Staying effective at work – a few tips.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to do a little presentation at a team kick-off meeting here at the OU. The team have been put together to do something a little different and very much think outside the box so my job is to keep the energy high and help people bring their best-self to work as often as possible. (Plus, I hope my work will encourage more of their best-self to come through in all walks of life of course). 

Presenting in my socks…

The kick-off was super informal, lazy chairs, no hierarchy and a relaxed tone – my kind of meeting. After a few little team games and some words from the big cheese on direction and strategy (as well as a misadventure with high heels and a ladder); it was my turn to bring the energy… 

Timing meant that I had to keep it a little shorter than I’d hoped, but after a brief explanation of my plans for Team Culture Design, I gave a few tips for keeping yourself effective at work = steeped in positive psychology of course. So I thought I’d share them here too. 

‘Paint done’

This is a beauty from top courage researcher Brené Brown in her latest book ‘Dare to Lead‘,  where she takes the Scrum technique of “what does ‘done’ look like?’ and tweaks it to ensure the deliverable’s matched the purpose of the task. It’s the age old problem of delegating a task to find the result falls shorts of your expectations; so you end up doing it yourself. This is not a great mindset to be in as it leads to burnout and limits collaboration, innovation & creativity within a team. Paint done allows you to be clear about what you need and how that should look – through clear and open dialogue because in this process of conversation, others may bring up aspects of the task you haven’t considered that may shape the progress. This process provides better results and team members are happier in the work as they know exactly how to succeed. 

Nourish yourself

I bang on about nourishment a lot because I feel it offers greater scope for people to understand that balance or self care doesn’t have to include grand gestures. In this context I focused simply on the principle of topping up our positive emotions throughout our working day. For some reason when I talk about positive emotions in the workplace there seems to be an attitude of we’re just not allowed to feel them and certainly not supposed to plan for them… but that’s exactly what I suggest you do. If you need a scientific reason to experience more joy in your life, then look to Barbara Fredrickson’s work – she researched the ‘Broaden & Build theory‘ – as you experience more positive emotions, you widen your cognitive ability and thought-action repertoire meaning better decision making, more productivity & creativity and greater wellbeing. Is there a better reason to look for more joy? If you need a business case, then look to this excellent article from Harvard Business Review who shared the results of a 2018 survey that showed in organisations where employees experienced more joy, they had a greater sense of believing their work is truly meaningful. This meant employees felt more engaged at work and increased retention of top talent. So, as a leader, finding ways to craft a culture that consistently engenders these kinds of experiences on a regular basis can create greater sense of personal connection, a shared purpose and more pride felt across the organisation.

I haven’t worked it out…. yet!

This taps nicely into the concept of a ‘Growth Mindset’ – the belief that one’s basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. We all get to a point of ‘stuckness’ with challenges and problems at some point during our working week and sometimes we simply need to take a break. But the mental attitude is really important here, rather than thinking ‘it’s impossible’ or ‘ I’m never going to understand it’ – when we talk to ourselves with the intention of having not connected the dots YET, then we give ourselves space to think and be creative with our solutions. Not only are we tapping into our growth mindset, but we’re also cultivating self-kindness and self-compassion which boost our resilience. If you’re really stuck, then tap into your connections, remember – vulnerability is not a weakness, “Courage is asking for what we need” as Brené Brown would say. Set up a “I haven’t worked it out… yet” board and see what ideas come from your tribe. 

Celebrate small wins.

A big pillar of positive well-being is achievement, yet we all seem to look at this as big, grand success that need to be bigger than the last in order to enjoy. Not true. Setting yourself challenges and seeing the beauty in small wins is just as powerful for your well-being as those substantial achievements. Follow these five steps to get the most from these small wins:

1. Notice them! Take a moment when you have a success, really notice your achievement.

2. Get Excited! Be a kid again, get excited when something goes well, get those positive emotions flowing!

3. Communicate them – tell people, if you have a tribe at work, let them know and encourage others to do the same. Have a small wins board in the office and write them up for everyone to see. Bask in joint success.

4. Build habits – regularly picking up on your small wins can literally change your mental attitude. Keep a success journal and take the time each day to think about little achievements.

5. Reward yourself – nowt wrong with this, as long as it’s relative (and you can afford it!)!

Know your energy.

This is a biggie. ever since the 9-5 was ‘invented’ we’ve been forcing ourselves into a working pattern that rarely works for anyone. There are times of the day where we feel full of life and raring to go and there are moments where we could simply curl up under our desks and have a nap. A lot of this is down to how we eat during the day, our sleep patterns and there’s also some research around how our genetic makeup influences this too – but whatever it is, it’s important to recognise and know which tasks to prioritise during each ‘phase’ of energy. I’m not talking about that physically energy either, I’m talking about those feelings of motivation and ’switched-on-ness’ (yes, I’m aware that’s not a word!). Here’s a nice little guide as to what to prioritise when you recognise your different energy levels:

High Energy – do the creative tasks, bring ideas to the table and make the difficult decisions. Planning, learning and presenting or pitching are also tasks to take on when you’re feeling fully alive. It’s also a great time to try new things and experiment with brave choices. 

Low to Medium Energy – This is the time to complete routine work like admin or anything with clear outlines and goals. It’s also the time to do your emails and correspondence as you’ll be able to give yourself the space to consider your responses. 

Uber Low Energy – These are the times to take a break and find time to boost those positive emotions; this goes back to number 2 and understanding how to nourish yourself in those short moments. There is never ‘not enough time’ because the more time you spend in this phase of low mental energy, the harder the task you’re trying to complete becomes. Ten minutes finding something to spark joy will put you in a completely different head and energy space. Choose something social or involve others to increase the impact of those positive emotions. 

So there you have it, this isn’t an exhaustive list – that blog post would be incredibly long but a just a few ways to become and stay more effective at work… as always, I’d welcome your thoughts and comments!