Work Around

Some days you’re just not inspired. Time drags and being at work seems like a waste of time. Along the same lines as my post a few weeks ago about recharging at home, I thought I’d share some methods that help me push through it that you may be able to use, or may give you some ideas of your own.

Test conventional wisdom.
Since my first foray into coffee-drinking was as part of a 3 pm “Now I’m sitting down to write a white paper/sell sheet/correspondence template” ritual, I immediately noticed the difference in effect when I started drinking it in the morning. Further experimentation confirmed that if I drink coffee early in the day, not only does it not give me the expected kick, it prevents any later cups from doing so, as well.

So even if a long weekend or a random sleepless night turns into a painful workday, I very deliberately hold off on the coffee. Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate is a nice alternative for the morning; it’s rich enough to seem like an exciting (and therefore day-brightening) treat, but doesn’t have so much sugar that I crash later.

Find a quick way to recharge.
Depending on the day, I might take two or three walks to the corner and back. One study shows that people who take a 5- or 10-minute walk when they hit the doldrums feel more energy, and are energized longer, than people who eat a piece of candy. Likewise, seeking out something funny during lunch (I Love Lucy reruns for an early lunch, or Top Gear in the afternoon) sends me back to my desk ready to tackle something big.

I also have a Pandora station that does everything: it calms me when I’m tense or upset, energizes me when I’m tired, and gets me so in the “zone” that one friend claims to have done the moonwalk in front of my office without my noticing. And if all else fails, tango music gives a consistent energy boost.

Environment is important.
I have a hard time concentrating, and therefore feel uninspired, when my desk is messy, too many red flags (“I need to act on”) have built up in my inbox, and my task list is cluttered with too many items that are waiting on other people. So I make a point of clearing away everything I’ve used during the day before I leave each night, and as soon as I’ve hit the ball back to a co-worker’s court, I move the task to a tickler file so I can focus on what I need to do.

Have a backup plan.
Some days, unfortunately, you just don’t have the mental wherewithal to handle high-level tasks. On those days, it’s nice to find other ways of being productive – doing things that aren’t high on the priority list, but that keep things running smoothly. For instance, I’ll clear out those pesky flagged items that get so distracting. Or I’ll read some of the industry publications that come through – both ones relating to the company’s work, and ones specifically related to my job. Or get into the database and do data quality checks. There’s nearly always a way to feel that I have done a full day of work and given the company what they’re paying for.

Of course, these are just quick fixes for the occasional “off” day. If all your days are off days, I would suggest that either your job or your living patterns need to change!

This is Your Brain on Happiness

Happiness is scary. At least if you’re sad or frustrated, you’re motivated. But happiness is like a warm bed on a cold morning: there may well be, and probably are, things you need to do outside of it, but why would you want to?

And so, it seems to me, happiness can be its own enemy. The happier you are > the less motivated you are to deal with things, be it growth or grocery shopping > the more things pile up > the more likely something reaches breaking point > chaos and stress > not happy.

But is it maybe even scarier if you stay happy and float along in blissful unawareness of all that’s not getting done? Is that even possible? Or the similar problem – getting sucked into a vortex of contented routine and going along for years without noticing that the happiness is gradually evaporating. It’s unhappiness without motivation… until somebody wants a divorce. (Hmm, maybe I’ve been reading too much Ladies’ Home Journal lately.)

Happiness is like sleeping sickness for your brain and I’m happier when my brain is alert and childlike with curiosity and amusement. This is a strange conundrum. Strange enough that, while I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s ever run across it, it feels like I might be.

Fear = Nothing

I don’t mean it doesn’t have its place when a ruffian is rapidly approaching and brandishing a gun, knife or yo-yo saw. I’m talking about the everyday boundaries we set up in our lives.

Someone once asked me, “What would you do if you were completely fearless?”

What would you do if you were completely fearless?

My guess: be more remarkable. Do more things more worth doing. It’s worth making a list of things you would do if you weren’t somehow, for some reason, afraid of doing them: Take a class. Move to another city/state/country. Introduce yourself to more new people. Whatever it is for you.

And then, once you’ve made your list, ask yourself, seriously, why you’re afraid of doing each one. Sometimes all you turn up are symptoms – for instance, you’re afraid you’ll fail at some new endeavor because you were too nervous to take the necessary risks.

But even if you’ve come up with a rational reason for your fear, does that really make the thing any less worth doing? (Of course, if the thing you’re afraid of might kill you, maybe it does – but again, that’s not what we’re talking about here.) If you’re afraid your relationship will fail because, after all, the odds favor breaking up – does it mean it isn’t worthwhile to have a relationship? If you’re afraid you won’t be hired for your dream job, does that mean it isn’t worthwhile to go on the interview?

What would you do if you were completely fearless?

 

(As usual, I find that Seth Godin has already said something wonderful on the subject.