Unwrap some free time this holiday

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Don’t spend the break fulfilling obligations

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

The holidays are a perfect time to get all your loved ones together and share in the merriment that is the end of a year. However, getting a group of people together—at an optimal time for everybody—is not always as simple as creating a Facebook event. While it makes sense to break apart your schedule and share it with those you love, you must also remember that the holidays are a time for yourself. You too need a break.

If you are a proactive person, you’ll know that free time fills up pretty quickly. You might even try to slot a couple events into one day just so you can fill your holiday socializing obligations. But this is also the perfect time for you to forget about people and get ahead on all the stuff you didn’t have time for during the hurly burly of the year.

It’s easy to lose track of time. Getting lunch with a couple friends can easily turn into a full-day affair. Not that the time was wasted, but the book you were meaning to read, the project you were planning to work on, and all the activities you finally had time for will be pushed back. We often mistake motion with progress. The act of doing something, anything, feels like accomplishment enough. The fact that we got out of the bed today was a victory. However, our time is valuable, even during the holidays, and should be treated as such.

Now, I understand that the last thing anybody wants to do during the holiday is live by a schedule, but if you want some structure in your life, building a schedule does it—it keeps you accountable. Nobody else has to know about this schedule but you. Still, it must be treated sacredly. It matters. On the schedule, map out all the stuff you want to accomplish by the end of your break. You can be as ambitious or lax as you want, but the key is to have goals. It can be as simple as finishing a book, jogging an extra mile, or even something more ambitious like learning a new language. Then plot these activities into the calendar and treat those days as if they are work.

The fear is that you’ll fall into indolence and lose all the momentum you had during the year. Of course you are allowed to sleep in, and those days are as important as the party nights or the productive days. Keeping the ball rolling is awesome, but remember that not every day needs to be productive. You set days for focusing on certain tasks; you should also set days for rest. It’s like a workout calendar. Rest days are the days you leave completely empty. These are the days when you find stillness in your life. These are the days you can stay in your pajamas, read a book, watch a movie, or have lunch with one or two friends. These are the days where you are forbidden from going around running errands. These are the treats of the holidays, and you can be as selfish as you want.

Give me give me

Illustration by Ed Appleby

What to do when you reek of desperation

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 4, 2015

We all want something. We all have objectives and goals. That’s good. That’s the fuel that propels us forward in life. However, there are times when we’ve been sitting idle or maybe even fallen behind. We end up thinking that good things will never happen, and that we’ll never get back to where we were or achieve what we want. It could be money, romance, competition, or personal pursuit—when we put all our chips down on the table, we can’t help feeling desperation creep up.

Our desperation is a response to our stress. It’s useful in a life-or-death situation. When we are desperate for food, for example, we would go to incredible length to feast. There’s nothing stronger than the will to live. But when it comes to being desperate in a social interaction, such as a job interview or a first date, our undeniable hunger may be incredibly off-putting.

Nobody likes being around people who are desperate. Nobody wants to work with someone who is on edge about every task, or go out to dinner with someone who has an agenda. Most of us want to relax and not feel our heart beating out of our chest. Now, I understand that simply saying “Don’t be desperate” is not the solution. It’s not a switch you can turn off and on. It goes deeper than that.

Desperation is rooted in fear. You fear that you’ll be in debt forever. You fear that you’ll be alone forever. You fear that all your hard work will be for nothing. To lose the smell of desperation on you, you need to wash the fear off yourself, and be reminded that what progress you are going to make will be gradual. Do people win lotteries? Sure. But you cannot bank on that. What you need to do is accept that you’ll have to take baby steps towards your goals. You’ll feel less desperate if your tasks seem achievable to begin with.

Alternatively, you can just forget about it. So you are single, and worried that you’ll be alone forever. You’ve gone on dates, but there’s no magic and it just didn’t click. Stop dating for a bit. Take a class. Go on a trip. Meet new people. Pivot away from the problem and work on something else for a bit. Build your confidence back up in something else and then dive back into dating after.

Nowadays, we are not faced with deadly situations. Our own fears are constructed inside our own brain, and that’s where they fester. When you wonder why you are striking out, it could be because the people around you can smell your desperation. Get clean, relax, and know that you’ll get many chances. But before you take another one, maybe take a break first.

Faceless Day: Gimmicky office stunts won’t increase productivity or ease stress

Image by Vincent Diamante via wikimedia

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Aug 4, 2015

On July 14, Woffice, a Chinese property service company located in Handan, took part in an exercise that appeared to be quite similar to Halloween. Employees were given the choice to wear a black-and-white mask at the office, in an effort to reduce stress. With faces hidden behind thin plastic, workers could focus on their duties without worrying about the pressures of smiling, the stigma of yawning, and the boorishness of rolling their eyes. So, what mask did all the workers chose? For the day known as Faceless Day, employees at Woffice chose the character No-Face from the beloved anime, Spirited Away, and Guy Fawkes from V for Vendetta.

Now, it might just be me, but I am not sending my resumé to Woffice anytime soon. If a business needs to use masks to ease tension within the workforce, I can’t imagine the monotony of working there any other time of the year. True, unorthodox exercises such as Faceless Day are gaining popularity in offices all around the world, but how about something less juvenile?

I hate the idea of dress codes. I hate it at fancy restaurants, I hate it at nightclubs, and I sure as hell hate it in the workplace. Yes, there is an emphasis on professionalism, but having to wear a suit and tie does not make you a productive worker. It’s funny that wearing jeans to work for a day is considered a perk in some offices.

For a year and a half, I was a Starbucks barista. Starbucks has a relatively strict dress code where male employees have to wear black or beige pants—excluding jeans and sweat pants—while on the floor. I always wondered why the fabric mattered. Who is peeking behind the bar, looking under my green apron, and at my pants? I don’t know, but apparently what I wore made your mocha taste better and myself a leaner thinker.

Needless to say, I wore black jeans for most of my employment and nobody (except the manager) made a big deal about it. Well, a few co-workers pointed it out, but they were merely inspired, and a bit frightened, by my rebellious ways. Don’t even get me started on Fridays at Starbucks. During my stint, only the day partners were allowed to wear T-shirts instead of collared shirts. Ignore my sarcasm, but that was a real privilege.

I believe many companies waste too much time, money, and effort trying to find creative (and not so creative) ways to motivate and calm their employees; Faceless Day is creative, while laid-back dress code days aren’t. Ultimately though, these efforts are not going to see much, if any, return of investment. Don’t enforce rules and then take them away, expecting the workers to be more relaxed. Don’t be gimmicky. A workplace is for grown-ups, so treat employees as such; let them make their own decisions. And if you really want them to relax after a hard product sprint or dinner rush, buy them a beer, give them a day off, or take them on a retreat. Don’t give them something else to wear.

Productivity beats positive thinking

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Relaxing and stressing won’t get the job done

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 11, 2014

When you’re stressed, you relax. Although it’s good to wind down after a long day, relaxing when a job or assignment is unfinished may actually cause more long-term stress.

The thin line between rewarding yourself and procrastinating is a harmful illusion we create for ourselves that may be stalling our overall progress in our professions and academics.

If you have a project due next week, you’d probably wait until the last possible moment to finish it like a normal person. Because of this, the project will remain in the back of your head throughout the week, occupying a stressful part of your brain. Then, after a given day of procrastination and concerning yourself with other activities, you’d want to relax; however, to do that you’d have to consciously avoid the idea of that very project. In doing so, you’ll end up thinking of it, hence the paradox of stress.

By avoiding the work assigned to you, you create unnecessary stress virtually out of thin air. If you were to finish the work as soon as possible, you’d instantly feel a relief incomparable to the “relaxation” you would have while procrastinating. Although you’d have the instant gratification of doing something enjoyable, your mind will be restless, knowing that there is something left unaccomplished.

Anxiety and stress cannot be tamed; they must be conquered. You’ll never be more ready to face your challenge than this moment right now, no matter how daunting it seems. If you have a big project, start it now—little steps will act as encouragement and motivation going forward. If you applied for a job, don’t simply sit back and play the waiting game: apply for another. By having more eggs in more baskets, your anxiety and stress will dampen should disappointment arise. If you have someone you want to ask out on a date, don’t strategize and stress over “what if” questions; just go, ask, and see what happens.

Stress is the natural response to the dangers of the world. It’s our animal instinct warning us that there are elements out there that will kill us. But that is not true in this day and age, where the things that stress us out are trivial rather than life threatening. Yet, we still feel that if we fail to do something we’ll be ripped apart, eaten alive. Once we are able to recognize that the threats are all in our head, we can sit down, work, or relax without the intrusion of stress.

People with frequent anxiety attacks hate the fact that people like me belittle their impairment, but I’m disappointed in the way they magnify the task at hand. They believe that by relaxing, avoiding the work, and sitting back, they will be better off in the end. That’s not true. Stress must be eliminated like rotting food. You clean the kitchen if it stinks wouldn’t you? The same goes with stress.