All posts by Lindsay Milner

Negative committee

Are you still working with the negative committee?

Are you still working with the negative committee?  Are they still there, in your head, telling you that you’ll never be organised, never get on top of your work, you’re not smart or disciplined enough to succeed?

Give yourself a break.  Stop being so hard on yourself.  Show yourself some compassion. Tell the negative committee to sit down and STFU.

I wrote last time about how establishing good routines and habits can be critical to getting organised, and if you want to know more about this, download my free ebook. It’s full of useful, practical and simple tips on how you can incorporate good routines to help you when you’re working from home.

But like many simple things, it’s not always so easy to do. We start off full of good intentions, but without accountability, with life getting in the way, we falter.  Our success then depends on whether we have the resilience, the skills, the determination to deal with the setback, or whether we’ve been programmed all our lives to believe what the negative committee tells us. And the reality is, most of us fall for the negative committee’s lies, get discouraged and give up trying.

So what do we do about that?

In my next eBook I give you some answers. Some strategies that are proven to quiet the negative committee and create more positivity in your life. It does require some commitment and effort on your part – nothing worth doing is without a price. But it is worth the effort. You’ll be happier, more successful and stronger. And even better, many of the tips and techniques are simple and enjoyable.

If you want to get your virtual hands on the eBook it's out now, sign up here to get your copy.

If you haven’t already got the first one on routine and habits, you can get that here.

picture of desk and laptop with person in the background working from home

Got into a good routine yet?

How’s it going, this working from home lark? Got into a good routine yet? Or are you still struggling with it? Lockdown has eased somewhat, many of us have now been able to see families, even if from a social distance. You might even have got out to a pub or restaurant by now.

But if you’re one of more than one and half million people who normally work from home, how are you getting on? Or one of the millions more who found themselves working from home for the first time in March onwards?   Have things settled into a routine, or are you struggling to keep on top of everything? Have you fallen into bad habits that you wish you could change, but somehow, each day seems as unproductive as the last?

When the negative committee takes up residence

Have the negative committee taken up residence in your head? Are they constantly there, with their nagging voices, telling you that you’ll never manage to get yourself organised, you’ll never be disciplined enough, you’ll never manage to motivate yourself?

We’ve all come across them; the negative committee with their voices that keep getting in the way. No matter how much we say we’re not going to listen to them, we still somehow get to the end of the day feeling we’ve been busy doing nothing, we’ve worked the whole day through, but got nothing to show for it.

Wish you knew how to silence them? It is possible, and in this free eBook I show you how good routines and habits can help you to shut them up.

One of the biggest challenges I found when I first started working from home was to get into a good routine. What should I do first? I wasn’t going out, so maybe I didn’t need to shower first thing. Should I exercise? Have a leisurely breakfast, maybe catch up on some reading? Should I get started on writing, or maybe I should post on social media? (No, not social media. Even if you think it’s work, you’ll fall down the rabbit hole.)

Routine and habits

I rebelled against routine – I’d done that for years in paid employment. Maybe I needed better habits? What’s the difference between routine and habits? How do they help? Do they help?

In this ebook I answer these questions and more. I tell you about Sally, who works in a job she loves, but still found bad routines and habits led her into wasting time and feeling bad about it, and unable to work effectively from home. I show you how she got a grip and turned these bad routines into good ones, and how you can too.

Want to find out more? You can download your free copy here

Is working from home the new normal?

You may be ‘working from home’ for the first time during this crisis, or it may be your usual base for working, but is there anything ‘normal’ about this current situation?

I was going to write a long post about finding your purpose, following on from last week’s article.  But then this tweet caught my attention.​

Working from home? Or at home, trying to work?

Not working from home

It is an important distinction.  A point many of the replies make.  Even many of those accustomed to working from home make the distinction.  There’s a few who don’t get it, as always, and some pleas from people asking for help getting their boss to see it. But mainly agreement.

It also led me to this article.

Why you should ignore all that coronavirus-inspired productivity pressure

It’s written to an audience in higher education, but it’s relevant for us all I think.  And again, really caught my attention.  I’ve spent many years working on my own productivity, and now encouraging others to improve theirs, and I definitely went into that mode.  

​'How can we make use of this gift of time we’ve been given to find our purpose and be more productive? Let’s all look on the positive side and do what we can to make this awful situation better.'

​Grieving

​What I hadn’t recognised in myself, let alone others, is that we are going through a grieving process.  I guess I’ve moved from denial to – I don’t know, sadness? Shock maybe? Personally, for me, there have been jokes about how I’m going to cope without getting my roots dyed, and yes, I was initially horrified at the prospect.  Now however, the main thing that’s upsetting me on a personal level is that I haven’t seen my granddaughter for weeks, and she will be one next week.  It’s breaking my heart that I can’t share these precious moments, she’s learning to walk, learning to talk, and we’ll never have these moments back again.  I miss giving her a hug (having her climb all over me), and I miss giving her older brother a hug too.

I’m also adjusting to a new situation at home.  I may be used to managing my own time, but now I have a newly retired husband at home, and a furloughed adult son at home.  The plans we had for my husband’s retirement are all on hold. We can’t escape to our holiday home in Wales for a few days by the sea let alone any further afield travels. No part time job hunting for him either – he doesn’t want to put his health at risk doing delivery driving or similar.

This article answers so many questions about why I can’t concentrate, why I haven’t got on with a home exercise regime, why I haven’t yet edited all those YouTube videos I have recorded and posted them.

Productivity isn't the top priority

This is my message this week.  Realise that we’re grieving, and productivity isn’t our top priority. If you are at home during a crisis trying to work, whatever you manage to get done is an achievement.  Apart from your own responses, you may also be dealing with other people.  Children who you’re meant to be ‘home schooling’, despite having never had aspirations to teach. Partners who you’re not accustomed to being with 24/7. Other grown ups in your household who want to do their own thing. Who all have their emotional responses to this situation, which won’t be the same as yours.

And if you live alone, well that’s equally challenging in a different way.  You might like your solitude, your own space.  But surely on your own terms?  I have a niece who lives abroad, alone. She is currently confined to her apartment. She can’t go for a walk, go for a coffee, go to work. There’s a shop on the ground floor of the apartment block.  That is the only place she is allowed to go.  So she hasn’t been outside even.  So yeah, she’s definitely at home, during a crisis, trying to work. Not ‘working from home’.

We’ve seen a lot of messages on social media about being kind.  We need to be kind to ourselves first, and realise that everyone has different challenges, and we’re all a bit short on the reserves to help others right now, because everyone has some kind of challenge to face in this. 

Puropse - does it even matter right now?

​I will come back and talk about purpose as I’d planned, but right now I’m going to focus on doing what I can and putting self care first. I’m off to do some gardening – what’s your priority?

Australian Parliament building before social distancing

What now? What’s the purpose of work now?

Well, this is a proper shit storm isn’t it?  What now? What is the purpose of work now?

I went on holiday for a month, and by the end of it the world had changed.  This is properly like something out of a science fiction movie.  A deadly alien virus is spreading across the whole world, forcing people to fight over toilet rolls and hand sanitiser in order to protect themselves and their families. Many of us are afraid to go outside, but others are invading their country’s beauty spots in hordes, ensuring the terrible virus can proliferate and continue its lethal crusade. How will this all end? Will the team of scientists, led by someone who will be played by Jeff Goldblum, be able to find the vaccine in time to save humanity? Who will play Boris Johnson and Donald Trump? (Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey? Oh, maybe Alec Baldwin for Trump.)

Is being happy at work still a priority?

Kind of screws up my main message of learning to be happy at work. Suddenly, we’re not at work. Confusion reigns.  Many non essential workplaces are now closed for at least the next few weeks, meaning that people don’t have to go to work. So how are we responding to all this sudden free time?  Others are still working, but from home.

Unless you’re a key worker. We now find that low paid and undervalued workers are vitally important.  Supermarket assistants and delivery drivers. Cleaners. Care staff. Refuse collectors. Bus and train drivers. As well, of course, as those traditionally loved but exploited and taken for granted health workers, the doctors, nurses, porters, technicians, who are now going even more above and beyond than they usually do.

So I guess that being happy at work is not a priority right now. If you’re in one of those key roles, your purpose, if it wasn’t of prime importance before, is suddenly brought into sharp focus. In a crisis, many people focus just on what needs to be done, and most other things become less important.

Working from home

There’s been a lot said about those people working from home for the first time. I totally get how difficult it is to structure your day when you are solely responsible for doing so.  I’d got systems in place myself, having honed and refined them over several years of it.  But even then, coming back from a full month break, It has somehow taken me five days to get to the point of sitting at my desk to write.  Part of that is the result of having family members at home when I didn’t before, but mostly it’s about working out how to get back to my routine of work time, exercise time (especially now I can’t go to the gym), other self care like meditation and prepping healthy food, domestic responsibilities, family time, leisure time…. So for someone doing this for themselves for the first time, it’s bound to be confusing.  Throw in the social distancing and self isolation, and it will have an effect on your mental health. And then if you weren’t fully engaged with your purpose when you were at the place of work, you may feel it’s even more pointless now.

Not working but staying home

And if you’re off work, but not working from home because it’s not something you can do from home – the construction industry, which hopefully is starting to see sense and send people home, manufacturing, non essential shops, restaurants, then you have the same issues of structuring your day, without any work to provide a purpose.

Three challenges​

I think there are three main issues in learning how to deal with this new situation

  • Structuring our time
  • Dealing with our emotions and protecting mental health
  • Finding a purpose

And it’s helpful to deal with those in reverse order.  If we’re clear on our purpose, then we have more strength to deal with our emotions, and it becomes easier to structure our time and use it in the ways that serve us best. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and realise that this is a stressful situation on so many levels.

#abookinfiveminutes

I’m gearing up to record some new #abookinfiveminutes, and it’s as if the universe was speaking to me.  While I was on holiday I took out a kindle unlimited subscription, and found a couple of books on there that seemed interesting.  Unbusy by Andy Dragt, and Master your F*cking Emotions by Francis Wayne Jr​. So both tailor made for this situation 😊. Look out for those, the first one will be out on Saturday.

Edit: Here's the link to the first review. This book addresses the issues of purpose and of structuring your time.

 

Meanwhile, let me know which of these situations you find yourself in by leaving a comment for me below. 

  • Key worker, so still at work
  • Working from home (including self employed so I always was)
  • Staying at home, not working

​Photo is of the ​Victorian Parliament building in Melbourne Australia on 19th March 2020. Public buildings were closed down while we were there as Australia reacted to spread of the virus.  The news was full of announcements about social distancing, but the message didn't seem to have fully got through.  

Goals does achieving goals make us happy

Does achieving goals make us happy?

I wonder, does it? Does achieving goals make us happy?

I wrote last time about new year’s resolutions and how I have an appalling success rate with them, but still somehow love setting them. I delude myself that this time will be different. Although to be fair, I am making progress 😊. In this post I explore some of the reasons why I think it's problematic, and how to make a change for the better.

Resolutions or goals?

Instead of resolutions, maybe we could describe them as goals.  So, if we think new year’s resolutions don’t work, if we fall foul of Quitter’s Day, should we just set goals when we need to, when things we want to achieve come up?

Well, I have another confession.  I struggle with the standard advice on goal setting too.  It’s either, ‘set SMART goals and monitor your progress towards them’, or ‘set big fat hairy audacious massive goals’.  Then visualise yourself achieving them.  Feel, what will it mean to achieve your goals?  What will you see, what will you hear, what will you feel?’ As a serial procrastinator, I can spend ages setting goals, working out plans, and not getting on with them.

I’m certain this works for many people.  But I sit there unable to really create that strong feeling of success, achievement of those goals.  Maybe I have no imagination? Maybe I don’t want it enough to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve those goals?  I dunno, neither of those explanations feel right to me, and they also don’t serve me.  I’ve concluded that these ideas are too airy fairy for me, they’re not practical or tangible enough to motivate me.  Focusing on these explanations is also demotivating in itself, it feeds into the false belief that I’m inadequate, or don’t deserve to succeed with my goals.  So I’ve ditched them as explanations.

Complex planning

I’m also motivated by deadlines, I’m very much a last minute person.  Some may say that’s a bad sign, the sign of a procrastinator.  Well, yes, there’s certainly some truth in that.  But in his book Start Now, Get Perfect Later, Rob Moore introduces the idea of complex planning.   Back in prehistoric times, it paid to stop and consider whether taking on that mammoth was a good idea before acting. Scientists have pointed out that without such complex planning, the human species would not have survived beyond prehistoric times.  Such complex planning is therefore a useful tactic.

It was a standing joke between me and some friends for a while; we weren’t procrastinating, we were doing some complex planning. But joking apart, if we have a mammoth task in front of us, or a big decision to make, sometimes that thinking time is a crucial part of the process. As a mature student a few years back, I usually completed essays at 3.30 am the day before it was due in.  My closest call was standing in line as the 12 noon deadline approached, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t shut the doors before I handed my work in.  But I usually started the reading as soon as I knew the assignment.  It was just the writing up I left till the last minute.  All that reading time – now I know that was complex planning.

Conversely, I remember once at work that a manager asked me to do a task involving Excel spreadsheets at the last minute – as task she was supposed to have done, but had also left till the last minute.  Because I didn’t have the complex planning time, I really struggled with getting this done on time, and felt majorly stressed about it.  I can’t deny that writing undergraduate assignments at 3.30 am was stressful too, but somehow it didn’t seem as bad as that spreadsheet task.  I believe this was because I knew I had it under control, knew that I’d get it done to a good enough standard, when I’d had all the thinking and reading time. I had no such belief when the whole thing had been dropped on me at the last minute.

Visualising success

Getting my degree though, that was a goal.  I really wanted to achieve this.  I don’t think I visualised what it would mean to me to get it.  Maybe I believed that it would improve my career prospects, but that wasn’t the reason I wanted to do it.  I just wanted to study for its own sake.  I wanted to go to university.  Open University study didn’t motivate me in the same way, I wanted the full undergraduate experience.  A few years before, I had a job near the university campus, and would watch with envy when the students were flooding in to their classes while I was going to work. When I finally decided to apply and the university told me I’d have to do an access course first, I just ignored that advice and applied anyway, I wasn’t willing to waste any more time.  And got in. I may have fantasised a little about swanning about in the cap and gown for the graduation ceremony, but I didn’t really go in for visualising success.

So I was frustrated with myself for such a long time about not being able to visualise success, and not making good progress towards my goals.  I thought it was my fault.  Maybe I didn’t deserve to achieve success, maybe I didn’t want it enough, maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. 

Achieving success - what then?

The other side of this emphasis on goals is, what happens when you achieve them? Does getting that graduate job make us happy? Does getting that promotion?  A new car? The house we want for our family? Maybe. But often, only until the novelty wears off, and then we start asking ourselves what next?  I saw an interview with Tyson Fury, the boxer, where he talked about his mental health.  I’m not a fan of boxing, and my only prior experience of Tyson Fury was when he checked into a hotel in front of me and my husband.  I didn’t recognise him, but my husband did.  I had not heard good things about him, but this interview was in the middle of Russell Howard’s show on Sky, which is the only reason I caught it.  I was totally surprised by Fury; he was not at all what I expected.  But for the purposes of this post, the interesting thing is that he said once he’d achieved his goal of winning the world heavyweight titles, he crashed.  He said he’d always been anxious, depressed, but while he had a goal of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, put it to the back of his mind. Any traumas, losses, he didn’t have time to think about, he was too focused on achieving his goals.

He said his dad asked what was he going to do when he became champion?  Fury said he could feel it coming, he’d probably be down for a couple of years.  All his eggs were in one basket, to win this fight. He knew that after, he wasn’t going to have a goal any more. With nothing more to strive for, it all came crashing down. Fury felt he had nothing to live for and wanted to die. 

Although I’ve never been suicidal, I do recognise that feeling of a crash when the goal is achieved.  When I got my degree, when my three years at university were over, I remember being depressed too.  I’d identified so strongly with being a student, and now I needed to get back into the world of work, what should I do? What was my identity now?

​Achieving goals is not what makes us happy

So sure, goals are important.  But achieving goals is not what makes us happy.  As Shawn Achor has it, happiness comes before success. It’s about the journey, not the destination.  It sounds like a cliché, but clichés only become clichés because they are true.  If you’re not enjoying the journey, what makes you think you’ll enjoy the destination?  What counts is the mindset, the approach, the little things.  As I said in my last post, achieving goals is about implementation. It’s about systems and processes. It’s about monitoring and reviewing progress. It’s about overcoming difficulties and setbacks.  

You can visualise success all you like, but if you don’t take action, if you don’t do the things you need to do to reach your goal on a daily basis, then that vision in a cap and gown will never materialise. Tyson Fury would not become world heavyweight champion without his training programme, without watching his diet for months before a fight, and yes, without getting his mindset right.  I would not have got my degree without doing the reading, without spending time crafting my arguments into 3000 word essays, without getting them complete and handed in before the deadline. What made me happy was spending that time reading, gaining new information, working out what it meant, putting it together.  (And what’s interesting is that now I use that process to write or share videos about what I’m reading and learning these days.)

Lead indicators

One thing that works for me now is that I use systems and processes, many learned from the 12 week year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. It was a light bulb moment for me when I read about lead indicators and lag indicators.  We tend to focus on lag indicators. Have we seen a weight loss on the scale?  Have we succeeded in getting a new job? Have we won the world heavyweight championship? But what we need to focus on are the lead indicators.  Have we followed our fitness and nutrition programme? Have we applied for enough new jobs? Have we practised our fight techniques every day? 

That link between your actions every day and your goal is crucial.  I’m sure it sounds obvious to those who have never had problems working towards their goals, who don’t bother with new year resolutions because they don’t need to.  But for the rest of us mere mortals who set SMART goals, or even big fat hairy audacious goals, it’s less obvious; it was revelatory to me. By monitoring such lead indicators, we can give ourselves a better chance of reaching the goal. Moran and Lennington reckon about 80% success rate in implementation gives a strong likelihood of reaching the goal. But in the meantime, we also have the satisfaction of knowing that we’re working on them, focus on what we’re doing right, and making ourselves happy on the journey, not just the destination. 

​Rethink goals

If you’re like me and have difficulty working towards your goals, maybe it's time for a rethink about your approach.  Instead of agonising and planning and visualising to no avail, strip the process down. The goal is simple - you know if you want to lose weight, get a new job or promotion, be happy at work, have happier relationships. Focus instead on what do you need to do to get there.  What is the process, and what systems do you need to put in place to ensure you follow that process? If you want to be happier at work, you need to take daily actions to make yourself happier. More about that next time, or take a look at these videos in the meantime.

The science of happiness at work
Quitters day

Quitter’s Day

Did Quitter's Day get you?

January is over.  How are the new year resolutions going after one month? I've made progress on one of mine, struggled a bit with the fitness because of illness, and put one on the back burner for now, to revisit in the spring.

I’ve seen a lot of comments on social media this year from people saying that they don’t believe in making new year resolutions. They prefer to set realistic goals anytime.

Personally, I’ve always loved new year’s resolutions, even though I have an abysmal past record of keeping them.  There’s something about the idea of a new start that’s appealing to me, and I’ve developed a theory about this. No scientific research to back me up, just a pet theory based on my own observations and personal experience, but hear me out on this one.

There are two types of people – those who believe in making resolutions, and those who don’t. (Actually, as I’m making this up as I go along, maybe there are three types – those who don’t are subdivided into two types.)

Those who don’t believe in making resolutions

​People who prefer to set realistic goals anytime.

My pet theory about these people is that they are the ones who don’t struggle with motivation, are able to deal with setbacks and persevere with working towards their goals, have good systems in place to track their progress and adjust if things aren’t going to plan. They don’t suffer from procrastination.  I spoke to one of these creatures a few years back, a guy who said he didn’t suffer from procrastination.  I was envious.  He gave me some advice, which was to read Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy.  Now, I know that people love Brian Tracy, but this turned out to be rubbish advice for me. He said it worked for him.  Or rather, I think he just knew this stuff without having to read it in a book. Being the kind of person who didn’t suffer procrastination, he didn’t really understand a procrastinator’s brain.  The sum of the advice I took from that book was, do the most difficult thing first, get it out of the way.  What this resulted in for me was that I didn’t get anything at all done.  I procrastinated.  I needed to do the difficult thing, I procrastinated on that, and didn’t do anything else instead.

What that advice doesn’t take into account is that procrastination isn’t a time management problem, it’s an emotional management problem.  Better advice is to do some very small, unthreatening thing first. Success breeds success.  A procrastinator is more likely to feel that success by doing some small non threatening thing first, not their most difficult thing of the day. There’s lots of scientific studies that back up that this is the way our brains work, but I can’t be bothered to look them all up right now.  My task for today is to write this article and I’m in flow.  If I have to stop to look up sources then damn, I’ve got to make myself start again!  I wrote last year about taking the first step, you can read this article here.  I think I might have cited some sources in that one.

Those who do believe in making resolutions

I put myself very firmly in this group.  I love the idea of a fresh start, and have set new year’s resolutions probably every year of my life.  I’ve set the same (ish) three for probably around the last ten years.

  • Lose weight and get fit
  • Get my house decluttered and organised
  • Run a business – or develop it more

I even wrote about these three aims in one of my very early posts, and considered whether it was feasible to succeed in all three at the same time.  The fact of me still working on them after all this time probably gives me the answer. Unless it’s just that I was still looking at it all wrong at that point.

Another popular theory is that what motivates us is big fat hairy audacious massive goals.  Whatever adjective you prefer.  Or SMART goals, let’s set SMART goals. 

Long experience of setting goals – aka new year’s resolutions – have taught me that it’s not about the goals.  Not for me, and I suspect many other resolution setters.  It’s about implementation.  It’s about systems and processes.  It’s about monitoring and reviewing progress.  It’s about overcoming difficulties and setbacks.

Where I think we’ve been going wrong, us people who love setting resolutions, is that we want something, and we want it badly, but we don’t really know how to go about getting it.  So in January (and September) we join Weight Watchers or Slimming World.  We join a gym.  We start looking for a new job.  We wish for things, and think we’re working on them, but really, we’re not sustaining that effort long enough.  Or we’re doing the wrong thing, and when that doesn’t work out, we get despondent and give up.

Strava, the fitness app, has analysed its users’ data and found that people give up on the third Friday of January.  They’ve called this Quitters Day.  Which just goes to show how prevalent this phenomenon is. More about this below.

Those who don’t believe in making resolutions

​A sub group who have no ambition or goals at this time in their lives.

I’m making no judgements here.  Maybe you’re genuinely happy with your lot. If so, fabulous.  If you have more complex needs, I have empathy and sympathy, but I’m not equipped to help you. I mention this just for completeness, and I hope you're able to find the help you need.

If you’ve succumbed to Quitters Day this year, read on

But if you recognise yourself in the resolution setters, this is for you.  This is about beliefs.  And the things I said above – implementation, systems and processes, monitoring and reviewing progress, overcoming difficulties and setbacks.

If you’ve taken a look at my previous post, you’ll see that I talked about my weight loss progress, and how I’ve finally cracked it after a lifetime of failed diets.  Well, I’ve got to confess that it hasn’t gone so well since then. I’ve had some setbacks.  Since October last year, I’ve struggled with the exercise programme.  A back injury , a wrist injury (neither serious, but enough to disrupt the exercise programme), Christmas, a cold, dental treatment – all got in the way of a regular gym commitment.  Add in some wintry weather, and even the daily walking has suffered. This also means I overeat, so not losing weight either.

It's easy to give up in the face of a challenge. And certainly, I have, many times.  As I said, a lifetime of failed diets.  But now I’m still tracking and monitoring my progress.  I’m persevering.  I’m going to the gym as soon as I’ve finished writing this article. I’m working on getting my diet back on track, even though it’s more difficult now that I’ve already lost some weight.  I haven’t given up.  I haven’t put weight back on.

So what’s different? I don’t really like the word ‘mindset’ it sounds like a buzzword to me, but it’s mindset.  Anyone who’s read anything about goals or personal development has probably come across the word ‘mindset’. You may well have come across Carol Dweck’s book of the same name.  I’d seen this referenced so many times, and figured I got it – fixed mindset, people who think they can’t change, versus growth mindset, those who know they can and love personal growth.  I believed I had a growth mindset – after all, I love reading, learning new things, personal development.  It wasn’t until I actually read the book that I discovered it was more nuanced.  I was horrified to realise that sometimes, in some areas of my life, I had a fixed mindset. I gave up in the face of challenges, instead of dealing with them and overcoming them. You know those people who, when told they can’t do something, respond by ‘showing them’.  I usually didn’t do that.  I was more likely to agree - oh yeah, I can’t manage that, get despondent and give up ☹.  That’s a fixed mindset.  Not always, not with everything, depended what it was.  But reading the book opened my mind, and that has made the difference.  You can watch my review of the book here.

And how can you use the lessons I’ve learned to help you reach your goals? This isn’t meant to be a post about weight loss, but it’s such a useful analogy I can’t help using it. If your goals are work goals, if your new year resolution was to get a new job, or get a promotion, or have better working relationships (Ok, I doubt anyone set that as a resolution, but it’s a great goal to have, right?) how are you feeling about progress one month in?  Did you quit on or around Quitters Day?  If you have, don’t worry, we’re into a new month. You can have another fresh start for February.  If you need a bit of a boost to get you back on track, this is a great book to help you make changes.

In my next post I’m going to talk more about those goals and how useful is it to set them.  In the meantime, if you’ve got any questions about how to make changes at work, feel free to contact me or leave a comment, and I’ll be happy to talk to you.

New Year's eve 2020

New Year’s Eve!

New year’s Eve, when we start thinking about what we’re going to do to be better people, starting tomorrow.  Well, soon, anyway.  As soon as we’ve finished up the last of the mince pies and other Christmas goodies.

Lose weight or get fit are typically up there with the most popular resolutions.  But get a new job or improve my career prospects are also up there. We often start thinking about where we’re going with our careers as we think about getting back to work after the holidays.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled a top ten of my favourite personal development books, focusing on work, productivity, happiness, habits and change.

1. Atomic Habits by James Clear

The best guide to starting new habits and stopping bad ones.

​A book in five minutes - Atomic Habits

Also highly recommended are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Willpower doesn’t work by Benjamin Hardy

​A book in five minutes - The Power of Habit

A book in five minutes - Willpower doesn't work

2. Mindset by Carol Dweck

Foundational.  More to the book than you’d think

A book in five minutes - Mindset

3. Nine Lies

Why work life balance is a myth and we should learn to fall in love with work.  Busts other common beliefs about work too.

A book in five minites - Nine Lies about Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

4. Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Foundational, a great overview if you’re new to personal development books.

A book in five minutes - The Happiness Advantage


Honourable mention to 59 seconds by Prof Richard Wiseman. Quick tips to improve personal effectiveness and happiness

A book in five minutes - 59 seconds

5. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

An astonishing account from a survivor of a WW2 concentration camp that has much to teach us about our response when we’re in a situation we don’t like.

A book in five minutes - Man's Search for Meaning

6. The 12 Week year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington

A practical strategy for getting things done

A book in five minutes - The 12 week year

A book in five minutes - The 12 week year, an update

​Review

​Update

7. Drive By Daniel Pink

An examination of what motivates us, and it’s not a bigger salary

A book in five minutes - Drive, the surprising truth about what motivates us

8. Brave New Work by Aaron Dignan

Interesting perspective on management theories, why organisations are structured the way they are and how to make changes

A book in five minutes - Brave New Work

9. Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

Compares the approach to mistakes and failure in the aviation industry with the healthcare industry. Shows us how a healthy approach to failure is better for everyone, with some things we can learn and take away as individuals

A book in five minutes - Black Box Thinking

10. Best place to work by Ron Friedman

What makes somewhere a great place to work? This book looks at the evidence.

A book in five minutes - Best place to work

What’s your favourite? And which one will you try for this new year? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy new year!

Learn to be happy at work

Can you really learn to be happier at work?

Can you really learn to be happier at work? Without changing your job? Even if you have a difficult boss?

You hate Mondays....
​You're enjoying life at the weekends, but then Sunday afternoon comes around, the evening approaches, and you start to think about Monday. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe you can't sleep. Monday morning, you don't want to get out of bed, you start to work out if you can come up with a good excuse not to go in. But you threw a sickie only last week.  Perhaps you can say the kids are sick and you’ll work from home? But you know the boss doesn’t like you working from home, so even that’s not without its stresses.

​You're bored when you get there...
The work is unfulfilling, you have no control over what you do, you just have to do as you're told. The boss is a control freak and micromanages even the simplest task.  She seems to constantly worry that you don’t know how to do your work properly or seems afraid that you might use some initiative and not to the job exactly how she wants.  So you feel there’s no point in showing any initiative anyway.

Maybe you're overworked and stressed, and can never get on top of what you have to do.  Always firefighting, dealing with the most pressing problem and never planning ahead.  So you always feel like there’s things outstanding, no sense of achievement or a job completed well.

​You don't like your boss or your colleagues...
​Your boss doesn’t have your back, he never gives you any help, just keeps piling it on. He expects you to get through it all and doesn't care if you have to stay late. Then there's your colleagues. Always bitching and gossiping. No-one works as a team, there's no sense of a shared purpose.

How on earth can you learn to be happier in these circumstances?

Mindset. Not ‘think positive’, but mindset. 

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with positive thinking self help books; that skill of always putting a positive spin on things? Sometimes it’s really hard.  But by making small adjustments to the way I think about myself, my skills and my situation, I’ve learned so much about mindset and how important it is.  Viktor Frankl in a concentration camp experienced at first hand how much difference this makes to survival. Buckingham and Goodall in Nine Lies about Work encourage us to find the ‘red threads’ in our daily lives, and weave more of them into the fabric of our work.  Zig Ziglar tells of the woman who complained about how awful her place of work was, but by getting her to focus on gratitude showed how ‘everyone else’ had changed. (It can be found on YouTube, but most have foreign captions. Search for Zig Ziglar and gratitude if you want to watch him.)

I was talking with Michael, who worked for a local authority office.  He had hated the work and didn’t get on with his managers.  Public expenditure cuts meant the working environment was very negative. One day, in a flash of personal insight, he decided to stop complaining about it and see what he could do to make things better. To look for solutions instead of expecting others to change. He said it took some time, but after a while he found he was enjoying his work more. He discovered a growing respect for his managers, who also started to show him more respect.  His managers started to come to him for help, which led to him getting more interesting work, and they started to show him more appreciation.

It’s kind of like when two people fall out, who is going to apologise first?  Do you hold on to a grudge and expect the other party to make the first move?  If they’re doing exactly the same, no-one does it, and the rift grows.  If you want to be shown some appreciation and respect at work, show some to your bosses and your colleagues first. If you want interesting work, demonstrate that you can be trusted to do the simple things well, without complaint, on time. Change your approach, and people will change their behaviour in response.

I’m not saying this will work 100% in every situation.  There are some work situations that need more.  A bullying manager.  A severe micro manager. A ‘rules are rules’ approach.  But even in severe situations, acceptance of the situation puts you in a stronger position to act.  If you have a bullying manager you do need support, but accepting the situation and not embracing victimhood will mean that you can consider your options – go to HR, go to another manager, look for another job, leave.

In most cases though, it’s not a bullying manager, it’s more that you don’t see eye to eye, you don’t get on, you don’t respect or trust each other.  Those things can all be worked on.

And the bottom line is, you can’t control someone else’s behaviour, but you can control your own.  You can learn to control your responses and your emotions.  If you want to know where to start, download seven things you can do today to be happier at work. These seven simple things can be implemented easily. Make a start on your new habits and new behaviour at work.

Let me know if you’ve tried any of these out, and how you get on.

week of happiness at work #WeekofHappinessatWork

How has your #WeekofHappinessatWork been?

Friday afternoon! Yay!  

How has your #WeekofHappinessatWork been?

That makes it sound as though that’s it, no more happiness at work.  Obviously, that is so not the intention of this week.  We want every week to be a week of happiness at work.  This may seem unattainable to some, but there are things you can do.

And in all honesty, even at the happiest of workplaces, there are bound to be days where things don’t go your way. So what then? How do you deal with that?

It’s all about resilience, dealing with your emotions, emotional intelligence. 

This week started very badly for me.  I started tired, got up late on Monday, and a personal disappointment that day put me in a bad mood.  A very early start on Tuesday made me even more tired and my exercise regime suffered.  Alright, I did none on Monday or Tuesday.  Healthy eating went out of the window.  And work productivity slowed right down.  Just goes to show how much being tired screws things up.

But I rescued my week.  Want to know how?  Here’s my top five tips on how to get out of this kind of funk.  Using one or more of these at work can help you to feel happier in a very short time.

Get some exercise

On Monday I missed my walk.  On Tuesday I missed the gym, although I did manage about 5k steps getting to a meeting and back.  By Wednesday I was thoroughly fed up.  So I made myself go to the gym.  I did half an hour of weights and then some intervals on the rower.  Big tick for feeling happier. 

If you’re not a regular exerciser, just take a 10 – 15 minute walk, after lunch is good.  In a park or green area is helpful, but even if you’re in a busy street, the movement will lift your mood.

Take some time to yourself

Reading is my favourite thing when I need to recharge, but relaxation – sitting in a park if the weather is kind, meditation, get a manicure in your lunch break….

Nourish your body

Eat your favourite healthy meal.  Or sometimes, your favourite treat.  Cake, chocolate, bread, cheese, whatever it is.  (Not alcohol, not in the workday anyway). If you go for the healthy option, feel the virtue of this.  If you go for something else, be mindful as you eat it.  Don’t stuff it down. For Friends fans, like Phoebe’s psychiatrist boyfriend Roger said to Monica about the cookies, ‘Remember, they’re just food, they’re not love.’  Sit down, make an occasion of it.  Enjoy every mouthful.

Catch up with a friend

Take a short break from what you’re doing and have some social interaction with someone whose company you like.

Reflect on how far you’ve come

Sometimes, giving yourself permission to slow down means you get more done. 

By Wednesday, I‘d decided that getting to the gym was enough for that day.  But if I look back over this week, I’ve

  • Written and published five posts, including this one
  • Read two books – one for #abookinfiveminutes review, one a friend has written and provided feedback, and started a third
  • Had lunch with my daughter and her baby
  • Been to the gym when I didn’t want to go
  • Booked a session with a trainer to revitalise my training programme
  • Had a productive and enjoyable meeting with a new potential partner

​​Another friend did the same – decided she was going to stop and take the afternoon off.  And in doing so had a new idea for a business project, which she made a start on.  Sometimes the space to slow down leaves room for other great things.

How about you? What’s your favourite thing to do to lift your mood at work when it’s not going well?

Don't tell me what to do

Don’t tell me what to do

Who loves being told what to do?  Not many of us, I’m willing to bet.  I was talking to my daughter earlier, and she mentioned she’d been looking for new glasses with a friend.  The friend said her husband has the last word on her new glasses – he would say if she could have them or not.  My daughter was horrified – and said if her husband ​tolde her she couldn’t have them, those are the ones she’d buy, even if she didn’t like them herself.  Just to make the point he couldn’t tell her what to do.  (He doesn’t, just to be clear.  Which is possibly one reason she was horrified that someone else’s husband would.)

It’s one thing for husbands and wives, but does your boss have the power to tell you what to do?  Certainly some bosses act as though they do, and I guess if you push it, there is an expectation that they can.  I remember years ago a colleague recounting a conversation with one of her team members

Jane: Are you telling me to do it?

Sue: No, I’m asking you

Jane: If I say no?

Sue: Then I’m telling you

​Daniel Pink says that autonomy is one of our most important drivers, so what do you do if your boss is always telling you what to do? It's a key aspect of happiness at work.

It can feel stifling if we feel powerless at work, and certainly some work environments drain the life out of people because of this.  But there is always something you can do.  Job crafting means thinking about the purpose of your work, what is important to you, what you enjoy, and crafting more of those things into your work every day.

Even if you have the most micromanaging manager of all time (I’ve met one or two of them) you can take control of how you feel about your work. As Viktor Frankl said in Man's Search for Meaning,

​'...the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.'

Both books are an inspiring read, and you can watch my reviews of them here.

Drive, the surprising truth about what motivates us by Daniel H Pink

Man's search for meaning by Viktor E Frankl

I've written more on this subject here

Autonomy

40 something and bored at work

Autonomy and management

What will you do to take control and gain a little autonomy for yourself?  Taking even the smallest of steps will help you to feel happier at work. Let me know in the comments below what change you will make to be happier at work.

 

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