Tuesday, March 8, 2016

10 Reminders for a more Zen Work Life

Sure, some of these reminders might be most applicable to teaching, but I think overall that these reminders are fairly universal. Keep in mind that I haven't mastered all of these reminders; no, instead, I'm still working on making them part of the way I live my professional life each day.

1.  Surround yourself with beauty when the opportunity arises. I have pictures of my desk of my daughter; I use a scented wax warmer to improve the smell of my classroom; I buy office supplies that are happy. Little things like this are helpful when I'm looking for something to brighten up an otherwise stressful or rotten day. Using beautiful things can mean the difference between a really rotten mood and one that's just ehhhh.

2. Cultivate relationships with coworkers when possible. I don't have a lot of close friends at my job, and that's okay. Really, there are maybe 3 people that I'd say I interact with outside of work or would call upon if I needed help. Everyone else is really just an acquaintance. Certainly, though, I have friendly, casual relationships with many other people at my workplace. I know what their kids are doing. I ask about their families. We might vent or chat a little during a stressful week. We might share a funny bit of news or an update on the weather. I think cultivating those relationships makes me a better colleague and probably a better person, but that doesn't mean I'll seek out everyone to befriend even in those casual ways.

3. Remind yourself that tomorrow is another day.  When my students have been lazy or mouthy, when my desk is piled high with papers to grade, when it seems my classes will never grasp a particular concept, when I've just reached the end of my rope, those are the times that I need to remind myself that tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another day to try, to finish, to give, to do. I don't have to accomplish everything today.

4. When in doubt, let your conscience and your heart guide you.  Should I stop the lecture and discuss a problem in our society with my students? Should I call that parent because of something worrisome a kid said? Should I conference with that student instead of just fill out a disciplinary referral? Should I meet with the guidance counselor about a student who's failing? Should I report something I heard to the administration? Should I rethink whether this particular task is achieving the goal I set? Should I cut a student some slack because of a situation at home? Should I assign more homework? Should I write that letter of recommendation that I don't really mean?  Yes, these are all questions that come up in my job regularly.  I find myself falling back on the simple mantra - let my conscience and heart be my guide. So far, that has served me well professionally. I hope it continues to do so.

5. Ask for help.  You don't have to do it all alone. Have you been saddled with a project that was much more intensive than you anticipated? Ask for help. Ask for suggestions. Try to approach the project from a different angle. Are there quizzes and homework assignments piling up to ridiculous levels? Ask for help. Postpone. Delegate. Hire a college student.  Is the end of the quarter looming while your paperwork is spiraling out of control? Ask for help. Change your plans. Change your focus. Let kids work on a project together. In other words, don't try to go it all alone in the way you first imagined. It's okay to ask for help and readjust your goals/vision along the way if needed.

6. Speak your mind, then let it go.  When you're being treated unfairly, speak up. When you want a chance at a new challenge or project, request it. When you think a different solution might work more effectively, share your ideas.  When you disagree with an approach or expectation, ask questions and offer opinions.  Once you've done all those things, rest easy knowing that you've done all you can in a particular situation. At some point, you must let it go and move forward.  I know from experience that not speaking up or not reaching a resolution can cause negative feelings to perpetuate for long periods of time.  This is a Zen "rule" that I'm still working on in my professional life...

7.  Smile even when you don't mean it. You know the old saying, right? Fake it until you make it. Well, I struggle with that because I want to be authentic. What I've found, though, is that other people respond more favorably to me if I generally smile when passing them or greeting them. Smile when someone says something idiotic. Smile when someone is kind to you insincerely. Smile when someone is getting on your last nerve.  Smile when the whole workplace is being given yet another task or another reprimand or another friggin' goal. Smile when the person you don't like prolongs the meeting with another stupid question. Smile when you've stayed late again. Smile when someone who doesn't do your job says something offensive or inane. Smile when everything you do is undervalued or unappreciated or unrecognized. Just smile, and maybe people will think you're naturally sweet and happy all the time. Maybe it'll rub off on them. Or maybe they'll just think you've finally lost your marbles.

8. Wear professional, flattering, comfortable clothing. Who can be Zen if you're sucking in because your pants are tight? Who can be Zen if you're trying to work a 10 hour day in stilettos? (I just have never mastered that skill.) Who can be Zen if you look like you're going to the beach and the rest of the workplace looks like professionals, or vice versa? Who can be Zen if your shoulder pads circa 1988 mark you as a relic from the past and other people treat you like a Yuppie dinosaur? Who can be Zen if your every thought is that your pants make noise as you walk across the room? Who can be Zen if you're keeping your skirt up with a safety pin that keeps popping open? Who can be Zen if the underwire in your bra threatens to stab you in the heart at any moment? You know what I'm talking about, ladies.  The point is that clothing should help you do your job more efficiently or help others place their trust in you to do your job. If it doesn't do those things, then at the very least it shouldn't get in your way or make you miserable.

9.  Eat breakfast and lunch. I know, I know, I struggle with this too. But I get more done and feel better when I do eat breakfast and lunch. Who wants to be the coworker who gets 'hangry' every afternoon? Yes, you do have time to eat lunch. You have time to go pee. You have time to take care of your basic bodily needs while at your job. We know this rationally, but, like you, I sometimes get caught up in being so busy that I rationalize not taking care of those things.  Nope, no more. I will go pee. I will eat lunch. I will stretch at my desk occasionally. These things are good for me and arenot a hindrance to my job. Your brain and your body work more efficiently when you feed yourself real food at regular intervals. And as much as I'd like to believe differently, Coke and chocolate covered almonds do not count as good food. I'm still really working on this one too, so I feel your pain.

10. Learn to prioritize.  How many things that you did today absolutely had to be taken care of today? Other than being present at my job, which isn't really an option for me, I only did one thing all day that absolutely could not wait. Certainly, I was very busy all day, but learning to prioritize between the must dos and the should dos is incredibly important.  I'm so much happier, so much more satisfied, when I ruthlessly differentiate between what can wait and what cannot. I set goals and make lists and pile things up in certain arrangements to reflect those priorities. And when all is said and done at the end of a workday, I remind myself of Zen rule #3 - tomorrow is another day.


  1. great list!! you are a wise woman :)

  2. you're awesome tiffany! because i believe it, & sometimes a girl just needs to hear it or read it about herself from someone else. not that you need any external feedback, to know you know your stuff.