texting, tweeting or posting. A rested brain works far better than a tired brain.

Each of these simple tips for clearing brain for is good for you in lots of other ways, too. You can’t lose!

Feel happy, perform well

Everyone’s brain has a special circuit for enjoyment, pleasure and euphoria. Let’s call it a happiness circuit. And literally hundreds of research studies have shown that, provided nothing gets in the way, like shoddy tools and equipment or a boss you hate or a dull-as-dishwater job, when your happiness circuit is firing, you do a good job at whatever you’re doing. Happy people are also more creative and solve problems better and more easily. Happy people even live longer.

It makes sense, then, to light up your happiness circuit. Money can buy a lot of things but it doesn’t fire up your happiness circuit, at least not for long. Being smart, according to research, doesn’t make you happier either. Even being young doesn’t make you happier. (In fact, research shows that older people are generally more satisfied with their lives than younger people.)

So we can put money, brains and youth to one side. Let’s talk about Aristotle instead. He believed that happiness comes from what you do, as in, for instance, good deeds and making the most of the possibilities open to you. That means you can take control of how happy you are, or at least the 50 per cent that isn’t down to your genes. Even if your genes dispose you towards gloominess rather than gladness, you can still ramp up your brain’s happy circuit.

What you do, what you think, how you view the world around you and how you respond to life’s events can either light up your happiness circuit or damp it down. So pay attention to what you do and how you do it. Pay attention to your thoughts. Pay attention to how you respond to events. Make sure you’re lighting up your happiness circuit for better performance.

To help the people in your work team perform better, talk about what they can do to light up their own happiness circuits. Develop a team culture that includes praise, thanks and consideration. Take time to have some fun while you work together and share a laugh. When someone achieves a goal or does something to boost the team’s morale, make it a ‘high five’ moment.

The happier you and your team are, the better you can perform – together and individually.

Start now to start the New Year off right

The Festive Season looms and the closer it gets, three things happen:

  1. You get busier with holiday preparations and the ‘We must catch up before Christmas’ social whirl.
  2. You have less time to clear your desk of all those jobs you’ve been putting off.
  3. You have less time to make good on all your good intentions.

I was listening to a podcast from the British Psychological Society on how to stop procrastinating. It made a good point, along the lines of Procrastination is delay but not all delay is procrastination. Sometimes we put things off for a good reason.

As the year is coming to a close, my advice to you is to clear your desk of all those tasks you’ve put off without a good reason and to fulfil all your good intentions before the summer whirl sets in. That way, you can come back to work in the New Year refreshed and ready to roll, unencumbered by last year’s leftovers.

What is on your ‘I know I should do this, but …’ list? Think about why you haven’t done it. The podcast suggested a two-stage reason we don’t do what we know we should do:

  1. Negative feelings about the task: it’s unpleasant, I’m concerned I won’t do it well, etc.
  2. Delaying the task provides temporary relief.

That suggests procrastination is emotion-driven. The answer is twofold:

  1. Forgive yourself for the last time you procrastinated over the task.
  2. Find a positive feeling about starting or completing the task.

That will probably work, especially now that your goal is to knock off what you’ve been putting off in order to start off the New Year right.

Here’s a little ditty for you:

Procrastination is my sin,
It brings me endless sorrow.
I really must stop putting off.
In fact, I’ll start tomorrow.

Don’t. Start today, lest you end up like the Murray River settler, whose tombstone reads:

He revelled ‘neath the moon,
He slept beneath the sun,
He lived a life of going-to-do,
And died with nothing done.

Procrastination blocks your brain and reduces your creativity and work capacity. It causes guilt and anxiety and undermines your self-respect. As William James, considered the founder of modern psychology pointed out:

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.

So that your ‘I really should do this, but …’ list doesn’t grow like Pinocchio’s nose, develop a routine. Here’s a great one: At the end of the day, clear your desk. Use your fresh start the next morning to work on something you’ve been putting off. As Mark Twain said:

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.

With tasks you just plain hate, those that equate to eating a frog, you have two choices: gut them out or farm them out. Decide so that they get done, somehow.

Time is running out! Get those lingering tasks done and come back to a clear New Year!


Staying motivated yourself

It’s hard to ask your team to be motivated when you’re not. Whether it’s to do a task you dislike or start a conversation you’re not looking forward to, or you just need ‘energising’, leader-managers need to be able to motivate themselves in order to set the pace for others.

You need three things to be motivated:

  1. the desire to reach a worthwhile goal
  2. the commitment to put in the effort
  3. the self-confidence to take action.

Large or small, you need a clear goal to hold in your mind’s eye. How will you, and perhaps others too, benefit when you achieve it? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you locate your desire when you’re lacking motivation:

  • What positive outcome results from accomplishing this?
  • What good things result from doing this?
  • What happens if I don’t do it?
  • Why is it important that I do this?

When you’re searching for the motivation to tackle a task you dislike, try listing the major push factors (sticks) associated with the task. How can you turn them into pull factors (carrots)? Try changing your language: Instead of saying ‘I have to do this (groan)’, try saying ‘I want to do this because …’ Having to do something usually leads to half-hearted attempts while wanting to do something produces whole-hearted efforts and a better result. (Even this works, lame as it is: ‘I want to do this to get it out of the way and off my desk.’

Are you committed enough to willingly put in the time and effort required to achieve your goal and to forgo something else in order to achieve it? For example, part-time study while working at a full-time job takes a lot of commitment. You may need to pass up many enjoyable personal, family and social activities in order to study or attend classes. How willing are you to put off short-term pleasures for long-term rewards?

Try mentally projecting yourself into the future and seeing yourself achieving your goal. Feel your success. Savour it. When your goal is a big one, break it down into a series of interim goals, or set dates and jot down a simple plan to get you moving.

Think about what might be stopping you from making a start or continuing to work towards your goal. What can you do to remove those barriers? For instance, it can be difficult to study in a noisy environment. What could you do to make it quieter? Could you study in a different environment, one more conducive to thought and concentration, or put on some headphones to deaden the noise and distractions around you?

As you probably know, you need a reasonable expectation of success before you can attempt anything wholeheartedly. Do you believe you can achieve your goal? Do you have the skills? Do you need to organise any help or support? Think about your self-talk. When you’re giving yourself limiting, negative message that you can’t succeed, change them. The most important voice you’ll ever hear is your own.


The perfect work space

Christmas is over. New Year is over. Lunar New Year is over. I bet you’re back at work and trying to get into the rhythm once again.
Often at this time of year, there’s actually not all that much going on. And sometimes you just want to procrastinate a bit before getting on with the real work. Whichever it is, I have answer. It won’t take long and it will be a good job well done that will save you a lot of time, over and over, for the rest of the year.
Here it is: Spend a few minutes adjusting your work space so it’s perfect. Everything flows more easily and more quickly when you’re working in an orderly way.
I have a really good filing system that makes it easy to find what I need. Or easy-ish. I plan to re-vamp it when I’ve finished the 7th edition of Management so it’s even easier to file things away and find them again. My system is by topic and subtopic, but different systems suit different people; some file by date, others by customer, for instance. A good, workable filing system is a must have.
 Then you make it work for you by keeping your most often-used files close to hand – unless you’re struggling to reach your 10,000 daily steps, in which case, you can put your most-used files far, far away, but that becomes a bit of a pain. I know because I tried it!
My desk drawers are really tidy, too. I know which one to open and where to put my hand to grab whatever it is I want. I don’t even have to look. When I’ve used it, it goes straight back, so I know where to find it next time I need it. Voila! A clear work area, which relaxes the brain so it can get to work.
Now set up your space. Face at right angles to walkways or the door. This makes it harder for passers-by to catch your eye and stop for a chat and it means people can’t see your computer screen and what you’re working on. The light should come over your left shoulder if you’re right-handed and right shoulder if you’re left-handed so you don’t work in your shadow. Put reference books, manuals, stationery etc. where you can reach them easily.
Next, spend some time setting up your desk chair so it’s the right height. Professor Google can tell you how and it doesn’t take much time at all.
The key is to have minimal pressure on the backs of your knees and lower thighs and to support your back. You want the chair seat to be at a height that puts your knees at right angles, your thighs horizontal and your lower legs vertical when your feet are on the floor. And of course, no dangling feet or crossed legs. You want your computer screen to be at a height that you can look directly at it so your back and shoulders don’t get stiff. Position your keyboard so you bend your elbows at right angles and your forearms are parallel to the floor.
Your back will thank you and you’ll find you work a lot more easily, too, because when you’re sitting properly, you breathe properly and that’s good for your brain, too.
Go ahead – set up your perfect work space it now!

Do you Love to Learn?

Love, honesty, hope and humour are four important predictors of how happy you are. They all fall into the collection of personality traits called PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

There are two even more reliable PERMA predictors of how happy you are. The first is gratitude, which is pretty obvious when you think about it. When you’re thankful for the good things in your life – your family, your friends, the food you eat, the view outside your window – you’re healthier, happier and better prepared to face the world and whatever it throws at you.

The second may surprise you. It’s love of learning. People who enjoy picking up new skills or knowledge feel fulfilled wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Whether it’s strolling through a park, sitting in a classroom or getting on with whatever job is at hand, everything presents an opportunity to learn.

Learning keeps you sharp and confident. It keeps your memory working. It helps you lead a more rounded life. Learning gives your brain something it craves – novelty. Learning is necessary because without it, humans would have been extinct long ago.

And that old myth ‘You can’t teach an old dog mew tricks’? That’s just what it is – a myth. However old you are, you can do yourself a real favour by engaging with the world around you and seeing what it has to teach you.