The United States is no stranger to self-improvement, from the meditation and essential oils of the 60s to the Jane Fonda aerobics tapes of the 1980s and the fat-free-everything 1990s. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841, sounding a bit like a modern SoulCycle instructor. From these deep roots, the $11 billion self-improvement industry has grown.
Today, like so much around us, that industry is heavily influenced by tech. Our focus is shifting away from the actual self — our bodies, minds, and spirits — and toward data about the self. With iEverythings around us at all times, we expect our steps to be enumerated, our REM cycles to be recorded, and our breathing patterns to be measured. It’s not enough to just feel better — we need our devices to affirm that we are doing the work.
Do your to-do lists stretch on and on — and on? Do you dread checking email on Friday afternoons, worried about seeing messages piling up when you’re just trying to get out the door? Or maybe you’ve noticed that anxiety is preventing you from concentrating on whatever you’re currently doing. You might feel anxious that you’re not working during times that are incompatible with working, like when you’re buckling your child into their car seat or you’re stuck in traffic. You may even feel anxious about the project you’re not working on when you’re busy plugging away on something else.
If you have moments of feeling overwhelmed by your workload, here are some suggestions to try. Not all of these will be right for everyone, so pick what you think will help you. But always, always start with taking slow breaths (it’s better to focus on slow
When we find ourselves rattled while speaking — whether we’re nervous, distracted, or at a loss for what comes next — it’s easy to lean on filler words. These may give us a moment to collect our thoughts before we press on, and in some cases, they may be useful indicators that the audience should pay special attention to what comes next. But when we start to overuse them, they become crutches — academics call them disfluencies — that diminish our credibility and distract from our message.
Using research that incorporates behavioral science, AI, and data, the people science firm I run, Quantified Communications, determined that the optimum frequency is about one filler per minute, but the average speaker uses five fillers per minute — or, one every twelve seconds.
Public speaking is so stressful for so many people that it is routinely used as a stress manipulation in psychological studies. Tell undergrads they have 10 minutes to prepare a speech that will be evaluated by experts, and their levels of the stress hormone cortisol shoot through the roof.
Yet success in many roles requires speaking in public. In addition to presenting in my classes, I typically give a talk per week in front of groups. People ask me if speaking gets me nervous. It does not. And I give a lot of credit to my fascination with stand-up comedy. While I’m not a comedian myself, I’ve been a fan of comedians and their process for a long time, and I think there are three lessons that anyone can learn from them about public speaking.
It’s OK to Die
Why exactly is public speaking so nerve-wracking? One main reason:
Most people I know have a to-do list so long that it’s not clear that there’s an end to it. Some tasks, even quite important ones, linger unfinished for a long time, and it’s easy to start feeling guilty or ashamed about what you have not yet completed.
People experience guilt and its close cousin shame when they have done something wrong. Guilt is focused internally on the behavior someone has committed, while shame tends to involve feeling like you are a bad person, particularly in the context of bad behaviors that have become public knowledge.
The fundamental question is whether these feelings are a good thing. To answer that, it’s worth quoting the movie Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance plays the spy Rudolf Abel. He’s asked at one point whether he is worried, and he responds, “Would it help?”
We all have life events that distract us from work from time to time — an ailing family member, a divorce, the death of a friend. You can’t expect someone to be at their best at such times. But as a manager what can you expect? How can you support the person to take care of themselves emotionally while also making sure they are doing their work (or as much of it as they are able to)?
What the Experts Say Managing an employee who is going through a stressful period is “one of the real challenges all bosses face,” says Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School and author of Being the Boss. Most of us try to keep work and home separate, but “we all have situations in which our personal and professional lives collide,” and how you handle these situations with your employees is often
A little over a year ago, a high-performing specialist at one of the largest technologies companies — we’ll call him Santiago — was given an opportunity no high performer could turn down: an opportunity to play a manager role on a project he really cared about. The director told him, “You care about this; you lead it.” So he did, and all seemed to be going well — even though he was planning a significant company-wide event at the same time, a role he had volunteered for.
“We had a really important conference call I had spent a lot of time preparing for. The call went well, but when I finished the call, I realized I was feeling really sick,” Santiago recounts. “It got worse after that. I went to the doctor later that day, and he told me I had pneumonia. I ended up in the ER the next
I couldn’t stop crying. Months of late evenings and demanding travel had cracked my professional exterior. I tried to present my quarterly numbers while my colleagues squirmed in their seats, offered me a box of tissues, or just stared. My boss abruptly ended the meeting. My colleagues quickly evacuated the room. I was left alone in the conference room, crumpled tissues in hand.
For women, crying in a professional setting is often seen as the kiss of death:
“Stop crying! Someone will see you.”
“Quick, run to the ladies’ room!”
These are just two versions of similar warnings I’ve heard throughout my career. But it’s not just me. Female friends and colleagues have told me they too have been told to shut down the waterworks. It’s a familiar narrative for women who cry at work: Escape to bathroom. Grab toilet paper. Wipe eyes. Blow nose. Take deep breath
Raise your hand if you have an insurmountable pile of projects on your to-do list and an inbox so terrifying to behold that you can hardly bear to behold it.
Cue the sea of arms waving wildly.
You have too much to do. You can’t do it alone. You need people to help you. Why aren’t they helping you?!?
Here’s the uncomfortable truth: If you aren’t getting the support you need with your crushing workload, odds are it’s kind of your fault.
Cue the sea of angry readers giving their screens the finger right now.
What I mean is, you probably aren’t asking for the support you actually need, and if you are, you probably aren’t asking for it in the right way. Loads of studies have found that people have an innate desire to be helpful, by and large. (This is one reason the “givers”
I’d known Jeff (not his real name) for many years, as a client and as a friend, but I’d never seen him so thrown. I could feel his fear, his sense of uncertainty.
And it was with good reason.
Jeff was the head of sales for a company whose product was, more or less, impossible to sell.
His company, Golden Global (also not its real name), is an active fund manager. Active funds invest in particular stocks that they think will do well, as opposed to passive funds, which track an established index, such as the S&P 500. Today many investors are pulling their money out of active funds and putting it into passive ones. In January 2017 alone, investors withdrew $13.6 billion from active funds and invested $77 billion in passive ones.
It makes sense: In addition to charging dramatically lower fees, passive has outperformed active 92% of
Shonda Rhimes, with four television shows simultaneously in production, is an entertainment industry titan. In a recent TED talk, she described her deep passion for her work: “When I’m hard at work, when I’m deep in it, there is no other feeling…It is hitting every high note. It is running a marathon. It is being Beyoncé. And it is all of those things at the same time. I love working… A hum begins in my brain, and it grows and it grows and that hum sounds like the open road, and I could drive it forever.”
Yet, despite Rhimes’ passion and unparalleled success, her deep, single-minded investment in her work drove her to the point of burnout and exhaustion. She had stopped enjoying her life. To heal, she refocused on the parts of her self—a mother, a friend, a sister, and athlete—that had been neglected because of her tunnel
The idea of “vacation” often conjures up thoughts of trips to faraway lands. While it’s true that big trips can be fun and even refreshing, they can also take a lot of time, energy, and money. A lot of people feel exhausted just thinking about planning a vacation—not just navigating personal commitments and school breaks, but deciding how to delegate major projects or put work on hold, just so they can have a stress-free holiday. Because of this, some might put off their time away, figuring they’ll get to it when their schedule isn’t so demanding, only to discover at the end of the year that they haven’t used up their paid time off.
In my experience as a time management coach and as a business owner, I’ve found that vacations don’t have to be big to be significant to your health and happiness. In fact, I’ve been
For women with leadership ambitions, there is no shortage of advice for how to reach the top. By learning to lean in, speak out, negotiate, delegate, and a dozen other behaviors, women everywhere are launching themselves through the glass ceilings of their organizations, landing jobs at or near the C-suite level.
But what happens after the promotion? While top-level jobs are tough on everyone, the transition to senior management comes with extra challenges for women. Some are psychological, pertaining to gender differences in risk-taking and self-confidence. Others are structural; in parenting, for instance, childcare and domestic duties are still disproportionately shouldered by the female partner. While these barriers affect women at all levels of the organization, they are particularly pronounced in the pressure-cooker environment at the top, putting women at a disadvantage.
Dealing with this challenge is something I am deeply familiar with. I am a certified organizational
Nancy Rothbard, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, draws a distinction between workaholism and working long hours. She explains the health consequences of being addicted to your work. She also gives practical advice for managing work addiction, whether it’s you who’s suffering, your direct report, boss, peer, or partner. Rothbard is the coauthor of the HBR article “How Being a Workaholic Differs from Working Long Hours — and Why That Matters for Your Health.”
Lately, we have been hearing a lot from our clients about “toxic” coworkers and teammates. This issue isn’t new; there have been bad coworkers since the beginning of organized work. But these days, their impact feels bigger and more destructive. Businesses need teamwork to function. And teams need to be more collaborative, adaptable, and proactive than ever. The days of top-down decision making are long gone in many companies and industries, as it’s replaced by grassroots innovation that’s unleashed through coworkers openly networking and sharing information across boundaries. Because of this new dynamic, dysfunctional teammates can damage the results of a whole team in a way that was much harder to do in the old, siloed models of working.
The most common and destructive toxic behaviors we see include:
backstabbing, criticizing, and blaming
gossiping and spreading rumors
agreeing in meetings, but not following through afterward
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the crush of email. In fact, one study showed the average professional spends 4.1 hours per day responding to work messages. During a recent time tracking exercise, I discovered I’m actually at the low end of the spectrum, spending about 1.35 hours per day on email. But psychologically, it carried a disproportionate weight: regardless of how much time I spent, it seemed like I was always stressed about the unanswered messages in my inbox.
To better understand why email had become so burdensome, I undertook an experiment. For two weeks, I tracked, recorded, and categorized every email I received, splitting them into categories like “messages from my assistant” and “client communication” and “networking or event invitation.”
I’ve already worked hard to optimize my inbox, including using a free service called Unroll.me to unsubscribe
As a coach and international business school instructor, I have worked with hundreds of current and future leaders who are accomplished, bright, and capable — and who quickly lose their confidence and competence when making business presentations. For a subset of these leaders — those who need to present in English when it isn’t their native language — the stakes and the stress can feel even higher. Meanwhile, the need for leaders to be able to present in English is growing at a rapid pace. According to Harvard Business School Associate Professor Tsedal Neely, author of The Language of Global Success, “English is required for global collaboration and global work.”
Nevertheless, being compelled to speak in your nonnative language can lead to feelings of frustration, pressure, and insecurity. As Neely reports, “When nonnative speakers are forced to communicate in English, they can feel that
By now we are all familiar with the risks of burnout. Research shows that it leads to work-related issues such as job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, inefficient decision making, and turnover, as well as health-related issues such as depression, heart disease, and even death. Research also reveals some of the common causes of burnout, such as lack of autonomy, engagement, motivation, and passion.
But since much of this research has looked at employees in large organizations, we know less about what burnout looks like for other types of workers. We wanted to study a group that seems to be more susceptible to burnout: entrepreneurs.
Some evidence suggests that entrepreneurs are more at risk of burnout because they tend to be extremely passionate about work and more socially isolated, have limited safety nets, and operate in high uncertainty. This has important consequences for economic growth — entrepreneurial firm failure and
Fear of failure stalks the world of the entrepreneur, from losing key clients to running out of money. For entrepreneurs, courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to persist in spite of it. These fears are well-founded: Studies suggest that roughly 75% of ventures fail within 10 years (see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on firm survival rates here).
Even success can provoke anxiety. We asked Hamdi Ulukaya, the Turkish-born founder and CEO of the yogurt company Chobani, whether he was ever afraid while building his multibillion-dollar business. “Every day,” he replied, “because if I had failed, a lot of lives were going to be affected by it.”
While “fail fast and often” is the constant refrain of the lean startup movement and many others, no one really wants to fail. Failure has many ramifications that it would be foolish to overlook
Personal health should be a private matter. But when you need to take time off work due to a mental health condition, often it isn’t possible to maintain that privacy. As a board member at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and a former managing director at two global banks (UBS and Deutsche Bank), I’ve been approached by hundreds of colleagues and clients over the past 30 years seeking advice for themselves or a colleague, friend, or family member on how best to manage professional life while dealing with a mental health condition themselves or caring for a loved one who is. Here is what I usually tell them.