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Finding Meaning at Work

This post is from a series about how we choose to spend our time in my online course, Science of Finding Flow. Read the rest here.

Social psychologists define meaning, as it applies to our lives, as “an intellectual and emotional assessment of the degree to which we feel our lives have purpose, value and impact.” In a stunning series of studies, Adam Grant proved that briefly showing people how their work helps others increases not only how happy people are on the job but also how much they work and accomplish.

Grant’s most famous series of studies were conducted at a call center with paid fundraisers tasked with phoning potential donors to a public university. As anyone who’s ever made cold calls knows, work in a call center isn’t easy. People receiving calls are often annoyed and can be downright rude. Employees must endure frequent rejection on the phone and low morale at the office—all in exchange for relatively low pay. Not surprisingly, call center jobs often have a high staff turnover rate.

In an effort to see if he could motivate call center fundraisers to stay on the job longer, Grant brought in a few scholarship students (who presumably had benefited from the fundraisers’ work) for a five-minute meeting where callers could ask them questions about their classes and experience at the university. In the next month, that quick conversation yielded unbelievable results. Callers who had met the scholarship students spent twice as long on the phone as the fundraisers who had not met any students. They accomplished far more, bringing in an average of 171 percent more money.

In another study, Grant found that having fundraisers read an account from scholarship students about how they had been helped by the fundraisers’ work significantly increased the amount of money they raised. But reading an account from a previous fundraiser about how the callers themselves benefited from their work as a fundraiser did not. The difference? A shift in the callers’ beliefs about the social meaning of their work, and an increased sense of their purpose, value, and impact.

Helping others

These studies are remarkably counterintuitive. We assume that Westerners are best motivated on the job by our own interests— money, prestige, what’s in it for us, what we’ll get, not what we give. But actually, these studies show clearly that we humans are best motivated by our significance to other people. We’ll work harder and longer and better—and feel happier about the work we are doing— when we know that someone else is benefiting from our efforts. It turns out that one sure path to finding your flow–to both ease and strength–is to find the social meaning in your daily activities.

As leadership and management professor Satinder Dhiman writes in Seven Habits of Highly Fulfilled People, “Success is about getting; significance is about giving: we make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” In the end, finding our flow is about finding meaning—our purpose, value, and impact—in what we do.


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

Chase Meaning, Not Happiness

These days, a lot of people don’t feel totally in control of their choices and their priorities, especially at work. But you do always have the freedom to choose your beliefs about what will make your life worth living.

As Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning upon returning from a brutal concentration camp, where he lost his whole family, including his pregnant wife:

Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

What did Frankl mean by this? He meant that every day–whether we are in a concentration camp or not–we have important choices to make about whether to submit internally to the powerful forces around us; the forces that will rob us of our essential selves if given the chance. To Frankl, it was what prisoners chose to believe and the way that they pursued meaning that gave them the will and strength to endure.

The same can be said of us, living our privileged lives, although the forces that threaten to rob us of our freedoms are obviously much more benign.

Usually, we think we are choosing to pursue happiness, claiming it as our inalienable right. But mountains of research demonstrate that we humans do better pursuing fulfillment and meaning than we do by pursuing happiness.

Frankl was right on many fronts. It turns out that our happiness, success, and productivity at work are dramatically affected by our beliefs about how our work benefits others.


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

The Problem with Pursuing Pleasure

This video is from a series about how we choose to spend our time in my online course, Science of Finding Flow. Read the rest here.

“Compelling research indicates that the pursuit of happiness—at least by modern definitions, with our emphasis on pleasure and gratification—won’t ultimately bring us ease and it most certainly won’t bring us strength.”

Join the Discussion

What about you? Do you equate happiness with objects and experiences? When you find your flow, what is it you want to be doing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

Two Powerful Things to Say to Kids

“The only thing you can control is your own effort.”
–Theodora van den Beld

This video is the 1st in a series about fostering academic success from The Raising Happiness Homestudy. Watch the rest of the videos here.


Three Ways to Create a Growth Mindset

(1) Use growth-mindset praise. First, identify where you are most fixed-mindset in praising your children. Is it during athletics? When they bring home grades? For me, it was when my kids brought home art projects. Identify a specific situation: this will be your action trigger.

Second, decide what you will say the next time you praise your kids that is growth-mindset. The key is to focus on the process rather than the end-result.

(2) Ask process questionsWho taught you how to do that? Did you use a different strategy this time? With younger kids, just asking them very simple things (Who did you sit by when you did that? What type of material did you use?) can be enough to provoke a process-oriented conversation.

(3) Identify where your KIDS are most fixed-mindset. Do your kids have fixed-mindset ideas about one area of themselves? Help them identify where the fixed-mindset is hamstringing them, and help them outline a practice strategy. Think of my belief that I couldn’t carry a tune, and how that almost prevented me from auditioning for the high school musical.

 

Related Video: How to Praise Children

Join the Discussion

  • Where are you most fixed-mindset? What sort of change have you scripted?
  • Where have you been successful at fostering a growth-mindset?

Your reflections and suggestions (comment below this posting) will inspire others to make similar changes, so don’t hesitate to “brag” about your successes. By the same token, if you are struggling, tell us about it! Others will certainly have suggestions for you.

audio_icon-100x100

If you would like to download the audio version of this video to listen to in your car or on the go, click the link below. DOWNLOAD THE AUDIO VERSION HERE.

 


This post is taken from “The Raising Happiness Homestudy,” an online course I created as a companion to my book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. I’m sharing one “class” from this online course per week here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this Raising Happiness Homestudy tag. Enjoy!

Putting Science of Success Into Action

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.”
–Benjamin Barber

This video is the 2nd in a series about fostering academic success from The Raising Happiness Homestudy. Watch the rest of the videos here.

(1) Deconstruct success. When your children—or anyone!—succeeds, find out about the effort that went into their achievement. What led to their success? (Was it an extra practice? A new strategy? A good coach?) This is particularly effective in creating a growth mindset when we see celebrities that seem to be “instant” successes, and we encourage kids to do a little research into what led to their successes. What failures did they overcome, and how?

(2) Practice “innate talents.” Encourage kids to practice things that they assume are personality traits or innate talents, such as being a good friend, a good artist, or being kind or grateful. When we practice anything deliberately and consistently—even if we start off terrible—we tend to improve rapidly. This is a powerful lesson for kids to learn!

(3) Keep practicing using growth-mindset praise with your children (and everyone around you). If you’ve gotten the hang of it in the first area that you scripted last week, think about another situation in which you typically embody a fixed-mindset. (This will be your action trigger.) Then, script the change: what will you say instead that is growth-mindset?

Further Reading: Chapter 1, Raising Happiness, pp. 50-55.

audio_icon-100x100If you would like to download the audio version of this video to listen to in your car or on the go, click the link below.
DOWNLOAD AUDIO HERE.


This post is taken from “The Raising Happiness Homestudy,” an online course I created as a companion to my book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. I’m sharing one “class” from this online course per week here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this Raising Happiness Homestudy tag. Enjoy!

Flow Class: What is Productivity, Really?

This excerpt is from a series about the ideal worker archetype in my online course, Science of Finding Flow.

To me, productivity is the ability to produce or create something of value and meaning for yourself and others. 

As such, productivity as a “knowledge worker” is not just dependent on the time we have to work–it is also dependent on our energy and motivation, our ability to focus, our creativity and insight, and our raw intellectual power. Productivity is not just about how efficient you are or about how many emails you answer. It’s about how much you accomplish that is meaningful. It is how our work is valued in today’s economy.

This course is going to help you better manage your time, of course. But more importantly, it is also going to teach you how to manage your energy, attention and intelligence.

This link will take you to the rest of class. See you over there!


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

What is Productivity, Really?

This post is from a series about the ideal worker archetype in my online course, Science of Finding Flow. Read the rest here.

To me, productivity is the ability to produce or create something of value and meaning for yourself and others. 

As such, productivity as a “knowledge worker” is not just dependent on the time we have to work–it is also dependent on our energy and motivation, our ability to focus, our creativity and insight, and our raw intellectual power. According to Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project,

Productivity is what makes the difference between someone who runs a company and the employees who work for her. It is also the difference between having no time or energy left at the end of the day and having a ton of time and energy left over to invest however you want.

Productivity is not just about how efficient you are or about how many emails you answer. It’s about how much you accomplish that is meaningful. It is how our work is valued in today’s economy. Bailey explains:

When we transitioned into the time economy, we began to trade our time for a paycheck. But as we have transitioned into the knowledge economy, we’ve begun to trade so much more than just our time. Most people who work nonfactory jobs trade some combination of their time, attention, energy, skills, knowledge, social intelligence, network, and ultimately their productivity, for a paycheck.

Today, time is no longer money. Productivity is money.

What we accomplish—as well as the speed and quality of our work—is no longer just dependent on how much time we have; we have more time than ever to work. At risk of being repetitive here, let me emphasize that time is not the critical factor anymore. Your ability to focus and innovate, as well as the wisdom, insight, and energy you bring to your work are far more important.

This course is going to help you better manage your time, of course. But more importantly, it is also going to teach you how to manage your energy, attention and intelligence.


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

how-and-why-to-go-on-a-real-vacation-christine-carter

How — and Why — to Go on a REAL Vacation

Nearly 40 percent of US employees feel like they have too much work to take a vacation. But research suggests you’ll be happier, healthier, and more productive if you do.

Last year, I was invited by KJ Dell’Antonia of The New York Times to coach Julie, a partner at a law firm who was feeling overwhelmed and inefficient at work. Julie planned to leave for a family vacation right after we spoke, and she worried that she was going to forget everything she learned about finding more ease and efficiency at work by the time she got back from vacation.

But I saw an excellent opportunity: Julie could use her vacation as a way to increase her enjoyment and productivity after she returned to work.

How? For starters, we know that vacationing can increase happiness and lower depression and stress. Productivity increases at work both before and after a vacation. And vacationing can also increase creativity and improve health. (Did you know that men who don’t take vacations are 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack? And that women who rarely vacation are an astounding 50 percent more likely to have a heart attack; they are also much more likely to suffer from depression.)

Maybe you can’t afford not to take a vacation this year.

There are some caveats, however: Happiness only increases when a vacation is relaxing. So how can we actually relax on our vacations?

First, plan a true vacation — one where you do not do any work. None. Zip. Nada. No work.

This might be blazingly obvious, but not working is a critical aspect of actually taking time off. So don’t do what Julie was planning to do, which was to hide that she was out of the office from some of her clients. She could easily do this by checking and responding to email throughout the day from her vacation. While you might be able to work from your vacation, you won’t reap the many benefits of a vacation if you do so.

So see if you can find a vacation partner, someone who will cover for you at work should an urgent situation arise. (A reciprocal relationship is ideal: They handle your work while you are gone, then you do the same when they take their vacation.)

Then tell your team at work your plan: You are going on vacation. You will be totally unplugged from work. You will not be checking in, or checking email. But you’ve planned well: In case of emergency, they can contact your colleague, who will either handle the situation or, as a last resort, get in touch with you.

Don’t forget to do this for any unpaid jobs you might have as well. If the kids’ swim team counts on you to organize volunteers, make sure you’ve handed this duty off to someone while you’re gone. I’ve found that having someone handle things on my behalf while I’m gone enables me and the people I work with to relax a little more.

Second, remember that all vacations are not created equally.

It is possible (as you probably know from experience, especially if you have kids) to return from vacation more exhausted than when you left. Research indicates that having pleasurable and relaxing experiences on your vacation, along with savoring those experiences, are important for remaining happier after a vacation for a longer period of time.

Again, this is totally obvious, but not all vacations are relaxing. The lure of adventure or philanthropic travel for novelty-seeking people like me is great. We pack our vacations with nonstop action when what we really need is time at the pool to nap. Here, from my desk, it seems so much more fun to travel to multiple areas in a new country rather than just see one beach. Our more more more culture leads us to believe that more will definitely be better–more activities, more destinations, more sights to be seen.

Plan a true vacation -- one where you do not do any work. None. Zip. Nada. No work. Click To Tweet

Before you pack your vacation with a lot of stuff that will actually leave you needing a vacation from your vacation, schedule yourself some downtime. Will you be able to get eight hours of sleep each night? (And if you accumulated a sleep debt before you left, will you have time to nap as well?)

Is there some aspect of the travel likely to cause you so much anxiety that you’ll be better off skipping it? Will you have time to truly savor the pleasurable aspects of your time away? Eliminate all preventable stress and time pressure from your schedule before you leave, and don’t let people tell you what you “should” do, or “have to” do while visiting a place that they love. Instead, ask yourself what you need most out of your vacation. Plan from there.

Finally, plan your re-entry.

What do you need to do so that your first day back is joyful rather than hectic? Here are a few things that work for me:

  • I have a “no hellish travel” rule — no overnight or complicated flights home that will leave me sleep-deprived and wiped out.
  • I dedicate the first day I’m back at work to just playing catch up — I don’t actually try to accomplish anything other than get through my email, return phone calls, go grocery shopping, and get my laundry done and put away. If I’m traveling home from a different time zone, I come back a day early to allow myself to adjust. (It is tempting max-out vacation time by staying away as long as possible, so I often need to remind myself that my goal is to come back rested and rejuvenated.)
  • I think of the email that comes in while I’m on vacation similar to the snail mail that comes to my house — someone needs to pick it up and sort it while I’m gone. (When I didn’t have an assistant to help me with email, I paid a high school aged neighbor $10 a day to do this for me; she loved the job and it was easy to get her set up.) I create special folders before I leave, and I have someone sort new incoming email into them once a day, deleting promotions and sending personal “vacation responses” where necessary.

My first day back, my inbox is — get this — empty. The emails I need to respond to first are nicely prioritized into a folder. This system isn’t perfect, of course, but it is much better than returning to 1,000 unread messages.

Join the Discussion

This summer, will you be taking a vacation? Will any aspects of it be difficult? If so, which ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

A Family Guide for Surviving the Summer

While not all of summer is destined to feel like a day at the beach, setting routines and expectations for the season can make it more manageable and enjoyable for the whole family.

I don’t know about you, but I fantasize all year about the leisure that summer will bring. And then summer arrives, and instead of cocktails at sunset and naps at noon, I find that the potential for chaos has skyrocketed.

So over the years, as I’ve sought to make my summers less chaotic and more joyful, I’ve developed a three-step guide for setting my family up for success. I hope you will find it helpful!

1. Create new routines for summer.

The familiar routines of the school year will not survive even the first day of summer, like it or not, even if our adult work schedules don’t change in the least. But we human beings need routines and habits, or we get stressed. Researchers believe that the brains in both humans and animals evolved to feel calmed by repetitive behavior, and that our daily rituals and habits are a primary way to manage stress. The fast-paced world we live in can feel quite unpredictable, but our daily rituals can help us feel more in control, often without us ever realizing it.

Before the summer gets away from us, we need to spell out the new structure of the season. Click To Tweet

So before the summer gets away from us, we need to spell out the new structure of the season. For starters, this means redefining bedtimes and mealtimes, which all get moved later in our household. I change my exercise routine to maximize the time I spend outside and my morning routine, because I have more time to meditate.

The summer is prime time for more digital detox. We don’t relax tech rules for our kids over the summer, we step them up. If we don’t designate device- and social media-free time for all family members, I’ve found my kids walk around in a screen-stoned stupor. Even a few minutes on social media and they suddenly find it impossible to do anything productive, creative or truly restful. And we parents also easily get sucked into compulsively checking our devices while we are trying to “work” from the beach, playground or camp pick up.

To counter the siren song of our phones, we designate specific times and places we’ll spend without devices each day (always dinnertime, and, for the kids, throughout most of the day as well); each week (we try to have technology-free Sundays); and each month (we do a full digital detox when we are on vacation together).

The key, I’ve found, is to actually spell out the new routines and expectations for kids.

2. Create a family calendar.

Maybe this is utterly obvious, but everything is calmer if things feel predictable. We have four kids with four different camp and summer schedules, so it’s helpful for everyone to be able to track everyone else’s whereabouts. Instead of relying on our complicated online calendar – which I love and couldn’t live without, but I am the only one in our family who looks at it consistently – one of my teenage daughters created an adorable top-level calendar in a Google spreadsheet that we print out and tape to the refrigerator. We also have the summer chore rotation on this printout. This calendar has all family events, such as birthdays and vacations, everyone’s camp schedules, major events like tournaments and my work travel schedule.

3. Raise expectations regarding chores and responsibilities.

Kids have more time on their hands over the summer, which means that they have more time to help out around the house.

We don’t tie their allowance to their regular household responsibilities or weekly chores, and we don’t pay them extra over the summer when they are doing more to help out. We know this is controversial; most parents want kids to understand that in the real world, they only get paid when they work. But in households, this just isn’t true: Parents don’t get paid for the household chores they do.

We’ve had to spell this out for our kids, repeatedly. The lawn needs mowing more often in the summer, and Dad doesn’t get paid a dime to do it. This week, in addition to my paid work, I’ll take all the kids to their annual exams at the doctor’s office; I’ll help them label all their clothes for camp; I’ll purchase and wrap a lot of graduation gifts. I’m not getting paid to do any of these things, even if I don’t feel like doing them. And that’s OK. We don’t need to love every single thing we do every single minute of every day, so long as we can see the bigger picture – the bigger reward. Being in a big, stable, high functioning family is awesome. And it requires a lot of work. Families are built on mutual obligations – the ways that we help and nurture each other – not paid work.

Kids are happier and more confident when they feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves. Giving them real responsibilities around the house fuels an intrinsic sense of place and belonging. Research shows that kids who do unpaid chores are happier and have a higher sense of self-worth. But when we pay kids to play a role in the family, we unwittingly kill their intrinsic motivation by providing a flashy external motivator: money. They often start to see themselves more like household employees – and quit their “jobs” when their allowance is no longer enough to motivate them.

Our summer routines, calendars peppered with vacation days, and the increased help around the house (for those of us with kids older than 8 or 9) can mean that there actually is more time for leisure and rest this summer. Perhaps tonight I’ll meet my husband for a sunset cocktail while one kid preps dinner and another mows the lawn. Cheers to making this the best summer yet!

Originally posted on US News & World Report, June 2017