What gets in the way of your work?

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Photo courtesy of eltpics (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of eltpics (Creative Commons)

I’ve bumped into that question in several places lately in conversations with co-workers and in reading. What I’ve discovered for myself, is that my resistance seems to come from needing perfection. One of the voices in my head has been really loud lately insisting that my work space, lists, everything needs to be perfect before I can accomplish anything.

Let me tell you – my work space, lists, and calendar are far from perfect. The nature of my job as the manager of a thrift store inevitably means that “things” show up constantly in my office – donations my team aren’t sure how to price or deal with, papers, files, you name it, it seems to appear mysteriously on my desk.

We are in the process of expanding some of our office space too, so with the impending move, the mess has gotten worse. My time has been split between doing the things the absolutely must be done, and helping set up new offices or preparing for the moves in the current building. Layer on schedules, calls, hiring – you get the picture.

What I have found myself doing lately is quieting that voice by telling it when I get settled in the new office, I can organize and then get the work done. When I have the space to put away the clutter, then I can figure out how to improve the things I need to improve.

The problem is that that is just the latest excuse. Before that, there were others, and I’m sure after that, I will find something else. I need to accept that “perfection” is a myth and I need to just buckle down and get the work done.

Instead of waiting on the ideal time, it’s important to carve out a block, maybe an hour early in the day, and just focus on the most urgent issue or project. Getting started will likely be the hardest but most important step, and then the voice will quiet. Once that initial work is begun, then the rest will come easier.

What excuses are you letting get in your way?

Rewarding myself

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Photo courtesy of JimmyMac210 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of JimmyMac210 (Creative Commons)

Sometimes the only way I can get things done is to make up a reward that I’ll give myself when I’m finished. Do you do that?

For instance, in the winter, one of the best ways I can get through a frigid run outside is to tell myself there’s a hot shower and coffee waiting when I finish.

This weekend, I had several “not favorite” chores I needed to get done, so I told myself I could sit on the porch and read for a bit when I was through (and have a bite of dark chocolate). It sure did help me get through those chores so I could relax for a bit.

I need to think more in terms of rewards at work too. If I sit at my desk and finish that report, then I get to do ____ (fill in that blank). If I’m smart about the reward, I can link it to something that is productive and helpful (even healthy) and make even more progress.

For instance, if I tell myself I will finish that report at my desk, and then do a walk around the building, touching base with my team, I not only get some exercise that clears my head, but I reconnect with my team, and usually find things that I can either improve on, congratulate them on, or consider solutions for. That’s a win win win!

How can you reward yourself for finishing those unpleasant tasks?

Who are you listening to?

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Photo courtesy of Enokson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Enokson (Creative Commons)

One thing I am slow to realize is that I may not always listen to the right voices.

It might be the voices in my head – you know the ones – the negative, critical ones that are telling me I’m not worth it or ready or capable. It might be real voices from people around me who tell me things that I need to focus on that might not be the best things to pay attention to because they don’t understand my priorities or they speak out of self-preservation. Voices can also come in the form of books or podcasts with ideas that get me distracted.

No matter where they come from, they represent noise – and mask the real voices I need to pay attention to. How many times have I changed my plans or my focus because I heard things that made me question my goals and abilities? I’ve gotten myself off-balance because I listened to the wrong voices.

The important thing is to stay pointed at my mission, and make sure that I’m working toward that. When I filter things through my mission, the wrong voices because easier to ignore.

Surrounding myself with people who are supportive and positive also dilutes those messages of negativity and fear. The inside voice that keeps repeating that I’m not capable or worthy fades when I have louder voices telling me that I’m strong and can do what needs to be done.

What voices are you listening to?

Walk the building

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Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk (Creative Commons)

What do you do when you’ve been knee deep in a project, especially a project that involves intense thought or computer work? How do you clear your head?

I’ve been doing something that my supervisor actually suggested and it works wonders. I walk the building.

What I have discovered is that not only does it change my focus from the computer screen, but it helps me reset my thinking. I take a pad of paper with me, and so far every time I have done this, I have come back with several pages of notes – not necessarily about the project I was working on, but other things that I see that I would have never noticed before.

I work at a nonprofit in a warehouse-type space, so it might be a section of shelving that needs to be straightened. Or a process we need to look at to improve. I might bump into one of my staff who I’ve been meaning to ask about something – or who have been trying to catch me to check on an issue.

So far, it has proven to be very productive time with the added bonus of actually clearing my head to go back and finish whatever project I was working on to begin with.

I might need to add walking the building to my schedule each day. Who knows what I might accomplish?

Big picture little picture

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Photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski (Creative Commons)

I am a detail person. It is easy for me to get so caught up in the minute details that I lose sight of the larger scope of what we are doing as well as the “why.”

It can become more about checking things off a task list than making progress on a project. I get stuck so far down in the weeds that I don’t even realize there’s a higher purpose for the work.

When I’m focused only on the details, my list tends to grow exponentially, and each task feels like a separate entity, all screaming for my attention. They become disjointed chores and weigh me down. Then the funny thing is that there is no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment at finishing because they have become just a string of things to do, unrelated to any ultimate goal.

When I stay focused on the big picture and the mission, then all the details become steps along the way to accomplishing something greater. When I keep the emphasis on “WHY” we’re doing what we do, then the pieces start to fall into place more easily. Suddenly it isn’t about me and my task list, it’s about impacting others and improving their lives.

At the nonprofit where I work, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the mountain of things that need to be taken care of, but when we remember that we are saving and improving lives by helping people in crisis, then what we need to get done becomes clear. It’s important to help my team understand the “why” as well, so that we are all pulling together to work toward the same goal.

How can you focus more on the “why” of your work?

Shift your focus

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Photo courtesy of Steve Brand (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Steve Brand (Creative Commons)

It was one of those days when nothing seemed to be going right. It was raining, traffic had been nearly at a standstill, the computers were acting up, and one too many people called off sick. The day was going to be challenging to say the least.

I passed a co-worker who said, “good morning, how are you?” and I realized right then I had a choice to make.

I could focus on all the bad things that were going on, and sink into a pit of grouchiness that would likely radiate off me and attract more negative things to happen.

OR, I could choose to focus on good things and attract positive energy.

“I’m doing great!” was my response. Right then, my day turned around, almost like rain clouds clearing.

How will you shift your focus?

What inspires you?

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Photo courtesy of photosteve101 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of photosteve101 (Creative Commons)

What drives you to accomplish things and to do what you do better?

I think it’s easy to get caught up in selfish reasons for excelling at your work, sports or other skills. Let’s admit it, doesn’t it feel good when someone tells you what a great job you did, or you beat that time running or score that win?

What I have found that drives me harder and makes me feel even better, is when I’m focused on doing things for reasons other than just to benefit myself.

For instance, I run in honor of a little boy named Bennett, who has Down syndrome, as part of a program called I Run 4 (read more here). All my miles are dedicated to him, and what I find is that knowing I run for him makes me get out there to run on days I would otherwise just crawl back into bed. It makes me run harder and faster because it’s not about me anymore, I am honoring him with every step. I am proud to say I ran 5 or 10 or 13.1 miles for Bennett instead of just running for my own benefit. It is no longer about me at all.

I also work in a nonprofit, so instead of working to make money for a corporation, my efforts each day support my team and benefit the neighbors we serve. It changes my perspective on the day when I think in those terms. I focus and work harder because it’s not about me anymore.

That’s just the inspiration and purpose I need to turn around a tough day. What about you?

Thinking outside the box

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IMG_0102Do you like to watch clouds and try to figure out what shapes they are making?

One evening I was going for a walk and looked up to see Pooh bear in the clouds!

It’s a great way to let your imagination flow and I find that creativity shows up in other ways when I let my mind go like that.

It is especially productive if there are issues and challenges at work or in other areas of my life. Solutions that are decidedly outside the box tend to present themselves when I’ve opened myself up and am not so uptight in my thinking.

I am realizing I need to be more intentional in that kind of creative thinking instead of stumbling into it. It can be any activity that entices creativity to come out – a daydream, a conversation with a friend, or cloud watching at the pool.

Once you prime your imagination, what kind of innovative solutions will you find?

Nourish your mind and spirit

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Photo courtesy of William Brawley (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of William Brawley (Creative Commons)

Do you feel depleted? I realized recently that I had so much on my plate and felt so overwhelmed just getting through my day that I was neglecting two of the most important parts of my life – my mind and spirit.

It’s easy to do when you get pulled in so many directions every day – work, family, church, volunteering, friends, email, social media – the list goes on and on. The phone is chirping constantly with incoming “stuff,” obligations and commitments seem to multiply exponentially, and before long, everything becomes a blur.

I knew I needed to start intentionally replenishing myself, and I have to admit, it’s helping me stay more positive and focused in all the other areas of my life as well. One of my three focus words this year is NOURISH (read more here), and while it can be taken in the physical sense, that of eating well and nourishing my body, I also view it at other levels, such as mental and spiritual nourishment.

Some of the things I’ve gotten back to doing on a regular basis include seeking out inspirational books and other materials that empower me and lift me up or develop my leadership skills. Several of the books that are feeding me now include Simplify by Bill Hybels, Be Unstoppable by Alden M. Mills, and One Less, One More by Robbie Vorhaus.

Listening to messages from powerful speakers such as Brian Houston, Andy Stanley and others helps me change my perspective, especially on days when it feels like the world is pummeling me. I have several websites bookmarked just for that purpose.

And music. Music can be like the snap of your fingers as a mood changer, don’t you think? I have a few playlists with special upbeat choices on my phone that I can easily plug in earbuds and listen to on those days when I need some extra inspiration. Praise and worship music does wonders for improving my outlook on whatever situation I’m dealing with, so I have bookmarked several key selections that I can put on repeat on a particularly draining day.

I have felt much more centered since I got back to replenishing myself in these ways. Even when I get so busy that it seems I can’t fit another thing in – if I pay attention to these things, it refreshes me, and allows me to be more positive, productive and centered.

How do your nourish your mind and spirit?

Catching myself wasting time

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Photo courtesy of Yung Tsai (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Yung Tsai (Creative Commons)

It was a simple email. I was clearing my inbox, and saw the notice from Facebook that today was a friend’s birthday. So I thought I’d quickly head over and post a note on her wall.

Ten minutes later, I broke away from scrolling through the feed – reading mostly mindless posts and wondering how I got sucked into that?? What a waste of time! At least I only lost 10 minutes.

But how many times do we do things like that during the day, and how much time does it add up to? It’s the same when I turn on the TV for “background noise” and end up sitting there staring at a commercial, completely interrupting any work I was doing and consumed with – well, junk.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about productivity and work-life balance, and challenging myself to spend less time on work and more on personal time. But then I catch myself wasting time on Facebook, or email, or TV, and think what a shame. That is time that I could have spent reading, visiting with a friend, or doing something worthwhile.

I need to focus more to finish what HAS to be done, so that I can free up more time to spend on what I WANT to get done.

Bring on the focus!