The light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off due to budget cuts. – Unknown
Many of us strive at our jobs, hoping to get to the light at the end of the tunnel where we achieve the pinnacle of our career, do the type of work we want, and retire. We don’t always feel we achieved what we wanted that day, and some days–crunching budget numbers, attending meetings, catching up on emails after vacation (if you didn’t take your work with you anyway), or interviewing for a job that is intended to just get you by–defy our notion of productivity, creativity, and happiness. However, you can feel more productive, creative, and happy wherever you are in your life right now.
When’s the last time you had a true vacation where you left all your work at the office, including emails? Ferris Jabr in “Give Me a Break” of Scientific American Mind, writes,
To maximize the benefits of breaks we need to fully disengage from our jobs—physically and mentally … Charlotte Fritz, an organizational psychologist …, “The benefits include lower exhaustion, higher positive mood, better sleep and better quality of life.” (47)
Don’t have the time for a vacation? Work is overwhelming or you need to find a job? Consider smaller breaks to sharpen your wits. Jabr continues,
A preponderance of evidence now confirms that downtime of all kinds—whether it be a meditation session, lunchtime stroll through the park or weeklong vacation—is crucial for productivity and overall health. When we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not slow or stop. Rather … many mental processes require periods of waking rest during the day. Downtime restores attention and motivation, fosters creativity, improves work efficiency, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply make it through the day. (48)
Jabr goes on to report on a study conducted in 2011 with 34 marines, “Just 12 minutes daily mindfulness meditation helped to prevent the stress of military service from corroding [their] working memory” (49). If you have a hard time stopping to meditate, consider loading your phone with one or more of dozens of apps that guide you in a variety of meditations for a variety of amounts of time. I find the apps Meditation and Breathe helpful. Jabr reports, “Researchers examining the benefits of mindfulness [one way of meditating] have gathered enough evidence to conclude that meditation can improve mental health, hone concentration, and strengthen memory” (49).
Perhaps you aren’t comfortable meditating or just can’t find a rhythm in meditating to help you at work. Did you know that just walking improves creativity?
More than 60,000 people participated in a study published in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition that showed “100% of those who walked outside generated at least one novel high-quality analogy compared with 50% of those seated inside” (Oppezzo, et. al.). Furthermore, creativity improved to that extent whether you walked on a park trail or on a gym treadmill. Creativity from a walk is residual so you can walk and think afterwards. Having a bad day or excited, the study showed it doesn’t matter if you walk to blow off steam or to sing like a lark since mood doesn’t affect creativity. (Oppezzo, et. al.)
What about when people depend on you to stick around and collaborate on the proposal your new client accepted? Lex “Sandy” Pentland, writing “Betting on People Power” also of Scientific American Mind has a few ways to work more effectively,
The most successful teams were those that were able to optimize communication within the group. If every team member was engaged and making many contributions, then the group was very likely to be successful. This also meant that members of racial and cultural minority groups, whose ideas and experience may be different from the majority, had the opportunity to contribute and be heard. (34)
Pentland goes on to encourage face-to-face communications even if via videoconferencing, because you pick up on non-verbal cues that help communication along. Pentland encourages socializing among your colleagues to “develop a group identity” because “it boosts productivity and resilience to help get them through tough times” (36).
Innovation happens when you bring diverse people together to bounce ideas off one another. ~Pentland
You may not have the perfect job or perfect task for the day or even the perfect mood, but, perhaps, the light at the end of the tunnel is just around the corner, and you find creativity and satisfaction in just listening to a diversity of voices, going for a walk, or taking a breath.
Oppezzo, Marily, and Daniel L. Schwartz. “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect Of Walking On Creative Thinking.” Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition 40(4), 2014: 1142-1152. Academic Search Complete.
Scientific American Mind. Sept/Oct 2016, pp 31-49.
“Betting on People Power” Lex “Sandy” Pentland. pp 32-37.
“Give Me a Break.” Ferris Jabr. pp 44-49.