Tag Archives: busy

Experiments in Wellbeing

Wellbeing is a subject which interests me, it’s something that gets a lot of airtime, and it’s a broad brush heading under which sits lots of different stuff. I first realised this when I was asked to give a talk on the subject for Morgan Lovell and their clients back in 2013. As part of my preparation, I asked people on Twitter: ‘When you hear the term wellbeing what pops into your head?’ The answers were many and varied, and included words like ‘belonging’, ‘balanced lifestyle’, ‘flow’, ‘good health’ and much more besides.

Busyness

At the event we discussed the subject of presence, and found that over two thirds of people in the room read and responded to emails whilst away on holiday. Overall, people didn’t think that working while being on holiday was a good thing, yet they felt compelled to do it. We talked about other aspects of work life balance and flow, and a strong feeling emerged that busyness gets in the way of wellbeing. I can relate to that notion and yet it also feels a bit like an excuse to me. ‘I’m too busy to look after myself’. Really?

‘Our People Are Our Greatest Asset’

Rarely does an annual report and accounts get published that doesn’t make some grand statement about the importance of ‘our people’. Do we really mean it? The prevailing culture and behaviours at work often have a lot to do with how, and even if we can weave wellbeing into our day to day habits. I’ve always found it odd that we persist in being OK with taking fifteen minutes out of the day at regular intervals to kill yourself, sorry – I mean smoke a cigarette, but the notion of going for a walk for the same amount of time, to clear your head, or think through a few ideas, is somehow seen as skiving on company time.

Maybe this recent piece in The New York Times, which talks specifically about some of the benefits a group of volunteers (for a study at the University of Birmingham) derived from regular 30 minute lunch time strolls, will help persuade the more cynical among us? Maybe, and yet it is worth noting that:

…tellingly, many said that they anticipated being unable to continue walking after the experiment ended and a few (not counted in the final tally of volunteers) had had to drop out midway through the program. The primary impediment to their walking, Dr. Thogersen-Ntoumani said, had been “that they were expected by management to work through lunch,”…

Is it only me smiling at the thought of management expectations being described as an ‘impediment’?

It’s Easy For You To Say…

By now you might well be thinking, ‘it’s easy for him to pick holes in the way we work, he doesn’t have to actually do this stuff on a day by day basis’. And to some extent you are right. I appreciate that as a consultant, I am not bound so tightly to the hamster wheel of seemingly endless back to back meetings, and some of the other things which become expected in a larger workplace, and I also appreciate, from my own experience both in corporate life and beyond, that there are times when work is really busy. I like being busy. I like deadlines. I like getting stuff done, just not all the time. I simply can’t be useful, and productive, and good company all the time, and I don’t think you can, either, can you?

What Next?

In the Autumn of last year, I came to a decision. I will make a conscious effort to integrate the practice of wellbeing into my life through a series of small experiments, and see what I can learn from this. I will share my learning openly, and you can ask me anything you like about the experiences I share. My intention, in addition to understanding and hopefully improving my own wellness, is simply to explore the idea that wellbeing, and meaningful, productive, even busy work, are not mutually exclusive. More to follow soon…

Look Up

For all you TLDR freaks, this post is about the importance of lifting your eyes from your immediate work in order to scan wider, and see how you might be of greater use to those around you.

I took part in my first and only timed running race last week in Ohio at the annual State HR Conference. The race started at 7am and I woke at 6am to head out on a mission to get some shorts to run in. I drove to the Sandusky Walmart and in I went. My first time in a Walmart – this place is huge! The clock is ticking – I need to find shorts and all I can see is fruit, vegetables, hair dryers and kid’s toys. I’m all lost in the supermarket. Luckily – my lost look attracts a member of staff and in no time I’m shown to where the shirts are, I grab a pair, thank the man and leave. In case you are interested, I ran the race in 27 minutes, 22 seconds, and I also found a few moments to stop and take this photo of the sun coming up over Sandusky.

Sunrise over Sandusky

In Cleveland Airport the following day I’m wandering about looking for a place to sit down and work. A policeman comes up to me, ‘Excuse me sir, you look lost. Anything I can help with?’ He shows me the way to a quiet place where I get some work done.

Two busy people, yet both are present in their own situations, noticing what’s going on around them, and then there’s me, the fortunate beneficiary. It’s hard to be present. Busyness can be all encompassing, and yet I benefitted from two small interventions – two nudges that helped me get back on track. I hope you get the chance to look up from your work and offer to be of use to someone today.

A version of this post went out in my newsletter a few days ago, and the responses to it have been plentiful and generous – much more so than usual. Thanks to Niall Gavin for the excellent title suggestion for this post. And thanks also go to Angel Rivas, who I met in Ohio. He got in touch to say this:

Hello Doug,

It was a pleasure meeting you and taking in your session on collaboration at the Ohio SHRM conference. I contributed to the conversation and you presented me with Roy Lichtenstein’s Sunrise artwork and I just wanted to thank you for that.

After taking in your session I started to think about your experience in Wal-Mart and wanted to share something that has helped me in my professional career. To start I will give you a little background on myself, I am prior service and served as a Psychological Operations Specialist in Iraq. When I am not in uniform I am a recruiter and have worked across the spectrum on what I have recruited for, mainly high level security clearance candidates that are only allowed to have vague resumes and talk in code. With that said, one thing that has helped me is advice given to me when I first started recruiting for a government contract agency.

I was having a hard time trying to find candidates for a certain opening and it was showing, my attitude changed, my posture, my overall presence was just poor. Similar to your experience in Wal-mart and the airport, a colleague noticed the change and spoke to me about everything that was going on and what my issues were. Once he heard me ramble on he looked at me and said “Angel, you just need to get a win today”. As he went on he explained that my problems are there because I let them beat me and told me that if I look at life and find a “win” then that will be enough to say I contributed to moving forward in my life. So since then I have woke up every day with the intention of getting a “win” sometimes it is small, like getting a free cookie at lunch, other times it is like winning the Super Bowl… Or World Cup (to keep it worldly). I know you are busy and wish you safe travels, I just wanted to share my story on how playing for a win, even a small win can help change a persons day.

Safe Travels

In writing this today I am conscious of two shortcomings that happened yesterday. In the morning I walked straight past someone struggling with a heavy bag on a flight of stairs. The person behind me stopped and offered assistance. I didn’t look up, the person behind me did. In the evening I nearly bowled a friend over on London Bridge as I walked speedily, with my head down in a rush to catch a train. I didn’t see him, but he saw me and got in my way so we could stop, look up and briefly talk. I still made the train easily.

It’s hard to be present, busyness can be all encompassing. I hope you get the chance to look up from your work and offer to be of use to someone today.

Bacon Sandwich

I am not, nor do I aspire to be, a gourmet chef. And I enjoy cooking. I enjoy the preparation, the cleaning, the choosing, the slicing, the steaming, grilling, and the time it takes to produce something good to eat.

Last Thursday I made spaghetti bolognese at Keira’s request. I prepared it at the same time as she was doing a piece of homework about table tennis as part of a bigger Olympic project. My focus was all over the place, trying to get the food right and trying to respond usefully when Keira needed help. The end result was an interesting and well laid out project from Keira, and an acceptable dinner from Doug, though Keira said she enjoyed both the dinner and the project, and that matters.

Since then I’ve prepared a salad nicoise (well almost), bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches, and a roast dinner. They’ve all taken longer to make than they might, and that’s fine – remember, taking the time is one of the things I enjoy about cooking. And they’ve all turned out deliciously great, even if I do say so myself.

Take the BLT as an example. The bacon was trimmed and grilled to perfection, the tomatoes were at room temperature and cut just right with a super sharp knife. The lettuce was fresh, the bread seedy (in a good way) and there was a little mayo on it. Keira and I declared these sandwiches among the finest we have ever eaten, until the next ones. Sadly I didn’t get a picture of the BLT, it kinda disappeared too quick – you’ll just have to take our word for it.

Too often we get horribly busy. Work has a nasty habit of expanding to fill the time available. I often meet and work with people who run back to pack, cram packed diaries. And they are always late for something. Face it folks, you can’t manage a series of meetings that run from nine to ten, ten to eleven, and eleven to midday, without a break. When are you supposed to get from one to the other? When are you supposed to take a pee? When are you supposed to think about what just happened and what may happen next? It takes a little discipline to factor in a few minutes to get from here to there, and all that other stuff. And it’s worth it. And whilst I’d take the nicoise, the sandwich or the roast over the bolognese any day, I do realise that sometimes, you just gotta make stuff happen. Not always, sometimes.

I’m off for breakfast, hope you enjoy yours.