Archive for the ‘Work Flow’ Category

Although I was into the flow of a good story and oblivious to my husband’s channel surfing, snippets of commentary began to invade my sanctuary and pique my interest. Within a few minutes, I found myself watching the Best Damn World Yoyo Contest (suffer through the advertising and then scroll through to about the 3 minute mark to see the winning performance). I had no idea a yoyo could be trained to do such tricks.

 Back in third grade, yo-yoing was play and a fun way to occasionally impress your friends. Simple tricks with dime store yo-yos were all the rage. I still remember my blue Duncan butterfly. If you could get your yo-yo to sleep, you were pretty darn good. And if you could manage a ‘round the world… well let’s just call you a guru. And now, forty years later, I find that there is a whole industry around yo-yos, from performers to judges to commentators. If so inclined, you can even rise to the level of National Grand Master. As with other sports, if you’re good enough, sponsors pay you to practice and compete full time. Who knew there was a career in yo-yo?

 And this got me thinking yet again about how to connect work, passions, and fun. Seems to be a recurring theme – maybe I should pay close attention…

 If people can really earn a living having fun, then what’s holding the rest of us back?

 And so I began to think of other examples of businesses that are fun and creative. The guys over at Magic Hat Brewery in Vermont have it figured out. If you’ve ever taken a tour of the Artifactory you know firsthand their passion for beer and fun. And why not? Is there some rule somewhere that says we must be serious and somber while working?

Really, though. Why don’t more of us turn our passions into work and have great fun doing so? The number one answer is fear.

 We fear failure.

We fear ridicule.

We fear hard work.

We fear actually having to make our own decisions.

We fear taking responsibility for our decisions.

We fear uncertainty.

We fear bankruptcy.

We fear isolation.

We fear loss of a predictable routine (and paycheck).

We fear success.

 Once we confront our fears, we need to take action. We can research, plan, organize, and dream all we want, but nothing happens until we take that first step. Nike understands: “Just do it.” All of us have a dream job in our heads. Every time I watch Myth Busters, I think, “What a fun job.” Or when I watch Top Chef, I picture myself competing to the bitter end and taking home the title. Then again, when I read a great author, I envision myself a writer. So what’s the first step?

To be a myth-buster, you have to learn how to blow up things and not be afraid to fail. To be a chef, you have to cook. To be a writer, you have to write – a lot. Start a blog and write something every day. Once you take that first action and apply persistence to it, you begin to get really good at it. Do you think those guys with the yo-yo’s picked up a yo-yo one day and the tricks just happened?

The point is to do something. Anything that moves you toward what you want most. Try this. Write down one sentence about what you want. I find that when I do this, it is much more difficult to articulate what I really want when I commit it to writing. Most of the time, it is too broad. At first, narrow the desire to a specific action. Keep adding small actions and pretty soon you have a plan. Use the power of the present moment. I find I sometimes get overwhelmed if I think about the grand plan of what I want to accomplish. Keeping my focus on the present also keeps me grounded. And so for today, I choose to have fun writing.

Do you know people who have carved a business out of fun and creative interests? If so, share a link so we can all be inspired.


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Most people who visit my office for the first time do a double take. From the door my office seems normal. A table and chairs, bookshelf, filing cabinet, and whiteboard. Then a curious look forms as they realize that the traditional desk has been replaced by modular cubicle units to create my standing work station. “You mean you stand like this all day?” “No,” I tell them, “unfortunately, I spend a lot of time sitting in meetings.” So far, no one has taken me up on the challenge to try it for themselves. Perhaps it’s just too unconventional. But then, we’re not all suited to try out-of-the-box ideas.

cimg3262Let’s Get Physical

The transition to a standing desk began ten years ago and I’ve never looked back. At first, I wasn’t too concerned with middle-age spread, it was more an outlet for my fidget factor. Now that I’m barely on speaking terms with my body-in-transition, any extra movement is vital to keeping away those extra pounds that seems to go straight to my midsection. Standing provides more opportunity to move and change positions frequently. Standing also prevents the slumping posture I tend to melt into when sitting for long periods of time. Most of the articles I’ve read about ergonomics stress changing positions as the key to preventing repetitive motion injury. Standing all day without moving or changing positions is no better than sitting all day. The key is to keep moving. Standing naturally encourages me to move about. Propping a foot on a stool under the desk helps maintain good spine alignment and posture. For those times when I need to sit, the table and chairs do the trick.

The next progression is to adopt a walking workstation. Physician James Levine pioneered the concept of walking workstations with his visionary office of the future. Expensive pre-fab models such as these at Steelcase may be worth the investment for long term health and well-being, although most anyone with tools and creative ingenuity could transform their own treadmill with a few dollars and some time. Since I am constantly on the run in my job, I really don’t need a treadmill just yet, but it would be a great option if I find myself in front of a computer most of the workday.

Avoid Brain Drain

Over the years, there were times when I had no option but to sit. Some were short while I waited for maintenance to reposition the cubicle desk height and others took much longer to find a creative solution. At one company my employer was skeptical, but approved my request if I could do it without buying any new furniture. A found bookcase and unused cart of the right height were fashioned into a standing work area. What does this have to do with brain drain, you ask? Through an entirely un-scientific study comparing sitting periods versus standing periods, it became clear to me that productivity, logical thinking, decision-making, and creativity improved with standing work. I have two theories about this. First, the frequency of getting up to move about interrupted my thought process while sitting. Second, standing allows my body energy to flow freely. I just feel more clear-headed when I stand to work, especially during those afternoon slump periods we all have. Since standing work areas are not standard office furniture, I needed to engage my creativity several times to design a work area that fit. Getting the creative juices flowing stimulates other brain functions and I’ve found that ideas flow more freely when I’m standing. An added bonus of the standing office is that pop-in visitors don’t stay as long since conducting business while standing gets us to the point faster.

Standing to work has many benefits. Constant physical movement, better posture, and increased productivity top the list. Of greater value for me is that standing to work provides an environment of energy and clarity needed to reach a flow state. There are many paths to finding flow at work. A standing desk is just one avenue that works for me. What are your creative ideas to find flow at work?

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Calm Satisfaction

cimg16411Perhaps I misnamed my blog. Or maybe it’s just that my definition of flow is different than I first thought. Or just maybe – I’ve come to a milestone in the journey. During those much-needed days of rest over the long holiday weekend, it finally occurred to me that what I am yearning for right now is contentment. Can a malcontent ever find flow in life? And how did I get here? Why must I always be looking for something different, something to improve about myself or my surroundings? Can it be that discontent drives me to growth that would never occur otherwise? Or is it just perfectionism in disguise? I spent three days with people who not only love me, but like me too. Three glorious days with no pressure to meet anyone’s unrealistic expectations – especially my own. A close encounter with an epiphany showed me that nearly all of the stress and pressure I’ve been feeling is self-inflicted. This is a scary revelation. Now I have to own it.

And so my journey to flow makes a side trip to finding contentment. I like the definition of contentment: a feeling of calm satisfaction. Key word here is calm. And calm goes back to being present. All roads lead to presence. Once there, everything is possible. So how to get there? Let’s start with gratitude. Like everything else in life, when I want to get better at something, I have to practice. When life gets hectic and stressful, it’s too easy for me to focus on the problems and begin to lose sight of everything that is good and lovely in my life. And so the easy step is to acknowledge all of those things and reflect on the blessings already abundant in my life. The challenge then, is finding gratitude with those things that cause me discontent.

I am thankful for my job. Really, I am. It pays the bills and I get to keep my treasured grown-up toy. I can even keep up with the college bills for three daughters. Trouble is, the job has sucked the life straight out of me and my wounded soul cries out for substance. How I would love to embrace mediocrity so that the impossibility of doing my best work was not so draining. Is that my sharp intellect and sparkling creativity fading off into oblivion? I’m scared. Afraid that it is gone forever – that the brain cells are damaged and not just atrophied. I’m exhausted by the daily battle of dealing with stubborn dogma and gargantuan egos. How do I find gratitude in this? Authentic gratitude that resides in the soul and gives birth to contentment? The only way to dig out of this black hole is one small acknowledgment at a time. Here goes:

I am truly grateful for the industrious and competent people on my staff.

I am truly grateful for the one person who keeps their promises.

I am truly grateful for the three team members who take personal responsibility to deliver their parts of the project we work on together.

I am truly grateful for the smile that bubbles up when a colleague answers “marvelous” to the question of how he’s doing.

I am truly grateful for the challenges that make me grow beyond my comfort zone.

I am truly grateful for realizing that most of the stress I feel at work is self-inflicted. I can change that.

I am truly grateful for the endless supply of decaf coffee and tea.

I am truly grateful that I have a place to go outside for lunch and soak up some sunshine.

I am truly grateful for the itty bit of work flexibility I have.

I am truly grateful that I don’t worry about losing my job.

There. I feel more content already.

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Sand Pail

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what I should be doing with my life and work. My 8 to 5 job has been more stress than joy and it’s time to plan for the next career. There is one certainty: no more of the same. Everything else is up for grabs. The ideal is to work anywhere, anytime – work that is portable and allows for travel and adventure. So how do I find my true calling? Work that allows me to be in a flow state – that taps into my passion? What is my passion, my strength? So many interests. Which one leads to income?

Head back to childhood dreams – that time in life when anything and everything was possible. What did I do; what did I aspire to? How many times did I infuriate my mother by taking things apart to discover how they worked? There was a passion to learn and experiment. I wanted to be an astronaut and a doctor. Always the teacher when playing school and loved to write and draw and read. Enjoyed athletic pursuits and competition. Could never get enough of the beach or of any kind of water. And I was always in the kitchen – tweaking recipes to suit my taste. Wow, I was eclectic as a kid too!

Now, what is important to me as an adult? Family, relationships, purpose, learning, discovery. Don’t want to be doctor any longer. The astronaut has been replaced with intrepid motorcycle adventurer. Okay, so I won’t get to the moon on a motorcycle this year…

I still love to cook and if I’m not learning, I’m suffocating. Maybe an inventor – the next Edison or DaVinci? Most days I feel as though there is some creative genius bottled up inside me just waiting for expression. Other days I just feel dull. Find myself in the flow state most often when I am learning, creating, or discovering – or at the beach. I’ve always had a secret desire to be a writer, but ended up with degrees in chemical engineering and education.  I’m keenly interested in design-how things work and contribute to a greater whole. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with healthy eating and simple living that also reduces impact to the environment. My greatest achievement so far is raising my daughters so that they are all self-reliant, confident young women ready to make unique contributions to this world.

So what is the common thread here? I see discovery, learning, and nurturing. What do you see? What were your childhood dreams and how close you are to living them now?

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Overwhelmed and frustrated. Too many tasks and unrealistic expectations. Execute flawlessly the first time – no time for mistakes. Rather than serenity of flow, I spent the last week working under tangled, choking stress. How do I free myself and find flow in the chaos? It escaped me this week. I’ll have another chance next week. At least I’ve learned more about myself and it’s a new day. These are the three most egregious enemies of flow I’ve found and what to do about them.


Let’s ask Kathy. I’ve become the answer source and problem solver at work for the many projects going on in my group. An endless stream of emails, phone calls, and people stopping by my office for “a quick question”. Where does it all end? I’ll tell you. It begins with no.

It’s really my own fault – I’ve unwittingly trained people for this behavior. My nature and strength is showing empathy, helping, and nurturing. In using these strengths, I have made a habit of dropping attention to what I’m working on to respond to others. At day’s end, others have finished their work and I end up staying late or taking work home so I can concentrate without interruptions. By then, I’m feeling resentful and flow is nowhere to be found. I can’t get past the daily grind tasks to my real work – the work that is creative and fulfilling; work that energizes rather than drains.

A few weeks ago, I managed to find flow in the midst of the chaos. I know it can be done. Practice eliminating interruptions. Defend your boundaries. Let go of the ego’s insatiable appetite to be needed. Say no. No to meetings. No to email. No to interruptions. Close the door. No, lock the door. Work in a remote location and assign tasks. Forward calls directly to voicemail. Turn off email. The world does not come to an end. People actually answer their own questions or find the answers they need for themselves. Others will always allow you to do their work for them – do your own work.

Give yourself permission to work without interruptions for a block of time. I need a minimum of 2 hours, but 4 is better. Train your colleagues and staff to respect your time. Set office hours, respond to voice and email messages at specific times, don’t answer knocks at the door. If you are lucky enough to be a cubicle dweller, wear headphones and purchase a cubicle door. When I was desperate to get some pressing work done and implemented these tactics, I couldn’t believe the difference. Not only did the work get done; I actually enjoyed the creative process of the work and went home to do more creative stuff in the evening. But, alas, I was a backslider this week. The difficulty is staying the course. It’s been said that it takes about a month of diligent practice to form a new habit (I find it takes me more like 3 months) – but oh so worth it!


I read somewhere that your brain’s ability to function while multi-tasking is similar to your brain in an impaired state. I believe it. Trying to constantly shift my attention leaves me feeling drained and exhausted. Not much gets done and what does get done is not my best work. When I resort to multi-tasking to be the super woman at work or for others, I find that I end up scattered, stressed and sassy. I can just imagine how I come across to others in this state – definitely not the poised, strong, confident woman I want to project.

Flow requires focus. Many women are afflicted with the idea that the only way to get everything done is to do many things at the same time– me included. Let go of this. As much as possible, focus your attention on a single task. Be present. Allow yourself to find energy and enjoyment in one thing at a time. As with interruptions, the magic word for multi-tasking is no – don’t do it.

About a month ago, I had more responsibilities than I could handle. It was killing me. I negotiated a reallocation of responsibilities with my boss that allowed me to focus on critical work. While trying to multi-task to keep every area moving I was headed for burn-out and the work coming out of my group was poor. My staff was not too happy about the transition, but their work and mine is better for it.

The irony of single-tasking is that sometimes you actually get more done. Even if you don’t get more done, a single task completed in flow results in higher quality and contributes to your well-being. This well-being then cascades through your interactions to others and that positive energy benefits everyone around you.

Breaking Healthy Routines

One area I’ve been working on this year is discipline to create and maintain healthy habits. This week I noticed that I allowed stress to derail my best healthy practices. For the sake of allotting more time to get the pressing work done that was due this week, I skipped my morning meditation and walk to get to work earlier. I also ended up cutting my lunch breaks short and chose to work while I ate lunch rather that go outside to eat and take a walk. This was followed by several late evenings. By the time I got home, I was not hungry, and craved junk food. The cumulative effect was a drain to my energy and vitality. Not only were my mind and emotions stressed, now I added physical stress.

So far, I’ve discovered flow happens when I’m feeling healthy – spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Distractions from ill health hinder flow. Do those practices that promote well-being. My morning routine sets the tone and creates a welcoming environment for flow. Meditation clears mind clutter. A brisk walk invigorates the body. A healthy breakfast fuels the brain. Quiet reflection renews the spirit. Flow comes from within – nurture and care for yourself.

We each have a unique contribution to the world. Can yours find expression through the cacophony? Finding flow for creative expression is about personal choices we make very day. This week, my choices thwarted flow. Next week, I intend to choose differently.


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