Make yourself a sandwich:
As managers we have all heard the methodology of “sandwiching” a performance critique with compliments in the beginning and end… great, pretty useless in this setting. Whatever. Late last week, I read this article by my friend and former professor of mine, Art Markman in which part of his advice on enjoying work more (or perhaps it was more about disliking our most hated tasks less), is to not start your day with that task because it may suck your motivation and taint your whole day. His second main point was to reframe the task as a part of the overall driving mission. By reframing, one de-emphasizes the negative aspects of the task and re-emphasizing the driving mission of the organization.
Both of these were designed to increase one’s satisfaction at work, but resonated with me as very close to a couple personal practices and thoughts on how this thinking might be useful in a broader sense.
On a personal level, build a sandwich in your life. In the last year I have been keeping a gratitude journal on and off (discipline can be a challenge for me). The premise of the journal is to write in it right when you wake up and right when you go to bed- first and last thing you do. This “primes” our outlook for gratitude as we move through our day. It is a psychological tool. It is real. It works. You are way more likely to have a better day when you are primed to find things for which you are thankful and grateful. It’s in your subconscious, you don’t actively have to do a thing.
The evening piece is both priming and reframing. It asks you to reflect on your day (remember, this is basically the last thing you do before sleep) and acknowledge several good things. On bad days this can be a stretch, but we can all find a few good things, even if it was just a smile. Once you define the good of the day, as the last act of the day, you have now mentally shifted (at least to some degree) the imprint the day makes on your memory. You will be far more likely to remember what made the day good (and more likely a a good day)when looking back upon it. The idea (and psychology) being, if you lay your head down on the pillow with your minds intention focused on gratitude and thankfulness, you are more likely to wake that way- and you start the cycle again. My personal experience has been that it changes my overall outlook; better days = better life.
So there you have a brief view into my hippie dippie scientifically proven smile generating routine. It adds value, but I blow that cycle up every so often too… we will look at that as well… later. Let’s get back to the workplace. What if you actively helped the teams you manage to organize the work days this way? First, I deeply believe you will gain connection (connection also place a big part in workplace satisfaction) by listening to what aspects of your coworker’s are enjoyed and the parts that cause the sunday night blues. Second, you might improve work for your people. I wouldn’t expect rainbows and unicorns, but perhaps a little less dread or anxiety heading into work, a better feeling about work in general. Stress locks the mind and keeps thinkers in the tactical, so you might be opening minds up to innovation. There is literally no cost.
Earlier we talked about making this a “sandwich” and this part is a little more involved. Years ago I was in commercial real estate and I had a mentor who told me to send 3 thank you notes every day. He told me that if I could not think of 3 people to thank each day for something, I had bigger problems. He was right. At this time, email was in its infancy, so these were cards, stamped and mailed. I was in a relationship business and, yes, this was good for business, but more importantly I found I just liked doing it. I look back at this in my minds eye, I like the guy that says thank you. I like it when I am the guy that actually mails a card and I like it when someone does the same for me. That might be a little much for some, but you could have a program where you ask you team to come up with three people they could thank each day and ask them to reach out to at least one. These aren’t about “business thank-yous” though they might be. These might be a thank you to the lady who watches your kids (or your dog). It might be a thank you to the local grocery store manager because you noticed you haven’t had to wait in line in a while. Or the barista who’s smile or attitude lifts your’s before you had your first sip. It doesn’t matter to whom, I am asking you and your team to just say “thank you” at the end of the day. Send them off to their families and private lives with a gratitude mindset.
You still have to do the crappy stuff. We all do. This is where Markman suggests framing the task as just one part of the overriding mission. This is alignment and engagement. So ya, it helps if your organization has a good values based mission that you relate to and feel good about, but lots of places don’t. You might have to find your own “why” and that can be a much larger conversation. In its simplest form, there is a reason your company/job exists and a reason YOU are working there. In that intersection is your “why”.
Also, find your mission. I have both a personal mission statement and a business mission. My business mission is to make work better…for everybody. So for me all my business activities somehow have to feed back to “making work better”. To this end, I do dreaded networking, read horrible books and webpages (many are good, but I still have to see the bad), loads of conversations and rejections. I don’t like the hard stuff, but I learn. I get better. And it all goes into that knowledge base that serves my mission.
When you “get” the mission, either your own or the company’s, then you start to realize every link is important. The story of the janitor at NASA that knew he was helping to put ment on the moon. EVERY SINGLE LINK
If you can’t find Your “why” right away, try using a weighted perspective frame about the troublesome tasks. For instance, I love being a dog owner, but I don’t like to pick up my dogs poop, but it has to be done and I don’t define either my dog or my relationship with him by the chores that I must perform to be a good dog owner. I de-emphasize the poop, the occasional vomit, the cost,the fur, and the all-too-frequent late/wet/frozen walks and emphasize the good stuff. In fact, he is snoring next to me as I write, and even though I just listed all those things, all I see is the good stuff. While you might not be able to shift the unpleasantness of your hated tasks completely, lets face it, they are not dogs, you might improve it by a little bit, and that is all we are looking for, lots of little bits.
So, lets review.
Start and end your day with gratitude, the meat of your day in between.
Find to set your work life and that of your team in a similar fashion with most favored tasks in the morning and afternoon and least favored in the middle.
Shift your view on the “least favored” either as a part of a mission or by realizing these tasks are a minor price to pay in the overall scheme of things.
Find your mission.
Acting and thinking different are habits. Remember I said we would get back to the discipline thing? We are humans. Don’t expect to be perfect. There is lots of information on habits and systems, certainly more than can be included here. I have fallen in and out of routines I KNOW to be healthy. It helps me learn. And if you do implement some of this, give it time. Big ships turn slow and this is just one piece of a bigger puzzle.