I Stress, Eustress, We All Stress

stress-cartoonSome time ago I came to realize an important fact about myself. I work better under pressure. I can have a list of tasks pages long, and perhaps weeks to do them, however, I will still be the most effective and productive at these tasks just before they need to be completed. The reason for this unfortunately is largely chemical. When we are under pressure or stress, our body releases a cascade of hormones that have the effect of heightening our awareness, getting glucose to the areas of the body that need it most and creating that ability to focus and excel at the task at hand.

When we operate at our best under this sort of pressure, we experience a different type of stress. One of a more positive nature. This is typically called Eustress. Eustress is the happier cousin of distress, however the factors that determine which one you experience as a result of a particular circumstance, is dependent entirely on your outlook of the experience you are going through. If you feel you have the resources to cope with the apparent issue, both internally and externally then the situation will result in this positive type of stress. Note that I used the word “feel”. The reason for this, is your reaction is not based on the reality of the situation, but more so on your belief in your ability to handle the task at hand. Yes, it is easier said than done, and the belief really has to be internalized in order for the situation to be viewed positively.

If you have been reading the above and saying “yes, this is me exactly!”, then allow me to provide a word of caution. Eustress can turn into distress at the flip of a switch. It is worthwhile examining what those situations are so you can monitor yourself and not be caught unaware.

Too much Eustress causes Distress

When you are used to eustress being your friend, the tendency is to take on more and more work as it always seems to work out. However, be warned that each of us has a critical point where the whole picture flips. It may be one additional task, it may be something unforeseen like an illness, however it usually is something small that makes the picture change. The result is Distress. So monitor your amount of tasks.  Do not allow too many items to build up as you may land up being ineffectual with the entire lot.

Don’t forget to De-stress

Each one of us has a stress capacity. Our daily actions and activities either decrease or increase our stress capacity. Activities like exercise, meditating, family time etc. build up our stress resistance and deposit stress capacity into the “bank account”. What usually happens though, is these activities provide us with the capacity to taken on more stress. As a consequence, we land up having less time to focus on these stress reducing activities. The result? We start running low on our stress resistance reserves. When we reach the bottom of the barrel, eustress can easily turn into distress.

As we start a new year, I hope you are feeling that your stress resistance tank is full. Be mindful and ensure that each day you do some activity that puts back what you have taken out. If you have to go a few days without refilling, don’t get into the bad habit of not maintaining some balance. Try to have an awareness for the perfect amount of work that will stimulate you and keep you “in the zone” without overloading you and tipping the scales. Lastly, remember that stress is relative, and sometimes you just need to view it from a different angle. After all, it’s something we all have to live with. Yes, I stress, eustress, hell, we all stress.

So go ahead, create your life.

Are You a Depreciating Asset?

Depreciation, a term commonly used in 42-15529695business when referring to fixed assets, is defined as “a drop in value”. When we own something like a vehicle or a piece of machinery, as it gets older so the value of the asset goes down. I would like to suggest that each one of us has the same ability to become a depreciating asset. Not only to the company or organizations we work for, but also to ourselves. The good news is, we have a choice and the control to ensure that we don’t “depreciate” in our value but actually “appreciate”. Like a fine wine we can get better and better with age.

So what are the aspects to look after to ensure that we take care of our most precious possession, that being, ourselves?  There are three main areas of our lives that were we are in danger of depreciating. These are:

  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Spiritual/Emotional

Intellectual

This aspect relates to the work that we do. Ask yourself the question. What is the value that you bring to your workplace? When last did you do something to improve your knowledge in the work that you do? If we are not constantly increasing our knowledge around our work, not only will we will not maintain the status quo but rather our knowledge will decline as the world around us moves on. Before you know it you will find yourself being replaced by someone who has better knowledge and continues to learn. It is therefore in our own interest to ensure that we set targets for learning and increasing our intellectual capacity.  I would suggest that a goal is set for each quarter of the year.  Certain areas of the brain have the ability to improve as we get older, so take advantage of this and continue to learn. This learning need not be limited to our jobs but can also include things like, learning a new language or skill.

Physical

We all lead busy lives. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough the first thing we tend to neglect is our physical form, our bodies. Stress, fast food diets, lack of exercise, these factors all take their toll, and we risk falling prey to the lifestyle diseases e.g. diabetes, heart disease etc.

It is critical that part of our “appreciation plan”, is to look after our bodies. Make exercise a regular part of your week. The recommended guidelines are 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. This can even be broken down into 3 x 10min sessions if you do not have the time to do 30min in one go.

The benefits are too many to list but include stress resilience, reduction in disease risk factors, natural anti-depressant effect, and even brain improvement and growth. Exercise should be top of your list for your “me” maintenance plan.

Spiritual/Emotional

The spiritual aspect of our lives is an extremely personal component. It is here that we find, not only the strength to persevere through tough times, but also our compassion and ability to support others.  To be in touch with the spiritual and emotional side of our lives can provide many gifts. Some people find this aspect through religious observance, other through meditation or even music. What ever your choice is, it is important to find that activity or inactivity (in the case of meditation) that provides you with the energy of regeneration and balance.

Many of us give more attention and care to our motor vehicles than ourselves. We would not think of letting our vehicle go 1000km past the service date. We do this to ensure that the value of the asset is maintained. We should do the same with ourselves, and I suggest this “service plan” is conducted using the 3 checks mentioned above: Intellectual, Physical, and Spiritual/Emotional. By doing this and putting a plan in place we will ensure that our most precious asset not only is maintained, but actually appreciates and grows in value to ourselves and those around us. So be proactive and Create Your life!

Do you want to be a manager?

feeton desk

Most people enter into their business careers with ambition. Everyone wants to grow and achieve something. However, as the years go by, for some the ambition turns to disillusion, and they get stuck. Others cling onto the ambition and drive fore something more, and for many in business that something more is to be a manager.

In this article I would like to define what exactly it is to be a manager. To attempt to put aside some of the myths and really add an element of reality, so that young people in business understand what they are aspiring towards and what they will be getting themselves into.

So let’s cover the myths first. Management is not about:

  • Getting a bigger office
  • Getting a bigger pay cheque
  • Finally being able to boss others around
  • Working less hours because you dictate the times
  • An opportunity to bore others in meetings

Now many aspiring managers can be forgiven for thinking that the above is true, as they see many managers above them exerting this very behavior. However, the “Peter Principle” (rising to your level of incompetence) will eventually take hold and return the system to management equilibrium i.e. normally the person gets fired.

So if being a manager is not about the above points, what exactly is it about? Well, consider the following description. A manager is a person who needs to create an environment that maximizes the required outputs. Sounds simple enough? Not when you consider all the elements that make up the environment.

In a typical corporate company the environment consists of, people or employees, up-line managers (bosses), systems, education, customers, products, and mostly problems.

With this system and the definition in mind what does one need to do to optimize and maximize the required outputs? Here is the list:

  • Hiring the best people for the job
  • Managing the expectations of your up-line managers or bosses
  • Accepting responsibility when others in your team mess up
  • Giving credit to others when things go well
  • Accepting that your staff are human beings and as such come with problems and issues. You cannot ignore these, as they eventually become your problems too. Always be ready to listen.
  • Ensuring that your staff are always learning and growing in their roles
  • Mentoring and assisting with your staffs career progress
  • Handling customers complaints as now the buck stops with you
  • Being knowledgeable about your companies products
  • Acknowledging that you cannot ignore problems or you will become another managerial failure statistic.
  • Work the hours that are needed to get the job done, while maintaining a healthy life balance.
  • And lastly, manage your own career.

The last point is an interesting one, as although it comes last on the list, most people think they should put it first. This is so evident in large corporate environments where political infighting is the order of the day.

The irony is, if you look after all the preceding points, you will not need to manager your career success, as it will automatically and spontaneously occur.  That is of course provided you have selected to work for a boss that works accordingly to these principles.  So perhaps at your next interview, when it comes time for you to ask any questions, the one to ask is, “What do you consider to be important in management?”. After all, it has been shown that careers advance more rapidly with better bosses.

So, if you aspire to be a manager, give some thought to the points above. It’s not for everyone. More money is normally made in sales with less of a burden to carry, and open plan offices tend to be the order of the day. However, if you feel you will be fulfilled by the above list, management can be a rewarding and awesome experience. So go ahead and apply for that job. Create your life.

Meaning or Money Part II

meaningworkA previous article of mine  “Meaning or Money” drew some interesting and rather fierce criticism. This is great, because I do not write articles with the view that I have the only correct understanding. I write them with an opinion and hope to be challenged if that opinion is not correct or if there are views to add to it. The comments were from the point of view of the individual in the job, and one needs to keep in mind that the article was written as management advice for leading a team. However, these points deserve consideration and comment.

Two of the comments were:

  1. I don’t need to find meaning in my day job. I find meaning in my life after work.
  2. Most people feel a lack of meaning in their lives not from something missing within them but rather from the nature of the  “system” in which they function.

So I have given some thought to these two points and wish to offer some additional comments up for debate.

To point number 1. I would be hard pressed to agree that human beings would prefer to stay in a role that offered no meaning, rather than gravitate towards a position that offered them some meaning and appreciation. Yes, one can derive meaning to their life outside of the workplace. However, keep in mind that we spend almost 70% of our waking hours in this “job”.  To derive meaning only in the remaining 30% seems like a waste. The role you are in at work might not be stimulating, or solving a major world problem, however there are many ways one can improve on the meaning in your daily environment. We need to take control of our own environment and what it means to us, instead of waiting for our managers to create the meaning for us. Examples of this are:

  • Become a mentor for people starting out in the company
  • Look for ways to share your knowledge
  • Gain a better understanding of the role you play and how it fits into the companies big picture
  • Form an interest group at work for furthering the area of expertise you are in
  • Investigate ways to do things better in your role and make suggestions
  • Chat to your manager and ask to be more involved in the business.

Regarding point number 2. which blames the system for a lack of meaning. I feel that we need to acknowledge that business systems do not exist without the individuals that drive them. Therefore, the only way to affect change within these systems, is to change the individuals themselves. My aim in offering these thoughts is to do exactly that. To get people, especially managers, thinking about how they manage their teams. For them to give consideration to the way they treat their staff, and to realise that putting in the extra effort is a win-win scenario. Your staff will be happier, and as a result, more motivated, which will lead to better company profits. Definitely a win-win scenario. So rather than accepting the system for what it is, give thought as to how you can do your bit to change the way it works.

A research project by Dan Airely examined the difference in work output between three groups of people. All groups had to complete some work on a form and hand it in and then complete additional forms in return for payment. Group 1 wrote their name on the form, and were thanked for the work. Group 2 handed in anonymous forms, and group 3 had their forms shredded in front of them as they handed them in. The results showed that group 2 and 3 displayed significantly less motivation for the work and suffered from decreased work output.

This research emphasizes my points above and  highlights three key aspects to meaning.

  1. Acknowledgment
  2. Ownership
  3. A feeling of contribution

These points fall within the control of the manager. However, if you are working for an organization where these are not being addressed then you have the ability to ask for these aspects to change, or change your situation.

The key point is that no one has to accept the status quo in a situation. Whether you are a manager or an employee, we all can do more for others and for ourselves. Don’t wait for others to do it for you. Create your life.

Meaning or Money?

If I offered you R2 500 a day to write articles for me, and when you handed them in I just deleted them without even reading them and said thanks, would you take the job? At first glance you might think, “sure, easy money, no stress, where do I sign”. Now, what if I tell you that that is all you are going to do for the next 5, 10 or even 20 years. Does it change your answer? I’m prepared to bet that the majority of people when faced with this question willlifetree not even do the job for more than a month.

I would like to put in a proviso in the above statement that reflects on Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you are low down on this pyramid you will probably do anything to ensure that your basic needs are met, and would not give a damn if your work is used or not. So, bear in mind that I am talking about people who have jobs, homes, and their basic needs met.

Dan Ariely in his book “The upside of Irrationality”, poses the question of are we merely rats in a maze, wanting to get to the food with the least amount of effort, or is the meaning of the maze more important to us?

In the modern connected work environment, employees are wanting to understand the meaning in their work more and more. They share their experiences on Facebook and Twitter. They tweet about their existence at every opportunity. The resultant effect is a mirror is being held up to their lives that shouts who they are. Self awareness stops being an after hours thought and meaning becomes more important. Hence we are seeing higher levels of dissatisfaction in the workplace than ever before.

The modern manager therefore has a responsibility. This responsibility is to ensure that every member of his/her team understands their position and the role they have to play. He/she needs to manage not only the work output component but also the work perception component. Work perception revolves around all the components about what people think and feel in their jobs. These include but are not limited to: Is my work valued? Am I a member of a winning team? Do people recognise me for who I am in the team? Am I seen as a dispensable component? Today’s manager needs to be able to take all these components into account in order to maximise the value of the team.

The old way of looking at employee productivity stated:

Employee Productivity = High Work Output(WO)

My suggestion is that we re look at this in a holistic view:

Employee Productivity = High Work Output (WO) + High Work Value Perception (WVP)

I would even suggest that a greater focus on Work Value Perception will lead to high work output and that managers should reconsider where they spend most of their time. Spend less time on sales forecasts and more on life forecasts.

Help your team. Create your life!

Satisfied with your job?


Love-my-job-smWould you like to be doing something else during your waking hours? Are you happy in your job? The unfortunate reality is, for the majority of us, we dwell on this question for a while but then go back to the daily grind, avoiding the thoughts that just momentarily entered our minds. Most people however, would want to be doing something different.

Yes, the sad truth of the matter, is that the majority of people are dissatisfied with their jobs (studies show a satisfaction rating ranging between 21% to 41%). Hence, the majority of people would rather be doing something different with their time. But if this statistic of dissatisfaction is so high, why do they not change jobs and even careers? Possibly, because the question itself is wrong. Perhaps, the question should rather be, “Do you believe you would be better off and happier, doing something else with your time?”.

As work takes up approximately 80% of our waking hours, is it possible that we have over 50% of the population disgruntled with their lives? I would like to stick my neck out here and say no. The reason I believe this (and its difficult for me to use this word believe, I prefer scientific fact :-)), is that we are hard wired to think there is always something better out there. We think there is something wrong with us if we are happy with the status-quo. In our caveman days, we were always looking for that bigger cave. A better piece of real estate closer to richer hunting grounds and perhaps a more plentiful source of crystal clear water. Well, the sad news is nothings changed much. The hunting ground has just been replaced by an office, and the source of water, a pay cheque that attempts to quench the thirsty bank overdraft at the end of each month.

It’s no wonder that when asked the question are you satisfied or happy with your job, the answer is no. It is normal to show dissatisfaction in your job. It is normal to strive for something better.

The solution to this problem can be taken up by both the individual and companies. For companies to increase the level of satisfaction of their employees with their current job, they need to show them a growth path within the company. Show them that the way to fertile soil and better hunting lies within the company. The prospect of progress leads to current satisfaction. Stagnation leads to mosquitoes of doubt and dissatisfaction breeding in the still waters of the mind.

If you are feeling these feelings of dissatisfaction in your job, take control of the situation. Spend some of your valuable time thinking about your ambitions for growth within the company. What’s your growth path? Where are you going? What exactly in your current job are you dissatisfied about? The answer to these questions might be enough for you to realise, actually it’s not so bad. Alternatively, it might turn those feelings into action, and that’s a good thing regardless of your decision to stay or leave.

The bottom line is, no one is responsible for your life other than you. Sure, companies can help by the conditions they create, but you are responsible for your reality. So make sure that negativity is not creeping into those waking hours, decide to choose your path. Create your life.

Your own business – Me Inc.

Do you know that each one of us owns our own business? Each of us is a CEO, Marketing Manager, Sales Manager, and Technical Manager and more.

The Business is called Me Inc, and the sooner you get to realise that it’s actually the only business you truly own, the easier and more productive your life becomes.

Many of us have been through the corporate world or worked in companies where we are one of many. It’s easy to lose sight of ones dreams and goals, and just live from day to day doing the necessary roles and functions in a job. Many just go on autopilot, sometimes lasting 10 years or more before we even realise that nothing has changed.Career_Opp_Art

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that one should not work for corporates, or that you should change your job. In fact, quite the opposite, I am saying you should be running your own business within the company you work for, and that business is Me Inc. In any job, you are your company, your product that you sell, and the manufacturer all in one. You are all you’ve got! If you move companies, there you are. If you go out on your own, there you are again. Me Inc. is with you to stay! So make Me Inc. count.

Running Me Inc. has a lot of responsibility. Like any business, you need to look after it. Looking after Me Inc. mean keeping the factory (body) in tip top shape. Feeding yourself energising foods, exercising and keeping your stress in check. You need make sure that your product is continuously reinvented so that there is always demand. To do this make sure that you are keeping your knowledge of your industry up to date. When last did you invest in your skills? Take an online course, or read a book to broaden your knowledge. Keep thinking, what is the market need that I can fulfill. What is my competitive edge?

Once you have looked after these two aspects, then the Marketing and Sales Manager in you can take over. Know your product, and don’t sell yourself short. Where is your market and what areas do you want to expand into? Have a plan and use it. Ensure that Me Inc. is on everyone’s list of must have items.

So next time you think “it’s just a job”, remember that Me Inc is in that job, and ensure that you are doing everything you can to make Me Inc. the best company around. Be the best you can be. It’s never just a job and it’s your company on the line.