How to simplify your week to reduce stress

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“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

I’m not one to quote Steve Jobs too much. He was brilliant, no question. But I’m not sure he’s the model to follow for a low-stress life in the workplace.

He seemed to ooze complexity. At least that’s what it looked like from my judg-ey overstuffed reading chair and ottoman.

I think he was onto something here, though, in understanding how we can simplify one of our real stressors at work — our workload.

Simplifying your work helps you do work that matters

If we think about the Apple products we use, they are dead simple.

My iPhone requires almost no instruction. The apps on it reduce complicated processes down to one or two steps I can do while I’m in the bathroom. (Don’t judge me, you do it too. 🙃)

In spite of the challenges the smartphone era has brought us, it’s also made so many things in life easier.

  • Don’t you remember what it was like trying to find answers to life’s big questions on Yahoo using your two-inch-thick Compaq laptop?
  • Remember scribbling tasks in your Monticello-themed, double-binded Franklin Planner?
  • Have you forgotten just how complicated it was to take your own pulse by using two fingers on one hand?

This was the crazy world the iPhone entered back in that dark age.

Apples’ development team started with the simplest version of what they thought could work and built on it from there. I’m sure they had a veritable scroll of features they probably could have included in that first phone (known then sweetly as “iPhone”).

But we’d probably still be waiting for that first iPhone, clumsily walking around with two fingers on our carotids and using hash marks to count our 10,000 steps.

The ensuing versions of the iPhone — all the way to today’s iPhone XR — came about once humans started actually using the phone.

I mean, who knew one day we would rarely even use these things as a phone? Who saw that one coming? 🤷

Use an MVP to simplify your work

You business-minded folks may recognize this process as a principle called “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP.

(Bear with me. The therapist is using a business principle to make a point here.)

Entrepreneur Eric Ries was the first to toss this definition of MVP around in his book, “The Lean Startup:”

A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

In regular-people speak:

  • Build the simplest version of your product that will let you learn how people use it,
  • Gather feedback from them while they’re using it, then
  • Add new features from what you learned.
  • And so on, and so on….

This can save you time and energy because you’re not trying to build the best product ever by just guessing what might work. That’s so old school.

  • MVP gives you a real-life lab to build a product that helps people solve the annoying problems in their lives.
  • MVP helps you see what really helps people, not just stuff you and your team think is cool.
  • People tend to celebrate and buy stuff that helps them solve problems.

Maybe you don’t build a tangible product per se.

(Actually you do! Your work is your product. Make work your product!)

Apply the MVP principle on this Monday to simplify the rest of this week

This frees you up to do the work that solves real problems and creates forward momentum.

I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than doing work that doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little MVP roadmap I made for you:

1. Create and plan a wicked simple baseline for what you want to accomplish this week

I’m showing my INFJ skin a bit here, but planning is essential to reduce stress at work. Sorry.

You have to create some buckets, even leaky ones, to capture your important work or you’ll just end up with a messy pile of pointless doo-doo on Friday.

I know that may fly in the face of your possibly more spontaneous nature, but spontaneity and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t go crazy and overplan (see also: procrastination).

But do plan, please.

Give some thought ahead of time about how you want this week to end up.

  • What do you want to hold in your hand on Friday (besides a cold beer)?
  • What MVP product can you produce this week that you can then build on next week?
  • Put everything else on a “next release” list of some kind.

Be honest about what you can really do. This is an area where we create a lot of our own stress.

Our work eyes are sometimes bigger than our work stomachs, if you will. 😋

Create a workable plan that is do-able with the time and resources you have this week and focus the week on that.

2. Protect your plan by establishing boundaries around your work

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great and all, but what about when my boss runs in with a little project on fire, and I’m the one who’s supposed to put it out? 📝🔥

What happens to my well-crafted plan then, sister girlfriend?

In many cases, you can give your boss some options on how you put that fire out.

“Sorry this project is on fire, Susie. Take a deep breath. Here are a couple of things we could do. Which one do you like?”

  1. Use the fire extinguisher. This will put the fire out immediately but it will also trash everything around us. It will resolve the problem immediately but we’ll spend two days cleaning up. This will delay all our other projects.
  2. Use the sweater slung over the back of my office chair to put out the fire. This will suffocate the fire and ruin my sweater, but it will most likely resolve the problem and preserve the working environment. We’ll need a minute to regroup, and I’ll need a long lunch to go buy another sweater. But we can get back on track today.

(Fire people are going to kill me on this one. It’s an analogy. If there’s an actual fire in your office, please be safe and follow your company’s fire safety plan.)

Of course there are plenty of unexpected things that pop up in the work week. But they don’t have to completely derail your work.

Unless they truly have to.

The best part about having a plan is how you can adjust it to meet changing needs.

But you can also protect it by offering other options besides you always having to set everything else aside.

And you still have a shot at maintaining momentum with your plan while getting credit for helping put out a fire, too.

3. Capture feedback to build your next version

In building an MVP, capturing feedback is what drives the best new version of the product.

Thoughtful and engaging feedback makes your work better.

If you work in a team format, you absolutely should be open to feedback. Unless you’re freakin’ Leonardo da Vinci, you need other perspectives to do great work.

Here’s the dealio with feedback, though.

You’re not necessarily required to convert that feedback into action items. And certainly not this week.

If the feedback is a game changer for where your work is headed right now, then be for real and change your plan.

But don’t feel like it’s always required. Put the feedback on your “next version” list and see how it may fit in later.

Put a little fence around your work and be your own gatekeeper.

This serves to focus your best cognitive energy on the feedback you can use now to do your best work this week.

4. Make it your task to understand how your work ties in to a larger goal

Why do you do the work at your job? I don’t mean to start you on an existential quest here, but really … why are you doing this work?

Part of an MVP is knowing that your work is accomplishing a specific outcome. You can touch it, define it and explain it.

Apple’s slogan for the first iPhone was “Apple reinvents the phone.”

Apple reinvents the phone - 2007 Macworld Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone

“Apple reinvents the phone” by Nobuyuki Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Did the developers working then understand that? I hope so because they did reinvent the phone. They absolutely did.

This is where Steve Jobs’ focus on simplicity comes to bear. He was obviously great at painting a vision, not just for customers but for the people doing the work.

And it made all the difference.

Many leadership teams lack the skills to communicate business goals in simple ways.

How does Allison in accounting understand how her weekly report contributes to the company’s quarterly success? To her, it may be just a thing she does on Monday before lunch.

Yes, the burden of that understanding should really fall on Allison’s company.

But remember, the power to reduce stress is in our hands, not waiting for someone else to figure it out for us.

So Allison may have to ask that question of her boss or someone else at her company who’s in the know.

This is an excellent way to make sure the work you’re doing is needed.

If not, you can apply your efforts toward something that will.

Now what?

Companies who use the MVP approach have seen enormous, even overwhelming success. It allows them to put great work out there and let others help them refine it.

You can do the same in your workweek if you resolve to keep your stuff simple and workable.

  • Be honest with yourself and others about what you can do.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around your work.
  • Let others use their perspective and knowledge to inform your work and make it better.
  • Seek out the larger picture for yourself, and bring it back to your desk every day.

 


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Vacation is over, you’re back to work and stressed out

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Keep your stress free vacation feeling

Feeling stressed out at work is particularly noticeable right after the holidays.

You just came back from vacation and got used to getting good sleep. You finally feel a bit human again.

For a little while, anyway.

I heard someone say the other day that they felt so relaxed and back on top of things during their holiday vacation time.

Just one day back at work erased it all.

Yikes.

Has this already happened to you?

It doesn’t take long after coming back from vacation to feel the pressure again. It’s almost immediate.

How does that happen? There are several reasons, but here’s a big one.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to get it all done when we get back from vacation.

We way overestimate how much we can really do when we get back. We come back from vacation with plenty of vim and vigor and resolve that we’re going to get on top and stay there.

This is especially true after the New Year when we’re armed with resolutions.

In the back of our heads, we know quite well that we’ll have to play catch up on the very first day. But we feel amazing so we rise to the belief that we can get it all done. We ask ourselves why we were stressing all that before we left.

It’s great to be hopeful, I certainly don’t want to crush that. Setting that expectation to get it all done, however, is asking for failure.

And at the end of day one, we already feel defeated.

Most of our vacation mojo gets away from us like a red balloon in Paris. Here are a few things to consider.

Drop the idea of complete and getting it all done.

Except for projects that have a finite completion date, accept that you will never get to zero.

Never.

Sorry, but that’s just how work is now. The Industrial Revolution is over, and there’s no longer an end of the line.

Part of conquering stress in our modern workplace is losing the idea of finishing the last widget before you go home.

 

Your inbox will never get to zero.

You may have several HUNDRED emails when you get back from vacation.

Why would you waste your valuable time and newfound energy trying to handle every single email just so you can delete 80% of them? You’re going to get several hundred more by the end of the week!

Stop playing the professional version of “Stop Hitting Yourself.” Here’s a template for you to start your first day back from vacation.

  1. Filter your email inbox by name. Address the stuff from the people important to you. I would recommend starting with your boss’ name.
  2. Then, scan the subject lines of everything else for anything that looks intriguing or that describes a specific action they need from you.
  3. Leave your email app and start your actual work.
  4. If someone calls you because you didn’t answer their email, you can use step 1 to quickly find it.
  5. Wait for your email app to flag you (probably months from now) that your box is getting full and it’s time to delete some emails, according to your IT and compliance department’s schedules.
  6. If you miss something important from someone (like the person in step 4), you can coach them on how to use more directive subject lines to get your attention right away. Just sayin’…

No one ever died because they didn’t answer all their emails.

Please don’t die on this hill on your first day back.

Trying to answer or touch every single email is the quickest way to feeling super stressed because you are letting others drive your work day with their priorities.

Your to-do list will never be 100% complete.

I would assume you didn’t go to college just so you can spend your days completing a list of tasks. I think you want to do amazing work that will make you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for you, right?

You won’t do all that today, though.

You will not find that place where you can cross your arms over your chest and raise your glass to another satisfying episode of “My Completed Day at Work.”

That’s now how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

 

David Allen’s terrific book and methodology is called “Getting Things Done,” not “Getting All Things Done Today.”

Of course, you need a to-do list, but only to track and measure the work, not as a device to deliver stress and misery to yourself and others.

No matter what productivity system you use, your to-do list should include only the items that will move you and your team forward. (Side note: paying attention to your boss’ goals will move you and your team forward; that’s why you should check her emails first. 😉)

All else is a nice-to-have.

Be brutal about how much you can really accomplish today.

Include margin for things like:

  • interruptions,
  • daydream time,
  • lunch (yes, lunch) and
  • running to the bathroom from your New Year’s resolution to drink more water.

Set some boundaries for yourself.

Just because you are awesome at a hundred things doesn’t mean you should actually try to do a hundred awesome things. And certainly not today.

Pick just a few, squint your eyes and focus, and completely crush on your small list of priorities.

Staying an extra two hours on your first day back to get caught up on stuff that doesn’t matter is the easiest way back to how crappy you felt before your vacation.

Near the end of the day, check off the things you crushed, high five yourself, and move the rest to some other time.

Then grab your coat and hat and go the heck home.

Shock and awe your family with the return of the same happy, contented person they were with on your vacation.

You simply must develop a vacation sleep discipline.

How many times did you wake up on your vacation with that amazing rested feeling? You know what I’m talking about.

It’s that feeling where your chest doesn’t feel like a baby grand piano is sitting right on top of it and your gut feels calm and relaxed. (This is my experience, anyway. I may have said too much. 😂).

You’re less irritable, maybe even happy 😲, and it seems like you can focus on a dime. You may even feel like a completely different person.

That’s a problem.

You shouldn’t feel so stressed that vacation feels more like the real you.

That’s not going to help you feel purposeful and create new opportunities for yourself.

I know I harp on exercise as the closest thing to a magic pill for mental health and stress.

But sleep may have it trumped.

  • Sleep drives all your other actions, even how motivated you are to exercise.
  • Sleep powers your cognitive and critical thinking skills.
  • Sleep allows your brain to pressure wash all the toxins away.
  • Sleep affects your physical health.

You’re an educated professional. None of this is new to you.

We all know how important sleep is, and we all say we know we need to get more of it.

Hear ye, hear ye: Sleep is the best thing you can do to stop feeling stressed out and miserable at work.

It won’t change how many emails you get or how many fires your boss drops on you to put out at the last minute.

  • It may keep you from going off on a coworker who asks you an innocent question.
  • Or feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated by 10 a.m.

To keep that sleep mojo going from your vacation, you have to develop a specific discipline for sleep.

A discipline implies that you are in training. If you’re in training you have a plan so that you can accomplish a specific feat.

It’s not unreasonable to plan your whole day around training for sleep.

LeBron James reportedly gets 10-12 hours of sleep during the regular season.

You’re no different than LeBron James. He’s just more disciplined than you in a few key areas. That’s all.

Develop a plan for how you will get good rest every day and work that plan every day.

Now what?

These are pretty tactical steps you can take today to keep some of your vacation mojo going.

You spent the past year earning valuable PTO to give yourself a much-deserved break.

It’s up to you to change some things now to help you stay rested and feel a bit more in control.

 

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How to use exercise to battle holiday stress

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Use exercise to battle holiday stress - lorimiller.me

This may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it also can be the most challenging in terms of staying on track with the things that help make your life work.

Exercise, good nutrition, sleep and routine (see also: the components of the anxiety and depression toolkit) all suddenly find themselves beneath the trash heap of the merry and joyous eating season.

For me, the most tempting thing to do is give up exercise. I’m busy with added social events, and opportunities to spend time with others. I love that!

But after all that eating the last thing I want to do is move. Like, at all.

So that late day workout I swore allegiance to gives way to “just one” delicious buckeye and yummy barbeque sliders with friends.

Another workout busted.

It creates a bit of a cycle, I’m afraid.

Exercise matters and it matters big time.

Focusing on exercise is one of the first things I mention to people struggling with anxiety and depression. It’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to affect your mental health.

And it’s a great place to start because everybody can absolutely do something.

Exercise has a direct effect on your mood, helps reduce anxious feelings, increases serotonin in the brain, which can help you sleep, and increases your resilience to stress, which I think we all agree can go through the roof this time of year.

The American Psychological Association has coined this the “exercise effect.” In fact, the APA is encouraging mental health providers to make sure they include exercise as part of their treatment plans.

I consider exercise really a non-negotiable.  Apparently, I’m a broken record on this one.

Yet even as the words are coming out of my mouth to my clients, I realize I am just as crafty in my excuses to duck out of it during the holidays.

So with all the added activity and pressure of the season, how do you make exercise work for you when you need it most?

Don’t stress it. Make some simple changes to ensure you do something and don’t just go to zero effort.

Do it when you have few legitimate obligations.

Don’t roll your eyes, but really, it’s true that exercising in the morning is a great solution. It’s not the easiest to get started, but you have a better shot of making it happen before the day breaks.

You really do.

Unless you have some graveyard-style job, you always have the option to get up a bit earlier.

You won’t die from it, I promise.

For the time crunched, this is really the best way to find extra time in your day. Everyone else (hopefully) is still asleep, and the world hasn’t started its vicious merry-go-round yet.

Then, you are done! Yes!

The whole day is in front of you, and you are mentally and physically poised to handle whatever the day may bring.

And when unexpected plans come up, you can just go and not feel guilty about not exercising yet again.

Focus on doing something every day.

It’s great to try to hit physical activity a certain number of times a week, but right now that kind of contained thinking may create too much anxiety for you.

That’s just one more thing to track during the busy season.

Don’t make it a formal thing.

Instead, break it down and focus on just doing something today.

Anything. It all adds up.

  • Take a walk.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Go ice skating.
  • Go for a quick swim.
  • Do some yard work (assuming your yard isn’t full of snow. If so, grab a shovel, my friend.)
  • Do some yoga.
  • Dance. I hear that’s a thing.
  • Try an at-home exercise program (there are a million of them streaming on Hulu, Roku, etc.)

When you’re done, high five yourself. You did it!

Then just do that again tomorrow. That’s it.

No pressure.

Me after my Monday morning workout. See how happy I am? 🙂

Pardner up.

There is power in leveraging others to help you with this. Having someone hold you accountable to exercise works because nobody wants to be the one who “no-shows” in the relationship.

I would suggest picking the person in your life who is not afraid to challenge you (in a good way, of course).

Set up time to exercise with someone else and simply don’t leave ’em hangin.’ Once you get together, you’ll have a good time, I’m sure.

Honestly, today I was so tired, it’s Monday, and it’s raining. I felt like these things gave me some very high moral ground to stay in bed.

But my husband and partner in all things life wouldn’t let me. He’s also a mental health practitioner so he gave me zero wiggle room on this.

I needed that.

And when I was tempted to slack off a bit during the workout, he was there to cheer me on.

Hopefully I did the same for him.

Don’t overthink it; just do it.

Of course, you may want to set good, hard goals for exercise in the new year, but you don’t have to wait for January.

That’s just another excuse to not take action right now.

It’s not a terrible time to start exercising if you haven’t been already.

Don’t go crazy or injure yourself.

Keep it simple.

Just get (or keep) moving during the holidays.

Sources:

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx

 

 

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Manage stress by living in the present

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Manage stress by living in the present

By default, we are all in the present, but not necessarily present, if that makes sense. This is where much of our stress rears its gnarly head.

We’re burdened with the constant pressure of what’s to come in a world that is almost exclusively forward focused. 

  • Create your own future!
  • Prepare for retirement!
  • Get ahead at work!
  • Develop a life plan!
  • Raise healthy and productive children!
  • Become the ____ you know you can be!
  • Get stuff done!
  • Be happy!
  • Change the world!

No pressure. 😳

What’s cool is that we have more opportunity now than at any other time in human history to actually accomplish these noble tasks. 

Previous generations didn’t have access to the technology and freedom that living today can bring. This particular age would have blown their minds.

To accomplish any one of these noble tasks would have been enough for them, let alone all of them at the same time.

We are in uncharted territory.

We scoot around, sometimes mindlessly, to try to take advantage of it all. We are so anxious to “get there.”

But once we get there, how then do we appreciate who we are in that moment and what we’ve already become?

Where are the master classes for that?

We just keep going to the next task, the next forward motion. ⏩

So many of our anxious and depressive thoughts stem from this constant focus on an ambiguous future moment.

These future moments can feel like a moving target. As we grow, change and develop new abilities, we decide we may want different things. 

So we may change and pivot.

Our future feels like it’s always “out there” because it is.

And even if you achieve all that you want, that future moment you aspire to will — one day — become your present moment.

Ah, the irony.

How will you even appreciate that moment? Have you thought about how you will mark and celebrate it?

Here are a couple of things that work for me:

Enjoy a “Done” list

There are a million and one ways to keep a to-do list. You can track it in a sweet little app that classifies, tags and whatnot. Or write out a list on a steno pad and keep it on the fridge (old school, I know, but it works).

But what about a list that captures what you ACTUALLY did?

Do you feel anxious and annoyed when you see how many things are still left on your list at the end of the day? Where did the time go?

You immediately start plotting those things for tomorrow, giving short shrift to your little worker bee 🐝 tasks that buzzed around so hard for you today.

The things you did get done you relegate to a checkmark or a strikethrough. Or worse, tag them as “Completed” and watch them disappear from your list completely.

Don’t just look at the checkmarks or the line throughs on your list. Separate them and give them their own list. They deserve it!

Those are the things you got done! ☑️

The present moments that you engaged.

So now you know you have the ability to take advantage of your present moments!

Master today

Today is here, and you are apparently already awake and moving around. Nice job! 😎

What are the things you can do TODAY that will move you toward those future goals?

Focus on just those things, and shove the rest aside for now.

Don’t let the future steps, which don’t matter right now, encroach on your present.

If this day is particularly challenging, maybe you can just focus on what you need to do in the next HOUR.

What is the literal next step on your list? 👟

Don’t worry about this afternoon or where you’d still like to be at the end of this day.

Muster your energy and focus toward just this present moment and see where it goes.

Stop moving

Sounds simple, but in order to focus on the present, you may have to stop moving for a minute.

Do you have to go right on to that next thing? 🏃 Or can you take a minute to enjoy a little self-imposed buffer zone?

I like to daydream in these moments. It gives my brain a frickin’ break from all that analyzing and planning and lets me imagine myself doing something ridiculously fun.

Do this when it’s super inconvenient and you feel like you just can’t spare the time.

This is probably when you are feeling most stressed about the future.

The present IS your life. 

Right now, as it’s happening. 

Enjoying the present isn’t hard but it does require intention. There will always be something in the future calling you out of it.

Learn to engage it on your terms.

How do you enjoy your present moments?

 

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Six ways to get to know someone at work

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How to get to know someone at work

Work can be one of the loneliest places around, besides maybe bars and Tinder (I’ve heard 😜). 

We weren’t designed to sit right next to each other in a gray maze and never connect.

That’s weird. 

But it’s never too late to start getting to know someone you work with every day. Even if you’ve worked with them in mostly silence for five years, you can start a connection today.

And you may find it changes your outlook on your own work.

Does that strike a little fear in your freshly-caffeinated heart? 😱

Fear not

Just remember a few things:

1. Never assume someone doesn’t want to connect with you

Everyone desires connection with others in some way, even if they don’t let on.

It’s one of the top yearnings I hear from clients. There are really very few people in this world who “don’t like people.” That’s a cover for their own fear of reaching out and being rejected.

This is why taking your initiative to reach out to others is so valuable. If you start it, the likelihood of rejection for them is greatly diminished.

And there’s a good chance that someone who thinks you’re awesome has always wanted to connect with you, in particular.

So just know that.

2. Keep it simple

Simply ask a question about their weekend, or just comment on that old standby — the weather. 

Maybe that’s not deep enough for you. But remember, Gandalf,  you’re merely trying to open the door and get an exchange going.

The goal is not to become their best friend or hold hands while running through a tulip field together. 🌷 

Yes, you may find that over time, these light exchanges may eventually turn to slightly deeper matters.

But that’s not your point today.

Building off of these seemingly old-school conversations simply starts to develop a little trust.

3. Be curious, George

Even better, use your natural curiosity to ask questions about something you may already know that interests them. 

Do they have pictures of themselves dressed in fly fishing gear inside their cubicle? Ask them about that. 

I can almost guarantee you will start something, because I’m guessing you are likely not to know much about fly fishing. (That just seems like a very niche kind of thing.)

Watch them come alive and share something with you that they may have learned while fishing in a remote river somewhere. 

Don’t you do this when someone asks you about something you enjoy or have become an expert in? 

4. Listen to understand, not to reply

This means that when someone is talking to you, you’re not having a conversation inside your own head about what you’re going to say next. 

Even if it’s super valuable and super witty. Shut it down for a minute. 

You’re listening simply so that you can get more information about the other person. 

Here’s a fun trick: summarize and restate back to them what they just said to you. They’ll quickly tell you if you got it wrong. 😳

Next time you’ll be eager to pay more attention.

5. When you do share, try not to offer advice

It’s tempting to want to provide advice, especially if you’ve already been there. But you may not have earned this yet. 

Remember, you’re connecting and building rapport. 

And if you’re not careful, it can seem like you’re trying to top their experience.

We’ve all met “toppers.” These are conversation assassins who seem to invalidate your story while telling you how their experience was so much worse (or better). 😒

Don’t be a topper.

Simply offer this: 

“I went through something similar once. It wasn’t easy. Here’s what worked for me.”

Sharing from your own experience has the added benefit of them maybe developing some empathy for you, too.  

6. Compliment them about one thing they do really well at work

As far as I know, we’re still allowed to give compliments at work.

We are awesome at so many things that just come naturally to us, and it’s nice to hear that others notice it.

All the career literature says that being recognized for your good work is one of the main drivers for employee satisfaction. And employees may not be getting that recognition from their management, quoth the same career literature. 

So you can totally boost someone’s day with one positive observation about their work.

You’ve now taken a simple connection and created more positivity in your sphere of influence.

Look at you being an agent of change!

Let’s get it started in here

We can’t always rely on instant rapport to drive how we connect at work. Connection doesn’t just happen.

In many cases it may require an intentional action that starts with you. 

If you’ve struggled to connect with others, know that it’s not a character flaw to beat yourself up with. 

Connection is a skill that can be learned and developed.

Just find simple ways to reach out and look for common interests.

Find a touch point that you can both share, and let it evolve from there.

What about you?

Have you struggled with making a connection at work? Share in the comments!

 

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How to deal with drag in your life

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What's creating drag in your life?

Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you work, or how much you strive to do better, you’re just having a hard time getting forward movement?

The wheels are certainly spinning. The engine’s running and everything seems in order. But if you’re honest, you’re not making the gains you want.

And now your shoes are smoking and wearing down from all that effort.

You’re getting some drag.

In the aerodynamic world, drag is an element that resists and fights the force of flight. Thanks to gravity, staying on the ground is the default state.

Taking flight requires the pilot to have significant skills in overcoming that drag and knowing how to work with it to get past it.

I think there is also probably a lot of math involved in flying.

Three things can create friction and drag in your own journey. See how many are true for you.

 

Your reluctance to process the past.

You may have suffered terrible abuse, trauma or fractured relationships.

Pain in your past can definitely create drag, or stop you outright, if you don’t take the time to process the events and try to derive some meaning from them.

It won’t fix the past, but processing that pain can help you understand how it’s affected you.

Please know that painful events take a significant amount of your time, energy and commitment to deal with. Healing doesn’t just happen, and certainly not without your permission.

The good news is you can use your past as fuel to push back against the forces resisting your flight.

But did you know your past successes can also create drag? It’s easy to rely on what you’ve always done, what’s always worked for you.

For many of us, when presented with a challenge, we immediately spring into action with what’s gotten us results before. I like to call this “doing a ‘File, Save As…'”

But no two challenges are exactly alike. A new challenge may require that you develop the humility to learn new skills, especially if you want to grow and push past that experience.

Relying on what you’ve always done may have you doing doughnuts on the runway, or it may just keep you grounded.

Your reliance on comforting distractions. 

We have a bajillion ways to put something off or escape our anxieties right at our fingertips. We don’t even have to try hard to find a rabbit trail.

We spend so much time on things that aren’t terrible, really. They make us feel good and maybe they help us learn something. Yet they offer no real path toward our goals.

It’s great to be informed about the world, but if reading the news takes time away from writing that article for your blog, maybe not. It’s cool to watch what’s trending on Netflix, but four episodes in and it’s after midnight, well, now you’ve lost the chance to get your good sleep on.

And we all now know the total drag social media can be. Have you ever tried to scroll through a piece of paper? Yeah, you might be on your phone too much.

But distractions go beyond the obvious things, like news, Netflix and social media.

Seemingly worthy efforts can get us to look at something else that’s bright and shiny.

In his book, “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done,” Jon Acuff refers to these as noble obstacles, “a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish.”

  • Spending all your time designing business cards, brochures and a website for your new business instead of getting leads and referrals.
  • Devouring books and podcasts on how to write books and podcasts instead of actually, you know, writing books and podcasts.
  • Creating a beautiful, perfectly-row-spaced project planning spreadsheet with a trendy font (and that prints perfectly in .8 margins) instead of starting the first task in the project.
  • Browsing Psychology Today profiles ad nauseum looking for a therapist instead of actually calling one (just throwing that out there).

These are distractions at their very finest because they produce something tangible, and convince us that we’re moving forward.

You’re focusing too much on yourself. 

Therapy can become narcissistic if you let it.

Obviously in therapy the goal is to improve yourself and change things about your life. It’s exciting to discover what’s been holding you back. And it’s fun to watch other people realize their a-ha moment, where just a little bit of their life now makes more sense.

But there’s a point where too much focus on you means you’re missing things about others. Your experiences may make you uniquely qualified to help someone around you, right now, even in your wounded state.

Serving others in your family, at your job, or in your community takes you outside yourself a little bit and creates connection.

You don’t have to build someone an entire house. You can serve others in all kinds of small ways.

  • Offer an ear to a stressed out coworker.
  • Volunteer for just one event at your church.
  • Ask your barista how their day is going so far.
  • Pack a lunch for your spouse before they head out for work so they don’t have to (I’m going to hear about this one).

Taking time for others as you’re working through your own struggles can give you a new perspective. And in order to grow and change, you have to keep challenging your perspectives.

Moving forward can sometimes feel impossible when you see the size of the machine you’re trying to get off the ground.

Don’t be afraid to tackle the areas that may be keeping you from getting off the runway.

Always be learnin’:

More than you may ever want to know about aerodynamic drag:
https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/drag1.html

Here’s some recent research on helping others:
https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2016/How-Helping-Others-Can-Help-You

Jon Acuff’s very fine book on how to finish things and his very fine blog:
https://www.amazon.com/Finish-Give-Yourself-Gift-Done-ebook/dp/B01N4VVT1Z
https://acuff.me/blog/

 

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Consistency wins the game

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Consistency is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Wait, isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Walk with me.

Everyone chases results. You can get fired from your job if you don’t get results. Your doctor shakes her head when she sees the results of your annual exam. You’re on thin ice with your spouse if they’re not happy with your contributions to the marriage.

But few people chase the actual work day in and day out.

Why?

  • Because consistent effort, regardless of the result, is hard.
  • It’s frustrating when there’s little to show for your time.
  • And it can get boring.

As modern westerners, we don’t like hard, frustrating or boring.

And consistency is an exercise in humility. We lose our minds over big wins. We golf clap incremental milestones. So we gravitate to those grandiose efforts.

But here’s the rub: In order to see change in your life, you have to get in a rhythm with the consistent work that will get you where you want to be.

There’s no other way.

  • Do the work no one may notice to thrive in your job.
  • Make the hard dietary changes to lower your cholesterol and keep your heart healthy.
  • Serve your spouse’s needs every day to keep your marriage alive.

It’s Monday. Show up and punch the bag.

Monday Check Yourself: No one’s thinking about you

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It’s not what people think about you, it’s what you think they think about you.

But here’s the thing. No one’s thinking about you. Not like you think.

You worry what people might say if you step out into the spotlight a bit.

You focus on making everything perfect so people will think how great you are and how you never seem to mess up. (oh my!)

You get worked up wondering how people might be plotting “evil strategery” against you in their spare time.

All eyes up front: No one but you is thinking about that right now.

How much are you thinking about other people in this very moment? Yep. You’re thinking about yourself.

And that’s okay. So is everyone else.

We’re all worried about doing a good job at work and managing everything on our precariously-balanced plates without freaking out on those we care about. And we’re trying to look cool while doing it all.

All of us.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should go about committing dastardly deeds because you think no one’s paying attention to you. Simmer down, Dr. Evil.

But stop wasting your time — your most valuable commodity — wondering what others think about you.

It’s Monday. Go be you.

How to be a good listener

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Good listening skills are a must in any relationship. But what does being a good listener look like in real life?

Here are some simple tips to boost your listening game.

2018 – Best Year Ever

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As 2017 dawned I was caught in a place between excitement for another new year (my sunny disposition can’t resist that each year) and massive frustration at feeling I was living my life way beneath my potential.

I almost never feel settled in, but I was discontent in a whole new way. I wondered if I was just being irresponsible, lazy and disobedient to a God that has given me more than I could ever ask or think.

And I was turning into a major buzzkill at work and at home.

But on January 8, 2017, Christ Fellowship Senior Pastor Todd Mullins shared from Isaiah 54:2 as part of a series called “Wide Open.”

In this verse, God is calling the nation of Israel to prepare for an influx of more people and to move beyond existing borders. In order to do that, they would have to prepare themselves for this increase.

The tent was a well-understood symbol of their nomadic life in the wilderness.

Not only would they have to make their tent bigger, but all the supporting mechanisms — the cords and the pegs driven into the ground — would have to be stretched longer and driven deeper.

Pastor Todd challenged us to enlarge our perspective of God and ourselves.

And most importantly, to embrace the stretch.

In order to do what God has called us to do, we have to get bigger and be flexible so we can be in place for God to use us.

In order to get bigger and more flexible, you have to be different and committed. You must act with urgency, and be ready to leave the field you’re familiar with and walk in to your future.

It was time, he said, to walk in boldness and enthusiasm.

For whatever reason, sitting there, I felt a shift inside me.

  • I don’t like to be different. It’s scary and weird.
  • I don’t like to stretch. I like to keep just what I need at arm’s length.
  • I don’t like to be bigger. I like to hide behind and support big people.
  • I’m not bold. I like to play it safe so I can control the outcome.

I realized I was the sole reason for my discontent.

God had given me the raw material 47 years ago. I had chosen not to use it in an intentional way. I had been keeping my cords short and my pegs dangerously shallow.

So I made a simple decision that day to simply dig deep and be bold.

Even if it’s scary or weird. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it puts me out there all by myself. Even (and maybe, especially) if it doesn’t make sense.

I wasn’t fulfilling my call by playing it safe.

Game over, girlfriend.

After the service that morning, we went out to a burlap tent drape that was set up in the hallway, where we could write a promise to ourselves for 2017. This is what I wrote:

 

 

I think I was pretty bold. Let’s review:

  • I left a 20-year career in marketing and communications and began full-time life as a fee-for-service therapist (see also: non-salaried).
  • I stepped up into more visible leadership roles at church to serve an awesome church family.
  • I put my face out there online to share my expertise (it’s terrifying every time).

These may not sound bold to you, but each of these hit on key areas where I felt pretty safe, comfortable and in the shadows.

Move forward and take action

This is the biggest nut to crack in my work with clients.

If things change, it’s not because we talked about it in session.

It’s not because we changed other people (but if you can do that, I totally want in on your mojo).

And it’s certainly not because things “just worked out.”

Real change happens because we simply choose to take bold actions that put us out there, and believe that God will honor that boldness:

  • To set boundaries on those who hurt us repeatedly.
  • To leave situations that are not healthy or promoting growth
  • To take simple actions every day that will help us improve our mood or help us function just a little bit better.
  • To intentionally seek connection with others who will hold us accountable and bolster us through the difficult times (yes, connection is a choice).

An intentional year

So in 2018 I’m building on that boldness by pursuing intention, in all things:

  • In my relationship with God
  • In my relationships with those who matter most to me
  • In my professional competence
  • In my attitude and outlook
  • In using the mashup of skills I’ve been given to make a difference for others

These are all choices, and totally in my court.

I want 2018 to be the best year I’ve ever had.

What bold and intentional moves will you make in 2018?