Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Have a HAPPY (no: a REALLY happy ) New Year


How many times in your life (or even today) do you estimate you have reflexively greeted friends and strangers alike with a cheery  "Happy new year?"  Have you ever thought about why we say "happy" and not some other positive wish?

We may never know the answer to that question - my Google search came up empty - but we can say that "happy" is a great wish to make:  happiness is good for our mental and physical health, our relationships, and, relevant to our purposes today,  our productivity.

I've been interested for some time in the relationship between happiness and productivity, and it turns out there is a fairly robust literature in the field of positive psychology supporting this association.

You'll be happy to know that I don't plan to present an entire literature review - but I will tantalize you with a few high level findings.

Happiness is more than a transient emotion. 

Seligman and colleagues, major contributors in this field,  work from an operational definition of happiness with three componentss: (a) positive emotion and pleasure (the pleasant life); (b) engagement (the engaged life); and (c) meaning (the meaningful life). These last two aspects have the most influence on long term benefits.

For example, this means that if my Iowa Hawkeyes lose their bowl game with LSU tomorrow, the transient UN-happiness I will feel won't ruin my life.

Happiness not only results from being productive or successful, but also contributes to these outcomes.

Lybomirsky, another major player in this field, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of  happiness studies conducted prior to 2005, and found that "happiness is associated with and preceded numerous successful outcomes, as well as behaviors paralleling success."

So happiness is both chicken and egg.

Happiness can be increased.

In another meta-analysis, Lyubomiersky et al concluded that "clients [with depression] will greatly beneļ¬t from attending to, appreciating, and attaining life’s positives."  Examples of the types of interventions that may help include spending more time in enjoyable activities, keeping a diary of positive experiences during the day, and focusing on new ways to use your strengths, or even  "counting one's blessings.  

Now its true that many of the intervention studies have been done in a patient population - but it seems reasonable to think these kinds of interventions could be more broadly helpful. 
Folks in the business world are taking note.  Allison Rimm, former Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning and Information Management at Massachusetts General Hospital, and now an executive coach, believes that finding happiness and joy in your work is critical to success. 

In a recent blog, she writes that "happiness on the job is a leading indicator of an individual's ability to sustain a high level of passion, performance, and productivity over the long run."

There you have it.  Happier is better.

What can you do to have a happier 2014?

 Here are some ideas to get you started:

Take a look at the website of Dr. Dike Drummond (Family Medicine at the Mayo Clinic),  www.TheHappyMD.com  for loads of ideas aimed at physicians, but useful for anyone.  Take a particular look at his process for creating a better 2014

Mindfulness is associated with happiness.  You can begin this practice by using Martin Boroson's the One Moment Meditation technique.   Martin teaches this method in both the corporate world, and in health care, and the video on his home page is a great place to start.

A simple technique, supported by the literature, is spending just a little bit more time every day intentionally doing things that you love - and this can help both at home and at work.

Please send me a note if you have other ideas that have worked for you, or success with one of these methods.

And have a VERY Happy New Year.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FAQ: Do I have to write EVERY day? Would once a week work?

From time to time, I will share a question that has been posed to me by a workshop participant or coaching client.  The one for today should be relevant to many of you.

The background for the question is my recommendation, based on expert opinion from the writing world, that you aim to do at least a brief session (45 minutes or so) of writing on your scholarly project every day, or at least on most days.  

This is the way many professional writers work, and there is some empirical evidence that this approach produces more writing, and better writing than what Robert Boice calls "binge writing," a term he uses to describe the practice of waiting to write until large uninterrupted blocks of time show up, or a deadline looms.  

I've summarized all of this in one of the articles posted elsewhere on my website titled Becoming a Productive Academic Writer.

Here is the question:

I have heard about the data on writing before (most successful academics write for 30 -60 minutes a day) . I talked to my mentors about that data (your presentation, Dr. Boice, Dr. Kerry Rockquemore). All three said they write in blocks not every day. Some only write once a week but the entire day. I have heard that from very productive physician faculty. Is there data on physician scientist or physician educators who are involved in research careers on when they write and how long?

Here is my answer:

Dear workshop participant,

Your question is a great one.  

I am not aware of any data from a medical school faculty cohort.  Boice's work was mostly in a Liberal Arts setting.

However, I'll throw out an "educated guess" response. 

  • The major purpose of writing daily is to be more productive.  Classic "binge" writing (as described by Boice) is writing that occurs infrequently, every few weeks or even months, and it seems obvious that such a schedule cannot lead to maximal productivity.The only alternative that has been studied, albeit with small numbers of subjects, is the daily method.  The rest of the evidence is based on interviews with professional writers - who don't have anything else to do with their time, unlike clinicians!  
  • The second purpose of writing daily is that your brain stays engaged in the work, so that "warming up" is not needed, and, new ideas show up spontaneously more readily.

I would think about the idea of weekly writing like this:  

The daily method (using the minimal time approach) yields a minimum of 30-60 minutes a day of writing, with the advantages of the close connection between writing sessions i just described.

The weekly method could yield the same minimum of writing time (2.5-5 hours), and the sessions are probably still close enough to  get the other benefit as well.

You can see if you start to move the long session out to every 2 weeks or longer, it will be difficult to get the same amount written as the daily method, and the "session proximity benefits" will be  increasingly fewer the longer you wait between sessions. 

So, my "logical" conclusion is that once a week should work fine, as long as you make the session at least 2.5 hours!!
Let me know how it goes,

I'll add that this approach of taking daily action is recommended for any major project you are working on, so you can use this advice even if you don't have writing on your agenda. 

What do YOU think?  What is your experience with the time frame YOU use to write, or that of your peers or mentors?  You can write to me directly (srj.susanjohnson@gmail.com), or post a comment here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Alan Weiss, on saying "no!"

We all have too much to do, and we also often struggle with giving up out-of-date ideas or beliefs, and projects that aren't going anywhere or aren't relevant to our goals.

One of my favorite consultants, Alan Weiss, addresses this problem in his usual inimitable, straightforward - and yes, blunt - way in a new short video.

Spend 5 minutes and take a look:  Alan Weiss on "Dropping Weights."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

4th of July special: How the miracle of "snakes" can make you more productive

Recently, a good friend of mine told me I should stop saying I was a blogger because I don't post regularly (an understatement, for sure).  

Oops!  She was right...

I've been stewing about this problem in the weeks since, and today, thanks to the recent 4th of July holiday, my children, and some "snakes" I was reminded of the answer and  discovered the perfect topic for my return to the blogosphere.

Here is how it happened.  This morning, the two teens decided to extend the holiday another day by setting off some snakes (made by Phantom Fireworks) in the driveway.  

How snakes work.

(Photo credits to my daughter Lydia.)

The unlit snake looks a bit like a Tootsie Roll, but not so appetizing:

To set off, light one end.  Then, watch the miracle: under the influence of the continuous flame,  a very long ashen "snake" is produced, appearing to arise out of nothing.

The final snake can be not only long, but  complex.  (I've included a flip flop-clad foot to add authenticity.)

So what do these snakes have to do with productivity?

Think of the unlit snake as an unacted on task - formless, small, unrealized.

By adding the flame of regular, consistent  action, you will watch your results emerge almost effortlessly.

You'll not only complete the task, but by applying regular consistent action your result will often be more complex and satisfying than you had imagined.

If this seems too simple to be true, give it a try: 

  1. Pick a task, any task, that you've been putting off.
  2. Figure out one action you could take that would get you closer to "done," and do it today.
  3. Tomorrow, do the same thing.
  4. And so on, every day, until the task is complete.