Thursday, 18 December 2014

Relaxation Tip 9 - Breath

If you haven’t tried breathing yet, I thoroughly recommend it.  You will instantly feel more alive!   (David Algeo RobertsonCooper)

Now obviously we've all tried breathing, we do it every minute of every day, even when we're sleeping and we probably take it very much for granted and think very little of it.  We've been focusing on breathing quite a bit in our household at the moment as my youngest is learning how to control her breathing when swimming rather than just holding her breath.  

When we're feeling tense and stressed, our breathing tends to become more rapid and shallow.  By breathing more deeply and slowing down our breathing rhythm we can reap the benefits immediately of feeling more relaxed and calm.  With practice and over time, breathing exercises can help us to respond to stress better.

There are many different breathing techniques but here are a couple of very simple ones to try out particularly if this is something you've never tried before.

First let's start with a bit of preparation...

  • Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed.  (In time and with practice we may find that we can develop the ability to exercise these breathing techniques wherever we are by zoning out to our surrounding.)
  • Remove or loosen any tight clothing such as jackets, ties and shoes.
  • Sit in a comfortable, supportive chair and don't cross your legs or lie down.
  • Begin by focusing on your breathing and observe the natural rhythm you fall into.  You may notice that your breathing starts to slow.

  • Breathe deeply and try to fill your lungs with air.

  • Breathe in through your nose and our through your mouth.

Castle Breathing

Visualise a castle and focus on the crenelations at the top of the castle wall.

As your eye moves up one of the crenelations breathe in for two counts, as you reach the top of the crenelation, hold your breath for two counts and then breathe out as your eye traces the downy bit of the crenelation, then hold again for two counts and repeat along your imaginary castle wall regulating your breathing pattern.

Diaphragmatic Breathing
This technique may feel pretty awkward to start with and take a fair bit of concentration to get the hang of but it's worth persevering with as diaphragmatic breathing relaxes our muscles, massages our internal organs, allows more oxygen to flow through our bodies and helps us relax.

  • Place your left hand flat on your upper chest and your right hand on your stomach just below your belly button; your diaphragm.
  • Close your eyes if it helps you focus and breathe through your nose.
  • The idea here is to move your breathing from chest breathing to diaphragm breathing.  You should feel no movement in your left hand placed on your chest but your right hand should be gently rising and falling on your diaphragm. 
  • Don't force or rush your breathing just let it settle into a natural relaxed rhythm.

Rectangle Breathing
Once you feel comfortable with the technique of diaphragmatic breathing, have a go at this one.
  • Keeping your hands in place on your chest and stomach, either close your eyes and visulise a rectangle or focus on a rectangle in the room such as a door, window or picture frame.
  • Run your eyes across the top of the rectangle and breathe in for a count of 3, then as your eyes move down the long side of the rectangle breathe out for a count of 6.  
  • Continue breathing in on the short sides and out on the long sides of your rectangle.
  • You can play about with the counts on the short and long sides.  You may be able to breathe out for longer but don't force it.  Find what works for you.
  • Controlling your breathing in this way by taking air deep into your abdomen and then exhaling for longer than you breathe in will help with feeling more relaxed.
The great thing about these exercises is that we can be pretty much practice them anywhere and even just by doing them for a few minutes we'll reap the benefits.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Midweek Motivation - 10th December 2014

Relaxation Tip 8 - Get some physical activity


It will improve your health and your mood. (David Algeo RobertsonCooper)

I guess we're all pretty familiar with the benefits physical activity bring to our physical health.  The NHS weekly recommendation for 19-64 year olds to keep healthly is... 

At least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week (cycling or fast walking) AND muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week working all major muscle groups.


1.25 hours of vigorous intensity aerobic activity every week (running) AND muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week working all major muscle groups.

It has also been proven over and over again that there is a very strong link between our physical and mental wellbeing.  So put pretty simply as Algeo says, getting some physical activity "will improve your health and your mood".
Physical exercise can obviously lead to feeling physically tired but this natural tiredness can help us to get a better night's sleep and aid our relaxation.

Finding the right exercise for us is the key here.  If we don't enjoy it the chances of us sticking to it are slim particularly in the winter months when it's colder and darker and the warmth of the sofa seems even more inviting!  Maybe we have a try a few different things to find our fit, or try exercising with a friend to make it more fun and hopefully you'll keep each other going.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Relaxation Tip 7 - Attend relaxation-centred classes

Sometimes getting help with creating a relaxation strategy can go a long way towards your successful implementation of the habit.  (David Algeo RobertsonCooper)

The type of relaxation class you choose is obviously completely up to you.  Maybe read up a little on the different types such as breathing classes, yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, meditation to try and help you make up you mind on which one to try.

Although many of these relaxation techniques can be practiced at home, however the act of physically going to a class and being lead by an expert has numerous benefits.  The class is likely to be at a set time each week and therefore you can schedule this into your diary apposed to trying to set aside time at home which can be quite tricky as there are plenty of other distractions.  By signing up to a class you are making a very definite and positive decision, plus if there is a charge involved, then a financial commitment too!  If we're paying for something then we're more likely to fulfill our intentions.  At a class, we will be mixing with others who have the same intention as us and therefore some common ground already exists on which there's the potential to build new friendships.  Or you may have a friend who is willing to join you at the classes and going with someone else particularly to the first session can be quite a comfort.

As Algeo says, attending a class, being supported by an expert and getting help in setting up our own relaxation strategy are all ways in helping us to be successful in our aim.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Work Smart Work Savvy at Swindon College Staff Wellbeing Event - 21st November 2014

Work Smart Work Savvy had a fantastic day last week at the Swindon College Staff Wellbeing Event.  

We shared the hall with a diverse range of wellbeing providers; Swindon Travel Choice, Wood Street Wellbeing, Lift Psychology, The Core, Mindset Wesex, SEQOL, Better Together and many more...

Recent research has shown that greater productivity is more likely to come when employees feel happy and well supported in their work rather than when a bumper bonus carrot is dangled in front of them.
(The Times 30/10/14)

Work Smart Work Savvy posed the question to the staff visiting our stand;


Autonomy Feeling you have control and the freedom to be creative

Money Feeling that you will be paid a bumper bonus for the work you're doing

Purpose Feeling that you're contributing to something worthwhile

Mastery Feeling you have the time and resources to improve and excel

Each visiter to the Work Smart Work Savvy stand was given a small boat with which to vote!  The Swindon College staff were very enthusiastic in choosing which port (bucket!) to float their voting boat! 

We can now reveal that the results for this very exciting survey have been checked and independently verified....drum roll......

Just shy of 100 staff members visited the Work Smart Work Savvy stand and this is how they voted with their boats...

Ta da!!

70% of staff stated that their main motivator at work was Purpose, (feeling that you're contributing to something worthwhile).

Mastery, (feeling you have the time and resources to improve and excel) was next with 13% of the vote.

Closely followed by Autonomy, (feeling you have control and the freedom to be creative) at 12%.

As the research suggests, money isn't the biggest motivator and the Swindon College staff backed up this with only 4% stating that Money, (feeling that you will be paid a bumper bonus for the work you're doing), was their top motivator.

One staff member did persuade us to get our 5th bucket out from under the table after giving a very convincing story of how comradery, banter and feeling of belonging in a team were what gets him out of bed each day to come to work.

To keep our energy levels up during the event, Jan hopped onto the Swindon Travel Choices smoothie / juice making exercise bike to pedal us a mixed berry smoothie.  Just for the record, Lisa also did a stint on the bike to make mango and yoghurt smoothies...we have evidence of the smoothies but nobody actually saw her on the bike!

Midweek Motivation - 26th November 2014

A slightly later than normal Midweek Motivation but nevertheless, here it is...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Relaxation Tip 6 - Get some sleep

If you're feeling overloaded, sleep may be the first thing you let go.  Don't.   (David Algeo RobertsonCooper)

Although the jury is out on how many hours of sleep the average adult needs, with many experts believing there is no magic number, if pushed 7.5 to 9hours is often seen as a good starting point.  Obviously some of us need more to keep functioning effectively and some of us can get away with less, at least in the short term.  However, we shouldn't overlook the relationship between regularly getting a good night's sleep and being able to cope effectively with our busy lives.

If you are struggling to get a good night's sleep then here are a few things you might like to try...

  • Avoid heavy meals just before bedtime.  Try to leave 2-3 hours after finishing a meal before trying to sleep.  Like wise, avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Try to stick to the same bedtime and wake up time if you can as it helps regulate your body's clock.
  • Prepare yourself for sleep by doing something calm and quiet before bedtime; try dimming the lights and reading a book.
  • Prepare your bedroom for sleep; try to keep your sleeping space clutter free, keep the room cool, turn off all the lights and consider blackout curtains or blinds if you don't already have them.
  • Ensure you have a comfortable mattress.  General advice is to change your mattress every 8-10 years.
  • Keep a notepad and pen by your bed so that if you wake up worrying about something you must remember to do the next day, jot it down, empty it out of your head and try and get back to sleep.

These are just a few ideas but we're all different so it really is a case of finding out what works for you.  The Sleep Council have produced a very informative guide called Get a Good Nights Sleep which is full of great advice.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Relaxation Tip 5 - Don't multi-task

"Doing several things at one time is like inserting 7 or 8 plugs into one electric socket.  It drains the power quicker, risks overloading the circuit and blowing a fuse."   (David Algeo RobertsonCooper)

Do you ever feel that you're in a sort of scatter gun mode?  This can certainly happen to me when I feel under pressure to get lots of things done.  Sometimes I feel my brain leaping from one thing to another and then my body follows flitting from one part done task to the next, becoming frantic and headless chicken like.  Does that sound familiar?

As Algeo says, trying to do lots of things at once is a sure way to drain our energy faster and risk us hitting burn out.  

Although it can feel counter productive to stop when we feel we've got so much to get done, it really is time to step back and look at what needs doing and decide on our priority.  We need to ask ourselves, at this very point in time, what is the single most important task I should be working on right now?

We've talked a lot about tips for getting things done in previous articles so have a look at these three for more information and advice...

3. Time Boxing Unwrapped

Multi-tasking kind of lures you in and I'm definitely one who falls for it so I've come up with 4 questions to ask myself when I feel I'm slipping into headless chicken mode!  I've included my responses as well...

  • Is it an effective and productive way to work? No
  • Have I got twice as much done in half the time? I wish...but no!
  • Have I made mistakes? Most probably
  • Do I feel mentally drained? You bet I do
I'm not saying this is THE answer and that you or I will never fall into the multi tasking trap ever again but hopefully we'll be tempted less often or will at least notice we're doing it a lot quicker and make the changes faster.

Remember, you can do anything but not everything.

PS.  Just for the record, my plugs and wires are not like the one in the photo.  I purely set this one up for the shoot.  Don't worry Dad, it's all safe here!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Relaxation Tip 4 - Make time for longer relaxation periods each day

In addition to your fast charge breaks, set aside at least one slot of 20 minutes or so each day where you focus specifically on a relaxation activity.   (David Algeo RobertsonCooper)
In Tip 3 we talked about "fast charging" which is great for keeping us going with a 'quick and often' approach to relaxing and energy recharging.  However, if we think back to our battery analogy, this is only going to give us a quick blast of extra energy and sometimes we do need to give ourselves a bit of a longer break to ensure that we've had a good, quality energy recharge.  It's these longer relaxation breaks that ensure we're still effective in our work.

There are many relaxation activities to try and I really do believe its a case of finding one that suits you.  Use the re-charge zone we talked about in Tip 2, remove any potential distractions and then you're ready to start.

If you've never tried doing any kind of relaxation or meditation activity before then it may well feel a bit weird at first but I truly believe it's worth sticking with.  

Try listening to a guided relaxation.  There are thousands of them available online with many of them being free.  You'll also find scripts which you could read or better still record yourself so you can play it back.

Another idea is to close your eyes and take in what you can hear, see, smell and feel.  Simply, take time to observe with all your senses, just be in the moment, in the quiet, recharging.

You may find it hard to focus and that your mind wanders off to think about a whole host of other things such as "what shall we have for tea tonight?" or "I really must get that email sent off today or else..."  This is fine and perfectly normal so don't beat yourself up about it just bring your mind back when you notice it wandering and continue.  

Relaxation like many new skills takes practice but it's worth it.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Relaxation Tip 3 - Use the "fast charge" to get you through

When you're under pressure to get work done, it's hard to see the value in taking a little time away to recharge.  But it's definitely there.   (David Algeo RobertsonCooper)

This week Jan and I have been preparing display board material for a forthcoming event we are attending  and were on quite a tight time limit to get our kit ready. We had printed... amended... scrapped... re-written... amended... and amended again!  Time was ticking and in this case it was difficult to justify taking time out as we just needed to get the job done.

However we did stop, took a break away from working on the display board for a quick cuppa and a piece of cake and then came back and spotted a glaringly obvious typo right in the middle of the board.  Yikes!  Without taking time away from what we were doing for a "fast re-charge" we might have missed this mistake or spotted it when it was too late to change it.
Algeo suggests taking a 3-5 minute break every 90 minutes which is good advice but I think you need to work out what works for you and it will probably vary from task to task.  Sometimes when we're working on things we really enjoy, we might be completely in the zone and don't want to interrupt the flow.  Therefore, fair enough, keep going so long as you still feel OK and are being effective and productive.  On the other hand, when we're engaged in more tricky or less enjoyable tasks  then using these "fast charge" breaks to get you through could be just the thing.

"Fast charge" breaks are really useful if you're working hard at something but feel like you're not getting anywhere, not moving forward or just feel completely stuck.  You can either keep slogging on with it or, take a break, refresh and then return.  

I bet your bottom dollar you'll have found the answer to the issue after a "fast charge" break.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Midweek Motivation - 19th November 2014

Relaxation Tip 2 - Identify or Create a Re-charge Zone

Find or carve out an area that you use solely for relaxation. 
(David Algeo RobertsonCooper)

This area doesn't have to be kept sacred at all times for this use.  In fact in order to take this photo of this chair I had to remove 3 dolls, a pencil case and a cuddly ostrich!  Before and after school this chair certainly isn't a calm place but during the day and particularly in the mornings when the sun is shining through this window, it's the perfect re-charge place for me.  I can gaze out the window and look at the activity outside.

You don't have to just have one re-charge zone.  In the dryer and warmer times a seat in the garden could be just the place.  My mum and dad have an adult swing tucked away at the bottom of their garden and it's a lovely area to sit, gently sway on the swing and enjoy a few precious quiet moments.

Don't take your phone or laptop to your re-charge zone with you but if it feels too much to take time out to do nothing, then try reading a chapter of your book or do a crossword or take a cup of tea with you.  

Try and make it part of your day to go to this place and leave the hustle bustle behind for a few moments.

Tip 3 tomorrow...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Relaxation Tip 1 - Look Out For Low Battery Warning Signs

Don't let yourself become completely drained before you do something about it.   (David AlgeoRobertsonCooper)

David Algeo likens our energy levels to a battery.  We may start with a fully charged battery but daily stresses and pressures and physical wear and tear start to eek away at our energy levels and drain our battery.  

Algeo explains that a new mobile phone or laptop lasts a long time before it needs to be re-charged.  However as time goes on and the device is used more  
it needs recharging more frequently and for longer to ensure it is full of charge again.  Algeo goes on to reason that we follow a very similar pattern; as we get older we tend to tire more easily and our battery drains more quickly.
Although I wouldn't necessary class myself as "old", I can certainly relate to this.  Recovery time after a late night or hard physical activity seems to take longer these days than it used to when I was younger.  Does that sound familiar?
The key thing here though is to be able to identify these low battery warning signs. They are likely to be different in each of us but they generally fall into three categories;
Tireness, headaches, weight loss, weight gain
Withdrawing from friends or work colleagues, not replying to emails, loss of concentration, forgetful, frantic activity when we can  end up rushing around being very "busy" but not necessarily productive;  headless chicken scenario.
Irritability, tearful, heightened sensitivity and losing our sense of humour.
So take some time to work our your own low battery warning sign and if you're struggling, ask someone close to you as sometimes others can spot the signs that we need a battery recharge before we can.

Tip 2 tomorrow...

Monday, 17 November 2014

10 Top Relaxation Tips

I have been reading a brilliant article by Stress Guru, David Algeo on RobertsonCooper website which gives some fabulous tips on managing stress and the need for us to find ways to rest, relax and re-charge.

The days are feeling shorter, darker and quite possibly wetter and colder too, so what better excuse to hibernate in an evening, relax by a roaring fire, maybe watch a film, chill out, snuggle up under a woolly blanket, play family board games and drink mugs of scrummy hot chocolate....bliss!  Rest, relax and re-charge!

However, from conversations with friends I know that's not how we're all feeling at the moment.  Christmas is on the horizon and depending on how we feel about the festive season, we could be feeling excited, finger paused over the play button of our favourite Christmas tunes and itching to get our tree up and decorated.  On the other hand we may be feeling the pressure of end of year deadlines at work, worrying about catering for big family gatherings, buying the perfect presents, wanting to catch up with friends to celebrate, trying to balance home and work life and fit children's Christmas productions, carol concerts, parties, visits to santa into an already busy calendar....and ending up feeling pretty frazzled!

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas but that doesn't mean I don't feel stressed and anxious at times which is why I'm very keen to share these Top 10 Relaxation Tips with you.

So as a little pre-Christmas gift from Work Smart Work Savvy, I'll be sharing a tip a day over the next two weeks meaning that come December, we'll have 10 fantastic strategies for staying calm and relaxed not just over the festive season but for us to try and practice and incorporate into our busy lives.

Tip 1 coming tomorrow...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Why we should only work a four day week.

It's Monday, and as Monday's go it's not a bad one.  Soft, fresh blue sky, hazy sunshine and gloriously colourful autumnal leaves on the trees and carpeting the path as I dropped the children off at school.  Another new week has started.

However, whilst conducting some research for a forthcoming wellbeing event, an article in The NewStateman laying out a compelling case for a four day working week caught my eye.

More than 6 million people in the UK work more than 45 hours a week (ONS) whereas many others are struggling as they don't have enough work.  

Unfortunately many work places have a culture of long hours where it's a badge of honour to be the last one to leave, where colleagues will greet you with a sarcastic "morning" if you arrive on time rather than early and an "oh you're off are you?" if you dare to leave at 5pm.  Sound familiar? 

I've certainly worked in this type of long hour environment in the past but is it productive?  Possibly it is in the short term in an all hands on deck approach to get a particular piece of work completed responding to a business need.  But what about in the long term?

Larry Page Google CEO, has spoken out against this long hour culture.  He argues that the key to greater productivity and continually getting the most out of staff in the long run is actually working fewer hours.  This is a view echoed by Anna Thomas who promotes the idea of a shorter working week in her blog Equilibrium.  It's very easy to fall into the trap of  getting so busy making a living that we forget to make a life.  

So what are the benefits of a four day week?  Here's my top 7...

1. The number of people unemployed could be reduced.

2. Stress related illnesses could be reduced which are the cause of most work absences in the UK.

3. The nation's health in general would improve as we'd have more time for rest, relaxation and exercise.

4. We'd have more time for actually living.  I don't know about you but I tend to find that at least one day of the weekend is generally taken up with jobs and by this I mean, jobs that get us ready for the next week such as washing, cleaning, shopping and homework supervising.  Sometimes these mundane chores seep into two days of the precious weekend and this doesn't even take in time of any other ad-hoc tasks like DIY or gardening to name a couple.

We could use the extra day each week for fun family time, creative activities, catching up with friends, simply messing about with our children, learning something new, engaging in our hobbies, exercising....Surely this is what making a life is all about.

5. We can create stronger communities. We would have the time and energy to devote to our local area an people.  Communities where we can support each other and share caring responsibilities.

6. We can work more productively.  It has been proven that people who work shorter hours get more done per hour so it's not a simple equation of throwing more hours at a task to get the best result.

7. We can be more creative and innovative.  Exhaustion really stifles our creative side but with a shorter working week we'd have more energy to be creative.  We'd have the headspace to to able to think of new ideas, inventions and innovations.

Obviously there are plenty of people who will argue against this but I'm not going to muddy our Monday with those and I'm just going to indulge solely in the benefits today.

How would you use your extra no work day?

Friday, 7 November 2014

It's Friday

Do something this weekend that makes you feel like this!

Sometimes we can be so busy doing stuff that we forget to take some time out and relax and have fun.  

I have talked about the benefits of laughter before on my Friday post but according to Stress Expert, Elizabeth Scott M.S, recent studies have shown that healthy children may laugh as much as 400 times per day, but us adults tend to laugh only 15 times per day!  

I don't know about you, but to me that sounds shocking.  Us adults need to up our laughter quota and I suggest we start it right away....go's Friday!

Happy weekend

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Taking your to do list from daunting to do-able

Recently we have looked at the benefits of and tips for mind mapping and list writing but we've not quite finished with this topic just yet, oh no, there is more...

So if you've brain stormed your ideas into a mind map or made a list of things you feel you have to get done, hopefully you're now feeling ready and motivated to get started and tick something you go!

But what if the feeling isn't one of eagerness to get going but m
ore one of "now I've written it down there's just so much to get done, I'll never get through it".  It's a list of things to do taunting you from the page, turning any scraps of motivation you had into a feeling of panic and anxiety.

So how can we manage our to do lists and make them,

Gini Trapani of Life Hacker suggests that there are two personalities involved in a to do list; 

your boss personality who is in charge of what instructions go on the list and
your personal assistant personality who is going to be actioning those tasks. 

Trapani reasons that if you write your to do list as if it's instructions directing someone else then you're less likely to be woolly and vague and more likely to create a list of clear, concise, do-able tasks ready to be actioned.

If your to do list is a mile long and you're feeling overwhelmed, have a look through my "daunting to do-able checklist".

Only put tasks on your to do list, not projects
David Allen, author of Getting Things Done clarifies "projects are not tasks; projects are collections of tasks".  For the sake of our to do lists, projects need to be broken down into tasks so that we only include items on our list which we're definitely going to do.  This also throws up the need to differentiate between plans and tasks.  Personally I plan at some point in the not too distant future to revamp the website for another venture I'm working on.  It's definitely something that needs to be done but it's a project not a task.  My boss personality needs to give this some more thought before I can give a specific task for my personal assistant personality to action.  It's a future project of mine that I have every intention of actually doing but at the moment it doesn't have any business being part of my to do list.  I do however have an "ideas book" where I freely jot down ideas, plans, blue sky thinking items but the difference here is that I'm not clogging up my to do list with these items.

Like me, you may well have grand plans like thinking I need to give the house a jolly good sort out.  However, writing "clear out the house" in my boss personality on my to do list may very well make sense to me at that point and I understand my rationale and aim, but for my personal assistant personality reading this later on it's very vague, it's huge and there's no actual task.  It would need to be broken down into specific tasks like "clear out the children's art draw to make space for their new arty birthday presents". This task has a start and finish point and a goal to achieve meaning I would get the satisfaction of knowing when I've finished the task.

Separate work and personal to dos
Not only is it a good idea to try and keep some separation between work and personal life for our own worklife balance but combining the two onto one list is surely going to create a rather long, unwieldy and possibly quite confusing list.  By all means have two lists and put both lists through this checklist but for the sake of your wellbeing and clarity of mind, keep them apart.

Add the needed details to complete the task
By adding the details needed to complete the task you're making this item on your to do list easier and most likely quicker to do.  So rather than  putting "phone dentist" on your to do list, try "phone dentist (01234 567891) to re-arrange check up appointment from 7th November to end of month".  It's all there, ready to do and ready to tick off.  Your Personal Assistant personality can get straight on with this task.

Use definite active verbs
Using active verbs tend to demand an action when on a to do list rather than hinting at what needs to be done.  "Print off a list of local personal trainers" is more specific and directional  and demands action than "have a look for a personal trainer".  "Email Julie in accounts for this week's sales figures" is more active enticing than "sort out sales figures".  "Find a new hairdresser" is vague but "text Kerry to ask which hairdresser she uses" is action ready.

Prioritise your tasks
Many to do list fans use Urgent and Important as a way of sorting out their to do list tasks into different prioritises categorising the tasks into one of the following criteria; Urgent and Important, Urgent but Not Important, No Urgent but Important, No Urgent and No Important.  Personally for me this crosses the bridge into being too complicated but if it floats your boat then go for it.  I tend to use a less scientific method of circling the tasks on my to do list I deem to have a high priority, two or more scribbled circles around a task means it's even more important or urgent!  It works for me.

Another idea favoured by some is the 1-3-5 method.  Look at your list and identify 1 large task, 3 medium sized tasks and then 5 little tasks which you feel are do-able in the time you have.  Be realistic.  You may need to play around with these ratios to suit your type of work.  The idea being that we can do anything but not everything.  Depending on how we work, we may favour tackling the biggie first so we've got a potentially difficult task under our belt first off. Or we might prefer to get the 5 smaller, quicker tasks in the bag first so we can tick off a higher number of items.  It's a case of trying it and seeing if it works for you.

Keep your list short
In the world of to do lists various numbers are battered around about the maximum number of tasks that should make up a good to do list.  Personally I don't really buy into a specific number because I think it depends on the type of tasks on your list.  We've talked about ensuring items on your to do list are tasks and not projects but still some tasks are bigger than others and will take longer to complete. Therefore we may still feel quite comfortable with a longish list if it contains numerous small, quick win tasks which we can whiz through and tick off.

So a rule of thumb, if it feels overwhelming then you've probably got too much on your list and you might want to see if you can delegate any tasks. Also ask yourself if there and any projects, ideas, aspirations or future plans that have sneaked on to your to do list trying to disguise themselves as tasks that need to be captured else where?

Weed out and update your list
Regularly making time to review your to do list focuses your attention and energies on the tasks and gives you the chance to clear out any tasks that have become unnecessary now.  Get rid of any dead wood and add in new tasks that have either cropped up or that are specific tasks from larger projects.

Celebrate your successes and achievements
We spend a lot of time focusing on what we haven't done yet and still have to do and quite often forget about all the fabulous things we've actually achieved and accomplished.  Prove to yourself how much you've done by moving completed items and tasks from your to do list to a "I've done it list".  Not only does this have a really great feel good factor which can motivate us to keep going but it's a very practical thing to do to.  We can use this as evidence to show our manager what we've achieved and how we've used our time as things can go unnoticed or get lost in a busy work environment.  It will also provide evidence of our achievements for appraisal purposes.  This is especially effective if we try and do this regularly.  It can be pretty tough trying to think back to what we did last February and still do ourselves justice without forgetting or missing something.

I'd love to hear your tips on making your to do list, do-able.  What works for you?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Friday Fun

It's Friday and the weekend is almost upon, so here's a little Friday Fun for you...

Are you singing now?  Did you re-read it using your best Elton John and Kiki Dee voices?......OK just me then...moving swiftly on.....

This reminded me of an article I read recently in the newspaper about questions put to couples who were 100 years old asking for their healthy relationships tips.  

Holiday Retirement  conducted a study of 68 centenarians asking them to name the most important factor for a successful marriage and nearly a third stated the importance of making a stronger effort to communicate.

The other tips were...

22% - say "I love you" more often
22% - spend more time together
6% - spend less time together
3% - be more kind

It may be a step too far to say "I love you" to your work colleagues and probably highly inappropriate to say it to your boss....but we can probably think of times when better communication would have got better results whether we are on the giving or receiving side of the communication.  I know I can certainly think of a few times.  

Unfortunately we have very little say in how others communicate to us, however we can certainly try to ensure our outward communication is as good as possible and just maybe, our good practice might rub off on others.  A kind of good communication chain reaction!

So thought for the day; maybe we could try to ask ourselves three things before speaking...

Is it helpful? 
Is it kind? 
Does it need saying?

Have a good weekend and if a full English breakfast is your weekend treat, enjoy your bacon and eggs!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Time Boxing Unwrapped

Time Boxing is really just about time management. However if you're anything like me and hate formal  time management tools but you want help with how to focus on the important things, then maybe this approach will work for you.

Time boxing is worth a try if you are

A Procrastinator  - not being able to start  until everything else is done and  you can give the task your full attention. I can identify strongly with this, tell tale signs will be me tidying my desk and cleaning surfaces, or basically anything else I can think of that puts off the task a bit longer.

Reluctant or really not that interested in the task. If this is the case asking yourself if you still need to do this or could it it be delegated to some-one else. If the answer is "yes I do need to do this and it is my responsibility", then time boxing is going to be really useful.

A Perfectionist- you find it difficult to know when to stop and keep amending and trying to perfect your work....the consequence of this may be that everything is open ended and  tasks are rarely completed. Sometimes we may feel under confident that our work will be accepted and  valued. This may also mean  that we are reluctant to be open to criticism even if it is constructive. 

Time Boxing Unwrapped
Chunk up the task into definite stages ...but be clear what each stage is and realistic about what you want to achieve in the allotted time.

Step 1 Clear your desk of everything you will not need for the task, divert calls block the time out in you diary. Put up a do not disturb sign.

Step 2 Set your timer, it is important to know when time is up as that's it...... If it is  a task that has to be completed to a deadline then Time Boxing will not work if you schedule up to the wire . Remember you may need more than one session to complete.  There is no guarantee the task will be finished but the important thing is to get the task started and schedule another time block later if it needs more time. Obviously the more complex the task the longer it will generally take. It's beneficial to concentrate for shorter periods of time, with practice you will find your optimum concentration time. Personally I like to work in 40 min slots for most day to day tasks. Practice has shown me how long I can realistically spend on any task before I become unproductive.

Step 3 When the alarm rings finish there and stop working. I always think of The Great British Bake Off at this point .........put that piping bag down and move away from your buns! Time is up.  Even if the task isn't fully completed chances are you would have at least made progress and have a  good return on your investment in  time.  This strategy also works when you have  to give progress reports to your line manager and shows exactly how you are spending your time.

Did I Time Box this blog? 
Yes .......30 minutes to mind map 40 minutes to write. Job done! 

Friday, 17 October 2014

It's nearly the weekend!

I found this recently and thought I'd share it as it made me chuckle and sometimes a giggle is exactly what we need isn't it?
So why do many scientists, doctors and psychologists believe in the medicinal powers of a proper good belly laugh?

Well here are a few suggestions:
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins which are also know as our body's natural "feel good chemical".  This can give us an overall feeling of well-being.
  • Laughter decreases our stress hormones and increases our immune cells.
  • Laughter relieves stress and physical tension in our muscles helping us to feel more relaxed. 
Now I don't know if this picture produced a proper good belly laugh in you enough for you to get the benefits above......but hopefully it put a smile on your face, gave you something to share with colleagues and friends and was a little pre-weekend light relief.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Mind Mapping Unmasked

It's interesting that Richard Branson states that one of his top ten tips for success is making lists which Lisa commented on in her post  Lists are the Tools of the Successful,  but for me making a mind map is a crucial first stage of the process for without it, a list will be, well just a set of things to do in linear form.
If you are trying to make sense of thoughts that whir  around your head when you embark on a new project, just giving yourself the freedom of putting your thoughts down on paper without worrying where they fit, fuels the creative process.

Here's my top 6 tips for getting started...

Step 1 Relax
If you can, take yourself away from the PC and  find a spot where you can spread out without someone looking over your shoulder. Set the scene, put some inspiring music on and have a stretch. 

Step 2 Time Box this activity
Which basically means give yourself a defined amount of time to complete it.  Set your alarm and go for it.  Don't worry I'll tell you more Time Boxing soon.

Step 3 Prepare your Toolkit
Experience has shown me that however big the paper is, it will be filled, so probably flip chart size is the max you will need. Now's also the time to get your coloured pens out for adding definition and emphasis. Allow yourself to draw even if you think you can't ......remember no-one's looking over your shoulder.

Step 4 Be specific
Start in the middle and write down specifically what you want to mind map. Draw 4 arrows radiating out ready for your thoughts.

Step 5  Get those thoughts down
It works like magic ...once you have 3 or 4 thoughts down the next ones will come thick and fast. You will see instantly where they belong  then link them with an arrow and /or a different pen colour. Be creative doesn't matter how curved  your arrows are as long as YOU can see which thoughts link together.  It doesn't matter how neat it looks.  

Step 6 Step Away
Remember you are time boxing this activity. After the allotted time, have a cuppa, you can highlight anything that needs actioning very quickly and then refer back to Lisa's bit for more on the benefits of list making.

I forgot to mention, you can get some nifty software packages to do the same if you just like to sit at your PC (see link below) ...................but really where's the fun in that?

Let me know how you get on.
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