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How to move toward change (‘cause it’s coming either way)

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    How to move toward change (‘cause it’s coming either way)

In my last post, I wrote about a big change that’s happening in my life. I am not alone in this. Big changes are happening in the lives of many of my clients and friends. If you are anticipating or experiencing a big change—a move, a job change, the break-up of a relationship, a new baby—you may feel overwhelmed. You may even be frightened.

Big changes produce deep learning. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. However, if you move toward the change instead of running from it you are likely to deepen your learning and actually reduce your anxiety in the long run.

Here are some techniques you can use to move toward the big changes in our lives.

How to move toward change:

Be still for a moment

Often we avoid the inevitable by not staying in one place for too long. “If I just keep moving the change won’t catch me.” We get busy with a lot of other things, and avoid facing the change that is occurring or needs to occur. What we need to do instead is stop trying to escape.

Find a time to stop moving. Take 10 minutes to think about what is happening. Turn off the TV and constant media stream, and sit without distraction. You might take a short walk alone or with a friend. Or choose one or two people you care about and who care about you, and talk about what is happening. Be mindful of who you talk with. Ask them to not give you advice. Instead say that you need someone to listen and perhaps ask questions about your experience.

During this time of stillness and reflection, you may want to set some intentions for how you would like to respond to the change, how you would like to feel during the change and how you would like to respond when things do not go as planned. Keep these still, reflective times short. You do not need to overwhelm yourself and over-think what is happening.

Breathe

I always say this. I am saying it again. Pay attention to your breath. Inhale. Exhale. Again. Listen to your breath. Feel your breath. It is consistent. Your breath will be there with you through this whole change. It is your closest companion on this living journey. Feel it.

Exercise

Find a way to move your body. It will help your mind slow down a bit. Exercise will increase your capacity to handle the stress of the unknown as you embark on a new part of your life journey.

Find commonality

Seek out support from someone who has had, or is having, a similar experience. If you are facing a job or career change, the death of a loved one, the completion of a major life’s work, or a move, you are embarking on a shared human experience. You are not the first. You are not alone. Reach out. Find someone to talk to who has been there, or is there. Give them an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences, their resilience. You can support each other.  You do not have to take their particular advice. This can be a space for the sharing of experiences, not a problem-solving space.

Face the shadows

Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen? If that worst thing happens, what can I do?” Develop a plan (or two) for the biggest scariest fear. This is the art of flipping the light switch on in a dark room. Shed light. The shadows may not be what you think they are. And if the monsters in the shadows are scary, at least you know what you are dealing with.

Note: Facing the shadows—looking at our fears directly—is one of the hardest things for us to do. You may choose to explore this with a healer, or with someone you deeply trust.

In the coming weeks, I will write more about what to do once you are deep into the change. For now, may you find moments of quiet to prepare for the change that’s coming your way. And may you find people that you can talk to honestly about your experience.

Question for reflection:

What is one step you can take to turn toward the change happening and prepare for it?

Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

By |September 24th, 2014|Make Change|Comments Off on How to move toward change (‘cause it’s coming either way)|

Facing big change

I am going through a really big change right now. My husband is starting graduate school out of town and we will be commuting back and forth on the weekends. Sitting on the edge of change and the unknown, I can say I am nervous. I don’t really want to face the inevitable.

At the moments when I glance sideways at the coming change, I see only fearful shadows and whispering worries. So much could go so wrong. But at times, light blinks through the shadows and I can see all the good that is going to arise from this change. I am excited and expectant, too.

I am not the only one in my community going through major changes right now.

In my professional and personal life, I know dozens of people who are facing tremendous change. Relationships are beginning and ending, people are leaving jobs, starting new jobs, or are leaving the working world altogether. New babies are on the way. People are moving, beginning new schooling, or taking new career risks.

Some of these changes are chosen and deliberate. Some have been foisted on people. Some changes arise from blessings. For those people, gratitude is mixed with trepidation. Other changes come out of hardship—hardship piled on top of hardship—and bring on anxiety and even fear. Whether we choose it or not, change is hard work. Change always causes learning and growth, and this may be the hardest part. The learning and growth increase the more consciously we move toward the change.

I don’t like change. I would rather hunker down in my cozy, comfortable ways. Ironically, my work is all about change. I work alongside people who are carrying out massive community change, people who are changing their business, organizations, and lives.

Here is what my experience teaches me: Every time I have learned deeply or seen improvements in my life and in my community, it has come through people changing, me changing.

If the good stuff comes from the ending of things, the rethinking of things, the confronting of things, then I guess I need to move toward change. I may not embrace it joyfully at first. I will probably be scared, but I can still step toward it.

Working with people who are facing big changes—and being mindful about changes in my own life—has shown me that there are techniques we can use to move through life changes. In my next post, I’ll talk about some healthy, positive ways to move toward change.

Question for reflection:

What is the one change occurring in your life right now that you may not even be thinking about?
Write an answer in the comments below or jump on over to my Facebook page and comment.

By |September 18th, 2014|Make Change, Manifest|Comments Off on Facing big change|

A summer of family, food and jeepneys

I wanted to share news with you all from the last few months. I finally finished my move into a sweet, little office and art space. By day, it will be a place where I can support client projects and build out my next workshop. By night, it will be a place for my husband to steal away and work on his new poetry book. We are both thrilled at the thought of a space dedicated to fostering new work and supporting current projects.

PI_Food_letter

As I ease into my new office space here in Seattle, I also ease back in being the States after our family trip to the Philippines. As you may recall, my husband and I traveled to the Philippines in July. I must admit, during my time in the Philippines, I was spoiled by my new family – fed four or five well-rounded meals a day, entrusted with grand stories of family history and toured around cities and countryside full of coconut trees, jeepneys and trikes. My husband and I traversed three islands and a multitude of family homes. I spent the time learning about the tight loving bonds of family. I felt amazement as my own sense of family expanded in my chest. My traditional, American notions of a third cousin twice removed are a thing of the past. Now I consider everyone in both my own family as well as my chosen family a cousin, auntie or uncle. My new Filipino family taught me the art of bringing people into the fold, of making room for more.

As I transition back into work mode, while balancing the last full days of summer, I am remembering what is most important in this one life. For me, the most important thing are the loving bonds we create with each other. The hot meals shared around a table, the long car rides with family (chosen and blood), listening to someone else’s stories and desires. During my trip overseas I lived fully and presently. I am reminded of my desire to connect and make every moment a meaningful one with the people I surround myself with.

PI_Family_07_2014_ave_200pxThank you to my family in the Philippines for reminding me of what is important. As I enter the transition of another season I realign my fulcrum and place taking care of my relationships with my family and friends at the center. I am working to hold lightly the constant anxiety of working life so that there is always room and time for my loved ones.

May these last days of August and first days of September bring you continued reminders of what you hold most dear and the time to enjoy it. As we transition into autumn, what are you taking with you from summer? What reminders did you receive about what is most important? I invite you to share on my Facebook page. I would love to hear from you!

Best,
Annie

By |August 28th, 2014|Be Present, Connect|Comments Off on A summer of family, food and jeepneys|

How to Take a Short Break

We were not built to sit all day! We are active, creative creatures. But we are so used to working straight through without stopping that we may have forgotten how to take a break. It’s hard to get into the habit, but a little advance preparation will help you enjoy your break and return to the work refreshed.

If you missed it I have a post about why taking a break is essential for your creativity, productivity and sanity – HERE.  And a post about preparing for a longer break – HERE.

Steps to taking a short break:

  1.  Decide to take a break and stick to that decision. You have to make an active decision to take care of yourself.
  2. Pick one doable thing to finish before you take a break. Choose what it is and do that one thing.(Unless you are just DONE and you need to get away from the desk immediately. In that case, walk away from the computer!)
  3. Jot down one thing you will work on when you return. What are you going to pick up and work on? What are you going to finish when you return?  If you pick something small and doable it helps.  This gets you back into the work instead of taking a break and then returning to your desk and surfing on the internet.
  4. Prep yourself to enjoy the break.  What can you leave behind?  What would you like to gain from the little break?  I know this seems silly but it works!  Tell yourself, “I am going to let go of this worry about the meeting tomorrow. I am as prepared as I can be. I am going to take a break and shift my focus so I can return with more energy.” A relaxing productive break is more likely to happen than if you wander to the break room or walk outside without intention.
  5. Pick your break activity.
  6. Set a clear time for your break and stick to it. If you head out for an hour and return two hours later and then feel behind, you will be less likely to trust yourself in the future. If you head out for a half-hour lunch and decide instead to just grab your lunch and return to your desk, guess what?  You didn’t have a break!
  7. See if you can think of one small thing you are grateful for in your work. What is a positive thing you get to do or experience in your work? Who benefits from your work? What does having a job allow you do, or who does it allow you to support and care for?  Remember that one thing as you head back into work.
  8. You’re ready. Now, get up and move your body and relieve your mind!

Quick Break Ideas

It does not have to be a big production!

  • Stop working, close your eyes and think of three things you are grateful for.
  • Stop working, close your computer and take three deep breaths.
  • Walk around the block alone.
  • Walk around the block with a co-worker.
  • Head to a café for a half an hour – alone, with a co-worker, or perhaps with a book or a journal.
  • Take a timed nap. (Could be during your lunch break or in your car.)
  • Head to the bathroom and splash cold water on your face. Or put the toilet seat down and sit in the stall alone for a few minutes. (Really! This is a great place to take a few breaths or even meditate.)
  • Leave to get lunch and eat it out of the office.
  • Run one FUN errand
  • Eat your lunch away from your desk.
  • Take a personal day and do something you love doing for the WHOLE day.
  • Pick your kids up early from school and go do something you all love to do (ice cream or the park perhaps).
  • Stand up away from your desk and stretch.

How to enjoy the break

To experience the benefits of taking a break, please don’t think about work. And don’t feel bad: you are entitled to a break.

Remind yourself that the work will be there when you get back. Remember to breathe. Slow down during the break. Do something you enjoy. Feel grateful during the break for the experience.

If you feel guilty about taking breaks, practicing taking very short breaks will help you reduce your guilt over time. Taking breaks will make you a more enjoyable person to be around and a better co-worker too.

What can you add to this list?  What quick breaks do you take to get away from work?

By |June 26th, 2014|Get It Done, Less Stress More Joy|Comments Off on How to Take a Short Break|

Take a Break

Lately, I have been talking with my clients about taking breaks. How do you take a break when the work piles up and is never ending?  How do you take a break when stopping for a moment creates a rapid fire panic?

The deal is, we need breaks. They give us room to see and experience things in a new way. Taking breaks increases our creativity and our productivity.

I know it is hard to take a break. I will work nonstop without pausing to go to the bathroom, even if I have to go REAL bad! (I do not recommend this technique. It is bad for your bladder and your concentration.)  But, like so many people, I have trouble giving myself the gift of a break.

Sometimes, I feel like if I stop working I might not start again. The only way to get the work done is to keep going. I also feel like I do not deserve a break.  Perhaps it’s because I have not completed the work (which is never done). Perhaps because I tell myself, So many people have it harder than me.

Here is what I have learned. When I stop and take the break from work, I do better work. I enjoy the work and the people I am working with. And if I take breaks I am less likely to burn out. (It is possible to work so long without taking breaks that you can burn out on the entire field you were working in. I know this because I have done it.)

To avoid burnout, and to enjoy your work, you need two kinds of breaks.

  1. Short breaks: you need breaks throughout the day.

    Eat lunch away from your desk. Take a quick walk around the block. Stand up and move away from your desk.

  2. Long breaks: three or more days in a row completely off and away from work.

    Plan for long weekends or even a week or two out of the office and as much as possible away from your electronics. More here about preparing for a longer break with less stress.

If you do not take breaks you will lose enjoyment of your work. You will not do great work for your clients or customers. You will stop caring. You will wonder why you started doing the work in the first place, and you will lose connection to your passion. You will dislike the people you work with. You will be a harder person to be around, and it will be tough on your loved ones.

Is it worth it to take a break?

YES!

You can start today. If you are at work, take a look at today’s schedule. When can you take a break today? When can you get up and step away from your desk?  What could you do to take a short break? Can you stretch? Stroll around the block? Eat lunch in a different part of the building, or even in a park?

Okay, now look at your calendar for the next several weeks and months. Do you have a break scheduled in the next few months? A day off on either side of a weekend? A week away? If you don’t have a break coming up, schedule one?  If you do not have any vacation time available right now, can you make sure you are leaving work right on time a few days a week and not touching your work after you get home?

It is your responsibility to build in your breaks. It takes discipline. Those of us in the U.S. do not take breaks.

Somewhere along the line we swallowed the myth that nonstop work leads to success. It doesn’t. It leads to exhaustion and a lack of passion.

Take care of yourself. It is beautiful out. Take a break.

(Stay tuned. Next week I will post the steps to taking a short break.)

By |June 18th, 2014|Connect, Less Stress More Joy, Practice|Comments Off on Take a Break|

Honest Conversations: A checklist

Speaking what is true for you and listening for what is true for another person can lead to internal change and relationship growth. I call this an honest conversation. We do not want to go into honest, difficult conversations because we are afraid. We are afraid that an honest conversation might damage the relationship. We are afraid we might be misunderstood, get hurt, or hurt someone else.

Honest conversations can pave the way to deeper relationships and better understanding. With this checklist, you can decrease the chance that you will get stuck in a nonstop, swirling, angry stew of a conversation. Following these steps will increase the potential for things to change for the better.

This checklist does not guarantee the conversation will be easy. Honest conversations are hard. They require courage. You cannot determine someone else’s response beforehand. You cannot protect yourself from vulnerability if you are going to be truly honest.

Here’s how to prepare for an honest conversation:

What are your intentions?

Ask yourself: Why do you want to have this conversation? What are you asking for? What do you need or want? Check in with yourself and see if you can identify your truest motives, hopes, desires and fears.
Are you tired?

If you are sleepy, DO NOT have the conversation. Get more sleep. If you try to have a big conversation when you are sleep deprived the result will be more intense and emotional than it needs to be. Meanings get twisted in our sleepy brains. Things seem grander and get blown out of proportion. Handling complexity is hard when you are tired.

If you must have the conversation while tired (perhaps you are a new parent) then be as gentle as you can and say that you are lacking in sleep.

Are you hungry?

Wait! If you are hungry, go eat. Eat some protein. Do not attempt a big, honest conversation with low blood sugar. It just does not work out well, ever.

Are you calm?

I know it is hard to be calm if you need to talk about something profoundly upsetting. “Calm” in this case does not mean you are not feeling emotions. You may feel sad or angry. That is okay. You can feel and express emotion from a place that is centered inside yourself.  If you feel yourself getting red hot, take a few breaths. Take a break from the conversation. Locate your belly and feel it move with the breath. Locate your heart and feel it pump.

What are you feeling?

Knowing what you are feeling will help you be clear about your needs. Identify the first feeling. Then explore other underlying emotions. If you are angry, why? Do you also feel jealous? Hurt? Afraid? If you are feeling sad, do you also feel confused? Ashamed? Let down? Alone?

You do not need to tell the other person how you are feeling. Being open about your feelings depends on the person you are talking to. Is it appropriate to share your feelings with this person? Do you want to trust them with your feelings?  Even if you do not share your feelings, figure out what they are.

How much do you want to share?

You can have an honest conversation and not share everything. A lot depends on the context. Make your decisions based on the other person’s ability to hold your vulnerability without judgment. At work, it is important to be careful about how much you share, and with whom. Most workplaces do not hold the space or time for that level of relationship between coworkers or supervisors.

Are you ready to hear the other person?

Are you ready to hear what they have to say? What they need? What they are experiencing?

Are you prepared to give something up based on what you learn and hear?

If you cannot do this kind of deep preparation, then you are not preparing for a conversation. You are looking for a way to drop a bomb. And that will not allow for mutual growth or change.

While you are having the conversation and afterwards, find ways to be gentle to yourself.

Take care of yourself and give yourself time and space to reflect on the conversation.

What did you learn? What do you still desire? Can you find forgiveness?

Honest conversations take practice. They are not easy. They require courage.

We are all capable of having more honest conversations in our lives.

If we do, things will change for the better in the long run.

By |June 4th, 2014|Connect, Practice|Comments Off on Honest Conversations: A checklist|

Need Something Say Something

One of scariest, hardest things at work, or in any life situation, is having an honest conversation. By “honest conversation,” I mean a situation when you need to talk about something that has been on your mind or in your heart, and you are going to ask for someone else to respond.

What stops people from having honest conversations? Fear. Always. Maybe what you need to talk about is something you have been afraid to say out loud. You could be afraid of being misunderstood, hurting someone’s feelings, getting yelled at, or being judged. At work you could even fear losing your job.

When you need to have a hard conversation, you will experience fear. But if you don’t have the conversation, two things are almost certainly guaranteed: Things will not change. And they might get even worse.

When I talk about the need for honest conversations, one topic that comes up a lot is: “Something needs to change at work for me to be happier.” There is a lot on the line with this conversation. If you talk with your boss about what you need in order to experience satisfaction at work, you may hear that what you want is not possible. Or even worse, that you are being unreasonable. You could strain your relationship with your supervisor.

But if you do not bring up your needs at work, then things will continue as usual.

This may result in decreased job satisfaction and increased stress. It could even cause depression. Also, if you don’t talk about it, you won’t know if your job situation could get better.

Wait! What happens if you do have the honest conversation?

If you talk with your supervisor about your needs at work, a lot could go right! You could brainstorm potential solutions together. This process could open up a healthy dialogue with your supervisor, and could improve collaboration. Your relationship could strengthen. Your honest conversation could benefit other employees in the organization.

What if you ask and do not receive support?

You will learn an important lesson about your employer’s ability to respond to employee needs. This could confirm that perhaps this job is not the right place for you. In fact, sometimes that is what we are afraid of confirming. It is good to get clear and know. The longer we hide from the fact that our job is not the right place for us the more we put off the work of finding a new job.  If you know then you can prepare for the future.

Is it worth it?

Yes! Take action. Have the conversation. If there is a path to improving things at work, you’re taking the first step toward making things better. Your coworkers could benefit. Your relationship with your supervisor could improve. At worst you will find out critical information about whether this job is the right place for you to be.*

Plan for the conversation

Think about who you can talk to and when it is the right time to talk with them. Start by speaking with your most direct supervisor (if you go over their head you will potentially alienate them). Can this person help enact a change in the organization? If not, know who else you will talk with. Lay the groundwork for the conversation ahead of time. Let them know you want to talk about how you are doing in the job. Ask for the support you need to improve your performance and satisfaction.

Prepare. Be ready to share concrete ideas. What would you like to change? What are some realistic ways you can see that things can change? Be ready to compromise and negotiate. Be prepared for tough questions and tough choices. What are you willing to give up to make a change occur?

Forgive

Yes, forgive. You may gain support and understanding to change the way you are doing or experiencing your job. That is great! But even after the change occurs, you may have residual anger toward your co-workers or even yourself. You may feel let down. You may feel frustrated by things that have occurred in the past. But if you do not work toward forgiving people in the organization, the changes you have made will not lead to feeling any better. So before you start, set an intention to forgive. Write down who you want to forgive and for what. If you pray or meditate, ask for help in forgiving those people. You can also see the person and silently say, “I am forgiving you for this.” Try doing this until you have forgiven them.
(You do not have to have an external conversation with anyone to forgive them.)

Commit to do the work and keep the conversation going

Change takes work, so be prepared to do your part. Be willing to continue the conversation about how you are doing in your job.

Have a Plan B

If the changes you are asking for are not possible, what are you going to do instead? What personal changes can help you offset your dissatisfaction with the job? Are there relationships at work that you can improve? Can you shift your ways of thinking about the work? What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this job? What is one step you can take toward a different way of engaging in the work, getting enjoyment outside of the work, or leaving your job?

Get support

Find people that you love and trust outside of your work to talk with. Tell them what you are struggling with at work. Ask them to listen as you talk through possible solutions including a Plan B. Ask them to hold you accountable to talk with people at work. Check in and report on how your conversation went, and what change is occurring.

Most work cultures do not support honest, open conversations. It is hard to be the person who speaks up for change and your own needs. But if you do not do it, things will not change.

A few honest conversations could make your job an easier place to work.

If you enjoy the work more, you will do better work. You will also be a happier person. Your family and loved ones will thank you. And you are worth it.

What else would you add to this list?  What has helped you have a successful conversation and change in the workplace?

Note:

*Every once in a while someone has a supervisor who is just not supportive, period. This is rare. (Sometimes we don’t feel supported, but we haven’t opened up a dialogue.) If you know you have a supervisor who will not support you, then you have a different dilemma. If you believe your supervisor does not have your best interest in mind (or even the best interest of the organization) then they are NOT the right person to talk to. Find other management support in the organization and have a conversation about what you need to be successful in the company. Also get support and start working on a Plan B.

By |May 13th, 2014|Connect, Get It Done, Make Change|Comments Off on Need Something Say Something|

Your Getaway Plan

I just got back from four days away in a little island house. A getaway with dear friends and their kiddos. It sounds delightful, right?

But here’s the thing: I was not looking forward to the break. The timing was not perfect. I had just returned from a week away facilitating at a conference. I felt I needed to plug back in right away and catch up on major client projects.

In spite of my anxiety, I headed out of town. And once I got to the island, it was clear: I needed this getaway. The time in the sunny beach house with loved ones was going to be downright beautiful.

We took walks on the beach and spent hours cooking (leaving the kitchen a gorgeous mess). We read books aloud. People reminisced over childhood days, told jokes and shared stories. We kayaked, napped, and sat in the sun.

A true getaway holds a gift.

You connect with the people you love, you connect with your sense of wonder. You remember what sun on relaxed shoulders feels like. It is a necessity.

Before I could embrace this trip and benefit from it, I needed to take a few simple actions.

Here’s how you can set yourself up for a stress-free getaway:

Give yourself permission to take time off

This is the hardest step for me. We all need breaks. We crave time outside of the workday to connect with those we love. Those times away give us the space to think, let go, and recalibrate. Time away helps us be better friends, family, lovers, and workers when we return. You deserve to rest and recharge your energy. Make sure to tell yourself, “I deserve this!”

Decide to set the work aside

It is difficult to put our work down and just “be.” Make an active decision not to work during your break—and do it before you leave. That way, if your to-do list starts nagging during your getaway, it will be easier to remind yourself, gently, that you are not working during this time.

Write down what you need to do when you return

If you’re worried about surprises that might be lurking on your desk when you get home, here’s my solution. A few days ahead of your getaway, make a short, simple to-do list. Write actionable tasks on your list. Check your calendar to make sure you are not missing anything. Reschedule things if you need to. Then leave the list for when you return.

Put the technology away

It’s hard for us to switch off when our devices are switched on! Those smart phones, tablets, and laptops are tied to our work, and they can drain our energy. Make a commitment to yourself to not check your email or your phone messages while you are away. (As an alternative, check in once daily, and then put the devices away.) Being “disconnected” may feel uncomfortable at first, but you will recharge your energy and your spirit better this way. You will find yourself less stressed and more present.

Identify your wants & needs

Before my getaway, I decided how I wanted to be with people during our time together. I thought about the kinds of interactions I wanted to have, how much time I wished to spend with others, and how much alone time I needed. I wrote down my intentions and kept the paper with me.

Start by asking yourself: “How do I want to interact with people? How do I want people to feel when they interact with me?  How do I want to feel when I am with people?” Jot down your answers, so you can refer to them if you need to.

Voice your intentions

What do you hope to gain from your time off? If your getaway involves other people—friends, family, spouse, or partner—let them know your intentions in advance. Talk openly about what you want and hope to have happen. When you set your intentions in community, it helps everyone support you.

Work, the grind, the important tasks, and the to-do lists will always be here.
The older I get the more clear that message is. We all need breaks!

Take some time off, even just for an afternoon.

You will do better work when you return. I promise.

Note:

If you are planning a little time away with family, please pay special attention to the last two points on my list: “Identify your needs” and “Voice your intentions.”  It is important to talk about your intentions with the people who can listen well and support you. This might not be everyone in your family (or even among your friends). If you worry that the people going on the trip might not support you, share your intentions with a supportive friend before you go. You could even agree to check in with that friend during the trip if you need the extra support.

By |April 22nd, 2014|Be Present, Connect|Comments Off on Your Getaway Plan|

Calm from the Top Down

Are you stressed? How about the people in your organization? There’s stress in every workplace.  A certain level of stress is OK – it gets people going, and keeps them motivated. It means they care about the work. But a lot of stress? That is no good. No good for your body, your mind, your organization, or your bottom line.

Excessive stress at work happens for lots of reasons: more work than there are people to do it, unclear direction, no sense of control, no time to take breaks from the work, and a constant state of urgency.

Brace yourself. This will be hard to hear.

Stress begins at the top and trickles down to senior directors, then middle managers, and weaves its way all the way down to staff. This means, if you’re a boss, a leader, or a manager, then you are responsible for the level of stress your employees are feeling. I know this is a bold and unpopular statement. I know we all have the responsibility for making good choices while managing our professional and personal lives.

But consider this:

If you are in a position of power, management, and decision-making, then you set the tone and priorities for your organization. If your company is stressed out, you hold some of the responsibility to usher people back from the brink, before you lose them for good.

If the people at your organization are experiencing unhealthy stress, it impacts your productivity and bottom line. Excessive stress leads to overwhelmed people who are slowing down. It increases negativity, and increases sick days and medical leave. And stress is contagious: stressed out people make other people stressed out! In a consistently high-stress workplace, your employees are unable to do their best work.

You can do something! You can set the tone and expectations for your organization. You can create a place where people want to work.

Let’s get concrete.

Your step-by-step action plan for reducing workplace stress:

Set the tone

Before you do anything else, take time to build a practice that helps you reduce stress.

Here are some starting points:
Find focus and priorities in your work. Clarify your work boundaries. Increase your work-free, joy-filled time. Take care of your body. Practice gratitude, and let go of things beyond your control.

This list may sound simple, but these practices fly in the face of the, “work your buns off so you can be seen as successful” norm. Stress reduction is a journey, not a quick fix. The good news is that as you find ways to reduce your own stress, you will be physically healthier, have more energy, and be more capable of leading your team.

Model your behaviors for co-workers, and you’ll be much closer to changing the culture of your organization. As other managers and directors change with you, you’ll be even further along to reducing everybody’s stress level

Support your employees

When you’re supervising employees, ask them, one-on-one, how much stress they are experiencing in their work. Where does the stress stem from? Ask for your employees’ ideas for reducing stress.

Be ready to hear things you do not want to. Prepare yourself to listen and look for solutions. If you ask the question and do not work to find solutions, you will decrease trust and increase stress. This is an ongoing conversation between you and the people you manage. Give each other time to look for solutions, try them out, and talk again.

Examine Policies and Boundaries

How has your organization decided what work must get done? Re-evaluate what you are prioritizing as “urgent.” Is there an expectation that people are always “at work”, even when they are home? Are employees always expected to answer the phone or emails, even on vacation? Even in legitimate work emergencies, how can responsibilities be shared across a team so everyone is not on duty all the time?

Define clear responsibilities, and priorities

Check in with folks about their job descriptions. Do they understand what is asked of them? Is it actually doable? Be ready to hear things you may not like, and be willing to brainstorm solutions.

Support people in deciding what must be done and by when. If a task should come off one employee’s plate, how can it be shifted or become a shared task with someone else?

Use these conversations to set clear priorities based on your strategic plans and company-wide goals. Re-visit priorities often, at the management level and with employees you’re supervising.

Set up meaningful fun and follow through

Brainstorm with your team the things they would like to celebrate. Every once in a while do these things! This could be as simple as gathering for sparkling cider in the middle of the day to congratulate the team on a successful project completion.

Hold your celebrations during work hours as often as you can. A brief break won’t hurt the work.  And too many extra-curriculars—even if they’re celebrations—become just one more work-related event that cuts into time off.

Hire more people or take on less work

A HUGE source of stress and overwhelm is people’s inability to finish the work within a reasonable workday. Talk with people about the workload. Find out how long tasks really take. Ask why certain tasks or projects are a struggle. Take on only the amount of work people can realistically accomplish.

As an employer, you should not take on every project that arises, unless you can support it with your current workforce or bring on more people. As a manager, you can speak up for your team as the workload increases.

Put the right people in the right job

If you have people doing the wrong work—work they do not have the right skill set for—they will feel unsuccessful and they will not be efficient. This creates additional stress for that employee and for their co-workers.

Having someone in a job they cannot perform successfully is cruel to them and bad for your organization. You can lose money and your reputation.

The right answer to this issue depends on the job and the individual. Your options are to move the person to a different position, get them the training they need, rebuild their job description to fit their skills, or let them go.

Do you want a productive organization where people enjoy coming to work, make an impact, and have a full life outside of work?

It’s up to you. Start with reducing your stress, and supporting your team to reduce theirs.

More Resources:

Stressed? Here is why and what you can do about it!
Dwight Mihalicz
(Geared toward management)
effectivemanagers.com/dwight-mihalicz/stressed-here-is-why-and-what-you-can-do-about-it

How to reduce stress among employees at a nonprofit.
First Nonprofit Group
www.firstnonprofitcompanies.com/how-to-reduce-stress-among-employees-at-a-nonprofit

How to tell your boss about stress.
Monica Burton, Career Realism
www.careerealism.com/talking-boss-about-stress

How to make stress your friend.
Kelly McGonigal, Ted Talk
www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend

By |April 8th, 2014|Get It Done, Make Change, Organize|Comments Off on Calm from the Top Down|

Invest in who you are — not what you do

So many of us have taken hold of the false belief that our job is our whole identity. Regardless of what you have been taught, your job is not what makes you a good person. It is not what makes you a successful human being.

What makes you who you are is how you are in all the moments: the work moments and the living moments. Within and beyond each individual moment is the truest truth about who you are. It is in all those moments that you can build up not only who you are, but also who you hope to be.

You are becoming truly, deeply you in every moment.

You are the moment just before the day begins. You are the moment when you greet yourself in the mirror and start each new day.

You are the way you chat with the barista, or interact with others on the bus ride home, or even how you walk down the sidewalk. You are the words of encouragement you say to yourself and to others, to help move into and through the day.

You are you in the way you do your best even in a job that sucks. How you treat your friends. How you greet the stranger. How you give to others in little ways. You are how you move your body when you dance.

You are how you love the littlest ones in your life, even when you are exhausted. You are the way you scoop them up and let them know they are good. You are how you show up for yourself and others in the hardest moments, and also how you show up for your beloveds in their joy-filled celebrations.

Who you are is more than your job, more than your paycheck, more than the people you serve, more the trade you do.

You are a bundle of moments, one after another, until there are no more moments.

Invest in who you are in this moment.

How can you show up for yourself in this moment?
For the person you love?
For your co-worker?
For a stranger?

By |March 26th, 2014|Be Present, Connect, Less Stress More Joy|Comments Off on Invest in who you are — not what you do|