Social media teaches us to take a reactive stance. Just log onto Twitter or Facebook and the information streams in incessantly. You could spend your entire lifetime (and then some) just replying to other peoples’ updates. But if we want social media to truly serve us, we need to start taking a more mindful approach to how we use it.
In our new 99U book, Tiny Buddha’s Lori Deschene offers up a handful of hard-hitting questions we should all be asking ourselves:
- Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
- Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living it now?
- Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?
- Am I avoiding something I need to do instead of addressing why I don’t want to do it?
- Am I feeling bored? Is there something else I could do to feel more purposeful and engaged in my day?
- Am I feeling lonely? Have I created opportunities for meaningful connection in my day?
- Am I afraid of missing out? Is the gratification of giving in to that fear worth missing out on what’s in front of me?
- Am I overwhelming myself, trying to catchup? Can I let go of yesterday’s conversation and join today’s instead?
- Can I use this time to simply be instead of looking for something to do to fill it?
This is an excerpt from Manage Your Day-to-Day, the new book from 99U, with contributions from Lori Deschene, Gretchen Rubin, Scott Belsky, Seth Godin, and many more.
Being overwhelmed can create a vicious cycle: as a result of feeling anxious, you then spend all of your energy worrying about your anxiety, which in-turn makes you even more anxious, repeating the cycle endlessly.
To break the cycle, we must find or create a place for ourselves where we can go to get away from it all, both mentally and physically. This is particularly true of the modern-day work environment, where we not only worry about criticism from our boss or co-workers, but also have to deal with conflicts and competition, staying in-the-loop with an endless stream of emails or notifications, and managing complaints around our work, performance, and product.
Researchers like Sandra L. Bloom, a psychiatrist and trauma expert, explain that high levels of stress in the workplace are akin to a stressful environment for children. Neither allow for healthy development:
To develop normally, children require environmental stress sufficient to promote skills development and mastery experiences (positive stress) combined with sufficient buffering to prevent them from being overwhelmed.
That buffer is a way of building a foundation from which we can better manage the stress we’re likely to encounter. The key, says entrepreneur and author Tony Schwartz, is in finding somewhere safe and reliable where we can relax, escape our fears or worries, and most importantly: get some a rest from the stress.
The more energy we spend defending against perceived threats — most often to our sense of value and worthiness — the less energy we have available to create value and the more damage we’re likely to create. The most fundamental, powerful and enduring fuel for performance, it turns out, is a feeling of safety and trust — in ourselves and in the world around us… Building even short periods of time into every day to collect and reset yourself makes you more resilient in the face of the challenges and threats that inevitably arise.
Create daily buffers by taking a physical step away from everything, to breathe and relax. Maybe your personal buffer is going to your favorite coffee shop, finding a private room to meditate in, or going for a walk when things start to get overwhelming. Or build it into your daily schedule, such as finding a quiet place to take your lunch alone with a good book.
As Schwartz concludes:
“The enemy of sustainable productivity is not stress. Rather, it’s the absence of intermittent rest and renewal.”
As professional snowboarders from the flattest province in Canada (not exactly ideal for a downhill sport), Mark and Craig McMorris understand that creative problem-solving is fundamental to following your passion. In a mini-documentary presented by Red Bull, Craig explains how they made their passion a reality despite the glaring set backs:
We grew up without that traditional path or guys that went before us and became pro snowboarders where we’re from. We didn’t get that, but what we did get was a different set of skills from wake boarding and skateboarding and also scratching tooth and nail to get on the snowboard as much as possible. I think that’s what drove our passion. So we had to be creative, very innovative and we just found different ways to do it. We are continuing in our snowboarding to find different ways of reaching that next step.
Mark and Craig needed to be creative out of necessity to acquire the skills required for snowboarding at a professional level. This necessity, however, also led them to excel due to their different approach to the sport. Often we think we need to practice one skill, and that one skill alone to make us great. However, by improving other similar talents, you improve overall and continue to be inspired. As Craig relates, “what really inspires us and gets us to where we’re at is also doing different sports outside of snowboarding.”
Sooner or later you will have a difficult conversation with your team. Research shows that 80% of managers believe that difficult conversations are a part of their job. Yet 53% said that they avoid conversations due to a lack of training.
Don’t tell the other person what to do.You’re there to discover what it would take for the person to want the result you want…Once you discover what they want, you can help motivate them to move forward.Put the other person first.Enter the conversation with the purpose of helping the other person discover solutions…If they sense you’re there for yourself alone, they will not engage.Set an emotional intention for the conversation.If you’re angry or disappointed from the beginning, the other person will never open up. What do you want him or her to feel? Inspired? Hopeful? Use this word as an anchor during the conversation.Show authentic respect.Recall the person’s good work and remember that they’re doing their best with that they know how. Even if you disagree with their perspective, honor the human in front of you.
Everyone wants the next big idea, but creative writer Scott Berkun knows the power of small ideas. In his blog post Why Small Ideas Can Matter More Than Big Ideas, he explains you should be more concerned about the application of the idea:
Rather than worrying about the size of an idea, which most people do, it’s more productive to think about the possible leverage an idea has. To do this requires thinking not only about the idea itself, but how it will be used. An idea can have a different amount of leverage depending on where, when and how carefully it is applied.
For example, the McDonald brothers had the simple idea of making their food process repeatable to improve efficiency. Not a big idea in itself, but when applied consistently to their now 35,000 locations, it had a huge result. Alternatively, you can take a small idea from one industry and apply it to another, such as the safety checklist pilots use and apply it to hospital surgeons. So don’t throw out your small idea; it may just need to be utilized differently. Berkun reminds us, “the basic logic we use is the bigger the idea, the bigger the value, but often that’s not true.”
Kat Ascharya, over on 2machines, makes a case for retiring devices and apps when it comes to organizing your schedule and to-do lists. She decided to try out a temporary switch from technological tablet to real notebook, and never changed back:
Using paper brought a surprising amount of joy back to my life. The advantages were practical: having a limited amount of space to write forced me to ruthlessly prioritize tasks. The process of checking my planner every morning created a sense of ritual and structure to my day. And the physical act of writing engaged me more — I remember things better.
A paper planner was unexpectedly fun, too. I would paste or tape interesting articles, images and quotations into my paper planner, turning it into a portable Pinterest-like inspiration board…. That fun and pleasure had a more efficient, effective impact on my life than any multi-platform functionality ever did. Planning and organizing became creative acts in and of themselves.
There are upsides abound for using modern technology to organize your time: it’s faster, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly (although technically, jury’s still out on that one). Technology syncs you up to your colleagues and clients—Outlook calendar invites aren’t going away any time soon. It’s more portable, requires less neatness, and needs no external implement beyond your finger. But there’s something to be said for the simplicity and artistry engendered by a pen-to-paper approach to managing your time and tasks. Many creatives Ascharya spoke with agree, citing the cognitive left-brain static that devices can create.
If it doesn’t work for your professional lifestyle to swap Google Calendar for a spiral-bound planner, consider turning to paper in other areas, like brainstorm sessions or note-taking. It’s better for your memory, leads to deeper thought, and offers less unproductive distraction.
According to a report from the American Psychological Association, 65% of employees report that work is a significant source of stress in their lives and 41% say that they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.
While we might be able to successfully recognize the symptoms of burnout, we’re often oblivious to the alternative: a more deeper, obscured type of fatigue that afflicts successful, high-performing creatives. Over time, we can lose our passion for work and our commitment to our organizations, despite appearing composed.
Brownout, a term also used to describe part of the life cycle of a star, is different from burnout because knowledge workers afflicted by it are not in obvious crisis. They seem to be performing fine: putting in massive hours in meetings and calls across time zones, grinding out work while leading or contributing to global teams, and saying all the right things in meetings (though not in side-bar conversations). However, these executives are often operating in a silent state of continual overwhelm, and the predictable consequence is disengagement.
Kibler notes that high performers experiencing burnout exhibit the following signs:
- Feeling drained from continuous, 24/7 obligations.
- Physical deterioration due to years of sub-optimal sleep and self-care.
- Tenuous relationships with immediate family members.
- Distant relationships with old friends.
- The atrophy of personal interests.
- A diminishing ability to concentrate in non-business conversations.