4 Things I Say to My Children & Myself at the Office, to Move Things Along & Get a Grip
1. “Stop Whining (Complaining, etc.), and Go Use your Words and Time to Work It Out”
I get quickly tired of playing referee to my son and nieces and nephew. “Mama! He’s not sharing!” “Auntie! He took it and I wasn’t done with it!” Not only do I find no joy in settling arguments over Legos and crayons, I know that I am not doing the children any favors by taking away their opportunities to hone problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. They will certainly need them later in life.
In the same way, while there is something cathartic about venting at work (to a friend/boss/colleague – just to free your mind of frustration), there comes a point when venting becomes time-wasting, negative, and detrimental to the task at hand. So finding that line between a healthy heart-to-heart with a colleague and becoming the office Negative Nancy can be tricky.
The Moral: Try to keep venting to a minimum: use it when you really need to get an issue off your chest, or to hear another opinion before your respond to a situation. But when the conversation is taking twice or triple the amount of time it would take to get the problem resolved, you might want to rethink your focus. You might also decide to try to solve the troublesome task before you run to a friend to lament it; after that’s accomplished, you may not feel the need to give someone else an exhaustive, in-depth summary.
2. “Go Outside!”
It’s very common for children to be bored, and the draw of screen time and couch time is hard for them to avoid on the weekends, but whether I am trying to clean up the house or get some peace and quiet, I consistently encourage kids to go outside. Not only will I accomplish more (e.g. cleaning/rest), but they will get fresh air, exercise, and a new creative space in which to play “pretend.” I love to hear their grumbles (inside) followed by the (outside) declarations of “Let’s climb the apple tree” or “Come on, we can play hotel.”
Likewise, in our corporate worlds of “open work spaces” (read: tiny cubicles), or sitting (solitary) in our offices, we may occasionally be exposed to other people/stimuli during the day, but the indoor environment can still be depleting, and have a negative effect on energy levels. There aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all we would like to, but studies show that productivity decreases when breaks are ignored.
The Moral: If you are feeling blocked, frustrated, or tired, get up and get outside. The change in environment and burst of activity will wake up your senses, stimulate endorphins, and give you a clearer mind to tackle your next tasks. Even a ten-minute walk once a day adds up to almost an hour more of activity per week. Ask a friend to join you to take your mind off your work or to brainstorm in a different environment. When you come back to your desk, you should feel better — either in mind or body, or both!
3. “What is your Job Right Now?”
It never fails that as soon as I ask my son to do something, he busies himself with some other task: he might be going in the right direction and get distracted along the way. Or he might start to do the task, but never really get to the crucial execution. For example, I ask him to set the table and he goes to the utensil drawer, and starts reorganizing serving spoons instead of grabbing the forks. “What is your job right now?” I ask him.
Sometimes, at the office, I ask myself that. Most days I have a really crucial task that somehow I wish to avoid, and more often than not, there isn’t any good reason to want to avoid it. Still, somehow I busy myself, answering emails that take me down rabbit holes of research and reply-alls. Hours go by and I haven’t completed my most highly prioritized task. Until I ask myself: “What is your job right now?” Certainly there are other things I could do. But what is my biggest priority right now? And why not complete it? Why not start it, even? Chances are that it will be complete before you know it.
The Moral: Don’t avoid a task by means of accomplishing a million other little things, only to have the project resurface in your mind just a few minutes before you want to leave, or in the middle of the night. Get your job done now, so you can move on to the next job on your list and prioritize your workload, as it should be.
4. “Is That the Way You’re Supposed to Do That?“
This, or other versions of it like, “If you are going to do something, do it well,” resound in many homes as kids “clean up” rooms by throwing pajama bottoms errantly into the bottom of the closet and shove toys under the bed. “Is that the way we clean our rooms?” I ask. Or “Is that the way we do that?” as the dishes crash into the sink loudly when my son clears the table. “No…we set them gentle,” he grumbles.
I ask myself the same thing as I see myself try to cut corners elsewhere at work. I jot off a sloppy email and then reread it, thinking about how it might come across. Is that how I email – no, that’s not how I want to represent myself. I don’t feel like bothering to format the spreadsheets to be perfect as I add data — but then think, I’ll just have to fix it later, so I might as well do it now.
The Moral: Everything you do, do in the best representation the first time. Not only will you save yourself the rework — or embarrassment if you don’t have time to rework it before it’s viewed elsewhere — but you’ll also get in the habit of doing things right the first time, and it won’t feel so stressful to accomplish.7