How positive psychology can help you get through
busy times at work
Wellbeing teacher and best-selling author Michelle McQuaid knows all too well the cries of busy people.
We’re too busy to eat lunch away from our desks (or at all), too busy to casually chat to a colleague, too busy to get eight hours’ sleep.
Because we’re overwhelmed by our workloads, it can be easy to slip into a life in which we’re merely functioning.
In fact, Michelle says studies support the theory that at least 70 per cent of people worldwide merely “function” through life.
As a researcher, it’s Michelle’s job to study and understand how a human could lead a “flourishing”, fulfilling life.
Michelle believes it’s important to increase the number of people who consider themselves as flourishing.
Five positive psychology techniques to improve your wellbeing
Michelle suggests people should follow the techniques psychologist Professor Martin Seligman articulated as ways for people to lead a more fulfilling life.
The attributes are:
• Positive emotion: acknowledge and express heartfelt positivity;
• Engagement: develop your personal strengths;
• Relationships: invest in relationships with family, friends and colleagues;
• Meaning: do work that positively impacts others;
• Achievement: accomplish the things that matter to you most.
Feeling positive and staying engaged improves your wellbeing
Michelle says Prof. Seligman’s techniques are particularly important to follow when a person enters a busy period at work, or in their personal lives.
Studies show “positivity isn’t just about swapping bad thoughts for good ones, but experiencing the kind of heartfelt positivity that broadens the way our brains are working”, she says.
When faced with a challenge, combining positive emotion and being engaged in a situation allows a person to be more open, creative, innovative and collaborative.
“The more heartfelt positivity we have, over time, builds our resources intellectually, emotionally, physically and socially,” Michelle says.
“It makes us more resilient to navigate the highs and lows.”
When you’re busy, show grit
Michelle says people often forego work projects that are meaningful to them during busy periods in order to “get through” less meaningful work that has to be done.
“The truth is we’re busy with what we’ve said ‘yes’ to. Often it’s easier to say ‘yes’ to the things that don’t matter as much to us but quickly fill our days, rather than maintaining space to do the things really count”, Michelle says.
It means the meaningful work just gets “put off” and, over time, the non-meaningful work erodes people’s confidence in their abilities, feelings of hope for the future and the opportunity to maximize their potential..
But Michelle urges people to set goals for tasks that are important to them, and see them through.
It helps to build your grit, she says.
“Grit is the passion and perseverance to achieve the things we want long term.”
Actively working towards the “meaningful” goals can give people the grit to “get through the busy periods” easily and more productively.
Work to your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses
Michelle says human brains are naturally wired to think more negatively.
Which makes it too easy to “waste time catastrophising” over problems.
The more people focus on problems, rather than working out how they can use their strengths to find solutions, the less productive they can become.
Michelle says when things don’t work, they often don’t work for a good reason. Our brains aren’t wired to support those behaviors or our businesses don’t have the strategy, culture, systems or processes to make those things happen.
One of those reasons being that a personal weakness could be causing the problem.
But Michelle says given it takes far longer - some estimates suggest 8000 to 10,000 hours of practice - to “fix” a weakness, during a busy period we do much better by building on what’s already working well.
Michelle says, “when flat out, it’s not the time to worry about fixing weaknesses”.
“It’s the time to focus on building the strengths.”
Place value on your work relationships
Michelle says when people believe they’re becoming busier, they often “start cutting themselves off from colleagues”.
People decline going for a coffee, attending a birthday morning tea, or just say ‘I don’t have time to catch up’ because they think it will take away from their work, she says.
“But studies show placing importance our relationships are a great source of lowering our stress.
“Those people might be able to help with your workload or problem in some way as well.”
How can you survive a busy period at work?
Despite Seligman’s five key attributes for feeling fulfilled, Michelle says there are basic wellbeing “hygiene” tasks people need to maintain to achieve fulfillment.
These become even more important to maintain when people are extra busy at work.
But they are the first things people often forego.
Goodbye healthy foods and exercise, goodbye sufficient sleep, goodbye break times.
Michelle says sacrificing solid sleep for more than a few days affects your work performance. One study found that forgoing four hours of sleep a night had the equivalent impact on performance as drinking a six pack of beer and then trying to work.
She considers getting seven to eight hours’ sleep, eating a balanced diet, taking breaks – especially to get fresh air, and paying attention to things that are going well as “non-negotiable” habits to have during a busy period.
“You’ll be able to think more clearly, be more productive and sustain your energy to get through the busy period.”