The skills cultivated in improvisation — communication, creativity, teamwork, taking risks, and resilience — are ones you’d want to see on a résumé. Business schools are taking note and even teaching improv. Robert Kulhan, adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business explains, that at its core, “Improvisation isn’t about comedy, it’s about reacting — being focused and present in the moment at a very high level.”
One of the most fundamental principles of improv which produces that mindful reacting is “Yes, and”. You accept and agree with what someone has said, and you’re not done until you build upon it, which requires listening, understanding, and insight.
That “and” generates possibility, and as Tina Fey writes in Bossypants, responsibility. For her, “Yes, and” means, “[D]on’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.”
However, if you respond with negativity, by questioning the premise, by saying “Yes, but”, you abandon your partner and shut down the scene by refusing to engage. What’s worse is that this conduct signifies that those initiations and ideas are not worthwhile and cultivates fear of contribution.
We often buy into the impression that work is about being right, hypercritical, and steely, as if our ideal work persona were Simon Cowell. But that kind of behavior leaves people out to dry.
Often when it comes time to act, move, brainstorm, and make decisions — when it’s showtime! — it does no good to sit around the table with our arms and attitudes crossed. James Mitchell, founder of Improboost, who runs workshops in D.C. to boost teamwork and performance through improv techniques, sees this happen all too often in the workplace.
He recounts, “Many of my students work in competitive office environments, and have learned to say ‘Yes, but.’ You see this in office meetings all the time. One person comes up with a proposal, and a co-worker will immediately come up with a host of reasons why it won’t work. When ‘Yes, And’ is violated on stage, the scene goes downhill; when it’s violated at work, it leads to stifled thinking and a poor work product. People are reluctant to offer creative ideas for fear that their scene partner — or co-worker or boss — will shut them down.”
Why Stifling is Harmful
Those employees who feel stifled, shut down, or even belittled, for sharing their ideas, become unproductive, disengaged, and resentful, and those feelings are unhealthy in the workplace. Why? Our emotions affect cognitive functions like memory, attention, and reasoning. Negative emotions actually narrow our view, interfere with rational decision-making, and inhibit taking risks.
On the bright side, positive emotions broaden thinking and action and increase creativity levels. According to psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, such expansion and growth helps build up personal skills and resources. When “Yes, and” becomes part of a work culture of openness, where ideas are encouraged, heeded, and developed, both the individual and the organization broaden, build, and enrich themselves.
So put an end to your Simon Cowell ‘tude. Suspend your judgment when you don’t want close off conversation and possibility. “Yes, and” requires openness. Go with the flow and add to the momentum.
As Mitchell notes, “In a safe space for brainstorming, people build upon one another’s ideas and add their own unique flavor to the mix; it’s amazing to witness it in action.”
All too often, to-do lists end up with more things to do and less things getting done. Humans are awful at completing lists. We often convince ourselves that we can complete our to-do list if we just buckle down and try harder.
Yet tomorrow, or next week, or next month rolls around, and the list is just as bad as it has always been. Probably worse, if you are like me.
So when we found iDoneThis at Zapier it immediately clicked.
- No more over bearing to-do list? Check. - Transparency into what everyone on the team is doing? Check. - Email based? Check. - Built-in motivation to do meaningful things each day? Check, again.
I loved it.
We’re always up to date. We don’t have to constantly bother each other about what’s going on. And for a remote team, it’s an easy way to keep tabs when doing a group hangout just isn’t feasible.
But before this turns into a complete love fest, we quickly discovered two bottlenecks with our new iDoneThis routine:
1. There’s still one more thing to do. Everyone on the team has one more to-do on their list: recording their daily dones at the end of the day.
2. Not everyone is email based. I’m one of the few people on the team that spends a significant amount of time in my inbox.
For engineers who are operating out of GitHub all day long, checking an inbox at the end of the day is not exactly high on their priority list and recording dones as they go breaks their workflow. It’s not that engineers don’t want to update everyone on what they’re working on — it’s just not their habit.
So how exactly can we solve this problem?
The Psychology of Automation
Humans naturally follow the path of least resistance.
In one National Bureau of Economic Research study, researchers set out to figure out how to increase 401(k) savings. The study found that by simply adding automatic enrollment for new employees, plan participation doubled.
What does this have to do with completing our daily iDoneThis updates?
Since humans do what takes the least effort, the easiest way to record our dones would be to not have to do anything at all. If there was a way to automatically notify iDoneThis each time something meaningful is completed, we’d have a way to get rid of that last to-do item, and it wouldn’t matter that iDoneThis is mostly email based.
If automating iDoneThis is anything like automating 401k enrollment, then we wagered that the number of times we “simply forgot” to record our dones would go down significantly.
With this hypothesis in mind, we turned to the Zapier user base which is filled with automation experts. And sure enough, several Zaps had already been shared to help people automate their daily iDoneThis entries.
This type of automation solved the exact problem we were having with non-email based teammates getting into the habit of using iDoneThis and getting hooked. All it took was a couple Zaps.
Once everyone on the team could see everything happening around them, we realized the full benefit of iDoneThis. It was easier to jump in and help on a project that someone might have been struggling with for a few days. You can encourage teammates for awesome days. Or you can help build them up, if there are a few rough days in a row.
How to Automate Your Daily iDoneThis
The trick to automating your daily iDoneThis practice is to find a way to launch an email to iDoneThis when you complete certain tasks.
Many web services can trigger emails for certain activity within their app. Simply set that process to update your iDoneThis account by using the address “firstname.lastname@example.org”, and for personal users, “email@example.com”. (Find the exact address in the “from” field of your reminder emails, and make sure the service or app is using the same email address as the one that’s affiliated with your iDoneThis account.)
If a service doesn’t have email alerts for a specific activity, try using the Zapier Gmail send email action to send an email to iDoneThis from the many Zapier triggers that are already available.
Unleash the power of automation to spend more time on the things that matter and help you get more stuff done! And don’t forget to share your automation tricks and Zaps with us in the comments.
Wade Foster is co-founder of Zapier - the easiest way to automate your business and your life. You can tweet with him by following @wadefoster.
People who often say they’re “too busy” or “crazy busy” sound like buzzing busy signals. And when you start sounding like an appliance, it makes it hard to connect with you. My reaction to your busy signal is much like that of Mindy Kaling, who sees stress as non-conversation:
No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is, because most of the time everyone is stressed out. Going on and on in detail about how stressed out I am isn’t conversation. It’ll never lead anywhere. No one is going to say, “Wow, Mindy, you really have it especially bad. I have heard some stories of stress, but this just takes the cake.”
Likewise, going on about how busy you are isn’t conversation and doesn’t lead anywhere — except making your conversation partner bored, or worse, peeved. People who act super busy send the same message, making time spent with them never feel quite whole. Interestingly, I find that most people who are legitimately occupied — with their work, or family, or art, or what-have-you — rarely play the “too busy” card, or go out of their way to make time for meaningful connection exactly because they’ve been busy.
The Meaning Behind Busy
When you go on to other people, or to yourself, about being so busy, you’re often engaging in doublespeak. Let’s dig a little deeper to translate what you actually mean when you get in the habit of saying or acting like you’re too busy:
I matter. Being busy means I’m needed and significant in this great big universe. Though going around literally telling people, “I matter!” and expecting some sort of substantive conversation to result would be really weird, I’ll just say “I’m busy!” instead.
I am super-important. Doling out complaints and explanations about being too busy is the express line to a mini-ego trip. It’s going beyond “I matter” to “I matter … more than you” despite the fact that nobody ever wants to hear this.
I’m giving you an easy excuse. This is one of the easiest outs for stuff I don’t want to do. Alternatively, I’ve spent a lot of time being distracted or stuck, but this excuse allows me to feel okay with it.
I’m afraid. I keep relentlessly busy because I suffer from FOMO, or fear of missing out. I’m scared that I don’t matter, that I’m not important, that I’m not needed, so I’m going to spend my time on distracting stuff that doesn’t really matter, that’s not all that important, where I’m not actually needed.
I feel guilty. There’s fulfilling, meaningful stuff that I actually do want to do but I can rationalize it away instead of confronting challenges or changing direction. Alternatively, I think being busy is such a valuable quality that I’ll overbook myself to the point where I feel guilty for not getting to everything or for spending time on anything that doesn’t fit into a limited definition of “productive”.
The worship of busy-ness as such a virtue is where the trouble begins, providing the foundation to its indiscriminate use as a front or an excuse. It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time. We self-impose these measures of self-worth by looking at quantity instead of quality of activity.
How to Escape the Cult of Busy
In the children’s book (that every adult should read), The Phantom Tollbooth, the protagonist Milo comes across the frightening, faceless Terrible Trivium, a “demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and monster of habit.” Milo and his friends fall under his spell, agreeing to perform busy-work like moving a huge pile of sand from one place to another, grain by grain, using a tweezer. The Terrible Trivium’s explanation for this terrible fate?
If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing….
What a scary thought!
So if you find yourself feeling frazzled, habitually explaining away things with a busy status, it’s probably time to slow downand pay attention to the important, difficult stuff. Examine what is keeping you so busy compared to what you really should and want to be doing.
Here are a couple ways to start:
Track yo’ self.
In the quest to better connect your attention and action, do an attention audit. Track your time using a tool like Harvest or a time log spreadsheet. Break down how you spend time on the computer with RescueTime. Or see how you answer the questions of “What did you get done today?” and “What did you pay attention to today?” over time using iDoneThis.
Change your language:
We like this tip from Laura Vanderkam. Instead of putting things in terms of time and activity, frame them in terms of priority:
Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.
Another thing you can do is once you have a clearer handle of your priorities and how you want to spend your energy, change your definition of “productivity” to encompass those things.
Not only do we need to rest and renew, we also have to slow down and pause to acknowledge our feelings, celebrate our accomplishments, and gain some insight.
Brené Brown explains how people stay busy out of habit and fear. She recommends letting go of “exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth” and allowing us to explore what matters:
[W]hen we make the transition from crazy-busy to rest, we have to find out what comforts us, what really refuels us, and do that. We deserve to not just put work away and be in service of someone else. What’s really meaningful for us? What do we want to be doing?
Do less and feel more joy.
The opposite of the fear of missing out, as Anil Dash so beautifully wrote, is the joy of missing out. Pay attention to what’s in front of you, and you’ll gain control and find joy.
Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I’m willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone.
Feel more joy. Learn how to doless. Stop spreading yourself so thin by saying “no” more, by saying “no” to being busy, and by meaning “yes” more fully.
Before you stomp over to people to tell them exactly how you feel about their impertinence, step back and take a deep breath … and one more.
As a time coach and trainer and the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment, my specialty is in working with people who really struggle with getting in control of their time and their routines. I can assure you that unless they’re natural rebels, people generally want to do what you’ve asked but they just haven’t mastered it yet.
While some people need only one telling to master a task or respond to a request, others need multiple. This can make you crazy if you let it, as you’ll need to keep at it for awhile. You can’t control others’ speed of integration of change, but you can control your emotional response to situations and your method of communication.
My book leads you through different types of accountability and discusses how to reduce time-caused drama—including tips for recovery. To help you with your resilience and patience in the midst of implementing team-wide change (or lack thereof) — using the example of getting reluctant team-members to use a new work tool like iDoneThis — here are five steps you can apply:
Step 1: Recognize and Validate Your Feelings.
Before you can work through something effectively with someone else, figure out what’s going on inside of yourself. People tap into their emotions in different ways. Some sort out their thoughts best when they exercise. Other individuals talk to a trusted adviser or need to write out their thoughts to discover what is happening. Regardless of exactly what you do, move from your current physical position in some way. Switching your bodies’ state can dramatically shift your mental state.
Once you find yourself in a different place, or at least a different posture, figure out the answer to these questions. You may discover them in this order or in a different one. The order doesn’t matter, but the discovery of all four does:
What was my interpretation of what just happened? For example: Do I think this person is deliberately ignoring me or that he just forgot?
What emotions did that trigger? For example: Anger, frustration, guilt, resignation.
Who am I blaming? For example: Am I blaming myself for not doing a better job of explaining the change or for not being more firm? Am I blaming the other person for not following through?
What would be the most constructive next step? For example: Talk through the change at our next group meeting, bring it up in a one-on-one, let this slide and see what happens next time.
Step 2: Suspend Judgment.
You have a right to feel how you feel, but you don’t have a right to judge, especially before you understand the total picture. Start by validating your emotions because denying them will keep you from coming up with real solutions and cause them to pop up at inopportune times. But the second step of a mature leader involves disengaging from your emotions enough to handle the situation in an effective fashion.
Instead of stomping over to someone’s desk for a dressing-down, or mulling how to deliver the perfect managerial monologue, put the wheels in motion for the most constructive next step. Fanning the flames of self-justification may feel good in the short-term but doesn’t benefit your team in the long term.
Start with the assumption that there must be a good reason that a team member didn’t follow through on the change, and then focus your energies on figuring out the best ways to uncover those reasons.
Step 3: Ask Questions.
Before you start doling out punishments or even suggesting solutions, stop and listen to the other person explain the situation. You could ask a question like: “I noticed you haven’t been replying to your iDoneThis e-mails. Could you explain to me what happened?”
What you hear may surprise you and also calm you. For example, you may discover that long hours kept a team member busy at work until 10 p.m. so that the 6 p.m. reminder e-mail was no longer visible with a quick inbox scan. Or you may find that the reminder was being sent to a spam folder. Or you may uncover that more than a reminder e-mail is necessary to prompt action.
Employing the principle from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that you should seek first to understand and then be understood, you can now explain your side. It’s important that you state facts as facts, and interpretation as your perception. For example:
“When you didn’t reply to iDoneThis this week after I made a specific request last Friday at our staff meeting that it be updated, it made me think you weren’t respecting what I said. Now that I understand your side of the situation, let’s look at solutions.”
Step 4: Work Together on a Solution.
Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on solutions. A collaborative approach to problem-solving can benefit both sides because the person having the difficulty may not have the ability to recognize what’s causing the problem. Also, you may not know the right solution until you talk through the options. What works well for one person may not work at all for another.
The best way to navigate this discussion is to go through the list of issues and then brainstorm solutions together. For example:
Manager: It seems that you sometimes forget to check your e-mail at the end of the day. Then you don’t see the iDoneThis reminder, correct?
Team Member: Yes, that’s correct.
Manager: Could you put a pop-up reminder in your calendar or stick a note beside your door that says, “Did you remember iDoneThis?”
Team Member: I really don’t like pop-ups, and I’m not much of a paper person, but I think it could work well to have an alarm go off on my phone as a reminder.
Manager: That sounds reasonable. You know what? You can use the iDoneThis app to get a reminder and reply on your phone. Let’s plan on you setting one of those options up today.
Step 5: Define Follow-Up.
Once you’ve talked through a solution, define in writing how and when you will follow up and the acceptable minimum of results. Also, agree on consequences for lack of follow-through based on the negative impact it makes on the team.
“Everyone loses out when you don’t update us on your work. I’ll expect that you’ll update iDoneThis at least four times this week, and I’ll check in with you during our weekly one-on-one session. I’ve been using these reports as the basis for our team meetings. It’ll be embarrassing and a waste of time to have you stand up in front of everyone to update us on what you’ve been working on.”
Keep your word to follow up, congratulate progress, refine solutions, and uphold consequences until you’ve achieved consistency. In the process, stay calm.
It takes time for people to change. You can’t control others but you can dictate your emotional response to a situation.
Running a classroom and running a business have interesting parallels for what works best to cultivate intrinsic motivation, effective productivity, and successful performance. Whether we’re students or employees, we need supportive conditions to achieve know-how and expertise.
On the education front, Dr. MaryEllen Vogt has examined the effect of how teachers’ perception of their students’ aptitude influenced their classroom approach. She found that when students were perceived as high performers, teachers:
talked less and encouraged more interactions among students,
allowed for more creative and generative approaches to learning,
offered opportunities for independent work,
had warmer and more personal relationships with students, and
spent little time on behavior or classroom management issues.
When teachers saw their students as low performers, they:
prepared more structured lessons,
allowed fewer opportunities for student creativity,
covered less content,
rewarded students for “trying hard” rather than for “good thinking,”
spent a significant amount of time on behavior and management issues, and
had less congenial relationships with students due to their heavy emphasis on discipline.
So according to Dr. Vogt’s research, teachers cultivate a rich, conducive working environment for high achievers by encouraging autonomy, collaboration, creativity, and personal relationships. These same nutritious factors also translate into feeding employee engagement and productivity. Meanwhile, low-performing students have to deal with trying to learn in a setting that sounds depressingly like a miserable office space, suffering under control, compliance, and discipline, spending more time and energy on management and less on substance.
It’s striking that teaching strategy turns on how teachers view their students’ capacities. Yet, managers who neither trust their employees or believe in their abilities and potential lead in a similarly authoritarian manner, using a carrots and sticks approach that has been proven to be less effective.
How do you escape categorizing people as low-achievers and move toward a high-achieving environment? In the classroom, this involves finding the “zone of proximal development”, teaching at a level just beyond students’ current abilities. The effect of hitting a sweet spot between actual capabilities and level of potential development is that students, with the support of their teachers, rise to meet higher expectations.
In Drive, Dan Pink writes about a corresponding concept in the work world, ascribing the standout productivity and innovation of companies like thatgamecompany and Green Cargo to their employees being given “‘Goldilocks tasks’ — challenges that are not too hot and not too cold, neither overly difficult nor overly simple.”
Finding that “just right” sweet spot of challenging employees is surprisingly uncommon, given the competitive advantage it can yield. In a survey by Lee Hecht Harrison, 62% of workers said they often feel underutilized in their jobs, while 24% said that they sometimes feel underutilized. That’s 86% of people who aren’t fully engaged and whose skills aren’t being fully harnessed. In contrast, engaged employees actually find their peak experiences of learning and interestingness during the workweek rather than the weekend.
With knowledge work requiring meaningful engagement for better performance and higher job satisfaction, businesses should see all their employees as high achievers and develop their full potential.
How to Find the Managerial Sweet Spot
Here are some quick tips based on Dr. Vogt’s findings for managers to get team members to raise their hands and achieve A+ performance:
Expect more. Get your employees in the zone of proximal development by giving them tough Goldilocks tasks. It’s also important to provide the resources, responsibility, and decision-making power to meet these challenges.
Talk less. Encourage information-sharing, interaction, and collaboration. That means spending less time treating your employees like (low-achieving) schoolkids and more time being quiet and open.
Enable progress. Over 75% of employees would rather have a leader who helps them get things done than have a leader who is “inspiring.”
According to the “progress principle” discovered by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, the most powerful motivator at work is making meaningful progress. The manager’s actual job isn’t to dictate but to lead by facilitating team progress, helping get actual work done by providing support, tools, and resources.
Do no harm. Spending your employees’ time on compliance and management issues and treating them with distrust and lowered expectations gets in the way of progress. Experiencing setbacks and obstruction at work has a negative effect that is three times as powerful as the positive effect of making progress.
Get to know your team. In order to match your team to a Goldilocks zone and help them find their intrinsic motivation, you have to get to know them. Take some time to develop personal relationships that aren’t based on disciplinary or “I’m the boss”-type contexts. Learn about their skills, interests, and goals.
Being aware of how people feel about their work and whether they feel underutilized or underappreciated is also enables progress.
Do you have any management lessons from the educational realm? Do you feel like you’re underutilized and unchallenged at work? Share with us in the comments!
Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis and keeps the wheels of the iDoneThis blog turning. She is not a morning person. Follow her tweets at @lethargarian.
Her Twitter bio urges, “Have a career. Don’t turn into a pod person.” We talked with Jessica about how she managed to do just that, the benefits of quitting, productivity personalities, and the future of work.
You’ve been on this “work” beat for some years now. How did you get into business journalism and writing about work?
When I got out of grad school, I moved out to San Francisco literally because my old college roommate was there. I had no idea what I was doing, and I saw an ad for a blogging position with BNET, which eventually became CBS MoneyWatch. My friends all laughed at me because I had a background in creative writing and literature. So I had a really strong writing background, but I was completely lacking in any knowledge about business.
I really took to it. I liked the pace, the research and learning, I liked the people I was working with. When I moved to London, they offered me a freelance gig. I said, I really like the blogging that I’ve been doing, so let me see if I can turn that into a full-time gig. By then I had a network of editors I’d worked with and went from there. I stumbled around until I ended up somewhere I liked. Here I am! I like it here!
There seem to be two kinds of people — those who have this laser-beam knowledge of what they want to do and others who stumble into something they like.
Some people have a plan for life. My husband, for example, super knew what he wanted to do, and fought tooth and nail to do what he wanted. People worry about that, but for me, it’s trial and error too. You steer warm or cold until you zero in on what you want.
Speaking of career paths, younger people are having a tough time getting good jobs these days. Maybe it’s forcing people to be more entrepreneurial. Do you have any thoughts about the millennial workforce?
I was lucky to dodge the worst of the economic explosion, so I don’t want to speak too authoritatively. But just through reporting and observations — what you’re saying about entrepreneurship, I think there’s just no choice. It has become very clear that there are very few, if any, safe bets. I don’t think it’s laid out in the way it used to be. There isn’t this benevolent system that’s going to shepherd you along.
I don’t want to underplay how nasty an environment it must be to graduate into right now, but also, in some sense, it’s good that people are thinking about it. It’s a silver lining kind of good. At least people are having to make active choices to shape their own path. It leads, in the long run, for some people to a more fulfilling career than if you just stumble into a nine-to-five job that’s alright.
Your experience finding a more fulfilling career involved figuring out hot and cold and trial and error. How hard was it to switch paths?
I was a big fan of quitting. I can’t speak for everyone. People have student loan debt, people have complicated lives — there are all sorts of things that make that hard. I was lucky in that I didn’t have a lot holding me in place. If I had some ramen noodles and a couch somewhere, I was happy. That being said, I usually quit after I’d found something else or another trajectory.
It was really useful to abandon ship, not in a rude or unfair way but in a conscious way, to make choices. That’s how I got from warm or cold. You tack back and forth. Change when things are not working.
I do know people with great results of sticking it out, but they really liked the organizations and that’s the difference. If you really like the organization and the culture, then maybe it’s worth it. But if you feel like, “My god, these people are from Mars. What is going on here?”, then no.
What were the kinds of situations that just didn’t work for you?
I had some copywriting gigs where I would be on a project and someone would have to give approval or something. I knew damn well that I’d be sitting in the office googling what’s going on in “America’s Next Top Model” for four hours, twiddling my thumbs.
You email around, you ask if you can help out with anything, of course you do all of that. I was willing to put in long hours, but I just hated to sit there when I knew I didn’t have to. I had very little patience for that, and I knew I’d be miserable, so whenever I would find myself in those situations I would try to find a way to move out of it.
What about your working style? Writers have to be so disciplined about being productive. Is that a challenge for you?
I don’t struggle too much. [Whether] you like what you do — that’s sort of the x ingredient that people never admit when they talk about productivity. I like what I do, so I don’t find it super challenging. I’m pretty protective of my mornings. I write much better when I wake up than in the afternoon. What would take me an hour in the morning will take me four in the afternoon, so I try not to book things like billing, interviews, and things that could break that time up.
So, one — the fact that I’m doing what I like makes it pretty easy, and two — I have the flexibility to control my schedule, and three — I’m a bit of a control freak about getting stuff done. Some people are procrastinators by nature. It’s not my personality. I find it so stressful, I’d rather just get it done.
That must be nice. I’m a procrastinator, so sometimes there’s this big disconnect to read and even write about productivity and time management.
It sort of ends up the same place though. When I was in undergrad, I had this roommate who was pre-med, this super-smart, cool girl who just thought I was hilarious because she always waited to the last minute to do everything. She’d have these all-nighters, drinking Red Bulls and going crazy, and I was always the nerd who got the term paper and was like, “Okay! I’m going to start on November 5” and dutifully sit down.
But to be honest, I’m happy with my career, and she ended up being a surgeon, so she’s clearly made it work too. Go with your flow. I don’t know, maybe some people have a real stoner flow — but for most people, working with what you have is better than battling it. I can’t imagine battling yourself all the time.
Are there any interesting trends you’re seeing in terms of how we work?
One of the things I like to follow is this Results Only Work Environment, that trend away from inputs and facetime and more towards just caring about people’s output. Tech makes that a lot easier. You can monitor and communicate, and coordinate and collaborate, and it doesn’t have to be so regimented because the tools are just better than they used to be.
I don’t know if I’d be willing to say that people are actually going there. But I certainly hope slowly but surely people will go in that direction, towards focusing on getting things done and less towards bureaucratic structures and having this mechanistic approach to productivity. I think people are recognizing that for a lot of jobs, especially knowledge work, it’s just not like punch in at nine, punch out at five. It matters less where you are and what hours you’re doing things, and a lot more what your output is.
I hope that’s where we’re going and I do see it cropping up a lot. So fingers crossed, there will be less drab cubicles in the future!
People who feel powerful are happier, according to a recent study published in Psychological Science. Researchers found that authenticity is what connects that relationship between power and “subjective well-being”, or happiness. When you have power, your behavior can align more closely with your desires and values so that you are free to be more authentic. And when you can go about your day being more true to yourself, you feel happier.
“[B]y leading people to be true to their desires and inclinations — to be authentic — power leads individuals to experience greater happiness,” the study authors note. What’s especially interesting is that dispositional power, or your sense of power, is a strong predictor of happiness, so your perception matters.
Compared to contexts such as friendships and romantic relationships, the power-happiness connection stands out in the workplace. This makes sense, as the researchers note, since workplaces are generally based on hierarchical structures and more pronounced power dynamics. For example, powerful employees were 26% more satisfied with their work than powerless employees, while powerful friends were 11% more satisfied in their friendships than powerless friends.
If you’ve ever had a job that made you feel miserable — from sheer boredom, workplace abuse, having to stay in the office with nothing to do, or having to stay in the office with way too much to do — you are probably familiar with the feeling of powerlessness over the situation. Unfortunately, that kind of misery and disillusionment is startlingly common, with 70% of workers who were “not engaged” or even “actively disengaged” in their work, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.
That sheer amount of disconnection is distressing, not just because it results in decreased productivity but because it means that all too often in life, work is some kind of dementor, draining people of their happiness and souls.
Understanding the relationship between power, authenticity, and happiness — which dovetails with self-determination theory and how autonomy is a necessary ingredient for intrinsic motivation — can help transform how we approach work.
This burden mostly falls to the people with all the power to transform things in the first place. If you’re a leader, you may have to consider how you wield all that power in order to increase happiness among your team and see this as part of your job. Although the study shows how power is key to authentic self-fulfillment, many leaders, new and experienced, may not feel all that authentic or comfortable about how to wield it.
When you’re in charge of a team, and you have the authority to hire and fire people – and the responsibility to keep the team functioning at high capacity, and meet payroll – you do have power, and you’re not doing anybody any favours by pretending you don’t. … Acknowledge that power, center yourself in it, find your own way to exercise it appropriately, and things will get a whole lot more comfortable.
Making peace with your power involves “gaining enough confidence in your own leadership to encourage leadership and autonomy among those who work with (and for) you.” So, wielding power with purpose means realizing that your employees are neither your work zombies or buddies, that you’re the one holding most of the keys to unlocking their power, happiness, and yes, productivity.
For those of you who feel powerless at work, it’s a tough battle. Brainstorm some ways you can gain a sense of control and autonomy. Ask if you can be in charge of a minor project, lead some presentations, or start a new initiative. Round up some research on productivity to argue for a more flexible schedule. Go over and around supervisors and bosses who are overbearing or dismissive to someone (with power) who will listen to how you feel and what you want to do.
If you’re planning on sticking around, fight for your small corner by finding a path toward authenticity, autonomy, and power, and fulfillment. To thine own self, be a little truer.
“Strangely enough, doubt need not impede action. If you really become friends with your doubt, you can go ahead and take risks, knowing you will be questioning yourself at every turn, no matter what. It is part of living, a healthy evolutionary adaptation, I would imagine. The mistake is in trying to tune out your doubts. Accept them as a necessary (or at least unavoidable) soundtrack.”—Philip Lopate, in the NYT’s Opinionator blog’s “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt”.
How Luc Levesque Leads TravelPod & TripAdvisor to Focus on Being the Best
Transparent communication is a theme running through Luc Levesque’s career, from his 1997 founding of Travelpod, the first travel blogging website where people could share their adventures, to his current practice of handing new employees a boss blueprint. Luc is currently a General Manager at TripAdvisor, responsible for its global SEO efforts and TravelPod’s business unit. We talked with Luc about how he communicates with his team and how frequent feedback is vital to great performance.
Though his team is distributed in Boston and Calgary, Luc heard about iDoneThis from his friend Tobi Lütke, co-founder of Shopify, right across the street in Ottawa. “iDoneThis certainly helps with the fact that we’re remote. Getting those updates daily, I can quickly scan through and see what’s going on day-to-day,” describes Luc. “What I really like is that it avoids the inevitable ‘hey, what are you working on?’ and having to go by everyone’s desk constantly. Actually, with remote teams I can’t do that, but I don’t feel like I need to because I just see their work.”
The ease of using iDoneThis is key for Luc and his employees. “Being able to click reply on the email and send off a few bullet points is the most important part.” He adds, “The other value is in the self-reflective nature of it, that you’re sitting back and thinking, ‘okay, what did I do today, and did it drive towards our goals?’ It’s a really nice piece of the way we do things, and I would definitely recommend it to others.”
Even with transparency as a priority, iDoneThis gives Luc a new communication channel, allowing information to permeate effortlessly. “If I want to share something with the team,” he explains, “and it’s not really worth an email or phone call or a meeting, I can put it in my update so that they can passively absorb what’s going on and be closer in tune with some of the changes that happen quite often.”
Keeping in touch using iDoneThis suits Luc’s management style of facilitating progress while giving his team breathing room to operate. “I frankly give people more freedom in terms of not having to talk to me everyday,” he says. “They can run their things and execute towards their goals. If I see there’s something that’s not being worked on, we can sync up better.”
Recently Luc instituted a new feedback process, an informal but structured monthly review that folds into TripAdvisor’s formal mid-year and yearly reviews. Every month, Luc sits down with individuals to go over goals they have shared in a Google document. “iDoneThis fits in well, where we have it as the daily touch-base. The monthly is the rollup, and that rolls up into the midyear and the end-of-year. It’s a nice progression [and] then the midyear and end-of-year are extremely easy because they have basically already been written.”
The monthly review idea was something that Luc’s business coach had been suggesting for years, but as with any habit change or new management process, required some thought and impetus to implement. After chatting with an employee who was disappointed after his mid-year because he felt he hadn’t been able to capture all his achievements, Luc decided to try monthly reviews to help people track their work better. “It gives people the opportunity to capture specific things they did against their goals,” he explains, including amazing accomplishments that people forget to record.
Monthly check-ins also take the anxiety and ceremony out of formal reviews. It’s easier to give more frequent feedback and have real conversations, especially about things that didn’t go well, without the fuss and drama. “I don’t ever want to run a team differently ever again because it’s what we should be doing as leaders anyways,” Luc declares.
“We should be talking on a regular basis with teams, but we’re busy. But when you have that monthly, and it’s structured, you’re literally walking through the goals. It forces you through the process, and it’s very lightweight. Sometimes it’ll take five, ten minutes. It’s not a ‘hey, how you doing?’ random chat. It’s focused on being the best.”
Luc’s team has consistently garnered the highest ratings within Expedia and TripAdvisor. We’re so excited to be helping Luc and his team continue to focus on being the best!