Welcome back to work!
Typically, things slow down a little for many in the non profit sector over the two week period of Christmas and New Year. Not for all of us of course, as many who provide front line services have still been hard at work while the rest of us have wallowed in being indoors (enforced by weather and visiting relatives?) and had a chance to recover from 2015 and face down a whole new year.
For those of us who have had a chance to reflect on the past year and look at the new one ahead, I’m sure several things have come to mind. Lots of personal things you’d like to do and plan to do this year – from big things like move, change jobs, move on with relationships, through to small stuff like promising yourself to not eat all the chocolates and eat more veggies instead.
I am not a fan of new year resolutions typically. In the broadest possible terms, you can change anything you do – your attitude, behaviour, approach, how you dress, what you eat, whether you can be bothered to go to the gym – at any time of the year. You don’t have to wait until the darkest month of the year to to it. But New Year – linear calendar new year, or any other new year that you have – is the one time you do get pause to reflect and so on one level it makes some sense.
But what are you reflecting on?
It’s fairly typical to hear people reflect on the more negative aspects of life and think about what they want to stop doing. For example, if you want to stop smoking, lose weight. On the face of it these are great goals, but they’re also huge. It is very hard to stop something, particularly when parts of it may be out of your control. It is much easier to change something or start to do something differently.
Start doing something instead
I’d like to ask you to flip your thinking. I think you’ll find it more successful in the long run. Start do do things instead of stopping doing things. Its much easier to start afresh and with a new page – just look at the list you left on your desk at the end of last year. It feels easier to start a new list on a new page than work through half completed scribbles. The personal gaols like stopping smoking can work in the same way – you want stop of course, but does it sound easier to say I will start having 20 cigarettes this week (rather than 30 or 25?).
And then starting with something and working towards it is easier to it. It’s really hard to stop smoking full stop. Not impossible, but hard. If you keep trying and fail you’ll lose heart and are back to square one. Better instead to make small steps of progress towards your end goal – whether smoking, or another goal.
Some of this is about language and semantics. Stop is negative. Start of change is positive. All of us respond better to positive feedback than negative – its easier to process and put in context. So let’s use that knowledge to make positive differences in our life.
It is not always easy to start something or change something. Sometimes stop sounds simpler to write. But take the time to make that a more positive frame for yourself. I’d start by writing your list out – whether work or personal to do. Then look at how you can flip it – what is in your control to achieve? What behaviour or action do you need to do differently to be able to deliver the change you want to see? How can you plan for this? Are there steps and milestones along the way? What do you think might happen to get in the way of you achieving what you want to? How can you mitigate that risk?
There are hosts of reasons why we don’t do what we say we’ll do
There are hosts of reasons why we don’t achieve what we know we should – or want to achieve. When you’re making plans, you’re in a different place than when you’re delivering the work – that’s when you’re stressed, tired and while doing the work not always doing it with enthusiasm, passion and commitment. Real life gets in the way too – who can be 100% when you’re concerned about getting the boiler fixed or a sick relative, or worried about money. Be realistic when you’re planning things – but still push yourself to excel.
These reasons that get in the way of success are never going to stop. It is *always* going to be this busy – and get busier in real life and work life. We are going to have find ways to cope. I think we all recognise in ourselves that we think ‘I’ll get past this piece of work then take some time to plan‘. And I think we can all recognise that this time probably doesn’t happen. You’re already into the next thing. If you thought like this last year about getting organised, why do we think that this year is going to be any different? I think we’ll make more progress if we realise that this is how it is now – there’s no point hanging out for a break in the pressure of work to get organised. You have to do it now, while the modern madness of phone, email, web, home, work, balance – stress – is going on around you.
We have to adjust to this, or ultimately we personally will lose out – lose opportunities, lose personal time to stress and worry, let work take over personal space. It doesn’t mean roll over and do everything. It means adjust our approach to deal with it.
It sounds harsh and negative and like we’re all under pressure the whole time. But I think if we face up to the fact that this is how the world mostly works now, its easier to deal with. We can wish it was different of course, but if we bury our heads in the sand about it and dream of a time when we are able to have time between projects, tasks, every day pressures, then I think we are not being realistic or honest with ourselves about how the world around us has changed. It is certainly like it in the commercial world, and all the signs are there in the non profit world that these pressures are getting worse – lots of conversations last year. A great signal is when someone asks you how you are, and you reply ‘busy’. Busy is not the right response. Fine, thanks. Just getting over a cold. Feeling great, actually. These are responses to an enquiry about your health and well-being (however much as Brits we realise this is not a time to actually tell someone how you are ….). Saying busy is a sign that you’re not really paying attention to that question and are thinking about all the other things on your list that need to be achieved.
If you don’t recognise any of those pressures, you are lucky. Do what you can to keep things as they are.
What’s all this got do with work?
A happy you is a productive you. You’ll be happier and more productive at work if you feel more in control of your time, work and approach. Your boss will be happier and you’ll receive better feedback if you deliver what you agreed and are mindful of your colleagues. Being an active participant in life at home and work makes you a better, happier person who is able to manage to live both to their fullest – and do more than ‘just survive’ the year ahead and keep your head above water. No-one wants to live like that.
My four simple things for 2016 to be better personally and professionally
On the face of it, none of these things I plan to start doing this year are either innovative or particularly hard to achieve. But I know that I didn’t optimise my time last year around these areas, so by starting to do this will make a positive difference on the year ahead. I always reflect on life a lot when it comes to my birthday time and I count how well I feel I am doing with the passing of the years and whether I am happy with where I am and what I am doing – so I know I will be able to assess whether this is having an impact later in the year and will be able to look at what else I can do to achieve things. I’m happy to share my four key things and be held accountable for them by sharing them publicly.
Everything about our jobs in non profit is about making the world a better place to be for the beneficiaries we work with. But I think we can only really do that when we are also being the best we can be in our own lives too. So my work/personal ‘hacks’ for the year ahead are really really simple and will help me cope with a rapid pace of change.
- The daily list – a clean page every day. No recriminations for not doing everything on the previous days list, just a new start, every day.
- Take lunch – whether you get a half hour or an hour, this is critical time to mark out in your calendar. It’s a win-win for you and your employer as it means you know you can make time to call about the gas bill or catch up with personal email and concentrate on work when you should. It is also a great time to get some air and take some exercise. If you’re too busy or have too many commitments to get to the gym, even a 10-15 min walk every day will make a difference to your health, and your ability to do your work. Sit back down at your desk with a clear perspective on what to achieve in the afternoon. Most of us don’t have life and death jobs, so can really do this. How many of us do?
- One life, one schedule – Of course, personal and work appointments are not the same but your life is a whole and our ‘new ways of working’ often blur distinctions. I’m going to try a whole life planning approach and use only one system to record actions and plans. Update or synchronise your work calendar to your personal calendar or vice versa and you’ll never again be making an excuse for an important late meeting as you forgot you had parents evening. Use the same way of keeping notes or reminders (Google Keep, MS One Note, Ever-note etc) or find a sync between them so you can easily jot down things you remember (like the need to call a colleague about a project while you’re in the supermarket, or make a call about the gas bill when you’re in the midst of a conference call). I think ultimately this will save time and mean I am able to be focused when I have the time to commit to small or big tasks at home or at work with minimal distraction or loss of focus on either.
- Be more focused – as many jokes as apply about being able to properly multi-task, there can come a time when you have 10 tabs and 10 sheets open and you enter the wrong thing in the wrong place or all the tasks somehow take all day to achieve. Some tasks need focus and attention. I think that by recognising this, I will be able to achieve things more quickly and use less mental energy in the process as I try and remember what I am trying to juggle. If you have a ‘stop doing too much’ goal or resolution – this would be the flip positive approach.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and productive 2016.