It seems these days we’re all always busy doing something. And showing others what we’re doing via social media is pretty much the norm for most people although there’s a correlation there with age of course. And if you’re into your social media, or even if you’re into your social, you’re probably going to be hit most days with feelings of envy (for where your friends or some random celebrities are on holiday right now) or guilt (because of the value-add activities that everyone else seems to be engaged in) or an overwhelming desire to take action (to make sure you’re keeping up with the Joneses, or the bots, or whatever it is that’s putting up these social media posts that are making you feel like this).
So is this where we’ve arrived? Everything quantified, measured, assessed in terms of likes, followers, shares, retweets, relative value of this activity over that, size of cake baked, complexity of dish cooked, number of steps taken, distance run, side hustles started, exoticism of holiday destinations booked? Exhausting, right? Happy with that? No? Ok, then read on.
So back to where we’ve got to with everything becoming commoditised, gamified and quite frankly de-funned because for many of us, the management of our online and offline personas means that we’re not living in the now and appreciating what’s around us in the moment. In our defence, there are good social psychological reasons, both for the development of the apps and platforms where we now spend so much time and also for our social attitudes and behaviour, which even before social media, were being driven in largely similar ways. We are after all social animals and being social animals, we routinely judge ourselves by comparison with others.
So we end up weighing up our own self-worth and value in the world by comparing with relevant reference points in our social network or in the wider social world. This can lead to a positive striving towards self-improvement, where we weigh up the worthy deeds of others and decide that we want to do something positive in the world too. But given the omnipresence of social media today (if you let it be omnipresent that is), this can all too easily lead to feelings of lowered self-esteem as you realise that you can never be that worthy, that tall, that thin, that rich or that famous.
I’ve podcasted before on the topic of going slow – that was at Season 1, Episode 10. Also, there’s a load about social comparison at Season 3 Episode 2 when I podcasted on ‘comparison being the thief of happiness’. There’s some more ideas in both of those casts, but today I want to focus more on us valuing ‘doing nothing’ as a thing in itself. Not something that would be significant enough to social post or even tell anyone about, but something rewarding just because it reminds you of being you, or reminds you of being a child, free of responsibilities or worries, or just because it’s fun.
My story on this, my epiphany really, came on a Boxing Day a few years back. It had been a crap year, my Mum had died and that had been a real emotional rollercoaster for everyone in my family, including me. And we’d had our first Christmas without Mum, which was so tough – everyone who’s lost someone close to them talks about the importance of that first year and just making it through all the ‘events’ of the year…birthdays, special days, holidays, Christmas as well…those times that you would have spent with that person who’s now gone. And the advice is just to go through the motions almost because you need to redefine your life without that person in it and experience that for the first time, because once you’ve toughed through it once, you’ll never have to do it for the first time again. Course, you don’t fully appreciate all of that at the time and there I was, having lost Mum in the summer and having just had Christmas day with everyone else in the family.
On Boxing Day, that oh so in between day of the year, I was with my family at home – just me and my family. And I decided to have a go at the Christmas present that I’d asked for, which was architectural Lego of the Fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright, my favourite house in the world. Google it if you don’t know it, it’s amazing. So I sat and I built my Lego Fallingwater for about 3 hours straight, really focused on each brick coming together, visualising the actual building but mainly just enjoying the very very tactile, immediate process of putting together a Lego construction.
Those guys have really nailed in terms of physical experiences. And I could feel emotional weight leaving me. And I just felt connected with kid me. And adult me actually. And just enjoying that time, mainly on my own, from time to time someone would come in and see how I was getting on, but mainly it was just me, in the quiet, focused on what I was doing. Time flew by and stood still and in the end I was finished. Which was actually quite a sad moment, because I’d come to the end of that wonderful, elevating, lightening process. But I remember the experience overall so vividly and also as such a dreamlike state because I was in flow and totally connected to what I was doing. And that thing I was doing had no purpose, no real reason, it was just for pleasure, for enjoyment.
The Lego model is still sat on one of my bookshelves in the living room, along with a few other architectural Lego buildings that I made in the years after but nothing came close to that first Fallingwater experience. Those Lego buildings remind me to sometimes just go out and play basketball with my son. Or go for a run without my phone or my Fitbit. Or have a bath and fall asleep in it. Or climb a tree and shout. Or sing loudly as if no one can hear. Or go and sit in the sun and do nothing. And not photograph any of it to ‘capture the moment’ or to put it up on social media later.
So I don’t really have any tips or hints for you today, other than to remember sometimes to just have fun, be a kid from time to time, be free from competition and commoditisation of experience and measuring the value of everything that you do and the feelings of pressure that can bring and just do nothing, be free.
Find a fun thing to do, a nothing thing to do, every day, or at least once this week, and see what that simple pleasure brings you.
So we’re all striving for a better work-life balance, but is balance the right word? That suggests there’s a kind of perfect balance point but maybe it’s a bit difficult to attain it and to keep it there, as though one little extra thing on either side will unbalance it and then all is lost? Perhaps the phrase work-life blend describes it better because then work and life are more integrated….dynamic….forgiving? We can strive for the right blend for us but we’re learning all the time and that learning helps us get it right more often than not. Plus our needs and expectations change, so sometimes more work is better, sometimes more not work. Or maybe what’s more important is how to make sure that your work and your life are working for you. So today’s podcast gives you some tips to keep in mind when managing those two aspects of your world.
So from all the work we do with people where striking the right balance between work and life has become a big focus for them, here are our top tips for getting it as right as it can be:
1. Get clear on your boundaries
So first, get clear on your boundaries. This is such an important thing to work on for most people, not just relating to work-life balance but to life and work in general. You need to be certain of the line between ok and not ok for you. That is in terms of what you’re being asked to do, how far you’re willing to stretch and risk your time, your energy, even your reputation in order to help someone else out or to get that vital piece of work over the line. Being clear about your values helps you define your boundaries because when something or someone starts to threaten one of your values, they’re standing at that boundary line. And what you say or do next defines that line in terms of both your expectations. So say that you really value time with your family and that you want to make sure that you get home each evening to spend time with them. But if a colleague or a boss approaches you and asks you to work late repeatedly, and you agree, you are subconsciously resetting that boundary line in favour of work, or the person who has asked for help, and the value of family and family time becomes compromised, so you end up feeling drained and guilty from that. The best way of avoiding situations like this is to know where your boundary lines are and to keep them there so that they don’t start to become fuzzy, because when they become fuzzy, you’ll start to ignore them and so will other people. So, be clear on when you’re working and be clear on when you’re not so that other people respect the time you’re keeping for you.
2. Learn to switch off
Secondly, learn to switch off. Learning to switch off isn’t just about moving away from digital. It’s also learning how to leave work at work and not carry it round with you the whole time. Creating clear transition points or rituals between work and not work can help with this, whether you’re working in an office, from home, or somewhere else entirely. You can train your brain to recognise when you’re preparing to move into ‘work mode’ by creating habits and rituals that set you up for that – a walk to work, listening to motivating music or podcasts on the way in, checking emails or social media. And potentially doing the same but with a different aim at the end of the working day – walking from work, listening to or watching more home-related music or content and closing off emails, looking at more home-related social media. And you can do that wherever you’re working, including working from home – your body and brain will recognise the rituals even if the location is different. And those rituals in themselves can help create clear boundaries that should enable you to step into not work mode each day and move into time for you and for other things.
3. Lose the guilt
Third, and this can be tough, but lose the guilt. This is probably the biggest cause of people ignoring their own boundaries and not switching off. You know, that gnawing sense that you SHOULD be available all hours, maybe because you feel other people are, or because it’s expected somehow, or that you SHOULD take on that piece of work that someone else hasn’t got the time for, because what would be the consequences if you didn’t, it would upset other people and they would have to work harder, or whatever. But if you’re caught in the guilt trap, take some time to check around and see what’s really going on – is it really right and fair that you should be the one taking up the slack, giving up extra time? Or are you allowing yourself to be taken advantage of? Give yourself a break and appreciate the things that you do and have done…show some self-compassion. And imagine yourself in the shoes of the person who is making you feel guilty. If the situation was reversed, would you expect what they seem to expect of you? All of these practices can help you shake off that guilty feeling.
4. Find a job you love
OK, roaring in at number 4 is good old Confucius saying (like only 2,500 years ago)…find a job you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life. The idea here is to follow your passions and dreams and go get that job that you really really want to do, the job that’s aligned with your own purpose and has real meaning for you, and where you get to play to your strengths most of the time because they appreciate your talents and what you can bring to work. That way, work doesn’t feel like work at all and the work-life blend idea maybe becomes more relevant, because then you’re almost having to create space from work because you LOVE IT SO MUCH! Anyway, it’s clearly easier to find the right balance or blend between work and life if you love one or both elements, so do your best to find that job that you love.
5. Manage your energy
Finally, be conscious of your energy and make sure you’re keeping it topped up with the things that give you energy rather than having your energy sapped bit by bit and not giving yourself enough time or space to recover during each day. Energy management involves becoming good at spotting what it is in your life and at work that energises you and drains you, whether it’s a person or people, a place, a task or project, whatever it is. When you get good at knowing how your energy works, you’ll be able to manage it throughout each day so that there’s plenty of battery left by the time your work day is over and your evening’s beginning.
So there it is, to get that elusive work-life blend working for you: get clear on your boundaries, learn to switch off, lose the guilt, find a job you love and get savvy at managing your energy. Finally, enjoy your week and go easy on yourself!
Heard of the negativity bias? Well it’s EVERYWHERE! It’s a human predisposition to look for the negative in everything we see. The risk, the downside, the problem, the reason it won’t work. And once upon a time, that human trait really helped us. It probably saved our lives. From animal attacks when we lived in caves, for example. And don’t get me wrong, it can still help us today. SOME of the time. Just not the whole time.
Think about it – from the moment we’re born, we’re being told what not to do – don’t spill the milk, don’t fall over, don’t poo there, don’t colour in outside the lines (oh, was that just me?) Then we go to school and we’re told don’t run, don’t put your bag on your shoulder, don’t have hair longer than that, or hair that colour. So, we go home and we’re asked how come we got a D on something when everything else on our report card is A or B, so we fixate on the D and beat ourselves up and still haven’t forgiven ourselves quite. And so it goes on.
In the end, we get to work and we’re told not to NOT do stuff, but to work on our ‘development needs’ instead. Like being a better presenter, developing gravitas, being more concise, curbing our enthusiasm, etc, etc. Only this is really also being told what not to do, just in a more politically correct or ‘respectful’ way. Hmmm. It’s not that this is badly intentioned or unimportant, some/much/all of this feedback has value. But, it kind of misses a lot of really valuable and important contributions we could be making, if only we also got some input on what makes us different and unique, but in a POSITIVE way.
So, imagine being told at work that the way you pitched to a client was outstanding, because you showed you really understood their brief, spoke to them, not at them, listened to what they had to say and seemed really relaxed doing all those things, like it kind of came naturally somehow. Or that your project plan delivered real value, because it showed how you had thought through all the dependent parts of the project, considered involving all the relevant stakeholders and in the end, made sure that everything was delivered to time and budget. And you turned it around really quickly, like in half the time we expected.
Clear, specific, evidence-based, strengths-focused feedback. Not happy clappy, positive stroke-y puff. Which is probably why developing a positive culture in your workplace is more likely to lay the foundations for a high performance culture.
Point made? Not yet? Okay, what about:
Still not convinced? Need more convincing? Okay, listen to this disarmingly funny but actually scientifically-based TED Talk by Shawn Achor, titled Happy Secret to Better Work
And give some of his ideas a go. Or you can always get in touch with us, we’re happy to help, and we’re good at this stuff.
Dr Paul Brewerton, Managing Director, Strengthscope Ltd and co-creator of the Strengthscope® Profiling System