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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Monday Mornings – A Simple Piece of Personal Development

With all the focus on leadership and change on this blog, it seems to be time for some attention to Personal Development.
This past Monday, on May 10th, the Harvard Business Review published a brief post stating that levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to increased blood pressure and weakened immune responses, are higher in white-collar workers' saliva on Monday mornings than on Sunday mornings. This is according to a study at the University College London, led by Jason Devereux. Even though the study concerned only a small group of participants, cortisol levels in 77 people employed in health care, government, technology, and consulting averaged 16.80 nanomoles per liter on Sunday mornings, but 22.52 nanomoles per liter on Monday mornings. The researchers in this post state that these higher Monday morning levels of secretion may be in anticipation of a stressful day at work, possibly a stressful week at work.
Whether this elevated cortisol level is the case for you or not, most of us recognize the anticipation of the week ahead, with all that is still on our plate and desk from the week (or weeks) before, and with all the new appointments, deadlines, crises, and challenging tasks and conversations awaiting us. Or, you might be anticipating another week without work, having to apply your own structure to the days and having to find meaning in what you do combined with getting out on the market, connecting to people and organizations and, if you’re lucky, preparing for more interviews in which you still want to act authentic but also need to make sure that you are seen and heard among all the too numerous contestants which often leads to other behaviors than we would otherwise display.
Both scenarios can be stressful and create negative anticipation for the week ahead. And even though I know of no one-size-fits-all-miracle-golden-pill, I do have some suggestions for you. First, I believe it to be important how you end your week and how you spend your weekend. Second, the way you prepare for and start the new week has a great impact on what you create and accomplish. But let me be clear, you will not find groundbreaking new tools, amazingly creative cure-it-nows, nor wonderfully easy happy-makers. Just some common sense, something which we often ignore and thereby neglect to benefit from.  

How to end your week and spend your weekend
What you plan for a Friday and how you actually spend your Friday generally has a great impact on how you step into your weekend – those 2 days in which you want to recharge, reload, and rejuvenate.
1.    Plan an activity that gives you satisfaction. Whether you are in a job or not, make sure that on this last day of the week you come home with a satisfying experience. This can be a conversation with a colleague that you’ve long wanted to touch base with, writing a piece for your blog if this gives you satisfaction, a networking meeting within or outside the company, or a phone call with someone who can provide you with new perspectives and some wisdom. It can be anything that gives you energy and inspiration and that provides you with a feeling of accomplishment. It should also be an activity that you can almost certainly guarantee, so something that you have control over. The idea is to be able to feel really good about at least one activity before you jump into the weekend. Planning your Friday this way also helps you contemplate what kind of activities provide you with satisfaction, which ones are draining, and how well you plan your days and use your valuable asset: time. Needless to say that it’s a great idea to plan for such an activity on a daily basis but that’s not always feasible.

2.    At the end of your week, whether in a job or not, rethink the goals you had set at the beginning of the week (providing that you did), and evaluate how realistic they were, how well you used your most precious resources (time and energy) towards reaching those goals, and what possibly needs to be revised in your planning as well as your choosing and acting to better accomplish your goals next week. If someone or something dominated your agenda ask yourself where you could have had more influence and how to learn to better control your agenda and your energy level.

3.    Of course, it’s not up to me to tell you how to spend your weekend but allow me some suggestions that work for me and for many of my clients. Depending on what your week has looked like and how it felt to you, make sure you balance the week with what you choose to do in the weekend. For someone with a very busy week, at least some time for yourself, for reading, walking, singing, or whatever it is you enjoy doing and does not involve that ‘busy buzz’ will help you get rested and ready for another busy week. If your week was slow and you feel an activity and social void, you obviously want to schedule  something involving other people or something dynamic. These are very obvious pieces of advice, but far too often we don’t actively consider what our needs are nor that we benefit from balancing activity and non-activity, social and solitary, challenging and low-key activities just to name a few polarities.

How to prepare for and start your new week

Again, nothing spectacular or new, but I do want to have you carefully consider how you jump into yet another working or non-working week. If you choose and do the same as you did the previous week, you will accomplish and feel the same as the previous week. If that is not satisfying, you are better off reflecting on your attitude, your choices, and the use of your resources.
1.    Your attitude: You’ve heard it so often, but it is indeed all a mind game. As leadership expert and author John Maxwell worded so clearly in “101 Attitude”, attitude is the librarian of your past, the speaker of your present, and the prophet of your future. Your attitude has the power to lift you up or to tear you down. And even worse: not just you, but also people around you. At the same time, attitude is contagious and catching, so you either attract people with your attitude or not. But also, who do you surround yourself with, what attitude do they generally display? Do they provide you with energy, compliments, honest feedback, inspiration or do they drag you down and drain you? Make sure, as much as is possible, to actively choose the people you surround yourself with and who you seek out. I made it a habit a long time ago to seek out inspiring, positive colleagues, even if it was just for 5 or 10 minutes, after a draining meeting or after an encounter with someone who would drain me of most of my energy. You certainly cannot always avoid these people, you certainly can balance them out with inspiring people.

2.    Your choices and actions: they stem directly from your outlook on life and from your attitude. How do you perceive the world and the people in it. As a place where everyone can find or create his fit, even though it might take some time, or as a place filled with people who are more ‘lucky’ than you are, who are working against you. What actions do you plan, who do you accomplish your achievements? Do you prefer to work it alone, do you prefer to collaborate, and what gives you most energy, satisfaction, and results?

3.    Your resources and how you use them: you have many resource at your disposal, the ones I like to mention here are your attitude which is already covered, and your time, your energy (and focus) and other people. Do you actively consider how to use these resources at the start of your new week?
-       Do you carefully plan your contacts with people that matter, whether they provide you with energy and inspiration, with connections, with ideas for your project or any other valuable ingredient to make your week a better week than without them?
-       Do you consciously allot your precious time to the activities that matter most or that are urgent and need to be taken care of first. It’s the old time management principle: what’s important and what’s not. Next: what’s urgent and important or just urgent?
-       As mentioned above, do you alternate between energizing activities and draining activities that cannot always be avoided?
Returning to the all important attitude, I am certainly not promoting unfounded, unbridled optimism about an all-happy, fun-packed, positive-only week. I am merely promoting a healthy, constructive approach to yourself, others, and your week, knowing that your attitude and your choices determine your approach to life, to your work, and to your relationships with people. Your attitude when starting your week or any project or task has a huge influence on the outcome. It’s a very powerful influence, so use it wisely or lose it certainly. Wishing you a great next Monday morning and a satisfying week.

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