I listened to a younger zookeeper complain about herself, and my heart went out to her. “I’ve been at my new zoo for three months, and I’m still so slow at everything. I still need other keepers to help me finish my tasks on time, and I know I’m frustrating them with my incompetency.”
I shook my head. “You are not incompetent. Three months is nothing. How long have these keepers been there? Years? And I’m also positive you ARE improving, you just can’t see it.”
My friend sniffled. “I don’t feel like I’ve gotten better at all.”
As our conversation went on, I thought about recommending a cardio workout program, one that would simulate some of the actions our zookeeper friend repeated throughout the day, so she could practice those movements, and literally get faster. But then, I remembered ZooFit’s philosophy—Train Positive.
How to Train Positive at Your Job
How do you get better at your job? How do you get faster, more efficient, but still effective? We train positive, like working with the animals.
What if you turned your job into a game? Like, a literal game where every task is a chance to level up?
Zookeepers have tons of “chores” we have to perform every day. Some are super fun, like training and enriching animals. I personally LOVED scuba diving the exhibits every day to clean and look over everything when I worked with marine mammals. I also was the weirdo who loved doing microphone presentations, which most of my co-workers GLADLY let me do whenever I wanted.
From Chores to Quests
Most jobs zookeepers do can be tedious, time-consuming, and overwhelming. Washing the windows, preparing diets, cleaning holding areas and exhibit areas, scrubbing buckets, food dishes, and enrichment devices, changing water in the pools, unfreezing the drinking water in the winter, finding and procuring browse items, keeping the behind-the scenes tidy and organized, recording reports for ZIMS, attending meetings, conducting tours, scheduling and holding veterinary visits, fixing equipment when it breaks, and the list goes on and on.
Some of these items take as long as they take. Visits from guests and vets are often out of our control. But for almost everything else on the list, I could see them being “quests” on a bigger game called “ZooFit”.
Here’s how the game works: Pick one of your tasks, any tasks, even the medial side-tasks like rolling up the hose, or chopping fruit (part of the grander tasks like preparing food and keeping the area tidy and organized). Time yourself to see how long it takes. The next time you have to roll up the hose, give yourself a time goal, realistic based on your previous time, and try to beat it. Say your initial time was 2 minutes and 34 seconds. Try for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. If you beat your time, give yourself a gold star, or perform a victory dance (Yes, my geeky brain just thought of the victory fanfare after defeating bosses in the Final Fantasy games). The important thing is to make it fun.
If you can, keep track of your times. Perhaps create a score card on your phone or on paper where you can write your best times. Keep going with as many of these chores until you’ve gamified your entire routine.
The key to this game is to always do your best work while trying to get just a little faster each time. So we’re not just spraying the windows and wiping them down half-ass, but we’re finding ways to do a great job and shave 10 seconds, or 5 seconds off our time.
The fun part about the ZooFit game is you are constantly competing with yourself. So you can always strive to get just a little bit faster, a little bit better. Plus, if you play the game where you keep track, you will have concrete data that proves to you that you ARE getting better! Look at your scorecard when you’re feeling down. See how well you’ve improved. And IF your co-workers complain (which they probably won’t, because trust me, they’ve been in your place), you can show them all the ways you are improving.
You can even ask for tips and hacks for beating your score. If you have a team that likes to play games, you can make it a friendly competition throughout the week. Who can get the best time cleaning the holding areas. Or, if you work together to clean, give yourselves a time goal, and celebrate when you beat it.
My young zookeeper friend loved the idea and began implementing it immediately. What she loved the most was keeping track of her score, not just so she could show the data that she was improving, but she uses it on days she feels like a failure. A month into practicing the Zookeeper Game as she calls it, she says she’s shaved 15 minutes off her cleaning routine. She’s looking to shave another 10-12 minutes off to be “competitive” with her co-workers, but now she’s having a lot more fun along the way.
SMILES and BREATHES in the Morning
I have started practicing this a little at home. Lately, I’ve been struggling to get started on my day, so I implemented an idea I got from a self-improvement book I read a few years ago, Miracle Morning (by Hal Elrod, check it out here). Hal uses a system called S.A.V.E.R.S. (Silence, Affirmation, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing). I created my own morning routine I call S.M.I.L.E.S. (Self-Care, Meditation, Imagination, Learning, Exercise, and Seize the Day Journal). Self-Care is pretty broad, so I created another acronym—B.R.E.A.T.H.E.S., which stands for different activities I strive to do each morning, including making the bed, reading, staying off electronics, taking supplements, doing my hygiene routine, and getting outside (I call it Experiencing Nature).
Only, I often drag my feet performing these activities. When I’m in a groove, and really focused, I can get my BREATHES and SMILES done in a little over an hour (which is what Hal Elrod reserves for his Miracle Morning SAVERS). But I usually take close to 2 hours to complete my small challenges. I get distracted (sometimes by worthwhile distractions like our adorable kittens, sometimes by shiny objects like my email).
Wanting to see if my idea for zookeepers could work for ME, I started timing myself for each task. Some activities only took a couple of minutes, others took up to fifteen. Once I had my starting times, I began practicing ways to whittle those times down. Now, to be clear, some of my morning routine SHOULD take time, like my meditation, my exercise, my reading (which can fluctuate depending on the length of the chapter). However, I noticed when I timed my morning BREATHES, I took as long as four minutes between my activities before starting a new one. Those, I decided were the key areas to cut down.
Now It’s Your Turn
And by turning it into a game, I was able to do it. I went from spending nearly 2 hours doing my routine to 90 minutes, and I know I can make it even shorter with practice and by keeping up the momentum. This is great practice for me, as I start to get busier in the mornings, and I want to manage my energy to get out the door on time for my volunteer shifts, appointments, and possibly my job.
It worked for me, and my friend, because we love playing games and competing with ourselves. So, if you want to get a little better at your job, why not level up and turn it into a game for you and your team? It might be a great way to make work a little more engaging, empowering, and efficient.
Leave me a comment and let me know how it goes!