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Last week I wrote about one of the key lessons I am learning from The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter.
You’ll recall that the point of her book — subtitled How to Find Your Groove at Work and Home — is to help her readers to understand current brain research in order to work more effortlessly and to find “flow” in a regular way in their lives.
This week, it’s a Readers-take-over-week. I will give away 3 free copies of The Sweet Spot by randomly choosing from among the “Comments” I get from readers. (Usually I get about 5 comments a week, so you probably have a good chance to win.) Come back and see the ideas that our learning community shares.
Whether you submit a comment or not, here’s how to improve your leading week. Ask yourself: “What’s the most important thing I can do to get myself to ‘groove’ my life at work and home?” Or to put it another way, “What gets you in your sweet spot?”
Here’s one of the fairly frequent counter-intuitive thoughts from the book: Spend time doing nothing. Staring out the window, like you did as a kid in school when you needed a break from “Pay Attention,” as Sister Mary Elephant would call out (with nods to Cheech and Chong and apologies to the amazing nuns who taught me in elementary school). No purpose. Letting your mind wander. It turns out that the brain has a (seemingly!!!) non-active cycle. Yet it is in that “off” cycle that we are doing critical processing. Give it a spin.
What are the most important things you do to get in your zone, to be in your sweet spot, to produce more good stuff with less grinding of gears and super-high RPMs?
In your sweet spot, you’ll
Lead with your best self!
THE “thing” I do to “get my groove going” is to hand-write a note and deliver it with a flower or a brownie/cookie/cinnamon roll first thing in the morning. This gives me a wonderful affirmation and energy to get started on the rest of “my list” for the day. Blessings to you.
To get into my “sweet spot” of happiness and positivity I
1.Journal first thing in the morning for 7-10 minutes, before I do anything else. I use an app with a password and usually use stream of consciousness writing. Sometimes I journal about something that’s on my mind specifically, whether its positive or negative.
2. Next, I meditate 10-20 minutes using a guided meditation or music and deep breathing.
3. I read affirmative, inspirational information. I subscribe to a series of emails (including yours) and spend about 15 minutes reading them. Sometimes I capture quotes I’d like to remember.
4. Sometimes I throw in a praise song to listen to.
By now, I’m usually pretty happy, in the flow and ready to go!
There are other tools I use throughout the day that I’ve learned from JaimePfeffer.com
One of the things I do is to get off the phone. I used to use my commute time to return messages and work all the way to and from work. Now I use that time to take a breather and prioritize my “to do” lists, both at work and at home. I am much more relaxed and ready to face the day.
I took the book one step further and had a staff meeting around the concept. We have been short staffed for several months and people are beginning to feel “burned out”. So we “re-prioritized the work load into urgent and important and are purposefully only concentrating on the “must do’s” and not all the other “noise” in the room. We scheduled a short meeting on Friday’s to “find our sweet spot”!
Thanks for the thoughtful question, Dan. One of the things that I have found works for me is to break my office routine. I do my best to eat lunch alone as often as my schedule allows. I usually do this away from my office so that I don’t get caught up in reading e-mails, going through mail and doing other oftentimes lower priority tasks. Being in a different environment for a short period of time and allowing myself to focus on the food I’m eating provides me with not only a break but the time I need to clear my mind and focus on what’s important that afternoon.
I take some time before I sleep to reflect on what I did during the day and what I can do tomorrow to make it a good day for me.
It’s easiest for me to find my sweet spot in the morning as I go about getting ready for the day. I do a lot of “mindless” chores that result in putting my physical space in order. As I move from one chore to the next, I have NPR playing in the background. My mind then seems to whirl my thoughts around and plunk them in a logical order that creates solutions I hadn’t earlier had. I consider myself extremely fortunate if I also have time to go for a “theme” walk. Those are my walks that I intentionally place a challenge into my mind to solve. I simply walk steadily on and on as I think about the whatever I am wanting to plan, find a solution to, etc. The rhythmic sensory stimulation of walking, walking, walking seems to fill up the spots in my brain that has the chatter that so often competes with my thinking. Ahhhh, blissful sweet spotting…
Hi, Dan. I find that the best way for me to get to the “sweet spot” is to get all those
tasks that are floating around like pounding surf and put them down in my Franklin
Planner. Then I am free to float peacefully.
I look out my window onto the sun on the ice of Lake Michigan and let my mind wander the rivulets melting toward the iceberg. I think, why isn’t the water moving from the iceberg? As I follow the line of frozen snow and ice northward, my gaze comes back to the feeder on the bank. It is then the cardinals gather around the base gathering loose seed in the winter grass that I find my focus. There is my sweet spot. The birds have gathered me in.
I am a resident at Song of the Morning Yoga Retreat in N. Michigan. We have a Sunday service that features meditation. After meditating as a group, we finish with an offering,
A week ago Sunday, we played (me clarinet, my wife, keyboard) for the offering. I had the prior experience of some rather deep meditation during the beginning of the service, and
about half way through the meditation, I found myself in a very relaxed space. I unconsciously became aware that I could build a little energy for the performance with the rest of my meditation. My breathing started to focus on the inhale, and when I started to play, I found myself very present. Unfortunately, the energy I had generated was a little too much for me to play freely, and my tone began to shake. That eventually straightened out,
But I also found myself (again unconsciously) playing from memory. I had not done this before with this piece. About half way through, I (unconsciously) found myself going back and playing about four notes from a previous passage (an act which totally undid my wife), and then going back (unconsciously) and picking up where I left off.
Flow is a wonderful thing for musicians and meditation is a wonderful practice for developing it, but one needs to be aware of the potential for tripping off someplace into the unexpected. Perhaps it is a good idea not to do deep meditation just before an important performance.
As I am reading your morning routine, it took me a minute to assimilate it into my own behavior. My first activity every day is a prayer service. Perhaps the difference I need to make to my morning behavior is NOT to check my email before going to pray.
When I get overwhelmed with projects, I take breaks and go talk to college students on campus and then I realize that’s why I love to work at the community college level.
Thanks for all the “help” in my working years. I still enjoy your many comments in retirement. My sweet spot is on the deck at the lake (sometimes with a heavy jacket) doing absolutely nothing but listening to the waves lap the shore and the wind whistling through the pines. Truly peace.
The first step for me, to get to the Sweet Spot, or anywhere else, is to get started. Take that first step and the rest will follow. With all the easily reached distractions today, taking that first step is harder than ever.
I intentionally walk for part of my commute. 30 minutes in the morning, min.
oh, the things I’ve noticed and solved!
Gratitude is my way into the groove. I found it to be one of the simplest habits to generate a mindful focus on the present. Throughout the day I try to stop, look around and reflect on what I’m grateful for in the moment and get connected to the feeling of gratitude. I find myself grateful for everything from simple interactions with lovely people to everyday objects like avocados and washing machines. The gratitude feeds a sense of optimism and kindness which tends to improve the rest of the day and make tasks just a little easier.
I get home from work, sit down and relax, and just rest for a few minutes; mulling over the day, thinking about how things went, rejoicing in what went well, thinking about what I want to do do differently the next day should I have the opportunity, and give thanks for what was good about the day. I let my body rest from the labors of the day while I gear up for the activities of the evening.
Good morning, I read your article each week and find it rejuvenating… this one in particular. I like mentoring others to get into my sweet spot. It helps me remember why I am doing what I do and helps put things into perspective. I never want to get “old” in my job, I love helping others to learn and find their way, leadership skills, and work through issues. Often times, I learn just as much as the mentee and it helps add a new twist on my outlook as well. It keeps focus, engages others, and helps to get through “ruts”. I think that being a leader is much more than a title, it is a process and through that process comes great things!
I find my sweet spot by playing with my grandkids and emulating them. Whatever activity they are doing, they throw themselves into it in full abandon of everything else. When I join them, my head immediately clears and sees only the task at hand. Whether it’s walking in the woods to find fairy houses, looking for deer tracks in the yard, pulling out the matchbox cars and building a city or sitting down to read a book; it all is done “in the moment”. There are no other worries that pull at them – or me, for that matter. It is all about having fun and concentrating on what the current activity is. I learn so many things from them about enjoying “now” and what I have found as a bonus is that when I have fun with them, and playtime is over, my mind functions much better. So, find your own inner child and remember what it’s like to do things “just for fun”. It really does jumpstart your brain!
It seems my creative juices have two modes. Sometimes they run well and I feel like I am “on a roll”, or they run not at all and I feel muddled and paralyzed. When that happens, the best fix is a #2 pencil and yellow pad of paper, a walk outside or near a window. If outside, a bench or picnic table near a tree almost always helps. If it’s too cold or wet to go outside, a window will do. But it is important to stop trying to bludgeon my way out of the muddle, instead I try to go easy, break it down and then let the inspiration flow in – sometimes it zooms in like an incoming jet and other times, it flutters in like a wet winged butterfly. Either way I have my pencil and pad of paper handy to catch the thoughts. This works every time.
As several others have mentioned, both going for a walk, which is getting out of the familiar surroundings and sleeping on it are good methods of letting your mind work on a solution. I believe a key thing is to let your mind work on it, you can’t make your mind work on what you want on a schedule, (as in I’ll walk for ten minutes and have the answer). Its more engaging in something else, outside the workplace mindset and giving yourself a gift of time to come up with one or more answers. It sure is great when it does.
I wish I could say I have a method to get into the groove. I haven’t been able to find a process that works at home and in the office but I’m trying something new for 2015. Recent articles I’ve read state that multi-tasking is a myth and that productivity decreases when using this method. I am trying to stop multi-tasking and focus my efforts on one project at a time. Something that supports this is scheduling time to answer emails at work. I am trying to schedule time in the day where I answer emails (1 hour session in the morning and then again in the afternoon). Outside of those times I don’t look at or respond to emails. I use that time to spend uninterrupted time on projects I need to complete- preparing for training sessions, creating tools/documents I need for my work, etc. This is a new process so I can’t really say how it’s going but I hope this will help me feel productive at the end of each day.
I get my groove from collaboration and other people’s ideas. As a leader, I constantly need to remind myself to take the task list that comes out of these moments and help other people to tackle the tasks. If I am going to protect the time to think, be still, exercise and collaborate, I need to ask others to own more of the logistical work. Thanks for sharing the insights from this book.
This may sound like I’m brown-nosing, but reading your articles, or other thought provoking articles get me in that spot. I do like to watch grass grow or sit and look out the window, those are invigorating times too. Sometimes, it is seeing some disparate things or people that start a interesting process. It happened yesterday. I’ve been feeling a little stale lately and all of sudden, a piece of mail, a person I’d been thinking about, and a fund-raising idea all came together in a creative way.
I know that I have to have down time if I want to create something. If I’m too busy, my mind is not capable of original thought.
I’m a run/walker who trains for long-distance events such as marathons. I find that during my trainings is when my mind empties enough for random thoughts/ideas/solutions to appear. The problem, of course, is remembering them when I get home!
In order to shut down my cognitive brain I usually need to focus on something physical. The tougher the workout (spinning, swimming), the more I need to focus to get through it, and the more I can escape my work thoughts. Walking in the brisk Michigan winter also helps me to clear my head. I have noticed that when I can get away from work and take a break, I usually can be more creative and present when I am working. Physical exertion helps me to shut down my work brain and take a break which usually allows my creative processes and problem solving skills to improve when I return to work…
My groove tends to comes from a “lead-in” activity. I can get lazy…..at work or at home. Just can’t get started sometimes. But get over the procrastination through either a desired or forced activity (big due date) and that can really energize me. Sometimes it takes a prod to push me to do the “impossible” and then I’m energized to push on!
A couple ways I get into the sweet spot:
1. Clear the decks. If I know that I have to work on a project that may take me a couple days, I start by tackling and completing a handful of short projects (letters, emails, short research) so that they will not be distracting me and competing for attention while I work on the larger project.
2. Work late. Sometimes, I am at my most efficient when I work on a project after working hours or on a weekend, when nobody is calling, sending me emails, or stopping by my office to interrupt. Also, if I work late, I tend to work more quickly because I want to get home at a decent hour.
I relish quiet time…no TV, no ear buds, no anything…just me and my thoughts. Sometimes it leads to prayer and often it leads to “flashes of brilliance” as a former boss of mine described it. Quiet time allows for uninterrupted thought flow about one’s personal life—blessings as well as areas of opportunities to work on, or about one’s work life—the to-do list or solving the world’s problems (well, perhaps not the world, but at least some in one’s immediate sphere). I know myself, I often have those “flashes” where I envision going through the steps to rectify a work issue, or it stimulates the thought flow to negate writer’s block, or it gives me some real quality time talking with God.
Sadly, many have a difficult time with silence. I’m not sure why. For me, it’s a real Sweet Spot! I strongly suggest you try it.
I’m appreciating everyone’s comments. I find my sweet spot in the morning by getting up an hour early and closing myself in an room I calm my Holy Place. There I pray the Catholic Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Reading for Mass and a daily meditation sent out by Richard Rohr. I recently discovered the book “A Year with Rilke,” which each day gives of snippet of the writings of Rainer Marie Rilke. Then I set the timer for at least 20 minutes and try to calm the monkeys in my mind with Centering Prayer.
This is all more difficult than it sounds. But oh, it can be sweet. During the day, I draw upon my morning encounter. I also find that simply looking at a tree or other object of nature puts me into a sweeter space.
I meditate. At least once during the work day, I close my office door, turn off the computer monitor, turn the lights off, set the cell phones to vibrate, set the timer on a cell phone, and sit in the dark (sometimes with ear plugs in), breathe deeply and clear my head — even if it’s only for 15 minutes. I emerge refreshed and perform more efficiently all afternoon. When I didn’t have an office, I used a vacant conference room; in nice weather, I’d sit on a park bench or sit in my car.