Imagine the scenario. Your desk is so full of work that it looks like the leaning tower of Pisa, it’s 5.00pm and your favourite client calls and asks for a report to sent to them today. You then find the photocopier has run out of toner, and no-one else knows where the refills are! This situation is not unfamiliar to people these days as we work with greater pressure and shorter deadlines. So how do you keep focused and motivated when things begin to get tough in the workplace?
There are no simple answers, but there are five rules that have helped me to survive in extremely tough situations in the Arctic that can equally apply to the world of work.
1. Flexibility is the key to survival
The ability to adapt is one thing that enables people to survive in an ever-changing world. During our expedition to cross the Greenland Ice Cap, we encountered two major problems on day one of the journey! Firstly one of our fuel containers leaked and we were faced with the prospect of having to ration it from day one. Then un-seasonally warm temperatures meant that a lake we had planned to ski across had melted and we had to make a detour over mountainous terrain instead, taking much longer than planned. Plans are fine as long as you are happy to change them as rigidity can pile un-necessary pressures on us.
2. Attention to detail is critical
In the Arctic it can take just one silly error to jeopardise your life. If you put down your gloves instead of inside your jacket, they can blow away if a sudden gust of wind appears. Lack of gloves could result in frostbite. It’s the same in the workplace, it’s not good enough to let a letter go out with the incorrect spelling of a name, as that’s probably what the customer will notice and remember. In a competitive world, the biggest factor that differentiates good from average service is attention to detail.
3. Become of aware of what you focus on
Having the ability to focus on the short-term and the long term simultaneously is a valuable skill to have in a rapidly changing environment. Immediate problems can threaten our motivation and it’s important to remember to focus on what you can control, rather than what you cannot. All too often we spend too much time and energy focusing on the things that frustrate us rather than the things that give us pleasure. In the Arctic, it’s the choice between thinking about how cold and tired you are, or focusing on the stunning landscape and marvelling at how lucky you are to be able to appreciate this remote place.
4. Manage your emotions
When pressures get to us, we all behave in different ways. Some people may get angry and look for other people to blame, whilst others may feel out of control and helpless. But whatever we do, our emotions will impact on our motivation, and if we want to perform to the best of our ability, we need to learn to acknowledge and manage our emotions. On our Greenland expedition, I began to realise that I couldn’t keep up with the others in the team. The guy in front got frustrated with me and I felt inadequate and worthless. The pressure began to build and could have exploded if we both had not managed our emotions effectively. In the end I realised that crying was no good (my tears just froze) so I just had to change my mindset and think of the qualities I had that were valued in the team such as my sense of humour and organisational skills.
5. Be yourself
One of the most important abilities you need to have if you want to maintain your motivation is to just be yourself. It’s important to think about what you value, such as fairness, or honesty and then try to live up to those beliefs. Sometimes in business, people behave in a way that they think other people expect, rather than just being themselves. Authentic people stand out because what you see is what you get.