Over the past 18 months with COVID, I have been evaluating and exploring all aspects of my work – everything from what work I do to how I deliver the work to what value that work brings to clients. I have also been consciously thinking about what it means to do ‘my best work’. What are the conditions that I need to produce that best work, and how do I keep those conditions in place?
For me, some of those conditions are broad and overarching. I must do work in line with my purpose in life. I must feel like I am adding value and contributing. I must work with teams that are inclusive. And I must work in a way that supports enablement and sustainability for others. Other conditions are concrete and practical. I need a place where it can be silent with few interruptions. I need kick-ass, high speed internet access with top notch electronics technology. I need to make my own travel reservations so that I can arrive early enough to get a good night’s sleep before a client engagement. These may seem simple, but directly affect my ability to produce the best product, outcome, or result.
The last conditions are the no-work conditions and as I get older, they become the most important. My colleague John always asks, ‘How much non-work does it take to do your job?’ If your job requires creativity, how much think time is required? And on what frequency? When I am involved in an intense project or teach a challenging course, I need downtime to decompress and recover once the work is complete. While I would like to think that I am Wonder Woman, I tend to underestimate the recovery time needed to be ready to tackle the next big project or course. Not having enough recovery compromises my ability to do my best work on the next job.
An even better question I am asking myself this time, is – what would it take to minimize recovery? How do I build the best work conditions into my ongoing work process so that recovery is significantly lessened? I think that this question is vital while we work from home. It is so easy for work and home to blend together. You may think – I’ll just slip back into my home office and answer a few emails after dinner. Then you realize that you spent 2 hours doing email, it is time for bed, and you didn’t spend any time with your family during the evening. And this is after you had already spent 8-10 hrs during the day ‘at work’. I had a client say to me last week, ‘but there are still things to do on my list that I didn’t get done’. Yep, and there will always be. Work will always take everything you give it – and then come back and ask for 25% more. That is its job. But working all the time isn’t healthy and certainly doesn’t produce your best. You are also resetting the bar for your performance. Do you really want your management to start expecting what you can produce only if you work 14+ hrs/day? Do you really want your team believing that the only way to be successful in your role is to work 14+ hrs/day?
If not, then once your best work conditions are identified, comes the practical, day-to-day management to keep those conditions in place. Yep – you guessed it – it means boundaries. Work will never set boundaries so we have to. And it specifically means boundaries on you. It means having a stop time to the work day and sticking to it. It means taking a break to read a book, getting a weekly massage, playing the piano, or riding my horse – because they clear my head, help me think creatively, and help me come up with new solutions to tough problems. And, if I begin feeling guilty about sticking to the boundaries, I remember my commitment to doing my best work – and reinforce my boundaries.
I am demanding and stubborn. I am not willing to compromise the quality of my work – it isn’t satisfying for me. Think about it for you! What conditions and boundaries do you need so that you can do your best work? How different would your life be if you were always doing ‘your best work’? The possibilities are endless and exciting!