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How to Love Your Work

Deep down, each of us wants a job that plays to our strengths.  We want to make a difference and feel valued by the organization.  We seek connections with our coworkers.  We desire to feel good about our work and about contributions to the "greater good".

Still... most of us find it hard to check off all of the boxes just mentioned.  

I've been thinking a lot lately about the phrase "love your work".  That's not easy to do, depending on the work you have in front of you but I think we are called to do just that.

Some how, some way, we are called to love our work.

Dan Pink puts it this way, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” (Source)

When we love our work, we embrace both challenges and opportunities.  In addition:

  • We find the inherent dignity of employment.  
  • We make deep connections with our colleagues.  
  • We practice grit when it would be easier to just quit.  
  • We choose to be positive when others get cynical.  
  • We are surprised by small things that make us smile.

Don't misunderstand me- there are times when it's impossible to love our work.  That's when you know you're ready for a change.  

But if you can stay, here are six things that can be helpful, easing you into greater appreciation of your work:

  1. You have a job.  Many do not.  This most basic truth is powerful to be reminded of.
  2. Your work allows other things to happen.  Health care, new contact lenses and braces for your kids are all possible because of your job.
  3. You are getting clearer as to your strengths and weaknesses.  Work polishes the stone of each of our gifts.
  4. You are being prepared for your next job.  Strange as it sounds, work gets you ready to work- next week, next year, next month.
  5. You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  This pushes back on depression, health issues and anxiety.
  6. You have others around you that you can invest in and cherish.

There's one other thing that contributes to us loving what we do and that is often called "mastery".  Again, to quote Pink, “Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it’s also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” 

Mastery is the idea of getting better and better at something.  This rarely comes through hobby.  It can come through employment and practice.  Work, when seen this way, becomes the vehicle for personal improvement.  

You can actually become an expert by virtue of your job- that's awesome.

Work isn't always fun.  It's not meant to be 100% birthday cakes and balloons.  With that said, it can be thoroughly stimulating and can make you a better human being.  

What delight can you find in your work today?

7 Surprising Attributes of Patient People 

Do you think of yourself as a patient person?  Do others give you feedback about your patience, or lack thereof?

This might look like a friend making a casual comment like, "As if you'd wait in line!" Or, your family might laugh when you tell them that you're patient.  

Family is good like that, sort of a built-in polishing of the stone.  There's no flaw that doesn't go unnoticed.  

My family has been telling me for years that I'm not very patient.  I wore it around my neck as an odd badge of honor.  You see, my father is not very patient and I just figured that was how it was supposed to be as a "St. Pierre man".  Add in the cultural myth that leaders are classically impatient and there I was- impatient as all get out.

Something inside me told me that this might not be a good thing after all.  What if patience was actually better than impatience?  What kinds of opportunities might open up if I could become more patient?

I chose Lent as the time of year to begin to study this further.  During a chat with a local priest, he asked me which one thing I could do to show God that I was more grateful.  It immediately came to me- I had to work on my patience.   

Since then, just before Easter, I've done just that. It's been work to flex my patience muscle and pause my impatience enough to grow and learn. I've realized that I was pretty much a zero in the patience department. 

It didn't feel good.  Something needed to change. 

After a few months, here's what I've found about learning to be more patient:

  1. Listening is part of patience.  To the degree that you can look someone in the eye and not just be waiting to say something is an act of patience.
  2. In between-spaces are part of patience.  Think of line waiting, etc.  
  3. Silence is part of patience.  How hard is silence for you?  For many people, it's terrifying.  Just closing your eyes, listening and doing nothing... this is an aspect of patience.  You're just "there".  For me, as a person of faith, this is integrated into my daily time of prayer.  
  4. Daydreaming is part of patience.  When was the last time you looked out a window and let your mind daydream?  Patient people, I've learned, enjoy a good daydream from time to time.  They're not in a rush to get to the next thing.
  5. Humility is part of patience.  To put someone else above yourself is an act of humility.  Thomas Merton, the Catholic Trappist monk, once said that the simple act of reading is a gesture of humility.  Just as it takes patience to read, it takes humility to be patient.
  6. Focus is part of patience.  A patient person can focus on thing at a time, whether it's a work task or a conversation.
  7. Contentment is part of patience.  If you can be happy doing one thing at a time, you're flexing your patience muscle.  

Patience is a rare virtue.  Our workplaces expect a lot out of us and bosses are typically impatient. As high performers, we demand a lot out of ourselves, always pushing towards excellence.

Through it all, we would do well to practice patience, with ourselves, with one another and with our work. 

Is it Ok to Be Insecure About Your Work?

I spent most of my career in a school.  When I was a teacher, I was trained to focus in on my students and connect with them to the point that they would learn.  As the saying goes, "it's not so much what you know but how much you care."

When it comes to students, that's so true.

When it comes to adults, it's also the case.  Your colleagues want to know that you're "for them".  Coupled with a deep sense of care for others is the ability to zero in on what's truly important for the organization.  

That's a balance that a good leader can manage.  On one hand is what's best for the company and on the other hand is what's best for each individual.  

Determining what's best for the organization is both an internal process (deciding together what we're about) and keeping an eye on "the market".  It's just smart.

Imagine how much Lyft and Uber study one another's moves.  Or Samsung and Apple.  Or Harvard and Yale.  You get the point.  You've got to be yourself and yet constantly be aware of what the other guy is doing.

This applies to each person in your organization too.  I want my team to play to their strengths, working in a way that gets the very best out of them.  I also want them to be aligned with the values of the team so that we can deliver exceptional results. 

But... what about those times when you lean more towards what the other guy is doing and not enough on being true to yourself?

It can be easy for a member of the team to occasionally experience FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. Even with a clearly defined set of values and a healthy self awareness (e.g. I have our team take the Enneagram evaluation), you can wonder if you're "not doing it right".

This can rear its head when any of the following questions come to mind:

  • Am I working hard enough?
  • Am I fast enough?
  • Am I valuable enough to the team?
  • Am I bringing my very best to work each day?
  • Is my email inbox cleaned out?
  • Am I communicating well?
  • Is the other guy better than me?
  • Am I using the rights apps?
  • Am I managing my time well?

I've certainly asked myself these questions many times over.  Once, I had a boss give me some advice that I still carry with me today when I'm ever insecure about my work.  He said, "Mike, the only three persons that matter are God, your wife and your boss.  Other than that, the rest can think what they want about you.  You've got to just do your work and that's that."

Don't worry about FOMO or what the next guy is doing.  Focus instead on bringing your best energy, attention and diligence to work each day.  If you don't have a performance review in place, ask if your supervisor can give you one.  This is another anchor that affirms the quality of your work.

Is it ok to be insecure about your work?  

Yes and no.  It's honest to admit that we all have insecurities.  The key is, when one shows up, to channel it into the right direction and retain confidence in your best work.

Is a Notebook Your Best Productivity Investment?

Everywhere you look, people are using old-fashioned notebooks.  It's not that they've given up their smartphones but that they are using notebooks to bring some analogue into their daily lives.

A smartphone, complemented by a portable notebook is a powerful combo for everyday productivity.  

I have been a hybrid paper-digital user for years.  While Google Calendar keeps my "hard landscape" events in place, I find there's nothing like paper and pen to navigate the nitty-gritty details of my daily work.  This includes meeting notes, doodles and notes from phone calls. 

David Sax, in his best-selling book The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, details the rise in popularity of such notebooks like Moleskine and Baron Fig:

“Numerous studies have shown that handwriting notes is simply better for engagement, information retention, and mental health than is writing on digital devices.” 

When you write things down, your brain activates on a deeper level than if you just think something or type it into your computer.

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Moleskine isn't the only popular brand of notebook.  There's also the Bullet Journal which has given folks a clever way to stay organized.  Consider it "stylized productivity".

The bottom line- notebooks are back and they're cool once again.

There's one catch: what if you want all of the benefits of a fancy notebook but would rather save the $15 that often goes with it?  

After all, consider the costs of the most popular "in" notebooks:

  • Bullet Journal: $24.95
  • Baron Fig: $15-65

There are some other options.  You can use an inexpensive notebook.  You can create your own system as David Seah has done.  Or, you can use a whiteboard to get your creative, handwriting juices flowing.

The most important idea is this- connecting paper with digital is a smart move.  You just need to find an expression of this marriage that works for your style and your budget.


Why Is It So Hard to Work ... at Work?

Working at work is hard.  

The distractions, interruptions, poor lighting, climate control, and constant meeting schedule make it hard to work when you're at work.

I'm mindful of Jason Fried's Ted Talk from 2010 which first caught my eye.  In the years since it went viral, it became a reality for me.  Here's the video in case you haven't seen it in a while:

There are likely two options for people with whom Jason's talk strikes a chord:

a) Fix what you can of your current working environment.
b) Find another situation that allows you to work remotely, even if it's only for a portion of your week.

Which can you choose?  Which will you have the courage to choose?

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Why You Need an Evening Routine

This is a guest post by Hank Geng from Min-Max Your Life.  Hank writes about productivity and organization, helping readers overcome overwhelm and procrastination.

When was the last time you looked at your phone? Checked your email?  10 minutes ago?  Less?

In this day and age, we’re addicted to our screens, and we get barraged from every direction. So many things demand our time, and in the process of managing it all, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters to you. 

It’s incredibly helpful to make a habit of unplugging on a daily basis so you can stop this constant flow of information and have a chance to recharge. 

This works best in the context of an evening routine that prepares you for the next day, allows you to reflect on what you are grateful for, puts you in a relaxed mood, and lets you get a good night’s sleep to wake up refreshed and energized. 

There’s no one size fits all approach, but you can get started on creating your own evening routine by following this four-step simple formula: 

The Four Steps

  • Review tomorrow’s schedule and tasks to make sure you don’t have any surprises. You may want to:
  1. Plan out what you’re going to wear in the morning
  2. Set your alarm for when you need to wake up
  3. Decide how you’re getting to your first destination tomorrow
  • Reflect on today by asking yourself a few essential questions:
  1. What are you grateful for?
  2. What made this day unique?
  3. Did you learn something new? 
  • Relax by putting your screens away and starting to wind down. You could try one of the following:
  1. Read a physical book or your Kindle
  2. Yoga
  3. Meditate
  • Rest by turning off your lights, drawing the curtains, and going to sleep. 
  1. People require different amounts of sleep, but start with allotting yourself 8 hours for sleep and go from there.

By creating your own evening routine that includes these four factors, you’ll start waking up the next morning refreshed and energized, ready to face the day. 

Do you have an evening routine?

If not, try reserving an hour before your bedtime tonight to try creating your own using the framework above.

Four Reasons Against Working From Home

There was this guy.  He wore casual clothing and seemed to be present at 100% of his kids' school events.  

I secretly wondered what he did for a living but never had the guts to go over and ask him.  

As it turns out, he worked from home.  Doing something related to software (that's usually enough of a response at the neighborhood cocktail party as in "yeah, I'm in software"), he managed to support his family and live to talk about it.  Even more, he seemed quite happy with his life.  

His name was Kevin.

There are a lot of Kevins out there- people who work either occasionally or often from a home office.  This seems odd, as something luxurious and novel but not as something that "normal people" do.

The modern workplace, broken and dysfunctional as it typically is, wants us to think that a long commute is normal.  Add in frequent interruptions, bad lighting and boring meetings.

I was that guy and those were normal things for me.  While I wondered what Kevin did for a living, I secretly envied him.  

Fast forward five years and I now work from home about half of every day.  My wardrobe, unless I'm at a meeting, is business casual.  You don't want to come between me and my kids' basketball games.  It's a new normal for me and it feels very good.

Still, it's not for everyone.

In fact, there are four reasons why you should not consider working from home:

  1. You crave people contact on a daily basis.  If this is a big deal for you, don't work from home.  When you work from home, you can have as much contact as you like or need but it will be contact that you make happen.  There are no "drop-ins", etc.
  2. You can't see technology as a viable replacement for face-to-face contact.  For me, a Zoom or Skype call "counts" as real communication.  If you can't see yourself ever making that substitution, working from home isn't for you.
  3. You don't have a dedicated space.  This is big.  I don't think you necessarily need an entire room (although that helps) but you do need some space that is only used for work. If no desk/room/nook exists at your home for you to work in, working from home might not be for you.
  4. You worry too much about what others will think.  Your neighbors will wonder what you do.  Other parents at your kids' school will do the same (as I did with Kevin).  If you can't handle that level of scrutiny, working from home might not be for you.

Here's an experiment that you might want to try: work from home for two hours one day and see how you like it.  It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing affair.  Being honest with the four conditions above can go a long way towards determining if home-working is for you.

BONUS: while no longer an active podcast, the best one I've found related to working from home is called Home Work.

One Clever Way to Chart Your Personal Growth

Productivity expert Carson Tate uses a wonderful tool to categorize folks according to their personal style of working.  

The Arranger

The Planner

The Visualizer

The Prioritizer

You can take the test here.  The book is even better as each chapter lets you just zoom in on the strategies that match your particular style.  As an avid book scanner, it was nice to be able to breeze through each chapter, not feeling guilty about it.

I'm a Planner first and a Visualizer second. My wife is an Arranger to the max.

Typically, when you take any assessment like Tate's (or Disc or Myers Briggs, etc.) it just gets filed and you move on.  I decided to do something different this time around.  I wanted to savor the assessment and link it to other measurements like Disc, Meyers Briggs and Enneagram.  

What if I could design a personal growth "tool" of sorts?  And, what if I could make it look nice?

The latter part was important to me.  Yes, I've written (in the past) my goals and posted them on my office wall.  Yes, it's worked.  What didn't work was the utilitarian vibe- I needed something stylish, something with some class.  

Enter Canva.com.  

I use Canva daily (yes, daily) for reports, flyers, brochures, social media graphics and anything else in between.  It's nearly free and makes even the most basic designer look like a pro.  What if I could take my productivity style, along with a few other growth metrics, and create something out of it for my office?  Using Canva, I finally could.

Step two was to find a template in Canva that matched my office's aesthetic.  I chose a "resume" design- very simple and easy to manipulate.

Step three became more difficult as I had to limit the information to one page. The temptation in these things is to make it complicated.  Not this time, I told myself...

The final product included the following:  

  • Mission statement
  • Productivity style
  • Myers Briggs indicator
  • Disc rating
  • Enneagram rating
  • Quarterly goals
  • Spiritual growth target
  • Audacious career goal

Here's what the final product looks like in my office:


The value of this process was twofold.  First, it memorialized what I'm working on right now.  Second, it made personal growth much more than just a few ideas on a scrap of paper.  When you make something look nice, it gives it dignity and a proper place.  

Think- Baron Fig notebook as opposed to a cheap $1 version.

You can do this too.  It's that easy.  I've created a template for you to use for yourself.  It will save you about 15 minutes.  If you're familiar with Canva and want to do it on your own, that's ok too.  

Here's the download:

Free Personal Growth Template

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The real question is this: how are you capturing and honoring your own growth goals?  

Sometimes, Productivity Isn't Enough

About two weeks ago, something weird happened.  After a very productive week, I went home on a Friday afternoon feeling somehow unfulfilled.

My todo list was solid.  I had used my Daily Plan day after day as I have for years.  (You can grab a copy using the form below.)

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My quarterly goals, inspired by other practitioners, were in place.

Why was the weekend, ordinarily a delight, seemingly ominous as my week wrapped up?  

My life coach was very helpful after we talked about it.  His point was simple enough- you need more than productivity to feel happy.

I turned to Patrick Lencioni's book The Advantage, for some perspective.  Alignment is about "connecting with your why".  Patrick puts it this way, "Great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers as much as anything else.”

A great leader reminds the team why they do what they do.  

This affirms why the best companies are truly mission-driven.  Millennials more than any other group remind us of this.  Younger workers crave purpose more than just the hacks to shave a few minutes off their next meeting or the keys to getting to inbox zero.  

My own "hmpf" on that Friday was fairly normal after all.  After I had made sense of it, I decided to revisit my quarterly goals and my own mission statement.  These would, no matter what, inform my productivity.  I was resolute.

The weeks afterwards were markedly different.  The productivity remained but this time was animated by something deeper.  

When you feel fragmented or empty and you've been producing solid work, there are a few things you can do to reconnect with your own mission and purpose:

  1. Spend some time alone.  Get with your thoughts and write.  Why were you feeling shallow?  What is it about your work that you enjoy?  What part of it bothers you?
  2. Get away.  It may be time for a day off or a vacation.  If you've been running on empty, you just may be tired.  If so, stop working and recharge your batteries.
  3. Seek the advice of someone you trust.  Maybe you just need to talk to someone without being judged.  For me, seeing my life coach is invaluable and encourages me to reconnect my work with my mission.

Productivity isn't enough.  Connecting your work with your why, now that's where the magic happens. 

How to Paper-proof Your Office

What does your office look like?  Is it neat and clean?  Is it messy and disorganized?  

Each of us has a few habits associated with our offices that we might not want others to know about.  You know what I mean: the pile of papers by your credenza, the extra pair of shoes under your desk, the batch of receipts near your phone.  

I have a few of these too... except that I'm not going to share them with you!

What I can share is one simple habit that works for me.  It's so easy that you might overlook it but trust me, it works every time.  

So here's the tip: don't put any papers on the floor.  This won't paper-proof your whole office but it will put a dent in things.

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When you put papers on the floor that belong on a desk (or in a drawer), their value decreases.  When things find their way on the floor, you have to step over them.  When you have to step over things in your office, you slow down and so does your work.  

Not good.

Do you want to know the biggest reason why papers shouldn't go on the floor? In my experience, when I put papers on the floor, I never end up tackling them.  Despite all of my good intentions, the papers just never get touched.

Will power isn't as easy to activate as we'd like. 

If you have a habit of letting papers get on the floor, you have three options:

1. Toss it.
2. Deal with it.
3. Get comfortable with clutter and therefore decreased productivity.  

With all of that said, what's in your office?