freedom 2

Do you feel sometimes feel like you are a to-do list slave? I certainly do. Of course all of us are busy people, and we need some sort of time management system to make sure we get stuff done, but to -lists can encourage a rather robotic, unthinking mentality. Stuck in this mind set, we’re not taking on fresh ideas or approaches or meeting new people all of which might give us a step change in our performance.

I’m trying to overcome this problem by taking micro work-related sabbaticals. They are a few hours of my work week, where I put the to-list to one-side, grind up some of my favourite coffee beans, put some good music on and just “play” in a work-related way. The time has no specific objective other than it needs to be loosely work-related and enjoyable. I might watch a TED talk I’ve been meaning to see. Or read a chapter of that book on artificial intelligence. I could catch up with my LinkedIn connections. Or have a play with a new software tool.

I’ve found these “sabbaticals” very useful. For one it makes my working week more enjoyable. I’ve always had a strong belief that because we spend so much of our lives working, at least some of that time needs to be fun. I find as well it puts me into a different mental state; a more creative state, where I can see beyond my immediate work concerns and look further afield to the good places I would like to go. And lastly it helps to lower my stress and drink some good coffee!

So why not give it a try? Free yourself from the yoke of your time management system at least for a few hours each month and see where it might take you.

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Mastering your emotions is a key skill in any workplace. Emotions like anger or frustration can drive you to inappropriate actions and behaviour. Negative emotions can interfere with your performance, furring your thinking, decreasing your energy and creating stress. Understanding both your own and other people’s emotions help you to build strong business relationships.

In her recent book, How Emotions are Made, psychologist Dr Lisa Feldman Barrett explains the latest research on neuroscience and how we can use it to master our emotions. She shows that we all create emotional concepts in our heads. So my version of “happy” might be quite different to your version of “happy.” All humans across the planet feel differently when they decide to be “happy”. In fact there may be humans from some cultures who don’t even know the concept of “happy.”

The brain doesn’t come hardwired with these emotional concepts. We construct them over the years. When faced with a situation we decide which of our emotional concepts to use and this drives how the brain will decide to prepare our body for that situation. Will it need to increase our heart rate, increase blood pressure or alternatively send us to sleep! Given what the brain does to our body we will “feel” something and start to behave in certain ways.
Using this knowledge, how do we get better at mastering our emotions? Dr Barrett describes studies that show that spending just twenty minutes per week improving your knowledge and use of emotional words can have a dramatic effect on your performance. The more words I have, the more emotional concepts I can create. If I have only one emotional concept to cover difficult situations in work called “stressed”, then my brain has only one action plan. But if I realise that in some stressful situations I might be better to use the emotional concept “discouraged” in others I could use “trepidatious’” and in others I could use the concept “excited” I now have three action plans that I can start to use in a far more tailored way that “stressed.”

Dr Barrett recommends looking at other languages to find concepts that aren’t described in your own. For example there is really no English equivalent for the Dutch word “gezellig” which means togetherness. Or if you can’t find a word make one up or use a silly word. For example, when I’m feeling overloaded with work, I used to describe this as “stress”, but using Barrett’s technique I now have invented a new term “work collywobbles”! Firstly it’s a ridiculous term which is hard to take serious, which makes me feel better right away and secondly I’m starting to construct a more appropriate reaction to it than to “stress.”

There is far more to Dr Barrett’s book than I – as a non-scientist – can do justice to in this brief article. Take a look at her book or alternatively to her TED talk.

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Back in 350 BC Aristotle said, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy. “Being intelligent with one’s emotions, it seems, was just as much […]

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On page six of Scrum.Org’s Scrum Guide in a section about the Scrum Master role there is an innocuous looking line, “The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.” I think a number of Scrum environments misinterpret this sentence to mean Scrum teams don’t not need to be managed or lead, they will […]

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Parametric Estimating

March 17, 2016

Hello, It’s been a while since I wrote a blog, so I hope all is well with you. I have been busy working on some new project leadership development training here in London. I’ll send you some ideas from these courses over the coming months. They include some excellent techniques for building high performing teams; […]

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