Making Work More Effective

Here is what leaders often do – when faced with a complex situation at work, they add more meetings, task forces, new procedures and governance structures that makes things more complex. What we need to handle complex challenges is simplicity that leads to effectiveness.

Simon Terry, whose thinking I really admire, wrote a short post titled “Five Ways to Make Work More Effective” offering vital ideas about efficient work.

Meetings, unending email threads, too much focus on consensus building, siloed thinking and lack of experimentation are some of the biggest wastes in an organization. They sap productivity, hurt engagement and kill accountability.

If you are a leader or a manager, this might just be a reminder you need often to ensure that you create an environment of effective work – smart work as they call it!

Here’s a quick sketch summary of the post!

Related Reading at QAspire

Enhancing Your Performance at Work With Mindfulness – An Interview with Jacqueline Carter

Research says that the rapid pace of work is taking a huge toll on our ability to focus, be productive, remain engaged and be creative. A majority of people at workplace today seem to be struggling to cope with severe stress resulting from conflicting work priorities, hyper-connectedness, onslaught of notifications and information overload. How do we cope up with this stress? How do we address our lack of attention so that we can not only complete the things we start without getting too anxious, but also enjoy the process of doing so?

With these questions in my mind, I picked up the book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness” written by Rasmus Hougaard with Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts. I loved the simplicity with which the authors have been able to demystify mindfulness by providing tools and techniques we can all start using to be more effective.

I caught up a conversation with Jacqueline Carter, one of the co-authors, a partner at The Potential Project and a contributor at Huffington Post on how mindfulness can help us perform better. Here is the interview:

[Tanmay Vora] Jacqueline, Thank you for agreeing to share your insights here. I read your new book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance At Work with Mindfulness” with great interest. The first thing that intrigued me was the title of your book. What does “One Second Ahead” mean with respect to mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] One Second Ahead, both the book and the concept, is about applying mindfulness techniques to daily work life. From a cognitive perspective, being one second ahead provides a clear edge in effectiveness and productivity. It offers the space and freedom to choose your distractions and direct your mental energy, no matter what you are facing.

[Tanmay Vora] We certainly are in middle of a productivity crisis at work. Pressure, information overload and always-on culture inhibits our ability to truly focus on work. What makes mindfulness, a potent response to the crisis?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s not hard to see how work life has changed radically over the past few decades. It is common for people to attempt to concentrate on work while dealing with a constant stream of distractions and data, impacting their focus and performance. But it is actually possible to train the brain to respond differently to today’s constant interruptions through the practice of mindfulness.

Simply put, mindfulness means trained attention. Mindfulness techniques enable people to manage their attention, improve their awareness, and sharpen focus and clarity. We need to learn to work differently so we are more focused, calm and have less clutter in our mind to be able to succeed at the things that matter most to us.

[Tanmay Vora] One of the first victims of stress resulting from our “always-on” culture is sleep and lack of proper sleep only adds to the stress we experience. How can mindfulness be used for enhancing the quality of sleep and what are your three tips for better sleep?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s true that sleep deprivation is reaching near epidemic proportions all over the world. Studies are showing that even light sleep deprivation has been proven to negatively impact logical reasoning, executive function, attention, and mood. Unfortunately, as a result of our busy lifestyles, sleep is regularly pushed toward the bottom of our list of priorities. However, research has shown that regular mindfulness training improves the ability to fall asleep as well as improve our sleep quality significantly. Some simple guidelines for better sleep include:

1. Catching the Melatonin Wave—Melatonin, when released from the pineal gland inside your brain, makes us relaxed, drowsy and ultimately fall asleep in a natural way. The key to catching the melatonin wave is to be mindful; have awareness of the natural drowsiness and relaxation that occur toward the end of the evening and maintain that awareness as you prepare for bed. Getting in synch with your body’s natural rhythms and your own cycle of melatonin is a simple avenue to a better night’s sleep.

2. Turn off All Screens 60 Minutes before Sleep—Your smartphone, your tablet, your laptop, your television all stand in the way of you catching the Melatonin wave. Because of the blue-light waves that are emitted, production of melatonin is suppressed in the pineal gland. Your brain reads blue-light as if the sun is still up, when in reality, the sun is most-likely down and you should be sleeping. It might sound difficult to some, but turning off all screens 60 minutes before you go to sleep works. The impact it has on sleep quality—and therefore mental and physical performance—speaks for itself.

3. Only Perceptual Activities 60 Minutes Before Bed—Too much thinking is an enemy of late evening natural relaxation and drowsiness. Conceptual activities, like intense conversions, replying to e-mails, working, or reading, can arose your attention and suppress your natural sleepiness. However, perceptual activities, like doing the dishes, going for a walk, or listening to music, can help you to catch the wave of melatonin as it rises. Just a small adjustment to your evening routine can go a long way toward enabling you to prepare for bed with a calmer mind that’s more in tune with the natural rhythms of your body. So save the dishes, walking the dog, or taking out the trash for the last hour of the evening. Sometimes procrastination can pay off.

[Tanmay Vora] How does mindfulness enhance our mental effectiveness in understanding complex problems, synthesizing experiences and addressing challenges?

[Jacqueline Carter] According to scientists, our mind is wandering over half of our waking hours. We are constantly thinking about events that happened in the past, or might happen in the future, rather than attending to what’s happening in the now. This limits our ability to address everyday challenges and accomplish meaningful results.

Yet, our thoughts are the foundation for everything we want to achieve in life. Thus, our ability to manage our mind becomes critically important. We are best able to manage complex problems when our mind is clear, calm and focused. This is true in all aspects of life, but especially in a work context. With a calm, clear mind, we are able to greatly enhance performance, effectiveness, creativity and innovation, which is foundational to business success. Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

[Tanmay Vora] One common observation is that our openness to new learning and experiences decline as we mature in our practice and gather more experience. How can mindfulness help is break the shackles of our past experiences and make us more receptive to new learning?

[Jacqueline Carter] When we are exposed to the same experiences over and over again, there is a tendency to become complacent, to default to our pre-conceived notion of what should happen or may occur. We feel we’ve seen it all before, and we close ourselves off to being fully present. This can be problematic, and lead to what’s called cognitive rigidity—the inflexibility created by automatically relying on our habitual perceptions and past experiences.

Thankfully, mindfulness training shows us that we don’t have to give in to our habitual perceptions. When we allow ourselves to see things with a Beginner’s Mind—the ability to face reality as it is—we liberate ourselves from our habitual perception and approach all situations with fresh eyes and an open mind. Cultivating a beginner’s mind can be a wonderful way to change how you experience life. Regardless of your work environment, daily life can be filled with more wonders and possibilities when you see things with a fresh perspective.

[Tanmay Vora] What are your top three recommendations on mindfulness to those readers who are new to the concept of mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] First, I would say to consider why mindfulness would be beneficial for you and be specific. The more clear you are on why you want to try mindfulness the more likely you are to be successful in incorporating it into your daily life.

Second, make a commitment to do 10 minutes of mindfulness training every day for the next 14 days and see what impact it has on you. I recommend downloading an app that has simple, easy instructions. Readers can download our app by searching for The Potential Project in their app store. Alternatively, there are many other great tools, just be sure to pick something that will work for you.

Third, I would say look for ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Notice times when it is difficult for you to pay attention and ask yourself what you could do about it. For example, if you find that you are constantly distracted by notifications try turning them off for an hour a day and see what happens!

[Tanmay Vora] These were really helpful insights! Thank you so much for sharing your lessons through the book and in this interview. I am sure readers will find these ideas very valuable.

[Jacqueline Carter] Thank you very much, Tanmay! It was a pleasure to connect with you and your readers on the topic of organizational mindfulness.

– – – – –

You can get the book at – Amazon (IN) | Amazon Worldwide

– – – – –

BONUS: When you have an hour free, check out this amazing video of Jacqueline Carter speaking at Microsoft on the topic of Mindfulness at work.

The Journey is the Purpose: An Inspiring Tale of Nek Chand Saini

Nek Chand Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India is a true marvel of creativity and innovation. Built by Nek Chand Saini, a self-taught innovator, Rock garden is one-of-its-kind sculpture garden in Chandigarh which almost looks like a miniature of an ancient kingdom spread over forty acres. What makes this truly unique is the fact that all the sculptures in this garden are made from recycled material like ceramic pieces, bottles, glasses, ceramic pots, earthen pots, bottle caps, sinks, electrical waste, crockery, broken bangles, dust, pieces of tar, rocks and pebbles. The garden comprises of twisted, narrow and walled pathways leading to large open spaces. These open spaces house plazas, pavilions, theatre and hundreds of sculptures of men, women, dancers, animals, houses, temples, wells and decorated walls. Seeing hundreds of statues filling the canvas is nothing less than a spectacle. Interlinked and cascading waterfalls nicely complement the sculptures and walls to extend a very soothing ambiance.

The description above may sound a bit like a travelogue but it is not just that. It is an intriguing tale of passion, suspense, drama and finally the triumph of creativity over all the odds. A story with an important lesson.

Many villages were demolished when Chandigarh, India’s first planned city, was being built according to design by French architect Le Corbusier. Nek Chand Saini worked as a road inspector for the public works department when he started collecting the discarded material from these demolition sites. A few years later, he secretly started working on assembling these recycled material to create a sculpture garden that depicted his vision of an Indian village life. This hobby expanded soon into a full-fledged work of art on a government conserved forest land in the foothills of Shivalik Moutain Range. Since his work was illegal, he kept it a secret for ten long years before it was discovered by city inspectors. As the word spread, people began flocking to see this work of a genius that was already spread in 12 acres of land by the time it was discovered. Amidst the looming threat and uproar of destroying this illegal work that occupied forest conservancy, Nek Chand was able to get public opinion and support on his side. In 1976, the Rock Garden was inaugurated as a public space. Nek Chand was offered a government salary and a staff of 50 laborers so that he can expand his vision and continue his expression of creativity. In 1996, Rock Garden was again attacked by vandals after which city administration took charge of managing the park.

Today, with over 4000 visitors daily, Rock Garden is the most visited folk art sites in the world. Statues made by Nek Chand Saini decorate some of the best folk art galleries across the globe.

It is an inspiring journey of personal transformation from mundane to magnificent. He created a sublime space of innovation and creativity just out of his imagination, creativity and sheer hard work. How many of us today would spend this amount of effort and creative energy in creating something just out of love for doing it? Will we do it without any expectation on rewards or recognition? Nishkama Karma (action performed without any attachment to fruits or results) is the central message of Bhagwad Gita and Nek Chan Saini truly exemplifies it.

Did Nek Chand Saini work with a goal of becoming famous one day? Did he plan to win all the awards that he has won? Clearly, he did it just for the joy he derived out of doing it. He simply enjoyed giving form to his ideas through sculptures. He built his legacy one statue at a time.

The story of Nek Chand Saini just tells me that our work may not always be a transaction. That if we are passionate about our pursuits, have lot of conviction to do the required hard work and derive joy from simply doing it then external rewards and recognition do not matter. They are merely by-products of doing something you love doing.

The journey then, is the purpose and the reward!

– – – – –

P.S.: On 15 Dec 2014, Nek Chand Saini, the wizard of creativity completes 90 years!

– – – – –

Stay Tuned! Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page.

In 100 Words: Love Made Visible

Seeing someone turning a mundane activity into art is always very gratifying.

Meet Dr. Soda. He sells flavored soda on the roadside. He loves his work and calls himself a “Ph.D. in Soda”. For him, making soda is the medium to entertain people. He juggles soda bottles, makes a soda blindfold, speaks three languages, entertains kids, initiates conversations, smiles a lot and offers a distinct experience – all for just 10 bucks. Each soda is his opportunity to build a connection and deliver his art.

No work is small if you know how to enjoy it. Work is love made visible.

– – – – –

Stay Tuned: Subscribe via RSS, Connect via Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. You can also subscribe to updates via email using the section at the bottom of the page. Looking forward to the conversations!

– – – – –

Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts

Resistance and Criticism: 8 Facts and 8 Lessons

If you are a leader, you will invariably face situations where:

  • People will criticize you for doing something.
  • People will criticize you even for not doing something.
  • Your decisions will go against you.
  • You will face a lot of resistance in your initiatives.
  • Roadblocks will be encountered
  • People will closely analyze your decisions.
  • You may be accused of doing (or not doing) something.
  • Or you will encounter people with wrong motives.

So, what will you do? Give up? Here’s what you should know:

  • Criticism is inevitable. The fact that people are criticizing means that you are doing something meaningful.
  • We are at our competitive best when we are pushed to the edge by the critics/adversities.
  • Each criticism or resistance is an opportunity to learn something new.
  • Resistance enables you to understand how people operate. (an important skill)
  • If someone extends a pen to you, you have a choice whether you want to accept it or not. (Ditto with criticism)
  • The best way to answer a critic is to do a kick-ass job at whatever you do. Great conduct is a profound statement.
  • Keep an open mind when being criticized – it may well be an opportunity to improve upon yourself.
  • Criticism, resistance and adversities at work should always help you in raising your own game.

On that note, have a Fantastic Friday!

– – – – –

BONUS: Be sure to check out the latest edition of Leadership Development Carnival – Love Story Edition by Mark Stelzner at Inflexion Advisors Blog – a great collection of leadership insights from practitioners. Carnival includes my post: “Creating a Learning Organization – 10 Actions for a Leader

Friday Reflection: The ‘Real’ Powers!

This morning when I was praying, God again appeared. HE gently put His hand on my head and said –

My Son,

Most people live with an illusion that real power is in wealth. In degrees. In material.

They spend most of their lives looking for power “somewhere out there”.

I have “gifted” each human being with great powers that lie “within” them.

The power to think. Imagine. Visualize.

To choose your battles.

To choose between mediocrity and greatness.

The power to understand, listen and relate with other human beings.

To see the best in them.

The power to read. To grasp. To learn.

The power to walk. Talk. Choose your words.

The power to change your perspectives. Shape your attitude.

To focus. To concentrate. To direct your energies.

The power to smile. The power to love others.

You can create whatever you decide to.

Ability to decide – that is your supreme strength.

So, look within. Not outside.

That is where your real powers are.

I have gifted you – will you care to unwrap these gifts?

Also read: An earlier conversation with God – “The Focus is on YOU”.

Photo by Tanmay Vora: Core of a flower at Esplanade Park, Helsinki, Finland

The focus is on YOU

Flower at Esplanade Park, Finland (By Tanmay Vora)

This morning when I was praying, God gently put His hand on my head and lovingly said –

"My Son,

Those who wait for an opportunity never get it.

I have given you hands and head so that you can work hard, think, move ahead and create opportunities.

Just like a farmer sprinkles seeds across on the land, I have sprinkled opportunities around you.

But like a farmer, you have to work hard and long to seize those opportunities.

The road below your feet will never move unless YOU move.

A river never complains about the obstacles in the way. River creates a way because a river was made to flow.

Birds were made to fly and man was made to work.

If you lock yourself in a room, you will never experience sunlight. You have to open doors and windows of your room to let the sunlight in.

If you keep doors and windows of your mind closed, the light of knowledge will never come in.

Opportunities are like rays of sun. They are waiting outside for you to open up, work hard and embrace them.

The focus is on YOU. The fulcrum is on YOU.

Because YOU are the one who thinks, decides and exercises a choice.

Opportunities are everywhere. What are you doing to seize them?”

Photo: Flower at Esplanade Park, Helsinki, taken during my Finland visit in May 2009