Back to the grind? … 5 skills to revisit in order to make the best of what’s left of the year
‘I want to have a life I don’t need a vacation from’
Is that you?
Do you have this mantra written on a post-it and plastered all over your workspace?
What is it about this idea that there is part of our life that we need a break from?
Isn’t work a part of life?
If we are at a point where we need to put our life on hold 5 days a week, 10 weeks a year, it might be a good time to rethink how we see our life.
I see many people around me spending a significant part of their life living their workdays for the weekends, and the rest of the year planning their next vacation. With the idea that once passed the 45 years on the job (i.e. the prison sentence), then life can begin at retirement.
Is that how you want your life to be?
While September definitely feels both exhilarating and stressful, it is also a good time to reassess where you are right now and to set the tone for the rest of the year; by deciding where you want to put your attention into, learning to distance yourself from the energy zappers and other difficult people, while taking a good care of yourself and finding meaning in what you do.
Seems like a tall order? Like everything, it takes practice and determination, and this is precisely why back from vacation is the ideal time to look at it again, when you are energized and ready to rock and roll.
Ready for some homework for the next four months?
Set your goals for the next few months
Goals are not a January exclusivity. In fact, the best gift you can give yourself is to set goals on a regular basis and adjust as you go.
Goals take the daily guesswork out of the brain. The brain doesn’t like emptiness. It’s always hyperactive and over-thinking; welcome to the human condition of having a neocortex and a prefrontal cortex!.
Here is a sample of what goes on inside that big box: what am I doing with my life? What’s the point of it all? And what if, what if not? And the likes…
Since our brain’s executive function (your pre-frontal cortex) is constantly asking for overtime, let’s give it something to focus on: goals!. And what a better time to do than after the summer vacation, less stress, more time and a rekindled sense of motivation.
Now like with many things, there is an art in setting goals.
Let’s imagine you realized recently it might be a good idea to start learning basic coding.
And to ensure you stay focused, on track and accountable to your promise, you will need to know the ‘why, how, when, who and what’.
At the beginning and till the end, there will always be the ‘Why’
‘Why?’ – the most important question to ask yourself. The clearer you are on your ‘why’, the less likely you will be to drop the ball at the first obstacle.
For our example, you may want to learn some coding because you realized many job offers in your field as asking for basic coding.
Does this make sense to your brain?
If yes, now you can start working on the how, when and all, with the S.M.A.R.T. method.
Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Make your goals Specific and Significant, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.
This translates into: ‘I want to learn basic Python by the end of the year in order to start practicing at my current job and hence acquire a new transferable skill’.
Now that you know what to keep your eyes on, let’s work on redirecting your energy away from those time wasters.
Exercise the art of strong boundaries
Some people have a knack at making us stray from our commitment to focus and stay in our lane. And very quickly, it becomes very easy to spread ourself thin trying to please -or to avoid displeasing- everyone else.
What happens when you say yes to everyone? You are not only depleted, but chances are you are now resentful and angry for not receiving any reciprocation ‘after everything I did for you’.
Here is when you need to remind yourself of getting your boundaries respected, at work and elsewhere.
Let’s start with a simple basic: learn to say ‘no’ diplomatically when the offer does not have something in it for you. It’s that simple (but not always easy, this is when you will need a bit of a self-push).
Example: someone hands you extra-work because it’s a job you’ve done before and it would be so helpful to help others.
How do you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’?
Step 1: is there something in it for me?
‘yes, I want to work more with this team, learn new things, raise my profile, earn more money, […]’.
‘no?’, document the reasons why, between being overworked, to this project not being on your priority list.
Immediate answer: ‘Let me come back to you’.
Step 2: you check with your manager. If you are both on the same page, it’s a no brainer.
If different opinions, now is the time to present your arguments, whether reminding them of your workload or if you’d like the assignment, and other reasons why taking it might benefit your team (new skills, new connections etc).
At the end of the day, you would have said your piece, in a logical and professional way.
You can also apply the same to many everyday life situations, such as meeting friends who really really want to see you while you are exhausted after a 70-hour week; or that family gathering where you get out of drained and upset.
Find what works for you. Decide what doing or not doing could cost you, and make that decision, knowingly. You will feel better about yourself, having said what you wanted, and can then adapt depending on the situation.
In the same vein, learning to be assertive, especially when dealing with difficult people, is good training for building up more self-confidence.
Learn how to deal with difficult people, and not fearing a confrontation anymore
Don’t you wish everyone you dealt with was behaving like a reasonable and logical grown-up?
True, all of us can at times be overwhelmed by our emotions, our pains, our fears, and stress, and occasionally lose it. But some people seem to have a particularly stressful effect on others.
My guess is that we can get past the occasional outburst, especially when it’s followed by a sincere apology. But when the outburst or the pressure become chronic, we can feel extremely stressed only by the idea of dealing with that person. Heck, seeing their name on an email can send us through loops of stress and angst.
That’s not a way to live nor to work.
Fortunately, there are several ways to learn not to fear the testy among us.
The first and most obvious is to limit the interactions; easy but not feasible when it’s a manager or a team member.
So how to deal with the toxic boss?
Communicate, communicate, communicate!….
Chances are, said boss is of the overstressed, overcontrolling type. They need to learn how to delegate and trust. This is where the calm and reassuring you will save the day. When you show them that you are in control, by regularly updating them, bringing solutions to any problem, and showing them how your work ethics are aligned with theirs.
…then elevate the debate.
And here comes one of my favorite tools on earth, Transactional Analysis, you can learn more about it in the link below and in my post on dealing with unsolicited advice.
The basics? When someone speaks with you as if you were a 5-year old, respond in a neutral and logical way, without personal innuendos.
Let me give you an example:
Person 1: ‘when you have finished browsing the internet, let me know when I can expect this report by’.
Response: ‘I am waiting for xyz to come back to me, I sent them an email that I followed by a phone call, they assured me everything will be ready by the deadline’.
No, ‘start by walking your talk’, No ‘it’s not my fault’…just factual and professional. Try it, and see how it will puzzle even the most hotheaded person in your office.
The person who loses their cool is rarely the one that wins at the end. Just sayin’.
After a certain number of rounds of the Mr. Spock treatment, they will get the message. They might never become your best friend at work, but I am sure you will feel less stressed when talking to them.
Practice the art of self-care
Now you are ready to come back to work, motivated by new goals, and ready to collaborate even with the most colorful personalities. This said, not all that happened in Summer should stay in Summer. There are certain routines and rituals that you can bring with you and practice, practice, practice (yes, for a habit to stay it needs repetition!).
Reflect back on your recent vacation.
What were the activities or tasks that made you feel content? Make a list.
How can you slot these into your busy schedule?
If you enjoyed cooking, put it on your schedule for a family dinner once a week (or more if you want!). If you enjoyed long walks, take some during your lunch break.
The point is to make your day as enjoyable as possible. And the best way to do that, is to give yourself small gifts throughout the day, i.e. self-care.
Find meaning in what you do, especially in your work
Remember what I said earlier about the importance of knowing your ‘why’ in what you want. Now imagine what would happen if, every morning, you woke up with that sense of purpose in you!
That’s a cherry on the cake. And it’s never ever too late to start exploring and finding a meaning to the ‘why do you do what you do’.
There is this anecdote often quoted in France, of a medieval companion builder asked what his job was, and his reply: ‘I am building a cathedral’.
Find your version of building a monument in what you are doing. It could be giving money to charities that are dear to your heart. Or maybe work is about building connections and helping others. Or changing the system from within.
Find the ‘why’ (again! It’s always about ‘why’!) behind your actions. Don’t live your life on auto-pilot. The more purposeful you are in what you do, the more drive you will find to go through even the most difficult moments.
This is what resilience is about.
This is what we, humans, are wired to do. Survive first, then find a meaning behind our actions, second. And this quest is so much worth the effort. It’s a valuable key to a better life, where struggles become challenges to overcome, and failures a new experience to add in your toolbox.
And what better time to do it, when we are back into the daily routine, and excited by the idea of what’s new and good that the rest of the year has in store for us?
What are your goals for the remainder of the year? How do they fit in your overall vision? Reflecting back on the last few months, what do you want to drop and what do you want to keep?
Know your brain: Prefrontal cortex, from Neuroscientifically Challenged.
More about Transactional Analysis
SMART Goals – How to Make Your Goals Achievable