Stop making excuses…

parttimeThis morning I stopped myself mid sentence,  because I was about to break one of my golden rules.

You see… when I first started working part-time,  I felt really guilty when I was leaving the office before everyone else or when I couldn’t join a meeting because it was outside my agreed hours.   I had heard so many stories of other part time workers ending up working on their days off and late at night to catch up on commitments,  that I was determined to set good habits right from the start.   But I found myself constantly trying to explain myself and then feeling guilty (I swear I saw my full time colleagues rolling their eyes at me and I wanted to prove I wasn’t a slacker)

“I’m really so sorry I can’t get that work done,  I have to go pick the kids up from childcare, and then tonight my husband is away and I won’t be able able to get this done until Monday” 

“You’ve suggested a meeting on Wed, but I’m afraid I work part time and I don’t work on Wed,  I could do it if we really have to but in the morning I take my toddler to swimming, so I really can’t do that time”.  

I felt constantly guilty.

Then, someone gave me some great advice which I implemented immediately and it made the world of difference…stop giving unnecessary explanations.  Even when you work full time,  you can’t complete every job or attend every meeting, you have to make choices.   The discussion should not be about whether you work part time or full time, or what your commitments are outside of work,  it is about prioritising what needs to be done in the time that you have available.

And so I did.  Simply as that.  And it changed everything.

I’m not hiding or pretending to be someone I’m not.   And sometimes, I do have to pull out my family card and lay it on the table.   But mostly,  if I stop and think before I speak…I realise that what I’m doing outside of work is really not relevant or the point.  When work needs to be done by a deadline,  which I can’t achieve,  I work with stakeholders to re-arrange priorities or push out deadlines…not “because I work part time” but simply because the goal cannot be achieved in the timeframe provided.

Of course, I am fortunate enough to work in a flexible work environment where part time work is not uncommon.  But I think this one simple change helped not only to shape my perception, but also change the working culture around me.  Because when I’m not blaming part time work for not getting things done,  no-one else is either.

This one little tip I think has really helped me to drop some of the guilt around working part time,  which, quite frankly,  I carry enough of already…so this morning when I went to say  “unfortunately I can’t do the meeting on Wed because it is my day off”…I stopped myself midsentence and said instead ” unfortunately I can’t do the meeting on Wed….how does Thurs sound? or I’m free on Friday morning, what works for you?”.  Simple.

claire2

I have 1hr of freedom…

2014-11-05 06.03.48Oh my goodness, on Sunday I got back from my a walk and found my husband and children gone.   Yep, he has taken them OUT and they are not due back for an hour.   This means I have the house TO MYSELF.   This is a rare occasion and I am both excited and anxious. Yep…anxious.

I have an hour, one precious hour.   But how do I choose what to do with my time? What will be the most productive use of my time?   Shall I go fill a bath? No, a bit too early. Read my book? Nah not in the mood.   Look around, the house looks like a bomb has hit it. If I just whizz around a do some tidying up, I’ll feel so much better. Yep. That’s what I should do.   Wait, the dog is giving me the eye…he does need walking, perhaps I should tick that off instead? Although I have just been for a walk.   Oh, that’s right, there is a mountain of clothes that need folding and putting away. I should really get onto that. Plus, I have been meaning to do a cupboard clean out for months and I’m always complaining I should get onto that. Would this be the time to start?   ARGHHH….15min gone now.

I’ll just finish cleaning the kitchen and then I’ll decide.

Surely I should be relishing this time on my own doing something a little more special? But I can’t help myself, the chores are calling my name…I can’t ignore them. I suddenly remember a blog I was on  reading on “The Other Side of 40” about the joys of dancing around the house on your own. .

OK, I’m putting some music on, I’ll tidy up and then I should have time to have a cup of tea on the balcony. Music is on ….LOUD.

And now I’m dancing.   I’ve worked out a special move which involves a complex jumping pattern over kids toys and dirt on the floor. But suddenly I don’t care about the chores anymore. I’m bouncing around the house, my own little personal dance party.   I remember doing this as a child, as a teenager. There is a crazy feeling of freedom when you dance like no one is watching (because there really is no one watching). I’m feeling good. Maybe I’ll forget the washing, and do some writing…

And suddenly…Time is up… the car drives back up the driveway. I look around. I’ve done nothing productive. Achieved ZERO.

And yet I feel GREAT… time used wisely?   Eventually, yes!

My personal cheerleader…

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I’ve talked before about some of the bad managers I have had during my career… like Teflon,  or the manager who threatened to throw her laptop at me (and I haven’t even written about “the aggressor” yet).  But mostly, I have had the pleasure of working under some pretty amazing, influential and inspiring managers.

I believe Managers are the single biggest influence in your workplace.  Doesn’t matter where you work or what you do,  the person you work for has the power to truly engage you in what you do,  or make you walk away from an awesome project.   And it is not easy.  When I was a Manager,  I suddenly realised how hard the job is (I spent so many years thinking “I’m going to be such a good boss, just give me the reigns and I’ll run this joint”), then you realise just how different every employee is, the bureaucracy that Managers often have to deal with and how many ridiculous curve balls Managers are thrown on a daily basis.  And in the social age… the manager role is becoming even more complex, as businesses become more open and collaborative.

So what has bubbled to the top in my experience?

My personal favourite leaders are calm and collected (to counter my sometimes passionate rollercoaster riding),  they listen way more than they speak (they need to, with me on their team!),  they empower and trust me (let me loose with an objective and the freedom to achieve it) and most of all,  they make me feel like I’m amazeballs.

That last point is often the most important for me.  That regular reassurance that I’m on the right track.  The constructive suggestions to support my momentum.  The faith that I can do it,  even when I don’t believe that I can.  The willingness to overlook some of my weaknesses because they can see my strengths.    Like your own personal cheerleader.

And it can’t all be about work.  A great Manager knows when to ask how things are going outside of work,  is tuned into your tone on a bad day and gives you the support and space when you need it.   This has happened to me recently and I can’t tell you how much that meant to me, and the commitment I gave back to work in return was ten fold.

Just like everything in life,  it doesn’t always happen this way.  And, as I’ve said before,  working under some bad Managers gave me skills I may never have learnt if I hadn’t been forced into it sometimes.   So I try to see it as a win:win situation,  bad manager = great, what can I learn from this experience, what new skills can I develop from turning this challenge into an opportunity?..and when a great Manager comes along,  I take every opportunity to learn from them, grow and hopefully progress.

If you’re a Manager,  are you helping your team to thrive the hard way or the easy way today?

A little bit of sunshine in my office

It continues to amaze me how much work environment really does impact your mood, motivation and essentially your engagement at work.   This week I was extremely fortunate to get a beautiful massive bunch of flowers given to me.  They were sitting out on the kitchen table when I suddenly realised I should totally move them to my office (especially since the bunch was so big I could keep some in the lounge and some in my office).    It spurned me on for a little office clean up,  tidied up my files, wiped down the counter and boy does it feel good.   Just walking in this room lifts my spirits.

I have to say that it wasn’t always this way.  I spent several years working in a tiny room under our house, it was cold,  dark, messy  and dingy.  I used to wear a beanie, scarf and fingerless gloves to work.   Not surprisingly i wasn’t feeling my most engaged during this time.

So when I had the opportunity to create my own office space,  I relished in the light bright space I was able to create.  I’m still waiting for the perfect chair to sit in the corner  (for when I am pondering very important strategies), and more shelving etc etc.  But when I walk into this room I feel a great sense of joy and empowerment.  My space.

2014-07-02 18.14.34

And you don’t have to have your own office space to create the same feeling.  Years ago I worked in an office environment that my team had affectionately called “the prison”.  Now, I’m not sure exactly how much affection was in that term really…because it was pretty horrid.   Someone had complained about the light from outside (that would be the sun!) on their computer screens.  The wise office management team thought an appropriate solution was to cover the entire window in brown paper.  Yep…it’s true…the WHOLE floor to ceiling window.   Unfortunately, they also insisted the paper had to stay until a more permanent shading system was implemented….which incidentally was literally YEARS later.    Although it was pretty horrid, I was still surprised when this came up as a top issue in one of our employee engagement surveys. But really, why was I surprised that my employees were uninspired, when I’d given them an uninspiring work space to work with?!   So after a bit of creative thinking and a couple of late night stints (complete with pizza and a lot of laughter) we covered that brown paper with branded posters,  hung fish from the ceiling (yes fish…it’s a long story…) and painted our cubicle poles.  So whilst it was may still have been a tad dark,  the enthusiasm and colour of our teams still radiated through.

In a few weeks time my real office (not my beautiful chillin home office space) are moving to a new location and launching a new office design,  where no one gets an allocated desk and the space is split into different work related sections..like a “collaboration” space and quiet space.  I expect this may be a challenge for some people.   I wonder what spirit this new space will evoke in those teams? I love this little experiment and might have to sneak into the office a few times in the next month and see how it feels.

In the meantime, I’m blissfully happy in my little work sanctuary, where I can smell the roses…literally….

 

 

 

 

Inspired to change but struggling to take action?

www.freephotosbank.com
http://www.freephotosbank.com

I’ve been running Executive coaching session recently, trying to help our leaders to build their social skills.   Communication in the modern workplace has changed significantly,  and the expectation on our leaders (on all of us) has grown.   But “being social” is not just about learning how to use LinkedIn or IBM Connections,  it’s a pretty significant behaviour change.   Using social networks to communicate rather than trusty email,  writing short authentic stories rather than cascading formal corporate messages and working visibly, posting your work where others can see it when your used to keeping working privately.  These things might come naturally to those born into Gen Y, because this is how they have learnt to communicate with their friends and networks outside of work.   But for the rest of us,  it’s learning a new skill AND changing our habits.

And changing your habits is REALLY hard.  I mean,  I know that meditating for 10min and exercising every  day is good for me…and I start of most of my days with the best intentions.   Then somehow I find myself at the end of the day and woops, forgot that meditation and oh, that exercise didn’t happen either…but I’m too tired now…tomorrow..tomorrow.

So by the same token,  people are having the same challenges changing their work habits.  Not because they don’t recognise the need to change, but because the old ways of working just happen more naturally.

I read a post recently from one of my favourites,  ZenHabits,  where he spelt out some of the steps he takes when trying to implement change…and I think these are just as relevant to making changes at work.

  1. Tell someone you’re going to do it. Make the commitment.  Tell your colleagues or your team at work that you are committed to make the change, say you will dance on the boardroom table if you fail.   Make your self accountable.  (this is part of how I can help my Executives, I get to stalk them and remind them they committed to change!!).
  2. Carve out time. You have to make the time.  Carve out the time every day.  And even better, if you can tie it into an existing routine.  Like when you arrive at work and the first thing you do is open your email…make that a trigger to check your social feeds as well.   When are these triggers for you? put it in your calender now!
  3. Start as small as you can. Some people make the mistake of over-committing, because they’re so inspired.  But you’re less likely to succeed if you say that you’re going to work out an hour a day, or learn a new skill for 2 hours a day. Even 30 minutes a day is too much. Start with 10. Or 5. Or 2, if you’re really busy. You have time for 2 minutes a day.
  4. Have reminders. It’s easy to forget when you start out.  Use post it notes, stuck to your computer. Set up reminders in your diary or on your phone
  5. At the moment when you want to avoid it, pause. There will be a moment (or a bunch of moments) when you think, “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow.” That’s the moment you have to not let pass idly by. Stop yourself, and just sit there for a moment, not going on your computer, just turning inward. What are you afraid of? What’s stopping you? There is a discomfort you’re trying to avoid. Instead, smile, and start. Do it and enjoy it in the moment. You’ll love it.

Ok..so with these wise words in mind,  what are you trying to change?  lets start today….  (or maybe I’ll start tomorrow,  got a lot on today…ha aha haha)

Email…a necessary evil of the modern workplace…or is it?

Back to work today and quite frankly, it’s not a great first impression. My inbox is overwhelmed with emails, but the scary part is how many of them are irrelevant or wasteful. Started off feeling frustrated this morning but as I plough through all the emails getting more annoyed at each one, I cheer myself up by remembering, that in the future workplace,  emails may not even exist.

Getting out of the inbox …

when someone first suggested a world without email to me, I couldn’t visualise it.  Email is such an integral part of the modern workplace that it is hard to imagine not starting working and opening up email as the first action of the day. But as I’ve become more and more immersed in the social world, now I can see it. i can see a world of collaboration and integration that happens in the public sphere and in small online groups. The need for individual emailing will be come less and less, till eventually it is no longer required.   Hard to imagine, right?  but it will happen…

In the meantime (sigh)…we’re going to be drowning in our emails for some time yet….  so I have to put on my super organisation hat, and start ploughing away at this email. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to my email and I love to have my inbox empty, which is a nearly impossible task.  I’ve had to train myself to get out of the inbox, as I could easily spend my whole day doing nothing but emails.  Now I try to have more scheduled email checks.  First thing in the morning (bit of multi-tasking over brekky to make sure the sky didn’t fall down while I was sleeping),  30min when I first start work,  then 10min checks between meetings.  I literally set the timer on some days to ensure I don’t get sucked into the email vortex.   Since I’ve been on a break, today I’ve set aside an hour… and this is is the plan…

Delete delete delete

I remember someone telling me that after a 3 week holiday once.  They decided not to go through all their email.  They just deleted it all.  ALL OF IT.  They figured,  if it was urgent or important, at some point someone would come back to them.  Sure, they had one or two people who were a little annoyed at having to repeat requests, but overall,  mostly no one noticed.

Whilst I would love to just press delete,  I can’t bring myself to do it.  So the first thing I do, is run through all the email subjects and delete anything that doesn’t look urgent or important.   After holidays is a great time to do a bit of a purge on newsletters subscriptions.  I can’t believe how many I get,  you don’t really notice until you leave them to sporn and grow over a week.  Ekk…time for some “unsubscribing” action.   Ah, that feels better.

Action or File

If I open an email,  I try to either action it immediately,  or if I can’t action straight away…I file it into a folder and write down the action or next step required before I can go back to it.   That way, my inbox can stay clean, it is easier to see what is new and what still needs my action.

Complete actions NOT using email

Wherever possible, I also try to respond to requests using other mechanisms other than email.   Go to someone’s profile and post something on their wall,  send an instant message,  post something in a forum,   pick up the phone,  write it down as an action for next time I’m in a meeting with the person.    That way, I’m not contributing to someone elses email bog, as I try to clean up my email bog.

OK time is up…I’ve done what I can.  It’s a boring but necessary evil of the modern workplace, but I can see a future which looks different, and that is exciting.

 

Balancing, juggling, prioritising….drowning…

Call it what you will, but this issue is likely to come up quite a lot in my blog because it’s something I think we all have to deal with,  and today…it hit me smack in the face.   Each day, we are all faced with the decision of where to spend our time and energy.  Sometimes we are pulled one way,  other times another.   It helps to have a solid idea of what your priorities are, because it can make these choices easier.  I love the ideas explored in this blog,  where instead of work/life balance they talk more about what energises you and what deflates you.  It’s great to regularly sit down and assess where you are at with this,  and make some lifestyle shifts if you need to.

But even when your priorities are clear to you,  you are still going to be faced with days when you have to make choices which aren’t black and white,  but grey and grey.   In these situations there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong,  there is just a choice to be made.  I HATE these decisions.  I find them so hard,  I don’t want to have to make choices which may mean I let someone down or I don’t get to work on a project I really want to.   This morning I woke up to just one of the choices and I didn’t want to deal with it.   This morning I discovered that my sons school assembly, which I had already moved work meetings around in order to attend…was rescheduled to this afternoon.  To my son,  this was a simple change of time.  For me,  it spelt disaster…because after all my wonderful juggling, now it was clashing with a really important workshop meeting I need to attend.  Now, I have to make the call,  Now , I have to choose between work and outside work.  And I don’t want to choose.   I love work, I want to be there for the meeting, I want to be part of the workshop and I want to contribute.  But I also want to be there for my son when he gets a merit award.  I want to do both.  But I can’t.  And it is eating me up,  festering from the inside.   I’m stamping around the house this morning,  yelling at the kids and my husband,  I’m angry that I have to make this decision, make this choice.   I’m just angry.

But that’s life.  It is inevitable that sometimes our priorities clash.   It doesn’t matter how good you are at balancing or what choices you have made about what is important in your life,  there will always be times when you have to make a decision between equal priorities.  And it’s hard.

What I’ve learnt, is that you need to make these kinds of decisions quickly.  Like ripping off a band-aid,  make the call and accept the consequences so you can move on.  Remember that there isn’t a right or wrong choice here, there is just a choice.  Think about your life priorities, imagine yourself in a years time, which choice may have the longer term impact?  Make the choice,  observe how you feel, observe the impacts and store that information to help you make the next choice when it comes up.   Don’t over think or over dramatise the decision.  And of course,  communicate,  explain to people involved in the decisions you’ve made.  You don’t need to over explain or feel like you have to justify your decision, but simply keep them in the loop.

Because if you don’t do these things,  you just dig your own hole.  Like I did this morning.   Instead of just making the decision, I let it eat away at me and ruin my whole morning (and probably my childrens).  But I’m here now, with a cup of tea and a big deep breath.  I’ve made the decision and I’m sitting with the consequences,  and I’m Ok with them.  I wish I’d made that decision before I went all psycho this morning (sorry everyone), but hey, sometimes we learn our lessons the hard way…and that’s Ok too…

I’m so impatient…

So yesterday  it happened,  that down turn of spirits I have been expecting ever since I hit “post” on my first update.  I knew at some point I would come crashing down from my high.  What was exciting me is now stressing me, what was inspiring me now seems daunting and frustrating…and today, I’m not sure it was such a good idea.  I can’t do this.

Lucky today I had the luxury of a bit of time walking to clear that fuzzy head of mine.   And I realised that I am really just VERY impatient.  All the great things that I was so inspired and excited about earlier…I want them NOW,  I want all the knowledge NOW, I don’t want to wait, I want to learn today, I want to know it all already.  I ‘m panicking that I’m not doing a great job in something I am so passionate and interested in.  I want to be great from day one.   And that nasty little inner critic voice is out,  in Task Master mode (thanks Rachel Macdonald for that analogy), and she keeps telling me it is because I am not working hard enough, I need to do more, push harder and I will get there quicker.

But today,  as I reframe the situation with a calmer mind,  I realise that pushing myself is indeed not getting me there quicker,  infact, it is just making the road slower and harder because I am not enjoying it and I feel like I should be somewhere that I am not.   I don’t need to speed up,  I need to slow down.   I need to remind myself that sometimes at work,  you need to make space for listening and absorbing, rather than solutioning.   Allowing myself not to have all the answers, and be ok with that, because I am learning and that is how I will grow.   Others will know more than me.  Maybe this year,  I won’t be the leader, I will be the follower, the observer, the experimenter.  And I need to be content in this position,  secure in the knowledge that this is exactly where I am supposed to be right now.

So when my alarm goes off at 5.45am tomorrow for another 6am international telecon, hopefully followed by some inspiring thoughts for my new blog…I’m going to put my calming oils on, make a cup of tea…and get ready to simply absorb…and see where that takes me…