5 March 2024

Five ways to up your game at work this year (and enjoy your life more)

Start the conversation
office workers crowding a woman at a computer

Having a purpose doesn’t make challenges disappear, says Michelle Gibbings. Photo: Aaron Amat.

With the working year well underway, Michelle Gibbings says there is still time to adopt strategies that will not leave you wondering why you didn’t achieve more in 2024.

Growing up, I loved school, and I loved the back-to-school preparation even more.

In the lead-up to the new school year, Mum would take me shopping to buy textbooks, which I had to wrap in brown paper and plastic (only the trendy kids had contact paper, and that wasn’t me).

Occasionally, I’d get a new set of pens, pencils and a pencil case as a treat. The anticipation would build.

In adult life, the back-to-work anticipation never feels quite the same, even though, like school, I genuinely love what I do.

In chatting with people over the past couple of weeks, going back to work sentiments have ranged from resigned resignation to realistic rapture.

Wherever you sit on that spectrum, it’s a good time to pause, look ahead at the year and equip yourself with strategies to put you in the best position to make the most of it.

Here are the five main strategies I employ.

Find your ‘why’: Start by clarifying why you do what you do; that is, define your purpose. People discover their core purpose in different ways. For some it involves study, experimentation and trying new things.

For others, it involves helping others, taking risks or venturing into the unknown. John Coleman, the author of the Guide to Crafting Your Purpose, writes: “Success without significance — which I define as purpose, service, and meaningful relationships — is not really success at all.”

While success means different things to different people, what I’ve seen many times is the criticality of purpose. Purpose matters. It centres you, grounds you.

Having a purpose doesn’t eradicate challenges or mean that life will be easy; instead, it gives you the strength and determination to keep going despite the roadblocks in your way.

READ ALSO: Ease up on those impossible ideals

Balance aspirations and realism: We are often told to set goals and not just any type — big, hairy, audacious goals — goals that push us beyond our limits.

Now, I’m all for growing, learning and setting goals. Yet, as you do this, it’s helpful to be simultaneously aspirational and realistic.

As you test your limits you want to find the balance between those two forces. If you don’t, it can invite unnecessary stress into your day.

Be open to challenging how you assess your capabilities with genuine feedback. That way, you can learn and grow, while setting aspirational goals that stretch you in a healthy way.

Pay attention to what matters: We are often told to not sweat the small stuff, and there is a best-selling book with that very title. I agree with the author, Richard Carlson, that perspective matters, and there indeed are things that don’t matter. For example, whether I buy a cake or bake one for a friend’s party; whether I have the latest on-trend outfit.

Some things do matter. For example, getting enough sleep, listening to the person talking to me, and spelling errors in job applications. That last one is included because it indicates that what matters to you and me may differ. That’s perfectly fine.

You want to take the time to decide what really matters to you. When you’ve identified that, you can more easily focus your attention and avoid distractions.

READ ALSO: 9 proven ways to sharpen your social skills

Reject FOMO: When you know what matters to you, it is much easier to say, ‘yes’ and ‘no’. You can more readily recognise that the so-called fear of missing out (FOMO) is a curse that doesn’t help you professionally or personally.

The key is to not get sucked in or seduced by fads, the latest trend and management speak. You see it happen all the time. Business leaders jump on the latest management fad created by a consulting firm.

It looks unique and exciting and can potentially differentiate their leadership (or organisation) from someone else’s. However, the reality vastly differs from the original pitch and the business case. It creates churn, change and restructuring, where the business benefits that were widely touted only sometimes materialise.

There are plenty of examples. Agile was a buzzword on everyone’s lips for a few years. Sure, it can work in specific contexts, but only in some.

As a leader, you want to learn, test ideas, and be open to change while being acutely alert to agendas, blind spots, cognitive bias and being too easily caught up in management fads.

Find time for mindlessness: While there are times to focus and pay attention, on the other side of the coin, there are also times when you want to let your mind wander. Play. Explore. Sit with the quiet. We need to dream.

Mind wandering is not merely a distraction. It benefits our creativity, problem-solving abilities, and wellbeing because it can act as a natural stress-release mechanism.

Mind wandering is also closely linked to memory consolidation, the process by which your short-term memories are transformed into long-term ones. There are also times when focusing too hard can lead a person to crack under pressure.

This fabulous article, ‘Sometimes Mindlessness Is Better Than Mindfulness’, in Scientific American, highlights research showing how focusing too carefully on specific tasks can increase a person’s mistakes.

The authors suggest this doesn’t mean we spend our life on autopilot; instead, we need to know when to go with the flow and let automaticity take over, and when to strive for deep thinking.

I have always lived my life by the motto ‘Life’s an adventure’, so my question to you is what adventures can you seek that could expand your mind, experiences and life as the year unfolds?

Michelle Gibbings is a Melbourne-based change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. She works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She can be contacted at [email protected]. This article first appeared at changemeridian.com.au

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.