Insights for High Stress Professions
Does it feel like your hair is on fire all day long? Do you tend to run late? Do you schedule things back to back? Does it feel your roles are bleeding over into each other? Do you get bombarded as soon as you walk in the door? It’s time to build in buffers.
A buffer is space between two things to keep them from colliding. Buffers give us breathing room, they give us space to deal with the unexpected things that come up, help us set boundaries, and allow us to dictate the flow of our day.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or that you need more time to reset between events in your day, you need to build a buffer. You need to create space in your day.
I want to share three types of buffers. The most straightforward and common one we hear is a time buffer. Less common types of buffers include mental buffers and physical buffers.
If you schedule meetings or appointments back to back, you have no time to reflect on the last one before you jump into the next. There is no room for the first one to run late or take extra time to answer questions. There is no room for traffic or other unexpected things that often come up. There is no time for you to take some quick actions from the last meeting or appointment. There is no time for you to refocus and prepare for what’s next.
A time buffer is creating a block of time in your calendar after an event that allows you to decompress, recover, reset, refocus, put out fires, answer questions, hit traffic, etc., before you have to get going on the next thing in your calendar.
How long your buffer needs to be can change based on factors like whether an event tends to run over, how draining you think it will be, the bandwidth you have that day, etc. You should actually schedule a buffer into your calendar (especially if others have the ability to schedule things into your calendar). If you think it will take 20 minutes to get somewhere, you should plan to give yourself 30. We tend to estimate time based on best case scenario (as in no traffic or accidents or needing fuel), so giving ourselves 30 minutes allows for a more realistic commute window.
How you transition from one mental space to another. Think of a mental buffer as a warm-up or cool down. A mental buffer acknowledges that to do the next task, you need to be in a different mental or emotional space or state than you are in right now, so you need to transition to that state. This is like getting to work and it taking a while to “settle in” to work mode, or getting home and needing some space before your family jumps in and needs something your energy and attention.
To create a mental buffer, you need awareness, time and tools. You need the time it will take to implement tools to collect yourself and raise or lower your mental and emotional energy to match the situation you are about to face. For example, acknowledging that you aren’t in the right mental or emotional space to respond to and sensitive email or have a difficult conversation, so you deliberately decide to not tackle those tasks RIGHT NOW. Then, you deliberately choose to use a tool like rhythmic breathing, loving kindness meditation, mindfulness, or exercise, to deliberately change your mental and emotional energy to get where you need to be for the next task. You can’t have a tough conversation with someone if you are depleted or if you are on edge. Getting where you need to be mentally and emotionally to be present and engage effectively with others is a service to you and to the other person.
Physical buffers look and sound more like boundaries or containers and are intended to protect physical spaces and the mental energy around them. It could be keeping work and electronics out of your bedroom, creating physical buffers to protect sleep. It could be creating a specific area in your house where work or homework are done. This not only helps keep your home more organized, but it protects mental space. If you are trying to focus in the same physical space where you relax, sleep, or play, it will be hard to maintain focus because your brain associates that space with other things, not with work. A physical buffer can also be leaving your work station for lunch and breaks.
Some work from home experts go as far as to recommend separate devices (here, here, here, here, here and here). As in have a work computer and a personal computer, have a work phone and a personal phone. That way, when it’s time to put work away, you completely separate yourself from the work devices and only use home devices. You aren’t tempted to switch screens and check work email because it isn’t even set up on your personal device. I understand the logic here, and acknowledge that it’s not necessarily a practical or a feasible options (as I type from my both business and personal laptop and check social media on my both business and personal cell phone).
What can you do to create space in your day? What do you already do to create breathing room?
Thrive: the Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington is a book that has reshaped the way I see the world and my choices in it. We have an inaccurate and unhelpful view of what makes someone successful. Success is traditionally measured by power and money. But when you reflect from the perspective of eulogies, that's not what people talk about when describing someone. There need to be a third metric of success.
When we cultivate wellbeing, wisdom, wonder and giving, we create the third leg of a stool to what makes someone successful, so we create a success that is more balanced and sustainable.
To create this third metric in our lives, we need to figure out little practices we can do regularly to build the factors that make up the third metric. This can be having walking meetings, scheduling time to be away from your technology, or crossing things off your to do list because they really aren't that important.
(Note: sketch notes are a mix of sketching and taking notes that graphically organizes the information).
Huffington, A. (2014). Thrive: the third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder. New York: Random House.
Rohde, M. (n.d.). What are sketchnotes? Retrieved from https://sketchnotearmy.com/sketchnotes.
#sketchnote #abundance #wellbeing #wonder #thrive
Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz is a really interesting book to read. It's easy to assume that having choices is a good thing. However, having too many choices can create a larger conundrum than having limited choices. is a powerful and motivating book. He describes the challenges with making decisions with too many choices, and provides some guidance on how to navigate those tricky situations.
I'd like to highlight two distinctions or tendencies in one's approach to making decisions. When trying to make a choice, you can be a maximizer or a satisficer. Maximizers believe that there is a perfect solution, and are dedicated to ensuring they make the best choice. They tend to agonize over decisions and collect a lot of information (often times even after a decision has been made). Satisficers have clear standards for the solutions they are examining, and once they make a choice that meets their standards, they they make a decision and they move on.
Here's what's really fascinating: maximizers spend an extraordinary amount of energy researching and comparing to make their decision, and are more likely to regret the choice they made than satisficers. Satisficers strategically limit their choices based on their goals and expectations, and are more satisfied with their choices than maximizers.
(Note: sketch notes are a mix of sketching and taking notes that graphically organizes the information).
“Good Enough” means different things to different people. For some, it means you put your best effort in, and you’re ready to call that task done. For some, it’s the benchmark where you’re off the hook for trying any harder. For some, it’s when you give up and walk away. Regardless, it’s a really loaded term. Even these descriptions can be interpreted multiple ways. Good enough could mean you put in your very best effort, or it could mean you put in the very best of what you had that day, or it could mean you put in the very best effort of what you had to spare on that task.
For some, good enough is very freeing. It gives them a sense of satisfaction and the ability to move on, focusing their energy on different projects. For others, good enough is not freeing at all; good enough is a cop-out, a flimsy standard that excuses not putting your best effort into something.
I think we need to be better at embracing the idea of good enough. In order to do this, we need to redefine our understanding and standard of good enough. There are a few reasons we need to redefine this. Good enough can feel like it’s lowering our standards. It’s not. It means you met the mark and can move on.
If good enough means we put in our best effort, that’s great, only “best effort” is hard to measure. My best effort on a task is probably different than your best effort. But even within myself, my best effort on a task might change based on time, energy, competing priorities, etc. Is my best effort my all-out best effort? Is it the best effort of what I have to give that day? Is it my best effort of what I have to give that day if I ignore everything else? How can I use best effort as a benchmark for good enough if best effort isn’t constant?
Another reason to redefine our standard for good enough is Parkinson's Law. Parkinson's law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. At my old job, if I only had an hour to prepare for a training, I could spend that whole hour preparing, organizing my notes and reviewing timing. If I had a full day to prepare for a training, I could spend the whole day preparing, organizing my notes, rehearsing, reviewing the timing needed for activities, etc. I had a core set of things I did to prepare, beyond that, I could spend a little or a lot of time preparing, but beyond those core things, the rest was just busywork. If you have weeks to spend writing a paper, you could spend weeks writing that paper. If you only have tonight to write that same paper, you could write it tonight. It should be noted, that shrinking the time window for a task can result in rushed and sloppy work, but the point I want to make with Parkinson's Law is that while chasing “good enough,” I could spend a little time or a lot of time. Based on how much time I have, my standard for good enough might need to change. But If I allow it, chasing good enough can take way more time than is appropriate for the task.
Finally, and this is what I try to focus on the most when defining what good enough means to me, is diminishing returns. There’s a point in my productivity where suddenly it’s a lot harder to get the same results. For example, in school, I knew about how much effort I needed to put into a class to get the grade I wanted. I could put more effort in to get a higher grade, but it would have been an extraordinary amount more time and effort to get the extra few points. Proportionally, it was a substantial amount more effort for only a slightly higher grade. This turning point, where it suddenly takes way more effort to yield the same increase in outcome, is the point of diminishing returns. This is the point where I try to place the good enough mark. I could do better, but it’s not worth the extra hustle to get to that mark.
I like working hard on things I care about. The more I reflect, the less I like hustling. To me, hustling is running around busily spending energy that doesn’t necessarily yield a better result. It’s spending energy to prove my worth instead of knowing I am enough, regardless of how I do, what gets done, and what doesn’t get finished.
If you find yourself hustling for the extra results, ask yourself two questions:
When evaluating the big things in your life, it’s important to remember there’s a time to rally, and there’s a time to move on to the next gig. There are things in your life that are worth the extra effort to strive for your best. But there are things in your life that aren’t worth your extra effort. It’s important to determine what these are ahead of time before you get stuck hustling on the hedonic treadmill.
Basco, M. R. (2000). Never good enough: How to use perfectionism to your advantage without letting it ruin your life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Malone, K., Gonzalez, S., Horowitz-Ghazi, A., & Goldmark, A. (2018, November 21). Episode 877: The Laws Of The Office. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/11/19/669395064/episode-877-the-laws-of-the-office
Parkinson, C. N. (1958). Parkinson's law: Or, The pursuit of progress. London: John Murray.
Schwartz, B. (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. New York: Harper Perennial.
#goodenough #satisficer #besteffort #productivity #diminishingreturns #hustling #haveitall #haveitall
In my last post, I discussed how we miss the point (and power) of optimism when we think optimism is viewing the glass as half full and pessimism as half empty.
Optimistic thinking is incredibly powerful, but we have to take it beyond the image of “glass half full” thinking and just seeing the good in everything. We need to identify what we did to fill the glass and what we can do to keep filling the glass. In this, we discover the super power of optimism. In these next few posts on optimism, we’ll explore ways to not only fill the glass, but keep the glass full in the face of events and circumstances that threaten to empty it.
Giving Gratitude an Oomph
A gratitude journal is one of the best ways to build a habit of noticing the good that happens around you. It is key to training your brain to see the glass as half full. The Army teaches this practice as a Hunt the Good Stuff journal, others call it a “5 good things” exercise, others gratitude or “give thanks” journal. In all cases, the basic premise is the same: you make a deliberate habit of looking for the good things that happen in your life.
This exercise can be conducted in many ways:
There is a wealth of research to support gratitude journals increasing happiness, decreasing depression and increasing optimistic expectations about their week and engagement in healthy behaviors (Peterson, 2006; Verkuyten & Thijs, 2002; Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Froh et al., 2010; Frederickson, 2004; Komter, 2004).
My family jokes that my grandma Lela has “Lela-colored” glasses. She has a very special way of looking at the world (as I imagine most grandmothers do). Every Tuesday, she prays for something special to happen to her or someone she loves. And every single week something special happens. Part of this is because we all know about it, so sometimes we made it a point to do something nice for her on a Tuesday, but part of it is she opened her aperture to find something good that happened. What truly gives my grandma her super power of optimism is her reflection of how those good things happened. She did something that helped to bring about that good thing. And she can repeat that behavior to make more good things happen.
We can give gratitude an oomph so it helps build our super power of optimism by taking the time to reflect on the items we identified. This reflection helps us savor the good stuff a little more, but most importantly, it gives us a “what’s next.” The reflection gives us a way to fill our glass even more effectively.
Gratitude is about noticing and savoring the good that happens. But the super power of optimism is about identifying what is next and what can you do to generate more things to be grateful for.
High-Yield Energy Investments
In the Yoga Sutras, there is a moral code called Bramacharya. Most often, when bramacharya is translated, it is thought to mean celibacy. In more modern interpretations, it refers right use of energy. Again, this can often be interpreted as exercising moderation in external or hedonistic indulgences. However, the idea of right use of energy can go beyond external expenditures of energy. We can examine internal energy expenditures as well. Where attention goes, energy flows. If we really think about where our energy is spent (and wasted) throughout a day, we spend an awful lot of energy spinning our wheels worrying and complaining about factors and circumstances we can’t control. Any time something happens to us, are are we spending our energy in the right way?
Low-yield energy investments tend to feel great in the moment. We complain, we vent, we identify other people or circumstances to blame for what’s going on, we look for allies to our point of view. In these energy investments, we tend to stay very problem focused; name the problem, how others created this problem for us, what it would be like if we didn’t have this problem, what we should have done differently to avoid this problem, and how great it would be if the stars aligned so this problem magically went away.
High-yield energy investments don’t feel as gratifying early on, but have much higher payouts. Right use of energy is about staying solution focused. Solution-focused thinking can be fact finding (especially using opposing or differing perspectives), generating solution strategies based on what is going on and what you can do next.
In short, solution focused thinking centers almost entirely on factors you can control or influence to replicate a good situation or improve a less-than-ideal situation. If you can change something about a situation, change it. If you don’t have control over anything about a certain situation, you can still control your perspective and how you spend your energy and attention on the situation. This is where positive action can occur. This is where the super power of optimism sits waiting to be unleashed. In the next post, we will explore how we refine the super power though changing our perspective and identifying where our beliefs and assumptions may be limiting our super power.
Emmons, R. (2008). Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. New York: Mariner Books.
Malouff, J.M. & Schutte, N.S. (2016). Can psychological interventions increase optimism? A meta-analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1221122
Newlyn, E. (2014, November 19). The Yamas: Brahmacharya, right use of energy. Retrieved from https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/the-yamas-brahmacharya-right-use-of-energy.
Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer In Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
#optimism #gratitude #superpower #hope #optimisticthinking #solutionfocused #positivethinking
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