New Article: Finding Happiness In The Things You Do

happinessmedium22

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

– John Lennon

We all want to be happy in life. This means different things to each of us. One thing, however, we all have in common. No one can be truly happy routinely doing things they don’t like doing or they’re not good at.

Most of us are driven by challenging things. When we attain proficiency in something indolence often sets in and we end up doing things we no longer enjoy out of habit or simply because we’re terribly good at doing them. This can be a serious blocker to personal and professional growth. How can we “unblock” ourselves? How can we pursue happiness in the things we do?

Continue to the full article.

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Meeting With Self

Just the other day I was talking to a friend and sort of complaining about how I seem to have lost my grip on my calendar… again. This tends to happen from time to time, but this time I was feeling like I couldn’t even find the time to get my ideas in order and have some free, creative thinking time.

Well, my friend just smiled sympathetically.

“Quite common. It happened to me as well.” he said as a matter-of-fact. “What I do is take notes of things that interest me throughout the week. I don’t make any assumptions about the things I note, just try to put them down factually. To go through all those notes, I scheduled a two hour weekly meeting with myself. It’s a recurring appointment and I try to choose a different environment than the office. That way I’m generally not interrupted.”

I didn’t give it much thought then. In fact, two days had gone by before I recalled the conversation and decided to try it.

First thing I did was book a weekly two hour slot in my calendar.

“Let’s see how long I can make this last.” I told myself as I hit the save button.

A few weeks have passed since then and I’ve managed to keep holding my weekly “meeting with self”. I’m also becoming much more proficient in taking (meaningful/useful) notes (mind-maps help a lot) and have already quite a collection of interesting ideas to explore and follow on. Also, some of these ideas have already started to pay off as I’ve been able to incorporate them into some of the projects I’m currently working on.

Designer and creative thinker Stefan Sagmeister also suggests an interesting approach to work-life balance and how to find time for creative thinking. His approach is a bit more radical, but I guess creative types usually are. Stefan’s approach involves taking a year long sabbatical leave to think and try new and different things. During this year, he collects ideas to fuel his work for the next seven years, before taking another leave. You can see Stefan Sagmeister’s talk on The Power Of Time Off in the Videos section.

Having time to think, sort out ideas, throw away those that are not interesting and focus on the ones that are is a precious commodity nowadays. Don’t count on having time “later” to do everything you need to do. Book the time in you calendar. That way everything else just tends to fit together.


Balancing Work And Personal Life

[…] work/life balance is about working smarter, not longer.

Balanced Rocks Every once in a while, in all of the companies I’ve worked for, I’ve heard or got mail from HR talking about work/life balance. I’ve heard so much about it that it became almost like a mantra.

Why has work/life balance become such an important factor in the modern workplace?

Perhaps it has to do with overcoming remnants of the 80’s yuppie work culture, set by the late Baby Boomers and early Gen X’s, where working long hours was seen as something worthy of praise (think of Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”). Thinking about it, I can’t help to relate this to that late industrialist mindset where production is directly related to the number of hours spent in production.

Personally I think that work/life balance is about working smarter, not longer. In the modern, knowledge workplace, it’s all about performance, not productivity. Most modern workplaces should produce value and not quantity. Quantity, or mass production, only scales as much as your workforce. Production of value, on the other hand, can scale much more with even a small workforce.

So what does this mean to later generation Gen X’s and especially Gen Y’s, the knowledge workers of the modern workplace?

I have to admit that I find myself in a constant struggle to achieve a good work/life balance, experiencing moments where it seems I’ve got it and moments where I realize I haven’t. However, from the moments that felt like I’ve got it, I’ve come to realize the following:

First of all, work and personal life can and should be complementary. No one can be truly fulfilled if he or she only focuses on one dimension of life. More importantly, we have to acknowledge both the importance a healthy work environment plays in the stability of our personal lives, and the importance a healthy personal and family life has on our work performance.

To achieve this, we have to be able to balance professional and personal goals. What I’ve found out was that I had clear business goals, but didn’t have any clearly set personal goals. We tend to pursue those goals we can track, so a lack of clearly established personal goals makes it much more likely that we focus on our work, overlooking our personal lives.

Additionally, to reach our personal and business goals, we have to effectively leverage our skills in both areas. We all have skills that we can use or apply to situations in our personal lives with the same level of success that we do at work. The opposite is also true. Many skills that we use in our personal lives can be leveraged effectively in the workplace. Think about the way you educate your children, or how you contribute to your community. I’m sure all of us can can find examples that apply here.

Decomposing & Working To Completion

One way to address a complex problem is through decomposition. You take the large problem and break apart the problem space into smaller, more manageable pieces. You can continue decomposing each of these pieces until you arrive at a granularity that is solvable.

One caveat is getting to a huge list of items. This can be overwhelming. When too many things that require attention creep in, thrashing occurs when trying to get things done due to the effort involved in switching context from task to task. Getting out of the resulting inertia is vital.

  1. Order your tasks by effort and priority
  2. Take the task with the least effort and highest priority
  3. Complete the task

A Helpful Advice

A while back, a friend of mine told me about GTD. At first, I was skeptical about the whole thing, but as I have a high regard for his opinions, I decided to investigate this issue some more.

I did some research on the web and ended up borrowing the book for some light reading. I have to admit that I really enjoyed the simple advices and the straightforward, lightweight approach to actionable execution of tasks.

Filtering your inbox is just the first step. To be truly effective you have to make the triage actionable, i.e., you have to understand what action or actions are required to follow up on a given issue (should you address it immediately? Should you delegate it?). This is where GTD or Inbox Zero come in.

These approaches are somewhat common sense, so I think that most people who have already invested some time thinking about these issues have already come up with similar practices. Approaches like GTD and Inbox Zero are still helpful in the sense that they provide integrated, structured frameworks for these common productivity practices.

Filtering Inbox Noise

To me, one of the greatest obstacles to my personal productivity – and a source of work-related stress – is an overflowing inbox.

I get a LOT of work-related mail per day and, if I don’t have a system for reducing the “noise” of my Inbox, it’s easy to start overlooking important mails and wasting time with unimportant issues.

A while ago I decided to really try and have Outlook work for me (as opposed to just with me). So I took some time to think on a few simple heuristics that I could define as Outlook rules to filter my inbox.

Here’s what I came up with:

Inbox is considered “High Priority”, so I the mail I keep in here are mails sent directly to myself (my name/alias is in the “To:” box) that, usually, require my immediate attention.

I keep a second folder named “Medium priority”, where I move all mails where I am in the “Cc:” box. From experience, these are lower priority mails, and I’m just being notified of something that is occurring but someone else is usually taking charge of the situation. I usually scan this folder a few times a day to check if something important has slipped through or if I can/should contribute to some on-going discussion.

I keep a third folder named “Low priority mail”, where everything else is moved to. I can get by with a cursory look over the items in this folder (I do it once or twice a day). Most items in this folder can be safely deleted by the end of the week.

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