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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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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 –
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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WHAT DID YOU LEARN TODAY? – consciously learning from what work and life sends our way

We may ask this question of children when they’re at school, but we rarely ask it of ourselves on a regular basis. And yet it is an essential aspect of being human: our continuing to learn and develop ourselves. Now when we’re at school, there is an expectation that we will learn new facts and new skills, and we are tested and judged on our ability to do so. As we grow older, there is not generally the same encouragement – or pressure! – to continue to develop our skills and capabilities. One of the things we seem to learn at school is that learning is about coming to grips with something new, and there is less necessity for that as we settle into our particular career and way of life.

However, learning is so much more than that! When we talk about learning from experience, we are talking about the real process of learning: it is the gradual refining of our awareness, our understanding, our skills, and applying them to enhance our lives. We do this by reflecting on what our experiences are like, then taking the parts that work best for us and looking for ways to improve things that don’t work so well.

You may not realise you do this, because it is a natural process – our brains are designed to help us to do it. It is what Darwin described as the survival of the fittest – the process of adapting and refining the way we live our lives, so as to fit into and thrive in our world. We can’t help but do it as we go through our experiences.

So the question is not whether we have learnt anything today, but what we have learnt. When we are not conscious of what we are doing, we can be learning things that seem useful to us, but are not really helping us to be the best we can be and live our lives well. We may have learnt that it’s a good idea to keep your opinions to yourself if you want the boss to approve of you; or that you always have to put others first and be useful to them if you want to be seen as a good person; or that suppressing your values of what’s right and wrong is necessary to fit in. Of course, you will also have learnt some more useful lessons that do help you to be more of who you really are, but for many of us, our continuing learning has diminished rather than enhanced our lives and the way we live them.

It’s important that we set time to reflect on our learning. It might be at the end of the week or perhaps at the end of a month. When we become conscious of this form of learning, we are constantly evolving ourselves, refining our approach to work and life to ensure it becomes better and easier for us. When we learn from our mistakes, and as importantly when we learn from what we do well, then work and life just works!

It’s easy to dismiss our personal development as something that is a ‘nice extra’ to our life and work, however if we don’t give it any importance or any time, then we can get the feeling that we are going round and round in circles, hitting the same blocks and making the same mistakes. It can be very disheartening.

As human beings we love to learn and grow and when we aren’t consciously learning we can feel that we are not moving forward, that we are in stasis. Organisations rarely have the funds these days to do much more than the most essential of technical training, and so our personal and professional development is often left down to us. So what will you do to ensure that you are consciously learning?

At Meta we are committed to identifying easy and useful ways in which people can develop and grow into being the best of themselves, and sharing those ways with as many as possible. We know it’s possible to learn in ways that transform your life into one of possibilities rather than constraints. Isn’t this what we’re really here on earth to do?

Our Journey to Mastery programme is one of the vehicles we have developed that helps you to identify ways of enhancing your life through conscious application of your natural learning process, and we are starting a new programme in January 2017.

So if you’d like to kick start your own personal development plan for 2017, why not consider joining us for this transformational programme?

For more information and some testimonials from those who have already done the programme check our events page –

And we are not just pushing our programme, we believe its time for everyone to start reviewing their own learning. This year? I’ve learnt so much (often through adversity!) and you know what? When I stopped recently to say ‘what did I learn from all my challenges this year?’ it really amazed me just how much I got from it, and it really made me feel better to know just how much I had learnt. I’m also sure that as a result that NEXT year will be far better as a result.

So why not put aside sometime in your work-diary to review what you have learnt this year, we think that if you do, it’ll give you plenty to think about and might just make you feel a lot better about the year you’ve had!

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Why one hours extra sleep is good for you and good for business! 

Right now at Meta we see so many of our friends and customers suffering. You’re tired, actually forget tired you’re exhausted and the work/life balance well lets just say there’s not much balance in it at all! So what can you do about it?

Well, one of the places we THINK we can save time is by shaving time off the amount we sleep, however if we interrupt our REM sleep (which if you have 7 hours or less a night you ARE) then your mind doesn’t get the opportunity to process the information/emotions/problems from the day before, so when you wake up you’re still processing the information from the previous day. Think about that for a moment – as you read this article do you struggle to absorb the information? When you get to work, do you already feel like your mind is half full and that it won’t take much to fill it? That’s because it is!

You see because many of us are under medium to high level stress it means that the stress hormones in our body are controlling which part of our brain is activated. When we are not stressed we utilise our conscious brain (this is about 1% of our brain by the way). Its used to analyse, process and is good for making good, thought out and rationalised decisions. However when we are under the stress that most of you will be feeling right now the body shifts to the ‘fight of flight’ response and switches to use the sub-conscious part of our brain (the other 99%) that is excellent at making quick decisions (should I fight or should I take flight?), but not about thinking things through! The sub-concsious brain, although able to process things  about 1 million times quicker than our conscious brain, does not have the capacity/ability to think things through and analyse the data to come up with an informed response. Its an instant YES/NO, this or that – its binary thinking. So when you think about this for a moment, it makes sense of some of the short-term knee-jerk decisions that are being make in the workplace and indeed in the wider world!

Our body requires sleep, its not a luxury, it’s a necessity! We are an amazing feat of co-operation; 60 trillion cells all working together to make us. Those cells need time to regenerate and get themselves working properly and that is why we need to sleep. We need time to absorb and process the day and to heal and regenerate at a cellular level.

In recent sleep research it has been proven that just ONE hour more sleep has an exponential effects on the body. Not only does it enable our conscious mind (that bit we use in our work day to day) to analyse, make good decisions, be more effective, process things quicker, and improve problem-solving skills. But when we get more sleep it re-activates our immune system (which for most of us is not working due to the amount of stress hormones running around our bodies which shut it down – more on that in another update) and it activates genes in our DNA that are beneficial to our health.

The study compared those that got 6.5hours sleep compared to 7.5 hours sleep, so 7.5 hours sleep is what we all should be aiming for. Personally I’m a big guy and I KNOW I need my sleep, I get at least 9hours which according to the research is what teenagers need  – so I guess I’m just a big kid! However many of you will be reading this getting an average of 7 or less hours sleep. So if you want work and life to feel easier, if you’re sick of being tired, getting sick and feeling like there’s not enough hours in the day to get everything done, then get yourself an extra hours sleep!

Don’t take my word for it, do your own empirical research and see what that extra hour of sleep can do for you. Ever since I found out about this I’ve been passing this information on to people that I’m working with. The response I’ve got from those that have given it a go has been really encouraging, it really does seem to work!

For more information on this check the BBC website where the programme ‘Trust me I’m a doctor’ explored this very research in a brilliant episode at the end of last year –

Have a great month,

Jo xx

CEO of Meta

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I recently went to see Bruce Springsteen in concert, and was struck by the level of joy he creates with his band and his audience. At the same time as loving the concert, I was reflecting on how rare it is to simply enjoy yourself: to sing, laugh, dance, and take pleasure in simple things.

We have been taught through the consumer culture to search for our delight through more, bigger, better, instead of listening to our hearts, which say simple, natural, shared.

This may sound idealistic, not of the real world. After all, how often can we go to concerts, or just dance? It’s not our everyday. Well, it can be: look at the sunshine, the flowers in the gardens. Listen to that lovely happy song on the radio as you drive into work. Taste that special cheese you decided to treat yourself to in your weekly shop. Smell your child’s head – how sweet! Feel the grass with your bare feet first thing in the morning. None of these are expensive or rare – and they all feed our souls.

And why do we do it – feed our souls? Because it is essential to our health and well-being.  It causes our brains to release those hormones which keep us well, and help us to thrive. Consequently, when my soul is fed, I am a more pleasant person to be around, I notice and appreciate the more positive aspects of my life, and I feel able to handle what the world throws at me. What is more, I don’t need the compensation of ‘stuff’ to try to fill the void.

If shopping did it for us, wouldn’t everyone in town look happy? If gadgets did it for us, wouldn’t everyone using their technology send positive messages?

We all have a sense of what feeds our soul: if your heart warms or sings at the thought of it, you know that works for you. That is what is worth investing in, spending time on.

This month, take a little time every day to feed your soul, and keep yourself well. The world is full of soul food, if we care to look for it – you don’t need to go and see Springsteen – although I would recommend it!!

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In Meta we emphasise the importance of keeping yourself resourced, to give you the energy and resourcefulness to be at your best. This is something every small child knows naturally – you need to keep yourself feeling good, so that you can get the best out of your life. Yet as we grow older, we are actively discouraged from listening to our own needs. We learn to eat at certain times rather than when we are hungry, to sleep when it is bedtime rather than when we are tired, to keep still when we want to move, and to move when we want to rest – the list goes on and on! The consequence of all this is that we begin to ignore the messages from our bodies, our minds and our hearts that tell us we are running low on energy, and to push ourselves on, against our inner wisdom.

When this becomes habitual, we leave ourselves exhausted and depleted, and that is when illness can creep up on us, or bad moods, making it impossible for us to be at our best. We want to encourage everyone to remember how to look after yourself, in a natural and easy way, so that it is easy for you to give of your best and still stay healthy and happy! We like to use a metaphor to explain what we are talking about.

Imagine that you have a fuel tank which contains your energy and resourcefulness. Most people tend to empty their fuel tanks faster than they fill it, so the orange light is constantly flashing on their dashboard. When your fuel tank is almost empty you will never perform at your best – that requires a full tank of energy and resourcefulness. Now if this were a real fuel tank, we all know that it is expensive to keep filling it up, although vital if you want your vehicle to keep going.

Fortunately topping up our imaginary fuel tank is very simple and easy, and generally costs nothing. Every time you smile or feel good, you put some fuel in – it need only take a breathspace. We call it having treats and we recommend that you have lots of treats every day.

A treat is anything which makes you smile or feel good that you can access through your senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Observe small children – they find hundreds of things to smile at, laugh about or feel good about in a day. They notice the birds flying past and singing, the clouds whizzing across the sky, the colours of the flowers in the garden. They love the feel of the gravel under their feet or the grass with dew on it, the softness of a cushion, the roundness of an orange. They smell the roses, the fruit, the freshly washed sweater. They listen to the wind in the trees, the rain on the window, the music they love. And they instantly decide whether they like the taste of something or not, and show you by their reaction! These things are all around us in our everyday lives, and we can use them, as children do, to top ourselves up, just for a moment.

We can also give ourselves an extra boost to our fuel by allowing ourselves to have something we call turbo-charges. These are anything which involves us completely, making us forget our everyday worries for as while. For many people this will be a hobby or interest: cycling, exercising, doing a jigsaw, watching a great movie, or theatre production. Sometimes it is just those things which we often deny ourselves: the long luxurious bath with wine, candles and a good book; or the couple of hours where we just do whatever we feel like doing, rather than the list of chores. Such things are not self-indulgence, they are how we revitalise ourselves, and a turbo-boost will top your fuel tank up rapidly and more fully than the simple treat does.

At Meta we believe that treats and turbo-charges are the fundamental requirement for us to bring out our own excellence. When we feel energised and resourceful, we all perform better, come up with better solutions and ideas, and behave better with others. We need to remember to look after ourselves in this way, for our own sake, and for the world we live in – what a different place it would be if we all kept ourselves feeling good most of the time!

We recommend that you:

Make a list of possible treats for each of your senses

Allow yourself at least one breathspace an hour for a treat

Allow yourself at least 1 turbo charge a week

The world is full of potential treats and turbo charges, so exploit the possibilities and make yourself feel good.

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There’s a disturbing new virus that is hitting at the core of every part of society. It’s called the tiredness virus and it’s something that we at Meta are committed to eradicating. There is no doubt that the tiredness virus is badly affecting organisations right now, it’s hitting the productivity of organisations very hard.

Why? Because tired people are NOT good for your organisation, nor are they good for anything! Think about it – when you’re tired:

  • Bad decisions get made
  • Awful mistakes happen
  • Office tempers flare up
  • Work seems harder to do
  • Efficiency is vastly reduced
  • Dealing with anyone is hard work
  • You end up being busy rather than being effective
  • The to-do list seems never-ending
  • And some days you feel like nothing has got done!

No-one is effective when they are tired, and everyone finds work and life more difficult.

Most people right now in the workplace are playing catch up with their sleep. They work longer hours than ever. With the wonders of smart phones and Blackberrys now, there is no escape from the office. You are being contacted at all hours and expected to respond at all hours. You probably live off coffee/tea/Red Bull at the moment and are rarely eating a proper lunch. Your body and your mind are tired, worn out and in need of some respite. Not because it’s a nice or right thing to do, (although it is the right thing to do) but because actually it makes sound business sense. If you are properly rested and you have filled your fuel tank properly, the by-product of that will be that you work more efficiently and more effectively.. And feel better for it!

So what can you do?

Well, if you are in a position of power within your organisation, realise that if you want more to be done in an effective way, you must allow people to have their personal time, to take their breaks, let them go home on time, and don’t email them at 12am – they’ll think you’ll expect a response.

If you’re a leader then lead by example. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, and show how effective you can be with sleep. When you feel tired, stop and have a break. Give yourself a chance to refresh when your effectiveness quotient is down.

The best solutions, the most exciting innovations come from downtime and reflection time. How many times have you been stuck and then got up and moved around, or sat down and reflected, or even gone to the loo and had a moment of inspiration?? ‘Inspiration’ literally means to ‘breathe in’ and so if you haven’t even got time to breathe (and lets face it a lot of us are just too busy right now) then its not surprising that inspiration doesn’t come calling very often.

I work mentoring young people (16-18) in my old school and I’m seeing a worrying trend (in the last 5 years) which is that young people are becoming as tired and exhausted as their parent role models. They are also running beyond their natural limits. What kind of example are we setting our own sons and daughters if we are constantly tired, grumpy and over-worked?

The evidence shows that if you are well rested your brain functions better and you get more work done in less time. You are more effective after a decent night’s sleep and when you work more effectively more gets done.

So if you want to get on top of your to-do list, keep your organisation healthy, and set a good example to your work colleagues and your family, do a few simple things –clear yourself of the tiredness virus.

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Maybe you don’t suffer from it – you’re OK, you’re thriving on the pressure and the adrenaline buzz that goes with it. But most of us have times in our lives when the thriving on pressure becomes surviving pressure, and then barely surviving pressure. So beware! You could be on the slippery slope to burn-out, even if you haven’t yet reached that stage.

And many of you will know just what I mean: the feeling of being tired most of the time and exhausted some of the time; the reluctance to get up in the morning; no time or energy for enjoying yourself – just some of the signs of burn-out.

There is a high cost being paid in every industry for the continuing pressure to be competitive, and the resultant increase in workload and longer working hours. The amount of stress-related illness and absence in work is increasing exponentially, and everyone knows someone who is close to burn-out through just working harder.

We have a friend who, with his wife, comes to stay for a weekend occasionally. The Friday night meal is a waste of time, because he is too ‘wound-up’ to enjoy the food. By Saturday night, he is a little more human, but on Sunday he is winding back up again. His ‘free time’ is reduced by the post-work effects and the pre-work ‘wind-up’, and there is little enough of it in the first place.

When is it burn-out?

All of us have more highly pressured lives than used to be the case. Society has changed significantly, with instant communication links, geographical mobility, and expectations that everyone will fit more into their lives. So what’s the difference between working hard and having burn-out?

It’s a difference of control. I can have a day when I have been very busy: I may have travelled to work for an hour, then run a course all day, then travelled home, had some dinner, and spent an hour gardening, before sitting down to answer post, deal with e-mail, or do some word-processing. After a day like this I will be tired, but I will still feel that I am choosing how my day goes, and I can sleep well and get up ready to start again the next morning. When I’ve reached burn-out, I won’t feel as if I choose how my day goes. It will feel as if I’m driven by external circumstances, with little choice on my part, and although tired, it will be the weariness of someone who has kept going with, but not finished what they had to do.

Our fuel tanks

I often use the metaphor of a fuel tank in a vehicle to describe how many of us feel. Imagine that you have an invisible fuel tank attached to you, which is the container for your energy and resources. Many of us have become accustomed to running with the orange light flashing on the dashboard to warn us that the tank is almost empty. In fact, we are so used to the orange light flashing that we don’t really notice it any more.

What we do know is that we don’t have that much spare to give out to others and their demands on us. We resent extra demands because they may ‘empty our fuel tanks’, and we slump in front of the TV or go to bed early to just allow our tanks to re-fuel enough to get us through the next day.

One of the consequences of running your engine with the orange light flashing all the time is that you pull the ‘gunge’ through the system, causing, over time, blockages and breakdowns. We are warned about this on our vehicles, how come we aren’t warned about it with our personal ‘fuel tanks’?

So what can you do about filling up your fuel tank?

It is actually simple to top up your fuel tank, although not what we have generally been encouraged to do. Once upon a time, we all knew how to keep ourselves resourced and energised – it came naturally to us – and we had to learn how to neglect ourselves.

Watch small children. Without even thinking about it, they automatically go for things which will keep their fuel tank filled. Their preference is for anything which will make them feel good, if only for a moment. This is strongly sense-based – it’s what they can look at, hear, touch, smell and taste, primarily: a piece of clothing they love, even if it is ‘inappropriate’ for the occasion; a favourite toy or video; a favourite type of food – all these ‘feed the senses’, and in the process, top up the fuel tank.

This works equally well for us as adults, but we have learnt not to allow ourselves these ‘treats’. We wear sensible clothes and save favourites ‘for best’; if we enjoy a film, we watch it once; our favourite foods are saved for special occasions. Children soon realise that you are not supposed to keep your fuel tank topped up – but they were right, we were wrong!

How many ways could you make yourself feel good, just for a moment, in a day? I don’t doubt you have favourite clothes, smells, tastes, music or sounds, things you like the feel of. Our unconscious wisdom tempts us into making those choices, and putting them in our environment. They don’t have to be expensive or rare. I remember working with some hotel staff, and one of them said to me: ‘I long for baked beans on toast, instead of beef en croûte!’ I pointed out to him that a can of baked beans cost very little, and it was a very easy meal to prepare!

Most of the time, it only takes a moment or two to appreciate something by noticing it, or to make a different choice of clothing or what you listen to. It is not time consuming to fill your fuel tank, and it has such enormous pay-offs.

You have more energy and resourcefulness, so you can manage yourself and your day better. We all know that when we are ‘on form’, we work more effectively, deal with others better, handle difficult situations better, and generally view the world more constructively. This is within your control – you just need to re-learn how to keep your fuel tank topped up.

Working smarter

Once you have learned the fundamental principle, and resource yourself more effectively, you will find it easy to recognise and apply ‘working smarter’ principles.

  • Take ‘time out’ from whatever you are doing at regular intervals – we can only remain effectively focussed on a task for relatively short periods of time. When you find yourself beginning to lose concentration, move, have a break, fetch a drink, something to shift your focus and top up your tank. Then you can pay attention again.
  • Take a moment or two to check out that what you are doing really matters. We often pay attention to tasks because they are urgent rather than because they are important. Ask yourself (or your manager) what matters most in this job, and ensure that you give your best attention to those things.
  • Organise your day to suit your personal flow of energy. We all vary – some do their best report work in the morning, some in the afternoon, and so on. Observe yourself for a few days, and then plan your activities, as far as possible, to suit your own pattern.
  • Go home! Very long hours do not equate with effective work. And taking work home with you often results in a larger burden of guilt, rather than more being achieved. We all need to work, rest, and play, as an advertisement once said. If you lose that balance, you continually reduce your own effectiveness at the work.

Above all, listen to your own messages. We all have an intuitive wisdom that enables us to be at our best. External pressure produces short-term results and long-term burn-out. Internal awareness produces results long-term. What choice will you make?

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When we are caught up in our busy lives, it is easy to forget what really matters.  Out time seems to be eaten up by those never-ending ‘To Do’ lists: targets to achieve, chores to be done, projects to complete and there’s always more to add to the list, no matter how much we get done!  It is depleting, exhausting and we end up malfunctioning in one way or another, because we are not machines, designed to do things, we are human beings, designed to be human!

And what does that mean, to be a human being?  We are a living system within a larger system and our purpose is to live in relationship with ourselves and with others.  Originally when we worked together to achieve common goals, it was to feed, clothe and house ourselves.  We realised that it was easier to achieve these things by co-operating and supporting each other, using our different strengths to play our part, and encouraging each other, so that we would all want to be a part of it.

Our ‘organisations’ are really just groups of people forming a bigger living system, so that they can achieve what they want to achieve more easily.  So why have we forgotten about how to use these systems well, and got caught up in just getting things done?

It’s time we remembered that it is through our relationship with others that we achieve more, it is by taking better care of ourselves that we really utilise our strengths.  It isn’t hard to do, in fact it comes naturally!

So for the next month;

  • Give yourself a break before you are completely exhausted, and just take some breathing space to be.
  • Address the human being you are dealing with before you just ask them to do something.
  • Offer help to others, and
  • Ask for help from others
  • Encourage others to take a breathing space with you

None of this needs to take up much of your time, in fact it will be better use of time than the attempts we make to keep going or look as if we’re keeping going, when we’ve really had enough. Instead of depleting your energy, it will help to re-energise you. When it comes down to it, none of us will want our epitaphs to say: ‘She finished the to-do list!’


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