There is enough to go around

credited to blackbrando on twitter

I like to be generous and am buoyed to be even more so as I read the research that supports that you can almost never be generous to a fault.  I don’t generally keep a mental scorecard on things I do, waiting for the return as a “matcher” might do and see more and more that being generous is truly generative and makes others more share and give more to you.

That said, I have work to do on overcoming some of my own remaining scarcity thinking as I reflect on why it persists in some areas and limit the growth and maintenance of a healthy work culture.

In a nutshell, scarcity thinking is the idea that there just isn’t enough to go around.  Not enough money, time, recognition.  The result is that anything you take, I lose.  Scarcity thinking can be especially damaging when paired with “downward spiral” thinking as discussed in “The Art of Possibility.”

Consider this scarcity thinking paired with downward spiral thinking.  I have a friend who is a creative, award-winning chef and is asked for her recipes and gives them freely.  I can hear some of your reactions to this.   That’s as bad as people stealing the recipes. They could then make the food and would stop coming to the restaurant.  They could open their own restaurant.  What if they do better than her restaurant and hers closes?  But what’s the reality? Having a recipe is nothing close to cooking the food yourself.  Once you see the ingredient list and the work involved, the odds of you cooking the dish may go down significantly.  You may realize that you are just curious as to how it’s done and grateful that someone with a well equipped kitchen bothered to think this up and create if for you.  What’s more, food tastes better when cooked by someone else. And there is no denying that a certain meal in a lovely restaurant with friends will not necessarily taste the same when you re-create the recipe at home.

In another recent experience of struggling with scarcity thinking, I was debating submitting my ideas in an exercise where we were asked to submit innovative ideas at work with the best/most popular ones getting resources allocated to see them realized (we don’t personally get money just help).   So I wanted to talk about the ideas and share the proposals to “kick the tires” but a nagging idea started in the back of my mind that maybe I shouldn’t share them because someone else would present the same idea but only better.  But, in end I knew I would need help to implement solid ideas so decided that the more people who considered these projects, the better.  And in government we don’t own ideas anyway.  So I shared my ideas with several colleagues and the ideas got more refined and I gave more strongly reasoned and more polished products as my final proposal (with a shout out to my brainy colleagues).

What about more objective things like time? That really is a scarce resource for most people so this should be an easier argument to make.  In the past few years I have challenged myself to really look at  how actual time unfolds to reality check my own hard-wired panic about lack of time and my hatred for being late for things.  While a certain percentage of the world wants to polish and perfect, I tend to continually stress about all the things I have to get done and would rather see progress and completion than break into a cold sweat because things are late.  I also hate being late because it disrupts the plans of others and seems to imply that my time is more important than the person left waiting.   That said, I have now concluded that, in general,  there is usually enough time if we wade in mindfully.

So how to embrace an abundance culture in the workplace?

Give more of what you need

I would start by saying, take a general leap of faith to believing that things often work out and prime yourself for that possibility. Some simple ideas that follow from this mindset: I like the idea from a recent piece which sounds counterintuitive but has the power to improve work cultures immensely – give more of what you need. You feel your work isn’t getting recognized enough? As an example of what I have experienced, I have tried to bend over backwards to be civilized/polite and friendly in many work emails and I can see language I used mirrored sometimes.  It costs no time to say “have a good evening” or “good morning” in an email though it sometimes appears that people have forgotten this is an option because they feel they don’t have time.

Remember to play the long game

Scarcity thinking has also be characterized as extreme short term thinking (with a focus only on the negative thing in the present moment). Though bumps and even significant losses can be devastating, avoiding risk and getting consumed when we get derailed can ignore the research that says that we are generally more resilient than we think we will be when confronted with bad events. The long term effects of most of our losses and worries are overblown in the present moment.

When researchers checked with both lottery winners and persons who had been through a catastrophic event (e.g. someone who lost both legs in an accident), they both returned to their original base levels of happiness with a year.

On a practical level, you might consider using the 10/10/10 rule.  Ask yourself if the issue you are fretting about will matter in ten minutes, ten months and ten years.  This has been a powerful one for me.  For a stretch I made a mental commitment to checking in with myself to really examine the long term outcomes after a period of great worry or actual loss either professionally or personally.  Leaving aside extremes (sudden deaths), I would be hard pressed to find more than a couple of examples of things that really really mattered even after the ten month period.

Be a “time stretcher”

One of the managerial styles that I most admire and have tried to emulate is “time stretching” bosses who have really do have limited time and may start meetings late but will make you feel as if they have time for you.  Result being that you are not rushed, you think clearly as you are making your points and the meeting actually takes less time than it would if you were getting cut off and panicked about your briefing.  Does that mean you won’t adapt ten minutes of presentation material to the five you have available? You absolutely will need to but you don’t need to have your words clipped to remind you that time is limited.

I apply this thinking when I am tutoring young kids to improve their reading. I have a deep interest and commitment to literacy but minimal training as a tutor.  And the greatest gift I can give a kid learning to master their letters or read better may just be time.  Puzzling out words is gruelling and though I can offer strategies, I probably offer more spaces to think and scan the page than actual talking.  I think that the quiet space may also function as a confidence giver to tell the seven year old that he already knows lots already to help puzzle this out without my continual commentary in the background.

And for the instances in my life when I really didn’t have enough time – sudden deaths in my immediate family would be the prime example – I still rely abundance thinking as my solace for these difficult passages.  I want to commit even more to reframing my mind to think abundance in the moment and be present for the time I have with people I care about including the people I love to work with.



The Art Of Letting Go: How I Learned To Stop Procrastinating | Fast Company | Business + Innovation

A good short article on one person’s strategy to let go of procrastination.  The things I found most powerful were the suggestions of thinking of the pain it would cause in the end to keep avoiding the real work and the challenge to think about whether the trade off to give in to  distractions were worth it to avoid the difficult work that would precede a satisfying outcome.

via The Art Of Letting Go: How I Learned To Stop Procrastinating | Fast Company | Business + Innovation.

Why you need to stop bragging about how busy you are

Why you need to stop bragging about how busy you are

Some good reminders here about how longer hours doesn’t produce the best work or the best workers.

Those who produce brilliant work work hard for short stretches (90 minutes is the rule cited in The Talent Code and Be Excellent at Anything) and take breaks or even naps to restore.  With this approach, thinking becomes sharper and innovation is supported.

And I wholeheartedly agree that the boss has to leave first to set the tone for the culture of balance.

Winning When the Troops are Tired – Let’s Grow Leaders


An important piece for me to have read this year – I work with a hardworking and understandably tired team.

The best bits in my opinion:

“Help your team understand what matters most.   Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission.  Candor strengthens resolve.  Empowering “less than perfect”, energizes the front lines.”

“Provide a little leave:  “Your highest performers won’t complain.  They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done.  You may not even know they’re tired.   Initiate the conversation.  Establish regular check-ins.  Make it okay to politely question your asks.”

Manage your own stress:  Stress rolls down hill.  Get a grip.

via Winning When the Troops are Tired – Let’s Grow Leaders.

Happy Workaholics Need Boundaries, Not Balance – Ed Batista – Harvard Business Review

A good piece from the HBR that suggest we re-set the term work/life balance with boundaries.  I have heard some senior executives say that they have found their own definition of “balance” and I think that this approach would fit with that statement – basically as long as you can draw clear lines between work and the rest of your life, whether you spend much time devoted to the personal sphere is your own choice.  This author offers a few different ways to slice these boundaries:

Time boundaries – where you exclusively devote time to non-work pursuits.

Physical boundaries – where you take a break from the office in all its forms.

and my favourite as a think today about redoubling my efforts to get to a regular mediation practice, the cognitive boundary – a place to stop thinking about work.

via Happy Workaholics Need Boundaries, Not Balance – Ed Batista – Harvard Business Review.

Go the F*** home

As the title reveals, this rant on work/life balance isn’t G-rated so you should watch it with that warning.

I appreciated the following reminders:

–  As managers, we’re being watched for the signal to go home.

– Productivity nosedives when you work overtime

That said, the tone is more cynical than my own would be.  She reduces workers to “business assets”  when many, including public servants in particular, have chosen career paths that support a passion or interest.   She also talks about “escape plans” where I’d prefer to focus on what we are running to:  supporting a life outside of work that honours our other personal values including connection to our communities and creativity.


The scourge of meeting latecomers

(c) Giampaolo Squarcina


Found this precis of a study about meeting late-comers from the British Psychological Association interesting in large part because it teases out various perspectives on whether someone is actually late for a meeting.  Are you late if the participants are still chit chatting when you arrive? If you are a few minutes late does that really count? Etc.  One unexplored issue is whether perceptions of lateness actually vary withe the level of the person – I’d suspect that there is more flex given to people higher up the ladder who legitimately have less control over their schedules much of the time.

A few snippets from the study report – full citation found below.

They found that certain types of employees tend to be late:

Less satisfied employees, the less conscientious, younger employees, and those with a dislike for meetings, all tended to report being late more often. Job level was not related to (self-confessed) tardiness.

The effects of lateness?

Does it matter if a person arrives late? The researchers said it has a negative impact on both the late comer, who is often judged to be rude, and the rest of the team. Most participants reported experiencing negative feelings when someone shows up late, including frustration, feeling disrespected and upset. This is bad news, the researchers said, because “negative mood states can negatively impact performance.” 

Varying definitions of lateness

Just over a fifth of the sample defined lateness as arriving after the scheduled start time (which was the objective definition used in the survey into the base rate of lateness). Another fifth defined lateness as a certain fixed time after the scheduled start – in other words, they were allowing for a “grace” period, varying from a few minutes to more than ten minutes. Thirty-two per cent defined lateness as arrival after the meeting had actually got underway.  Some (6 per cent) defined lateness simply as “keeping others waiting”, or “interrupting the flow” (5 per cent). Finally, a minority (3 per cent) saw lateness in terms of whether a person was “ready to go” once the meeting had started.

Limitations of this research

The study has some obvious weaknesses, including a reliance on memory and self-report, and the emphasis on Western attitudes to time.

Rogelberg, S., Scott, C., Agypt, B., Williams, J., Kello, J., McCausland, T., and Olien, J. (2013). Lateness to meetings: Examination of an unexplored temporal phenomenon European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 1-19 DOI:

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive –

Relax! You’ll Be More Productive –

A great forward (please keep them coming) written by one of my favourite bloggers for the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz.

The gist of what he wants us to know is this:

“A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

While we should building in renewal cycles we do the opposite:

“As athletes understand especially well, the greater the performance demand, the greater the need for renewal. When we’re under pressure, however, most of us experience the opposite impulse: to push harder rather than rest. This may explain why a recent survey by Harris Interactive found that Americans left an average of 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012 — up from 6.2 days in 2011.”

This opinion pieces lays out, with links to the research, why more frequent breaks make us better workers.  He cites the example of how he changed his approach to writing his books from writing 10 hours a day to working in 90 minute bursts to dramatically shorten the time it took to write.

Single People Need Work-Life Balance Too

(c) scottwills


Single People Need Work-Life Balance Too.

A report on a more general take on work/life balance that is more inclusive than the most common lens of balance – that between work and family responsibilities.  In the study referenced here, the authors look at “life interference” which is to say, the extent to which work interferes with education, leisure, relationships and family. An interesting conclusion that the lowest point of job satisfaction is associated with work interference with education.  As well, women are more likely to experience life interference than men according to this study.

Measure Results, Not Hours, to Improve Work Efficiency –


(c) lululemon athletica

Measure Results, Not Hours, to Improve Work Efficiency –

A great forward on how we should be managing results not time in the office.  Part of the article explores the holdover from industrial age thinking which continues to equate productivity with face time in the office to everyone’s detriment.

However, what I appreciated most on this piece was the concrete strategies on how to make the best of your office time.

Included are suggestions on limiting meetings (preview whether you think the meeting will be a productive use of your time, plan the meeting), reading more quickly (don’t read entire documents unless you have to) and writing more quickly (avoid an A plus product unless it really must be so) as well as email management (try to touch each piece of email only once and then file it appropriately).

Lastly, the author suggests that employees advance more discussions on the specific metrics of deliverables on projects so what successful results are, are clear.