February 26, 2013

Rat Race

Yesterday, I alluded to the fact that I spend an inordinate amount of time putting out make-believe fires,  i.e. scrambling to accomplish tasks on tight timelines that are entirely preventable or do not actually exist. I cannot speak for other industries, but this is a common thing in the non-profit world: a philosophy that equates being busy to producing good work and vice-versa. It kind of reminds me of this bumper sticker:


It is exasperating and everyone is in on it: from CEO's to mid-level employees to interns. It is easy to become an enabler for this phenomenon too. I certainly fall into it when I stop eating dinner to return an "important" e-mail or when I pick up the phone after hours... waaaay after hours. None of these bad habits lead to productivity. For me, they lead to quite the opposite: spinning my wheels until I am exhausted and left hating my job and/or feeling bad about myself. In a great piece for the Harvard Business Review, entrepreneur and productivity expert Tony Schwartz offers great advice on slowing the wheels down and re-centering your focus on the personal qualities that make you a great worker in the first place. He writes that there is a sweet spot of productivity that lasts about 90 minutes.  Breaking your projects or day up into 90 minute chunks can go a long way to achieving your goals and objectives. Pushing it much longer than that without a break to decompress does more harm than good. Instead, get up and leave your desk! Even if it's to take the dog on a walk, get a snack or chat with a coworker, it will break up the intensity of the day and you'll return to your desk with fresh perspectives and added capacity to tackle the project at hand. Another great piece of advice was to spend a few minutes giving thanks: to colleagues, a client, the UPS guy, whomever is around. Too many times we notice or critique outcomes we don't like, instead of being grateful for what works. Even if it's a small compliment, it will go a long way for both you and the recipient.  

There are tons of other great tips in the article, all of which will help get us off the hamster wheel, slow down and start feeling better about the great work we really do!

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