Does work / life feel like too much right now?

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

When is the last time you experienced being at work (or generally in life) like sitting on a swing by the ocean? Picture an experience of pure joy, lightness, ease and fun? Chances are that these are not the adjectives that come to your mind when you think of work (and given our experience of the past two years living with Covid, for many of us, this is also not what comes to mind in general in life). But does it have to be that way?

How might we structure a bit more of that feeling of joy and fun into our experiences, and especially into our experiences working with our teams? And what might this do to change the way we show up at work (and generally in all of our interactions in life)?

I’ve been talking to many people in all kinds of jobs over the course of the past six months, listening to their stories, watching the world around me and observing how people show up around me in all kinds of interactions (work calls, encounters at the coffee shop, in the train, at the airport, at the supermarket, etc…).

This pandemic has changed us. It made us more anxious, exposed us to a lot more constant uncertainty, isolated us from our preferred levels – and modes – of social interactions, forced us to take up habits we dislike (like wearing masks in public, constantly showing our vaccination status, repeatedly testing our Covid status, researching Covid regulations that may mean our restaurants, museums, concert venues, etc… are closed) and basically put a lot of stressors and reasons for grief into our lives for an extended period of time. None of us are particular fans of this new normal we’re living with.

So naturally – and especially as a leader who is aware of the effects of emotional contagion – I got curious what level of agency I might have in shaping my own emotional experience. I asked myself what I might be abe to do, to put myself in a place that I can be a source of joy, calm and happiness for the people around me in my teams. It’s one of those little pieces in the puzzle of how teams have better levels of cohesiveness, morale, rapport and ultimately performance. But it also means a whole lot more joy for me in my life.

So in times of high uncertainty, high levels of stress, relatively low levels of positive real life social interactions, how might I be able to create these pockets of time in my day to simply find that experience akin to sitting on a swing by the ocean, watching the sunset and enjoying life.

There are actually a few really simple things I can do:

  • Sleep enough (making sure that I get enough and regular amounts of sleep)
  • Take breaks (and allowing myself to do nothing)
  • Make time for things I truly enjoy (like listening to my favorite podcasts, going for walks with a good friend, dancing in my living room, cooking my favorite meal)
  • Figure out what matters to me (think about my values) and intentionally start acting more in line with them
  • Making it a point to regularly speak with close friends (think of the five people in your life you care about the most and simply pick up the phone and give one of them a call!)
  • Taking time for a gratitude habit (e.g. making it a point to write down – or say out loud – one to three small things you are grateful for every day before you go to bed)
  • Allowing myself to be imperfect and notice and normalize (aka speak about, either with a trusted person, or by journaling) my current emotional state. Simply taking time to reflect, recognize, name and reframe where I am at. Ideally at least once per day. You can even set yourself a timer that prompts you to do this at a specific hour of the day.

Our emotional state is the sum of all our emotional experiences in a day. And while it is impossible to not feel angry, or stressed, or anxious, or disappointed, or grieving, or any of the other emotions we may not particularly like, we can simply see them for what they are, allow them to be, and then find ways to add the emotions we like better to our day as well.

There are simple joys we can create for ourselves. Over time this has a huge impact on how we experience life. And don’t we all want to have more of those happy, light, joyful moments in our lives? We can all start by making them happen for ourselves. We can treat ourselves to something that even for a brief moment does deliver that sense of joy to us, that is so much fun to have. We all deserve that! And then we can go ahead, and spread that joy to our teams! After all, who does not want to enjoy themselves while working?

Simple things teams can do are:

  • Two word emotional checkins at the beginning of meetings (this normalizes, names and processes emotions)
  • Stating what each one of you is grateful for
  • Asking for help and offering help (it will increase gratitude and foster collaboration); as a Leader you can both model that as well as reward/praise when somebody asks for help or offers help
  • Taking breaks (e.g. making it a habit to schedule meetings for 25min / 50 min rather than 30 min or full hours)
  • Regularly watching and prioritizing the workload in the team to avoid doing too many things at the same time
  • Intentionally building fun moments and light social interactions into your days (celebrate birthdays, schedule that random coffee chat – give people conversation prompts if they need them -, play a silly game with each other that makes everyone laugh, encourage peers to recognize their team members publicly, celebrate successes, celebrate failures that resulted in a learning, celebrate any act of generosity, kindness, support and care)

We as the humans in each team create the emotional experience in our team by our interactions every single day. We as leaders tend to have a proportionally greater influence on the system than other team members. Both in positive and negative ways. So if you need any justification for treating yourself to something nice, think about how this influences how you can show up at work and in general in life. Your own life will be so much nicer as a result!

Let’s have more of those moments that feel like happily, joyfully sitting on a swing in each of our days! It may just make life in general feel like a lighter, happier, less stressful experience for all of us; individually as well as with all the people around us. We can’t take all the stressors away, but we can put the joy in our days intentionally.

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