by Karl Staib
“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.”
How are you managing your work? What do you focus on? Are you overly anxious? Way too stressed out? Or just in need of a little more mindfulness?
I’m here to tell you that a bracing dose of self-awareness could be just the trick. To that end, I’ve culled together 10 powerful ideas that will help you tame your stress levels, persevere through uncertainty, boost your creativity, and get more of the right things done with a smile on your face.
1. Dedicate time to playful exploration.
In 2006, students from Xavier High School were given an assignment to write to their favorite living authors – several students chose Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut’s response, the only one the class received, encapsulates essential insight on the importance of playful exploration as it relates to doing great work:
“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.”
Although Vonnegut’s response was for young students to motivate them to start learning and exploring new ideas and skills, it’s easy for all of us to limit ourselves to one specific domain, like writing or coding or design. We get comfortable and never stretch our creative and intellectual muscles. We never become all that we can be.
So keep the idea of playful exploration in mind and dedicate time to implementing it. Try new things for the sake of stretching yourself, making your soul grow and keeping things fresh in your life. The realizations you encounter during these activities can then be transferred over to your primary work, which will eventually make all the difference in the world.
2. Track and appreciate every small step of progress you make.
It’s in our DNA to want our hard work to matter… to know that our efforts made a difference.
It’s why, believe it or not, janitors at hospitals have a fairly high job satisfaction ratings. When they walk into a dirty room they know what they need to do, how it should look when they leave, and the positive impact their work will have on others who use the room. Then as they leave, they look around and feel a strong sense of accomplishment.
Your progress might not be as easy to see, but the more you appreciate your hard work, the more productive you will become.
Try looking at what you’ve been able to accomplish at the end of each day, and be aware that acknowledging even the smallest wins is very important. Keep notes and write down at least one thing you made progress on each day and why it mattered. Do this consistently for 30 days and watch how it affects your happiness and productive output.
Also, consider adding mini celebrations to your routines. Too often you probably finish a task and then just move on to the next thing. I catch myself doing this all the time. I might have just written a very intricate email that required a lot of thinking and planning, but the moment I send it off, I’m already moving on to the next thing.
Next time you catch yourself doing this, take a quick moment and celebrate your hard work. I try to make my celebrations fun, energizing and healthy. Here are five simple ways you can celebrate after some hard work on a project.
- Listen to your favorite song.
- Take a short walk and appreciate the fresh air.
- Call a good friend or colleague and tell them about a particular accomplishment.
- Eat a small piece of dark chocolate.
- Write a couple lines in your gratitude journal.
Simple celebrations like these keep you feeling positive and will grow your motivation for the next task ahead.
3. Find meaning in your tasks and projects.
Each task you set out to do can either add to or subtract from your happiness. It can be something that helps you build a better career or something that annoys you. Each task has a purpose – even the smallest ones. If you feel like they really don’t have a purpose that’s meaningful to you, it’s time to find a way to stop doing it or get someone else to do it for you. (We’ll talk more about this in #7 and #9.)
Not all tasks were created equal, so look for ways that your tasks and projects are helping you accomplish your bigger goals. If you are asked to stuff thousands of marketing bags with corporate flyers, like I was asked to do at one point in my career, then understand the “why” behind it.
Why are you choosing to accept this task? It could be as simple as your boss asked you to do it and you want to keep earning your paycheck to feed your family, or something more subjective like you are doing it because you hope, believe, or know that it will make future customers happy. When you can visualize the reaction that your hard work will have on others, it’s easier to stay motivated.
Bottom line: By finding meaning in your tasks, you’ll do a better job and usually enjoy each task a lot more.
4. Seek out ways to deliver a smile.
Connection is a big part of why you do what you do. If you work hard on something and get a smile for doing so, that’s visual proof that your work matters.
So next time you have low energy while working on a task, see if you can try switching to a task that will help deliver a smile to a colleague, customer, or boss. You’ll get a natural boost, and the next task will be easier to tackle.
5. Leverage your motivating triggers.
Everyone has motivating triggers that can help them when they need to take their energy up a notch.
One of my triggers is music. I like to listen to classical music when I write. Mozart puts a little pep in my fingers. This motivation trigger helps me get in the zone and stay focused so I can get a large chunk of work done.
Music may not be your motivating trigger, but you have to figure out what works for you. You can try something really simple like a couple deep breaths before you start a task to center your focus before you dive into the work. It can help you work better or make wiser choices. The best part is that if you keep doing this, it becomes a habit. It triggers your “zone state” so you can get into your zone much quicker and get more work done efficiently (we’ll talk more about this in #10).
6. Schedule recharge breaks.
You don’t have an endless supply of energy. Think of yourself as a battery that needs to be recharged throughout the day. Most people hit their peak energy output about two hours after they wake up, and it lasts for about three hours. Then their energy plummets, especially after lunch.
You’ve likely suffered through an afternoon slump more times than you can count. This is when most people go for a caffeine or sugar boost, which is not healthy.
So what’s a good alternative?
Schedule short recharge breaks to help you keep a more consistent energy level, and will also help you avoid unhealthy snacking.
Try scheduling your breaks when you know the energy slumps usually hit. You might schedule a walk and a healthy fruit snack, and take the time to breathe and regroup for 10 minutes before you go back to work.
7. Ask for help the minute you need it.
If you are a type-A personality, this especially pertains to you. You may be good at a lot of things, but you can’t do it all, all of the time. Other people have skills that can help you accomplish more work and make your efforts more effective.
It’s important to lean on other people when you are feeling fatigued or overwhelmed. Try asking for help when you need it. The funny thing about asking for help is that most people actually love to help others when given the opportunity. They get a boost by helping you smile, and you get a boost by not having to do everything all by yourself.
8. Flip the script.
One of my clients, Amy, loathed doing performance reviews. She always procrastinated until the last minute on finishing the performance reviews for her employees, and the experience was equally bad for her and her team. She hated doing them because she didn’t feel like her team needed them or wanted them.
So she flipped the concept on its head and asked her employees to review and develop a career plan, with her guidelines, for the next 12 months. It worked. They all collaborated and invented a better process that her employees were excited about.
If there’s some task or project in your life that is troublesome, try finding a fresh way to tackle it. It might take a few tries to find a better solution, but if you can find a way to enjoy a task that you dislike, you’ll be happier and so will the people around you.
9. Learn to circumvent tasks that don’t excite you.
Simply learning to say “no” is one of the major components of doing more work that you love and creating a happier life in general.
If there’s a project that’s a bad fit for your skills, you need to figure out a way to say “no.” The key here is to put your foot down without making the other person feel rejected. For example, if your boss comes in with a project for you to do that doesn’t excite you or fit your strengths, then it’s your responsibility to find a better solution to her problem. So instead of just saying “no,” give her another option that solves her problem so she can say “yes” to you.
Everything is negotiable. Be a creative problem solver and everyone wins.
Another powerful idea, which I will quote from Marc’s recent Forbes interview:
“Invest a little time to save a lot of time.
How can you spend a little time right now in order to save a lot of time in the future? Think about the tasks you perform over and over throughout a work week. Is there a more efficient way? Is there a shortcut you can learn? Is there a way to automate or delegate it? Perhaps you can complete a particular task in 20 minutes, and it would take two hours to put in place a more efficient method. If that 20 minute task must be completed every day, and a two-hour fix would cut it to 5 minutes or less each time, it’s a fix well worth implementing. A simple way of doing this is to use technology to automate tasks (email filters, automatic bill payments, etc.). Also, teaching someone to help you and delegating work is another option.
Bottom line: The more you automate and delegate, the more you can get done with the same level of effort.”
10. Block out time to be in the zone.
Getting in the zone quickly is one of the most important habits for highly effective workers. If you can get your important work done early and efficiently, it leaves you time to relax or to test out new, creative ideas.
Getting in your zone can start with leveraging tip #5, motivational triggers. If you can use triggers to help you get into the zone quicker, then you’ll get more done each day. The next step, and one that’s maybe even harder, is doing the right things when you’re in the zone. And that means not allowing any distractions to get in your way. To this point, I will again quote Marc, from his recent Forbes interview:
“Anyone who wants to achieve their goals needs to do two key things. First, focus on the right things, and second, be ruthless about eliminating all distractions.
Several research studies have shown that people never get more done by blindly working more hours on everything that comes up. Instead, they get more done when they follow careful plans that measure and track key priorities and milestones. So if you want to be more successful and less stressed, don’t ask how to make something more efficient until you’ve first asked, “Do I need to do this at all?” Simply being able to do something well does not make it the right thing to do. I think this is one of the most common problems with a lot of time-management advice; too often productivity gurus focus on how to do things quickly, but the vast majority of things people do quickly should not be done at all.
Once you know you’re actually working on the right things, eliminating all distractions for a set time while you work is one of the most effective ways to get things done. So, lock your door, put a sign up, turn off your phone, close your email application, disconnect your internet connection, etc. You can’t remain in hiding forever, but you can be twice as productive while you are. Do whatever it takes to create a quiet, distraction free environment where you can focus on your work.” (Marc and Angel discuss this in more detail in the “Productivity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Please don’t try to work on all 10 of these ideas at once. Check in with your gut and notice which one spoke to you the most. Maybe it’s the one that scares or excites you the most. That’s probably the one that will be of the most benefit to you right now.
The next step is to make this one idea actionable. Write down the first three steps you are going to take to make it happen. Then pick the first step and write down when and how you’re going to do it, and schedule it.
Just to make it really concrete: What is your first step? When will you do this first step? How will you do it?
For example, if you want to get yourself in the zone quicker in the morning, your first step may be to write a list of three distractions that you want to try to eliminate. Then pick the most distracting one and envision how you will solve this distraction.
So if people interrupt you all day long and it pulls you out of the zone, then you need to find a block of time to get in the zone. Maybe the first step is signaling to your co-workers that you need time to focus. You could put headphones on from 9am – 11am everyday. Or perhaps you could add a little message to the footer of your emails and a quick sentence on your voicemail about working on an important project every day until 11am. This is your time to get in the zone. Own it.
I’m curious… Which idea above resonates with you the most? What other ideas would you add to the list? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. I promise to read it.
Author Bio: Karl Staib is a career strategist and speaker who helps people level up their careers! You should check out his free Unlock Your Career Passions eCourse so you can build the career of your dreams.
Photo by: Chris Owens
Excellent points here!
Another tip I actually picked up from Marc and Angel’s book that has made a big difference in the way I work:
“Instead of giving up, give more!”
This is such a powerful credo to live by. Those who consistently apply this principle will take their lives to heights they never even knew were possible.
In almost all cases we can give more. The human will is far stronger than we give it credit for. Which means that *we* are far stronger than we give ourselves credit for.
Learn to tap into that deep well of strength and you will find yourself capable of achieving whatever success it is you seek.
Sara Lowe says
I particularly resonate with numbers 3 and 10, as these are areas I need to work on. Also, I think it’s important to remember that you are the only person responsible for your success. Nothing and no one else is in charge. Once we realize this, we stop making excuses and work towards the solution; we stop criticizing others and focus on improving ourself; we stop cribbing about not getting the opportunity and start creating them; we stop blaming the environment and believe in our own abilities.
Yet another post packed with useful tips. Thanks Marc, Angel, and Karl. With the current challenges I face running my family business, this post helps. #9 is the one I struggle with most – I always get stuck with in cycles of inefficiency. And even when I know there’s a better way, I’m too comfortable to make changes. So thanks for this needed push.
Reading blogs and books like Marc and Angel’s, Tony Robbins’ and others for at least 30 minutes every day has become a ritual of mine that has helped me stay focused and motivated to push past my comfort zone and get the right things done the right way.
There’s several here I need to work on. Excellent reminders to get me back on track to getting great work done. Thanks.
I work in an office with six people with many deadlines for projects. We have sound effects that give us a “yippie” or applause — we always try to push that button when one of us meets a deadline or completes a project – little positive feedback shared with others is great.
David Rapp says
The only other thing that has come to mind is this:
Don’t let perfection stand in the way very good.
How often do I let myself get stuck making something “perfect” when the added effort goes unnoticed by those involved. And everyone has their own idea of perfect anyway.
A lot of useful ideas here, as always! Number 7 is definitely the one I’ve struggled with the most; it seems the bigger your ego, the less help you think you need from others!
I would add “batching” to this list; batching all your small, time-consuming tasks and finishing them all at once will save up a lot of your time!
Jerry Stumpf says
As in every post you two share, I picked up useful ideas.
My question concerns # 7. Ask for help the minute you need it.
Beginning an online business means I need help in many areas. So how do you ask for help with successful folks without coming across as “needy” or “desperate”?
I have a passion for my message and experience to back up my assertions, so how do you go from small to highly noticed without creating a nuisance of myself?
You two have great insights for folks. Thank you for your serving hearts.
Michael Gregory II says
I think the one that gets me the most is giving myself recharge breaks. But when I continue to work for a long period of time, I tend to lose focus of myself in a way. It’s hard to describe, but I basically continue working and working until I start to feel mentally numb. So I do know it’s pretty crucial to take breaks every now and then to refresh my mind and get my thinking pattern back to standards.
Tracking your progress is a really good idea. I think it is something I would like to concentrate on right now in my life. Even small steps are progress towards the goal. And seeing that progress is not only self-empowering but also self-motivating! Great post… Very thought provoking.
Excellent valid points here. My biggest challenge is recharging and taking breaks. I also struggle to ask for help when I really should. These are the points I need to work on so thanks for the reminder.
I like the idea of writing down daily accomplishments. This is a necessity for me as I tend to think I’m not doing enough, this will help me see that I am doing enough and maybe even more.
Sam Hardy says
The best way to work in the most efficient and pleasant manner is definitely do what you want to and like to do.
Do something you don’t like to do and hours drag and it feels like nothing moves. Do something you love and you cannot find enough time to do everything you want to do.
Raelyn Tan says
There’re some good ideas in this post here.
A great thing about motivational triggers is that it takes me out of my “unproductive” zone into my “productive” zone because my brain associates these triggers with work. As a blogger it’s difficult to always remain alert and on schedule all the time, haha.
I’ve realized that if I watch motivational videos, I get pumped up, so I’ve been watching quite a lot recently :D.
Noel Rosos says
Tip #2 works great for me. Recognizing the small wins and celebrating them does relieve some of the stress I get from my 9-to-5 job. Sometimes I go for a walk in the nearest park in the office or buy myself coffee or milktea and hang out just by myself while listening to my favorite songs or podcasts. Sometimes we just have to be creative.
Thank you for sharing these tips! I will definitely try some of them one of these days.
I’ve changed my routine in the morning. Instead of checking my email while propping my eyes open and slurping coffee I now light a candle and just write, or perhaps read about writing, for at least 15-20 minutes. Sometimes more. It changes everything. I feel more creative and less stressed by the demands that arrive from cyber space. I still slurp coffee, however.
The words “focus on the right things and be ruthless about removing distractions” hit hard. My circle is so used to me being accommodating that this is something I’ve been struggling with since returning to college at 45. My mind is made up though. Anything that interferes with my path has to be removed.
Hello Marc and Angel!! 😀 I really love your site and your writings because it’s too productive and helping me everyday in my daily tasks. Actually, I am working student so this site really what l have been looking for. <3 I have a favor, hehhehe. How to buy your book? I really like to have your book and read it but I dont have credit card. Will you please give me a gift or that book? Thank you very much! – Love Paul
Angel Chernoff says
Everyone, Marc and I just got a chance to read through your comments here. Thank you so much. You all have added some great ideas into the mix. Lots of food for though. I even took some notes. 🙂
@Paul: Email me at: angel [at] marcandangel [dot] com – and we’ll see if we can work something out. 🙂
Helpful for some of the issues I’m dealing with in my business. Thanks.
Great post! Thank you!
I’d like to hear more about getting in the ‘zone’. Focus has been a hot topic lately, and it’s something I struggle with in my office’s open workspace environment.
Mitko Ivanov (@mitcoivanov) says
Hi Karl, I’ve rarely read something, so bonding and action oriented. I really like the way you go into details for every issue you talk about. I checked your course and I was pleasantly surprised that you have the same writing style as I first experienced on M & A blog.
I quickly compiled a list of your directions in the blog post and it looks like this:
1. Dedicate time to playful exploration.
2. Track and appreciate every small step of progress you make.
10. Block out time to be in the zone.
Since it looks short & sweet I have an interesting idea for spreading the word about your course and I think you might like it. Just ping me and I’ll be happy to share it.
Dee Johnson says
Ask for help the minute you need it — the timing is key. If I wait until near the deadline and then ask for help, I’m imposing. I’ll pay more, if it’s a paid service, or I’ll annoy my coworkers if it’s an internal cry for help. Asking for help at the last minute means creating a crisis for others.
If I delegate early in the project, the person to whom I am delegating has the opportunity to do his or her best work, at a comfortable pace.
Nice tips. And mine is:
First, list the work things that I need complete today or this week.
Second, set the priority of each one. Some belongs to normal, some belongs to the highest.
Third, limit the time. Doing everything must have a time limit. Set the time for each one can helps to control the whole process better.
Fourth, set reminder. This mainly helps me to know that should do right now and be more focused.
Fifth, set recurrent tasks. Some tasks needs focus every day, or every week, or even every month and year. Considering this, a recurrent task can help a lot to save time and alert me.