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Today, 3Q’s work-life balance series features insights from Creative Director Julia Thiel, who takes on the issue of mindfulness: ways to tune out the noise and distractions to stay sane, considerate, and effective.
Think Before You Sprint
Most of us work on fast-paced projects (and many simultaneously). Working fast doesn’t have to mean giving up on diligence and critical thinking.To set yourself and your team up for success, I believe the most important thing is to think things through as much as you can on your end, rather than making others think for you. “Group effort” often amounts to no one taking ownership – save for those who feel responsible to pick up after everyone else, and, as a consequence, might burn out fast.
Empathy to the Rescue
Much like the work we do for clients, our work processes evolve and are in constant need of optimization. Each individual user’s experience has to be taken into consideration at all times. Ask yourself: how can I fulfill my part of the process in a way that makes things easy for the next person? Have I considered their current workload, have I given them enough context, am I delivering my part in a way that is clear, or do I still have some questions about it? If the answer to that last part is yes, you haven’t completed your task yet. Go back and ask more questions, or do more research.
The Onslaught of Notifications on Productivity
Messaging tools like Slack are hugely successful for many reasons, only some of them good. Most of us are literally addicted to those little push notifications; our prefrontal cortex craves that dopamine hit. However, they can also be a breeding ground for behavior that impacts the workflow negatively.
FOMO has us jumping from one slack channel to the next, racing to keep up everywhere, but in effect being nowhere. No one can have multiple conversations simultaneously and give each one their full attention. We send each other stream-of-consciousness messages and pull each other out of focus with each little red message alert, and if there are too many of those, we find ourselves in constant fight-or-flight mode (a.k.a. stress). I am a huge advocate of treating Slack much like email: having a schedule for checking it, really thinking about what you’re writing, considering the recipient, and crafting concise notes instead of merely distracting “noise”.
Take people off strings when their input is no longer needed. Tag people only if immediate attention is necessary. Read upstream to potentially find whether the answer to your question is already answered. Do your homework; “Google it” if necessary before sending a Slack and pulling an unsuspecting coworker out of their focus. Reduce distractions for everyone. Respect people’s schedules and needs, and accept having to wait for an answer sometimes.
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings
In our industry, many people spend most of their day in meetings. Here, too, it is worth being mindful of your coworkers’ needs. Is everyone prepared for the meeting and armed with all the pertinent information that you could have shared with them in advance? Are all invitees crucial to the meeting, or can we give them some time back?
The Brief on Briefs
A brief should be just that: brief. But not at the expense of the content. Think of it as a doc that should have precisely the information needed – no more, no less – for someone who is not familiar with your project or your client at all to create the deliverables needed. Equip people downstream with the proper footwear to run fast.
A well-crafted email, much like a brief, includes just the pertinent info. Mindful emailing means that you give the recipient some context right off the bat. Maybe summarize, or highlight, parts that need their attention. Don’t leave it to them to weed through long strings (e.g. “see below for the last 31 exchanges with the client”).
Meditation at Work?
Yes. When you get stressed, take a 19-second timeout. Place the tip of your tongue where the front teeth meet the roof of your mouth (this is an acupressure point to relieve stress). Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Apparently, if you do this for 10 minutes a day, for 3 weeks, you can re-wire your brain for the better.
Better focus, more productivity, happy coworkers, less stress.
Win-win-win-win! Lastly, here’s a presentation from Google on minimizing distraction, and an interesting Hidden Brain podcast on Life, Interrupted.