Minimalism for Managers

June 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

This post is for all of you who are in the unenviable position of managing people in your workplace.

For the past four years I’ve had the privilege of being able to work from home. It was a stroke of luck, a being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time sort of moment that I still can’t believe I was fortunate enough fall into. I’m grateful every single day that I don’t have to face a morning commute, purchase lots of work clothes, eat unhealthy, on-the-go meals and put makeup on every day.

Prior to this extremely good fortune I worked in an office just like everyone else. Here is what I’ve learned about the differences between working from home and working from a cubicle:

  • Requiring professionals to work in an office for 8-10 hours leads to inefficiency. If they have no choice whether or not to be there, they might as well fill their time in meetings that don’t matter or chatting, gossiping, plotting and politicking. The fact is that if you give someone eight hours to do something, they’ll probably take the full eight. Give them four, guess what? They do it in four. People who have the ability to work from home work in a more streamlined manner because they have other things they’d possibly like to get to, like making dinner or going for a walk.
  • The commute is killing your workers. This new study shows that workers who commute every day suffer back pain, increased stress, more frequent illness and are more likely to get divorced. Plus, with the oil companies torturing us with gas prices, the costs of commuting are exorbitant.
  • Many professional jobs require a college degree. Earning a college degree is the ultimate work-from-home trial period. If a young professional is able to discipline themselves enough to get themselves to class (especially with a world of collegiate distractions) chances are they can be trusted to work independently for you. The fact that we allow college students the freedom to come and go at their discretion and then revert them back to having to punch a timeclock everyday is dissonant at best.
  • The Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) is working for companies like Best Buy. Essentially, there are no meetings and no scheduled work hours. Employees are not required to come into the office. They are judged on the merits of their work and whether their deadlines are met. The result has been an over 40% increase in productivity and practically 0% turnover in some departments.
  • Most employees would take a slightly smaller salary if they were allowed a work from home or ROWE situation.
  • When your employees work offsite it’s nearly impossible to hide poor work habits through paper shuffling. You know if someone’s getting it done.

The point I’m trying to make is that, if you’re in a position of power at your workplace, now may be the time to take a look at what kinds of work/life balance options you can offer the people who report to you. By letting the leash out a little bit, you may experience huge returns in morale, productivity and reduced turnover. You’ll also instantly have a spotlight on who’s really pulling their weight.

Not every situation lends itself to work from home. Some teams need to be in a central location. But perhaps some flex time or shared jobs could be an option for your employees.

I can tell you from my own personal experience that working from home has eliminated all of my wasted work time (I used to be a bit of an office  prankster…), I never miss a deadline, I actually work when sick (when I worked in an office I would stay home for the slightest sniffle), I take fewer vacations because I’m really not as frazzled by work anymore and I am extremely grateful for my job rather than oppressed by it.  I would do anything for my company — and I don’t know that I would feel that way if I was forced to be in a cubicle all day.

Life is short, and the American worker already gets shafted when it comes to vacation time, parenting time and so many other things that enrich our lives. If you’re a manager, I encourage you to take a look at some things you can do to help your employees not only earn a living, but build a life. Who knows — you may be repaid in ways you never imagined.

Monkeying Around with Minimalism

April 14, 2011 § 4 Comments

The Type A mind is a busy little place, filled with lists and plans, forecasting and finalizing, conversations and conundrums… The Buddhists call it “monkey mind,” an apt description that reminds me of marmosets whizzing from tree to tree, grabbing shiny objects and shoving fruit into their mouths.

This marmoset lives in my mind -- for now.

I’ve got nothing against monkeys. But the difference between actual monkeys and my monkey mind is that monkeys are doing what they are authentically designed to do. I don’t believe I was born Type A. I think I turned out that way by years of bad programming.

Now before you go all Lady GaGa on me, hear me out.

I was always a driven and competitive kid, but anxiety never entered the picture until I entered the adult world of moving up the corporate ladder, mortgages and more, more, more. I had wholeheartedly bought into the idea that she who dies with the most toys wins, and I was killing myself trying to take home the blue ribbon.

In my first marriage, my husband and I had a lot of money. But the more money we had, the more stuff we wanted. Whatever amount was coming in was never enough.

My anxiety was off the charts. Not only was I constantly amped to make more money at work, but I was also completely overwhelmed by the amount of effort required to maintain a massive house and all its luxurious accoutrements.

At one point – probably in the wake of one of my panic attacks – I realized that I had a choice. I had, to paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, been an active participant in every choice that got me here. And I could choose to get out. I got off the anxiety express; my husband stayed. Divorce as the ultimate de-clutterer.

I dialed the consumerism back significantly, but that tidal wave of Type A energy needed somewhere to go. I recently had the epiphany that I’m no less anxious, worried or exhausted – I’m just pouring all of that focus, worry, planning and plotting into “minimalizing” my way out of the system that I believe made me this way.

Instead of climbing up the ladder I’m voluntarily climbing down, but I’m filled with the same suffocating intensity that fueled my ascent. I’m de-cluttering,  re-organizing, saving and simplyfying with unstoppable gusto. I am so focused on getting out of the consumerist, careerist cycle that wore me out before that I am wearing myself out now.

I want to get back to my natural state of living life in the moment and embracing spontaneity. I want to let go of obsessing about whether or not the dishes need to be put away or how on Earth am I going to get that bookshelf downstairs so I can take it to Goodwill. I would love to not freak out when the kids come home with their pockets full of plastic crap they bought with their allowances, or when George’s desk looks like an Office Max exploded. For now, the monkey mind is winning. But I’m hoping that each day, as I let more and more go, the monkey will get off my back and go eat a banana.

What thought patterns are you trying to let go? As you minimize do you find these thoughts leaving or hanging on more tightly?

Photo credit: Scott Liddell. scottliddell.com

Do Less at Work

March 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

When you’re Type A it’s nearly impossible to keep your mouth shut in meetings. The Type A mind believes that it not only knows best, but it also knows better and not-so-good, and that it needs to tell you all about it.

In my previous career, I was expected to possess passionate emotional investment in every aspect of the business. I was a member of very busy teams who were tasked with coming up with the next big thing. Quite often we did, but the amount of extra work created by the emotional intrigues, gossip, backstabbing and ladder climbing was exhausting.

My current job requires that I be no more than a productive cog in a complicated machine. I have a specific task that I execute for the team, and that’s it. My input on processes, direction, strategy… It’s not really expected or welcome.

I didn’t understand this at first. I wanted to jump in and offer my brilliance to fix everything that’s wrong with the system. I worked myself into a froth over the smallest difficulties, and pushed my agenda in my typical over-enthusiastic way. Problems at work persisted no matter what I suggested, and yet I continued to be emotionally invested in my perfectly-imagined outcomes.

My frenzy continued until I noticed — and acknowledged — the minimalist business approach of a co-worker I’ll call Sam.

In our weekly team meeting we’re given our marching orders for the following week. We spend a few minutes focusing on the tasks, and the remainder of the meeting is spent watching each other get into a frazzle over the way we’re doing things, why we’re doing it this way, how it could be better and ohmygod did you hear what so-and-so said last week.

Sam sits, silent. He takes notes. He listens.

When he’s asked if the timing works or if he has what he needs to complete a task, he responds briefly, cheerfully and in the affirmative.

Then he goes back to his desk and does his job, while the remaining members of the team disburse in to smaller gossip groups, clucking like a brood of hens. He takes his hour for lunch. He leaves on time. He smiles at me in the hallway.

I’ve watched Sam closely over the past year. He is one of the most respected members of the team and he is considered reliable and easygoing. Plus, he keeps getting promoted! I swear I’ve never heard him utter more than 15 words at a time.

Sam innately understands something that’s taken me nearly 17 years of working in corporate America to understand: You want serenity at work? Keep it simple.

Work is filled with enough work as it is. Do the job you were hired to do to the best of your abilities. Contribute positively through your output, not your opinions on who’s sucking up to the boss, who’s slacking off or who’s shacking up with whom. If your opinion about business matters is requested, offer it respectfully, succinctly and with a positive outlook. Then go home and enjoy your family.

(Or, if your work is dangerous, demoralizing, depressing or dead-end, maybe your new minimalist outlook will help you find new work that supports your choice and uplifts your spirit.)

Since I’ve adopted Sam’s work style, I spend more time increasing the quality of my work rather than worrying about what’s broken, who’s not contributing or what I’m not getting. I’m present, available and I daresay, serene.

Do less at work, and you’ll find your productivity and peace increase while your anxiety and stress decrease. Sam knows this. I know this now. And I’m sharing it with you.

What could you do less at work?

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