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“To embrace leisure, we don’t have to let go of progress. [Our] constant pushing is now impeding our progress. We work best when we allow for flexibility in our habits . . . [w]e can and must stop treating ourselves like machines that can be driven and pumped and amped and hacked. Instead of limiting and constraining our essential natures, we can celebrate our humanness at work and in idleness. We can better understand our own natures and abilities. We can lean in not to our work but to our inherent gifts.” —Celeste Headlee Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing , and Underliving
For the past 10 weeks I have had the good fortune to go to work with both of my dogs. Why? Because I have been working from home.
I am able to take them for a short walk about the neighborhood before I step into my office and remote classroom, then take a break around 10:30 am as we sit on the garden porch, soaking in some sunshine and thinking about what I might want to enjoy for lunch in a few hours time. Lunch is leisurely because I can cook it, savor it, not be rushed to eat it or interrupted and our afternoon outing after about 70-90 minutes of work after lunch is to the mailbox and about the neighborhood. Returning to the office if need be to tie up loose ends, check my work email one more time (I only check my school email three times a day), when the day concludes, I am not exhausted, but I do feel productive.
Admittedly, the scenario I shared above is due to an unwanted global occurrence, and I miss my in-person connections with my students and colleagues, but what I do not miss is the excessive expectation to always be checking my email, regularly being interrupted so that I lose my focus/students’ focus and requirement for a long inflexible work day (meaning not healthy breaks, a constant expectation of being “on”), and being rewarded for giving more beyond the work day even if it reduces the quality of my home life and personal relationships.
I am not complaining directly about a system that surrounds so many of us, but trying to be honest about the reality of why I was quietly thankful to have the time at home these past 10 weeks to catch my breath. I did my best to examine why, and while the emotional toll for those of us fortunate enough not to have our health and livelihoods taken away was unhealthy and exhausting, overall, I found great refuge and restoration this spring whilst staying at home, finding a schedule that worked for me as I continued to remotely teach and blog and just be home.
I also found much more time to read books that have been patiently sitting in my shopping cart, and two books furthered my exploration into how exactly improve the working environment when we begin to step back into the workplace. I have a few ideas. Take a look below.
1.Understand the history of the current work culture
“We are investing our time and energy and hard-earned money in things we think will make us more efficient, but those things end up wasting our time, exhausting us, and stressing us out without bringing us closer to or our goals.” —Celeste Headlee
Journalist and bestselling author Celeste Headlee reminds readers in her recent book Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing , and Underliving (Amazon; Bookshop) that “[o]ur working habits changed dramatically a little more than two centuries ago” (aka as the Industrial Revolution), and not largely for the better. In fact, humans came to be seen as being capable of producing regularly and steadfastly with minimal breaks much like a machine. Humans are not machines. Our ability to be productive and creative and resilient comes from adequate and regular and in equal measure amounts rest to that of the amount of time we work. No wonder we’re exhausted.
2. Enable the mind to think well so you can respond compassionately
Often we are reacting instead of responding to situations in life that arise unexpectedly or unwantingly. At the time, we are not aware because either we have always behaved in such a way or because we do not know or have not been taught a better way. Dr. Sylvia Boorstein speaks about equanimity, and as it pertains to the mind, equanimity “is the capacity of the mind to hold a clear view of whatever is happening, both externally and internally, as well as the ability of the mind to accommodate passion without losing its balance. It’s the mind that sees clearly, that meets experience with cordial intent. Becuase it remains steady, and thus unconfused, it is able to correctly asses the situations it meets.”
How to become clear thinkers? We acknowledge we do not know everything, and we take a step back and ask helpful questions with a calm tone. We choose to educate ourselves seeking out experts in the field we wish to learn more about – whether in book, audio, video or conversation form. We become comfortable with not having a concrete and absolute response immediately or at all and acknowledging the gray in nearly every situation that presents itself. And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we rest the mind regularly and well. This includes good nights of sleep, regularly a slower pace in our schedules, days and weeks and a cultivation of environments that enable us to lower our stress levels and feel safe.
“And because we are humans and have empathy built into our brain structure, when we are touched by what we encounter — and when our minds are balanced — we respond with benevolence.” —Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D., author of Happiness is an Inside Job (Amazon; Bookshop)
~Responding vs. Reacting: The Difference, episode #145
3. Let go of the busy mentality
When we reduce the constant go-go-go mentality, we give our lives breath, and figuratively speaking, we give our lives oxygen to live better and thus to improve the quality of our lives. Letting go of busy feeds a cycle of life improvement because as you are letting go of busy, you are improving your decision making skills, reducing the unnecessary stress and constantly cultivating the life you want to live rather than creating more problems, more headaches and less time to adequately address and handle them.
Interestingly enough, studies have shown that we may actually think we are busier than we actually are, but it is the delusion of busyness that is the cause for our mind to feel harried and thus our decision-making abilities to suffer. For example, if you feel pressed for time, this perception can lead you to making bad choices about how you spend your time. Conversely, if you feel you have time to spare, the study revealed people feel healthier and happier. So much of the quality of our lives rest in our minds. Harness the awesome tool of your mind, and you will improve your approach to living.
~Listen/Read episode/post #115 – The 8 Benefits of Banishing Busy
4. Quality productivity is not a result of excessive time given.
“If you silence your phone, close your inbox, and really focus on getting a report done, research shows you’ll finish 40 percent faster, have fewer errors, and have plenty of time to take a short walk around the building and let your brain relax.” — Celeste Headlee
Studies that were done decades ago have proven that more time does not equate to more output and certainly not a quality output. In 1951, researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology discovered that people who put in excessive hours were the least productive of all. The most productive were the workers who worked 2-5 hours a day, so 10-20 hours a week. Recently, in Sweden, a hospital attempted to improve the working conditions for the workers, reducing their hours to six hours a day, and no more than 30 hours a week. The hospital was prepared to hire extra workers to make up for the loss of productivity, but do you know what happened? As reported in The New York Times, “The unit [performed] 20 percent more operations, generating additional business from treatments . . . that would have gone to other hospitals.” Quality over quantity and in this case it surpassed even that of the hopeful that it would simply be equitable in output.
5. Allow yourself to focus on a single task entirely and without disruption
Simply, turn off the notifications. If you work at a job that expects you to be constantly responding to emails broach the topic of productivity as studies have demonstrated if we cannot give ourselves fully to a task, we cannot do our best work. What this means for me at home is that I have been checking my school emails three times a day during the school day – when the school day begins, at noon and at the end of the day. If this will be a shift for those expecting to hear from you, perhaps send an automated response for the first month or two (or leave it in your footer) when people can expect to hear from you, how frequently you check your email, etc. so that they are not expecting an immediate response and should not worry when they do not receive one.
6. Invest in leisure
“Research shows employees who feel more detached from their jobs during their time at home are emotionally healthier and more satisfied with their lives. They’re less likely to feel emotionally exhausted, and they report getting better sleep.” —Celeste Headlee
Leisure time is separate from “free time” or “spare time” as Headlee defines it. Spare time is the time we find in between the work we do for our income. Leisure time is entirely separate from work. As she describes it, leisure time is “unpolluted” by work – no emails, no work calls, nor worrying about how your activity might impact your work life. Speaking for myself, while I and many other educators have been at home these past 10 weeks, it has not been leisure time during the work week. I am still, if I am not teaching online, checking my emails, responding to expectations, grading papers and aware of my actions during the school day, etc. My leisure time begins on the weekend, after the school day has ended each work day and will fully begin when our summer holiday starts later this week.
The mind behaves differently when we are on leisure time, and it is imperative that we regularly welcome it into our daily schedule. Each of us will do it differently during the work week and weekend, and perhaps even our holidays, but do make sure you have leisure time in your life to savor and enjoy. It will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your life.
7. Give your mind space to become clear
“Just take one breath and another and another, with as much attention in every way as you can. The confusion will sort itself out. Inclined in the right direction, the mind takes care of itself.” —Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D.
The untrained mind can be a weapon of destruction to ourselves and others. A trained mind, one that is understood, that is strengthened to think well, critically examine and refrain from rash assumptions due to lack of emotional intelligent understanding is an artist’s prized possession. However, it is a choice to become a student of our mind. Boorstein writes, “I do not think the mind needs lots of instruction, but I do think it needs to be encouraged and continually inspired.” Feed your mind well. Be conscious of what is presented to it (limit social media, be aware of the news and how much you intake, observe how you feel around certain people, the books you read, the videos, shows and television you watch). Choose to feed it with what you are curious about. Delight in learning something new and do not feel guilty for not knowing what the zeitgeist believes is most popular or most noteworthy of the moment. Give your mind space to have clarity, and when it has clarity regularly, it will be your best friend.
~How to be the Master of Your Mind, episode #20
So how can we institute these needed changes if research has repeatedly demonstrated the need to observe that we are human beings, not machines? We need leaders who are well-educated with the resources that demonstrates convincingly that the quality of work will not diminish and likely will increase when we see our employees as human beings. Yes, it is a culture shift, and it will take time, but it takes courage and strong, patient leadership to clearly communicate the benefit to the worker first, knowing that the company, the department, the school, our futures, will be all the better. And even if you are not in a position of leadership at the moment, communication with your leadership body, build a consensus amongst your co-workers. Schedules and approaches change with data, trusted experts and informing the public as well as those it will directly effect, as well as indirectly.
If nothing else, you can start at home and setting boundaries on your work and home life. Cultivate leisure time, practice the strengthening of your mind and begin to see your being settle, relax and enjoy your daily life far more.
~purchase in the states from Chelsea Market Baskets, NY
~purchase in the UK directly from Shortbread House of Edinburgh
Learn more about the history of shortbread below in a short video about the Shortbread House of Edinburgh company.