How to reboot your working mindset.
Hello, autumn. Hello, sluggish starts, overpopulated inboxes and mournful pining over the beach bar in Mallorca. Clearly, we need to take holidays. But returning to work after a healthy change of gear can be tiresome and frustrating. The same goes for getting back into the swing of things after a long weekend, a sabbatical, maternity or paternity leave, etc.
There are, however, a few things you can do to utilize this transition — to make it into the birth of a healthy working mindset, rather than the death of fun and downtime.
Try the following to kick-start your autumn with a fresh perspective.
1. Make Healthy Lists
Whether you dread your return to work or decide to relish the challenge could be a matter of decision. Assuming you’re not in entirely the wrong profession, a few minutes getting your thoughts down on paper can help you choose the latter.
Here are four powerful brain-training lists to help you direct your attention away from the slog and onto more motivating considerations like growth, achievement, and joy:
1. To-do (better)
Any kind of transition makes way for new and better habits, and your productivity lists could be a great place to start.
A study by professors Baumeister and Masicampo suggests that a simple to-do list can decrease anxiety over uncompleted tasks. However, just writing a list that reads: “Tax return, Article, Instagram post” may not be enough. Time management expert David Allen insists that more detail is required if our to-do lists are actually going to get things done.
Next time you need to organize a workday, for each entry on your list, consider (and make a note of) these details:
- How long will this task take?
- How, specifically, will you complete it?
- Crucially, what’s the first and smallest step? (While “Tax return” is a daunting prospect, “Note monthly telephone bills” is less so).
Following these rules not only makes upcoming work feel more achievable, but it also gamifies your day. If you don’t believe me, try it out. You’re likely to feel added motivation to complete tasks in the allotted time, and also to feel an extra sense of satisfaction when you do. Furthermore, writing down a predicted duration for each undertaking will make you infinitely better at gauging the slippery beast that is time.
But it’s not all about productivity. We need to anticipate a little pleasure if we want to look forward to getting stuck in. With demands and deadlines looming, however, it can be hard to remember the fun side of work.
To bring joy to the forefront of your awareness, take a little time to make a list of all the things you love about your job. This can include anything from “the thrill of finding creative solutions” to “friendly chats around the water cooler”.
Overwhelm can make us lose sight of our capabilities. Write a list of all your strengths to remind yourself of what you have to offer.
Be as specific as possible with this list. You may well be excellent at sales but, with such a broad heading, there are bound to be some weak spots in there too. So, break it down into individual abilities like “closing the deal” or “building rapport with new customers”. Knowing your unique strengths will help you to maximize your efficiency at work as well as improving your ability to ask for help where needed.
Finally, make a list of skills you can look forward to improving. The goal of growth can be enormously motivating and it focuses your mind on the process rather than the outcome. This keeps you present along the journey and increases your chance of rapid development.
2. Read Your Feelings Like Letters From a Loved One
Your needs must be met regardless of how many assignments you have lined up. If your body is asking for rest or your heart is asking for connection, these are non-negotiable demands.
While it’s tempting to try and ignore your feelings and push on through, choosing to listen to them instead can help you make improvements you might otherwise have missed.
So, if the return to work hurts, consider that your mind may be telling you about deficits in your everyday life.
Ask yourself what, specifically, made your time off so wonderful. Then, have a serious think about how you can bring those things into play back home.
*Note: this doesn’t mean you need to build a beach in your backyard
Here are some voids that the post-holiday blues commonly highlight, along with some notes on how to fill them:
The difference is a big part of what makes a holiday both psychologically healthy and enjoyable. But just because you’re back at work doesn’t mean you must now slip into a droning, routine existence.
Keep variety alive in any way you can. You can change things up by doing the following:
- Assume new and different perspectives for routine tasks by imagining how someone else might view them. This is known as perspective-taking, and it has numerous psychological benefits including improved self-awareness and increased creativity. Ask yourself how a friend or colleague might tackle the challenge at hand. Hell, consider how Ripley from Alien or Gandhi would go about it if you like. You could unearth some valuable insights.
- Bookend your day with novelty by traveling to and from work via different routes, or by engaging in different morning and evening activities.
- Gladly accept unusual projects rather than sticking to the safety of the known.
- Schedule exciting trips and activities to bring a little delight to your life over the coming months.
We actively love ourselves on holiday. We take afternoon naps, have massages and follow our sense of curiosity wherever it leads. While at work, on the other hand, we tend to reach for the stick rather than the carrot when looking for motivation. We compare ourselves to others, set impossible goals and beat ourselves up for not getting enough done. This is self-punishment, not a “healthy kick up the backside,” and it leads to anxiety, shame, and destructive behavior.
So, it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re both capable of what we want to achieve and deserving of a sense of wellbeing. We need to tune into our inner dialogue and use healthier, supportive, and more effective language when chatting with the “I”.
Affirmations may be a little cliched, but studies have shown that repeating positive ideas can “improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years.”
An effective affirmation is not a delusion of grandeur nor an unrealistic goal like: “I’m the best in the world and I will earn a seven-figure salary by next year.” (Please!)
Think more along the lines of the following (feel free to de-cheese as needed):
- “I have valuable skills and abilities that are ever-growing”
- “Creative energy flows through me and leads me to new and wonderful ideas”
- “I am in control of my reactions and perspective; nobody (and nothing) can ever make me have a bad day”
- “I’m worthy of being treated respectfully”
- “I am exactly where I should be” (after an insightful client reminded me of this simple statement a while ago, it’s become a personal favourite for when the pressure is on).
Holidays tend to be about connection. Even if we’re taking a solo trip, we’re often doing so to engage with nature, our bodies or other cultures.
Feeling disconnected can lead to anxiety, low happiness, poor health and lower productivity levels. In fact, a study commissioned by Eden Project initiative The Big Lunch estimated that disconnected communities could be costing the UK economy £32 billion every year.
In a world that seems increasingly geared towards isolation, it’s up to us to make connection a bigger part of our lives. Seeing as work tends to dominate the majority of our time, it’s vital that we recognise the colleagues who help us to feel seen, heard and valued. Who fits into this category for you? More importantly, who could fit into this category if given half the chance?
Reach out to the people you work with to build and/or strengthen working relationships. Ask how they are (and actually listen to their answer), discuss your concerns rather than trying to hide them, and be supportive of others as well as accepting of their help when it’s offered.
3. Stay Human
Let’s face it, none of the points in this article could be considered rocket science. The problem is not that we don’t know this stuff, it’s that we don’t do it. My final suggestion is probably the most important, yet perhaps the most commonly ignored. So, I’m going to spell it out:
To improve on your productivity, your wellbeing and your fundamental level of okay-ness in everyday life, please, please, please… Swap perfectionism for good-enoughism.
I don’t care what your rationalization might be, you do not need to create perfect work. Yes, people demand a lot. And yes, it’s easy to assume that things need to be spotless in order for us to feel useful, welcome and needed. But so long as you’re a human being, you are allowed to (and you will) make mistakes. Lord knows, there is enough pressure on the modern worker to be superhuman without us fretting over the fine details of a project into the wee hours of the morning for fear of the smallest imperfection.
So, this is a friendly reminder that your presentation is allowed to include a moment of mumbling. Your email is allowed to include typos. And you’re allowed to ask a “silly question” in your next meeting. Did you worry about perfection while swimming with dolphins or drinking margaritas at sundown? I hope not. Bring your holiday chill back to work with you. It’ll make you better at whatever it is you do.
Hazel Gale is an athlete-turned-therapist and author of The Mind Monster Solution. Visit her profile for articles on cognitive psychology and self-help.