Getting Productive By “Getting Real”

In this post, I’ll talk about how dropping our efforts to please others with the way we look and act can actually help us get more done and find more joy in our work.

As you know, most of us work in environments where other people are around — whether we’re in an office, on our laptops in a café, or somewhere else.

When others are around, many of us start getting concerned about what those people think of us. To manage this anxiety, we start talking and behaving in ways we think will make the “right impression.”

For example, maybe you think you’re expected to look tough, so you act more aggressively in the office than you would around friends. Maybe you’re trying to look diligent, so you stay late whenever you know your boss will be around after hours. Maybe you think you should look happy, so you force yourself to smile. The examples, as you know, go on and on.

Even if we work from home, we can still do this. We don’t just put on our special “work persona” in face-to-face interactions. Probably, if we respond to e-mails or make phone calls during the day, we’re still making an effort to create the “right” kind of image.

The “Work Persona” Takes Work

Creating this “work persona” takes effort. When we’re trying to anticipate how others want us to behave, and do what we think they want, it’s hard to enjoy our tasks, and we don’t have access to what’s often called a “flow” state of complete attention.

As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi puts it in Flow, “an obstacle to experiencing flow is excessive self-consciousness.” “A person who is constantly worried about how others will perceive her,” he writes, is “condemned to permanent exclusion from enjoyment.”

In my experience, when we become willing to drop our façade, we free up so much energy we can use to move forward in and enjoy our work. I’ve seen this happen in subtle but powerful ways.

Dropping The Disguise Frees Up Energy

I once worked with a man who was in the habit of constantly smiling, because he thought it would put his coworkers and clients at ease. When he experimented with going to work without his forced smile on, he felt deeply relieved, and working with people started to become more comfortable and less tiring for him.

What’s more, dropping his constant smile didn’t destroy his relationships with others. In fact, the opposite happened — people seemed more interested in connecting with him when he became willing to let them see what he was actually feeling.

If you can see the potential in what I’m saying, I invite you to try this exercise. Take an inventory of all the ways you try to mold yourself into someone the people in your work environment will like. Notice how you change the way you walk, your tone of voice, what you talk about in casual conversation, and so on.

Now, I invite you to gradually let go of these — perhaps just one per day. It may be uncomfortable at first, but I think you’ll find that dropping your “work persona” actually makes working easier, and helps you make the kind of progress you want in what you do.

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