Working Hard, Easily

We often associate working hard with slogging and trudging along. But working hard is often more about getting into an easy state of flow, a sign of being deeply engaged with our work.

Tired of trudging along and pushing forward?

Here’s a slightly different advice- stop and reevaluate, instead of pushing harder.

In this hustle culture, it is often a sign of grit and motivation to keep pushing when it gets harder. If you are a working professional, it is rarely that someone would tell you to stop and revaluate. Most of the motivational advice out there is to keep working harder. To try again and again and again until you succeed. To rise in one’s career, or to come up with a million-dollar idea, or to run a business or to be the star employee, the chief advice is to slog and work hard. Work harder. It’s always about being more disciplined. More focused. To push against all odds.

But is that always good advice? Does achieving something and working hard always mean we must feel like we are constantly swimming against the tide? Would it not be better if we could rather swim and flow amidst everything? Is there a different interpretation to ‘working hard’?

An insight by psychologist Julie Gurner is worth paying attention to. Speaking on a podcast for the online mindfulness and motivational page Farnam Street, she says: 

“I think we talk about discipline because it feels tough to do. We’re doing the hard thing. We’re slogging through. But when we are at our best, we’re not slogging through. Great people are obsessed and they’re not slogging through. They are driven. They are motivated. They are deeply, deeply engaged. … If it starts to feel like a slog and you’re pushing yourself every day—I mean, we all have periods of that—but [do it] too long and that really becomes laborious. To me, it’s often a flag that perhaps you shouldn’t be in that area at all.”

Haven’t we all, at some point, found ourselves working in a state of flow, working deeply, losing all track of time and finding a deep sense of accomplishment within ourselves?  Was that about ‘pushing’ harder? No, it was about flowing with our work. It was about being so engaged in what we were doing that we felt one with it. It was hard work that didn’t feel like ‘hard’ work.

Good, hard work should put us in a state of flow. It should engage us. After some slogging, after some pushing, if we still haven’t reached that state of flow, of the state of feeling engaged enough, perhaps it would be a better idea to reevaluate things instead of continuing to slog and push harder. Revaluate, so that we can find a way to flow.

Revaluating could involve changing our approach, or changing our thinking. It could also involve changing our objectives. It could also involve changing our path, in a minor or major way. The point is to aim for a state of flow, of deep engagement with what we are working towards, instead of feeling the slog.

Working through the festive season ahead and feeling gloomy about it? Worry not!

Festive season also brings some festival blues. Here’s how to cope.

As we talked about in our earlier article, this is a good time to bask in the festive spirit. Major festivals are taking place around the world as we write this and within the next two months. This part of the year is high on energy- spiritual as well as celebratory. As the Diwali celebrations conclude, we have Thanksgiving and Christmas in the air.

As many of us look forward to holidays, celebrations and office parties, there are some of us who may have to work through it all. Reasons could be multiple.

  • Maybe your job is such that the festive season demands extra work from you.
  • Maybe your company is going through a period when taking off days or celebrations aren’t very profitable and sensible activities.
  • Maybe you were not able to travel back to your family for some reason.

And so on.

It is difficult to ignore all the celebrations around and find your focus. It is also difficult for many of us, who do love the festivities to not feel what is popularly known as ‘FOMO’, the ‘fear of missing out’. What are some strategies to use if you are someone who is going to be working through the festive season?

Find ‘other’ ways to break the monotony:

While it might not be possible for you to get a leave, it might still be possible to break the monotony by changing your perspective. After all, breaks, holidays or celebrations of any kind, festivities included, are ways to break the monotony of the mundane life. They are rituals to signify a change in rhythm of life. Festivals are shifts in life’s gears offered by traditions.

This change in rhythm of life can be created by oneself as well. If one cannot change the gear via the method given by age old traditions, we can create our own ways of changing gears. This could be creating simple practices and rituals. Simple, doable practices. For example, if it is not possible to dress nicely at your office, you can still make a tiny, micro change in your bearing and routine to feel the change, like wearing a different watch. Or changing the wallpaper of your desktop or cell-phone. Or taking something different for lunch. Or preparing your tea differently than usual.

Simple change in your own modern ‘rituals’ can still work as a break in the monotony.

Noticing your commute with slightly empty roads, the unusualness in your regular inbox, the way your office building feels different and being mindful about countless other small changes can still be ways to find the magic in the mundane, to break the monotony.

 Be happy for others:

Being happy for others is an underrated superpower.

Often times, the ‘FOMO’ mentioned earlier comes from the simple fact that we are envious of the ones who are getting to take a break. We want what they have. We feel that lack, that injustice, the unfairness. We feel tired and exhausted by looking at the photos of others posted on social media.

Many people will tell us to block out these ‘distractions’, to remain so focused on our work, manage the tasks such that we don’t feel like there are festivities going on out there. That is definitely one way.

But what if we flipped the script there and tried to enjoy through others, vicariously?

Looking at the photos of festivities around, and feeling a sense of gratitude that one lives in a place where there is so much hubbub around, or have that kind of access, might actually improve our mood instead of having the attitude of missing out. Listening to the stories about vacations and office celebrations with a sense of curiosity and love, instead of a sense of lack and unfairness might give us the warmth we didn’t experience directly.

Warmth doesn’t need festivities:

As the Diwali sweets are stored away, Christmas decorations brought out, and the gloom of working through the festivals still around, it would be a good reminder that one can find the spirit all year round. Meeting loved ones, and keeping the love and laughter alive could be a year-round thing! A gentle reminder to self that festivals are one of the ways to take in the warmth of human connections, and not the only way could go a long way in changing that script of FOMO to that of the joy of simply being.

Focusing on our work or denying the unpleasantness might be counterproductive. Instead accepting that we are missing out, but still being curious to know how others are celebrating might be a bigger step towards feeling slightly less unpleasant.

While it is true that missing out on the festive season, for whichever season might lead to a gloomy mood and a sense of unfairness, it is also true that magic can also be found in the mundane!

Making the most of the Festive Energy

This time of the year is perfect to make the most of your productivity, as the energy is ripe with the triumphant spirit of overcoming any form of darkness.

This time of the year always feels very energetic. Whether you are a resident of India or a country abroad, there’s so many festivals around the world to look forward to. Whether it’s the Dussehra to Diwali time-period in India, or Halloween in USA, or the Oktoberfest in Germany, or the various autumn and fire festivals taking place right from Japan to Thailand, the autumn air brings in much festivity around the world. There’s a number of major festivals to look forward to in November and December too. The momentum, the festive spirit could work as great productivity boosters.

How can you make most of the festive energy to boost your productivity?

Make the most of the high:

As we suggested, the energy levels this time of the year are on a high. The moods are on the high. Now is thus a good time to undertake tasks you had been putting off all year. Whether it’s starting a new project, or cleaning up your drawer. This is also a good time to undertake a difficult conversation, whether it’s talking to a difficult-to-persuade client with a pitch, or raising a long hanging issue in a meeting. Why? Because chances are, everyone else might be on that high, and might be easier to persuade than usual, more willing to work on things than usual. Willing to stay in a good mood, more than usual.

If the persuasion or the pitch don’t work out, the next point has got your covered.

There’s something to look forward to, no matter what:

As mentioned earlier, having multiple festivals to look forward to is a great mood-booster, especially when things don’t go as planned.

Usually when plans fail or tasks fall through, it takes some effort to recover from those failures. But thanks to the high energies at a spiritual as well as collective physical level, recovering becomes even more easier. Not just easier, it can be potentially transformative. Call it the killing the ‘Ravan’ within, or call it the effect of the Halloween ‘spooky season’, there’s a metaphor to deal with the darkness, available close by.  

One may or may not ‘believe’ but at the very least, the office-level parties, the holiday, or the holiday ‘mood’ themselves provide avenues for often necessary distractions from gloom and act as levelers. They provide as things to look forward to, especially if you’ve had a horrible day.

 Make the most of the season:

Whatever culture you belong to, the weather this time of the year is optimal at most places. The air is crisp with the oncoming winter, and if you are lucky, your country may have beautiful autumn colours around, symbolising the need to shed, and acting as reminders that a ‘fall’ doesn’t have to be ugly or graceless. It may get dark outside earlier, but that brings with it deep shades of blue and orange.

It is no wonder that so many festivals around the world at this time of the year in one way or another deal with the darkness with lights in some form.

It is neither too hot and neither too cold. It’s the perfect weather to undertake difficult tasks, conversations. It is the perfect season, literally and figuratively, with nature and the spirit of human celebration giving ample opportunities to either recover or celebrate, through its cozy yet energy-filled atmosphere.  

Everyone wants to keep their mood good when there’s a celebration to look forward to, right?

The Road to Hundred Medals

As the Indian contingent in the Asian Games hauls hundred medals for the first time in history, we look at some lessons this journey can teach us.

The Indian contingent at the Asian Games 2023 has hauled hundred medals for the first time! With the gold in women’s kabbadi, the medal count reached the grand hundred (and still counting!).

The victories come with lessons in attitude, discipline, sportsmanship and never giving up.

Getting up after the fall:

Sport is unpredictable, and it treats everyone equally: it doesn’t matter how experienced or inexperienced you are, the rules apply equally to everyone, everyone can make mistakes, everyone can reverse the mistakes and everyone is out there in the open to give their best. There was a point in the nail-biting final match between India and Chinese Taipei when an Indian player slipped and gave the opponents a two-point lead. But India bounced back and made history. The Indian player who slipped, and the team could have just thrown the towel and decided that it’s out of their hands now. They could have blamed each other and cried foul at the opponents.

 But their ‘antifragile’ attitude- learning from mistakes and using those to their advantage- made all the difference.

You will make mistakes, sometimes huge ones. You might fall, you might get knocked down in spite of all the preparation, experience and wisdom but the attitude lies in getting up after the fall.

Never Stop Playing:

Playing when the whole world is watching you can be daunting- every mistake you make is out there for everyone to see (and replay!). On the other end is the fact that you could give your best for years and still not get the credit due to you.

As the team gets its due recognition now, it is to be noted that this hasn’t always been the case. The women’s kabbadi team is a giant in the sport- in the previous editions of the games, it has consistently won medals, gold included, and yet most players remain unknown. A google search for them yields very few results as compared to many players of more ‘glamourous’ sports, or even male players of many other sports.

But does this lack of due recognition lead the team to stop playing? The Indian kabbadi captain Ritu Negi continues to lead the team. Pushpa Rani continues to be the all-rounder that she is. Pooja Hathwala continues to be a great raider.

The system might work against you, but as long as you know your worth, and continue to put up a fight, sooner or later, recognition will come. There might be a mellow show, or the show might not even be planned, but you must go on.

Nothing is Impossible:

A time-traveller might go back in time by a decade or two, and if they were to ask any random Indian if they think it is possible that India will ever win a hundred medals, the stranger might just laugh it off as impossible. Or they might say that if the events are just going to be of cricket, then yes, there was a possibility. Thinking about this three-digit medal haul was considered unrealistic at one point in very recent history.

Something that was deemed impossible and unrealistic has now been achieved thanks to an effort at the level of the collective- right from all the athletes of all the sports, to the system, to the administration and to the people for continuing to cheer the little wins. And how to forget the individual effort of the athletes? The individual athletes continued their ‘karma’, giving their best in whatever way possible. As the little wins over the years cumulated, the people and the system looked up and started to envision the possibilities.

Things might seem impossible, unrealistic and just unachievable. But does that mean we give up hope? Does that mean we should stop working towards anything worthwhile? Be it sports, or life outside of sports in the office, working on things that are under our control is always an option rather than to give up.

As our athletes at Hangzhou continue to give their best, and make dreams of billion come true with their hard work, we congratulate them on how far they have come. We thank them for teaching us lessons about determination, dreams and having confidence in competence.

Hello, Good Planner! Do you have time for Serendipity?

Planning is something we do all the time. Amidst the planning and keeping that control, some little space must be given to the power of serendipity.

We like to plan. We are told planning is a good thing, and we must keep making new plans and keep updating our old ones.

We plan a project, we plan a meeting, we plan a pitch, we plan future goals, we plan about how to reach our present goals and we plan our career. We plan a holiday, we plan our ‘me’ time. We do short-term planning, and we do long-term planning.

In all this planning, life happens to us. As the famous line by the famous John Lennon goes:

Life is what happens when you are making other plans…

Planning is good. It helps us remain secure and prepared. It’s a necessary activity which enables us to develop foresight and become good managers and leaders. It ensures a workable structure for the times when we might not know what to do, or when life throws its surprises at us. When we plan, we are being prepared for everything and anything.  

In all this pressure to plan and be prepared, we sometimes forget to keep a little breathing space. A little breathing space for serendipity.

What is serendipity?

Serendipity is when the unexpected works in just the right way. Some people call it a ‘happy coincidence’. Sometimes the events- unexpected ones -work out themselves without you having to do any planning.

Think of all those times when you gifted the exact thing the person needed without really knowing that the person indeed was looking for the very thing you gifted them.

The times when you were wondering how to contact a client and you received a connection invite from them instead.

The times when you may have chosen a different route for your commute and ended up having the client you were supposed to give a pitch to be your co-passenger. 

These are some very simple examples, but serendipity can work out in much more complex ways, and that is where the need to keep that space for it to act out comes in. Serendipity works when we keep that 1% space for the events to unfold themselves. We have to let the ideas unfold themselves. After a point, there’s a only so much planning one can do. The wisdom of sitting back and letting it unfold comes in handy.

Letting the Ideas Unfold on their Own:

A little insight from Paul Graham who wears multiple caps of an essayist, computer scientist, venture capitalist, investor and entrepreneur:

‘The best new ideas always have unanticipated benefits.’

In other words, after a point, we must let serendipity do its job.

Good planning is necessary. We should try our best to chart out a good plan with all the contingencies but once an optimum level of planning has been achieved, we should just let things unfold on their own. Overplanning is the enemy here: planning too much leaves no space for improvising, adapting and things to fall into place. It leaves no space to change tracks or put on the brakes. Overplanning can make ideas crash.

How to let serendipity do its job?

Plan but don’t over-plan: If you have ten steps charted out, but the eleventh step seems tricky, let it be, and let the ten steps do their work onto the eleventh step.

Be open to experiences: If a situation is not working the way you want it to work, and there’s nothing you can do about it, be open to the supposedly different situation that seems to be unfolding. Say for example, if your interview or the client meeting did not go according to the plan, be curious and see what could happen next, instead of trying fruitless damage control measures like frantic calling or emailing for a fixed result. The ‘alternate’ results might surprise you, pleasantly.

A job you thought you would hate but ended up genuinely enjoying? A situation you thought had failed but once you gave up control, solved itself? Yes, that is serendipity doing its work.