People are more anxious and stressed these days. They are working harder with diminishing returns. Just focusing on accomplishing more is not enough in 2018. Research supports the idea that focus on increasing joy and happiness in your life will help you achieve the success you desire. (Over 200 happiness studies of 275,000 people worldwide. “The Happiness Advantage”, Shawn Achor)
This means we have to think differently about success. Happiness is not a by-product of success; instead, happiness leads to success. The following strategies will help you release the brakes and accelerate toward the success you desire. Learn to reduce stress and anxiety, increase your joy, and your productivity will increase.
Take breaks and vacations:
According to a recent U.S. survey, the average American employee only takes half of their available vacation time. Studies report that taking breaks and vacations from your business reduces stress and heart disease, increases productivity, and improves sleep. The effects are long lasting. When you are happy, relationships, work and life are easier. Just the act of planning a vacation can improve productivity. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, Having something to look forward to can make you happier, and energize you to be more productive. The study suggests taking shorter vacations more often to take advantage of this phenomenon.
Regular time off is also important. My son in-law has two degrees from Harvard University. He explained the demands on students to perform are great. Many suffer anxiety and stress from the pressure. They would study seven days a week with the occasional self-medicating break. My son in-law would take a break from his studies on Sunday and perform faith-based service (more about this later). He reports this break did not disadvantage him, rather enabled him to refocus his efforts. With these regular breaks, he was able to graduate at the top of his class in his undergraduate and graduate degrees.
For many years, Bill gates would get away from his business for two separate weeks each year. He called these “Think Weeks” and many innovations at Microsoft emerged from these retreats.
Eliminate energy drains that depress productivity and happiness:
a. Paper & document handling: Do something with it now, delegate it, defer it, destroy it.
b. Manage the “Got a minute?” interruptions: By setting a time you are available to give focused attention. Being in control of your day will significantly increase your energy and satisfaction.
c. Emails: Check only 2x a day. Avoid the dopamine fix of looking every few minutes. This interrupts your concentration and workflow. Stay focused on activities that are most important. It is etiquette to respond within 24 hours. c. d. Smart phones: The irony is these amazing tools are making us dumb, people don’t have to think, they can ask Google or Siri just about anything. We spend a great deal of our productive time distracted by social media. There is a statistic that says using a smartphone is equivalent to smoking two joints. The constant interruptions distract you from being present. One addiction therapist says giving your child a smartphone is like “giving them a gram of cocaine”(Mandy Saligari, June 7, 2017). The smartphone emerged 10 years ago; many of these “addicted” children are distracted workers in our business today.
Adults are no less connected with the Internet, social media, texts, news alerts and more causing constant interruption. Don’t look at social media during work hours unless it is part of your job. Take time to unplug and turn off your alerts. Take a vacation from your smart devices. You will be happier and more productive.
Learn how to set effective goals:
Achieving your goals is incredibly satisfying and boosts self-confidence. Having a clear purpose and focus can help you get out of bed in the morning and give you a spring in your step. For goals to be more effective focus on the activities that will help you achieve your goals and eliminate the obstacles. Develop a system that will help track and implement your goal-focused activities.
For example: If you want to increase your income in 2018, and you have identified a goal you believe you can achieve and a date to achieve that, you are off to a good start. Now work backwards from that date and identify all the activities you must do differently or more of than you are currently doing. These actions may include: cold calling, attending networking events and making new contacts, asking for referrals, making sales presentations and more. These activities are called leading indicators. Engaging in these activities daily will lead to your goal achievement.
To do lists alone are not enough to help you achieve your goals. You must have a system to integrate your activities into your calendar. A system will keep you focused on activities that move you towards your goals. A system also helps keep you accountable. An example of a system is an activity tracking tool. You may use a program that tracks activities like ASANA, Coach.me, Habitify, Goalplus, Todoist, or any other of your choosing. The best ones integrate with your calendar. You may wish to have an accountability partner or coach you report to on at least a weekly basis. If you need extra help, report daily. Marshall Goldsmith suggests creating a system called the daily questions. This enables you to focus on your goal achieving activities and measure your effort and success everyday.
Manage your energy not your time:
I took over as CEO of a company needing a major turn around. I worked long hours and took few breaks. My stress increased and my energy decreased. Many executives are in similar situations pushing themselves further and harder. Since the number of hours you have a day is fixed, focus on increasing your energy so the time you spend is more effective.
In their article “Manage Your Energy Not Your Time”, authors Schwartz and McCarthy conducted a study at Wachovia Bank, which focused on increasing physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy. Revenue for the participants increased 13-20% over the control group.
What can you do increase your energy?
Plan to leave work by 5:30pm. You will find with a deadline, you will get more done. You will have more time for renewing activities like exercise, time with family, reading good books, meditating, etc. Some of the most productive people work shorter hours.
Understand that your cognitive abilities will vary predictably throughout the day. Research shows that the impact of time-of-day accounts for 20% of cognitive performance variance. How you use the time of day will allow you to leverage your energy and cognitive abilities. For most us, our executive brain function, and our ability to concentrate and engage in analytical efforts peaks in the morning until about noon. Our cognitive sharpness and energy fall drastically in the afternoon. This is a great time to engage in more mundane activities like checking email, organization, and expense reports. This would not be a good time to hold a staff meeting that requires the creative participation of all involved.
In the late afternoon and evening we begin to recover. Psychologists, Mareike Weith and Rose Zacks believe this time is best suited to creative or collaborative thinking which requires less focus than algorithmic thinking of our mornings. Of course, these time trends vary for someone like my wife who finds her greatest ability to concentrate at night and finds her creative rebound in the late morning. The key is to identify your energy and focus rhythm’s and match the work required of you to the time of day where your energy and focus is best applied.
Exercise more often. Intense exercise helps increase your neurotransmitters and grows new brain cells. Do it five times a week. When you exercise also matters. Morning exercise will help you burn 20% more fat than later after meal workouts. Early exercise also give you’re the advantage of boosting your mood throughout the day. (For more information on exercise and cognitive performance variance, read: “When, The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel Pink)
Improve your diet to improve your energy. The food we eat provides the energy we burn all day. There is a great disparity of the quality of food fuel available. Don’t skip meals; eating the best foods regularly increases your metabolism and available energy.
Get 7-9 hours of sleep. This will increase your mood, energy, and your ability to concentrate.
Develop personal relationships:
I have always prided myself on being task focused. I know how to get things done. The problem is that this usually comes at the expense of developing relationships. I suggest scheduling lunch meetings each week with people you want to develop relationships with. Network with people who can mentor you and give you career advice. If you are in a position to be a mentor, make time to help others on your team. This can make a huge impact on the team culture and engagement. It will give you a sense of satisfaction and happiness. It may also provide you with opportunities for increased credibility, responsibility, and income.
One of my client’s has created a mentorship program where a senior employee is paired with a younger employee to help them with their career goals. Having a senior employee available for mentorship meetings and to advocate on behalf of their mentee’s is strengthen the culture an improving the engagement and satisfaction of all involved.
If you are a senior executive, network with people outside of the company who can support you. Finding a coach or board of experts that can help hold you accountable and advise you on your goals and strategies. Your personal joy and happiness is tied to your ability to learn and grow as person. Often we are happiest when we are challenged to step outside of our comfort zones.
Help someone in need:
During 2017, we had a number of natural disasters in the U.S. alone, including floods in Houston, Hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico, and fires in California. These events and others have provided numerous opportunities to serve. A less dramatic opportunity to serve came recently to my nineteen-year-old son just before Christmas. He was asked to join a group of young men and young women ages 12-18 that were going caroling to several families in need. He was asked to dress up like Santa Claus. At first he was reluctant. He came back feeling terrific.
He said he realized that he was able to bring so much joy to the little children in the homes that he visited. He realized, this was not about how he felt, but rather, how he could use his talents to benefit others. We discussed that often he and other youth don’t want to go to service events because they would rather follow selfish pursuits like playing video games, being with their friends “chilling” or even studying. In my sons case, he reported that each time he overcame these selfish desires to serve, he always returned feeling “filled” with joy and gratitude.
Taking a portion of your time to serve others in your community has multiple benefits. First, it boosts your self-worth and esteem as you engage in helping others that benefit from your experience or efforts on their behalf. Not only does service make you feel better, it has several health benefits including: physical health, mental health, emotional stability, reduces stress, prolongs life, reduces the risk of alzheimer’s disease, and more. It can also boost your career prospects and benefit your business as you engage in corporate philanthropy and employee volunteer programs.
Find a cause you believe in to support. You don’t have to look far, there are many worthy causes right in your own community. Justserve.org will help you find someone to help in your backyard.
Learn to say no:
Though there are many worthy causes that merit your attention, saying yes to too many will increase stress and dissatisfaction. If you take on too much, you may do many things poorly instead of a few things well. We all have limits to what we can accomplish. Saying no to some things means we can say yes to our own mental well-being and to the most important things in our lives; like family, faith, and health.
Saying no can be very difficult for different personalities. Some people are afraid if they say no, no one else will do it. Some are uncomfortable saying no because they feel they are letting others down. Some truly believe they can help everyone and they focus their talents and energy on everyone but themselves. This can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue. This can happen to anyone, but especially health-care providers and non-profit employees. Often their own health suffers as they go about “saving the world.” The danger is their ability to give and help is not sustainable. We want to be able to sustain our efforts. There are certainly seasons in our life when we will be out of balance. We just have to be careful to say no, or our health and energy will say no for us.
Theses strategies will go a long way to helping you have a happy and successful 2018. Feeling better physically, emotionally, and mentally will help you focus the best of you on activities that matters most to you. It will also make you more resilient and prepared to manage the challenges you may face.
The author Spencer Horn is President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC, Face Your Fears; Learn From Mistakes; Start Beating Yourself Up; The Help You Need To Achieve Your Resolutions; How To Create Success From Failure