“Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or doing it better.” ~ John Updike
I love this quote. If you’re anything like me, at some point in your career you’ve had a job that didn’t exactly feed your creative soul. And even in the best of jobs, there are always tasks that feel tiresome and draining.
So what do we do? Do we struggle against it? Always looking for a better gig or a quicker shortcut, essentially living in a state of permanent dissatisfaction?
Or do we embrace it? Shift our focus to the beauty in the details and see the opportunity for presence and mindfulness?
Not to get all new-agey or anything, but I do think there’s something to this idea.
Let me know what you think.
P.S. I haven’t read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance since high school, but thinking about this post has made me want to dig out my old copy.
(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)
I have two friends who are struggling in their professional lives. One loves his job. One hates her job. But both are feeling much the same: overwhelmed and burned-out. They can’t seem to get on top of everything they need to do and they’re starting to feel that work is controlling their lives. Perhaps you’re familiar with this feeling?
Here’s the advice I pulled together for both of my friends:
Keep work in its place. Are you on your laptop right up until the time you go to bed? Do you use your iPhone to check email before you get out of bed in the morning? Stop that. Now. I know, you need to do some work at home. Most people do. But give yourself some time to wind-down and turn off your work brain before climbing into bed. It will help you sleep better and be more relaxed. And yes, I know that occasionally you catch an issue before it escalates by checking email first thing in the morning. But I’m willing to bet that most days everything can, and will, wait until you get to the office. Buy an alarm clock so you can leave your phone outside your bedroom. And buy a watch so you won’t be tempted to check-in every time you check the time.
Make lists. Having a targeted task list is key to feeling in control of your work load. Most productivity advice recommends keeping your list short- say 5 or 6 of the most important things you need to accomplish. Adam Wik from Road to Epic lays out a brilliant strategy for beating apprehension and indecision (the twin demons of procrastination). Read his post, then start taking time at the end of the day to prep your to-do list for the following day. Then spend another 5 minutes listing the things you are grateful for. Okay, I just heard you groan. I know, I know. But trust me, whether you love or hate your job, noting the many good things in your life will make work problems seem smaller and more manageable. And, although it doesn’t always seem like it, time passes swiftly, my friends. Keeping a gratitude journal will help you mark that passing and remember who you were at this point in time.
Practice mindfulness. Being overwhelmed at work can make you feel out of control in all the other areas of your life as well. Take time to center yourself and reclaim your sense of calm. If a daily guided meditation isn’t your thing, maybe it’s a walk through the woods or listening to Coltrane in the dark. But as Britt Reints beautifully points out, “the world spins no matter what we do”. All we can truly control is how we respond to it. And everything works better when we respond from a place of calm.
How about you? What advice would you give to a friend struggling with job burn-out?
(Photo by Robert Bieber via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)