ProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty’—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” – Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

There is a lack of beauty in modern life.  “Form ever follows function,”  We’re told that Beauty is merely an unnecessary ornament.  Even though that ignores the full meaning of the quote.  In reality, according to the originator of the phrase, Louis Sullivan, “Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law.”  So, while the appearance of a thing should never be disconnected from its purpose, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be beautiful.  That would imply that beauty itself was without purpose and, as we shall see, it is not.

Food, water, warmth, and sleep are just some of the basic necessities of life.  It’s pretty obvious that we can’t survive without them.  I’d argue the same can be said for beauty.  In some ways it’s even more necessary.  As Dostoevsky said, “Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.”

Sadly, for many of us a lot of that beauty has perished from the world.  We wake up.  We drive out into the gridlock.  We sit in our cubicle next to our coworkers in their cubicles, above and below other workers in their cubicles on other floors.  All of us typing away on identical screens until we eventually go back through the gridlock and get home.  Maybe then we’ll finally have time to go to a park or play a game, or maybe we’ll just sit on the couch and watch the same show that are neighbours and their neighbours and their neighbours’ neighbours are watching.  Just another cog in an ever-expanding machine.  Where is the beautiful in our lives?  It’s been replaced by a drab monotony.

City skyline
A forest of man-made trees is a sight to behold

Now, what modern architecture does right, it does really right.  There is truly something awe-inspiring in a row of towering skyscrapers in the skyline.  The view from an airplane window as it comes in to land is breath-taking.  Cities from far away look amazing.  However, up close and personal, the drab monotony comes back.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so.  Here‘s an article from the NYT written in 1964.  We’ve been living and working next to these ugly buildings as they slowly but surely tear down the beautiful architecture of the past replacing it with more of the same.

Suburban Housing
I live in the house with two top floor windows in the front. …No, the blue one. No, the other blue one.

Suburbia doesn’t fare much better.  Let’s be honest.  Is there anything awe-inspiring of a row of houses of near-identical design?  Not really.  The only thing that makes you and your neighbour different is that you couldn’t pick his shade of green for your house so you had to pick that yellow that you don’t really like.  The endless variations on the same theme are enough to drive me insane.  (a short trip, according to my wife.)  and good luck navigating without an address.  In some parts of Canada addresses are meaningless.  The terrain and even the houses themselves are so unique that you can navigate by landmarks.  But try doing that in the city and you’ll find the opposite is true.  Addresses are the only way to navigate in a world where every street looks just like the last.

 

High Rise
I don’t think the elevator is working. It says we’re on the 23rd floor but it looks just like the 2nd floor!

It’s even more true of a high rise with identical apartments piled one on top of each other to fit as many people as possible inside.  The only difference between the 23rd floor and the 22nd floor is that the people down below are slightly smaller on the 23rd. Don’t get me wrong, with the high populations in urban centers high rises and apartment complexes are definitely necessary.  Without cheap mass housing, there would be a lot of people without places to live.  I just think we need to remember the costs as well as the gains.  We need to remember to provide beauty for their residents.  It’s easy for the well to do to live in an ugly city.  when they need to see something beautiful they can buy a painting.  Or go hiking in the mountains.

 

At one point, this lack of beauty wasn’t an issue.  The average member of society always did one thing every week regardless of their economic status.  They always went to church on Sunday.  Regardless of who they were or how much they owned, they could see beautiful statues and domed ceilings every week.  But gradually as society has become less religious and as religious buildings have begun to match their urban surroundings more and more, this source of beauty has faded as well.

Notre Dame, Montreal interior
They don’t build ’em like they used to, do they?

This has caused detrimental effects on our mental health as studies have shown.  This is one of the reasons why urban environments are a greater mental health risk than rural ones.  Without the beauty of nature we’re left with whatever the cities can or can’t provide.  Of course, the drab monotony of the city has an effect on our workplace productivity too.

Fortunately, life finds a way.  Though many of the traditional ways we’ve expressed beauty throughout society have faded, several of them are making a resurgence and new methods are appearing too.  With smartphones we have access to all of the classic books of literature in our pockets.  With gigapixel cameras and websites like 360 cities we can tour architectural and natural marvels without the costs of travel.  As museums digitize their contents, we can see the relics of our past from across the world.  As VR technology develops and becomes more mainstream this will only expand.  As we realize the importance of our surroundings on our productivity and well-being, traditional office layouts are being redesigned into more open concepts with a focus on aesthetics again.  That’s why so many modern office buildings are doing away with the drab row of cubicles lit by fluorescent lights and replacing them with natural lighting and greenery alongside more character and personalization for employee workstations.  Beautiful web design is replacing the clunky boxes of the past as we realize that beauty helps our companies stand out of the crowd.  We’re realizing that not only does beauty have a purpose in the professional world, but that it helps make every aspect of both our professional lives and our life at home that little bit better.

So all in all, I’m pretty hopeful for beauty.  We’ve realized that it’s necessary in the modern world, we’ve seen that without it mental health issues rise, and in response we’ve begun rebuilding society to include the beautiful once more, whether that’s through new techniques and technologies or by reinviting nature back into our cities.  We’ve realized the age-old truth that beauty should not be a privilege of the rich but a gift for the world.  For as Dostoevsky says, “Beauty will save the world.”

CommunicationEducationProductivitySelf-ImprovementUncategorized

Last week I was helping out at a local father-son summer camp outside of Calgary called Arcatheos.  A lot of theatrics and explosions and all those great things.  We like to joke that it’s a camp for teaching boys to become men and men to become boys again.

One of the characters with his fire sword
I mean a LOT of theatrics

Leadership Requires Service

This year the theme of the camp was “To Serve is to Reign”.  We really focused in on this theme of service with the teenagers who would become our version of camp counselors, called “knights.”  To be able to effectively lead the boys in their charge, they couldn’t simply order them around all day without a care for their well-being.  They had to be emotionally invested in both the boys they were in charge of and in the other members of their teams.  with that emotional investment, every order or directive is followed because the boys know its for the good of the camp and themselves.

I was struck by how well this carries into the workplace.  If an employee feels that his boss is invested in him and his life, that he’s not just another cog in the machine, the extra overtime needed to finish an important project becomes a lot easier to deal with.  It no longer feels like a forced task from a faceless overlord but like an urgent request from a friend.

Respect

Aretha Franklin
“Find out what it means to me”

We taught the “knights” that the easiest way to serve their boys is to respect them.  If you respect those around you, they’re more inclined to respect you.  If they respect you, they’re more likely to incorporate your feedback into their behaviour and truly listen to what you’re asking them to do.  They won’t merely sit around after completely a task waiting for you to hand them the next one, and instead they’ll proactively seek out ways to be helpful.

Don’t be a Drill Instructor (unless you are one)

Drill sergeant
Johnson! Did you finish that spreadsheet yesterday!

Meanwhile, if those under you feel they have to walk on eggshells around you with even the slightest mistake causing them to get raked over the metaphorical coals, they might try to work their hardest to not make a mistake, but a lot of their attention that could go towards doing their job right is now going towards watching over their shoulder to make sure they haven’t awoken the dragon.  In addition, if given a choice, people prefer leaders who are caring and compassionate instead of leaders who are taskmasters and drill instructors.  So if your employees have a choice, they will eventually leave for greener pastures.

Don’t be a Door Mat

Welcome
Please ignore all my directives on your way in.

At the same time, you won’t have respect if your employees feel they can walk all over you.  If missed deadlines are never a problem, unexpected absences are rampant, and no one listens to your instructions, sure, you won’t have employees flocking to leave your company in droves for better conditions, but you’ll also obviously end up with inefficient employees wasting the company’s time and money.  Resulting in them, and probably you, being let go.

Be a Compassionate AND Effective Leader

Cool dudes in cloaks

Instead of either of those two extremes, a synthesis of the two is required.  There are times when you need to lay down the law and reprimand the people working for you.  There are also times when those people need an ear to understand the problems and difficulties they’re facing and a helpful hand to guide them.  Using only one method or the other cripples your leadership abilities and it is only when you are both firm and compassionate as a leader that you will earn the respect and trust of those underneath you and unleash your full potential.

Ultimately, these leadership lessons we taught to the boys are vital for everyone, whether or not they’re currently in a position that requires leadership.  Everyone at some point in their lives will be in charge of something.  Whether that’s a multi-million dollar project or 10 children at a summer camp, no matter how large or small the opportunity effective compassionate leadership inevitably leads to further leadership opportunities down the road.

BloggingProductivitySelf-Improvement

being productive while working from home

It’s becoming more popular for people to work from home instead, or in addition to the office. But with this freedom, comes some hurdles you may have crossed a few times or will come across as you work from the comfort of your home. It can be easy to over work, or under work when the you bring the office into your home. You don’t have distractions from coworkers stopping by your desk or clients dropping in unexpectedly, but you do have other things that can easily pull you away from your tasks. Here we’ll give you some tips that have worked for highly productive people who work from their kitchen, living room or home office.

Start Early

Alarm clock

The early bird gets the worm, and this also applies in your own home. Wake up, make a coffee and get right down to business. I find the sooner I get started in my work the less distracting other things are throughout the day. The longer you make the transition from your bed to your computer the longer it will take for your morning sluggishness to fade. Waking up early is key to being successful throughout the day and staying on track with your list of things to do.

Recreate Your Office Routine

Work from home

Without a commute to work, you have more time to get a few quick jobs done before you start work. The best thing to do to keep you on track is to create as much of an office space as possible. Work at a desk or your kitchen table instead of the couch. There you won’t have the temptation to turn on the TV. Listen to music while you work, if that’s what you do at the office. If it’s more distracting to work in complete silence turn on a TV in another room or the radio. If you like to sip on coffee or tea at work, do the same at home. I drink a lot of water at work so when I work from home I do the same, but I stay to drinking from a water bottle instead of a glass. This prevents you from leaving your computer so often and getting distracted by something else around your house.

Stay Connected

Stay connected

Keep close contact with your office, so if your coworkers need something from you they can easily reach you. The best way is to use a messaging program like Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp for the office. At Panda Rose the office is connected to Microsoft Teams so when one person works remotely you can easily contact them. It’s a great way to keep updated on whats going on in the office and still feel like a part of the team.

Keep a Schedule

Schedule

Either electronically or on paper. Keep track of your to-do list for the day. This will help you keep track of how productive you are. Actually, the busier you are the more productive you are. Once you are going it’s easy to keep going. And when you rest it’s easy to keep resting. Try to keep the downtime to a minimum and take on more tasks during the day even if they are small. It also helps make the day go by faster!

Set a Quitting Time

Quitting time

Working from home also means you can easily over work. It’s just as important to set a time that you log off as it is to take breaks from work during the day. To be the most productive during the day, take a break from screens and papers. Go for a walk, interact with other people instead of simply watching a few minutes of your favorite show. Setting a time to quit for the day ensures you are rested up for the next day. Try shutting off your computer, and closing your daily planner. Otherwise you will end up starting a task when you should be resting. Rest is just as important as work.

Enjoy Working From Home

Enjoy working from home

At the end of the day, enjoy having the freedom to work from your home. You get to drink your own coffee from your favorite mug, and wear slippers all day. You can come across just as many distractions in an office as you can at home. Learning to manage the distractions at home can be more difficult but once you get into a routine it will be just like working at the office, but better!

ProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

My family has over a dozen chickens. They are laying hens. We use the eggs ourselves and sell what we don’t need to friends and family. You and I are a chickens, here’s why:

A chicken will lay eggs on a regular, daily schedule when she is happy. To make and to keep her happy, she needs to be free to wander, run, jump and sleep. Time to interact with fellow chickens, to feel safe and eat whenever she wants. A happy hen means good eggs on a regular basis.

In my odd scenario, my family is the HQ of the business. Expecting eggs, like tasks at work, to be fulfilled on time and done well. But if we don’t allow the chickens the ability to run around outside or provide them with good food, we cannot expect eggs at all.

At our jobs, we are expected to fulfill the tasks assigned to us. This guarantees long days when we aren’t always given the ability to wander, eat whenever we want, take multiple breaks, workout in the middle of the day instead of during the early or late hours and that phone of yours just keeps begging for your attention.

We have wants and needs that all attribute to a job well done. But, it is not the responsibility of the companies we work for to make sure we have our personalized list of necessities is met.

We need to put the power in our own hands. What can each of us do to ensure we are doing our best? Are the notifications on your phone stealing your attention? After work do you run to the couch, instead of taking time to work on your physical health? Do you bring healthy food to work or are you going out for fast food daily? These are questions we must ask ourselves.

There are two types of distractions which could cause you to not be efficient at work. Sensory distractions and emotional distractions.

Sensory distractions are caused by what is going on around you. A co-worker sneezing, not enough in your lunch that day, the weather outside is beautiful while you are inside. These are all examples of distractions that happen around you.

Emotional distractions are your drifting thoughts. Did you lock the door when you left the house this morning? Did Joe catch your sarcasm, or does he think you actually believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows? Did a family member say something to upset you? If you spill coffee on a t-shirt, is it still a t-shirt? These questions that take your mind off of the tasks you are supposed to be doing are emotional distractions.

There are distractions everywhere! It’s almost like they were placed there to avert our attention on purpose!

Not like this GIF which is obviously not at all distracting…

These distractions sound an awful lot like… you guessed it, social media! The notifications, beeps and buzzes are there to remind us of the world that is on our screens.

Our phones may inhibit our ability to think deeply about work. Therefore hindering our competence at work or any other place we should be focusing on an assignment.

Social media can be a welcoming break for the mind. It allows you to take in information that you don’t ever have to remember and all you have to do is scroll. But the problem occurs when we find ourselves unable to focus. Our attention spans have been shortened no thanks to our ever buzzing phones. In this day and age it takes self discipline and training to get a longer attention span.

Just like how you train for a marathon or practice an instrument. You never expect to be amazing after one day of practicing. The same goes with working on skills in keeping focused on one thing. It does sound odd, having to train our attention spans to be longer. But as that skill isn’t often practised in a natural setting it is necessary.

So maybe we aren’t exactly like chickens. Yes, our environment can make a big impact on our ability to work well but we can also be the difference. Thankfully, we are quite capable of taking matters into our own hands to ensure we are always completing a job well done.

We can start by minimizing the notifications received on our phones. Take a break from the desk and walk around. Sitting for hours on end doesn’t allow us gain perspective and everyone knows that walking just simply gets the blood moving. To make sure we bring a lunch that fills us up with real food. Maybe a fidget could be beneficial as they boost attention and memory.

There are so many ways you can help yourself be more productive at the office. As much as we would love to have the same freedoms given to a chicken, having the ability to decide for yourself what you need and don’t need to fulfill your day is a pretty great skill.

How are you working to have a prosperous work day? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

Tess Houcher

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