A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Working Wisdom: The Impact of Change on Your Mind

Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind.  To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse.  To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better.  To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.
– King Whitney, Jr. 

Change management consultants often advise to “get the right people on the bus.”  The idea is to make sure all workers support and commit to the organizational changes.  But is this realistic?  Change leaders frequently neglect to evaluate the potential and residual effects changes will create across departments, functional areas and individual workers.  My research has found that workers who are most hopeful about the changes tend to burn out as the initiative progresses.  They are “the right people on the bus” – but they become frustrated, angry then apathetic when the organization inadequately supports them in their efforts to change.  Organizational change requires individual change and only 25% of organizations successfully change.  Always consider the psychology of your workforce during a transformation.  Strive to inspire their confidence through not only the desirability of the changes but also in the humanity and vision of your change leaders.

Working Wisdom uses my favorite quotes to think about work in a new way.

It’s What You Do — Not What You Talk About — That Reflects Your Priorities

So much to do…but so little time!  Yet isn’t it amazing that we can always find the time to do something we want to do at that moment – yet we can’t seem to make a dent in our endless “to do” (or what I like to call “should’s”) lists?

I used to think that it was just procrastination, but now I realize that the procrastination is merely a symptom.  The real problem is that we are “should-ing” ourselves by agreeing to do things that are just not that meaningful to us – and we rebel by not doing them.

Actions speak louder than words.  Whether it’s scheduling time to meet an old friend for coffee or finishing up a lengthy research project or even letting go of a relationship that has gone sour, what we spent our time doing is a reflection of our true priorities.

We are living in an age of fantastic opportunities with dozens of ideas, requests and interests that compete for our attention.  Life is no longer a simple choice between “A” or “B.”

Combine that with our Western preference for linear thinking and Judeo-Christian guilt, a “simple” decision is burdened with a series of nagging questions:  Is this the best use of my time right now – or should I be doing something else?  Am I giving too much?  Is this a waste of my time?  And (my favorite) what will other people think of me if I do what I really want instead?

I see the stress of these endless choices in myself, my friends and my colleagues.  We’re taking on more responsibilities than any human can handle as we try to juggle work and career, family and friends, relationships and ourselves.  We may want to do it all, but our efforts are often half-hearted.  We keep taking on more because we’re being “should-ed” to death.

Now you’re probably arguing that there are many things that you want to do, but just don’t have time to do (unless, of course, you quit sleeping – which opens up a whole other can of psychological and physical problems).  But I believe that life is about choice.  If you say “yes” to one thing, then you are also saying “no” to something else.  You can’t do it all and you can’t have it all.  But you can have what you want based on your priorities.

When I decided to write this blog, it was after a difficult experience with a detached retina (lying on your side for 50 minutes on the hour for a month in order to help save your vision gives you a lot of time for reflection).  I started asking myself, “What’s really important to me?”

I’ve found that what I spend my time doing is a reflection (either conscious or unconscious) of what has real meaning for me.  My actions reflect my priorities.  Was I doing something because I wanted to – or was it because this is what a “good person” should do?  Doing something half-heartedly is worse than saying “no” in the first place.

We women tend to take care of everybody else, but forget about taking care of ourselves.  So I’ve started to say “no” to a lot of things.  And each day I wake up and say, “Today is a page in the new book of my life. How do I want to live it?”

Working Wisdom: Ideas to Keep You Motivated

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.  – Chinese proverb 

Profound growth requires transformational changes that take time.  Although we all have experienced the sudden “a ha!” moment in which the solutions to our problems miraculously appeared, we often forget the conscious and unconscious wrestling, weighing and assessing that preceded these moments of “sudden” illumination and transformation.  Just like you can’t eat an elephant in one bite, you can’t transform yourself or your business in one quarter.  Identify and embrace the small changes that lead to transformational growth over time.  Celebrate the small wins.  Slow growth is still movement forward, while standing still is an illusion that camouflages deterioration.

Working Wisdom uses my favorite quotes to think about work in a new way.

Is There a Link Between Multitasking and Presenteeism?

Ah, the joy and satisfaction of multitasking.  You can do your laundry, watch a TV show, prepare an expense report and brainstorm ideas on new marketing campaigns all at the same time.  What a great way to save time and get more done!

Yeah, right.  The problem is that we’re not robots.

On paper, multitasking is a great idea – you can use the same block of time to complete more than one task or activity.  As a reformed chronic multitasker, I now realize that the only way to effectively multitask is by carefully choosing which tasks can be automated and which ones can’t.

My strategy is to automate the manual, repetitive tasks but not attempt to automate the strategic ones.  By programming technology to complete mundane duties, I’m then freed to focus higher level cognitive and creative abilities – those capabilities that are distinctively human – to complete important, creative or strategic activities.

But that’s not the way we usually multitask.  Chronic multitaskers are frustrated that we can’t program ourselves to complete several tasks at once – regardless of whether their natures are repetitive or strategic.  After all, if computers can do that, then it follows that we (the ones who created the computers) should be able to multitask, too.

But humans aren’t computers, so we physically and psychologically can’t do many things at once.  Well, we can – but often they are not done that well.  Whatever we are doing, part of our attention is diverted to something else, so we’re not directing 100% of our energies and creativity to complete the task at hand.

In other words, multitaskers tend to engage in presenteeism – a phenomenon where even though we are physically in a place, mentally and psychologically we’re really not there.  You know the symptoms:  the uncomfortable pauses or lost lines of thought when you’re talking to an employee about her performance while planning for an upcoming client meeting.

How effective are you in this situation really?  You probably realize that neither task has your full concentration – and lack of concentration leads to repetition and lost opportunities.  The presenteeism that is associated with multitasking leads to miscommunication and misunderstandings.

I’m all for automating routine, repetitive, nonstrategic activities.  But I no longer try to multitask when I’m involved in an important, strategic or creative project.  By single-tasking, I’ve become more efficient because I get things done faster and (more importantly) to a higher standard.

I also engage in serial single-tasking.  I’ll give myself a break at different times on a lengthy assignment by stopping work at an appropriate stopping point, moving on to another task that uses a different type of brain activity, then moving back to the original task.  It’s a great practice that helps build mindfulness, reduce stress and enhance job satisfaction.

Emotional and Uncontrolled Eating When Burned Out: What Do You Crave?

A new study of 230 Finnish women explored the relationship between burnout and the tendency to engage in emotional eating (EE) and/or uncontrolled eating (UE) (Nevanpera et al., February 28, 2012, Occupational Burnout, Eating Behavior, and Weight Among Working Women, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition at http://www.ajcn.org/content/early/2012/02/18/ajcn.111.014191.abstract).

  • Emotional eating is eating when you’re stressed, anxious or depressed rather than hungry.
  • Uncontrolled eating is the feeling that you’re always hungry or that you can’t stop eating until all the food is gone.

This finding mirrors what I found in my research on the causes and maintenance factors of employee burnout during organizational change.  But I’m curious — just what kinds of food are most craved when you’re stressed or burned out?

Let me know what you think by answering this quick poll.  Feel free to share!

Working Hard, Working Smart and Not Working

We’ve all heard about the importance of working hard and how it manifests into a strong work ethic.  We’ve also been advised to use technology to help us work smart by prioritizing and multitasking our activities.  This focus on work is what creates success.  But we’ve never been told to stop working.

In the American workplace, working long hours is a badge of honor – even though many of us are cranky, burned out and (if we’re honest with ourselves) not really living up to our full potential.  Yet we continue because the Puritan work ethic on which our country was founded persistently pervades our ideas about what it means to be a “good” worker.

Asian spiritualities advise that hard work (or forceful determination) should be balanced with not working (or surrendering) in order to recoup our energies.  Why do we continue to ignore this healthier approach to life and work?

Like many people, even when I wasn’t technically working, I continued to think about work and strategies, clients and marketing, profits and expenses.  Because I never really stopped thinking about work, I never really permitted myself the joy and rejuvenating power of totally letting work go.  Isn’t that what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?

When I was forced into quiet reflection due to the surgeries and recovery for a detached retina, I really started to question the silent but pervasive nagging that success requires a 24/7 commitment to working hard and working smart.  This tunnel vision mislabeled as “focus” was (or so I had been told) the path to success.

I know now that instead this can be the path to dissatisfaction, unhappiness, lack of clarity and physical and psychological dis-ease.

In response to these insights, I made a concentrated effort to be mindful and present in each moment.  No small task!  But I no longer try to multitask – not only do I now find it to be rude, but I also believe that it actually reduces efficiency and efficacy.  I no longer finish a task without a mini-celebration before I move on to the next one.  I am no longer a slave to the hardened task master of my thoughts that constantly pushed me to do more.

The results have been remarkable.  Working less hours, I am accomplishing more.  Taking time each day for myself without guilt, I have unleashed a new sense of joy in whatever I am doing.  I am more creative, more focused and a lot less stressed.

The 1980’s mantra of “work hard, play hard” needs to be replaced with “work hard, work smart, then don’t work!”

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