Work can be all consuming. It places so many demands on our attention that it dominates our body, minds and souls.
Not only do we have work that needs delivering but we also need to fit into the cultural system of our teams and our physical workplaces.
But right now, rather uniquely, some of the shackles have fallen away.
Although we still need to deliver our work; by doing that from home we can savour a freedom that is usually beyond our grasp. It’s a freedom we should be embracing as it gives us a chance to experiment with what our energetic best work life could be.
The environment in which we work and the people that surround us makes a huge difference to how we show up and how we work.
Even if we are confident to be ourselves, our subconscious cannot help but emulate the leaders around us and socialise to the norms of that business.
If our bosses are pulling 12-hour days, we will naturally increase our hours.
If our team spend their days in back-to-back meetings, it’s most likely so will we.
If people eat their lunch at their desk so they can work a little more, we too will get crisps in our keyboard.
But today, we aren’t surrounded by those cultural cues and therefore have an opportunity to stretch off and re-find ourselves like never before.
The truth is that as humans we’re simply not designed for today’s working practices.
We’re designed for being hunter gatherers on the savannah 50,000 years ago.
And therefore, many cultural norms of business directly oppose what we were born to do.
Our instinctive survival drive means we have an inbuilt negativity bias that results in us reacting subconsciously to anything new and different as if it’s dangerous; releasing the hormones for fear and triggering a state of fight, flight or freeze. Despite research showing that 85% of us say our companies needs to change to stay competitive, our instinctive survival drive means we don’t automatically like change, new people or different ways of working, as our subconscious is constantly scanning our environment for danger.
We’re also not built to focus for 8 hours a day. To operate at our best, we need to renew our energy at 90-minute intervals, called Ultradian Rhythms — not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. If we ignore these rhythms, we can’t think straight; we make more mistakes and our productivity falls through the floor. Worse still, we try to boost our energy levels with caffeine, sugar and our body’s own stress hormones — adrenalin and cortisol. Triggering our fight, flight or freeze response, again… Aaaargh!
One obvious area to explore to help us overcome our human design is how we make the most of our energy.
I believe that when your energy is right business is easy and fun and yet when it’s wrong; it’s a disaster.
We’ve all had days when we get to work, and we feel bullet-proof. Regardless of what happens we know we’re going to have a fantastic day.
We equally all have days where we get to work and the fact that we’ve run out of coffee is enough for us to have an emotional breakdown!
We’re the same person on both of those days, but we’re going to have two very different experiences. And that’s because our energy is in two very different places.
By paying more attention to how you can get your energy right whilst we’re in lockdown, you will learn skills that will be invaluable for when it’s over.
Today’s opportunity cannot be wasted. If you seize it, work will never be the same again.
The endgame should be that after lockdown you know how to look after yourself better to make sure that every day counts, and you feel confident in stepping out of the business norms to make sure the you get what you need to shine.
By learning how to embrace the programming you have and use it follow your own path and make extraordinary things happen for you and those around you, you’ll become a Positive Deviant.
A deviant in the fact that you will no longer homogenise subconsciously to the soup of the employed masses but will do what works for you. However, this is a positive act of deviance and not a subversive one. By really being you, you’ll feel better, make amazing things happen and help your business succeed… Who doesn’t want some of that?
There are some simple things you can start with today, on your journey to becoming a Positive Deviant…
1. Find your Big Thing: Learning how to focus is a key life skill. When we first wake-up, before we’re bombarded by demands on our attention, we have a unique opportunity to get clarity on what to focus upon.
First thing in the morning before looking at anything digital, drink a pint of water with a little sea salt in it to get rehydrated. Next get your heart rate up by doing a few press-ups, some burpees maybe, or simply take a walk round the garden. Then sit quietly (preferably outside) for 5 to 10 minutes and get clear on what your big thing is for that day.
Your big thing is something that you would like to achieve that when you do, will make you feel great. It could be a project deliverable, a conversation, or a way of being. It comes down to who you are and what’s important to you on that day. By being incredibly clear before the demands of business start to take over you can then prioritise it to make sure that it happens, ideally as your first action of the day.
Talk to your boss, your colleagues and your family about your big thing so they can support you in it and share in the celebration when it’s done.
2. Tune in to your rhythm: We’re not designed to work flat out consistently for eight hours at the time. We all have natural rhythms where our energy flows. Learning how to surf these waves will mean that you deliver much better work, with much less effort.
Firstly, tune into your energetic sweet spots. Many people find that their best thinking and creative time happens in the morning. When is yours? We only have between 90 and 120 minutes of deep focus a day so it’s vital that time is protected and used on the stuff that counts. If my big thing involves creating, I prioritise that activity for a timeslot before 10AM and I make sure I don’t get distracted by emails beforehand. By doing so I use my very best energy on my most important thing.
For the rest of the day know that you can only focus for a maximum of 90 minutes before you need a break and so you should work in bursts and then take proper downtime in between.
Do not book meetings back to back and never for an hour. In between them, chat with your family, get outside, noodle on the guitar, do a quick workout.
Experiment with your sleep cycles and find the perfect time to go to bed and awaken. Taking a 20-minute nap can be the best thing to do during the day to give yourself a boost; if not now, when? This will guarantee you stay on top of your energy. And if it feels hard; do something else.
3. Manage your attention: We all love to be distracted and when we’re working solely digitally (as we all are right now) there’s a whole world out there clamouring for our attention.
Be deliberate about how you engage by only looking at email at specific times of day (mine is 11 AM and 4 PM). Turn off all notifications. Move social media to the back page of your phone. Schedule moments for checking those funny videos on what’s app.
Leave your computer where you work when you finish and make sure there’s nothing digital in your bedroom (buy an analogue alarm clock!). Put a timer on your wifi so it switches off in the evening and doesn’t come on until we rise.
And lastly, don’t attempt to multitask, we can’t — when you’re on that next zoom call be fully there and you’ll find you get that, and everything else done faster.
4. Party with the freedom: Many people have expressed an anxiety that they aren’t making the most of the lockdown. With all the fear that’s on the planet right now this is one we can certainly deal with by just enjoying the opportunities we now have.
We have more time as we can’t travel as much. We’re in our homes instead of offices. We are with our loved ones. Most of us are craving stimulus and therefore are ripe for learning and growing. Each day should be bringing you joy. We all need moments that fill our hearts and souls and remind us how wonderful life is. Give yourself a break by giving yourself special moments in your day.
5. Share the love: Connectivity is not about physical location but about a state of mind.
You have an opportunity to connect more deeply now than ever before because in these moments people are more in need and therefore are more receptive than usual.
All you have to do is find (or phone) one person a day and tell them what it is that you love about them. They will be incredibly grateful, and it will give them an energetic boost too.
You will deepen your relationships. You will also prime your selective attention to see more good in the world and to receive more gratitude, which will help you get your energy right to do more extraordinary things.
There are positive deviants all around us. They’re the people who have access to the same resources as everyone else; the same knowledge and the same amount of time, yet they seem to get more done, have more fun and win more often…
Bob Geldof famously banned any of his staff from working by email before lunchtime so that they could be fully engaged and creative in the mornings.
Winston Churchill used to nap after lunch every day and was sure that as a result he achieved way more than anyone who didn’t (it also helped him sleep off the booze…)
One of my clients, Marie, uses 2 desks. One for simple everyday working, the other for creative thinking. 2 different vibes for 2 different types of work.
Being a positive deviant becomes a way of life. To do so you need to understand what works for you and therefore experimentation is key. But when you find what works; never let go of it.
It will become your superpower. When you live it, every day will have more shine more bounce as you will bring more of your unique talents to bear.
Be you, everyone else is taken.
Chris Baréz-Brown, author, speaker and founder of Upping Your Elvis @barezbrown