Category Archives: Work

10 Ways to Improve your Working Conditions

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If you have an office gig, whether it’s the  number-crunching-hour-billing type or the reinvent & save the world type, and whether you have a corner office or a cramped cubicle, you deserve comfortable working conditions.  Hey, you’re there a minimum of eight hours a day, so why not make yourself as happy, healthy & comfortable as possible there.

1) Use an ergonomic chair.

A bad chair can ruin your day, not to mention your back, so an ergonomic chair is a great investment.  There are plenty of slick execu-chairs on the market, but if you want to improve your posture and get a six-pack, consider a stability ball or a stability ball chair.  The one above is fantastic (my work buddy has one) and it’s from Gaiam.

2) Adjust for the weather.

If you’re in a place with long, dark winters, this means a Light Therapy Pad to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Elsewhere, get a fan if it’s hot & a space heater if it’s cold . The small investment in climate control can make a huge difference in keeping you happy at work.

3)  Add music

There are some people that just can’t concentrate with music  I’m not one of them.  Listening to my ipod, FM radio, or Pandora brightens up my day and boosts my inspiration.

4)  Add some inspiration

Display something huge & inspirational: a piece of artwork,  a photo of friends and family,  anything that will anchor you and remind you of why you work so hard.   Even if you’re just punching the time clock saving money for a round the world trip, post something that reminds you where you’re going.   When you’re parked in the same (now ergonomic) chair for 160+ hours a month, it’s easy to lose sight of exactly why you are there.   Don’t let that happen (The poster is by  mae chevrette.)

5)  Bring in something living.

Best case scenario is a BYOP (bring your own pet) workplace.  If you have a well-behaved pet, perhaps you can lobby for this perk.  Your puppy’s  adorableness will improve your work satisfaction, reduce stress, and improve your productivity. If you can’t bring your dog to work,  a cool plant can also have a similar mood-boosting effect.   (You can get the one pictured above at this sweet Etsy shop)

6) Stay Hydrated!

Dehydration leads to headaches, crankiness, drops in productivity and general nastiness.  Luckily, it’s very easy to avoid.   Stop buying plastic bottles & bring in filtered water from home.   If there’s no place to re-fill, bring two or three bottles from home or ask the office to start a water-cooler pool.   (This water bottle is engravable).

7) Add some aromatherapy.

I love a gorgeous scented candle.  But for those of us that work in places with fire codes,  reed diffusers are a great option.    Weather & building permitting, there’s no aromatherapy like opening the windows after a rainstorm or during the fall (that wintry smell in the air) or spring (flowers!)

8)  Bring in a fresh fruit bowl

On Monday morning bring in a bounty of fresh fruits &  veggies.  Display those lovely goodies (seasonal fruits & lemons & limes for your water) that don’t need to be refrigerated on  your desk.    Grab fruit instead of heading for the vending machines whenever you want a workday snack.

9)  Stash some serious indulgences.

Hide a bottle of champagne or some dark, dark chocolate, in your bottom drawer, for emergencies only.    Under lock & key, if possible.

10) Decorate!

 

The idea is to make your workspace so inviting that you are just tickled  & delighted to be there every day.    You probably spend more time in your office than you do at home, so put up your artwork, put down a cozy rug,  bring a meditation cushion & score fresh flowers every week.    Whatever it takes.  However impermanent the situation might be.  Make yourself feel happy & at  home there.

 

 

The Power of Asking Well

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Ask and you shall receive.   Uncontrovertibly true, but also hard.   Why?  Because as children, we’re taught that asking is wrong.  Don’t be greedy.  Be self-sufficient. Good girls don’t want things.  Real men don’t need help.  Don’t inconvenience people.  We don’t take charity in this family.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world.   You don’t want to owe anyone anything.  If you ask for things, people to think you’re weak or needy.   Did you grow up with any of these beliefs?  (I did.)  Do you still believe these things?  (I do, sometimes.)

The first problem with these beliefs is that they keep you from asking for what you want and need.   That’s bad because  if you don’t ask, you don’t get.   

The second problem with these beliefs is that when you believe that you are unworthy or wrong or out of line in asking for something,  you tend to make a sorry, ineffective mess of that request.  You grovel, apologize,  avoid eye contact,  or don’t ask for things directly.

The root of all beliefs about asking is the fear that we’re asking for something that we don’t deserve, or that we shouldn’t have.   I’m not going to tell you you deserve everything in the world because nobody does.   We don’t want to go around asking old ladies to give up their subway seat for you, or asking your parents to bail you out of gambling debt for the fifth time this month.   But these are not the kinds of requests we’re talking about.   It’s everything else;  a raise, a date, a small kindness, a military discount, an interview.  If you can look someone in the eye and ask for what you need with kindness, compassion, and  honestly,  and without  apologizing, then you don’t need to worry that your request is out of line,  or wrong, or an abuse of trust or relationship.    All you have to worry about is mustering up the courage to ask,  and asking well.

When you ask well—honestly, directly, kindly–two things will happen.   First, you’ll start trusting yourself when it comes to asking for things.    You’ll trust that those things you can ask for well are totally yours to ask for.  Second, people are a lot more likely to grant a direct, kind, unapologetic request than a babbling,  rambling, sorry one.   A win on both fronts!

Homework: 

This week, practice asking.  Practice asking well.   Ask the thrift store clerk for a discount because a button’s missing.   Ask someone you admire to mentor you.  Ask your spouse to make dinner tonight.   Ask your friends to donate for an upcoming charity race.    The first step is to practice having the courage to ask.   The second step is to practice asking well:

  • Look the person in the eye.
  • Smile.
  • Ask kindly
  • Ask  simply and directly.  Do not make the person read between the lines or guess what you mean.
  • Do not apologize.
  • Do not give the person an out  (e.g.,  I totally understand if you say no, but….)
  • Do not give excuses, stories, or white lies to elicit sympathy.   Trust me, this doesn’t work in your favor.
EXAMPLES: 

WRONG: (fidgeting and avoiding eye contact)  Sir,  excuse me, I’m sorry, I was thinking, maybe,  if possible,  I could, please,  next week, take a personal day , because (white lie) I have doctor’s appointments and to see my 90-year old grandma,  but if you can’t I totally understand, its ok.

RIGHT: (Eye contact).  I would like to take a vacation day on Wednesday, please.

WRONG:  I come home from a long day’s work and you’re sitting there picking your toes and reading a magazine  and expect me to serve you  dinner on a silver platter.   You haven’t made dinner in three days.  What the hell is wrong with you, you lazy turd?

RIGHT:  I would like you to cook dinner  tonight,  please.

Go forth and ask!   And then share what you asked for & how it went….

When to Let Go of the Pomodoro.

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Source: reddit.com via Brittanie on Pinterest

 

The Pomodoro Technique is a tool to help overcome procrastination & get things started.   The pomodoro works exceptionally well for routine work.  It also works well for creative work when the artist or writer needs ass-in-chair time.   Knowning that you get a break every five minutes or so helps you get started, avoid distractions & get things done.   When you’re doing something especially intense,  the five minute breaks and longer breaks remind you to get up from your chair and strech, or do a mini-workout, or drink water.

The Pomodoro Technique doesn’t work well when you’re inspired, or in flow.  Nothing kills flow faster than trying to control or interrupt it.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task, although flow is also described (below) as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

Historical sources hint that Michelangelo may have painted the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel while in a flow state. It is reported that he painted for days at a time, and he was so absorbed in his work that he did not stop for food or sleep until he reached the point of passing out. He would wake up refreshed and, upon starting to paint again, re-entered a state of complete absorption.

If you want to do great work, you have to put the time even when you don’t feel inspired, day in and day out, keep going.   But when inspiration strikes like lightening & you’re flowing and grooving, surrender to it.  Smash the timer against the wall and write or paint or scheme all night & into tomorrow.

The LadyPants Guide to Surviving Crunch-Time

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Deadline

Despite your  best intentions, crunch time happens, whether you’re doing something you hate (billing 2500 hours a year at a soul-sucking biglaw factory) or something you love ( defending the defenseless, writing your first big magazine article, starting a surf-camp business in Costa Rica).   I define crunch time as anytime you need to put intense, sustained effort into an endeavor so that it takes over your life, whether it’s something that drains your soul or sparks your spirit.   The former is a lot more difficult,  but the latter carries its dangers too…you can easily get so excited about something that you crunch your way out of health, balance & sanity.

Last week,  I was getting ready for a major deadline, racing the clock,  putting in exhausting 18-hour days.  Not the first or the last time it’s happened to me, but like most things lately,  I’ve realized that it doesn’t have to suck. You can occasionally  do crunch time for a week or two and stay sane and healthy.

The number one way to combat the adverse effects of crunch time is to avoid it altogether.  E.g., try to get things done ahead of time.  But that doesn’t always work out, right?   Here’s my quick survival guide for those times 18-hour days are inevitable:

Plan your work before you start.  Figure out how long it’s going to take.   Plan to spend the most time on the important parts. Set time limits for things you tend to get stuck on or spend too much time on (excessive brainstorming or researching, for example).    Make an outline, do the research,  factor in plenty of time for revising and proofreading and getting feedback.

Do what you can to avoid catastrophe, but don’t dwell on it.  Save your work every time you step away, back it up on a thumb drive, and email it to yourself every couple of hours.   Factor in extra time in case the printer breaks, the internet goes down, or some other unforeseen or inevitable catastrophe happens.  But don’t sit around expecting things to go wrong.  Plan for the worst, and always, always, always, expect the best.

Prioritize sleep and exercise.   Everything else has to go (e.g. TV, internet, reading non-project materials, cooking, cleaning, shaving your legs–except sex, which counts as exercise).   You know how many hours of sleep you need for a week or two of sustained effort.  It’s probably around six, bare minimum.   For exercise,  prioritize doing the things that give you the most mental clarity, not necessarily sticking to your normal routine.  I get the most mentally from hot yoga or short, brisk runs.

Band together.   Crunch time is a lot more fun in the company of fellow crunch-ers.   Fellow students, co-workers & partners can be enlisted to make crunch time in to a memorable party…complete with popcorn and friendly competition.

Change the scenery.  Especially if you work under fluorescent lights.  Disappear to a cafe, or a beautiful public library for a few hours.  If it’s nice, go outside.   If you work in an office and it is getting late,  go home and slog on in your pajamas with your feet propped up & glass of champagne & music.

Pick your poison wisely.  If you’re going to slam caffeine, pick cleaner versions (like green tea or black coffee).  Don’t touch energy drinks or sugary sodas coffee concoctions.  Drink plenty of water.   Stay away from other stimulants. Even if they’re legal.  Even if they’re over the counter.  It’s just bad news.  Also, eat lots of fresh, healthy food.   Stock up on healthy deliciousness ahead of time so you don’t have to rely on pizza and takeout.

Take regular breaks.   To drink water, to take a few deep breaths, to watch the sunset, to eat a meal like a civilized person instead of inhaling it over your computer with crumbs falling into the keyboard.

Don’t expect to suffer.   Crunch time is intense, sustained effort. There is no requirement that crunch time equal suffering.

THE KICKER:  There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel.   You have to either see the end in sight or get deep satisfaction from the outcome. When you’re studying for finals, you know you’re getting a break in a couple of weeks.  When you’re starting a business, or a charity, or writing a book,  you know you’ll soon see results–people benefitting from your blood, sweat, and tears.   If there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, if you look around and realize that this madness has become your life, like Groundhog Day, then you need to reexamine the path you’ve chosen.  It’s called crunch time, not crunch life.

How do you survive crunch time?

The To-Stop-Doing List for Office-Dwellers

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Blowing Bubbles Folk Art Girl Sitting in the Clouds Mixed Media Painting by Sascalia

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Stop going to meetings.   Use the time to create something valuable instead.   If meetings are mandatory, suggest limiting them to 25 minutes.

Stop volunteering (to make the coffee, to bring the cupcakes, to find the keynote speaker, to be in charge of the fundraiser, to be the secretary of the club.) Unless it really contributes to your mission and purpose and , just skip it.

Stop being the first to arrive and the last to leave.   It’s not heroic or responsible.  It’s childish.

Stop networking.  Make real friends instead.

Stop believing that it’s all in your job description.   If you were intended to do it, then it would be in your job description.  There’s a reason why the senior partner’s job description does not include installing new computer software. It’s because the senior partner is probably terribly inefficient at installing a new software program.  That’s why they hired a tech guy.

Stop doing anything that interferes with your ability to do real, meaningful work.  

What’s on your to-stop doing list? 

Don’t let The Man Keep You Down: 7 Ways to Deal with a Broken System

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Beyond The Blue

A couple of days ago, my buddy Rob was bitterly lamenting the cumbersome, time-vampire software program and travel system that his (massive) organization uses to book and fund business travel.  To protect the innocent (and the guilty), I’ll call the system “ABS.”   Rob regaled me with nightmare stories of spending blocks of three and four hours trying to book or process travel through antiquated software and a dysfunctional travel agency.

Earlier this week, he’d been a day late to a professional conference because he’d missed a flight due to ABS’s failure to book a ticket he’d requested.  He’d spent at least three hours for the past three nights on the phone with ABS, trying to get a ticket home.   A few weeks ago, ABS problems made him two days late for an important meeting.

ABS has an inordinate amount of control over Rob’s  life.  As we talked about ABS (over brunch)  Rob turned red and started sweating.  “Things like this make me want to quit my job,” he told me.    I wondered if I should call 911.

Rob’s probably not the only one that deals with  ridiculous, frustrating systems at work.   Travel systems tend to be the worst offenders, but it could be payroll, hours billing, your web server, or anything you need to do your work and can’t dump…yet.    So I brainstormed some ways that Rob…or anyone…could deal with them. Because no one should be having a heart attack at brunch over a crappy travel booking system.

1)   Get someone else to learn the system well, and then delegate it to them.   If there’s an admin professional in the office who’s an expert in the Broken System (“B.S.”), delegate the dirty work.   If there’s a B.S. expert in the house, there’s no reason why you should be beating your head against the wall trying to figure it out instead of doing your actual work.   If the system is really draining  hours and hours of productivity, it’s easy to sell the idea of having the admin pro deal with the BS on behalf of  the non-admin-pros.

2) Come up with a better way.   Yes, I know your organization moves at the pace of a horse-drawn hearse, but if nobody says anything, then nothing will change.  So calmly explain why the system doesn’t work and come up with some good alternatives or ideas for improvement.  Send it up the chain of command.  At worst, you’ve done something more constructive than just complaining. At best, you’ll be a hero for spearheading a meaningful (cost-saving, time-saving) change.

3)   Take time to learn the system well.   If #1, is not an option and #2 doesn’t work right away, then you’ll have to DIY.  Sure, you’re busy, you have clients or projects or actual work.   But learning the system could result in massive time savings in the long run.  Say Rob travels six times a year, and each time he travels, he suffers an average of twelve hours of delays and frustrating dealings with ABS.   So he takes forty hours (five days) to lean how to work with ABS so that each time he travels, he has no delays and his dealings with ABS take only two hours.  At the end of year one, he will have gained 8 hours of time with his clients.  That doesn’t sound like much, but in the second year, he will gain 48 hours, or more than a week, of time with his clients, and so on.   He’ll also be calmer and less frustrated.  He’ll be more focused at work and enjoy his free time without worry.   He’ll also become a valuable asset to his office, able to help his colleagues with their use of the system.  And he might not die of an aneurism at the age of 40.

4)   Make friends with someone on the inside.  Of course, when you’re calling any sort of customer service operation, the LAST thing you want to be is nice.   You’re calling customer service because you have a problem and you’re pissed.  Guess what? The customer service reps aren’t happy either.  They have to deal with miserable folks like you all day long, would you be happy?  There’s tremendous power in being nice to them…. and dare I say…making friends with them.  Be polite. Learn their names and where they’re from, and whether they have kids or dogs or cats.  If you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you.  The payoff?  It’s a lot easier to ask for a favor from a friend than to make demands of an enemy.  Plus, you’ll feel better about doing the right thing and treating people like human beings instead of like  evil trolls blocking  your way .

5)   Don’t think about it.  Stop thinking about the BS  unless you are presently dealing with the BS.  Do what you have to do, as much as it sucks, the let go and move on.   A shaman once told me that the best thing you can do for your health is immediately change the energy from a negative interaction.    After a negative or frustrating interaction, do whatever it takes to change up your energy—a walk, some push ups, a tall glass of ice water, a quick call to a fabulously hilarious friend.   This prevents the pent up rage  from following you around the rest of the day, making you inefficient and sick.

6)   Stop believing the system is out to get you.    It’s not.  It’s just a system.   It may be an inefficient piece of caca, but I promise, it is not out for you.  That’s called paranoia, and it’s not helping you.  Yes, it’s awful and stupid, but it’s more awful and stupid  to allow a system to control your health, happiness, and productivity.

7)   Leave.  If an organization’s inefficiencies and bureaucracy truly outweigh your enjoyment of the work,  get out.  Life’s too short to be angry and frustrated all the time.

 

6 Ways to Rock your Pomodoro Break

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How's the weather doing? – ¿Qué hace el tiempo? León (Spain) HDR

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about  the Pomodoro Technique.  It’s simple. You work like your hair’s on fire for 25 minutes, then you take a five minute break.

But what to do on your five minute break?  Pee breaks are very important, as are collapsing-on-the-floor-and-staring-at-the-ceiling breaks.  But breaks spent checking voicemails or emails, or getting sucked down an internet rabbit hole just don’t cut it.   You end up feeling like you didn’t have a break at all.   The best kinds of breaks are those that quickly recharge your brain–and also boost other areas of your life.  Here are six such breaks:

1)  Tabata Break.  A “Tabata” is a four-minute interval workout that’s been show to dramatically increase fitness.  You pick an exercise (push ups, sit ups, squats, lunges, burpees, dips, pull ups, jump rope, or any thing else that works for you).  You do as many reps as you can in good form for 20 seconds.  Then you rest 10 seconds.  Repeat 8 times.   For fun, keep score.  Your score is the lowest number of reps you do in.   Sounds easy. But it’s surprisingly killer.

THE PAYOFF:  Do a Tabatas for 8 of your daily Pomodoro breaks, and at the end of the day, you will have worked out intensely for 40 minutes.   During a major time crunch, you can skip the gym and and still maintain (if not improve) your fitness level.  This page  has a library of videos and ideas for exercises.

2)   Meditation Break.  Keep it super simple.  Five minutes.  Eyes closed. Sit up straight.  Focus on breath, just watch thoughts float by.  That’s it.  It’s five minutes, you don’t need a book, a class, or a podcast to get started.

THE PAYOFF:   A single meditation break  will lower stress,  improve your concentration, and help you be more mindful at the task.   Two meditation breaks a day will change your life.  Over time, meditation can produce lasting changes in your brain can make your brain bigger, strengthen your willpower, and even slow aging.

3)  Hydration Break.  Have a tall glass of ice cold water with lemon, cup of green tea, or some fresh fruits & veggies.

THE PAYOFF:  Hydration and enzymes fuel your brain for continued intense effort.    I’ve been replacing my afternoon chocolate and coffee breaks with icy cold water and antioxidant-rich green tea, carrots, jicama, cucumber & celery or apples, berries & pears…and my afternoon headaches and tiredness are all gone.

4)   Creativity Break.   C.M. Mayo’s got a fantastic website with 365 5-minute writing exercises.  A five-minute writing exercise  fits perfectly in a Pomo break.

THE PAYOFF:  Use one pomodoro a day for a five minute creative writing exercise and you’ll soon have a notebook full of ideas.  The quick burst of creativity changes your energy—once your mind is in a more creative state, you may find yourself approaching your work in a fresh new way.  Variation:  Five minute paintings or sketches.

5)   Yoga Break.   Google “Five Minute Yoga.”  There’s an ipad/iphone ap.  Free five minute yoga ideas can also be found here and here.  I like to keep it simple and do a sun salutation or two.

THE PAYOFF:  Sitting in a chair is terrible for your body.  That’s not news.  Getting up and  stretching things out calms the mind and soothes chair-induced agony.

6)   Hilarity Break. go watch or read something hilarious or talk to the office comedian.  Ask your nieces and nephews for the latest idiotic viral video.  Narwhals? The Amazing Horse?  Harry Potter? Lonely Island?   They get funnier with stress.

THE PAYOFF:  It’s been scientifically proven, kids. laughter cures stress.