How to work on holiday

Tropical beachI write quite a bit about work-life balance and the necessity and value of switching off at regular times and to not be “always on”. So it may seem odd that I am now writing about working when you’re on holiday. I’m not talking about checking emails though – that isn’t work! We should definitely be unplugging as much as possibly when on holiday. This “checking in” business really isn’t necessary – it may help you de-stress, but if you’re unlucky, it can stress you out more and compel you to waste your entire day online solving some crisis. Putting on that auto-responder so that you can go away for a rest and time with loved ones or doing something you enjoy is really important. If you cave in just once and start answering emails whilst you are away, it sets the precedent that your colleagues and clients can bother you at any time during your precious, hard-earned time off. And they will. Subscribe to the anti-Nike advice: Just don’t do it.

Full length portrait of casual woman working by the sea on her vacation. Middle age female sitting on the rock and typing on her laptop.

If you can, I recommend going away in summer and ignoring your laptop completely. It may be a little nerve racking at first, but it’s also the best way to recharge.

So what do I mean then by the concept of working on holiday? I think there is truly valuable work which can be achieved on holiday. Being away from the workplace helps you to mentally and spiritually recharge returning with renewed energy, ideas and focus. If you constantly are checking back in, this recharge never gets to happen because your brain is firmly wired in to every-day work and email dopamine loops. So key to achieving valuable work on holiday is planning ahead, delegating projects, preparing your clients and colleagues for the dates you’ll be away and taking as little work “hardware” with you as possible. One thing I did recently which has truly rejuvenated my energy and productivity is to remove email from my Smartphone and tablet completely – that way I never feel tempted to check it. Nothing has been lost by doing this – on the contrary I am more efficient and deal with emails much more effectively.

This is how to work on holiday – whether home or abroad:

Take a notebook with you – use this to write in every day. Yes, every day – just write and see what comes out. You will find that solutions to problems that may have been unachievable back at work emerge, you’ll get new ideas and a fresh perspective. Choose to write about work!

 

alignements de crayons de couleurs en macroTake colouring pencils – get a little mindfulness colouring book and start colouring.  This helps your brain to switch off very fast and tap into calm because it turns down  the part of the brain that controls our fight or flight response, and keeps us in a state of alert (which unfortunately it is likely to be most of the time when we’re at work). Allowing your brain to relax allows it to be much more resourceful. Colouring also utilises areas of the brain that enhance focus and concentration. It also helps with problem solving and organisational skills.

Sort out files – if you do take your laptop with you –  or if you plan to, as I am to take some time off to be at home as well as away – then take this opportunity to thoroughly sort out your files and systems. This is the kind of work we never have time for day-to-day yet is important for creating order and flow.

Go for walks – being out and about in the fresh air is one of the best things you can do to be more effective at work! This is one thing you just may start to incorporate into your daily work routine. Imagine having walking meetings! Take time to walk and to notice what is around you. The ability to focus is a number one skill and one we are rapidly losing. Tap back into this skill and watch how resourceful you become, how much more relaxed and creative.

Have conversations – don’t be tempted to Google everything. Practise having conversations where you slowly debate and chew over something rather than immediately Googling for a quick fix. Our Smartphone are fast becoming an appendage and lessening that dependency for short periods whilst you are away from work cannot be a bad thing.

Tourists couple looking at city mapRead that map! – Once upon a time, before there was such a thing as a local data plan, there were maps, guidebooks, notes, and even human beings who could interact and share information. These resources still exist. The problem with compulsive app-ing is that it chips away at the very thing that makes travel rewarding: a sense of engagement and discovery. Since it’s difficult to discover something when Google knows everything, a smartphone can at times wreck the qualities of communication, intuition, and experimentation that travel rewards. Not that technology should be left at home, but it should be considered a controlled substance on the road—a problem-solving tool but not a constant companion.

Have fun this summer – this will be my last blog until September when we’ll continue the A-Z of happiness.

C is for calm

Blue silence.Magnificent long exposure landscape with lake view after sunset.I do believe that part of being happy is feeling calm in the face of uncertainty, unpredictability, setbacks and just life. Being happy in the everyday is within our grasp and being calm is part of what will help us to enjoy life much more. Yet it is not always easy to feel this inner strength. When things are uncertain and we start to worry we are capable of creating drama in our minds: obsessing about the past, or predicting what might happen in the future. This can easily happen when we feel overwhelmed by our work, responsibilities and under pressure.

So let’s look at some strategies to help to practise calm this week and see what happens!

  1. Honour how you are feeling – being calm is less about resisting the urge to worry and more about accepting it and even embracing it, knowing that to worry and feel anxious is natural. However, observing and experiencing the feeling helps to loosen its hold. We can then gently start to question some of our thoughts to test them out. Our brain will then naturally seek solutions or lessen the drama all by itself. It’s important not to voice these anxious feelings too much – posting how you are feeling on social media for example may feel good temporarily but once you start to get affirmations from others in response to your post (and you will) you are merely feeding those negative thoughts and feelings and making them stronger.
  2. Bring your awareness to the present – this will have an immediate effect. Practice Mindfulness DailyWe can become present by putting awareness on our breathing, our feelings, and the physicality of our being. We can pause and take a look around the room or place we’re in, reminding ourselves of where we are, and feeling our connection to the physical world. When we do this, we notice that right in this moment, we are actually okay. When you practise awareness in this way, you will rapidly feel reconnected to who you are and what is real in your life.
  3. Shift your energy – rather than spending our energy on worrying, we can use that energy to take positive action. So we can become the catalyst for change instead of being at the mercy of circumstance. When you find yourself caught up in worry, try to identify one small step that you can take immediately, that moves you towards a solution. Just by taking a small action, we move from a passive state to a proactive one, shifting our focus and creating momentum.
  4. Practise gratitude – this helps us change our thoughts and creates a flow of good Balancefeelings in our body, which will instantly transform our mood. Try to make a habit of writing down what you deeply appreciate about your life. Cultivate the feeling of appreciation as fully as possible. In doing this, we can change our physical state: allowing ourselves to experience a natural joy, openness and expansion in our body, rather than the physical or emotional contractions caused by stress.
  5. Let go of control – often anxiety is created by not feeling in control and feeling that many things are outside our control (which actually they are!) Letting go of control isn’t easy because of this but once we do so there is an immediate sense of ease and calm. It’s important for us to acknowledge that we can only ever control our own thoughts, words, actions, and responses in any situation. When we fully accept this, we can stop trying to control things that are external to us. We can take complete responsibility for the part we play in life, and surrender the rest to the world. When we stop clinging to the outcome, we release tension from our bodies and minds, and let ourselves follow the natural flow of life. The result is calm.

The-Advantage-logo

The Advantage raises immediate awareness of seven soft skills: adaptability, empathy, integrity, critical thinking, being proactive, optimism and resilience. Daily practice of all of these results in a happier, productive and balanced life.

We currently deliver 2-day workshops to raise awareness of these skills and we are licensing trainers to deliver them to a range of different groups. Click on this link to find out more and join us 29th and 30th September and the 1st of October!

B is for Balance

BalanceHappiness is within your grasp. There are simple things each of us can to every day that can help us be happier. My aim with this new blog series is to select one of those that we can work on and practise – practice is always going to be important but I also want something that gives instant impact so that we can remember the impact and keep doing it! So B is for balance.

Most of us find it hard to create balance in our lives – we seem to be constantly rushing from one thing to another and our to-do list is never complete. Balance is a state of equilibrium that is inherent in the human condition. Yet our world is out of balance and it is for this reason that so many of us feel imbalanced. Our lives are impacted by constant change, speed, uncertainty, new technologies, globalisation and the associated demands that ignore basic human needs. The result of all this imbalance is stress and unhappiness. So creating balance has to be part of what can bring happiness to our lives.

Enjoy Every Moment ConceptWork life balance is traditionally interpreted as a balance between work and life as if there is always a clear divide between the two. Perhaps we need to be talking more about life balance? Life balance is not only essential for your happiness and wellbeing but can also be a tremendous boost to your productivity levels as the boundaries between work and life lessen.

The key to creating balance in your life is to start small. Start small because you will notice an immediate impact when you do. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Switch it off! One small action will immediately bring more calm and balance to your days: disconnect – try it for a weekend or for a day and if you can’t manage that then try just for a few hours. Give your poor brain a rest from being “always on”. Instead spend time with family, friends, drinking tea and slowing down.

2. Be healthy – if you are out of balance you are also likely to not be sleeping well or eating nutritional foods. You’ll be far happier if you are getting enough sleep, taking exercise and eating healthy food. Go for a walk, try cooking a delicious meal from fresh ingredients and use lavender essential oils to help you wind down at night.

3. Spend time alone – Making time for you is probably the hardest thing to do for the typical overwocurved ramp bridgerked and overwhelmed person, but it is crucial for lowering stress, increasing happiness and encouraging creativity. Some things to try: meditate, write, sketch,
do some yoga or simply sit quietly for a few minutes each day and do absolutely nothing.

4. Explore the world – Take a walk and pay attention to what’s going on around you. Notice buildings, nature and people. Take a new route, visit a new town or try being a tourist in your own. Attend a local performance, play amateur photographer or go to the park and with children play. They really know how to enjoy life!

5. Relationships matter – Set aside quality time with your family and friends Don’t just sit in front of the television – really connect and pay attention to those you care about. Make a date with your significant other, have coffee with a friend, play a game with a child. Really get to know the people around you.

Tightrope Walker Balancing on the RopeTry to do some of these things over the coming week. Try to critically assess your life from a balance perspective. You will know best of all which things feel out of balance. We can tell ourselves there is no time and there is too much to be done but by rushing around from one thing to the next we can end up getting even less done and feeling overwhelmed and burned out. Balance has to also be about how you are spending your time – when work and life blur as much as they do now you have to be in control over how you manage your technology, multiple demands on your time and energy and still have well-being and harmony. All of these actions are within your control and it’s vital to put energy on the things that are inside your control when there is so much uncertainty and change around us.

The Advantage is a new experiential learning workshop that raises immediate awareness of competences that are within each of us and that we can build and develop each day: adaptability, empathy, critical thinking, integrity, being proactive, optimistic and resilient.The Advantage cover - low resolution

We are currently running workshops via our licensed trainer network in the UK, Hungary and India. Find out more here.

Embracing change

success, concept, change, hope, positive, word, text, humor, achievement, kick, impossible, incentive, delete, possible, motion, challenge, motivation, possibility, positivity, training, start, motivated, coaching, intention, career, lifestyle, consulting

No matter what your feelings are about the recent BREXIT decision, one thing is for sure – we are all going to be dealing with change as a result of it. Our initial response to change, though, tends to be negative, even when it is wanted.

We feel vulnerable and even threatened by the changes at hand, including those that we may have already anticipated. As a result, we tend to find ourselves in the midst of three familiar stages as we come to terms with the unknown:

1. Surprise — The first stage is surprise. No matter what’s happened or how much we may have expected the impending changes, once they take place we often find ourselves in an initial state of shock, wondering why it’s happening to us.

2. Panic — The second stage we experience is panic, which is largely focused on how the changes will impact us directly. It isn’t long before we begin to question ourselves and wonder if we are competent and able to handle what’s in store for us.

3. Blame — The third and final stage we encounter is blame. When people feel threatened, they often retreat to the safest belief system they can find. If we can point to external factors to help justify the cause of the change, we will. This relieves us of all accountability and enables us to feel more like a victim of what has happened.

Blue silence.Magnificent long exposure landscape with lake view after sunset.Preparing ourselves for what’s next is a much more productive use of energy that will actually help rather than hinder us in moments of uncertainty. So how can we achieve this? One way is to remain open-minded in times of change. Rather than viewing it as a detriment, see it as an opportunity. One way to do this is to choose to see the situation and context as a higher reason for why the change could be happening and trust that like anything in life, good can come from it. Instead of living in fear and being worried by what is ahead it is smarter to focus on “what’s next”.

Modern icons flying over mobile phone in office

When faced with change and uncertainty this threatens our sense of autonomy and need to be in control. Often we then give energy and focus to the exact things that are beyond our control. It’s easy to blame others, either in defensiveness of what was decided (leaving the EU) or in rage at the decision that was reached. I think at the moment we are all moving in and out of the three stages of surprise, panic and blame partly because the outcome of the referendum was a genuine shock, no matter what you voted.

The-Advantage-logoI believe that now more than ever we need to strengthen our self-awareness and inner competences to handle change effectively, be open to different ways of viewing a controversial situation with unknown and far-reaching impact and find ways to discuss our views collaboratively. These times call on us to be adaptable so that we can respond positively to change. We need critical thinking skills to deal with the huge amount of and overload of information coming our way so that we can make clear decisions that help us move forward as well as to make sense of what is happening. Otherwise the danger is that we fall into believing that opinions and new stories are facts. We need empathy to be able to truly be open and compassionate to each other, to be able to discuss opposing views positively and to really listen. We need integrity to make wise decisions aligned to our values. Maybe now is also a good time to redefine our values to see if they still make sense. We need optimism so that we can make progress positively and identify opportunities and ways to succeed. That also means being proactive and deciding on clear actions to take to move forward to (maybe) new goals. Finally we need to build our resilience skills to not be fazed by the changes ahead. That means being able to handle rejection, unexpected outcomes and downturns with ease, agility and grace.

The Advantage cover - low resolutionIn short we need The Advantage now more than ever before. Want to find out more? Come to our taster session Sunday 3rd July at London’s Southbank.

 

A is for Acceptance

A - Z of Happiness - new blog series!

A – Z of Happiness – new blog series!

Happiness is within your grasp. There are simple things each of us can to every day that can help us be happier. My aim with this new blog series is to select one of those that we can work on and practise – practice is always going to be important but I also want something that gives instant impact so that we can remember the impact and keep doing it!

So – “A” is for acceptance. It is easy to think of practising acceptance as being a bit of a pushover and never saying “no”. It isn’t though. It’s far more about conserving energy and relaxing into the moment. We spend a lot of time resisting change and therefore trying to change something – whether that is a situation, someone else or ourselves. That alone causes stress and anxiety and uses up a lot of energy.

Acceptance has a critical role to play when it comes to happiness.

It’s about accepting where you are in the present, not looking to the future or the past. Accepting and being grateful for where you are right now increases mental wellbeing and happiness. This is also the case when you accept whatever might be going on in any situation:

  • Your train is late? Acceptance gives you energy to use the time productively and to deal with any consequences of being late calmly and stress-free.
  • Friend let you down? Acceptance enables you to be less reactive, to be willing to look at different angles of the situation rather than make assumptions and not get upset for too long.
  • Your proposal got rejected? Acceptance means you are far less likely to take this personally and instead understand that many factors may be at play. Acceptance will allow you to move on fast and get ready for the next opportunity.
Try it this week!

Try it this week!

Practically any situation gives us opportunity to practise acceptance. So try it this week!  You’ll find that acceptance saves energy. Instead of spending time thinking (or worrying) about situations and events, by practising acceptance, you’re saving that mental energy and potentially decreasing stress and becoming more resilient.

What about the big stuff? Stuff that can be really hard to accept?

Even with life events that can seem extremely challenging to accept at the time it is still possible to move towards acceptance. Life is meant to have loss, disappointment and heartache in it. By accepting that something that didn’t turn out as you expected or had hoped is in fact an opportunity to learn and develop and this in turn changes that event from a failure into a success. We can all think of events or situations that didn’t turn out hoped for, but in fact in hindsight lead to a better outcome.

Start now! Every day gives us opportunities to practise acceptance.

  1. Find solutions instead of focusing on the negative. This is entirely possible within any circumstance that comes your way this week. Even if you feel like complaining, don’t – conserve that energy and you’ll be surprised by how quickly you can problem-solve.
  2. Let it go. The ability to let go of things in everyday life that might irk or annoy you makes for happiness and ease. Start with the small things and you’ll soon be dealing with any mishaps or disappointments that come your way with grace and agility.
  3. Let beauty in. When you’re focused on everything that’s lacking, it’s hard to fully notice, appreciate, and enjoy what’s there. Open yourself off to what is truly important and beautiful in life. It’s all around you – in the beauty of the Summer, the sun, the rain, a freshly washed sweater, the warmth of a petHappiness in an inside job - inspirational words on a vintage slate blackboard with a white chalk against burlap canvas

 

Got a degree? Get some grit.

Lots of students are about to graduate. Most of them will find getting work a challenge despite the hard work that goes into getting a degree. Graduates need crucial skills which they may not have developed during their studies. Because companies are not going to train them to have these skills they  have to get these themselves. Hopefully some of them will have started working on these long before their final year. Most won’t though.

So what are these skills? Most employers cite communication, teamwork, leadership and problem-solving as key skills that are missing. I think a big one that is missing is grit – the power of passion and perseverance.  Continue reading

Everyone’s a writer….

Fountain pen….but not everyone can write. It is easier than ever to publish your own writing whether that’s a blog, a white paper or an e-book, anyone can put themselves forward as an expert. I was recently invited to “become a published author” by submitting chapters to a self-published compilation of stories about women in business. I declined, not least because I am already a published author, but because I know just how much work goes into writing a book and because I didn’t see the opportunity in quite the same way.The Advantage cover - low resolution

For me there is a big difference between self-publishing and writing for a mainstream publisher with a book that is guaranteed to make it onto bookstore shelves. These differences are not just about royalties. My experiences of the publishing world are ones of negotiation – from content to title the publisher decides what ultimately will sell as they have to make money out of my book. The whole writing process is critiqued and shaped by the editorial team. Once drafted, this honing is even more intense. But I enjoy this because I know that the end product will be worth it. If you’re writing for a very specific niche audience then self-publishing is probably the way to go. But if the book is to target a national or international audience it’s extremely difficult to publish it effectively unless you publish it traditionally. And the process is making me a better writer.

réseaux sociauxThe difficulty with self-publishing, blogging, writing e-books and any social media writing is that you don’t necessarily have a reality check in the form of credible feedback – sure, you’ll get opinions about what you are writing and you might be able to measure whether or not people like what you write but you’ll never know if you are a good writer or not. You just won’t.

Traditional publishing may be old school but because they have to be so super-choosy about what they decide to publish in the first place, if you are with a mainstream publisher you can be reasonably sure that you know how to write and can do it reasonably well. In fact well enough that there’s a good chance the book will make money. Now I’m not saying that if you’re published the book will be a best-seller – just like self-publishing those are few and far between – but there’s every chance of a reasonable return on your writing investment and none of the headache of sorting out your own editor, illustrator, copy editor, proof-reader, marketing and distribution channels.

Businessman yellingMost of all though, what I find is that being traditionally published gives me a credible and respected platform to do other things whether that is consultancy, training workshops or writing white papers. I’m improving my writing, selling books and doing work that I love. Herz auf Holz / heart on wooden background

Communication – why we’re worse at it than ever!

Man drowning in a smartphone screen, reaching for a lifebuoy, EPS 8 vector illustration, no transparencies, no meshWe’re not communicating very well. Information overload, diversity and a globalised workplace mean that effective communication skills are more important than ever before because strong relationships are the only currency we have and they are also our competitive advantage. Everything else can be copied and even the skills and knowledge we work so hard to attain at university and through professional development are easily replicated.

We’re getting worse – Because we are operating in such a fast-moving environment we have become more prone to not working well and to communicating less effectively. This has an impact on how our brains process information and how we interpret cues from our environment. How we communicate has changed a lot even in the last 3 – 5 years and will continue to change as the pace of information and technology becomes faster and faster. curved ramp bridge
There is now a body of research that supports the view that we are getting worse at processing information and interpreting environmental cues. Quite often we’re just not aware of these factors and our automated response mechanisms, which means we are not able to override initial reactions, and responses resulting in sub optimal communication skills both in our personal and our work lives. One way to better communication is having a stronger awareness and understanding of how our brain works, how it processes and interprets information and how to rise above our inbuilt automated responses and truly activate our brains⁠ for the better. Making complex decisions and solving problems effectively require a lot of brain energy and so doing this is difficult for any length of time. We need to understand some of the real biological limits on our brain because understanding these is one of the best ways to improve mental performance.

Chinese calligraph as design templates, art elements or body jewellery.

We need to be far more aware of how technology can impede effective communication and how to manage our use of technology so that it enables us to communicate better. We are inundated with information overload⁠ in an unprecedented way. We now live in a world where we are constantly faced with more and more information, on a daily basis, than we can possibly process. It is an over-communicated environment. There are so many unwanted messages bombarding us, that often the ones we want or that are actually important get lost in the noise. The average person can now communicate faster, with more people—without thinking—than ever before and this is only set to increase. Information has become disposable. Much of this information comes at us online but increasingly it is simply everywhere whether at home or at work and whether we are working or wanting to and needing to relax or reflect.

brain - green technology concept / vector illustration / eps10The key? Get to know how our brains work. Understand how to override our automated responses and how to manage our environment. Work smarter and overcome distraction better. It’s the subject of a new book I’m writing!

On rejection

In the last eight months or so, all the proposals I put forward for new consultancy work have been rejected. Yes, every single one. The latest, last week, has prompted me to write this post. Rejection is tough to handle sometimes, no matter how upbeat, resilient and optimistic you might be (and I am). Yet, rejection is the name of the game right now – for many. I am not alone. There are a lot of books and how-to guides telling you how to deal with rejection. Some suggest positive thinking, coping strategies and visualizing for a better tomorrow. Others tell you about serial phases like “denial”, “bargaining”, “acceptance” you’ll inevitably go through when rejected. Most advice on how to deal with rejection tell you that you need to learn from the experience, pick yourself up, move on and bounce back. All wise tips. Continue reading

We don’t need to be busy

curved ramp bridgeIn the six weeks before Easter I decided to give up being “busy”. Busy in the sense of always doing something under the guise of being “productive” and, dare I say it, important.

And I am busy – I have a demanding work schedule, a family, a home to run, a puppy and a choir to manage! Alongside that come all the hallmarks of “busyness” i.e. running around, constant email checking, getting distracted and within that taking digital detoxes and scheduling “me-time”. I decided that I need to think about a different way to manage my work and time to be more productive.

I’ve learned that I need to know the difference between being a workaholic vs. a high performer. The former wants to look more important, but the latter seeks out important work. Knowing the difference can help you and me too to do more in each moment of our day.

Life is made up of hundreds of thousands of moments. Some that move us, others that change us, and some that provoke us to action. Being busy takes us away from those moments. More importantly if we are not in the moment we are not focusing and we are missing opportunities around us. Opportunities are everywhere. They come up in coffee shops, via social media outlets like Twitter, and through mutual connections. When you’re busy, you often miss opportunities because you only see them as distractions, not spaces for you to grow and advance. Enjoy Every Moment Concept

Being busy is also misleading because we confuse motion and action with productivity and progress. We all want to do more with what we have. Unfortunately, we think being busy means we are making strides. 80% of our results come from 20% of our time. If you are able to work out what that 20% looks like (and the actions you take to get there), you can create immeasurable leverage. That means you’ll spend more time doing the things that really drive you toward your goals, and not just “things” to fill space. That also means focusing on what is right in front of you.

Man drowning in a smartphone screen, reaching for a lifebuoy, EPS 8 vector illustration, no transparencies, no meshHow many tabs do you have open right now? Between six and nine might be your average on a good day but that alone damages the brain by 40%. That productivity we so desperately crave is undermined when we do a lot of things at once. That workflow has to stop. It feels great, but it’s terrible for you. I’m even doing it right now!

Instead, try a new workflow. Single-tasking is exactly what it sounds like: doing one task, with no distractions. It may take some time to adopt this new type of workflow, but it will do wonders in the long term.

When you are on holiday delete the email app from your phone. Put an auto respond on and don’t then respond as that tells people you are still available. Use mindfulness to calm your mind and to enable you to rest and reflect. There really is no need to be “always on” – it is our brain that makes this so as well as expectations from others. We all need to learn how to use technology more effectively and manage it as otherwise it manages us! Constantly checking email has an impact on your brain neurons because doing this taps into the reward circuitry of the brain so your brain gets addicted to reacting every time there us a ping in your inbox – social media is the same with its alerts. So switch them off! You will become far more productive and relaxed and more focused.

Lavender teaThe most important thing right now is what is directly in front of you.
So if you’re on holiday be on holiday and enjoy it. If you’re preparing something for work then that is the most important thing. If you’re drinking a cup of tea ditto. And so we move through life moment by moment and everything gets done