Creating space for your best work isn’t only about creating physical space and blocking time; it’s also about clearing mental and emotional space.
I previously wrote about how we make up stories that lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication. I shared Brené Brown’s elegant life hack that allows us to feel heard and understood without coming across as accusatory to others.
How Our Stories Kill Productivity
The effect of our made-up stories on relationships is fairly obvious.
A less obvious harm of our made-up stories is in the realm of productivity. Today I want to share how this kills our productivity and how the same life hack can restore us to our most productive state.
How do the stories we tell ourselves affect our productivity?
How much time do you spend in meetings, on calls, or writing emails? A big piece of productivity is effective communication. Miscommunication is often a result of not hearing what someone actually said; this happens when we listen through the filters of our stories.
How much time do you lose in your work because of misunderstandings generated by email, text messaging, or even phone calls?Focus
How much time and energy do you spend rehashing what your client said or didn’t say, or what your colleague said in the meeting, or what your manager told you? Productivity requires mental focus and concentration. When we are stuck in the spin of what he said and what she said and what we could have said, we aren’t focused on what’s in front of us.
How effective are you in focusing on work when you are replaying the conversations or have stories running through your mind?How does the resulting emotional toll of strained relationships impact your ability to focus on your projects?Physical Stamina
How often are you distracted from your work because you feel physical pain? You may not connect that pain to the miscommunication with your spouse, friend, or colleague, but there’s a link. The emotions we feel have a physiological counterpart. Mind and body are inextricably linked. You cannot ignore one while using the other.
Productivity requires physical stamina.
How does physical pain affect your ability to sit or stand at your desk, or be out in the field with clients?
Creating Space for Your Best Work
A cornerstone of my productivity philosophy has been my dedication to creating space for my best work, and helping other creative solopreneurs do the same.
Creating space for your best work isn’t just about finding or creating the physical space —whether a new home or office, or organizing your space.
Nor is creating space only about creating time blocks. All the time in the day won’t help if your mind is spinning stories, if you’re disconnected from your purpose to the point of burnout, if you’re exhausted, or if you’re in physical pain.
If your energy is drained because you had to repeat the same conversation several times, you won’t have energy to focus on the work that matters. This is just another reason why I am rigorous in protecting my boundaries in the morning.
Creating space for your best work is about creating physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual space — space to focus on your work with complete presence.
Creating Awareness of Your Stories
Often we recount our stories to others in an attempt to “clear the decks” in our minds and get the story out of us. But this can keep us enmeshed in our stories, and in the emotions that they trigger.
A masterful coach can call you out on your stories and create awareness . That’s why it helps to work with a masterful coach. Unfortunately, not everyone is a masterful coach. Some people we unload on don’t spot our stories. Others reinforce them.
Beware of Your Journal
I journal extensively, and I noticed that when I would write in my journal, I would get further embedded in my story. Rather than clearing space, journaling often kept me in the spin. I would hold onto the resulting emotions longer. Putting the words on paper (or on the screen in my digital journal made them more real, and intensified the story.
This was especially the case when the facts “supported” my story.
The Story I’m Making Up…
Brené Brown offers her 5-word life hack — the story I’m making up — to help us prevent miscommunication and misunderstanding in relationships.
I decided to try this hack when writing in my journal.
How I Apply This
When I’m writing about something that happened, and what I’m thinking or feeling as a result, I insert the phrase “the story I’m making up.”
For example, if someone offered to assist me and didn’t show up as I expected, I might get into a story that the person doesn’t really support me, and more generally that this is proof that I am unsupported, that people aren’t sincere, and that I can’t trust others. Among other things. That’s a lot of stories. As I notice myself write this, I’ll go back and add “the story I am making up is that I’m unsupported …”
I might do this as I’m writing, or as I reread what I write (I journal using the DayOne app, so it’s pretty easy to go back and edit).
How it Boosts Productivity
Inserting “the story I’m making up” creates a slight pause. It’s harder to get enmeshed in your story if you force yourself to write (or speak) “the story I’m making up is…” before you start to tell the story.
This brief pause creates distance and reminds me to look at the fact again through a wider lens. There is more than one way to interpret any situation. In the pause, I remember to bring more compassion and less judgment. I also remember to look for where I may be clinging to expectations that I can release.
This pause slows down my brain enough to get out of the story. It helps me avoid becoming enmeshed in miscommunication and misunderstanding, and clears the mental and emotional space for me to refocus on doing my best work.
What’s Your Story
What stories are you making up? Are you aware of them?
The next time you find yourself caught in a story — whether in retelling it to someone else or writing about it for yourself — try using “the story I’m making up…”
Pay attention to how you feel and how your space clears, and share your experience in the comments.