Like Work?

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While it may be an old saw and a dated saying, the notion that, “If you love your job you’ll never work a day in your life,” has more currency today as home and work often blend seamlessly – or not. Paul O’Keefe offers some answers in his timely column:

We have all had to work on tasks we detest: Calculus homework, for example, is boring and hard. As soon as we start, we feel mentally exhausted, and the quality of our work suffers.

Now imagine you are an aspiring architect. Learning how calculus can help you design more creative and ambitious structures could be fascinating. Instead of feeling exhausted by your homework, you might feel energized and could work on it all night. The same work, but with a very different psychological effect.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at the Claremont Graduate University, has been studying this latter phenomenon for decades. He calls it flow: the experience we have when we’re “in the zone.” During a flow state, people are fully absorbed and highly focused; they lose themselves in the activity.

Those who read the first statement, and who also thought the task would be enjoyable, solved the most problems. Moreover, their work didn’t flag, meaning they did not perform best simply because their interest made them want to work on it longer, thereby causing them to solve more problems. Instead, their engagement was more efficient. In other words, they were “in the zone.”

Make work play – get into the zone!

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Can’t Get Anything Done?

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Can’t get anything done? Like thousands of people and professionals all over the country, you’re trying your best to stay organized, keep your appointments, and still churn out the countless hours of work you need to keep pushing your company – or your life – forward.

Most of us aspire to conquer more and more work in less and less time, but since none of us can cram more hours into the day (despite our best efforts), increasing our productivity is the best we can do. Even so, in some cruel twist of irony, most “productivity enhancers,” like going to the gym every morning, seem to add more effort to our already busy lives. Instead, try one or more of these 15 productivity hacks–which you can execute and experiment with immediately:

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Who Likes You?

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Is social media your servant or your master? Is it a way to communicate with your friends who do like you, or a means of self-validation? Bruce Feiler has addressed this in a helpful way in his New York Times article, “For the Love of Being Liked.” He suggests:

We are deep enough into the social-media era to begin to recognize certain patterns among its users. Foremost among them is a mass anxiety of approval seeking and popularity tracking that seems far more suited to a high school prom than a high-functioning society. Mark Zuckerberg said recently that he wants Facebook to be about “loving the people we serve” but too often his site and its peers seem far more interested in helping the people they serve seek the love they crave. ABC has also embraced the madness by picking up a comedy for this season called “Selfie,” about a woman in her 20s who is more concerned with her followers than her friends.

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History Made!

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No one alive on November 9, 1989 will likely ever forget the day the Berlin Wall came down. It marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War and many consider it the most momentous event of the second-half of the 20th century. It is not a stretch to say our lives would never be the same once the wall came down and the last quarter century have validated that fact.

The opening of the Berlin Wall, 25 years ago this Sunday, marked a surprisingly joyous end to a conflict that could have erupted into thermonuclear combat. In the decades since, many Americans have come to believe that the wall fell thanks to President Ronald Reagan’s direct, personal intervention. In a 1987 speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in a divided Berlin, he told Soviet leaders to “tear down this wall” — and so, we’ve been told, they did.

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Work Burnout?

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Do you enjoy your work? If you’re the boss, to those working for you enjoy their job? Some suggest excessive work demands are leading to burnout everywhere. Here is what a chief executive and a researcher suggest based on extensive interviews and surveys of over 12,000 workers:

The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

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Happy Working?

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Last September, the networking site LinkedIn added a feature that allowed its members to say whether they wanted to volunteer or serve on the board of a nonprofit. In just eight months, one million members raised their virtual hands.

This demand to volunteer masks a broader problem in our society. It points to the lack of purpose that we experience in our jobs. As Jessica B. Rodell, a professor at the University of Georgia, has found in her research, “when jobs are less meaningful, employees are more likely to increase volunteering to gain that desired sense of meaning.” The numbers speak for themselves. In a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of American workers said they were not engaged with their jobs, or were actively disengaged.

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Happy?

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At our core, most of us want to be happy. But why does it elude so many of us?

Happiness has traditionally been considered an elusive and evanescent thing. To some, even trying to achieve it is an exercise in futility. It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

To pursue the happiness within our reach, we do best to pour ourselves into faith, family, community and meaningful work. To share happiness, we need to fight for free enterprise and strive to make its blessings accessible to all.

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Powerful People

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I feel your pain.

These words are famously associated with Bill Clinton, who as a politician seemed to ooze empathy. A skeptic might wonder, though, whether he truly was personally distressed by the suffering of average Americans. Can people in high positions of power — presidents, bosses, celebrities, even dominant spouses — easily empathize with those beneath them?

Psychological research suggests the answer is no. Studies have repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so).

For example, researchers have found that among full-time employees of a public university, those who were higher in social class (as determined by level of education) were less able to accurately identify emotions in photographs of human faces than were co-workers who were lower in social class. (While social class and social power are admittedly not the same, they are strongly related.)

Why does power leave people seemingly coldhearted? Some have suggested that powerful people don’t attend well to others around them because they don’t need them in order to access important resources; as powerful people, they already have plentiful access to those.

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The Perfect Combination

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Did you know your brain is at war with itself? Most of us don’t, but groundbreaking research by 84-year old Walter Mischel, a.k.a. “the marshmallow man” shows that it is – and offers wisdom we all can use. He explains that there are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal-oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, he says, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.

To do this, use specific if-then plans, like “If it’s before noon, I won’t check email” or “If I feel angry, I will count backward from 10.” Done repeatedly, this buys a few seconds to at least consider your options. The point isn’t to be robotic and never eat chocolate mousse again. It’s to summon self-control when you want it, and be able to carry out long-term plans.

But self-control alone doesn’t guarantee success. People also need a “burning goal” that gives them a reason to activate these skills, he says. His students all have the sitzfleisch to get into graduate school, but the best ones also have a burning question they want to answer in their work, sometimes stemming from their own lives. (One student’s burning question was why some people don’t recover from heartbreak.) Mr. Mischel’s burning goal from childhood was to “make a life that would help my family recover from the trauma of suddenly becoming homeless refugees.” More recently, it’s been to find coping skills for children suffering from traumas of their own.

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No Time to Think

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One of the biggest complaints in modern society is being overscheduled, overcommitted and overextended. Ask people at a social gathering how they are and the stock answer is “super busy,” “crazy busy” or “insanely busy.” Nobody is just “fine” anymore.

When people aren’t super busy at work, they are crazy busy exercising, entertaining or taking their kids to Chinese lessons. Or maybe they are insanely busy playing fantasy football, tracing their genealogy or churning their own butter.

And if there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device. So it’s worth noting a study published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection.

“We had noted how wedded to our devices we all seem to be and that people seem to find any excuse they can to keep busy,” said Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study. “No one had done a simple study letting people go off on their own and think.”

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