A lovely and–timely–guest post from Melissa Russell down in Tampa, FL:
The dark and dreary days of winter are hard on many people, both physically and emotionally. And when those winter woes carry over into the workplace, it can make for tough sledding. Here are a few ways to beat the winter blues at work.
Get Up and Get Moving
Exercise is a wonderful way to elevate your mood no matter what the season. When you work out, your body releases endorphins that trigger receptors in your brain, producing a feeling of a natural high. That, in turn, can boost energy levels and ward off feelings of negativity.
Enjoy a Mini-Break
During February and March, when winter can be a real bear, use some of your vacation or personal days to schedule a series of three-day weekends. Use these mini-breaks to plan fun activities to help you cope with the cold season, whether it’s exploring a nearby town’s antique shops or spending some time reading a good book in front of a cozy fire.
For those who have the time and money, plan a winter vacation to a warm, sunny destination. Perhaps it’s a family trip to Florida or a romantic getaway to a tropical island. Regardless, basking in the sun’s warmth and light will melt your winter blues away.
Keep Up Office Morale
If you’re fighting the winter blues, chances are some of your co-workers are battling them as well. Planning get-togethers is a great way to keep morale up and build stronger bonds at the same time.
• Host a Potluck
Organizing a weekly potluck dinner for co-workers is something that everyone can look forward to enjoying. A fun idea is to have a theme for each get-together, and many of those themes can focus on warmer climates. Have a Mexican night or a Jamaican night and serve spicy foods that will warm you from the inside out.
• Plan Team-Building Activities
Plan some fun activities you and co-workers can do after hours. Perhaps you could all learn an activity together, such as taking salsa lessons, learning to cook or joining a ping-pong tournament. Whatever you choose, make sure it has nothing to do with work.
• Start a Book Club
A great way to beat the blues and get to know co-workers a bit better is to start a book club. Book clubs tend to get people involved in engaging discussions, and there’s no better way to get to know someone than to know how they think. The books could be lighter comedies or stories that take place in tropical destinations – something that will get everyone’s mind off the next Nor’easter.
Try Light Therapy
Good ol’ sunlight is just what the doctor ordered. In fact, it is thought that the type of depression associated with winter, which is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is triggered by a lack of sunlight when the days grow shorter. Going for a short walk outside or even opening all the curtains in your home or office to let in some daylight can have a positive effect on your mood.
If the weather makes venturing outside impossible, or clouds are obscuring the sun, it may be time to consider light therapy. Sitting in front of a light therapy box, which is designed to mimic the effects of natural sunlight on the body, for just 30 minutes a day can help alleviate winter depression.
Light therapy boxes range from small portable models that cost about $50 to larger models priced at $400 and more. Although insurance coverage may not pay for a light therapy box, it could be well worth the investment if it helps keep depression at bay.
Remember, if you’re feeling the winter blues, you’re far from alone. Millions of people are fighting the same battle. And some of those people are likely your co-workers or friends. So, band together and try to fill the winter season with fun activities until spring blooms once more.
Melissa Russell works as a writer on marketing and business management. She also writes on topics such as military education and liberal arts for a number of universities through the University Alliance. Find Melissa on Twitter @M_L_Russell.
So, after a hiatus of, um, a long time, Working Girl is now blogging over at the Seattle Times Career Center blog.
Today’s offering: “How to look smarter than you really are.”
Fortunately, the answer is easier than you think.
Fact: People do their best work with relaxed and happy.
Fact: Job hunting requires your best work.
So take a break. Have a cup of coffee or tea or water, and a snack. Ahh. Doesn’t that feel better?
If you’re having trouble thinking of a good snack, and if you’re in Seattle, note that you can get a croissant (world-renowned “snack of champions”) at one of the bakeries mentioned in this lovely article on Seattle’s best croissants.
(Full disclosure: Working Girl was one of the tasters. Yeah, it was a tough job. But WG stepped up.)
More and more job interviews these days take place over the phone.
This is bad news for people who don’t like talking on the phone. But, take heart, this is a skill you can improve and there are real advantages (to the job hunter) to phone interviews.
So if there’s a phone interview in your future, click on over to “Interview Dos and Don’ts” and pick up some tips (from WG et al.).
Apropos of the whole “is college worth it” discussion, Eric Felton had this essay, “College Is The Break,” in the WSJ this morning.
In case the link goes away, as sometimes happens with the WSJ, the essay references studies cited in a recent book, Academically Adrift, the gist of which is that college students aren’t studying or learning very much.
Other studies are out there too. A CIRP survey said that 32 percent of college freshmen study fewer than six hours per week. For more factoids, check out this eye-opening article, What Happened to Studying. (It suggests that today’s students just don’t know how to study.)
Leaving us to wonder why? Why is the rise of college education associated with the fall of learning?
Here’s one idea. The college degree has become a product, to be marketed and sold at the highest price the market will bear. Schools sell their product the way McDonald’s sells Big Macs, by appealing to our sense of greed (“you have to have a college degree to get a well-paying job!”). Also to our craving for comfort and entertainment: Colleges compete for students in ways that have nothing to do with scholarship, offering climbing walls, gourmet food in the cafeterias, free laundry services, etc. Higher education has become just another consumer item.
Where is the focus on learning?
Worse (because good food in cafeterias can hardly be called a bad thing), professors are demanding less reading and writing and studying from students. Do they want to be popular? Do they dread being criticized on some rate-your-professor website? Have they realized that asking less of students means less work for them?
Also, it doesn’t help that students have far more distractions nowadays–Facebook, Twitter, constant cellphone/text/email interruptions, etc., etc. Young people just wanna have fun.
Finally, dare Working Girl suggest that many young adults nowadays are less independent, less prepared for adversity, less able to cope on their own than they should be? One shudders to even suggest it. Yet evidence exists that some popular parenting practices (i.e., “hovering”) are having the effect of making kids more fragile and less resilient (“A Nation of Wimps“).
So, here’s a thought. Question the conventional wisdom. Think first before going two hundred thousand dollars in debt for a law degree that may or may not lead to a high-paying job as an attorney.
And remember that we as individual people are not statistics. We don’t have to fall prey to trends. We can buck them. All we have to do is think things through. Use a little common sense. Be brave. Be daring. Discipline, self-motivation, and resourcefulness are qualities that need to be cultivated and worked at, all our lives long. It has never been easy to strive and toil and sacrifice the amusement of today for the achievement of tomorrow.
If no one taught you this when you were young, you can teach yourself now.
The last post collected some interesting reactions re: working independently at home versus working in an office. Most commenters leaned distinctly in favor of “Just leave me alone and let me do my job. Please.”
So David Brooks’s latest editorial, “Amy Chua is a Wimp,” struck a chord. (Amy Chua is the author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” the controversial new book about how strict “Chinese” mothering produces smarter and more accomplished kids–but that’s a whole other issue!)
Brooks believes that interpersonal skills are just as important as (and are perhaps more difficult to learn than) acing math problems or playing the violin. He cites studies showing that groups are better at problem-solving than individuals, and that a group I.Q. can be higher than the I.Q.’s of even the smartest members. This makes intuitive sense. Don’t you “feel smarter” when in the company of smart engaged people? It’s the same boost your tennis game gets when you play with someone better than you.
We curmudgeonly types enjoy working solo and feel we are more efficient and effective when we do so. Working Girl counts herself among this number. But look around you: Most new inventions (e.g., the device you are reading these words on) are turned into realities by groups of people, not lone geniuses.
At the very least, the lone geniuses need collaborators to make up for their deficiencies (“The Social Network,” anyone?).
However, Brooks does not discuss the trickiest part of all: How/where to find a smart group of people?
That’s the real problem.
The good people over at Career Overview recently tossed this over the transom: “Why Work Doesn’t Work: 10 Fatal Flaws of the Modern Day Office.”
Some interesting ideas here. It’s true that interruptions (which you get a lot of in most offices) make sustained meaningful mental effort almost impossible. Meetings, of course, are the ultimate anti-work. In WG’s experience, most people who spend eight-hour days in offices only get around four hours of actual work done.
And–something many companies just don’t want to believe–information workers can’t be productive for eight-hour stretches. The brain boggles after around three hours. Yeah, you may keep on “working,” but it is a mere shadow of its former self.
It makes intuitive sense. When WG switched from workplace editing to at-home editing, her productivity tripled. Today, her clients get meaty beefy hours of high-quality work. And WG spends fewer hours working.
Still, is it really true that “face to face collaboration isn’t needed anymore”? Yes, WG has a client she’s worked with for years and has met only once in real life. And, yes, this system is humming along just fine. But she isn’t working with him. She’s providing an independent product.
For teams of people who are designing/repairing/evaluating an object or service, taking advantage of the energy and creativity that happens when human brains function in close proximity can be key. Not to mention, toiling together toward a common goal is one of life’s more pleasurable experiences.
Plus, it can be good for you. Don’t you find that when you are in the company of smart, innovative people you become smarter and more innovative yourself? (You may also find the opposite to be true.)
Prediction: The most successful companies of the future will be the ones that find a way to combine the bliss and benefits of uninterrupted productivity with the amazing dynamism (and bliss!) of in-person collaboration.
Working Girl’s resolution for 2011: Blog less. Not stopping completely. Just spooling down to, as they say, pursue other interests.
But first, about those resolutions. Have you made any? Still pondering?
Either way, take a look at WG’s last U.S. News & World Report post: “10 New Year’s Resolutions for your Career.”
The most important one? Probably “Stop procrastinating.” Could be WG’s resolution every year…….
Last week Working Girl’s U.S. News post on “50 Buzzwords You Shouldn’t Use On Your Resume” was picked up by Yahoo. Over 2,400 readers commented. Most of them were not happy.
“Don’t tell us what not to say, tell us what to say!” they said.
A fair critique, and thus this week’s post, “The Most Powerful Words to Use on Your Resume,” was born. However, if you check it out, you’ll see it’s not just a list of words and phrases.
That would be too easy.
Sad but true: Figuring out what not to do is a lot simpler than figuring out what to do. You can write a so-so resume in a few days. A week at the outside.
It takes much more time–plus ingenuity, research, knowledge, sweat, and maybe tears–to write a great one. Your resume won’t sound or look like anyone else’s, because you don’t sound or look like anyone else. It can be a useful tool, it may help to jumpstart the process, to look at “sample resumes. “ But creating your own is more than just following a template.
There are no shortcuts. It would be nice if there were. But, no. Sorry.
Signs of improvement: Working Girl knows of several long-time job hunters who have–are you ready for this?–found jobs. Yes! Hard evidence exists (not just among WG’s personal acquaintance) that the job market is slowly, slowly, slowly, getting better.
Because it is, people. Not fast enough, for sure. But have you read the papers? Businesses are sitting on tons of money. Sooner or later some of them are going to have to break down and hire.
Meanwhile, let’s think about ways to get from not-working to working. Today’s U.S. News post tackles a very ticklish issue: Should you “settle”? As in, take a not-so wonderful job to, you know, pay the bills? Conventional wisdom for the past 20 years or so has been No, you should never take a job that’s less than ideal.
But there might be some very good, smart reasons why you should do just this. Check out “Why Job Hunters Should ’Settle’ for a Less-Than Dream Job.” You may agree, or disagree, but it’s worth considering all your options.
Another version of the less-than dream job is temp work. Should you think about it? Can it ever turn into a “real” job? Well, you should and it can. For ideas on how you could make this gambit work for you, take a look at “How to Turn Your Temp Assignment into a Permanent Job.”
Meanwhile, age-old issues, such job interview anxiety, continue to plague us. We get better with practice, true, but it’s still a challenge for many people. The problem is that obvious anxiety is a turn-off to most potential employers–no, it’s not fair, but it’s a fact of life. Which makes our task as job hunters to deliver a convincing “performance” of a relaxed and confident future employee. Here are a ton of ways to do just that: “21 Ways to Avoid Job Interview Anxiety.”
Good luck. Hang in there.