Friday, 20 November 2015

WSWS Friday Download - Does having a nice place to work really make a difference?

This is my workspace.  It isn't big or flash but it has natural light and a noticeboard full of pretty things which suits me down to the ground.
We've probably all seen photos of Google's offices around the world with their wacky tube slides, swing seats and giant bean bag cushions not to mention the 1960s caravan, surfboards, ball pits and the indoor crazy golf.  If you haven't then take a look at this gallery.  It looks amazing but is it a gimmick or are there real benefits to be reaped in terms of motivation, engagement, productivity and physical and mental well-being?

My husband, a software developer who normally works inside, always had a dream to have the opportunity to work outside.  Others would pooh-pooh the idea saying it's too hard, too uncomfortable, you can't seen the screen and you can't get a good internet connection.  He does it, depending on the work he's doing and it works fine.  He's fortunate enough to have a large garden at his place of work  where he can indulge in this outdoor dream and likewise on the days he works from home, if the sun's out and it's warm enough, he'll take his laptop into our garden.  He always says that he feels a million times better for it and that has to be a good thing.

In my previous place we moved into an old Victorian building.  I love old, I live in an old Victorian house and embrace the drafts, uneven floors and other quirks but this place just wasn't right for the work we were doing in adult mental health.  It felt institutionalised, the magnolia d├ęcor was was bland and uninspiring, it was either too hot or too cold and the meeting rooms were like cells and the offices were soul less.  Meeting with people who were feeling very low, anxious and lacking in self esteem in these windowless uninspiring boxes was in fact was rather depressing for both the client and the employee.   Unfortunately, I saw the negative impact this unstimulating environment had on myself, my colleagues and clients.

The workplace environment needs to be in harmony with the purpose it's being used for. 

Director of strategy and business transformation, Helen Nicol, at creative consultancy SoVibrant echoes this, 

“Open plan used to be all the rage, but this often had absolutely no bearing on what employees did, so people hated it,” she explains. “Making the working environment somewhere that supports what employees need to do, and makes them feel cared for, will make them happier and more productive.”

Natural light is one of my must haves when it comes to working and my desk (pictured above) is positioned by both a window and a skylight.  Without any natural light I feel the day has no shape.

The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace, published in March 2015, (carried out by Interface and Robertson Cooper) found that incorporating natural elements into office design increased workers' well-being by 15%, productivity by 6% and creativity by 15%.
Final words on the subject goes to Geoff Dutaillis, group head of sustainability at Lend Lease,

 “Whatever business you are in, you are in the business of people. How a building ‘works for people’ should be the priority question.”

Here is the Friday Download article round up on the subject of the impact the workplace can have on motivation, engagement well-being and productivity...

I've written about this topic before in my Workplace Most Wanted post.

The office that combats mental and physical stress.

Can the workplace motivate staff?

Could an office dog help your staff relax?

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

4 steps to take if you think you're being bullied at work

This week is National Anti-bullying Week and to mark the event my daughters' primary school held a Friendship Cafe yesterday.  For 50p the children had the chance to visit the cafe, buy a drink and a cake and have the opportunity to mix with children they might not normally do so such as younger or older children in the school.  

The photo above is the friendship chain drawn by my youngest in Year 1 who explained to me that these are the people she could talk to if she felt she was being bullied at school;  Mum, teacher, sister or a Year 6 playground play coordinator.  Just for the record, I have never done the school run in a crop top with my bully button on show ans certainly don't plan to start doing any time soon either!

But bullying isn't just a classroom issue, it happens in the workplace as well.

During my time working for the mental health charity Richmond Fellowship, I worked with 100s of employees and have seen first hand the damage bullying can do.  

So here are my top 4 steps to take if you think you're being bullied at work...

1. Is it bullying?
We may find ourselves  in a situation where we don't like the way we feel we're being treated at work but we're not sure if it constitutes bullying or harassment.  When it's happening to you it can be all consuming and can be difficult to look at it objectively when we're feeling hurt, angry, confused or scarred.  Bullies can be very devious making you doubt your story or telling you others won't believe you and intimidating you into silence.

Acas  the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service which provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law states:

"Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work." ACAS

Harassment as defined in the Equality Act 2010 is: 
Unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. (ACAS)

Bullying may be characterised as: 
Offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. (ACAS)

More information and further examples of what constitutes bullying can be found in the ACAS Bullying and Harassment at work guide.

2. Talk it through
My advice would be to start by talking through the situation whit someone you trust.  Having to actually articulate what's happening will help you to order your thoughts and create some clarity of the facts involved.

Now this one's tricky but if you can, try and arrange an information chat with the person who is treating you in a way you feel constitutes bullying.  Quite often bullies back down when confronted in a calm and in control manner. 

For tips on what to say and how to say it in a non confrontational way have a look at this post from Hannah Fox's Diary about Fact Feel Want

If talking to the bully is just too much for you or not practical then try and share how you feel with your manager or another trusted senior member of staff.

After every conversation, always document the chat including any agreements or actions agreed.

3. Keep a diary
Make a note of every inappropriate conversation; what was said, how it was said, how you felt, date and time, names of any witnesses.

Keep copies of any emails or voice-mails which are evidence to the bullying behaviour.

Also keep anything that contradicts the actions of the bully.  If the bully is implying you aren't doing your job properly then keep a nopte of all positive feedback from clients and colleagues, objectives and targets you've met and the time you've gone the extra mile.  This is your evidence and will be vital if you need to take further more formal action.

4.  Taking formal action 
The first step to taking more formal action is to raise a grievance.  Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassing behaviour and therefore your employer will have a formal grievance procedure so check out your staff intranet or handbook or speak with your HR department for details.

The grievance procedure will give you guidance on what to include, who to send it to and the time frame around when you will hear back from the investigation.  ACAS also has more information about Grievances which you can find here.

I'm sure other schools are also organising similar anti-bullying, kindness and tolerance promoting activities as my daughters'school Friendship Cafe and this can surely only be a good thing.  I'm not naive enough to think it will eradicate bullying totally but explaining, promoting an encouraging friendship, kindness, respect and tolerance in children is definitely laying some very solid and worthwhile foundation stones for future healthier, happier and more tolerant workplaces.

Friday, 13 November 2015

WSWS Friday Download - Mental Wellbeing - 13th November 2015

There is much talk today in the news about mental health budget cuts putting services under huge pressure and potentially putting lives at risk. 

Mental health cuts put lives at risk - BBC News
Mental health cuts putting services under huge pressure - The Guardian

So what can we do to look after our own mental well-being?

As a trainer focusing on mental well-being in the workplace, I talk a lot about stress levels and how to release that stress in a healthy way.  

We all have a stress capacity, it varies from one of us to another.  I like to think of this as a bucket; our own stress bucket.  Some of us have bigger buckets than others and for some of us, our buckets are already pretty heavy carrying a lot of stress and nearing capacity.  

Although we can take some steps to limit stress, unfortunately we can't always control the amount of stress coming into our bucket.  If at any time, the level of stress in our bucket is quite low, we can often absorb more pressure and kind of carry on for the time being.  However' if our bucket is already very full almost to the brim and one extra stress comes our way, it can cause our stress bucket to overflow.  It might not be a big thing that causes this and could well be something that if our bucket wasn't as full we'd have dealt with it without another thought but in this case it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

So although we can't always control what comes into our bucket, we can take control and responsibility for fitting a "stress release tap" to the bottom of our bucket by taking part in stress relieving activities such as physical exercise, chatting with a friend, engaging in a hobby.  Activities that can take your mind of the stresses and help you relax.

The benefits of gardening for physical and mental well-being have long been documented but with the rise in urban living, a new study by the universities of Westminster and Essex has focused on the benefits of allotment gardening.   

"Those who had worked in their allotments at least once a week had lower levels of fatigue, depression, tension and anger - and had higher self-esteem and better general health - than those who had done no gardening at all."
Allotment gardening can boost mental well-being according to study - BBC News

If gardening isn't you thing, how about singing?  Especially singing in a choir which has  the additional social aspect to it.

"But singing in a choir is more than just a bit of fun. It's been scientifically proven that it is good for your health: from getting more oxygen into the blood, to increasing the flow of feelgood hormones and improving mental health."
Can singing in a choir make you healthier - BBC iWonder

What do you do to empty your stress bucket?

Monday, 9 November 2015

Well-being event at Swindon College - October 2015

At the end of last month I was invited to attend a Staff Well-being Event at Swindon College. As I had attended this brilliant event last year, I had high hopes for another good day and I certainly wasn't disappointed.

At last year's event I had a nautical theme to my stand with boats, waves and seashells.  This year to mark the start of autumn, I created a tree that, although it had already lost its leaves, was by no means empty....

The Work Smart Work Savvy Cup of Tea Advice Tree

The idea with the Cup of Tea Advice Tree is that 

  • you take a cup of tea with your chosen piece of advice or motivational quote from the tree, along with a herbal infusion teabag
  • then once back at your desk, you stick you cup of tea on your wall or pin board and brew your tea
  • whilst enjoying your cuppa, take a few minutes to think about how you're going to follow, live by or implement your piece of advice

Some lovely college people very kindly spent time writing their own advice or saying on a cup of tea to add back to the tree which was fabulous, thank you.  However as we were doing this on a Friday afternoon I was happy for people to just take, it was the end of the week after all.

I also showcased the very new Work Smart Work Savvy Box of Happiness.  I will share more on this another time but the idea here is that we can very easily fall into the trap of ruminating about what has happened in the past and worrying about what might happen in the future which in turns prevents us from spending time just enjoying the here and now.   The Box of Happiness is a little treat to help us appreciate what we have and increase our feeling of happiness.

I also had sneaky peeps at two of my on-line products; 

  • the on-line training course 4 Savvy Steps To Getting More Done Without Working More Hours 
  • the on-line Make It Happen Tool
Details of both of these can be found in my on-line shop; Make It Happen Tool here and 4 Savvy Steps To Getting More Done here.

Thank you to everyone who popped by for a chat, it was really lovely to meet you all.

Here are just a few of the pieces of advice the lovely people at Swindon College chose to take away with them....lots of wise words.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Monday, 19 October 2015

5 Questions to ask yourself to ensure a productive meeting with your manager

I'm hazarding a guess here that we probably all know what a bad meeting feels like...pointless, drawn out, direction-less and a waste of time!

When I first moved from working in the private sector into the voluntary section it was quite a culture shock.  I found lots of things different but for me one of the most glaringly obvious differences was the approach to having meetings.  Meetings were always long affairs and I mean loooooong!  Regardless of what or how many items there were on the agenda (which coincidently wasn't followed) the meeting would be several hours! Everyone would arrive and kind of sit back and settle in for the day with a cuppa.  Thankfully things did become much slicker, more business like productive and efficient, phew!

Meetings are expensive and time together precious so we need to make meeting time with our manager as effective as possible which is why I have put together these 5 questions to ask yourself...

5 Questions to ask yourself to ensure a productive meeting with your manager

1. Do I have everything prepared for the meeting?
Whether it is reporting back on progress, case load updates, monthly sales figures, productivity stats or offering new ideas and innovations, prepare the date your manager is expecting to see.  This not only shows that you are in control and on top of things but also that you are aware that time is precious and have a grip on what's needed.

2. What do I need from the meeting?
You've provided your manager with what's expected but you also need to focus on what you need from the meeting.  Good meetings should be a two way process, working together so play your part rather than risk it becoming one sided.  What questions do you need answers to?  What aspects of your work / performance do you need clarity on?  Do you need the go ahead, approval  or sign off permission?
Write it down beforehand as a reminder.  If there is no agenda for the meeting this will provide the focus and keep the meeting productive and on the track you want it to be on.

3. Am I sure I know what my manager needs from me?
Make sure you're clear on what's expected of you before leaving the meeting.  Ask the questions you need to get the direction, shared vision and clarity you need.

4. Am I running to schedule?
An agenda really helps with keeping within the time restraints of the meeting and keeping on subject.  If a certain item is taking more time than originally thought, having an agenda means you can look at what else is planned for discussion and re-prioritise as appropriate.

5. Do I have a clear action plan and time frame?
Either after each topic or at the end of the meeting carry out a little run-down, keep it snappy and to the point but go through each item to check mutual understanding and agreement.  Do you know what you are responsible for and when you are expected to have it completed.

Those of you who have followed my feature "Hannah Fox's Diary" will know that Hannah had a tricky meeting with her manager which didn't go brilliantly at first but with some careful preparation she managed to pull it around.  I have put links to the 3 posts I'm referring to below but if you aren't familiar with the Work Smart Work Savvy mini soap opera then you can click on the Hannah Fox tab above and read them all.

Hannah Foxs Diary - How not to have a meeting 16th April 2015

Hannah Foxs Diary Fact feel want 23rd April 2015

Hannah Foxs Diary - The big meeting 28th May 2015

Happy meetings!

Friday, 16 October 2015

WSWS Friday Download - Change - 16th October 2015

From a nature point of view, autumn is my favourite season.  I love other seasons for what happens in them such as going on holiday in summer but for sheer beauty autumn is my winner.

I find I'm more aware of changes in the seasons at this time of year as summer closes and autumn arrives in a burst of colour.  The changes by be further on in your area but I took this photo earlier this week in my local Old Town Gardens and the leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn hinting at the riot of colours soon to be on display.  I for one, can't wait.

It's a change I'm happy to embrace which is a good thing really as I can't stop it or prevent it.  I love the hazy orangey glow of the sun lower in the sky, the glorious colours of nature, the log delivery for our open fire, wrapping up in cosy hats, scarves and gloves and being outside and seeing your breath.

However, not all change is as easy to embrace and at times change can present us with some real struggles so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on change and look back at some posts on this subject in this Friday Download.

I wrote about change last month with the start of the new school term and the changes and challenges this brought.  You can click below to see the article.

8 Tips For Dealing With Change At Work

Change that has been forced upon us in particular can be difficult to deal with but theses 3 tips for developing resilience, the ability to bounce back after adversity can help.  You can see more on this by clicking on the link below.

3 Tips For Developing Resilience

Change has also been the topic of the Midweek Motivation several times with these 3 being my favourites.

Midweek Motivation - 20th May 2015

Midweek Motivation - 19th November 2014

Midweek Motivation - 15th October 2014

Happy Friday

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Why keeping connected is good for you.

Do you ever find that sometimes connections with friends drift?  The text messages become less frequent, the phone calls slowly die out, the emails dry up and the catch up over coffee never quite seems to happen?  It wasn't the plan, it just kind of happened unconsciously and slipped under the radar.

This happened to me quite recently.  I hadn't been in touch with a friend of mine for over a year....I know!.  This wasn't a concious decision by either of us.  It was just one of those situations that drifted.  I wanted to get back in touch but I felt as it had been so long that it needed a long heart felt text, email, phone call explanation.  Therefore I felt I needed time to sit down and compose this and think about what to say.

I'm ashamed to say that in reality this didn't happen.  I planned to sit down and make the call, write the text but then something cropped up and as I'd built this task in my head to be something big, I felt I couldn't just slot it in to a quick spare minute.  

I felt it warranted more than a "sorry I haven't been in touch for ages, how are you?"

But I was wrong.  How can saying nothing, to someone I consider a friend, someone I have shared some great fun times with and someone I care about, be better than a quick friendly one minute text?  Answer:  it can't!

Thankfully this story does have a happy ending and my friend and I are back in touch, yippee!  She had been feeling the same as me, wanting to get in contact but thinking a "hello how are you?" wasn't enough after such a long time.  In fact the lengthy of time out of contact grew even longer as we'd created another barrier to getting back in touch!  Madness! We have promised not to leave it so long again and so far we've been true to our word.

Connection and building positive relationships is so important to our mental well-being.  It has been evidenced in the UK Government Foresight Report, Mental Capital and Wellbeing (2008)  that people with strong social relationships with a variety of people are happier, healthier and live longer.  The NHS list "connection" as one of their 5 steps to mental wellbeing based on the Foresight Report.

Close positive relationships with our family and friends provide love and support, a sense of security and the opportunity to learn from each other and support each other giving us a strong sense of purpose and self worth.  Wider connections in our community can give us a sense of belonging where we can share activities and experiences.

In the book Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth (Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R) the connection between positive relationships and happiness is highlighter as being a two way thing; not only do relationships make us happier but also happy people tend to have more and better quality relationships.  Now that sounds like a win win situation!

So there you go, just do it, get in touch, even if it's been ages.  And yes a "sorry I haven't been in touch for ages, how are you?" is good enough and far better than doing nothing!

Friday, 9 October 2015

WSWS Friday Download - World Mental Health Day 2015 - Dignity

We all have mental health just like we all have physical health.  Sometimes our mental health is fine and sometimes it's not.  And that's OK.

However what I find not OK though is the damaging attitudes and stigma which exists in some people which is preventing some people from seeking help when they need it most.

It is estimated that only about a quarter of people with a mental health problem in the UK receive ongoing treatment, leaving the majority of people grappling with mental health issues on their own, seeking help or information, and dependent on the informal support of family, friends or colleagues.
With 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children likely to have a mental health problem in any given year, that adds up to a lot of people.  The World Foundation for Mental Health estimate over 450 million people globally experience mental disorders each year.  Stigma and discrimination are huge barriers preventing many of these people from accessing the care they need.

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day and this year's theme is dignity.  The World Foundation for Mental Health (WFMH) have chosen dignity as their theme because as they say, "every human interaction holds the potential to be a dignity encounter and this can either be positive or negative".  Although many people have had positive experiences, sadly the  WFMH share that the majority describe their encounters as negative.

They are calling on "every member of society to work together and make mental health visible and not something to be ashamed of".

Symptoms are not a barrier to recovery, but attitude is... 

Below are some links which you might find interesting...

These brilliant illustrations have been created by Haejin Park for BuzzFeed and you can see more here.
Physical Health

Mental Health
The Mental Health Foundation website has a downloadable poster which they are using to confront stigma with facts which you can find here.

Time to Change is a campaign running to end mental health discrimination and the site contains lots of real life stories which you can read here.

Friday, 2 October 2015

WSWS Friday Download - Smiling

Today's Friday Download just happens to clash with World Smile Day and I can't think of a better subject to end the week with than smiling...say cheese!

Evie, my youngest daughter and I in Cornwall this summer.  Sunny days on the beach always makes us smile!

American, commercial artist, Harvey Ball created the smiley face in 1963 which quickly become a symbol of good will and good cheer and was used widely across the globe.  However, as the years passed Harvery became worried that the original message associated with the smiley was getting lost due to over commercialisation of the symbol.

"Out of that concern came his idea for World Smile Day®. He thought that we, all of us, should devote one day each year to smiles and kind acts throughout the world. The smiley face knows no politics, no geography and no religion. Harvey’s idea was that for at least one day each year, neither should we. He declared that the first Friday in October each year would henceforth be World Smile Day®. Ever since that first World Smile Day® held in 1999, it has continued every year in Smiley's hometown of Worcester, MA and around the world."   (

I love the World Smile Day motto "Do an act of kindness.  Help one person smile!"  Surely that's worth a try.  

What's more, smiling is officially good for us as smiling immediately releases endorphins and it is these endorphins which relieves stress and lowers anxiety.  Although it's not easy, smiling during stressful situations can have a calming effect as studies have shown that smiling can help slow our heart rate which generally increases when we feel stressed and relaxes our body.  

Have a look at these articles packed full of more health benefits of smiling... 

Who can resist a baby smile?  Not many people are immune to the charms of those  toothless, slightly dribbled early smiles. Many a new parent , myself included, have spent hours trying to draw out that very first baby smile and then even longer trying to re-create it and capture it on camera.  It's such a special smile and one to be treasured forever.

Although I knew exactly the photos I was looking for for my daughters above as they are the sort of images that become etched in a parents brain, I became lost in browsing through other smiley photos enjoying the happy memories.  It was like a big smile hunt and what a fantastic way to loose half an hour (and the rest) and what a boost to my overall feeling of well-being and happiness.  I highly recommend it.

These are just a few of the Sister Smiles I found whilst on my smile hunt through my phone photos.

Our very own Work Smart Work Savvy Midweek Motivation has touched on the subject of smiling and happiness on several occasions but here are the best ones...

And my personal favourite...

Back in March of this year I wrote an article about the International Day of Happiness co-ordinated by Action for Happiness which you can find by clicking here.  It's smile packed with tips about happier living and some rather smiley cakes!

What makes you smile?  Is it a certain song, a particular friend that always has you in stitches, a pet, a favourite TV programme, a hobby you love, being outside, family time...?Here are just a few of the things that have made my girls and I smile recently...

Lastly a smile is contagious so let's make it our mission to spread smiles around the area we live and see how many smiles we get back.  So go on, smile at a stranger, you just may very well make their day.   I'd love to hear what response you get.

Finally, I'm not making any apologies for the number of smiling Monis girls in this post, I know it's self indulgent but these smiling faces never fail to make me smile not matter what!  Happy smiling!

Monday, 28 September 2015

Guilt free "me time" - and why you need it right now

The picture above is of the inside cover of a book I borrowed from the library last week.  On Mondays after school and in amongst my daughters' ballet classes, tap classes and Brownies, the three of us fit in a half hour visit to the library. Although this library visit is mostly focused around the children's section, I do sometimes manage to grab a book or two from the display shelves right by the entrance door whilst following my two speeding book worms.

The inside cover of this particular book from the Fast Back section came with it's own set of instructions.  The first 4 instructions are explaining the rules of borrowing a Fast Back book, basically you have one week and then your time is up.  But the last instruction made me stop and smile...

"All those jobs you hate doing should be left whilst you enjoy the book!"

Firstly, as I've said many a time before, I love a list so this appealed to me.  Secondly, and most importantly, this gave me permission to leave those grotty jobs I didn't really want to do.  By not doing these jobs I was simply following the instructions in the book, in fact I'd go as far as saying, that these instructions are the agreement of borrowing the book; the contract I was signing up to by scanning my library card and bringing this book home.  

So this library book not only looked like it would be a good read but it also came with an anti dusting permission slip as dusting is one of the grotty jobs I don't like doing...and so I didn't do it.  Simple as that!  The book instructions said I shouldn't and so being a good girl, I didn't!

A friend was round later that week and before I could stop myself I declared during our chat,  "Oh just look at the dust on top of the piano!  No don't look!"  Too late!  Thankfully she is a very good friend and certainly not one to think any less of me for having a dusty piano top.

So in addition to the addictive story and the anti dusting clause, this book gave me permission to take time for myself and to sit and read my book when normally I would have been filling my time with jobs, tasks and errands.

Yes some jobs didn't get done but the important ones still did.  Nobody suffered as a result of me reading more, in fact the spiders positively loved it building their webs wherever they liked undisturbed.  I love reading and always have a book on the go but this particular book was quite thick and therefore needed a concerted effort to get through it in a week.   So I made time in my week for reading this book knowing that I had a 7 day headline.  In fact this book made me make time like stopping for lunch and reading for 40 minutes when normally I wouldn't have stopped for that long.  I felt better, like I'd had a proper break, I was refreshed, revitalised with a new burst of energy ready to tackle my work again.

This article isn't about reading more (although I think that in itself is a great idea).  This is about making time for yourself to do something you enjoy.  Taking time out from the busyness; time to rest and relax and recharge your batteries.  Me time.

Would you feel guilty taking some "me time"?  Does "me time" sound selfish?  I admit to answering "yes" to both of these initially.  I thought about the jobs I should be doing, the emails I ought to answer and the un-ticked tasks on my to do list.   But why should I feel guilty?  If making some time to read a book I was hooked on gave me a break and stopped me becoming a frazzled, stressed out, exhausted, grumpy person who upset people, made poor decisions because I was too tired to think clearly, snapped at those around me and became ineffective and inefficient....then surely that has to be a good thing.

Think of it this way, in air safety announcements you are always instructed to put your oxygen mask on before helping others.  You must take care of your basic needs before helping others.  Skipping this and neglecting our own well-being will catch up with us, maybe not immediately but it will.  Looking after ourselves means we can then be more help to others and there's nothing selfish about that.

As a parent, do you insist your children get enough sleep and rest?  Do you ensure they have fun activities such as playdates and after school clubs and activities, their version of "me time"?

So I'm calling on you to do the same for yourself and to make it official, I'm giving you your very own Fast Back permission sheet.  It's right below, you just need to print it off and fill it in.

Click for Your very own Fast Back style permission sheet.

I'd love to hear what you decide to do so please let me know in the comments.

And one last thing, if you're still not convinced have a read of this article Take care of others by taking care of yourself first from

Friday, 25 September 2015

WSWS Friday Download - Work Life Balance - 25th September 2015

Welcome to the very first Work Smart Work Savvy Friday Download where I aim to share some interesting reads from around the web on a related subject kicking off with Work Life Balance...

This week has been National Work Life Week in the UK, an initiative set up by with the aim of helping employers in, "facilitating the well-being and work-life balance of your employees, so that they are engaged, motivated and productive at work."

Work Life Balance is a subject I've written about before on this blog.  In this post I ask you Six Questions to See If You Need to Make Some Small Adjustments to Your Choices to Realign Your Work Life Balance...before you explode from trying

In his article in Psychologies Magazine, writer Oliver Burkeman shares tips on how to set boundaries between work and life.  Read more here.

Jeen Cho, co-founder of JC Law Group PC in San Fransisco, suggests rather than thinking about Work Life Balance try striving for a Balanced Life. Read more here.

Finaally Nicola Slawson in The Gaurdian asks, Is your work life going down the toilet?  Read more here.

So there you have it, the very first Work Smart Work Savvy Friday Download.  I'd love to here you thoughts on the articles above or your tips on how you manage your Work Life Balance.

Same time, same place, next week.


Monday, 21 September 2015

What are you grateful for today?

According to my diary, today is World Gratitude Day and although I'm aware of the concept of gratitude,  I have to confess to not being aware of an actual day dedicated to this world wide.  I do however like the idea and was keen to know more. Hence started my research and although I'm not doubting its existence, my research has made me question how known this event day is world wide.

It appears that there are two areas laying claim to its creation; the people of Hawaii in 1965 and the United Nations Meditation Group in 1977.  However, I'm not put off by the haziness of the origins of World Gratitude Day.  I still believe that making time in our lives to appreciate what we have can make us feel happier and more content and thus have a positive impact on our mental well-being.

Yesterday I discovered a box of Roses chocolates tucked in the plant pot, behind the fir tree next to our front door.  There was no note and no clues as to who put it there.  Even though I don't know who the chocolates are from, why we've been given them and actually whether they were meant for us and have not been left there by mistake, it made us smile, if in a somewhat puzzled way.  Assuming we are the intended recipients, it's a very lovely, selfless gesture from someone, and one I'm hugely appreciative of.

In our busy and hectic lives our diaries and calendars are packed, our activities are timetabled and our heads bursting with things to remember  but making time to find a little calm and focus on the amazing things we have in our everyday experiences and interactions can be very beneficial to our overall sense of well-being.

Sporadically I keep a gratitude diary.  Nothing fancy, I just jot down 3-5 things I'm grateful for about that day.  Sometimes I jot down quite big and substantial items but more of the time it's little things that could quite easily have gone unnoticed.   I say sporadically because although not part of my plan, sometimes good habits slip, however, I have noticed that I have a more positive outlook when I do.

I ask my daughter either at teatime or bedtime story time "what was the best bit about today?"  Normally this leads to tales of playground games, a sticker they were awarded by their teacher, something one of their friends said that made them laugh.  Not once have they been unable to answer.  Now I appreciate that they don't necessarily have the same stresses and pressures that come with adult life, and that some days I admit that it takes a little more thinking and brain power to come up with my 5, but there is always something.  A mental health practitioner who used to run a Stress At Work training course with me said he starts with "I'm alive and breathing and have a house over my head", on the basis that he then only had to think of two others.

Why not give it a go.  Try and keep a Gratitude Diary for a week, jot down things that make you smile, that you appreciate and that you're grateful for and see what a difference it can make to your outlook.

Here's mine so far for today....

1.  Seeing my youngest daughter going off on a school trip holding her friend's hand and looking so happy after a few tears of anxiousness. 

2. Getting my run done this morning before the heavy rain set in!

Friday, 18 September 2015

How meditation helps England's top rugby players in the Rugby World Cup

Photo taken from
The Rugby World Cup kicks off this evening with England taking on Fiji at Twickenham...will you be watching?  I'll be cheering on the home nation but unfortunately from my living room rather than at the stadium itself.

There has been plenty of talk by pundits, retired players and commentators about England's perceived lack of experience.  They have pointed out that many of the home nation players will have fewer caps than their opposite numbers in many of the other teams in the tournament.  However, England Coach, Stuart Lancaster has vowed to start with his strongest line up.  Playing at Twickenham to a vocal capacity crowd will certainly lift the team. 

Scrum half Ben Youngs highlighted the benefit of having a young team,

"We have a young group of guys who have no fear.  They're almost too young to have any fear."

Sam Burgess who has recently made the transfer from rugby league where he has been enjoying success with the South Sydney Rabbitohs will start on the bench this evening.  Burgess has admitted in the press that it's been a difficult switch transferring to a game he sees as being more mental and tactical than rugby league.

However Burgess has a secret weapon, or not so secret as he has been openly talking about how he uses meditation to find calm and boost confidence during games.

"Meditation became a valuable tool for me when I was playing rugby league in Australia and it’s a technique I’ll carry on using for the rest of my career.

I was quite sceptical when we first started meditating at South Sydney, but I began to connect with the people who were doing the sessions so I bought into it. It was all about opening up our minds and talking to each other a bit more, and also about clearing your own mind in terms of being calm and ready to perform.

We used techniques to bring ourselves back down to a calm level if we found ourselves getting frustrated or lost confidence during a game.

Since joining Bath, I’ve been having sessions with Don Macpherson, who works with F1 drivers and other sportsmen, and lives two minutes away from me. I find it really helpful. It helps me stay calm, keeps my blood pressure down and keeps my mind focused. It’s even helped me to go easier on refs when decisions go against me!

I truly believe that meditation was a big part of our success at Souths. Just before the biggest games of the year, the guys would be laughing and joking, but then everyone would switch on and be in the right mental state to play.

As I see it, the brain is a muscle and I’ve got to train it like I train other muscles. At Bath, it’s been helping me to visualise the game and accelerate my learning. You train your brain with little triggers so when you get into certain match situations, your mind subconsciously knows how to react. It is really useful for me during this transition phase."
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Using meditation is by no means a new concept in sport.  Sportsmen and women have been using sports psychologists, mindfulness and meditation to give them the competitive edge, create a sense of mental wellbeing where they are able to perform at their best and deal with tricky and stressful situations which competition throws up.

But what is meditation?  Well probably one of the best people to answer this question is Meditation and mindfulness expert, Andy Puddicombe who has a brilliant knack of keeping it simple and straightforward.  He starts his TED Talk on meditation by asking,

"When was the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking?" Andy Puddicombe
I'll leave you  to ponder that and watch Andy's TED Talk...
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