Updated: Sep 29, 2022
The past three months at TFQ have been a rewarding experience, and here's why: I followed four simple rules. Rules that guided my approach to work rather than the work itself.
Rule One: Rule No.6
No, it's not perfume. But if I could bottle it up, I'd be spritzing everyone I ever interact with. Including myself on some days.
Authors of 'The Art of Possibility', Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, tell us about Rule No.6 in the form of a story. The TL;DR version is that it's about not taking everything so damn seriously, because nothing is so urgent that you lose your sanity over it. Approaching everyone and everything with Rule No.6 keeps the environment conducive to realistic and rewarding interactions.
... slowing down doesn't mean negating your progress.
That uptight, self-critical voice inside — what Zander and Zander call the "calculating self" — often holds onto things so tightly that they break under the pressure. This "calculating self" arrives with expectations about how things should be and crumbles when things don't go as expected. New environments are scary to this aspect of ourselves. To save itself from embarrassment or total annihilation (both are the same levels of bad to this self), it makes us hard-headed and overly practical. This means it becomes very hard to keep a cool head and steady feet.
To overcome this self-made obstinacy, ask yourself what it would take to make the scary interaction or new environment less so. Then implement Rule No.6. And go get 'em!
Rule No.6 has changed the office culture at TFQ. It's been a rewarding practice because it refreshes my clarity and resourcefulness in critical situations.
Rule Two: When in doubt, stretch.
The body needs to move. And current personal and professional lifestyles don't support that. We are sitting for work, sitting for travel, and sitting for entertainment and rest. So when work gets confusing, I "force quit" and physically remove myself from the environment.
Now that I'm not sitting at my desk, my brain can process the problem better. While I put the kettle on for some tea, I stretch. While I munch on a snack, I water the indoor plants. I put my body — and therefore my mind — in a new situation that requires movement. And it helps that moving around a familiar, safe environment reminds my brain that it's safe too. My breath normalises. My body relaxes. My mind is better able to process things.
Movement is not just sweating it out in a gym. The simple acts of reaching for the teabag container and then lifting the kettle to pour out hot water are reintroducing care and mindful movement. In a fully-virtual workspace, I crave tangibility. I want to fully connect with things in my environment, so the gentle and repetitive act of watering my plants allows me to consider giving without expectation or guarantees about growth. Plus, it moves me through my home physically.
24/7 availability didn't give me the bandwidth I needed to do better.
I've worked faster and solved problems better when my body is listened to.
Rule Three: Make no assumptions.
Assumptions = mess.
I am a slightly anxious person, so I don't enjoy messing up or even the potential of messing up. So, to ensure to calm work environment, there are two ways I interpret this rule:
Don't automatically assume something to be a problem unless that person actively says it is.
Don't assume that you know exactly how things ought to be done.
The first interpretation allows for deliberate and clear communication from the client or colleague's side. And the second reminds me that I am allowed to ask for help, or at least better instructions, from more qualified people. Both lead to better accountability.
Rule Four: Deep work only
This is when you work on something without distractions. Your mind is focused and all your attention is directed to the task at hand. And this can be anything! Baking a batch of rusks; tending your bonsai tree; writing your dissertation even.
One of my favourite YouTubers, Dami Lee, reviews the book 'Deep Work' by Cal Newport. The TL;DR version: deep work is all about prioritising what important long-term outcomes you want from your life and then set about working towards that with deliberate practice.
BUT. (and there's always a but(t)).
We live in a world where there are more communication platforms than things to say. Being a virtual agency, the pressure to show up all day, every day is... exhausting. I know who's texted me by the sound their message makes (yeah, I'm that person who assigns sounds to clients). And I had to stop. For the sake of my health and the well-being of this agency, I had to slow down. I had to carve out time to work deeply.
... Rule No.6 keeps the environment conducive to realistic and rewarding interactions.
And remember, slowing down doesn't mean negating your progress. It simply means you have the processing power to assess your environment to see what's working and what needs to be cut out. And cutting the time I am "available online" was a tough call. I felt I would lose clients within the hour after I sent an agency-wide notice about TFQ's official work hours.
... moving around a familiar, safe environment reminds my brain that it's safe too. My breath normalises. My body relaxes. My mind is better able to process things.
It's been three months since I did that. I've welcomed three new clients and I can now make room for more. I got a mini-promotion with one of my clients and a long-term share of the profits with another. 24/7 availability didn't give me the bandwidth I needed to do better. Limiting my contact time meant fewer meetings, a lot more useful suggestions, and faster turnaround times across projects.
Working with a stricter sense of time and setting realistic goals also meant I could go for an hour-long hike in the forest nearby. I could plan a trip to see the wildflowers in Spring without my clients clamouring for updates about pending work. Now I have time to look beyond what I see; I can steer this agency in a better direction because I focused on reducing distractions.
These four rules saved my relationships with clients, my friends, and myself. These rules saved my life. The practices of chilling out, moving around, calming down, and focusing on the task at hand become easier over time. I have them stuck on my wall:
The work is ever-present and never easy, but with the right system and self-recognition, you can achieve a lot more than you thought you could. You got this!
TL;DR = Too long; didn't read.
Disclaimer: These rules work with my criteria for success. It might seem extreme for some and not nearly enough for others. But they're not running this agency. So, make this post work for you — what are your daily rules? How do you keep up with work and life? When did you last reassess your path? Why do these rules work for you? Which ones should you break to set yourself free? ;)