Thursday, October 29, 2009

Top 10 approaches to enjoy work

Time to read this post: 6 minutes

It's time to take a position. Why do some people consistently love their work? After multiple degrees, hundreds of academic books & articles, years of interviewing people in their work, I want to summarize what actually works. For people who love their work, what is it that they do? What are their tricks? Their secrets? This may eventually turn something more than a blog posting. For now I want to share the ten most effective approaches that I have learned on my journey thus far.

Three is the magic number. Most self-help books will tell you that there are three rules, three secrets, three pathways to happiness. A holy trinity. Three is a good number because most of us can't remember more than that. I can't recall the names of the seven dwarfs let alone the fifty ways to leave your lover. But what bothered me was that each each academic or book that I read cited a different three. One has Pleasure, Engagement & Meaning. The next has Strengths, Flow and Mindfulness. Or Achievement, Savoring and Love.

What seems to be the problem? Imagine a company that is losing money. Before we can assess what to do, we need to understand the firm's current situation. What is its competitive position? How much money does it have in the bank? What do its customers think of the products they sell? Do employees enjoy working there? Only then can we offer an initial opinion. And yet with people, authors and academics ignore all of that and tell us there are only three things to consider. I'm sorry, but life's more complicated than that.

I have tried to synthesize every major theory about what influences how we enjoy our work. It draws from behavioral economics and Greek philosophy to top athletic coaching and Positive Psychology. It's not a comprehensive list but it's my best starter. I have boiled it down to the ten most important approaches. And I bet that three of them are highly relevant to you. But it probably won't overlap with the three on my list. Over the coming weeks I will explore each of these in turn.

Top 10 approaches to enjoying work (as of October 2010)

1. REFRAME: One way to enjoy work more is to reframe your challenges and time in a more positive light. You might ask yourself each morning "What's going to be good about work today" or start a meeting with "What's going well on our project?". You do acknowledge where you are behind, or what's going wrong but your positive perspectives notably outweigh the negative.

2. STRUGGLE: work needs to be tough enough. We need challenge and without it we get bored. It is about having goals that your really have to stretch for; about pushing yourself, about time flying by as you are absorbed in your work. People who excel here have mastered how to set goals well, who jump into projects that both scare and energize them, who let themselves get lost in the moment.

3. STRENGTHS: focus on using your strengths each day not just shoring up your weaknesses. People who excel here understand what energizes them and reframe their daily work to use their strengths in new ways. These people know the cards that life has dealt them and they lead with their strong suits. They do know their weaknesses but don't obsess over them. For example if they are highly creative but in a non-creative role they still invent excuses to brainstorm and to let their imaginations run wild each day.

4. SIMPLIFY: declutter both physically & mentally. Life is awash with choices and it's easy to drown. People who excel here don't try and do everything perfectly. They compare the prices of three products not three hundred. They delegate less important decisions to other people. They outsource repetitive tasks to personal assistants. They keep one master 'to do' list so they don't have to remember everything going on. They are happy with 'good enough', it frees up time to do other activities they really enjoy.

5. QUIET PLEASE: dampen the constant chatter that runs through your head. We are so used to the running commentary in our brain that we tend not to notice it. People who excel here might practice meditation or they might do active exercise. They are quick to notice if they are ruminating and they know how to stop. If a colleague calls them incompetent they don't take the bait. They can let it wash over them. They have a sense of calmness and serentity about them.

6. CONNECT: make sure you have colleagues who you trust. Actively develop friendships at work. Other people matter to our happiness much more than we realise. People who excel here have colleagues who they can go to for great advice. They have friends who will look out for them and who have their backs. They share the values of their co-workers. They genuinely care about the well-being of those around them. They allow their true selves to shine through and not feel like they are suppressing their true identity

7. GIVE: help other people. This is about making other people successful and happy - both co-workers and customers. People who reframe their work as bringing value to the lives of individuals (colleagues and clients) find they have more meaning in their working lives. They find excuses to do favors for others. They are aware of what they are uniquely good at and use that as a way to offer assistance. Although this is rewarding in itself, these people then find the reciprocity of others overwhelming. They find this approach offers both personal success and happiness

8. REHEARSE: practice all important conversations, presentations and interactions you have. Rehearsing can be boring and so we decide to wing it instead - it'll be alright on the night. People who excel at this approach tend to be obsessive in their preparation for important events. They role-play sales pitches with their colleages who play devil's advocate. They video themselves delivering a keynote speech on their Flip camera and watch it. They brainstorm all the things that could go wrong and plan their response. They walk into the room well-prepared. They find this approach leads to both success and enjoyment.

9. SMELL: appreciate the here and now. Day after day of back-to-back meetings, monotonous commutes, growing to-do lists, it is challenging to remember to enjoy the journey. People who excel at this have mastered the art of being fully present in the moment. When you meet with them, you have their rapt attention. Their lives are busy but they make time to enjoy the small stuff. To make time to enjoy lunch. To switch up their route to work. To stand in the sun in the carpark taking in the view and inhaling deeply. To retain their sense of wonder and fascination with the beauty of the world

10. IMAGINE: have a compelling vision of the future that you are drawn towards. Many of us are stuck in the past, haunted by our past failings, ruled by our fear of failure. People who excel at this approach are not stuck in the past but pulled forward by the future. They are climbing a ladder but know that it's leaning against the right wall. Their vision gets them energized through the tough times. They understand how the current chapter of their life fits into the overall story. They respond to question about "what do you do?" with tales of where they are heading.

Each of these approaches can sound trite. They get boiled down to meaningless catchphrases. I plan to explore each of these approaches over the coming weeks. I will share the theory, the challenges, the tricks & techniques that work for people that I've interviewed.

Tough questions
i) Which of these approaches do you already follow successfully?
ii) Which would most benefit you in your work?
iii) What is the smallest thing that you can do that would make the biggest difference?

© The Tough Guide 2009


LeeRenSheng said...

Thanks for your tips. It's so easy to get in a slump, and forget the little things that make it worth it. I also think that it's easy to take your job for granted or not try as hard, and that, in my experience, has really eroded my appreciation of work.

Greatness Project said...

Brilliant! Concise, witty, on-target, and valuable. I look forward to your dissection of each of the "approaches."

Anonymous said...

typo - Top 10 approaches to enjoying work (as of October 2010)

Shona said...

This is a lot like the principles of Human Givens (HG) therapy, both in terms of our important emotional needs that need to be met to be happy and some treatment techniques they use.

Shona Adams
Chartered Clinical Psychologist