Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Get Into The Zone

Referred to often as The Zone, or The Flow, it is a state of mind where you are awake, energised, and yet also relaxed, and able to pay attention to the small details whilst keeping in mind the larger picture. Whether you are a writer, a golfer, or a stock-market analyst; the zone is the place where you are best able to perform and get the results you long for.

For many it is a state of mind rarely achieved, if it can be achieved at all. For some it can come only once a year, perhaps, and it stays for only a fleeting moment. It is always the case that when the flow is lost, we want it back.

When you are feeling stressed, or angry at the unwelcome events and burdens in your life; these are signs that you are not in the zone. But the secret is not attempting to force yourself back into it, you cannot just switch it back on. Rather, the best method for getting back there is eliminating the obstructions that stand in your way.

Our behaviour, and our mental efforts, are the result of billions of processes occurring within our bodies at any one time. The unconscious mind is vastly larger than the conscious, and is duly responsible for a vastly larger share of the workload in organising our lives. When it comes to making decisions, and working on a task or solving problems, our conscious minds do their fair share, but are always calling on the superior processing powers of the unconscious.

When we are under stress, or are tired, or angry, our conscious mind is subjected to signals that tell us this is so. It's meant to be a mechanism that moves us into doing something about it and getting us out of there. Often though, in our fast-paced and highly pressured working environments of today, these situations don't disappear, and the signals just get in the way.

It's like trying to remember your way out of a burning building when the corridors are filled with smoke, and the fire alarms are ringing in your ears, with the flickering threat of flames behind you. It'd be much easier to find your way without all of those distractions.

So it is with the Zone. Our unconscious minds are much better able to organise our feelings, thoughts and memories, and guide our actions, when our minds are clear of clutter.

This increase in our processing performance is what is referred to as 'flow'. Chinese philosophers see it as a flow of energy, when really it is a flow of clarity.

So how do we increase flow?

Eliminate the Rules:

We are often overly concerned with what is expected of us. Sometimes we spend more time worrying about what we should do, rather than what would actually be best to do in any given situation. Often there is a preoccupation with ettiquette and how we behave around others, and how we are being perceived. Over time we build up a variety of rules for behaviour that we act out unconsciously, and these are especially brought to bear when we are feeling anxious and stressed.

If you already knew how to do something, you wouldn't be struggling over getting it done. To get into the flow it is necessary to relax that part of your mind that is stressing over all the important little things you have to remember.

Trust that your unconscious mind will react accordingly to situations as they arise. Do not try to control everything.

Eliminate the Limitations: 

Over the course of our lives we develop a vast array of methods for keeping ourselves in the illusion of control and in our comfort zones. These are, by definition, self-limiting beliefs. Things like, "It's too hard for me", "I don't have the experience", "I'll never get the hang of it", "I don't know enough..."

These self-limiting beliefs we don't necessarily believe all of the time, only when we think we need them, like when a situation calls for us to step outside of our comfort zones. And we often don't recognise them for what they are, because we weave them into the narrative of our lives. And of course, sometimes we don't wish to analyse them for other reasons. Perhaps they are the rationalisation for an aspect of ourselves we are uncomfortable with.

But the fact is these 'beliefs' limit ourselves, and stop us from growing and extending our capabilities. If we let them go we can operate in much more like our full capacity, and focus on the task at hand.

Eliminate the Expectations: 

We always have expectations on how a situation might play out, how a project may end up, how an article might end, how a plan might succeed. We have goals, and we know what those goals look like.

When things don't go according to plan, however, the image in our minds of our goals are threatened. We try and force things to go according to plan. We get into arguments. We feel resentment or anger. The tension mounts.

But life and the universe is complex, and our plans often aren't. We must be prepared to let go of our plans, our expected routes to the goal, in order to achieve what we want. We let go, regroup, and then go again.

Eliminate the rules, eliminate the limitations, eliminate the expectations.

Get into the Zone.

Looking at Work/Life Balance

The pressure of an extremely strenuous work life in the west is perhaps the greatest factor influencing the psychological wellness of the population. A significant number of individuals are ignoring the factors in their lives that make them vulnerable to psychological illness.

It is approximated that nearly three in ten workers will experience a mental health problem in any one season. But with working hours increasing this is likely to rise.

A mental health survey found:
  • The more time you invest at work, the more time outside of work you are likely to invest in thinking or stressing about it. 
  • One third of participants experience dissatisfaction or great dissatisfaction with the amount of time they spend at work.
  • Just less than half of workers ignore other aspects of their lives because of their focus on work.
  • As you increase the number of hours spent at work, so your level of unhappiness increases.
  • Many more females report unhappiness compared to men, which is probably a result of competing lifestyle tasks and more pressure to 'juggle'.
  • Nearly 60 % of workers have experienced a negative effect on their individual lifestyle, such as psychological and physical illnesses, a lack of self improvement, and relationship problems.

Things you can do to help yourself:

  • Take proper breaks at work, and try to get away on your lunch break.
  • Attempt to draw a line between work and play. If you bring work home, try to complete it in another area of the house to where you like to relax.
  • Really try to maximise on protective factors, which include exercise, leisure time and friendships/socialising. Do not sacrifice these things to work longer hours if you can, and ensure you spend adequate time on them.   
  • Be responsible and tell your employers when demands and expectations are too much.
  • Prioritise your work so that you do not waste time on less important tasks.
  • Recognise the serious link between work-related stress and mental health problems and do something about it.
  • Take note of how many hours you work a week, and how many hours you spend thinking and worrying about work.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Fear in the Workplace

These days it seems we are existing in a world loaded with concern. Things change constantly, and forecasts of tragedy and gloom can be overwhelming. Misunderstandings or concern about the long run can cause our thoughts to turn into stress and worry, both in our life and on the job. Should managers do something about this?

Psychologists say there is no such thing as "healthy" fear. It drains people of their inner-resources, and interferes with performance. Outcomes which are based on fear are often negative, and affect quality of life at home and work.

So how can we detect fear in the workplace?

Is short-term thinking the status quo in your organisation?

With monthly targets, or weekly deadlines, a company can very quickly switch to thinking in only the short-term. When everyone is focused on the here and now and the demands of the day there can be little time left for long range planning. As this goes on over time people lose touch with the larger aims of the company, and are left without a greater purpose. This results in a company that cannot see the wood for the trees, and a disatisfied and poorly performing workforce.

Is your workplace very competitive?

Competition between departments or employees creates pressure, and this can cause anxiety which cascades into a variety of negative behaviours that destroys the positive environment of the workplace. Often employees will hide or alter the information they give to management to avoid repercussions. Performance can suffer with employees spending too much time focused on threats and thinking about ways to eliminate them.

Things you can do:

  •  Communication. Make sure your employees have all the information they need to do their job, and are consulted regularly about their opinions.
  •  Clarify perceptions. Ascertain whether employees are doing things they are uncomfortable with or disagree with. Do people understand what is expected of them?
  •  Establish trust. Is there an appropriate level of trust within your organisation? Do co-workers trust one another? Is there any inter-departmental distrust? Do your employees believe in you?
  •  Training. Are you developing your employees? Are they fully qualified? Can they receive more training?

A clear statement of purpose, a reaffirmation of the goals and ambitions of the company, can nullify the detrimental effects of fear. Those companies that manage fear efficiently experience reduced absenteeism, less issues of conflict and better interaction. Less time is spent on reacting to real or imagined threats, and more time is spent on improvement and innovation.

How To Handle Criticism At Work

Criticism is not always a bad thing. The last thing anybody wants is to be drawn up by the manager for their performance or missing deadlines. But if taken in the right vein, you might actually discover it to be quite valuable.

Here is how to deal with criticism at work.

1 - One of the hardest types of criticisms to deal with is an unfair allegation. Even though it’s appealing, never level a return with unpleasant criticism yourself. The accuser may have just been wrong. Instead ask the criticizer about their concerns and probe into their feedback. Often there is some actual cause for their allegation. If their allegation is truly unfair you can solve the issue there and then.

2 - If you instantly go on the defensive, your critic will think you haven't heard them. They might try a different tack to get you to accept their point of view, or may continue with attacking your defense. By showing that you hear them successfully, you are going to indicate that you are familiar with their critique and that you plan to follow up on the issue. Even better, ask what they would do about the issue if they were in your situation. It may be they have ideas you haven't considered.

3 - If the discussion becomes heated, lower your voice for every level your critic raises theirs. This shows not only that you are calm and collected, but puts the focus on the other person and their behaviour.

4 - Display that you are more concerned with fixing the issue than arguing for your perspective. Never be too fast to protect yourself or assess your accuser, and take the problems and recommendations in your stride. This shows you have your priorities right.

5 - Ask your critic to be more specific. If your critic has indicated displeasure with your performance or said that your efficiency is not up to the required level, it makes sense to know why they think that. Once you know what exactly you did poorly, you can deal with the situation. Often, not asking for more detailed feedback when receiving criticism, results in a poor understanding of what you may have done wrong, and the problem persists, reflecting badly on you and your critic.

6 - Accept responsibility if you have done something poorly or incorrectly. Nothing shows capability like admitting your failings and being open in how you are going to go about improving. Someone who is ready to accept their mistakes can be trusted to take on responsibilities, and deal with problems as they turn up, not hide them under the rug and deny knowledge or responsibility.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Effective Teams

A team is a set up of individuals with different skills who cooperate for a specific purpose. The idea is to work together to achieve an end that can only be achieved through cooperation, and to do so in the best possible manner.

Characteristics of Effective Teams

  •     There is cooperation through common support
  •     Rules and principles are consistent, but do not lead to extreme conformity
  •     New ideas are accepted and viewed objectively
  •     Commitment to and investment in the project
  •     Concentration on end results
  •     Communication and the sharing of resources
  •     An open, trustful attitude
  •     High spirits
  •     Ability to gain agreement and take care of conflicts

Characteristics of Inadequate Teams

  •     Members who have little investment in the purpose.
  •     No companionship, and the members do not think they are part of a company.
  •    No procedures for resolving conflict or fixing situations. Team squabbles and covert discussions are continuous events, creating challenges to cooperation.
  •     Deficit of openness and trust. Truthfulness is seen as revealing weakness, and giving a competitive advantage.
  •     No common understanding prevails other than to meet regularly to perform.
  •     Imprecise role descriptions. Territorial arguments and power battles often occur.
  •     Uncertainty seeps into individuals for worry of being different.
  •     People do not speak or share details unless it supports the consensus.
  •    Whether it’s individuals, equipment, supplies, time, or money, insufficient resources make groups worthless. The situation can lead to squabbling and dissention.
  •     Low threshold for variety. Under high pressure conditions no opportunity is available to utilize individuals' strong points and address their weak points.
  •     Lack of support from management. If team members perceive—whether justifiably or not—that management is not encouraging of the venture, then commitment can drop. Individuals think their contribution is not valuable.
  •     Lethargic team members. The objectives are unexplained or nonexistent. Even if the objectives are identified, no one seems to pay attention to them. Everyone is without aim.

An inadequate team is unfocused, riddled with issues, filled with mistrust, and reeks of negative competition. These conditions reveal themselves in absenteeism and significant levels of aggravation.

There are many ways for supervisors to carry a group and nurture its ability to perform together as a whole.
  •   By clearly setting out objectives, everyone starts in the same place and is aware of where the project is going.
  •    Offer each employee a unique description of his or her own obligations.
  •    Make sure that each employee is trained and outfitted to complete the project at hand. And offer more training, perhaps pairing employees up with a partner so that they can learn new skills from each other.
  •   Encourage a social relationship outside of work. Employess going for meals or entertainment outside of work hours can relieve tensions within the team and offer opportunities for discussion on the improvement of working relationships.
  •    Delegate responsibilties. Employees will value the placement of trust and seek the best outcome.
  •   Give feedback. Staff will feel more secure when they know how you perceive their performance.
  •    Reward the team for a job well done. This will create a feeling of unity and appreciation for their efforts.
  •   Deadlines should be reasonable, and lower priority tasks should have their deadlines pushed back to accomodate the deadlines of high priorities.
  •   Offer rewards for employees willing to work extra hours and take on a larger share of the work.
  •   Don't encourage covert discussions, or avoidance of the chain of command, as this can create feelings of insecurity in the workplace and ruin the positive environment.

Tips on Getting Motivated

There are times when one can feel totally demotivated and stuck in a slump. Work suffers. Attendance is poor. Relationships sour. Things go bad. For some unlucky fellows this can be a daily curse, and go on for years (read: decades).

One can, in these situations, have all the best intentions and desires, even the know-how and means available to attain a goal. But one vital ingredient is missing...

"Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game."
- Donald Trump

Motivation is not a subject we, as a species, understand. We are getting closer all the time, but we don't have enough of a handle on it to implement a technological marvel that will keep us all one hundred percent motivated all of the time.

For now, we are on our own.

Each of us face this battle, and some of us are doing much better than others.

A five year old can run an international corporation from one of the world's tallest skyscrapers, which he built, write bestselling books on a variety of yoga, and still find the time to maintain a network of seven thousand friends, and research ridiculously new flavours of ice cream... and go sailing... and find out what nootropics are.

Whilst another person can struggle to rationalise the need for speech.

Is a lack of motivation just plain laziness?


And no.

Does it matter?

What really matters is that when you want motivation, it's there.

Tip #1: Your mind is not your friend

If you are not getting on with your work, something is stopping you. If it is not an electrified titanium cage, or traffic, then it's probably your mind.

"But I've already worked so hard... yesterday..."

"There's still enough time to do nothing... Even if there isn't, there is... somewhere... Space and Time are one..."

"My foot hurts..."

Your mind can be your best friend, but when it's taking you to places other than where you want to go, it's your nemesis.

Tell it to shut up, because you don't believe the lies anymore...

Tip #2: Your body is your bitch

Sure, you stuff all kinds of crap into it, throw it out of aeroplanes, force it to remain motionless on leather furniture for extended periods of time, and constantly ignore it... But it's always there for you.

It loves you and wants to help.

So how do you get your body to do your work for you?

Simple really. Get some exercise. A daily routine is best. Something to get the juices flowing. Increase your body strength.

This will generate a currency called Health, which has a fantastic rate of exchange with Getting Things Done.

Even if you don't get so much Health in the beginning, you'll feel better. And that's what we're really aiming for here.

If you can't even get the motivation to do any exercise, then try this little trick. Stand up and get yourself into a powerful posture. Chest out, chin up, shoulders back. Straighten that back.

Boss pose, revealed by science to make you feel like a boss, ready to get things done.