Irritated by Ankle-High Waves

While visiting my son and his family who live on Oahu, my husband and I walked the Hukilau Beach in the morning sun. The walk is invigorating. The water is dark blue, turning to crystalline teal-green water as the white caps break, hitting the beach, then ebbing away. If you walk near the edge of the water, the sand is firm, making walking relatively easy yet giving you a substantial workout.

Walking near the edge where the water hits and then disappears in the sand  permits refreshing ankle-high waves to splash over your feet. I experienced an interesting fact: even an ankle-high wave could throw me off balance. A calf-high wave would make me pause and stand firm to avoid falling into the water.

The thought came to me that we can get thrown off balance in our daily routine by incidents that seem insignificant like ankle-high waves.

For instance, you forgot to buy deodorant and your roll-on hardly deposits any protection. The thought goes through your mind, “Will I smell all day? Will anyone notice?”  The line at Starbucks is longer than usual, making you a tad late for work. The woman you passed as you came through the front door was wearing irritating perfume and the person in the cubicle next to yours was having a cell phone conversation at 80 decibels, 10 decibels above normal conversation levels. Who was he yelling at?

When you get to your desk and open your email, the first one is from your manager reminding you of a deadline of which you are well aware. You feel micromanaged. The next email is a Facebook notification from a close friend with pictures from the Bahamas. You feel a tinge of jealousy as you silently wish you could afford two weeks in Nassau.

Now you try to focus on answering tough emails from clients and finding information for the marketing team’s website project. You pause while your mind wonders how to get it all done and you realize that it takes a herculean effort to tackle your task list.

You may have had an experience such as just described. Even though your specifics are different, recognize that these distractions to productivity are ankle-high waves that throw us off balance and make us lose our focus on the vital tasks we need to complete.

When the mental state suffers and productivity stalls because of ankle-high waves, emotionally intelligent people apply strategies of self-awareness and self-regulation which are good choices in this situation because the emotions are still in the head, not in conversations with the annoying people.

Apply the Stress Strategy of “Letting Go.”

Ankle-high irritations whether they come from technology or co-workers are not big enough to worry about. I remember a book pubished over a decade ago by Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. When you read the book, the message is powerful: “It’s all Small Stuff!” Show your emotional intelligence by letting go and moving on.

Focus your mind.

Shut out the irritating ankle high waves and focus your mind on the tasks you plan to accomplish for the day. If you did not prioritize your list before you left work yesterday, prioritize it now and start on your number one task. Total focus is a positive mental state known as being in the zone. When in the zone, your mind functions at its peak. You don’t hear the distractions around you because you are immersed with thoughts of completing a high-quality product. Just as time slips away, so will your irritating ankle-high waves.

Polish Your Patience.

Working in close proximity to others requires an extra dose of the quality of patience.  It necessitates giving people the benefit of a doubt, overlooking irritating human habits, listening to them, and extending empathy. After you have made significant progress on your number one task, take a break and practice patience with your coworkers.

These strategies will develop your emotional intelligence, keep you in the producer’s mindset, and make brownie points with your coworkers.

One last tip: buy deodorant on the way home.

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