Does your work light a fire inside you or does it consume you? If you’re passionate about work, it can be the best feeling in the world, or it can burn you out.
This is the kind of passion you want in life.
Harmonious passion will give you energy, harmonious passion will give you meaning, harmonious passion will make your life vibrant.
You will perform better at work, you will seem happier to your friends and you will be more resilient to the struggles of life.
Then there is the other kind of passion…
Obsessive passion is always on your mind, even when you don’t want it to be.
Obsessive passion interferes with your social life, you just can’t help but check your emails over dinner. You find yourself unable to hold conversations because you’re too distracted and anything not building your dream feels like a waste of time.
If something goes wrong at work, your whole world comes crashing down. You feel like your value and self-worth comes from your work, so if you fail or get fired, you are a failure.
Your hobby can make you a more rounded person, make you more interesting and even make you more successful. I am not talking about turning your hobby into a side-hustle, no, this is a post about how blogging can improve your performance at work.
The Many Benefits of Hobbies
Hobbies have been found to improve creativity, lower stress and prevent burnout. Work shouldn’t be the only thing that defines you, because if it is, then what happens when you leave that job or get fired? A good hobby can give you another side of your identity, so when you lose one part (your job) you still have many other parts (your family, your friends, your hobbies).
It just takes one hour a day of engaging in a hobby to make you feel refreshed and more fulfilled. The hobby can be anything that actively engages you, I can’t tell you what you liked doing. That said, I recommend anything where you can learn and improve. It can be creative like drawing, playing an instrument or writing a blog or it can be physical like running, lifting weights or playing football. The important part, is it’s something you enjoy.
Why Hobbies Help
Firstly hobbies break up your day from all the spreadsheets, meetings and office bullshit you have to put up with. Just taking a break is a helpful for your poor frazzled brain. It allows you to recharge, so that when you are at work, you can focus.
Hobbies make you more rounded as a person. You’re not just John the accountant, you’re John the guy who paints, runs and does some top notch accounting work.
Hobbies allow you to achieve outside of work. Once you finish that 5k you can say “Wow, I ran 5k today, that’s pretty impressive” or you can look back at the wooden ducks you whittled and feel proud of yourself.
I can say from experience these things are true, I sketched for the first time in a while the other day. It’s not my best drawing, but whilst I was doing it, time and the world around me melted away, leaving just me, the pencil and the paper.
What hobby could you restart? What hobby have you always wanted to try? Let me know in the comments below.
There are 3 ways to actually convince someone though.
1) Don’t Make The Other Person An Idiot
People are prideful. Your opponent (or friend or lover) doesn’t want to look (and more importantly feel) like an idiot. So don’t make them an idiot.
When was the last time you enjoyed admitting you were wrong? When was the last time you looked forward to pointing out how stupid you have been?
If you can take the sting out of them being wrong, make them see that anyone would have thought the same given the information they had, you can let them change their mind without looking stupid. Giving a person a pain-free way out, is key to changing their opinion.
The moment you chastise them for their beliefs, you have lost them (I am very guilty of this) and you are not getting them back. They will dig in and fight you harder.
2) Look At Things From Their Point Of View
In some cases there isn’t a clear right or wrong. Sometimes you are even working towards the same goal as your opponent but you have different ideas on how to reach your goal.
If you can understand why they believe what they do, you can start to work with them.
Where I work, we recently tried to implement a new filing system. Both sides wanted to make it easier to find the file you needed, when you needed it.
We did not listen to each other, we attacked each other’s methods, rather than trying to understand each other’s points of view. As a result we got into a heated argument and never reached a solution.
If instead we had realised we both wanted to just make finding files easier, rather than defending our own favourite methods, we could have come to the best conclusion. Then we would all have a better filing system as a result.
3) See More Of The World
You never learn anything new if you do the same things every day, talking to the same people, reading the same blogs.
Talk to people you disagree with, with the intention of listening to what they have to say. Try asking someone to explain why they believe something you don’t believe. Don’t offer your own opinion, see how it makes you feel.
If you want to change minds, be willing to change your own. Admitting mistakes isn’t fun or easy, but it’s necessary for growth.
Let me know in the comments below if anyone changed your mind or why they didn’t.
I watched The Way We Work, a TED Original Series, the following post will feature my favourite points, but I highly recommend you check out the whole series. Most of the videos are 3-5 minutes long, so you can watch them very quickly in one go if you like or just watch the odd one on a break.
Employees Are Adults, Treat Them With Respect
Most people want to do well at their jobs. Given the respect they deserve, they will perform better. People respond to the way they are treated, if you treat them like delinquents trying to get away with the bare minimum, they will do so. Treat people well and you can get great results from them.
The Job Of Management Is To Build Great Teams, Not To Control People
If your manager spends their time telling you off for little things, like a casual chat with a coworker or for slouching when a customer walks by, they are a bad manager. You manager is supposed to find ways to help you be better at your job, not pick at each little mistake you make. If you are a manager, you should be empowering your people, not knocking them down. Great managers build great teams.
Every Employee Should Understand Your Business
What does your company do? If you can’t answer that easily, how can you do the best work to support that company? How do you know what makes that company more or less successful? Not knowing, is an insane way to work. The leadership of your company, needs to make sure that everyone understands the business and their role in it. Know your business, know your worth.
Everyone You Work With Should Be Able To Handle The Truth
I love feedback, sometimes it can hurt, but it’s the best way to grow. Getting feedback once a year isn’t helpful. You complete work much more than once a year, so why only get feedback once a year? When you learnt to drive, did you get corrected once a year? No! That would be madness. So, don’t do this at work. If you tell the truth, then people should understand and respect that. If they don’t, maybe they aren’t the best person for the job. Feedback helps us grow and improve. Learn to love feedback.
The Company Should Live Out Its Values At All Levels
I once worked at a company where the CEO, whilst giving a speech to the whole company, was claiming that the most valuable asset his company had, was its people. In that same 5 minute speech, he publicly shamed a whole department. There is a time and place for negative feedback, in front of the entire company, is not that place. That does not show you value your people, it shows the opposite. The CEO can say whatever he likes, but if his actions don’t follow his words, employees notice.
All Companies Should Be Excited For Change
The world changes all the time, with the rate technology progresses, we are experiencing change faster than ever. Your company will change. If you don’t change with the times, you get left behind. So, it’s better to enjoy the change and figure out how to use it to your advantage, rather than wishing for the good old days. Change is good, embrace it.
Trust Your Employees
The Four Seasons, is known for having consistently amazing service. One of their tenets is to do whatever you feel is right for the customer. They trust their employees to make their own decisions about what could help a customer or make them feel better and this is key in their consistently high standards of service. When people feel trusted, they will feel empowered to make decisions that benefit your company and customers. If they feel they will be chastised for making a mistake, they will never take even the smallest risk, which will only cause harm for your company. Trust your employees and reap the rewards.
Treat Everyone Fairly.
People aren’t stupid. If you treat one group of people differently to the rest, they will notice. At one company I worked for, there was a health insurance benefit for all the departments, except the IT team. Once the IT team found out, they were understandably livid. They felt cheated. This was eventually overturned and the IT team felt better because they were now being treated as equal to other departments. Not everyone took the health insurance, but the fair treatment improved morale. Treat all your employees fairly or risk losing good people.
If like me, your job comes under the umbrella of knowledge work (typically an office job when your knowledge is what contributes most to your job such as procurement, admin or accounting) then it can be difficult to objectively measure your performance from day to day. You could even go months or years and not have a real understanding of how or if your performance has improved.
It turns out, there is a solution that takes just 10 minutes a day, a Work Journal. I’m not talking about “dear diary, today at work I blah blah blah…”, I mean spending 10 minutes at the end of the day, reflecting on what went well and what did not go well that day and how you could possibly make improvements. There are several benefits that come from keeping a Work Journal.
You Will Learn More About Yourself
If you build a habit of taking notes what you did well and what you did not so well, you will start to see common themes in your journal. These themes can then be categorised into strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.
If you focus on your strengths and do less of the things you are weak at, you will start to see your general performance at work increase. By figuring out what you like and dislike doing, you can let your boss know what kinds of projects you enjoy and hopefully they will let you do more of the work you like, so your work itself will be more enjoyable. If you tell your boss that you dislike keeping track of what work you need to bill for or how many hours you worked, they will probably tell you to piss off. No job seems to be free of admin. Maybe instead, you can say “I really enjoyed getting stuck into that problem the other day, I’d like more complicated projects like that”. Sounds much more proactive than whining about admin.
You Will Become More Patient
Learning happens gradually, but it builds. It’s is like compound interest, it keeps building at a faster rate, the more you do it, so it’s a great investment of your time. If you progress just a tiny bit each day, when you look back a year from now, you will see a dramatic increase where all those tiny improvements from each day have added up. This will inspire you to keep learning more, so you get even better. It’s a cycle of improvement.
You Will Learn To Plan better
If you start the journal today, then check your progress tomorrow, you will likely see no result. But, if you are keeping tabs on yourself each day for a few months or years, you can look back over your notes and see progress. You will be able to predict problems that used to seem random. As you look back over your journal entries, you will see that for example the phones go crazy at the same time everyday, so you can make sure to have a clear schedule and be ready for the ensuing chaos. Being prepared for a problem will make it so much easier to handle.
You Will See Personal Growth
Memory is imperfect and completely subjective. Things recorded in ink (or pixels) will stay the same forever. Having this objective record makes observing your patterns of growth that much easier. You will be able to read old journal entries and see how you overcame issues, you will see tasks you used to dread that you now handle with ease. Being able to re-read your own thoughts and feelings from the past will allow you to see how far you have come since then.
If you know of any more benefits of keeping a work journal, please let me know in the comments below.
The following is the third in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.
One Line Version
A change is a good as a rest – My driving instructor actually told me that.
The instinctive way to avoid burnout is to slow down, to not work so hard or to take a break. This doesn’t have to be the case. To keep going, you need to do something that makes you think in a different way to the way you think at work. This is similar to working different muscle groups for your brain, if your arms are tired, your legs will still work fine. If you had some in-depth debates at work, take some quiet time and read a book.
If you start feeling stressed and worn out, you know instinctively that you need to take a rest. You can’t keep going forever, your body requires downtime to be more effective in the up-times. So if you have worked too hard for too long you can take a break and go on holiday, then come back feeling refreshed. Maybe you could work less hard to begin with, but if you want to advance your career as quickly as possible and you know your peers aren’t going to slow down, then you could end up getting left behind. That said, I don’t recommend working late, just working hard within your normal working hours.
This is where doing a contrasting cognitive activity helps. What is a contrasting cognitive activity? It’s an activity where you are still using your brain, but you are using it in a different way to the way you do at work, similar to how when you work out at the gym you use different muscle groups on different days. The contrast between the two ways of thinking has been shown to prevent burnout for much more time than doing the same kind of activity for the same amount of time.
This doesn’t mean you have to do something fun at home to offset doing something useful at work, although I do recommend this as well. It’s more about using your brain to accomplish a different kind of task. If you feel you must do something productive for your contrasting activity, you can do so. If you have a very sociable job with lots of talking to clients, you could read a book at home, it can be educational if you still want to learn. If you write code all day, you could write a journal or blog posts at home. Your brain is capable of many different types of activities, so the list is endless, just separate work and home.
We’ve all been there, work is just droning on and on. from week to week. Today is no different. You wake up, hit snooze, wish it were still the weekend and slowly drift off to sleep, then 10 minutes later, do it all over again. You drag yourself out of bed and into the shower. That’s over, even getting dressed feels difficult right now. Then there’s the dreary drive, with the never-ending queues of traffic. You finally get to the office and hope nothing major goes wrong, you just want an easy day. You finish, some fuzzy amount of time later, only to realise it’s Monday and you have to do it all over again for the next 4 days.
You swear the job didn’t use to be this bad, that Sally in marketing wasn’t that annoying just a few weeks ago. Yet the spreadsheets you used to tackle with glee (for some people this is true, don’t judge) suddenly look like a grey pile of sludge you have to trudge through. You are stressed. Last week you were stressed. This is what being burnt out feels like.
You see two ways out of this funk:
As soon as you get home, just do nothing. Relax in front of the telly and pretend the whole world away. Then tomorrow, you will feel refreshed.
Don’t work so hard anymore, this feeling is horrible and you don’t want to repeat it.
Here’s the problem, you try plan 1. but you are still stressed the next day, you realise escapism isn’t working, you are just as burnt out as before. On to plan 2. this lasts maybe an hour, then you realise you don’t want to do the bare minimum, you care about doing a good job and you want to progress in your career.
What now? Your two plans have failed. Time to hand in your letter of resignation? No. According to Google’s in-house productivity expert, Lila MacLellan, there is a better way. Google has shown time and time again how successful they can be in cognitively demanding environments, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?
MacLellan recommends doing activities that require you to use your brain in a different way to how you do at work. It’s like when people who go to the gym have different days for different muscles groups, if you did leg day every day, 3 days in a row, your legs would be exhausted and perform more poorly each successive day and you may even injure yourself.
It’s all about using your different brain muscles (figuratively speaking) if you have a super social chatty job like making sales calls one after the other, try quietly reading a book once you get home. If you stay sat at a desk all day, go for a brisk walk in the evening. If you write code at work, try drawing in your spare time. The task can be equally demanding of your brain’s abilities, but it just has to be a different way of using your brain than what got you so fatigued in the first place. Research has shown this to be much more effective in refreshing you from day to day, than just trying to avoid the stress or doing nothing.
This makes your day-to-day life more fun and fulfilling. It will help you to be more resilient, making you feel fresher at work for longer and improving your mood as you will have more skills to handle stress. You can’t avoid stress forever (sadly), but you can become better at handling it.
If you have any stress-busting tips, please let me know in the comments below.
In my last post, I talked about the best way to avoid burnout without slowing down. I have been reading more since and have found out there are actually 3 distinct types of burnout, that have different causes and different remedies. In this post I will describe each one and the recommended ways to prevent them.
This is burnout classic. The most familiar type of burnout and the one I described last post. Overload Burnout is caused by working too hard for too long. The human mind can only focus for so long, focusing is best in short sprints, not marathon sessions. Imagine what trying to sprint for 8 hours straight, 6 days a week for several years would feel like, this is what your brain would be going through, if you worked relentlessly for the same amount of time.
Prolonged burnout, essentially stress, has been linked to serious health issues both mental (depression and anxiety ) and physiological (heart disease, tension, headaches) the list goes on. So preventing burnout, isn’t just something that feels good, it could save your life!
The usual way to deal with Overload Burnout is exercise and taking breaks. Taking a break allows your mind to rest and recuperate. Rest allows your mind to recover, you can approach tasks feeling refreshed and ready to go.
Exercise releases endorphins that are natural stress relievers and feel-good hormones. A repetitive exercise like running allows your mind to focus on something other than work, giving you that contrast between work and non-work that your mind craves.
Ever had the feeling that you aren’t utilising all your skills at work? That you’re just going through the motions and the challenge isn’t there anymore, or maybe it never was. As humans we crave challenge, that’s why we create, why we solve problems, why we compete. Take away our challenges or our creative pursuits and we start to deflate. Life loses its colour, its flavour, you get bored and lose motivation.
If you haven’t learnt anything new at work in the past couple of months (or ever) you may start to feel Under-Challenged Burnout. You’ll notice yourself procrastinating more, not because you are scared of the workload but because it simply bores you, your mind is searching for distraction from the drudgery. You can’t bare to comb through the same set of files, write the same document, or whatever it is you find dull and easy at your job. If this goes on long enough you will start feeling cynical, disengaged and just plain moody at work. You will be less pleasant to be around, you will be rude to your friends and snap at people who don’t deserve it.
Taking breaks or exercising isn’t going to fix this, you need to speed up, not slow down. You need your mojo back. If you want to be inspired at work again (or for the first time), reflect on what drives you as a person. Do you thrive on solving problems others give up on? Do you get a little warm feeling when you make a customer’s day? Think about how you could do more of this at work.
If you love to be creative, find the creativity in your projects, if you get a rush from solving huge complicated problems, find more complex problems to solve. Ask your boss for more challenging projects, no company is short on problems and your boss will probably love to unload some of their problems on to you.
If you can’t find your inspiration at work, consider doing something creative or exciting in your free time, start woodworking, learn to repair bikes, write a blog…
What if you haven’t been slaving away for too long, you haven’t been doing easy, dull tasks for too long, but you still feel burnt out. Maybe you struggle to juggle, all your work and social commitments. You just don’t have the hours in the day to complete all your tasks. You’re putting out fires all day and when you go home, you don’t feel you’ve accomplished anything meaningful. In fact, you swear your task list is longer than when you got in. You feel the responsibilities growing, the pressure rising, the weight of your task list crushing you. It’s hard to breathe and getting harder – you may just have Neglect Burnout.
Neglect burnout is caused by having too much work and/or too difficult work for the level you are currently able to handle. Many people believe asking for help will make them look weak and turning down extra tasks will anger their bosses. So they keep going, saying yes to everything and plugging away. Struggling more and more every day, making no progress, so the work keeps piling on.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do every task you are assigned. Your boss is (probably) human. Talk to them. Humans love talking. Tell your boss you are struggling with the workload or that you are insufficiently trained to deal with certain types of work and you want to learn how to better achieve those tasks. Together you can work out a training plan to be better prepared for such projects or reduce the number of projects you have going, so you can focus on a more narrow set of objectives, allowing you to make significant progress.
This seems so simple. That’s because it is. I have had a situation where I had more projects than I could meaningfully progress with at work. I was stressed out, because I just didn’t seem to be able to please everyone and as a result I wasn’t pleasing anyone. I couldn’t go on like this. I plucked up the courage to tell my boss, expecting her to tell me that I just needed to work harder and figure it out, only for her to say that while being challenged is good, she didn’t want me to feel overwhelmed. As a result, she prioritised my work for me, delayed some work or passed tasks on to other team members and left me with fewer, more urgent and important tasks to deal with. My stress levels decreased overnight. Try it with your boss, I bet they will react the same way.
If you have any more tips for preventing the three types of burnout or even know of some I wasn’t aware of, please feel free to tell me in the comments below! This post was inspired by Melody Wilding’s post on inc.com