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Good Work Nº 46: Working with each other in mind

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Anne-Laure Le Cunff
▪︎ 6 minutes read time

🎶 Résiste by France Gall

This week’s Good Work is by guest writer Anne-Laure Le Cunff, founder of Ness Labs, a product and content studio with a focus on mindful productivity. Passionate about mental health, she studies neuroscience at King’s College in London and runs a newsletter at the intersection of neuroscience and entrepreneurship. Previously, Anne-Laure was a Product Marketing Manager at Google and an Entrepreneur in Residence at EF.

Our brave hero prepares to face the world of work.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.Alvin Toffler, Future Shock*

The first day I started my job at Google as a Product Marketing Manager, I thought I would be overjoyed. But the sensation I felt in my belly was different—yes, there was excitement, but there was also fear. Fear that someone would realize I didn’t belong. Fear that I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t know the term at the time, but you probably have recognized the telltale signs of imposter syndrome, a state of mind 70 percent of the U.S. population will experience at least once in their lives.

Self-doubt pushed me to work extra hard to prove myself and avoid being found out. I said yes to everything. To keep up with all my commitments, I was barely sleeping, and started drinking coffee for the first time in my life. I was delivering on time, but this frantic pace was taking a toll on my mental health. Simply put, I was working too much. Imposter syndrome led to burnout. Burning out is the opposite of “good work.”

Some managers try to squeeze as much work as possible out of their team. But one of the most effective ways to increase performance at work is to foster psychological safety—the shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe enough for risks to be taken. In her seminal paper about psychological safety at work, organizational behavioural scientist Amy Edmondson found that companies with high psychological safety performed and learned better. Since the original paper was published, lots of research has been done on psychological safety. Researchers have identified several factors impacting the level of psychological safety in a team, such as role clarity, peer support, positive leader relations, interdependence, and a celebration of learning.

“Good work” is work that makes you feel good. So it’s not just the kind of work you do, but the kind of workplace that makes you excited to wake up in the morning, challenged in a positive way, calm but motivated. I wish people would stop trying to work more. Instead, we should strive to work mindfully to include each other in our choices. Now, I measure success based both on performance and enjoyment levels; I teach collaborators how to fail like scientists where failure becomes a new data point to consider; and I encourage open, non-judgmental conversations. In my experience, a mindful workplace is a successful workplace.

Readings Anne-Laure Loves

  • Is there a limit to the human brain’s capacity? I wrote a long-form article to answer this question, featuring monkeys that can count, memory champions, and mind-expanding technologies. This is also a manifesto for sharing your work with the world.
  • Some tasks are exciting, some… not so much. In an article about the psychology of dreaded tasks, Daniel Gross shares some clever strategies he found useful for tricking himself into doing what he needs to do.
  • Recent research showed that pairing graduate students with professionals working in their field resulted in deeper learning and inspired passion for the work. As Gary Hart said: “Life is a classroom.” If you don’t have one already and you feel like you’re dragging through your work, it might be time to look for a mentor.
  • This talk called “You and your research” from Richard Hamming, which he gave in 1986, is still one of my favorite ones to date. I don’t agree with everything (“people are often most productive when working conditions are bad”), but this talk is full of gems (“The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity—it is very much like compound interest”).
  • As someone who cares about mental health, it’s easy to focus on the mind only. But the reality is your brain needs exercise. For instance, simply running may lead to the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain structure that is associated with memory. If you want to take care of your mind, don’t forget to take care of your body!

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.

Anne-Laure and the Holloway team

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