This is the second piece in an essay series on bringing humanity back to life and positively transforming the way we live, work, and operate in our always-connected 21st-century environment. You can explore the rest of the series here!
This is a fascinating time in history, if you ask me. It’s mid-2016 and the world has improved so much from the way it was decades, centuries, and millennia ago. There is without a doubt much more progress to be made, but we have drastically improved the quality of life for so many people across the globe. We’ve learned endless amounts about our planet, our minds and bodies, and the things we once perceived as miracles now have scientific data to explain most phenomenons. We’ve turned unknown unknowns into knowns, gathered the world’s information, and made the entire collection available — and instantly searchable — to anyone with a digital device, an internet connection, and the freedom to explore their curiosities.
The barrier to entry for almost everything has been lowered: Entrepreneurship, education, communication, collaboration, and more. Knowledge can be shared and discussed in real-time between two people living on opposite sides of the planet. Events that occur in rarely-highlighted small towns can be caught on video and become national headlines in mere minutes, sometimes even drawing the attention of our global society ready to pass judgement, argue their perspectives, and weigh in on current affairs.
We as humans are now connected to people, places, businesses, brands, and information in ways that are entirely new to humanity, giving us access to endless amounts of research, opinions, knowledge, insight, inspiration, and more. This is truly a marvelous time to be alive — so why the hell is everyone so stressed?!?!?!
The Huffington Post calls workplace stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century,” and we’re scrambling to figure out how to handle the copious amounts of information, workloads, and projects thrown our way.
It’s not just stress that creates trouble in the workplace, either. It’s feelings of overwhelm, being disconnected from the meaning of our work, and letting our days fly by without us really paying attention or being engaged in our activities.
“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” — Jim Rohn
When we’re disconnected from our work, everything about it can feel awful. Well-intentioned notes from our bosses can become crippling and debilitating, instead of constructive and insightful. Our writing and communicating styles can become negative and curt, as opposed to positive and inspirational. And we haven’t even touched on the bombardment of interruptive communications coming from instant messages, emails, phone calls, text messages, shoulder taps, and more!
Often our attention is pulled away from our work, leaving us barely enough time to break through the surface level of our work and rarely enough time to find our deep flow. And “flow” is what we’re all seeking. It’s that state of mind where everything around us disappears and we become the most productive, creative, excitable version of ourselves. Where we get lost for hours and hours and time slips away, leaving us in a near dream-like state of creative genius mixed with childlike wonder, where we produce whatever it is that feels most natural to us.
And when we wake from our flow, we’re left with something beautiful. Depending on who you are and what your life is like, we may leave our flow having produced pages and pages of writings, or brilliantly designed architectural plans. Perhaps you wrote code for the entire night and your program is finally functional, or maybe you had an insight that led to some drawing that helped you deliver for that client project you’ve been procrastinating on for weeks. Whatever it is, finding our flow feels like the reason we’re living — yet so many of us struggle to get into that zone during the day, given all the interruptions brought about by the modern workplace and connected communications.
When we are robbed of our flow and interrupted from our work, it takes us significantly longer to get our way back into the zone and begin producing again. Like sleeping, we can’t just pick it up again — our bodies and minds require 20-plus minutes to refocus, and we’re having to do this at several points in the day, making it nearly impossible to truly get work done in the office. Jason Fried of Basecamp talks all about why work doesn’t get done in the office, which is an amazing trend that’s only hindered productivity, output, and growth over the decades and years of modern, connected technologies.
When we combine all these interruptions, distractions, feelings of overwhelm, life stressors, disengagement, and all the other negatives brought about by modern work practices, it’s easy to see why we’re suffering throughout the rest of our lives. No longer are work life and personal life separate entities. We bring our work home with us, even if we think we don’t. Our phones ping us with messages from our colleagues while we’re eating dinner, causing us to check them and be pulled out of whatever moment we were once a part of. Checking our emails first thing in the morning immediately pulls us from our groggy sleepiness and home-environment, once again drawing our attention away from the enjoyment of our mornings and on to work related things.
It’s a near epidemic, this need to always be connected and always be working!
Productivity, growth, efficiency and connectivity are favorite words among startups and corporations alike, both of which often sacrifice the human elements of life — fulfillment, enjoyment, meaning — for the sake of business growth, only to talk about seeking “work/life balance,” which, if you ask me, is not a real thing. In today’s climate, it’s more like a “work/life integration” or “work/life harmony.”
Our connected technologies infiltrated the workplace and took over our livelihoods, but we’ve never really taken the time to set intention of how we’re going to use them. We’ve just grown habits of constant connectivity because that’s what the new technologies allowed. We reacted, but now it’s time to respond, as we now know there’s a better way.
It’s clear that some of our most productive moments come from times when we’re disconnected and letting our minds wander. When we pull our brains out of the trenches and muddy forests and let them view the world from elevated, enlightened and liberated mindsets, we gain clarity, insight, and focus, and often produce our best work.
While the modern workforce is always-connected, overwhelmed, stressed and disengaged, there is a cure for humankind that will empower us to take back control of our workflows, our workplaces, and our lifestyles, and create the new work/life harmony our futures will surely bring. By inviting mindful habits in to our daily routines, practices, and working styles, we can begin to reengage with the tasks at hand, and the missions we’re working to accomplish. We can become more creative and more productive — but also more fulfilled and engaged — all while working less than our current working culture tells us we must!
If we can envision our futures to be more enjoyable, enlightened, fulfilling, and intentional, we can begin to transform ourselves, our working habits, and our lifestyles. Instead of letting technology overrun our days, our workflows, our habits and our livelihoods, we can get ahead of the tech and make sure we use it all with intention; with purpose.
And then, once we’re comfortable taking control and being in charge, we can begin to transform our organizations so they evolve into modern environments that support these always-connected 21st-century workforce needs and desires.