IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN!

Every year in December, we like to just remind you that this is a time of year to take more care of yourself, rather than become even more frenetic and busy.

We are heading towards the shortest day, and those extra hours of darkness do have an effect on us. Biologically we are still designed to sleep when it’s dark, so when we push ourselves past that internal ‘clock’ we are using extra energy, even if we don’t realise it. It takes a toll on both our bodies and our emotions.

And we have the added pressure of getting ready for Christmas – it’s supposed to be a celebration not a pressure! Yet all around us are adverts suggesting that others are choosing the perfect (and expensive!) gifts for each other and preparing to give their loved ones a banquet fit for a king.

Christmas also seems to create a deadline for all sorts of work and home projects. We tell ourselves we have to get stuff finished and give ourselves even more stress before we have those few days off.

 

We can take a different perspective:

  1. Give yourself a little more leeway, to account for the extra stress of our natural reaction to shorter days and cold weather. Sleep a little more, take a few more breaks, have that cup of hot chocolate, sit in front of TV and watch a good movie.
  2. Remember that, above all, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones, being loving, having fun, and relaxing. No one has that perfect Christmas – it’s a myth – and it certainly won’t happen because you’ve spent heaps of money – it’ll happen if you decide to make it enjoyable and full of love.
  3. You are going to have a few days away from the computer, the emails, the projects. If you use those days well, you will come back to it all refreshed and re-energised, and it will be easier to be productive. Everyone else is doing the same, so nobody is waiting for you to do your bit. Most of your ‘deadlines’ can be relaxed.

We all need to revise our perspective and take it easier at this time of year. Be a little kinder to yourself, take a breath, and prepare yourself to have a relaxing and refreshing break for a few days. Make this a fun time of your year and take some care of yourself.

 

We at Meta wish you a peaceful and joyous Christmas period..

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CREATING THE [BRAIN] CAPACITY TO LEAD

Capacity. Right now we’re all fighting the problem of capacity. In organisations as they have become more streamlined there is just no extra capacity other than that which is quantifiably needed to deliver what needs to be delivered.

There is NO spare capacity in organisations anymore. No buffer, no extra capacity or resource built in for when for example something unexpected happens in our business plans, no spare capacity in our teams when we have more than one person off longer-term.

The simple fact is that now most of you reading this will be doing the workload of more than one person. Admirably doing your best to fulfil a role that was originally done by two or more people. That means that what once was delivered by two must now be delivered by just one – so now more than ever we need to be working at our best, making sure that we have the maximum internal capacity available to deal with the day-to-day issues that will inevitably come our way.

When we are at our very best, when we’re firing on all cylinders, it’s amazing what we can achieve. When we are on form, there’s almost nothing that phases us and we can deal with almost any issue or problem that comes our way. That’s why in this busy, even crazy world of work that we currently live in it’s more important than ever to build our own internal capacity so that we can be at our best more often.

OK so here’s where I get a little technical, a little ‘science-y’ and explain why it’s so important to look after yourself and more importantly understand how your brain works in order for you to be at your very best. Don’t worry though, if you, like me weren’t that good at science at school, this is what we call – ‘Blue Peter Science – it should be pretty simple to understand.

During our working day we use both our conscious and sub-conscious parts of our brain. The conscious part of our brain, helps us to reason things through, communicate effectively, problem solve, be creative, make multi-level decisions, make pro-active choices, prioritise, decipher what needs to be done when, pay attention, concentrate (amongst many other things). Effectively the conscious part of your brain is VITAL for you as a leader to do pretty much everything that needs to be done in an average working day. The subconscious and unconscious control everything else, they control your neurology, all your body functions like breathing, digesting etc. and your automatic responses to things, things you don’t have to even think about, what some call your ‘auto-pilot’.

What is useful to know here is that the conscious part of your brain, the bit we all need to function effectively in our working day has a very small capacity. It is tiny in comparison to the total capacity of the brain and is comparable to your smartphone’s memory and processing ability compared to a super-computer’s.

During every night, just like your computer at home the content from the day that has been filling your conscious mind is downloaded into the sub-conscious. Both the factual content and the emotional content is downloaded and stored in the internal hard-drive of your brain.

The problem is that most people right now are interrupting their sleep at the most important part – the R.E.M, second deep-sleep stage of sleep, which means that the all important emotional download is interrupted and you wake up with your storage capacity still half–full from yesterday’s content.

Think about this a moment – What happens when you put too many photos, videos and songs into your smartphone? What happens when it gets close to full capacity, it’s memory is full? – It GOES SLOW right? It starts to stop functioning properly. It takes a long time to load information or process anything.

Well, in simple ‘blue peter science’ terms it’s EXACTLY the same with your brain! When it’s running close to its capacity, that’s when we struggle at work with even the most basic of tasks. You’ve all been there, reading that report late at the office, you know the one where you read it over and over but it’s just not going in? That’s because you’re brain is running at pretty close to full capacity. It needs downloading; it needs rest and space to recover itself.

The GOOD NEWS is that the brain is a remarkable instrument. It’s incredibly adaptable and when used well, it will serve you brilliantly. The fact is that right now, we’re not looking after ourselves or our brains well enough and as a result we’re all suffering from a loss of performance, just like our smart phones do when we’ve loaded too much content on them.

So what can we do?
Well first thing to do is to just bear in mind that your brain (and body) just like your phone or pad or computer needs energy in order to work.

What happens if you don’t charge your phone, plug it in for 24hours? Likelihood is, unless you’ve got an amazing battery life on your phone, that it will run out of juice and stop working. And yet, what do we do at work now? Most of us don’t listen to our bodies telling us to stop and take a break and most of us don’t take a lunch break anymore. Is it any wonder that we run out and can’t read that email later on in the day?

Here are some principles to follow that that should enable you and your brain to build capacity and lead at your best:

PRINCIPLE 1: Your brain (and you) need fuel to work at their best

If we are expected to work like the computers we sit in front of, then we, just like our computers need to be fuelled on a regular basis. Remember this isn’t just food and drink, it’s energy, and so anything that gives you and your brain an energetic boost is good.

PRINCIPLE 2: Take your breaks – give you and your brain some rest

I want you to think of your brain as a muscle. (It isn’t a muscle strictly speaking but go with me, it’s a useful metaphor). When you go down the gym, or you want to get fit, if you want your muscles to perform at their best it’s important to warm them up, warm them down and to take breaks between sessions. It’s just the same with your brain, give it time and space to ‘warm up’ and take regular breaks. When you take a break it clears capacity and enables you to come back more refreshed and work at a sustainably high performance level.

PRINCIPLE 3: Move your body, move your mind

When you get stuck on something or if you have something that you need to come up with a creative solution to, MOVE. When you move your body you move your mind, so use this as a conscious technique to get out of your ‘stuckness’ and into problem solving mode.

PRINCIPLE 4: Download and unwind at the end of your day

Because we are working later these days we are eating into what researchers say is a key part of every working day – The wind-down. This 1-1.5hour post work slot is a vital part of your day. Use it to download (write or record) anything that’s still buzzing around your head from the day and to consciously unwind and relax yourself. It will help you to get a better night’s sleep

PRINCIPLE 5: Get a good night’s sleep and let your brain recover

Sleep is our most important resource of all. Sleep is when our brain (and our body) regenerates, repairs, recovers and downloads. Follow the principles for a good night’s sleep in my previous linked in article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sleep-your-most-vital-leadership-resource-all-part-2-jo-clarkson – and you’ll find that just by getting a good night’s sleep you will increase your brain capacity’s ability to deal with everything that a challenging day at work can throw at you.

PRINCIPLE 6: Be kind to your brain and your brain will be kind to you

Trust me when I say you want your brain to be your buddy not your enemy. Right now we are being unkind to our brains and as a result our brain is sometimes not there when we need it most! So don’t let your brain go on strike, treat it kindly. Look after it and it will most definitely look after you. The good news is that generally things that make YOU feel good make your BRAIN feel good, so do things that make you feel good and you’re half the way there.

In conclusion…

So there you have it, 6 principles that should enable you to get the most from your brain and as a result, increase your capacity to lead. Don’t run on empty anymore, don’t run yourself down, now is the time to be kinder to yourself and to your brain

The result? You’ll be able to function and perform at your best, and when you’re at your best? There’s nothing you can’t achieve and nothing you can’t deal with.

At Meta we’ve been supporting leaders and their organisations for nearly 20 years. We’re passionate about what we do and we’re passionate about finding the research that enables the busy executive and the busy workplace to become a more effective one. We think that with some simple shifts in working practices, some simple principles of smarter working, every leader and every workplace can excel.

We hope that you found the blog useful and if you’d like to find out more about what we can do for you and your organisation, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re always happy to talk about the principles of smarter working and we’re always happy to support enlightened leaders like you, because that’s what we’re in business for – We do what we do because we’re on a mission to change the world.

Happy capacity building everyone!
Jo x

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Pushing back the TIDE – re-establishing the boundaries & balance of work & life

Since the financial crisis in 2007/8 there has been a gradual erosion of our boundaries between work and our personal lives. I rarely these days meet a senior leader in an organisation these days who is happy to report that they’ve got their work/life balance sorted, in fact I’d go as far as to say I’ve not met ANYONE in the last year in a senior position who felt they’d got that any kind of balance at all!

The simple fact is, that with the flattening of structures within organisations and the year on year reduction in head-count in most organisations, we’re all feeling that increased pressure to work harder and get the almost impossible workloads completed. That means working longer hours in the attempt to get more done, it also means going beyond our natural limits, and letting the overwhelming pressure of work dictate the pattern of our lives.

Almost everyone I meet is a hard-worker; they want to give of their best and they try their utmost to get everything done, but it’s getting harder and harder to do that within the normal working day. So, we do a little extra work on the train home, a few things off our to-do list after dinner; check our emails on Sunday evening, just to make sure we’re ahead of the curve come Monday morning. Which is fine, I guess, IF (and this is a BIG IF) we got that time back, if we got those hours that we don’t spend with our friends, families and loved ones back in lieu! As one of our favourite authors Ricardo Semler writes in his excellent book ‘The Seven Day Weekend’:

“..If we’re expected to answer emails on a Sunday, why can’t we leave work and go watch the tennis on a Wednesday afternoon?”

He’s absolutely right of course, but the tide of work is one that has gradually seeped in over the last 8 or so years since the last financial crisis, and it’s a tide that doesn’t ever seem to go out!

So what can we do about this lack of balance in our lives? What can we do to stem the tide and get work back into the right place, as a PART of our life, not the whole of our lives?

The first thing is to set what I call the HARD BOUNDARIES – the NON-NEGOTIABLES. To use the sea/tide analogy these are the sea walls that protect from the extreme tide incursions. Stop and think for a moment. Where has the tide of work seeped in over the years that affect your personal/family life? Is it that working on a weekend has become normal? Is it that you’re no longer home in time to put your son or daughter to bed? Is it that you spend some evenings doing an hour or two of work? Is that you’ve lost some of the quality time that you used to have with your family? Is it that you no longer have time to go to the gym or exercise? Or that you no longer have any breaks during the day?

Whatever the things that occur to you write them down now and make sure that these hard boundaries are enforced and kept to. I know that is easier said than done, but if you diary them in for the next three-six months (go on, do it now) you’ll be ensuring that you begin to change the habits of working you’ve gotten into and started to create a more healthy one. Seriously you don’t want to end up in the place of one senior director I was working with who told me whilst working with him –

One evening he’d gone home at his new ‘usual time’ of around 730pm and his young daughter was already in bed. He’d missed her bedtime again. It had become a pattern, not one he was proud of, but it was just the demands of his position, he felt he needed to be at work to get everything done. The following morning his daughter (aged 6 or so at the time) said:

‘Daddy why don’t you read me stories anymore? Where are you? I miss you when you’re not here, I wish you were here to help me get to sleep at night’

BOOM. How’s that for a dose of honest feedback? Doesn’t that cut straight to the heart of this? – Rest assured that particular executive made being home in time to put his daughter to bed one of HIS non-negotiables, and do you want to know the interesting thing? He told me that going home that extra half-hour or so early made NO DIFFERENCE to how much work he actually got done.

This is the delicious irony. Working harder, working longer hours doesn’t mean that we get more done. In fact there is a lot of research out there (don’t just take my word for it, do your own research) that says that those that work longer hours are not being effective, and the quality of the work done severely decreases the longer you work without breaks.

Back to that idea of balance, back to that tide that always seems to be coming in and never going out. Now you’ve put in your non-negotiables, your hard boundaries now come the soft boundaries. Soft boundaries are those that are more flexible, once you have got into the habit of making sure the tide stops overwhelming you, then you can begin to peg it back further, so that you can start to work at a more sustainable pace.

This might mean that you go home early on a Tuesday so that you can pick the kids up from school or from their post-school sports club. It may mean that Monday morning you give yourself an extra 15 minutes in bed and turn up 15 minutes later to work. It might mean that every Wednesday and Friday you go to the gym before work or that on Thursdays that you bike into work for a change. It’s about making sure that you take your breaks at work, ensuring that not only do you take your 30 minute lunch break but that you also take it away from your desk and maybe even get a breath of fresh air! You won’t get these things ALL the time, but once you see the benefit to them (e.g.: you’re feeling better, feeling more productive, more in balance) you’ll do what you can to diary them in. Of course flexibility is the key to the soft boundaries, sometimes the tide of work dictates we must work a little later but we are more in control of that tide than we think. Balance isn’t just about work and life, it’s about work and rest whilst at work.

We forget that actually simple things can make a big difference to how ‘in balance’ we feel. Listening to our favourite piece of music, flicking through some photos of our loved ones, getting out in the fresh air and having a walk, choosing something different and tasty to have for lunch, having a natter with our dearest friend on the phone, making sure we end the day with something that makes us laugh.

It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense when we stop and take the time to think about this isn’t it? So I’d encourage all of you to look at your life and how big a part work has become. Isn’t it time to stem the tide? To push back and get your life back in balance? It’s important, not just for you, but for those around you too! When you are happier, when you feel like your life is in better balance, then that happiness spreads and infects those around you, those people you love. So don’t just do this for you, do it for your son or daughter, your mother or father, your sister, your brother, your work colleague, and yes, even your organisation! – You’ll be more effective, productive, creative, positive and just a nicer person to be around.

At Meta we’re on a mission to change the world of work. We think it’s about time we all started working at a sustainable pace, working in a smarter more effective way. We write these blogs to help start to shine a light on current outdated working practices and invite you into a more enlightened way of working. It’s our job, our mission to help and support leaders and organisations that want to work in a smarter way, so if you’d like to find out more about us, please feel free to contact us.

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BREAKING THE SILO-MENTALITY – 4 ESSENTIALS FOR CROSS-FUNCTIONAL WORKING

When we have lots to do, never-ending tasks on our lists, it seems easier to just get on with it and stay in our own silo. But if you stop and reflect on it for a moment, you will realise that a lot of the obstacles you encounter in your work are caused by ‘them’ – the people in other teams or departments. ‘They’ don’t respond quickly enough; ‘they’ don’t understand how important something is; ‘they’ are not easy to get hold of; ‘they’ are asking for something urgently that you haven’t got on your priority list – because of course, ‘they’ are also working in their own silos!

Most of us cannot effectively do our work by staying in our silo, because the majority of projects these days involve a network of different roles in the organisation, so working cross-functionally is built in. Unfortunately the habit of working together cross-functionally isn’t.

Instead of resisting the cross-functionality, it genuinely makes our life easier if we work with it. It’s not difficult and it saves us time and energy in the longer term, if we choose to come out of our silo and work collaboratively and co-operatively with all those involved.

 

4 ESSENTIALS OF WORKING CROSS-FUNCTIONALLY

  1. Building your cross-functional relationships

The first essential is to build your cross-functional relationships. Get to know the people whose work interconnects with yours. Find out what matters to them, what their obstacles to progress are, what makes life easier for them. A bit of time spent having quality conversations with them is well worth it, because it means that now you know them as more than just one of ‘them’; they’re a human being, they’re John not that ‘guy in accounts’.

  1. Planning what needs to be done together

The second essential is to plan with them the work you need to do between you. Again, time spent talking about how you can respond to each other, taking account of each other’s workloads, can save time and energy chasing each other up.

  1. Having an agreement of how you’re going to work together

The third essential is to have an agreement of how you’d like to work together. So few people when working with new people actually tell them how they like to be worked with. Do you like it direct and to the point? Or do you like someone to give you a general pointer in the right direction? Do you like to do things last minute or are you someone who likes to do things before deadlines are looming? All these are useful bits of information if you’re to work together effectively.

  1. Got a problem? Talk it through!

The fourth essential is to have a conversation when a problem arises – and I mean talk and listen, not exchange emails! Problems can often be resolved on the spot if you voice them early enough, before they become too big to deal with. Even the biggest problems are more quickly solved when two heads are working on it rather than one and it’s easier to come up with ways to avoid it happening in the future.

 

An organisation is a living system of inter-connected parts. It is only successful if those parts work smoothly together. And we are the embodiment of those inter-connected parts. The simple fact is that the more we come out of our silos and start to view others’ perspective, the more effective we will become. If we actively improve the way we connect with others whom we help and who help us to make the whole thing work, our work life will get a whole lot easier.

Over the years at Meta we’ve developed some really effective ways to break down the barriers between departments, and help people to get beyond their silo mentality. There is no doubt that it is essential in today’s slimmed down organisations to be working cross-functionally, in order to be more productive and effective – so if you’d like help getting your organisation to work more cross-functionally, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch, we’d love to help.

Have a great month everyone,

In peace,
Jo & Di xxx

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IF YOU WANT TO FEEL VALUED – VALUE OTHERS

Feeling valued for the work you do is a foundation for wanting to give of your best. We all respond to being recognised for what we have done, what we contribute.

Yet for many of us, feeling valued is a rare commodity. What tends to get noticed is what we haven’t done or any mistakes we make. After all, if the boss asks us to go and see him or her, few of us are likely to think that they want to acknowledge our good work – we are more likely to worry about what they might say we have done wrong.

So how do we increase the likelihood of being valued for our work and our attitude? We would suggest that you start to value others more: those colleagues you can depend on to do what they said they’d do; that manager who trusts you to just get on with your work without interfering; that person who always makes you smile with their cheerful attitude; that more experienced team member who will explain something to you that you haven’t come across before; the one who speaks up in a meeting, voicing something you were thinking but didn’t want to say.

There are hundreds of everyday examples where someone else makes some form of positive difference to your day. By overtly recognising it, and thanking them for how they’ve contributed to making your day go better, you not only help to make them feel valued, you also are setting an example of valuing others that becomes infectious. By drawing attention to what someone does that is right, you are encouraging them to notice the same thing with others, including you!

I remember being asked by a senior manager to undertake some executive coaching with two of his team. He told me that they were great people to have in the team, and he wanted to encourage them to develop further because they would both be senior managers one day.

When I started to work with them, I realised that they had no idea he thought they were good at their job. In fact, both of them thought they were being coached because there was something lacking in their work or performance – It was a perfect example of not telling people that you saw them as valued members of the team.

I asked them how they felt about him as a manager and they both said that he was a really good manager, and they liked working with him. I suggested that they found an opportunity to tell him that they valued the way he managed them and had learnt a lot from hm. At their next coaching sessions, they both said that they had done what I suggested, and that he had been both surprised and pleased when they had said it. Moreover, he had told them both that he in turn appreciated the way they worked, and that was why they were being given the coaching – a great turn-around for both sides.

So why not try it out yourself? Go and find three people you work with today and tell them what they do that makes a difference to you. Why not make showing someone else that you value and appreciate them one of the daily things to do on your to-do list? There’s a great sense of well being to be had when you genuinely thank someone or let them know that they’ve made a difference to you. And interestingly, just by that subtle act of gratitude, you’ll be spreading that feeling of well being around your team and organisation too.

Have a wonderful month everyone!
In peace,
Di & Jo xx

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SPENDING OUR PRECIOUS TIME MORE WISELY..

We talk about time in the same way we talk about money: saving, spending, wasting, giving, and taking. And of course, time is like a form of currency. We have a set budget each day of 24 hours, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Fortunately, we get a new budget the next day, so we have plenty of opportunity to become better at spending it wisely.

So what does that mean in reality – spending it wisely?

1. Get enough sleep

Sleep is essential to our health. While we’re sleeping, our bodies have a chance to heal and renew, and our minds can process our day and relax. We all need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep a night for these processes to happen properly and leave us refreshed for the next day. For more information on why we need sleep and getting a good night’s sleep see Jo’s excellent articles on LinkedIn –

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sleep-your-most-vital-leadership-resource-all-jo-clarkson

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sleep-your-most-vital-leadership-resource-all-part-2-jo-clarkson

2. Identify what’s important to you and make it a priority

At work, these are the tasks that matter most that will make the most difference, both to the organisation and to your state of mind. At home, this is the reminder that time spent enjoying your children and your partner and your friends is more valuable than tidying up. I always classify as important those things I would regret not doing if I found out I was going to die next week!

3. Make sure you have some energy boosters in your day

If we have regular energy boosters during the day, we can be more productive and committed to what we’re doing, and we don’t get so exhausted. The first obvious energy booster that sadly most people are missing out at the moment is your 30-minute lunch break! It’s a GOOD use of your time to take that break, not only does it re-fuel you, but it also allows your brain time to re-build internal capacity that allows it to function at its highest level again for the afternoon, which means you.. Get more done! Other energy boosters are things like – 5 minutes laughing with someone, the 10-minute walk round the block, getting some fresh air, talking to a work colleague about non-work stuff, grabbing a coffee with a friend, sit down with a good book or TV programme for 30 minutes. Di had written a great blog all about energy boosters – www.dikamp.com/your-energy-bank-2

4. Be social

We all need human contact. We are wired to connect with other people, and it boosts our immune system to have friendly interactions. That brief conversation with someone at work, having a cuppa with a work colleague, talking with the check out lady at the supermarket, or having a natter on the phone with a friend is time well spent.

5. Have some fun!

Life is too short to miss out on the enjoyable bits! Whatever is fun for you will help to energise you, will enhance your positive attitude – well, it’s just good for you! It may be doing a puzzle, having a laugh, being silly with your children – just make sure you do laugh every day, and build in fun into your every week. Fun is for grown ups too, and having fun and laughing is SO good for your body, your mental well-being and your overall health.

Now even if you do all these things every day, you will have plenty of time left for those necessary things that don’t fall into these categories. In fact, if you do spend some of your time each day wisely, you will probably find you can do more of those necessities more effectively, because you are keeping yourself in a good state.

Now let’s look at some of the other ways we use to describe time.

Wasting time

We often describe something, as a waste of time because it hasn’t been productive – there is no clear result at the end of it. By this we mean a task done, something off that list of ours.

We need to extend this definition because sometimes it is good use of time to do something that has no clear end product. Many of the wise uses of our time come under this heading: being social, talking to work colleagues etc. The basic rule is that if it makes us feel better – more positive, more energised – it is not a waste of time.

Saving time

When we talk about saving time – by going to the supermarket in our lunch hour, by multi-tasking at home, by shopping online – we also need to consider what we’re saving the time for. Since we can’t ‘bank’ that time and save it for another day, I think we could decide to spend it on something that makes us feel good, rather than cramming in a bit more of the responsibilities and duties. Maybe you could just sit in the garden and daydream for a while, or do something else you find relaxing and pleasurable.

Spending your time wisely is making the best possible use of it, so that at the end of each day, you can say to yourself: ‘That was a good day.’

Let’s make the most of our 24-hour budget of time each day – Let’s make the time to think about how we do spend our time, and spend it well!

have a great month!
in peace,
Di and Jo xxx

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THE 6 INGREDIENTS YOU NEED TO BRING YOUR LIFE BACK INTO BALANCE

The phrase ‘work-life balance’ has been around for a long time now. The implication seems to be that they should weigh equally in some version of the scales of justice. Yet if you step back and reflect on it, it is obvious that life is the whole story, and work is a part of it – a balanced life is what we’re really talking about. If your life is primarily about your work, it’s out of balance!

If you look at it in this more holistic way, then you realise that we need a mixture of work/life ingredients, for our lives to be fulfilling, we may get some of it from work and some of it from other aspects of our lives. The important piece is that we look after our ecology. Just as the earth needs us to help balance its ecology, so we need to balance our own. Ecology means ‘the balance in the system’ and without balance we feel out of sorts, we get sick, we feel stressed. So if we can sort the balance in our lives, life and work funnily enough starts to just feel better! So what are the ingredients we need to get balance in our lives? Here’s a selection of the things that we think make the perfect recipe for a balanced, happy life. As with all recipes you’ll need to tweak it to suit your tastes, a little dash more of this, a touch less of that until it fits you just right!

  1. The bare necessities

We all need a roof over our head somewhere to call home. We need sustenance, food and drink, clothes on our backs and enough money to provide the essentials of life for ourselves. For most of us this means that we need to work, to earn an income to pay for these things. Without these bare necessities, life constantly feels like a struggle for survival.

  1. Relating to others

We are designed to be social animals and we thrive on relationships with others. This can be at work and at home, with colleagues, friends and family. Isolating ourselves from any of these social groups of relationship deprives us of something that is supposed to be part of our lives, a fundamental of life. Research shows that those who have more thriving and active social networks tend to have a more positive outlook on life and.. Live longer! Have you let your friends/family relationships slip because you’ve just not enough time? Maybe its time to get back in touch with that old friend and plan a time to reconnect.

  1. Mental stimulus

If we don’t use our minds enough, the brain loses its plasticity. Plasticity is the brains ability to create new neural pathways, in simple terms how we learn and retain information. We are designed to be learning creatures, and we love to be creative and problem-solve, so we need mental stimulus. Work may provide some of this, but we need life to create stimulus too! We need big conversations with friends, challenging debates that help us to shape our views of the world, to learn something new or just find out more about something that fascinates us – Where do you get your mental stimulus in life?

  1. Being active physically

Our bodies are made to move. If we lead a mostly sedentary life, we become more prone to illness and disease. Most of us no longer have a physically active component in our work, we’re mostly sat at our desks in front of our computers, so we need to ensure we do something active outside of work. This doesn’t mean we all have to go to the gym three times a week and life weights or do a zumba class, it could be: walking, swimming, cycling, gardening, getting out into nature, all get our body moving again – What do you do to keep your body active?

  1. Feeling fulfilled

We all thrive on feeling we’ve done something worthwhile. This may be through your work, but it may be that you need other elements: pursuing a hobby; helping out as a volunteer; making your home and garden beautiful; helping your children to learn and grow; working for the environment; working with animals. Without purpose, life just doesn’t feel quite right, so what are you doing that helps fulfils you?

  1. Enjoying yourself

Last but not least, we are supposed to enjoy our lives. If it’s not fun, what are we doing? We could die tomorrow! Anything that brings the fun in is GOOD in our books. Activities that make us laugh, relax us, bring us pleasure, are all essential for a balanced life. They help us to keep perspective and research shows that those that laugh more and have more fun tend to live longer and healthier lives – So what do you do that enables you to enjoy life more?

Now all these elements may overlap and some months you’ll need more of one and less of another but it’s essential that they are all in there. Work may provide you with some of the ingredients you need to make your life feel good, but it will never be enough on its own. It’ll lack that certain something, the spice of life that makes the adventure called life so interesting!

The recipe for a good life is an individual one, there is no one ‘catch all’ recipe, and you will need to perfect it for yourselves. You can tell whether the recipe is right or not by how your life feels: a balanced life feels great! You have an inner resilience and capacity to deal with almost anything life can throw at you when your life is in balance. And when it is out of balance, you can feel it; your fuel tank always seems to be running out of juice.

So check in with yourself today – what else do you need to bring the balance back into your life? What do you need a little more or a little less of? Get the ecology of life right, and that’s where the magic begins!

We hope this has been a useful blog for you! We write these blogs to hopefully give some insights into life and work and some practical things to do to make life and work that bit better, that’s what we’re in business for.

We think it’s important to get these messages out there to the wider world so many people are out of balance right now, so if you found it useful please DO share it, using the buttons below.

All our love,

Di and Jo xxx

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Don’t sweat the small stuff! – making the tasks we avoid easier to do

We don’t think we’ve ever come across anyone who genuinely loved every aspect of their job. We all have some tasks to do as part of our responsibility that we would prefer to drop if we could. It may be all the emails, or some of those meetings or certain phone calls, but there’s going to be something that makes your heart sink when you think about it.
The effect of these tasks spreads beyond the task itself. When you know you have to do it, it can negatively colour your whole day:

• It brings out the most developed avoidance procedures we have
• We generally don’t do the task itself as well as we might
• It uses up a lot of our energy that could be better expended on things we get satisfaction from

This is too high a price to pay, so it’s worth re-examining our attitude towards these tasks.

What can you do about it?

1. Divide the task into smaller chunks
These tasks can easily become ‘elephants’ in our minds, so break it down into smaller parts: plan to make 1 phone call, not 5; clear 5 extra emails, not 10; avoid back-to-back meetings (at the very least make sure you’ve got 10m minutes between each one); give yourself a little space to breathe – diary in some reflection time; plan a little time each morning to plan your priorities and a little time to get back your perspective at least once a week.

2. Experiment with when in the day you do the tasks you don’t enjoy
We are all better at doing the less attractive tasks at certain points in the day. For example, you may find that first thing in the morning you can tackle something you don’t like, and then feel virtuous for the rest of the day. Or it might be that the end of the day, you’re only fit for something tedious!

3. Do something different
Look for ways to make it more enjoyable or at least interesting. What motivates you? It may be listening to some music, if appropriate, while doing it, or having a little competition with yourself – how many can you do in the next half hour? Or it may be giving yourself the added task of finding something to take away from that meeting, or something delightful about that person you don’t normally connect very well with.

4. It’s OK to avoid things sometimes
There’s nothing wrong with avoiding things if a) it’s not something that makes your priority list that day b) that actually it’s something that you don’t have to do or you’re not the best person to do it i.e.: it’s not really something that you need to do at your level. Ironically sometimes something you don’t like is something that other colleagues are happy to do – so can you delegate it to someone? Or swap it for one of their tasks that you wouldn’t mind doing?

It’s daft to continue to let a part of your job, and often a small part, bring down your mood for other things you have to do. When we let the small things disproportionately affect us, it can ruin our motivation for the entire day. Experiment with ways of making it work for you, and save your energy, creativity and drive for making a positive difference to the things that really matter.

We hope this blog has been useful to you, we think it’s about time that we began to really use the precious time that we have at work to do what needs to be done in a more effective way, working at a sustainable pace that ensures quality and creativity – we’re sharing this because we believe you can and DO make a difference to the organisations you work with, and if we can make your work day that bit easier, well, that’s what we’re in business for!

Have a great month,
In peace,

Di and Jo xxx

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CREATING TIME TO REFLECT

So many people these days seem to have no time to breathe, let alone reflect! Diaries are full for months in advance, the lists of things to do are never-ending, and then you go home and try to catch up on the tasks there despite your weariness.

Our belief that enhanced technology would free people up has well and truly backfired. In those moments between meetings, the phone is pinging with emails and messages, and there is an expectation that we will respond quickly, even if it is the evening or weekend.

What this constant barrage does to us is push us this way and that, without a clear direction. We end up doing whatever is next on the list, or whatever seems most urgent, and we lose our perspective of the bigger picture. And this leads to constant busyness, but not necessarily any feeling of progress or achievement.

Carving out a little time to reflect can make all the difference. We don’t mean just sitting there, exhausted, taking time to breathe – although that’s important too! – we mean reminding yourself of the bigger picture of your life and work.

When we are under stress and pressure to deliver our thinking tends to become very narrow and we lose the breadth of our vision. We can only seem to focus on the immediate ‘what next’ and because we are stuck in the stuff we struggle to see what’s really important, to get proper perspective.

It’s actually relatively easy to get some perspective, we just need to find a little time (could be as little as 15minutes) to stop and ask ourselves some reflective questions.

Reflection questions part 1 – to broaden the context beyond work:

Firstly we need to remind ourselves of the big context: what our lives are about. So we need to consider questions like:

  • What’s really important to me?
  • How do I want my life to be?
  • How do I keep some balance in my life?
  • How do I look after myself?

We don’t believe that any of us would spend the last few months of our lives on the things that so often fill our time. The time we had left would become precious to us and be about what really matters to us and gives us joy. So lets’ make sure that we have time for some of these things now. After all none of us know when those last few months may be. Let’s live our life rather than surviving it.

Reflection questions part 2 – to help us regain perspective on all those tasks that drive you along:

When we are stuck in the day to day tasks that we face at work, we forget that actually we are more in control of our to-do lists than we think. Sometimes just sitting down and asking ourselves what we really want to get out of our week can make all the difference – questions like:

  • What do I want to achieve in my work life this week? 
  • What do I want to achieve in my home life this week?
  • What will give me a feeling of progress towards my outcomes this week?
  • What would make my life easier and more enjoyable this week? 

When we stop and think about it, we can sort out our priorities rather than being driven by the urgent stuff. It gives us back a sense of control, of being in the driving seat, and it reminds us that, most of the time, we are not dealing with life or death situations, and some things really don’t need to be done at all! We all have an innate wisdom, that part of us that knows how to make our lives work. It requires a bit of time and space to switch it on – it gets buried when we just rush from one thing to the next.

So, turn off your phone and your computer for half an hour, once a week. Go on, why not put it into your online diary now – time for REFLECTION – Ask yourself these questions, or remind yourself of the answers you’ve come up with. Give yourself time to reflect and regain your perspective, and take back control.

It’s your life, don’t waste it on things that, when you reflect on them, don’t really matter as much as you think they do!

We think that reflection time will make a real difference to how you feel, and the only cost is 30 minutes from your working week. We reckon it’ll give you a great return on that small investment of time!

Have a great month everyone,

Jo and Di xx

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Tips for thriving in challenging times – developing our allies & creating a real support network

Over the 20 some years that Meta has been in business now, we’ve seen the best of business practices and the worst. We thought it was time to share some of the best practices we’ve seen in action that can help you to thrive rather than just survive the current challenging workplaces most of us face.

One of the fundamentals is remembering that work is not a solo sport, that we work at our best not when we isolate ourselves but when we feel part of a cohesive team and are valued members of the organisation that we work for.

Us human beings are social animals, and it’s important that we develop our own social support networks in order for us to thrive. No I’m not talking about online social networks but real social networks with real people we meet and contact on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. Research has shown that people with the most active social network links are more likely to feel supported and to have a more positive outlook on life, and those that do not have a strong social network tend to feel isolated, unsupported and have a tendency towards a more negative outlook on life.

So what does this have to do with us at work?
Well, the workplace is essentially an extended social network. If we are to thrive and have a more positive outlook about work, it’s important that we develop our support network within our team and wider organisation.

At Meta we’ve often talked about how important it is to have ‘allies’ within your team and organisations, people you can ally with on certain topics that are important to you that you wish to influence. We also think it’s important to have at least one ‘rant buddy’ someone you can talk to about anything in absolute confidence and have a good ‘rant’ with and clear your chest with. And what’s interesting is, that when we share our concerns with others, we often find a kindred spirit, someone who is feeling if not the very same thing, certainly something similar!

When we are under pressure and under stress there is a tendency to try and do everything ourselves. We struggle to see the broader picture and as we become more pressured and the demands on us grow so our focus narrows and narrows until we can literally only see what is next to do on our to-do lists! The irony is that as workloads get bigger we actually need to think more broadly, get perspective on things in order to accurately prioritise and plan what needs to be done.

Our state is incredibly important. Many people now are not getting enough sleep; many of us are running our fuel tanks on empty. So the first step is to notice where our fuel tanks are, are you running on empty? If so, make sure that you consciously make an effort to re-fuel your fuel tank so that you are more resourced.

The second thing is to ensure that you are not doing everything by yourself. There is strength in working with others, and it’s important to share the problems you face. In this case, the old adage is most certainly true; a problem shared IS a problem halved. By opening up to others we can begin to see that it’s not just us that feels like this, that is encountering these issues. Once we realise we are not the only ones feeling this way, we can start to do something about it. Often other people have a perspective that we’ve just not thought of. They help us to see the problem from other angles, to get a clearer picture and often can help us to come up with a way forward out of our ‘stuckness’, into a more sustainable solution.

So who are your allies in your business? Who are people that it’s important to have as a part of your work support network? If you are a leader, who is in your leaders network? Who do you turn to for advice on best practice and leadership advice?

And of course our support network is not just IN work, it’s also outside of work. We often call on our partners and our friends, but its important that we develop other networks of support, involve others who are perhaps in similar positions in other organisations who can understand the particular issues we face.

There is something to be said about developing a community, a network of people that you can share and learn from, it helps us to build our own inner resilience and to deal with the increasing pressures and workloads we all face.

So look to yourself and your network. Do you have a strong, vibrant active support network? Or could it do with a bit of tweaking, re-building and growing?

We at Meta are here to support you in anyway we can. So remember to include us in your support network and if you’re a leader why not come and take part in our new Meta leadership network? The first event is on April 6th and you can find out more about it on our events page – www.meta-org.com/.events
Have a wonderful month everyone, and if you would like some help with the challenges you face, remember we are here in your corner and are only an email or call away!

Jo and Di xxx

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