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  • Crystal Ellefsen 10:00:20 on 2018/12/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , commitments, , , , , , , , , , , work   

    2018 Is Almost Over! Time for an “18 for 2018” Update. 

    In episodes 149 and 152 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I talked about how we created a list of our "18 for 2018"—eighteen things we wanted to get done in 2018.

    I've been surprised by how enthusiastically people have embraced this approach to making changes and meeting aims for the new year. It's a really fun exercise.

    Well, we’re nearing the end of 2018, and I thought I’d review my progress so far.

    I have to say, I'm pleased with my list! I've crossed off every item.

    1. Start having weekly adventures with Eleanor.

    Eleanor and I have gone on many adventures in 2018, to the Cooper Hewitt (Eleanor's favorite museum), the Metropolitan Museum, the Frick, Color Factory exhibit, the Asia Society, and elsewhere. We also did a big adventure to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, though that doesn't really count as a "weekly" adventure.

    eleanor at museum 1 

    2. Fix my headset, runs out of battery really fast.

    3. Set up a home studio in this closet for my "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live" Facebook show.

    After talking to a lighting expert, I decided not to convert my closet, which he thought might seem claustrophobic to me and viewers, so instead, I bought a big standing light. He showed me how to adjust the light in the room for better video quality. Click here to view the schedule and join me on my next live show.

    4. Work with Barnaby so he’s better at coming when I call him.

    When I announced on the Happier podcast that I'd given up on this item, many listeners got in touch to encourage me to keep working on it—so I did! Now Barnaby does reliably come from anywhere in the apartment when I say "Barnaby, TOUCH."

    5. Clean out my massive tote bag collection. Each one is special.

    6. Take Eleanor to get her contacts checked.

    Although she (and I) resisted dealing with it, Eleanor is now very happy to be wearing contacts.

    7. Start making consistent progress on "Report to the Committee on Exploration." [should be crossed out//]

    We're in the very final stages of this project! My friend and I are creating this together, and our part is finished. All that's left is to receive the actual books. I'm so excited to see the final masterpiece. (If you want to read about a similar project called "Four to Llewelyn's Edge," I describe it here). We even have a gorgeous logo that was created by the brilliant Gabe Greenberg// for this imaginary inter-steller organization.

    8. Create a work calendar for the year.

    9. Finish My Color Pilgrimage and figure out what the heck to do with it; similarly, Outer Order, Inner Calm.

    Outer Order, Inner Calm is well on its way to publication on March 5, 2018. (If you feel inclined to pre-order, I really appreciate it! Pre-orders give such a boost to a book among booksellers, the public, and the press). Because of that book's publication, and also because The Happiness Project, Tenth Anniversary Edition came out November 2018, I decided to postpone worrying about My Color Pilgrimage until February 2019. I want things to calm down a bit.

    10. Tap more into my love of smell.

    I've been trying new perfumes more consistently and wearing my favorites more consistently. (One of my favorite times to wear perfume? When I'm going to bed.) I also signed up for two terrific perfume courses at the Pratt Institute. This weekend is my final class. Most important, I've been more aware of scent as I go through my ordinary day. It's easy to ignore smells, I find, if I don't make an effort to notice and appreciate them.

    11. Plan perfume field trip with a friend. [should be crossed out//]

    I did this twice and want to continue to do it. I've been to Perfumerie and Fueguia—I highly recommend both shops. I tried to go to Twisted Lily, which is near the Panoply studio where I recorded the Happier podcast, but it was closed. Eleanor and I went to an exhibit called "Design Beyond Vision" at the Cooper Hewitt—that was a great scent field trip. We visited a perfume museum when we were in Paris this summer. I'm always looking for a way to have a scent field trip.

    12. Get new phone for camera to improve the video quality of my weekly Facebook show, "Ask Gretchen Rubin Live".

    13. Figure out Instagram features and use it regularly.

    I still want to make better use of the many fun features of Instagram, but I am using it consistently. Eleanor has really enjoyed showing me how to use some of its quirkier aspects.

    14. Decide on a cause to give to as a family.

    We decided to give to Bottom Line, which helps low-income and first-generation-to-college students get to and through college; students get individual support to ensure they have the information and guidance they need to get into and graduate from college, from being a high-school senior all the way through to college graduation and career plan. I have a friend who works in philanthropy and is especially knowledgeable about educational organizations, and she recommended Bottom Line as an organization that does a really great job achieving its aims.

    15. Create the Four Tendencies workshop.

    As I expected, this item was one of the most demanding of all the items on the list. It took many months, lots of hard work, and the contributions of several terrific people. It's so exciting to have it finished! Ever since Better Than Before was published, people have asked for a Four Tendencies workshop. It's thrilling to be able to answer "yes" at last.

    16. Deal with the items we want to donate to Housing Works.

    In an extraordinary piece of luck, a Housing Works store has opened less than a block from my apartment. I've given so much to Housing Works (which, unlike many places, also accepts books). Working on Outer Order, Inner Calm has really helped me to stay focus on the satisfaction of donating items.

    17. Creating a list for listeners of the Try This at Homes and Happiness Hacks so far.

    At last! And just in time. You can download these two PDF resources here. I'll update these lists at the end of each year, and periodically after that.

    18. Get current with making physical photo albums with Shutterfly.

     

    What conclusions do I draw from my list?

    The biggest conclusion is that making an "18 for 2018" list is a great idea. I'm sure that I accomplished much more in 2018 than I would have otherwise. Putting items on the list, reviewing the list, talking it over with Elizabeth, seeing the list on the cork-board next to my desk, the desire to score a perfect 18 by December 31—all these mean that I'm much more likely to get these things done.

    Plus it's fun! I got a tremendous kick out of this challenge.

    I've also concluded that it's good to have a mix of items, with different levels of difficulty.

    Some span a long period of time and take collaboration with other people, like #9 and #15.

    Some are fairly easy, but need to be done regularly for me to see the benefit, like #1 or #16.

    Some were fairly easy to cross off the list, like #14.

    Some are time-consuming, but just once, or every once in a while, like #6.

    Some are fun, like #10 and #11.

    Some aren't fun, like #18.

    But they've all made my life happier in some way.

    One question: Given that I completed all items, should I have aimed higher? Was I too modest in my list-making? Robert Browning wrote, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what's a heaven for?" I can see an argument for both approaches.

    Are you finding it fun or burdensome to try to meet your New Year’s resolutions, observe your one-word theme for the year, or tackle your "18 for 2018?" 

    Want to share your list on Instagram? Use #18for2018 and #HappierPodcast and tag me: @gretchenrubin

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:12 on 2018/09/27 Permalink
    Tags: , Bradley Tusk, , , work   

    “I Get So Focused on Whatever I’m Doing That I Wake Up at 3 a.m. Just to Check My Email.” 

    Interview: Bradley Tusk.

    Through my husband, Bradley and I have been friends for several years  -- plus we also had the chance to work together briefly on an issue related to organ donation. Bradley has an unusual combination of qualities: he's highly thoughtful and contemplative, highly effective, and extremely comfortable with conflict.

    He's had a very colorful career. Among other roles, he was Deputy Governor of Illinois, campaign manager for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, worked with startups like Uber and Lemonade, and is the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings, a multi-faceted platform that includes multiple businesses. I knew some of the highlights of his history, but I was excited to learn more of the details by getting my hands on my copy of his new book The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics.

    Because he's thought so much about happiness, habits, and productivity, I couldn't wait to interview Bradley on these subjects.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Bradley: I never end a workday without having finished the day’s to-do list, made the next day’s list and returned or at least dealt with every incoming call, text and email. It’s not like things automatically stop happening once I do those things but it makes it a lot easier to enjoy the evening.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Bradley: That the cliché about “it’s the journey, not the process” ended up being right. I spent way too long chasing specific achievements and then wondering why I wasn’t happier when each one happened. I still have a pretty ambitious list of goals but I now get that the work we do to achieve them is far more interesting, fulfilling and important than that one moment at the end when you check the box. Writing my book – The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups From Death By Politics – also helped me figure this out since it forced me to look back at my life and career and lay out how things happened.

    Gretchen: You’ve had fascinating experiences. What experience surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    Bradley: That nothing comes easy – and that there’s no secret book of knowledge or answers. Everyone’s mainly making it up as they go along and doing their best. The people who put the most into it, take the most risk, are willing to have the biggest ideas, and are willing to be held accountable tend to be the people who succeed. That was true even when I worked for Mike Bloomberg as his campaign manager. Mike’s a genius but it wasn’t like he inherently just knew everything. He put the work in. Every single day.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Bradley: My kids – like all kids – never got ready for school when they were supposed to. I’d ask nicely half a dozen times and then start yelling. That never actually moved anything along, it just made everyone really upset. I realized what I was doing, spent a lot of time thinking about it, a lot of time working on it in therapy, a lot of time reminding myself and eventually, I stopped doing it altogether. They’re still usually late for school.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    Bradley: According to this, a Rebel, which is a relief since I work in technology and am supposed to disrupt things.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Bradley: Boredom is the biggest problem. If I’m really busy and focused on whatever I’m trying to do, I’m usually good. But if I’m bored, that’s when I start causing the kind of trouble that’s counter-productive (although sometimes fun). The other is obsession. I get so focused on whatever I’m doing that I’ll wake up at 3am every morning just to check my email. That’s not healthy – whatever’s on there will still be there at 5am.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Bradley: I spent four years as Deputy Governor of Illinois. My boss was the now incarcerated, frequently insane Rod Blagojevich. About halfway through, I couldn’t take it anymore. I flew home to New York for a week with every intention of never going back. My friend Rob Galligan and I spent around three hours walking through Central Park, talking about why I hated Rod so much. And by the time we were done, I realized the job wasn’t about Rod. He was just an impediment. The job was about the ways we could help people and do things differently and what I could learn from it. Not shockingly, Rob went on to become a very successful therapist.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    Bradley: There’s a sign on the wall of my kids’ school that says “Character is what you do when no one is watching.” Whether it’s going home to get more bags and then back outside to pick up our dog’s poop off the street or making the extra effort to recycle or tipping every Uber driver even though the trip is over, you’re out of the car and will never see them again, I think about that sign — and do things I don’t really feel like doing — all the time.

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

    Bradley: When I was in elementary school, I read a novel about politics called Advise and Consent by Alan Drury. The minute I finished the book, I knew I wanted to work in politics. Most of real life in politics wasn’t as exciting as the book but enough of it was that I’m grateful to the librarian who handed it to me.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Bradley: As a venture capitalist, people outside the field tend to focus on the capitalist part and assume the point of the job is to just make as much money as possible. That’s obviously part of it, but every good VC I know cares far more about building new companies, launching new ideas and disrupting the status quo than just making a good return. You don’t become a VC to get rich. You become a VC because you like blowing things up.

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:00:48 on 2018/09/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , work, workshop   

    You Asked for It: You Got It: Announcing the Four Tendencies Workshop! 

    Ever since I first introduced the idea of the Four Tendencies, people have asked me for more and more information.

    After I created the free Quiz to tell people whether they're Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels, people wanted more information.

    When I wrote Better Than Before, my book about how to make and break habits, I devoted the very first chapter to the Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I decided to write a whole book about the Four Tendencies, called (spoiler alert) The Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I created a free app, the Better app, where people can post questions, create accountability, swap strategies, and generally commiserate about the Four Tendencies. But people wanted more.

    So I created a video course for people who wanted to go deeper into the nuances of the Four Tendencies. But people still wanted more!

    I keep hearing from readers and listeners who want to hold workshops about the Four Tendencies.

    Some people are excited about the framework and want to spread the information to their team, clients, or employees.  They know that by taking the Four Tendencies into account, they can communicate more effectively, end procrastination, understand resistance, and generally get things done more easily.

    So...here it is! The Four Tendencies Workshop.

    This workshop is for you if you’d like to present an in-person workshop with a group of adults to teach them about my Four Tendencies personality framework.

    This workshop is designed for small-to-large groups of adults who want to learn how the Four Tendencies can help them improve their relationships with clients, co-workers, patients, students, trainees, friends, or family—as well as prevent conflict, improve procrastination, address burnout, promote understanding, and persuade effectively.

    Rather than just presenting the information from The Four Tendencies book, this workshop offers scenarios and opportunities to practice applying knowledge in pairs or small groups. It's a fun, high-energy, and very engaging experience.

    To facilitate this workshop, you don’t need expertise—only a knowledge of the participants and their goals, and a willingness to explore with them the applications of the Four Tendencies.

    Whether you’re a health-care professional, an in-house educator at a large corporation, an independent consultant helping small organizations with team building, a coach, pastor, teacher, or manager, this workshop provides all the materials you need to lead your group through a 1-, 2-, or 3-hour workshop about the Four Tendencies framework.

    Click here to learn more or register now.

    Note: If you're looking for a way to dive deeper into the Four Tendencies framework as an individual, then you'll want to consider my Four Tendencies video course (now open for enrollment!); this workshop was created for in-person group facilitators.

    I'm so happy to be able to offer this resource for people. And, I will give myself a gold star: this launch means I can cross another item off my "18 for 2018" list. #15 is accomplished!

    I hope you and your group find the workshop useful.

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:31 on 2018/09/06 Permalink
    Tags: attention, , Chris Baily, distraction, focus, , , work   

    “I’m One of the Laziest People You’ll Ever Meet—and That’s What Drives My Productivity.” 

    Interview: Chris Bailey.

    Chris Bailey is a writer who thinks a lot about productivity -- he literally wrote the book on it, The Productivity Project.

    He has a new book that just hit the shelves: Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction. It turns out that when you're trying to be productive, it's important to know how to keep your focus.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Chris about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers – most?

    Chris: My latest project is my book Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction, which is a deep dive into the research on how our attention works—how we can sharpen our focus, better relax our attention to recharge, and how we can resist falling victim to distraction (long story short, being distracted isn’t our fault, but there are also science-backed ways we can manage our attention better).

    One common theme kept recurring as I connected the research: that the state of our attention determines the state of our lives. If we’re distracted in each moment, these moments accumulate, day by day, week by week, year by year, to create a life that’s distracted. When we focus on what’s meaningful and productive in each moment, these moments accumulate to create a life that’s filled with those same qualities.

    This surprised me. I went into the project thinking I was writing a productivity book. But the more research I explored, the more I realized that managing our attention isn’t only a way to squeeze more productivity out of our day. It’s a way by which we can live a more meaningful life, and even increase our happiness.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits?

    Chris: I spend around half of my year on the road. This is totally fine, but last-minute travel can really trip up my healthy habits.

    I make sure to plan ahead if I see a heavy bout of travel in my calendar. I stay at hotels with gyms (and bathtubs!), look for healthy take-out options nearby, and schedule time to meditate and talk to friends and my fiancée, all of which ground me and make me happier. Obstacles are a piece of cake—provided we deal with them in advance. Last-minute trips make this planning a lot more difficult.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Chris: Yes: that laziness is a bad thing. I’m one of the laziest people you’ll ever meet—and that’s precisely what drives my productivity. My laziness motivates me to look for shortcuts (ones that don’t diminish the quality of my work), and also forces me to carve out room so I can think more deeply about what I’m doing and creating. Setting aside this time for idle thinking is one of the best things we can do for our productivity.

    Looking at the state of our attention, we spend so much time responding in autopilot to the tasks that come our way. It’s in the space between doing tasks—when we let our attention rest and wander in these periods that sometimes come across as lazy—that we choose what to do next (we think about our goals 14x more when our mind is wandering versus when we’re focused). This is also when our best ideas strike.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    Chris: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

    The source of this proverb is unknown, but it’s one of my favorites. I’ve found it to be true across pretty much every part of my life. For example, a lot of people assume that putting out a book is a solo project. But speaking from personal experience, the cumulative work of everyone else on the team is likely far greater than my own. Between editing the book, pitching it to media outlets, marketing it, designing the cover, creating translations, and so on, publishing a book (at least in the traditional way) is a team sport.

    At work, at home, and everywhere else, our happiness, productivity, and success is intertwined with the happiness, productivity, and success of the people surrounding us. If you think it isn’t, you’re not living up to your full potential.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Chris: I practice Buddhism, and one of its central tenants is that happiness is nothing more than coming to terms with how things change. We can do this by managing our expectations—that’s meant a mental shift where I now believe things never truly go wrong, they just go differently than I expected.

    Truthfully, these ideas took a while for me to internalize. Once I did, my stress levels plummeted. This is not to say I don’t strive for success, especially by more traditional measures (money, recognition, and so on). But today, when I notice my happiness is being batted around by external circumstances, I make sure to check what expectations I had in the first place.

    When doing so, I often find there’s something I felt entitled to that I shouldn’t have, or some uncomfortable truth that I’m not willing to face about myself or the situation. It’s always worth running towards discomfort.

    Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey

     
  • gretchenrubin 14:37:32 on 2018/08/07 Permalink
    Tags: aims, , , , Labor Day, , , work   

    Try Using Labor Day as a Catalyst to Think About Your Work Life. #HappierLaborDay 

    If you listen to the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, you've heard me mention the idea of "Happier Labor Day."

    In the United States, Labor Day falls on September 3 this year.

    Labor Day celebrates the contributions and achievements of workers to the strength and prosperity of the country. It also unofficially marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new year (as I write about in Happier at Home, September is the other January).

    This year, just as Valentine’s Day is a day to think about your romantic relationship, and New Year’s Day is a day to think about what you want to achieve in the upcoming year, try using Labor Day as a day to think about your own labor – your own work life.

    How could you be happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative in your work life?

    What do you want to accomplish in your upcoming year of work?

    We can think about this issue at any time during the year of course – yes, Questioners, this is arbitrary – but I've found that something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.

    We can think about what we could do better, what we might want to change, how we could grow, whether that’s to do a side hustle, write a spec script, go to a networking event, avoid the vending machines, update a resume and start looking for a new job.

    It could be something as big as switching careers or something as mundane as cleaning out your desk.

    For example, do you want to choose a one-word theme for your work aims? Last year, my theme was “Re-Purpose.”

    If you could magically achieve one aim in your work life over the next year, what would it be? Would you magically learn a new software program, get a new boss, or switch careers?

    In your work life, do you use a piece of technology or equipment that’s obsolete, but you haven’t pushed yourself to deal with the hassle of replacement? Want to check it off the list? Excellent tools make work so much easier and more pleasant.

    Post your ideas, questions, reflections about using “Labor Day” as a catalyst here in the comments, or post to #HappierLaborDay, or leave a message at (774)277-9336 (77 HAPPY 336), or send an email or voice memo to podcast@gretchenrubin.

    We’re doing this across the Onward Project podcasts. Side Hustle School is going to talk about this issue, and so is Happier in Hollywood. We all come to it from a different perspective.

    In the tumult of everyday life, it can be hard to find an occasion to step back and ask ourselves the big questions. Labor Day can be an opportunity to reflect.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:14 on 2018/06/28 Permalink
    Tags: Alex Salkever, , , Vivek Wadhwa, work   

    “Reading Is the Best Habit for Lifelong Learning, and It Helps with Other Skills like Concentration and Meditation.” 

    Interview: Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever.

    Vivek Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, has written several books and been a columnist for Fortune, the Washington Post and other noted publications.

    Alex Salkever is an author and technology executive who formerly served as technology editor at BusinessWeek and as a visiting researcher at Duke University. He advises technology companies on product, strategy and marketing and is a regular columnist for Fortune.

    The two paired up to write the book The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Can Change the Future.

    Now they've teamed up again to write a new book: Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain--and How to Fight Back.

    In it, they examine the question of how technology influences our thoughts and behaviors. They focus on the four key areas of Love, Work, Self, and Society and document problems caused by technology--and then suggest strategies to take back control of technology.

    I was eager to hear from Alex and Vivek about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Alex: This may sound strange, but doing the dishes! It’s a structured activity and I have a specific way of doing it that gives me some comfort. Every dish type has its place. And I have a routine around washing dishes - the small spoons go in the same basket, the desert bowls fit into the upper rack on right. More conventionally, I love going walking or jogging in the redwood forest near my house. If I am close to an ocean, I try to go surfing to clear my head. It’s my passion. I sometimes get my best ideas out there. And I can honestly say I have never gotten out of the water less happy than when I got into the water. In general, it's a question I ask - do I feel happier and more fulfilled after I do something. If the answer is consistently “No” then I try to curtail that activity. If the answer is “Yes!” I try to do more of that activity.

    Vivek: For me, going for a hike and getting off the grid is really crucial in keeping me healthy and productive. I also meditate daily to slow down my brain, which naturally runs at a really high speed. I make sure to spend some time every week disconnected and on a trail. And there is the question of happiness: spending as much time as possible with family is the best route for me.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Alex: Don’t beat up on yourself if you don’t succeed in building healthy habits. Establishing and maintaining healthy habits is very hard, really a lifelong process that never stops. But make sure the habits you prioritize the highest and work the hardest to fulfill are the ones that make you happiest. When I was living in Hawaii as a recent college graduate, I made it a priority to get in the water and go surfing at least five days per week. I was often busy building a writing career which eventually took me to BusinessWeek and into books. But come 4 pm, I was in the water and to this day some of my happiest memories are with me. That lesson - prioritize what is the most important - is something I wish I had known when I was very young. I would have worried a lot less and probably had more fun.

    Vivek: You should follow your heart. It is easy to follow your mind or your hunger, but that little voice inside guides you on practically everything if you listen to it. This comes into play the most in happiness, when you are having to make decisions about what is right and wrong. There are choices we have to make every day that need to be based on our values.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Alex: Oh, definitely. Compulsively checking texts. In the book, I write about how I almost killed a group of cyclists while texting and driving on this dangerous coastal highway north of San Francisco. It was the stupidest thing. How could I risk so much just to read a text? But I’m not that different than tens of millions of people. (I’ve since set a new habit of putting my phone away when I get behind the wheel). I get distracted by shiny objects on the internet and have to work hard to stay focused. I struggle to not check email and read random news on the internet (usually on Hacker News). And I have to work hard to put down the smartphone and leave it alone, or in a drawer. I can honestly say my technology addiction is my worst bad habit - it pushes me towards doing the “urgent” or tackling the “noisy” task rather than working on what’s really important. I never met anyone who said they wish they had spent more time answering emails or looking at pictures on Facebook. And I personally find the less time I spend with technology, the more happy I am (to a certain point - I need technology to earn a living, of course).

    Vivek: I’m like Alex. I had a heart attack a few years ago driven in part by my technology-induced stress levels (I write about that in the book). So I have to work hard to disconnect and not feel like I need to respond to things quickly. I’ve gotten much better at it, though, and have built some systems around it. Like I don’t even bother to check voice mails a lot of the time and I post to social media but I don’t read that much on social media; it’s not the best use of time. Technology really is an addiction, that you have to manage--and overcome!

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you?

    Alex: Spending time with my children. I try to do it every day, for at least a few hours. Usually playing sports or talking. Reading is next. I think that reading is the best habit for lifelong learning and it helps with other skills like concentration and meditation.

    Vivek: Meditation and mindfulness.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Alex: A healthy habit I started a year ago that has stuck is running in the morning when I wake up. It was a hard one to get going. I like running but am not really a morning person. I also have a bad habit of staying up late to read and sometimes I get creative inspiration at night. I’m not a night owl but I’m not a lark, either. I did a few things. First, I started laying out my running clothes - socks, shorts, shoes, t-shirt - every evening before I went to bed. That removed a mental barrier which may seem insignificant but actually was a key obstacle. I am a time counter so if it took me five minutes to gather my clothes, in my mind I would subtract five minutes from my running time and sometimes that took me below the threshold of where it was worthwhile to run. Second, I would write down a mini activity diary for the next day and would list in the “Exercise” section the run I planned. This was both an affirmation and a commitment. Third, I switched my running routine to places where I love to run. There are a few trails near my house that go through forests of oak, laurel and redwoods and one stunning trail down to the Pacific Ocean past hills of wildflowers. It takes a few minutes extra to drive to those trailheads. I don’t have enough time to get to them by running and get to work. But running in those beautiful places makes it so much more pleasurable that it feels like a real reward. Lastly, after my run I would stop at my favorite coffee shop and buy an Americano, my favorite coffee drink. By putting these pieces together - planning and reward - it helped me turn a resolution into a pretty robust habit that’s stuck for a year.

    Vivek: I try to switch off all technology by 9 PM and get to bed by 10 PM. And then I wake as early as I can. It is easy to watch late shows and stay connected, but early to bed and early to rise is the best habit of all.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    Vivek: According to the quiz, I am a Questioner. I won’t dispute this!

    Alex: The quiz results describe me as a “Questioner” and parts of that definitely make sense. I crave perfect information and am a perfectionist in many realms. I also think I have parts of Rebel and Obliger in me. I really don’t like getting bossed around and told what to do. I definitely resist external expectations and relish the role of non-traditionalist. I have trouble working for people I don’t respect. But I am an “Obliger” too in that sometimes I struggle to advocate for myself and I may coddle my children and my employees to much. I respect and prioritize my duties to others over what might make me happier and saner. But at least with family, I think that’s the only way to live - family comes first.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or to stay happy?

    Alex: I would say lack of sleep is the biggest problem. Everything else breaks down when I get less than six hours and less than seven is not great either. You can ask my wife. I am more likely to get angry, to get depressed, to say silly things. I am less patient. I have trouble eating healthy and sticking to exercise regimes. Sleep is the linchpin. I only realized this, ironically, after I left a heavy-duty job as a vice president at Mozilla, where I was expected to be always on. That meant never enough sleep. Once I left and took some time off, for the first time since college I made it a point to get enough sleep. It was like a light went on. I could actually feel the difference between six and seven hours, and see how negatively it affected my day.

    Vivek: It is always sleep that is the problem!

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare?

    Vivek: I’ll take this one. I was on a family vacation, a cruise in Mexico. I was a startup CEO and constantly checking in on work via email. On the cruise I couldn’t get any internet access and it was killing me! Literally, I found out. I started to get some chest pains. At first I ignored them. As I climbed the pyramid of Chichén Itzá, in the Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the pains became increasingly severe, and I began to feel nauseous. The views were stupendous. People dreamed for their whole lives of visiting this location and walking up these steps. Yet, amid the majesty of one of the greatest civilizations ever, my mind was on….when I can check my email? On the flight home, the chest pains and nausea turned into a shooting electric current in my left arm. My wife Tavinder insisted we go straight to the doctor. I said, no, I needed to go home and check email. Fortunately, my wife prevailed. We landed and drove straight to the hospital. I literally blacked out as he entered the emergency room, and sat propped up in a wheelchair while they registered me. My next memory was of waking up after lifesaving surgery for a massive heart attack. Had I waited another hour or two, my doctors said, I would have been dead. None of my emails would have mattered. That day woke me up and I decided to leave the world of startups and become an academic and teacher - to teach and assist others rather than try to make money as my primary goal. It was the best decision I have ever made.

    Alex: My story pales next to Vivek’s. For me, it was reading a website that tallied up how many times you will see your parents before they die. The number was a lot less than I had imagined it would be - my parents live on the East Coast. And I started doing the math on how many times I would see all my dear friends. It was very sobering. I vowed from that day to prioritize relationships and spending time with people over anything else in my life. I bailed on corporate America (I may go back, but only on my terms) and created a life where I spend time every day with my children and my wife, and see my parents and friends more. I’ve been much happier since I made these changes.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?

    Alex: “Put yourself in their shoes.” It helps me focus on empathy and stop thinking about myself.

    Vivek: Always give more than you take.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:44 on 2018/06/14 Permalink
    Tags: Grace Bonney, , work   

    “Volunteering Is the Most Powerful and Important Part of My Daily Life.” 

    Interview: Grace Bonney.

    I've followed Grace Bonney's career for a long time. She's the founder and editor-in-chief of the influential and ground-breaking site Design*Sponge.

    But that's not all -- she's done so many different things: written for many design magazines, written a design column, hosted a radio show, and written bestselling books In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs and Design*Sponge at Home.

    Now she's published the first issue of the new magazine Good Company.

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Grace about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Grace: Volunteering. Hands down, this is the most powerful and important part of my daily life. It positively impacts not just my well-being but the community’s as well. The more time I’m able to spend away from the internet (and actively working to support people in our community), the happier I am.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Grace: That it’s not a final destination. I used to think that if I just worked hard enough and found the magic key, I’d unlock the door to always being happy--and never being stressed out. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to understand that moments of joy, and being fully present in them, is a more fulfilling goal.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Grace: Oh yes. I have a tendency to be all or nothing--and it freezes me in place immediately. I’ve missed out on a lot of fun work opportunities and life moments because something didn’t feel 100% perfect. I’ve expected too much from life and myself. No one and no thing is perfect--I’m getting better at understanding that the ups and downs are part of happiness and not a sign that something isn’t worth trying.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Grace: As a blogger, it’s been all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking my needs, my voice or my company are the most important priorities in my life. But they’re not. So every habit or activity in my life that has nothing to do with my needs (from taking care of our pets to volunteering to cook for others in our community) has reinforced over and over how important it is to connect to and support others. The more I’m able to de-center myself in my work and my life, the happier I am. It feels good to be a part of a chorus of voices and needs, rather than holding up the stage with my own.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Grace: I have! I’ve finally committed to a physical health program that I’ve consistently attended for over two years. It took me 35 years to find a space where health and strength were prioritized over weight loss, so that has made all the difference. Like a lot of people, I spent a large portion of my life with an eating disorder and seeing physical activity only as a means to one end: weight loss. But when I turned 34 I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and I needed to change everything: my activity level, the way I eat and how I take care of the inside of my body--not just the outside. I found an amazing local program in the Hudson Valley, called 30 Minutes of Everything, where a strong community of (mainly) women support each other in seeking strength and community--not just a “beach body”.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

    Grace: I would have guessed that I’m a Questioner, but the quiz actually pointed me to Rebel. I think I’m someone who has a hard time with authority in general, unless it’s someone I deeply respect who has a long history of work/behavior that I trust. In my industry we’re constantly handed new “experts” to trust and follow without question and I have a hard time with that. I guess that’s why I run my own business--fewer bosses and people telling me what to do makes me feel happier and more open, creatively.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

    Grace: Lack of sleep. 100%. On days when I sleep well, I feel like a completely different human being. The hardest part of being a business owner, for me, is finding a way to put aside the stress, responsibility and needs of the business (or people who work with me) when I go to bed. I find myself waking up at all hours worrying about ways to solve a problem or improve something that’s not where it needs to be.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Grace: Absolutely. When I was 30 years old, I felt my internal chemistry shift and I hit a huge breaking point. It was a difficult year in which I confronted my work life, personal life and everything else in between. I ended up coming out, getting divorced, moving out on my own and shifting my work to be less about design and more about the people behind the work and their stories. It took a few years to regain my footing after that and then when I turned 34 and was diagnosed with Type 1, it was yet another big life-changing reminder to enjoy and be present in my life and work, because good health can be fleeting.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

    Grace: “Whatever works, until it doesn’t.” I read this in an interview with the actress Michelle Williams years ago and it’s rung truer to me than anything else. Life is a constantly evolving and ongoing process--what works for us and feels good to us during one time may not work or feel good down the road. And society can put a lot of pressure on people to come up with a “one and done” solution--and if that needs to change, we’re often made to feel like that was a failure. But as soon as I let myself understand that life and people are constantly changing and evolving, it allowed me to be happier in the now and more fully embrace things as they are and more freely let go and evolve when things need to.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:39 on 2018/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Laura Vanderkam, , , work   

    “Small Things, Done Consistently, Add Up to Big Things in the Long Run.” 

    Interview: Laura Vanderkam.

    Laura Vanderkam and I have been friends for many years. We first got to know each other through our related subjects -- I love her work on understanding how we use time, and how to get more happiness from our time. As she always says, "Spend more time on things that matter, and less on the things that don't."

    Reading her work always reminds me of one of my most important Secrets of Adulthood: I have plenty of time for the things that are important to me.

    I'm a huge of her books 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think; What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast; and I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.

    Because she's so good at making the most of her time, she also has a terrific podcast, Best of Both Worlds, with co-host Sarah Hart-Unger. It's all about managing work life, family life, and personal life (Laura has four children, so she has thought a lot about this).

    Once I came up with my Four Tendencies framework, I realized that Laura is a fellow Upholder. She's a textbook Upholder. In fact, if you read my book The Four Tendencies, one of my funniest Upholder stories came from her (see below).

    Now she's written a new book: Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. It's full of insights, practical tips, current research, and funny stories about how to make the most of our days.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Laura about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Laura: There’s a great phrase from Ovid that "dripping water hollows the stone." Small things, done consistently, add up to big things in the long run.

    I write about this mindset a lot in my books, and I try to adopt it in my own life as well. One example: In January of this year, I decided to start writing 500 words of fiction every work day. That’s really not much. Most of us have written that many words in emails by 10 a.m.! And so I don’t feel any resistance to cranking those words out. Sometimes I’m writing a real scene, sometimes I’m just sketching ideas that might become something. I can often get those 500 words done in 15-20 minutes. But all these little spurts add up. As of May, I’ve got about 50,000 words of material to work with, and I’ve figured out aspects of a novel I’m writing that never would have come to me if I hadn’t committed to doing the work.

    Despite making my living as a writer, I’m continually amazed how many other professional obligations can get in the way of writing! Doing my 500 words a day helps me feel more creative. I’m not just sending emails about contracts. I’m still practicing my craft too!

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers -- most?

    Laura: I write most often about time management and productivity, so I’ve had thousands of people track their time for me over the years. I love seeing where the time really goes. Indeed, I’ve tracked my own time for 3 years straight! No one else has to do that, but it has been enlightening for me.

    One of my most surprising findings has been that most people — including very successful people — get enough sleep. There’s this story out there that in our busy, busy world, people are increasingly sleep-deprived. There’s also a story that for women, in particular, attempting to build a career while raising a family will turn you into a sleep-starved mess. None of this is true. I once did a time diary project that looked at 1001 days in the lives of women with big jobs and kids at home. I found that these busy women averaged 54 hours of sleep per week, or about 7.7 hours per day. Sure, there were some bad nights. But there were plenty of good nights too!

    There are 168 hours in a week, so it turns out it is quite possible to work full-time, spend plenty of time with loved ones, and get enough sleep as well.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Laura: I am definitely an Upholder. Who else would set a goal — in January — to write 500 words a day? I’m pretty sure the Upholder tribe includes anyone who writes about productivity and habits. Any meeting of such writers scheduled at 10:00 a.m. may as well start at 9:50 a.m. My podcast co-host for Best of Both Worlds,/// Sarah Hart-Unger, is also an Upholder. We schedule a recording at 1 p.m. and we are inevitably both on by 12:55 p.m.

    I am the sort of person who, while in the throes of labor with my fourth child, told my husband not to speed on the way to the hospital, and insisted he park in the correct lot. Fortunately, we made it (barely). [Gretchen: this is a story that I love, and I included it in The Four Tendencies.]

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

    Laura: I travel a lot for speaking engagements, so I’ve decided to view travel more as a challenging logistical puzzle I need to solve, rather than an excuse to drop my habits. I run every day (at least a mile — sometimes only a mile! — but at least a mile), so when I’m traveling it’s really just a matter of looking at the schedule and figuring out where that mile goes. Sometimes that means waking up at 4:30 a.m. and running in a hotel gym. I don’t enjoy waking up at 4:30 a.m. and running in a hotel gym, but that’s when the Upholder tendencies kick in.

    I will admit, though, that I wish my Upholder tendencies kicked in a bit more with healthy eating. I love food. It’s not so much parties that are the problem, but if someone decides to offer me a chocolate chip cookie...the whole thing is getting eaten. I stopped shopping at Trader Joe’s because the dark chocolate covered caramels were becoming a bigger part of my life than I wished them to be.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.")

    Laura: In Off the Clock, I talk about the importance of this mantra: Plan it in, do it anyway.

    As we think about time, it’s important to remember that the "self" is really three selves: the anticipating self (who looks forward to things on the calendar), the experiencing self (who is here in the present), and the remembering self (who thinks back on the past). Philosopher Robert Grudin once wrote that we "pamper the present like a spoiled child," and I think there’s something to this. The anticipating self thought it would be fun to go to the art museum on Friday night, when there’s live music and a bar, and the remembering self will look back fondly on the experience, but the experiencing self just got home from work. She is the one who has to brave the rain and the Friday night traffic. So she throws a tantrum, and we wind up indulging her whim to spend hours scrolling through Facebook posts from people we didn’t like in high school anyway.

    The way to combat her tyrannies? Plan it in, do it anyway. The experiencing self is trying to deliver a monologue in what should be a three-actor play. In most cases, if your anticipating self wanted to do it, you’ll be happy you went, and probably the experiencing self will enjoy it too once she gets over the initial resistance. We draw energy from meaningful things. So I repeat this mantra to myself a lot!

    Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam

     
  • feedwordpress 16:33:10 on 2018/05/22 Permalink
    Tags: , choices, , , , , know yourself better, , work   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: “How Do I Make This Tough Decision?” 

    One common happiness stumbling block is the need to make a tough decision. To decide between apples and oranges, to weigh pros and cons, to think about what we will need and want in the future, to understand our real values...it’s tough.

    People often write me emails to explain their situations and ask for my thoughts. I can’t give advice to a particular person, but here are some mantras and questions I use when I’m facing a difficult decision in my own life.

    When I’m trying to make a tough choice, I say to myself, "Choose the bigger life." In a particular situation, people would make different decisions about what the "bigger life" would be, but when I ask myself that question, it always helps me see the right answer, for myself.

    For instance, as a family, we were trying to decide whether to get a dog. My daughters desperately wanted a dog, but I kept thinking about the commitment, inconvenience, errands, and all the downsides. The pros and cons list felt equally balanced. But when I thought, "Choose the bigger life," I realized that the bigger life for my family was to get a dog. That wouldn’t be true for everyone, certainly. But it was true for us. And we’re so happy we have our dog Barnaby!

    If you’d like to listen to a discussion of this, I talk about it in episode 27 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

    Another question to consider: Is this decision likely to strengthen my relationships with other people? Strong relationships with other people are a key—maybe the key—to happiness, so decisions that help build or strengthen ties are likely to boost happiness.

    Of course, sometimes we make decisions, such as to move to a new city or switch to a new profession, that put us in a place where we have few relationships. That can be worthwhile, absolutely, but it’s worth considering the time, effort, and energy needed to create new relationships.

    I also ask myself, "Does this decision help me to follow my personal commandment to Be Gretchen?" (Of course, everyone should substitute their own names!) I want to shape my life to reflect my temperament, interests, and values. I ask myself: Am I making this decision to "Be Gretchen," or because I want to impress other people, please someone else, pretend that I’m different from the person I actually am, or deny a truth about myself?

    Another way to think about "Being Gretchen" is to remind myself, "I want to accept myself, and expect more from myself." Is a particular course of action allowing me to expect more from myself—meaning it’s scary in a positive way, that will allow me to grow? Or does this course of action mean I’m not accepting myself—meaning it feels wrong for me in a way that I should respect?

    It can also be helpful to consider whether, when I contemplate a particular course of action, do I feel energized or drained? Sometimes it’s great to push ourselves to do something novel, challenging, or scary. But sometimes, a bad feeling is an indication that a decision doesn’t sit right with us. Unfortunately, it’s often very hard to tell the difference between those two feelings. This takes a lot of deliberation.

    I try to avoid false choices. Often, we try to make difficult decisions seem easier by boiling down our choices to two clear paths, when in fact, there may be many paths from which to choose. If you’re thinking of giving yourself a choice between two options—"Should I stay in my current job full time, or should I quit to write the novel I’ve always to write?"—ask, are those the only two options? Are there other options that I haven’t considered?

    Relatedly, when appropriate, I reassure myself, "There’s no wrong choice here." When I’m facing two good options, I remind myself that a choice becomes the right choice as we live it—as we have good experiences, make new relationships, go down a particular path.

    And here’s one last strategy.

    As I mentioned, I often get emails from people saying, "Here’s my situation, here are my choices, what should I do, how do I choose?" And it’s quite clear to me, from reading what they’ve written, that they know what choice they want to make. So I write back, "I can’t give advice, but it sounds to me as though you already know what you want to do."

    The way they explain the situation and the decision absolutely tips their hand. And that’s fine.

    So if you’re not sure what you want to do, try drafting an email to explain the situation, send the email to yourself, wait a week, then read it. Maybe you know what you want, more than you’ve admitted to yourself.

    Several fascinating books explore the question of making better decisions.

    1. Chip and Dan Heath’s Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. The title and subtitle say it all—why it’s hard to make decisions, how to test your assumptions, how to figure out what’s most important to you, how to make a better decision.
    2. Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. This book includes many interesting ideas, but one stands out: one very effective way to judge whether a particular course of action will make you happy in the future is to ask people who are following that course of action right now if they’re happy, and assume that you’ll feel the same way. Going on a family trip to Disneyworld. Living near your family. Getting a hamster. Learning to use Instagram. Working as a paralegal. Volunteering. Moving to a place that lengthens your commute. In evaluating the likely consequences of a decision, other people’s experiences of happiness—or lack thereof—can be very instructive for me.
    3. Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Schwartz explains why we find decision-making so taxing, and why having more choices can actually make us more stressed and less satisfied with our decisions.

    What do you do when you need to make a tough choice?

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:33 on 2018/05/10 Permalink
    Tags: Alison Green, , , careeer, , , work   

    “You Can Be Direct Without Being Rude and You Can Be Assertive Without Being Disagreeable.” 

    Interview: Alison Green.

    Alison Green runs the very popular site Ask a Manager, where she answers questions from readers about office and management issue, and she also writes "Ask a Boss" on the site The Cut. She's been called "the Dear Abby of the work world."

    If you want to get a quick sense of her advice, here are some of her favorite posts on various workplace issues. Fascinating!

    She just published a new book called Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work. Her advice and observations are insightful, funny, grounded in real experience, and highly practical. (And what a great subtitle, right?)

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Alison about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

    Alison: Taking time to be very deliberate about gratitude. I try to regularly reflect on the things I have to be grateful for, and it really does make me more appreciative and happier. I especially try to do it when something less-than-ideal has happened. If I make a conscious effort to think about all the ways in which things are still okay (or could be much worse), it really changes my mindset.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Alison: It took me a while to learn that one secret to a happy life is being really honest with yourself about what makes you happy and what doesn’t. Sometimes the things that make us happy aren’t the things that we wish made us happy – whether it’s a particular romantic partner or the books we like to read or a specific career track. And other times we just don’t pay close enough attention to realize what does and doesn’t bring us joy. I’ve tried to really prioritize figuring out what brings me happiness – even if they’re things that aren’t entirely aligned with the self-image I want to have -- and then try to arrange my life accordingly. It’s worked well so far! I’m pretty happy.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Alison: I’m a worst-case-scenario thinker. If something could go wrong, chances are high that I’ve thought of it and I’m worried it’s coming. At some level, I figure that by thinking through what I’d do in the event of worst-case scenarios, I’m prepared should any come around, and I’ll never be blindsided by them! But in reality, staying mired in worst-case thinking is probably too high a price to pay just to avoid the small chance that one day I’ll be blindsided by something. So it’s a bad habit, and I’d like to get out of it.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Alison: I wish my answer here was “jogging” or “knitting beanies for neighborhood children,” but the reality is that I adore doing nothing. I suppose “nothing” isn’t quite accurate – but lolling about with no responsibilities when I can just read or go down internet rabbit holes or otherwise do things that aren’t terribly productive. My work schedule tends to be too crowded on most days, and so when I get blocks of time where there’s nothing I need to be doing, I take full advantage of that. There’s something about getting to have brief periods of laziness that is incredibly refreshing and leaves me feeling much more centered and happy.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I do a lot of writing, and I used to procrastinate horribly when I didn’t feel like writing something. I finally realized that when I procrastinated on a project, I was introducing an outsized amount of negative emotions into my life – days and days of feeling the thing hanging over me and knowing that I should be doing it and feeling guilty that I hadn’t, plus knowing that I’d need to sit down and start it at some point. But if I just did whatever it was and got it out the way, I didn’t have all those days of vague dread, and I also got the relief and triumph of having it done. And truly, I think there is no better feeling than “done” for writers! So I started focusing on that feeling as a way to motivate myself to get things finished – and it’s actually completely cured me of procrastination. Similar to the way other people tell themselves they’ll have some chocolate or a beer after they finish something they’re putting off, I tell myself I’ll get to have that great feeling of having the damn thing finished – and I won’t have it hanging over me. And that’s enough to motivate me to do it.

    That’s led me to a place where now I’m really disciplined about work. I have a written schedule for what I need to get done each day, and I stick to it. Doing that feels so great that it’s been very self-reinforcing, and at this point, I don’t know how I’d get things done any other way.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Alison: I’m a Questioner through and through.

    Gretchen: What made you want to write your new book?

    I wrote my new book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Workbecause in eleven years of writing Ask a Manager, one theme that I’ve seen over and over again is that people end up less happy – both at work and in the rest of life – because they hesitate to speak up about what’s important to them. They worry that they’ll cause drama, or they’ll say the wrong thing, or that they’ll cause tension or awkwardness with people they have to see regularly. And so as a result, they stay quiet about things that often have significant impacts on their day to day quality of life, and sometimes even on their paychecks.

    As a work advice columnist, I’m always trying to show people that most of the time, you actually can speak up about things that are bothering you at work – whether it’s as small as a co-worker who annoys you by playing her music too loudly or as big as a hyper-critical, micromanaging boss. And if you do, you can significantly improve your happiness level at work.

    What I’ve tried to do in the new book is to walk people through exactly what those conversations can look like, to show that you can be direct without being rude and that you can be assertive without being disagreeable. It’s a book about work, but I think a willingness to jump in and have hard conversations will usually increase your happiness in all realms of life.

     
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