Friday 23 December 2016

Time management tips for getting you through the festive period

There’s no denying it, Christmas is a busy time of year. There are always people to see and things to do, above and beyond our usual daily routine – how do we manage to fit it all in and get our work done too?

As much as we may like to be spontaneous and flexible the rest of the year, the festive season is best enjoyed when properly organised! So we’ve developed some time management tips to help guide you – stress free – through this Christmas period.

Write it all down

Not just the big stuff either, now is the time to be specific. Include your work, recreational and social events all on the one list. One of the biggest stressors around this time of the year is feeling as if you’re pulled in every direction. By making a list of everything you need to get done over the festive season, it will help you to feel in control and avoid the nagging doubt that you have overlooked something – or indeed someone!

Make some me-time

At Christmas we tend to put other people first and forget about what we need. That’s the wrong way to do it. You should always looks after yourself first so that you are sharing your very best self with your colleagues, friends and family. We would even go as far as to suggest you add yourself to your to-do list (see point above), just so you don’t forget to focus on who’s important.

Stick to a schedule

Setting a schedule may not be exciting, but it is necessary to ensure that you make time for everything you want – and need – to do. Take each item off your to-do list and transfer it across to your calendar, along with an estimate of how long you think it will take you. Make sure that you are realistic about your time commitments and don’t forget to schedule in the daily events too, like meal times. Rather than see the schedule as something that binds you, regard it as a tool that gives you the freedom to accept festive opportunities as they arise.

Be creative

Christmas is a special time, a magical time, so feel free to be creative with your schedule and use it to remind you of the spirit of Christmas. Instead of writing ‘gift shopping for mum’ change it to ‘looking for the perfect gift to remind mum just how special she is to us’; rather than ‘team Christmas lunch’ think of it as an ‘opportunity to learn more about my colleagues and what makes them tick’. It may sound like a silly idea initially, but when we’re harried it really helps to remind ourselves why we’re busy and why certain activities are important to us.

Be present

As well as making sure that things don’t fall through the cracks, schedules are also a great way of helping us appreciate and be present during the festive season. By scheduling something into our calendar, we are giving ourselves permission to spend the time doing things that are important to us, so savour the time you have allocated to the task in hand and remember to enjoy yourself.

Value time

Time management is all about prioritising and you can’t do that effectively if you don’t put a value on time. Knowing what time is worth – both yours and other people’s - can help you decide whether you can do something yourself, or delegate / outsource. Let’s give an example: the house needs its annual deep clean but it will mean taking a day’s leave; you know that a cleaner can be brought in for £2 less per hour than you earn, therefore bringing in a cleaner to help with the house makes financial sense. Plus, if you schedule in the cleaner to come when you know you’ve got to be at work – office lunch, important meeting etc – this means you’ve effectively freed up your time to do something else.

Prepare to prioritise

Go through your schedule and give each entry a grading – 1, 2 or 3. Make a distinction between your obligations (i.e. things that are non-negotiable and can’t be moved – this could be something like a school play); the things that mean a lot to you and you’d be really happy if you could manage it (like Christmas drinks with your work colleagues); and those events or activities that you would make time for if possible, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you couldn’t manage it (shopping for a secret santa gift).

If you find prioritising difficult, ask yourself:

  • What will happen if I don’t do this?
  • Is there anyone else who can do this instead of me?
  • How will I feel when this task/event has been done? 

Prioritising your Christmas to-do list is slightly different to any other time of the year in that it is about balancing your work and family obligations alongside the social events that give you real joy and enjoyment, so make sure that your schedule reflects this.

Finally, don’t be afraid to say no. There will, no doubt, be additional pulls on your time but before you agree, ask yourself these things:

  • Do you really have the time or energy to do that extra task? 
  • Will it eat into your personal / family time? 
  • Does it involve doing something you enjoy? 

Remember to try and stick to your schedule, enjoy the festivities and make this Christmas one to remember – for all the right reasons!

Wednesday 7 December 2016

The life and soul of the party! Successful socialising with work colleagues

When it comes to relationships, friendships with work colleagues are unique. They’re often the people that we spend most of our time with, yet the people we know least about. Building social relationships with people we work with takes time.

At work there are deadlines, objectives and routines. When out with friends we are ‘off the clock’, relaxed and comfortable. Socialising with work colleagues lies somewhere in between. This makes it hard to build up meaningful relationships, especially when you’ve just started a new job or changed roles.

Successful team work comes through having good relationships with our colleagues, so any time we spend socialising with co-workers outside of work has got to be good for business. At this time of year, there will usually be lots of opportunity to meet colleagues outside of your usual working day so we’ve come up with some tips to help you develop enjoyable, productive relationships with your work colleagues.

Show up

The right mindset can provide much-needed balance, so although office social gatherings might be daunting, think of them as an important part of how your team operates and worthy of your time. They’re part and parcel of your job, so make a deal with yourself to be there and make the most of the opportunity from a work perspective. Plan ahead, as you would a work meeting. Find out who else will be there, what people will be wearing and how long you will be expected to stay. Uncertainty causes unease, so knowing all of this information up front will help you approach the event with a positive mindset.

Look around – and listen

If it helps, give yourself a work related task to do while at the event. Take on the role as mentor, looking out for colleagues who are alone and introducing them to others. If there is a colleague you’re not seeing eye to eye with at work, go out of your way to hold out an olive branch and build bridges. Social settings are a great environment to practise forgiveness. Take the time to really listen to your colleagues and team members – it’s OK to talk about work stuff, indeed it’s a good way to unwind or debrief after a stressful day, but be prepared to jump in with more social topics to ease the mood when you can. Make mental notes of any common ground you uncover during your conversations, they’ll help you build stronger relationships once you’re all back at work.

Be a man (or woman) with a plan

Treat any social gathering as you would any other work event. Identify what you want to achieve and outline a game plan beforehand. If you are target driven, set yourself some simple goals – i.e. the number of people you’ll speak to; the amount of time you’re willing to spend there before moving on; seeking out people from departments that you have little opportunity to mix with before now, etc. Take the opportunity to speak to your manager and other superiors in an informal setting and find out more about what makes them tick outside of work, this will help you once you’re back in the office. It may also help to have an exit plan ready and inform your colleagues beforehand so it doesn’t look odd if you decide to leave early. Remember, the purpose of the gathering is to ultimately build better working relationships.

Don’t fear silence – be prepared instead

Preparation is key. As with any social occasion, there is a likelihood that conversation will dry up as topics come to a natural conclusion. If you find socialising difficult and small talk doesn’t happen naturally for you, don’t be afraid to pre-plan some safe topics of conversation that you can turn to during the event. There’s a great article about the Imposter Syndrome  that talks about the power of perspective. It’s about realising and appreciating that everyone else in the room is in the same boat. This levels the playing field and makes it much easier for us to play an active role in networking opportunities.

Relax and try to go with the flow

If you approach the event with an open mind and positive outlook, you’ll find that what you once feared can actually become an enriching experience that adds real value to the relationships you have with your work colleagues. Visualise yourself at the event – talking to everyone, holding conversations together and actively participating in what’s going on. Picture yourself laughing, smiling, enjoying the interaction. Accept that this is part of what is expected of you in your role.

Remember, ‘tis the season to be jolly; a time when expectations (and opportunities) for out of work socialising are higher than any other time in the year. With a bit of forward planning and preparation you’ll be building better working relationships that will make 2017 a positive and productive year.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Why going for a walk can help you stay happy not SAD

It’s that time of year again… The clocks have gone back and there’s a definite nip in the air. Some people embrace the winter months, while for others it's a difficult time of year. A time where hibernation seems like an attractive prospect and even the simplest of daily tasks become a chore.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an illness caused by a lack of natural sunlight. It can leave people feeling lethargic and suffering from noticeable changes in mood. Approximately 20% of people in the UK experience some SAD symptoms, while another 8% suffer more seriously to the point that it affects their daily lives. More about the symptoms of SAD >

There are two proven ways of relieving the symptoms associated with the change in the seasons. The first is natural light and the second is exercise. What could be better than a lunchtime walk to kill two birds with one stone?

A recent study by the University of Birmingham looked at the effects of a daily walk on mood and general wellbeing. They drafted volunteers and asked them to walk for 30 minutes during their usual lunch hour, three times a week. The aim of the walk was to encourage the body to release the serotonin and endorphins that act as our natural mood enhancers and energy boosters. Reports were completed by participants, twice-daily and by the end of the study period it was found that walking improved enthusiasm, relaxation, and nervousness at work.

You can find out more about the benefits of a lunchtime walk – and the study – in this New York Times article.

There are loads of reasons (excuses?) to forget about walking once you’re actually at work, but all it takes is a few simple tweaks to your daily routine to really reap the health benefits.

The mental and physical benefits of taking a break at lunchtime are well documented – you’ll find out more about that in our previous blog post about stress busting techniques – even if you're only walking for 15 minutes at a time, it all helps.

If you don’t tend to take lunch and we can’t persuade you of the benefits of doing so, it’s time to build your walks into your work time. Schedule space in your diary to go through your emails – on the move – or maybe suggest a walking meeting with your colleagues?

And if the winter months are leaving you feeling a little blue, it should be even more of a priority for you. To alleviate any SAD symptoms, we recommend that you:

  • Try to walk for 30 minutes exercise three days a week – more if you can manage it
  • Walk at a steady speed that will get your heart and lungs working harder
  • Keep to open areas if you can to maximise the natural sunlight getting to your body.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Mindfulness and work - how practising mindfulness techniques can benefit you at work

Workers in the UK are putting in more hours at work than ever before – according to the Trade Union Congress  – are you one of them?

Absenteeism and workplace stress are also on the rise and it’s unlikely that this trend is going to buck anytime soon. This is why employers and employees alike are looking for ways to make each working day easier to manage. Today, mindfulness practices are not confined to yoga classes and retreats. Many businesses are acknowledging the role that these skills can play in improving morale and motivation, not to mention better team effectiveness and an increased ability for leaders to make sound decisions.

An article in Personnel Today looked at the ways in which businesses – like GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG and the Home Office - were maximising the benefits that mindfulness practice can have in the workplace. Take Transport for London, for example, who were reported to have seen a massive fall in the number of days employees were off sick since they introduced mindfulness practices to the workplace.

Mindfulness is about training the mind to be present, which helps us think about things differently. We are all creatures of habit and our working day is defined by a range of routines, tasks and practices. It doesn’t take much for these routines to change and this can leave us feeling unbalanced. Mindfulness helps us to regain our equilibrium and stay focussed on our work.

The great thing about mindfulness practice in the workplace is that it doesn’t take much time. A few tweaks to our daily schedule and we can retrain our brain to approach stressful situations differently.

As a start, the following will help:

Take a break

Some people think that taking a lunchbreak, or a coffee break, is an act of weakness – taking your eye off the ball. On the contrary. Even a short 5-10 minute break will improve your concentration levels and boost your creativity. Lunchbreaks, if you can make the time, can really set you up for the afternoon and are an easy way to make sure mindfulness features in your working day.

The Harvard Medical School published some great tips on mindful eating practices to help you maximise the benefits. They include advice such as taking time to reflect before starting to eat, not eating on the move and making sure you chew each mouthful. You can read more about mindful eating here >

Take some exercise

Exercise is a natural grounder – a way of clearing our mind and releasing the feel good endorphins that make us feel as though anything is possible. However, often the thought of taking exercise during work time seems anything but possible. Even a quick walk around the block or taking a few flights of stairs, rather than the lift, will be all it takes to clear your mind and leave you focussed and more able to handle your daily to-do list.

Mindful exercise is about focussing on your activity, as you do it, not getting distracted or zoning out. If you’re walking: think about how the road feels below your feet, think about the speed at which you are travelling and the way that the road is designed to take you to your destination. It really is that simple.

Take a moment to think

Have you ever noticed that we do things without really thinking about them? Your routines when you get to work and switch on your equipment, the unconscious walk to the printer, the way you drink your cuppa with papers in hand, as you review your work…

Multitasking is a necessary skill, but choose any one these tasks each day and really think about what you are doing. Turn your chair around and drink your tea away from your desk – think about how it tastes, how warm the cup feels in your hand – focus only on your beverage and how good it makes you feel. Once you have finished your drink, turn your chair back around and carry on with your work.

Take time to try something new

In the workplace, make a conscious effort to break away from your routines and habits. Sit in a different seat in meetings, write with a different pen, wear different shoes, move your desk around. Just the very fact that your brain has to adjust to do something differently will heighten your senses and leave you more able to contribute to the task in hand.

Mindfulness in the workplace will benefit everyone but if you find yourself regularly drifting away or getting irritable with your team mates, you may want to think about how to build mindfulness into your working day, sooner rather than later!

Listen to our podcast in which Counselling Psychologist Stephanie Gooding discusses mindfulness  practices and the benefits for our wellbeing. 

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Counselling skills for the workplace, how to listen so people will talk

We spend a large proportion of our lives at work so it’s hardly surprising that from time to time work issues and personal problems can affect our behaviour and performance in the workplace. Being able to talk to a colleague at times like this could prevent our problems escalating, which can only be a good thing.

Counselling is a much better approach to dealing with people's problems than telling people what to do. It’s based on the helping-people-to-help-themselves theory, which is extremely useful in the workplace.

The good news is that developing a few of the skills used by counsellors can help you work alongside and understand other people more effectively, particularly if you are in a management role and often speak to people about work-related problems, such as performance issues, personal relationships and career development.

Through open discussion and active listening you can help your colleagues identify and take ownership of existing work issues. You can help them work out their own solutions.

Key points to remember when talking to colleagues in the workplace:

  • Ask what has happened, not why it has.
  • Some parts of the workplace conversations can be kept confidential, others can’t. Makes sure you’re honest with your colleagues about the information you’ll have to share with others.
  • Be prepared to constructively challenge who you’re speaking to, point out the inconsistencies and challenge people to acknowledge them.
  • Understand where the line is drawn between talking to a colleagues in the workplace and the need to find professional help and support.

The main counselling skills used in the workplace are effective questioning and active listening

There’s a saying that goes: we have one mouth and two ears for a reason. That means be prepared to listen to what someone is saying for at least double the time it takes you to ask the questions!

The ability to ask questions that people feel comfortable answering (and then being fully prepared to listen to and digest their responses) is paramount to providing a supporting and productive work environment.


Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Listening to a colleague’s problems and using positive words or sounds, like yes and mmm is a recognised technique in counselling situations, letting the person know you’re listening to them and encouraging them to carry on talking. Repeating words back to the speaker and mirroring their body language is another way of helping someone feel at ease and more comfortable around you. Remember, what you do is as important as what you say, so look at the person you are speaking to, try not to yawn or look at your watch, and put aside distracting thoughts.


Let the other person know you are listening by nodding occasionally, smiling and using other facial expressions. Look at their body language too, mirror it where possible to portray empathy, make sure your posture is open and inviting. Be prepared to reflect back what has been said – “so, are you saying that…” – and ask clarifying questions – “What do you mean by…” Remember, listening is not about passing judgment or having an opinion on what is being said, very often just having someone to listen is enough for people to find their own clarity from within.

Start using these simple counselling skills in your workplace to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.

First Psychology Assistance provides in-house training that can help enhance the skills of the people in your workplace. Find out more about First Psychology Assistance and the services we offer >

Thursday 6 October 2016

Postive Psychology that works in the workplace

According to the British Psychological Society, psychology remains one of the most popular subjects to study. There’s no denying that the study of psychology is immensely rewarding and we would – obviously – advocate psychology as a career option for those interested in the study of the human psyche and what makes us all tick.

However, don’t despair if a career in psychology is out of reach for you. The chances are you are using psychology in your job today – though you’re not consciously aware of it. If you’re not, we’ve developed some pointers to help you incorporate positive psychology into your workplace to build better relationships, increase motivation and drive performance.

Look at your leadership style

No-one sets out to be a poor leader and often it’s a role that’s thrust upon people when they’re deemed to be ready, rather than something people train for. There are many different leadership styles, but the most successful leaders share the same qualities in the way they interact with their colleagues.

Try to practise some of the following and assess the impact it has on your own performance and that of your team:

  • Offer clear guidance, but allow group members to voice opinions 
  • Talk about possible solutions to problems with members of the group 
  • Focus on stimulating ideas and be willing to reward creativity 

Although some time ago now, a study of Fortune 1000 companies by Collins in 2001 found two further factors that lifted leaders from ‘good to great’:

  • Modesty: the most effective leaders were incredibly modest and humble.
  • Persistence: the leaders who transformed their organisations never stopped pushing towards their goals.

Promote a happy workplace

The driving force behind workplace positive psychology is the notion that happier employees are more productive. So, how do you make your employees happy? Our previous post focussed on stress-busting in the workplace and the same techniques used to ease stress can also help to create a calm and happy atmosphere at work. We’re not talking about big changes here, sometimes a series of small initiatives aimed at helping colleagues feel more satisfied and happier in their work can often pay dividends. So instead of a staff-retreat and jolly, think more along the lines of an open door policy, increasing the frequency of 1-2-1s and introducing a staff suggestion scheme.

Be thankful

Employees are motivated by many different things, but we all appreciate being appreciated.  In much the same way that we are taught to practise positive reinforcement at home with the kids, the same could also be said of how we treat our employees. So focus on the positives in your workplace, and encourage others to do the same. We’re not talking about grand gestures of thanks, a subtle word of gratitude on the quiet will have much the same effect. Why not set yourself a target of emailing one colleague today outlining an aspect of their work that you’re grateful for?

Don’t manage, mentor

Establishing mentoring relationships within your team is one of the best ways to foster worker / employer camaraderie. The manager / employee relationship is one of superiority, the role of mentor is more about enablement, encouragement and nurturing. The mentor / employee relationship is one where honest feedback is welcomed, and a place where employees can get the psychological and social support they need to excel in their role.

Friday 23 September 2016

Exercise and the benefits it has on mental health and productivity at work

Everyone knows that exercise is good for them, right? The physical benefits of exercise are well documented – helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

The mental benefits associated with exercise are also reported, but arguably not to the same degree. Regular exercise has been found to have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety, as well as helping to relieves stress, aiding better sleep, and boosting overall mood.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the positive effects that regular exercise has on our body can also be linked to improved work performance. It has been found to promote:
  • Improved concentration
  • Sharper memory
  • Faster learning
  • Prolonged mental stamina
  • Enhanced creativity

There is also evidence suggesting that exercise taken during work hours can boost performance. A Leeds Metropolitan University study examined the influence of daytime exercise among office workers with access to a company gym. It found that on days when employees visited the gym, they were better able to manage their time, felt more productive and enjoyed more fruitful relationships with their co-workers.

Now, not everyone has access to a company gym, however another study, reporting in Psychology Today, has shown that even a small amount of walking during the day will have a similar, positive impact on your productivity at work. This includes an energised, engaged state of mind and heightened feelings of interest, alertness and enthusiasm.

It can be hard to carve time into the working day to dedicate to exercise, but if we change our thinking towards a swift stroll around the offices between meetings, rather than running a marathon at lunchtime, we should still be able to reap the benefits.

Five small steps to making exercise part of your working day

1. Schedule it in as you would any other task
Now that you’re convinced of the work benefits associated with exercise, you should feel better about adding small chunks of exercise into your daily schedule.

2. Top and tail your day with exercise
If exercise is something you don’t relish, make sure you’re active at the beginning of the day – get it over with! If the opposite is true, you can also reward yourself with an extra splurge of activity at the end of the day.

3. Give it a work twist
Combining exercise with a work-related task can reduce the guilt of exercising during work time. Draft your emails as you walk, or review your daily targets and to-do list whilst taking the stairs instead of the lift.

4. Make it goal focussed
Target-driven workers may find it helps to make any work exercise goal-related. Sign up for a charity run, perhaps, and get colleagues to sponsor you. This way you’ll feel like you are training for something, rather than just exercising.

5. Take something over nothing
Out of tiny acorns, oak trees grow… It really doesn’t matter what – or how much – you do to be more active during the working day – just start small and see where it takes you!

Remember, you’re making small changes that will have a big impact. You will have days when you can’t find the time, or just feel too tired/stressed to do anything. The key here is to recognise when it happens, but be ready to wipe the slate clean the next morning. 

Short-term setbacks don’t matter in the bigger picture of your longer-term goals: better health and increased performance levels at work.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Seven steps to conquering your fears, so you’re free to achieve your full potential

We all experience lapses in confidence every now and again – it’s all part of being human – and there are often particular tasks that we don’t look forward to at work; whether it’s delivering a presentation to a group of colleagues, delivering bad news to team members or renegotiating work hours. Luckily, these events don’t tend to be everyday occurrences, however they can impact on our performance and overshadow the rest of our work.

We have developed seven steps to conquering your fears at work – whatever they may be – so you’re free to achieve your full potential in the workplace.

1. Write it down

When we think about things in our head, even the smallest issues can manifest into mountains. The more we think about things, the bigger they become, until they become debilitating. The simple act of writing down what scares us, immediately makes the issues more manageable. Try it. Once written down, we can start to break down our fears and create an action plan to deal with the problem.

2. Own it, accept it

As humans we are born with certain fears – a fear of being left, for example. Fears are what keep us safe and keep us alive. However, many fears – such as speaking to groups of people – are learned behaviours. They’re triggered by life experiences and when we find ourselves in similar situations in the future our learned fear is invoked again. The way to break these fears down is to own them and accept them. Once you have admitted to them being part of who you are, you will find yourself more able to work through your fears.

3. Talk about it

Once you’ve accepted your fears, it’s time to share them with people we trust… colleagues, managers, family – it doesn’t matter who with, but the saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is true. Talking about your fears with others makes things easier to deal with and stops them from becoming insurmountable. Fears often sound ridiculous once out in the open and getting a second opinion can often put our fears in perspective.

4. Visualise the best result

Visualisation is a tried and tested practice for helping us conquer our fears and rewire our thinking. Brain studies reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. In other words, when we think about the positive outcomes of our actions at work, we are more likely to take events in our stride and conquer our fears. Remember when you asked your boss for a rise and increased your income by 50%? Remember that standing ovation you got after your project presentation? No? Maybe you need to think a bit harder. Remember: think success, be successful.

5. Compartmentalise

Set time aside to deal with your fears but don’t let them take over the rest of your day. If you know you have a stressful event coming up, put 10 minutes in your diary every day when you will focus on your fears. Use the time to think about the fear you’re facing and take time to compose yourself. Getting your mind around what you fear is half the battle. Try some mindfulness exercises to help manage your anxiety.

6. Face your fears

Many behavioural therapies focus on exposure. Put simply, this means often the best way to overcome a fear of something is by doing it. Fear is irrational and chances are our worst case scenario just won’t materialise. Exposure helps you superimpose positive memories on top of your fearful ones to change your mindset.

7. Reward your efforts

While much of the time we are able to avoid that which we fear, there are certain times in the workplace where this just isn’t possible. In much the same way as we reward our children for their positive behaviour, there is no reason why rewards should not feature in our working lives too. Put time in your diary following a stressful event to pat yourself on the back for a job well-done. A shopping trip, a trip to the movies, a night out with friends. Treats are always better received when they’re earned and what better way to earn one, than by facing your fears, head on?

No-one wants to let their fears stop them from achieving their true potential. Put all these steps in place and we hope you will soon be able to embrace your fears and unleash new skills you’ve been hiding. As Susan Jeffries said: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Goal setting for self-development and personal growth

Life is a journey – and it’s one that we only get to go on once, so it makes sense to have an idea of the direction we’re travelling in.

Goal setting is something that we all take for granted in a work setting – we have targets, objectives and aims all relating to the job we do, which - once achieved - will demonstrate we’ve done a good job. Seldom do we actually look within and set personal goals that will aid our self-development.

According to the Psychology Today journal, setting a specific goal makes us more likely to achieve the things we want, which is important when we’re looking to make a real change in our life. Regardless of whether we achieve the goals or not, the actual act of setting and striving for a goal is what makes us happier.

Very often though, we set goals due to the job we have and not the life we want to lead – without realising that happiness in ourselves makes us more effective at work as a by-product.

We’ve got six steps to setting successful goals that will mean something to you and the life you want to live:

Be positive: goals should be about what we want to do or achieve, rather than what we want to stop doing. A good example of this would be a focus on getting healthy, rather than stopping an unhealthy habit; or enabling others to fully engage in conversation, rather than stopping your habit of interrupting people when they’re talking.

Say what you mean: people respond to deadlines, treat your personal goals as you would work objectives – put a date against them and then build time into your diary to help you achieve the goal. You can’t measure success without dates, besides meeting deadlines gives us a great sense of achievement.

Prioritise: set more than one goal, by all means, but be clear about which you want to tackle first. Setting priorities helps us focus and direct our efforts where they are most needed.

Put it in writing: mental lists do not offer the same sense of satisfaction as a written list, fact. Writing down our goals makes them real and therefore more likely to be achieved.

Keep goals small and achievable: don’t sell yourself short by any means – goals are meant to stretch - and scare - us a little. However, it is much better to break down goals into incremental targets that we can realise, rather than have a goal that is so audacious we can only disappoint ourselves.

Don’t underestimate yourself: while setting goals that we can achieve is important, so too is making sure that we don’t set our sights too low. Goals should challenge, test and push us to be better people; to make best use of the skills and experience we have to improve ourselves and the impact we have on those around us. Never sell yourself short.

Having goals for things we want to do is an important part of life and what makes us who we are. Goals give us a sense of meaning and purpose, they point us in the right direction and keep us focused and engaged. Time spent setting personal goals is never time wasted and time spent achieving our goals is an investment in our own future.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Technology and how to make it work for you, not against you

The concept of work/life balance is changing rapidly. Work and home life are no longer two separate entities, with the lines between becoming more blurred since the arrival of mobile technologies and portable WiFi.

On the positive side, this means that we are free to complete work away from the office and, as a result, maintain greater contact with our home lives even during a busy working day. On the flip side, it also means that we are constantly contactable and seldom able to switch off.

The impact of technology on work/life balance formed the basis for a recent research paper by First Psychology. Published in 2015, the research explored just how far the use of mobile technologies has spread within society and how it has impacted our home and work lives.

Some key findings from the research included:

  • Over 59% respondents were happy with their work life balance
  • Over 50% respondents believed that technology allowed them to work more flexibly
  • Over 50% respondents – particularly those in the 18-34 age group – thought that social contact during the day helped to relieve work pressure 

Quick question: do you feel anxious when you’re unable to check your work messages – even during ‘home time’? If you answered yes, you are not alone. An interesting theme to come out of the research was that of anxiety, with more than a third of all respondents admitting to feeling fretful when unable to access work messages.

It’s also fair to say that in terms of work/life balance, it is women rather than men that find it more difficult to switch off, with a greater proportion of female respondents conceding that they check their work emails during holidays and other days off.

If you can relate to either of these scenarios, it might be time to tackle your use of technology. We’ve developed three golden rules for ensuring technology doesn’t get the better of you:

Set boundaries and stick to them

Only you know what is acceptable and what is not. Set your own rules - no weekend work; how long you’ll be using your laptop/phone/tablet before taking a break; the time you’ll officially finish work; whether you’ll go cold turkey over the holidays or allocate a hour a day to deal with emails; and so the list goes on... The boundaries you set are up to you – the important thing is that you communicate these to your co-workers and your family, and then stick to them.

Don’t get distracted

Be honest with yourself about how much time you actually spend working and how much time surfing or looking at things that, while work related, are not critical to your job or help you achieve your work objectives; turn off the apps you don’t need rather than leaving them running in the background; turn off notifications on your social media platforms while you are working; link the technology you’ll use to the tasks on your to do list and make sure they’re the only ones you use until the task is complete.

Take a break

Make a deal with yourself that you will switch off fully from time to time – we’re talking about a physical break, not just ten minutes looking at cat videos! Get up and move away from your screen, away from your desk – you’ll be more productive when you return. Technology means we’re always ‘on’ which is great for flexible working, but not so great for down time. You owe it to yourself and your family to get enough time away from technology.

Whilst the First Psychology research found that, in terms of advantages and disadvantages of mobile use, respondents generally leaned towards there being more pros than cons, it’s fair to say that technology has the propensity to control our lives if we are not strong enough to create realistic boundaries about how and when we use technology. It’s all in your hands.

Read the research findings in full >

Thursday 28 July 2016

Getting the balance right – returning to work after the holidays

No-one looks forward to their first day back at work after the holidays – however much we enjoy our work. Rather than take this as a negative, see it as a positive; a reflection of the fabulous time you spent with friends and family.

We’ve developed three top tips to help your first few weeks back seem less daunting and to ease you – painlessly – back into work after the summer.

Recreate your holiday behaviour at work

We are all creatures of habit and, whether intentional or not, chances are we will have developed certain habits during our holidays. Reading the paper in a morning over breakfast; taking a stroll after dinner; enjoying a drink on a balcony before bed – these little moments are often what we remember about our holidays. Think about it, what is stopping you recreating these behaviours – or at least something similar - at work too? Build time into your day to change your work habits: take a short stroll or read something new; eat your lunch in a different place, go out of your way to get to know colleagues you haven’t connected with yet. These simple things will make your work day more interesting and, perhaps, give you something to look forward to. Before too long the holiday blues will have passed and it’s up to you if the new habits continue or you revert back to old working practices!

Give yourself something to look forward to

Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated after the holidays. We can feel like we have nothing to look forward to now – and next summer is just too far away to be meaningful. Taking time out from work often makes us realise that there is more to life – however much we enjoy our jobs – many of us often make a resolution when we return from the holidays, to redress the work/life balance. So, now’s the time to plan some small treats to help motivate you at work and make you feel as if you’re working towards a goal. It could be a meal out with your family or friends; a day trip to the seaside to recreate that holiday feeling; or a back-to-basics overnight stay in a tent. Whatever it takes to make focus on a positive outcome, rather than dwell on the holidays that have passed.

Create a to-do list that leaves you feeling productive and fulfilled

A return from holidays often means a backlog of emails, telephone calls and work priorities to juggle. So much so that, a large percentage of workers are reportedly put off going on holiday due to the mountain of work that will be waiting for them on their return! Take time on your return to work to set out an achievable schedule and a realistic to-do list. Don’t try and do so much that you become overwhelmed. That means prioritising and accepting that you can’t do everything at once. A to-do list that you can deliver, will help you leave work feeling fulfilled, rather than stressed and overworked. No one wants to wonder if taking a holiday was worth it!

When you do return to work, recall your holidays with a smile. Post photos of your exploits (but remember your privacy controls!) and use these happy memories to refocus your mind if the work starts to get on top of you. Remember what your holidays taught you – we work to live, not the other way around.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Motivation matters: how to give your best at work during the summer

Summertime – the season of light nights and sunshine (sometimes, at least). A time when there are a million and one places we could be and a myriad of activities we could be engaged in. And yet, for the majority of the summer, we still have to work.

It’s easy to become unmotivated during the summer season. In fact a survey conducted in the USA suggested that 25% of office workers feel their productivity drops during the summer months – they call it the ‘Summer Slump’ [].

When there’s somewhere else we’d rather be, even the most committed of employees can become apathetic and indifferent to their workload. However, with a bit of preparation and a plan, it is possible to be as productive at work during the summer months, as we are throughout the rest of the year.

Let the holidays work for you, not against you 

The great thing about the extended daylight hours is that there is more time to do things outside of work. If flexible working hours are an option at work, then summer is a great time to do this so you don’t feel as though you’re missing out on other stuff.

Reward your productivity

Summer is definitely the season to reward your own productivity. Make a deal with yourself – if you can do what you need to accomplish in the morning you’ll take a lunchtime walk in the sunshine; if you get through the afternoon’s workload you’ll meet a friend for a drink and a natter after work.

Remain focused

Procrastination can be rife during the summer months – all we have to do is glance out of the window and see others enjoying themselves for our own mind to wander and listlessness set in. The way to avoid this is by setting an achievable to do list. This will keep you focused and moving forward. It will also make you appreciate any down time you do have because you’ll feel like you’ve earned it.

Change your perception

Sometimes all it takes is a simple change in perception to motivate us. Yes, our colleagues might be away and we may have more to do, but won’t they be doing the same for us shortly? Yes, the weather outside may make sitting at a desk less appealing, but it also gives us an excuse to take a proper lunch-break, rather than eat at our desk. Instead of looking at work as stopping us from doing things, look at the summer as a reason to reassess our work/life balance and make the effort to do more outside of working hours.

And if all else fails and you find yourself feeling lackluster at work, take the opportunity to clear the decks. If you are already feeling unmotivated to work, your table is likely messy or a little more disorganised than usual. Clear your desk and see how well it can clear your mind - at least in the short term. It's amazing how a clear desk can make you want to do a little more.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Is your workplace mentally healthy?

Have you heard of sick building syndrome? It’s a condition that leads to people displaying physical symptoms – such as headache, nausea or physical aches and pains – when they spend time in a particular building, usually a place of work.

While sick building syndrome is widely reported, little has been written on the importance of ensuring a mentally healthy workplace. When at work there are a number of things that we should be doing to take care of ourselves and look out for others.

A recent study of 1,388 workers showed that just 1 in 3 employees felt comfortable discussing mental health issues with their employer. This figure decreases further in workers under the age of 24.

The biggest reason cited for non-disclosure of mental health problems is the fear that it will impact on their job prospects. This was followed by the worry they would not receive adequate support (30 per cent), concern their manager would not understand (28 per cent) and the fear it might make management think less of them (23 per cent).

The good news is that we all have the power to make our workplace more mentally healthy.

As an employee:

  • Don’t make mental health a taboo subject. Encourage people to talk about their workload, stressors, conflict with colleagues and how this makes them feel, just as they would any other illness or health issue.
  • Find out the ways in which your employer supports mental health conditions, make sure that colleagues are aware too, even if they don’t need help now – they may in the future.
  • Understand your legal responsibilities and make sure you reflect these in your work practices.

As an employer: 

  • Create a culture which encourages people to share their feelings at work 
  • Consider providing a confidential listening and advice service for employees 
  • Ensure occupational health colleagues are aware of mental wellbeing and how mental health problems can manifest themselves at work 
  • Provide mental health awareness training for all employees and additional support for managers 
  • Include health and wellbeing discussion as part of your performance management process 

If you – or any of your colleagues - feel that mental health issues are impacting on your work, be prepared to talk. There are a number of questions that an employer is entitled to ask in order to ascertain how best to support people at work. These could include:

  • What adjustments are needed in the workplace
  • What are the entitlements with regards to sick leave
  • Which medications are being taken (if, for example, equipment is being operated)

Any questions asked must be for ‘legitimate’ purposes, i.e. to check how it will impact on the job of the employee. All discussions around mental health, whether on the record or off, must be kept confidential.

Remember, mental health problems are more common that we realise and – with work often being cited as a major stressor – we all have a role to play in ensuring our workplaces are mentally healthy.

Find out how to reduce stress at work >

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Stress-busting support techniques to keep business booming

According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, issues relating to work account for eight out of 41 major life stressors.

It follows then, that if we can help employees to manage stress at work this will impact positively on their activities outside work too, which results in a happier, more productive workforce.

As you’d expect, men and women deal with stress differently. The first step towards easing stress at work is being able to identify when your employees are experiencing pressure.

It is unlikely that male colleagues will openly admit that their workload is too much, that they’re experiencing conflicting deadlines or that they’re having trouble with other colleagues. Cues to look out for would be if a male colleague starts to stay away from others; if they avoid certain situations – such as excuse themselves from meetings; or if they appear to anger more easily than before.

There are a number of stress busting techniques that can be adapted to use at work. These include deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, or meditation.

There are also a few practical exercises that employers can introduce to the workplace that help employees keep stress at bay.

Schedule setting

Taking time at the beginning of the week to review to-do lists is time well spent. Stress often comes from feeling overwhelmed and this starts when we have lots of tasks and obligations rolling around our minds without a place to settle. Encourage colleagues and team members to be realistic about what can be achieved in the work hours available.

Focus on what matters

Being realistic invariably means prioritising. We can’t do everything at once and trying to over-deliver usually impacts on the quality of our work. Employees need to be clear about the tasks that have to be done that week and the tasks that should be completed if time allows. Focussing on priority tasks helps people regain control, which reduces stress levels.

It’s good to talk

It can be difficult to share frustrations and anxiety at work with colleagues but the benefits of offloading problems onto someone else are well documented. If employees don’t have access to an independent listening or advice service, encourage them to call on their personal support network. A problem shared is a problem halved and even a two minute call can help put things in perspective.

Take five

Is the habit of working through lunch and tea breaks prevalent in your organisation? Studies show that rather than help us achieve more, a lack of regular breaks impacts on productivity. Just five minutes break is all we need to reset our body and reduce anxiety. Seriously, is anybody so indispensable that they can’t take five? Encourage colleagues to use their breaks as time to focus their thoughts, take in their surroundings or enjoy a bite to eat. Productivity is likely to improve and stress levels plummet as a result.

Just small changes to the way we approach our work can make a massive impact on our ability to deal with stress. The trick is finding out what works in your organisation and making it part of the work routine, where possible.

Find out more about mindfulness at work and how it can help reduce stress >

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Coping with change: mindfulness techniques to reduce stress at work

The only thing we can say with certainty is that nothing stays the same for long! Increasing workloads and expanding job roles can leave even the most committed colleague feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, from time to time. This can impact on the quality of the work delivered, which in turn increases stress and pressure at work. The reality is that none of us can change what happens around us, however we can change the way we deal with it.

Work is often described as being the third biggest cause of stress. By learning how to manage the stress experienced at work – using some simple mindfulness practices – life balance (and productivity) can soon be restored. 

Mindfulness at work 

The term mindfulness is not new. However people tend to link it with self-help behaviours like meditation rather than the benefits it can bring to people’s working lives. This is changing, with health experts starting to recognise the physical effects that mindfulness techniques have on the body. A study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research has cited reduced blood pressure, and a reduction in chronic pain as some of the physical benefits of mindfulness. While mindfulness based stress reduction is said to help cancer patients. This is alongside the more widely reported upturn in emotional wellbeing.

Mindfulness is about training the mind to think about things differently. More often than not, life – and work - is defined by a range of routines, tasks and practices. When these are changed, for whatever reason (holiday, illness cover at work, increased workload), it can really knock us off kilter. By rewiring our brain to approach situations differently, we leave ourselves more alert, more open to change and more able to deal with stressful situations.

What happens when we rush?

Faced with more to do and the same time in which to do it, there’s a tendency to rush our way through work without the usual care and attention. Getting things done, rather than doing a good job feeds anxiety and heightens stress. Mistakes can be costly, but it’s not just that. Stress releases adrenaline into the body which becomes addictive. We then begin to rush things that are non-urgent just to get the same feeling. Unfortunately, what we lose in the process of rushing is clarity. Clarity goes hand in hand with good judgement. Mindfulness helps us keep focused on our purpose.

Letting go of what you can’t control

It's common to stress over things we simply can’t control. However, this also has a habit of taking us out of the present which impacts on our effectiveness, as well as our happiness. By being honest with ourselves about what we can control we can consciously free ourselves from those we can’t. Worrying about something – even if it’s non-articulated – uses up valuable energy, energy that could be spent on something constructive. It’s easy to let go of some things – like the price of petrol, or the weather – and still be aware of them. Others can be trickier, like what people think, how they feel, what they do. Mindfulness helps us focus energy on the activities we can influence. 

Exercise while you work…

All mindfulness exercises are a form of meditation. Meditation is the simple practice of breathing, or rather focusing on our breathing. When experiencing stress, we usually exhibit a number of physical cues. The trick is to recognise these cues early on – and use a mindfulness exercise to disperse the stress before it has really taken hold. Everyone’s cues will be different, but examples include irritability with colleagues, daydreaming or losing focus during meetings. 

Exercise one: it only takes a minute 

Find yourself a quiet space. Sit down, make yourself comfortable and turn off all distractions (PC, phone etc). And breathe… That’s it. In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you. Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion. When the minute is up, reinstate your PC and phone and continue on with the day.

Exercise two: savour the moment 

Starting each working day with a feeling of gratitude for what we have makes us less likely to hold on to negative/stress inducing thoughts. Tea-breaks and lunchtime are excellent opportunities to practice this exercise. For example, rather than drink your cuppa while going through work papers or scrolling through messages, take a couple of minutes to really appreciate what you are doing. How the drink smells as you pour it, the warm feeling as your hands hold the cup, the relief and enjoyment as you drink it. Go back to your emails – or whatever you’re doing – after you’ve finished and see just how focused you feel.

Exercise three: something new 

To keep in the present, take time to try something new. Your senses will be heightened and you will be more aware of what’s around you. This works particularly well in meetings. Sit in a different seat, write with a different coloured pen or pick up your water glass with your non-dominant hand. These small actions, although seemingly insignificant in themselves, go a long way to keeping your brain switched on, so that you remain present and can give your absolute best at work.

To find out more about keeping calm at work, read our previous post.

Have you booked a place on our FREE Mindfulness-Based Resilience workshop for HR professionals/people managers? Find out more and book your place today!

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Keeping calm when all around you are losing their heads: a manager’s guide

There’s a common perception that we’re all working longer and harder than ever before. A close eye on overheads and an increasingly competitive marketplace means less people are often doing more than they’re used to and this can only lead to one thing: a stressed-out, unfulfilled team.

As managers we have a role to play in ensuring the continued productivity and resilience of our team. Learning some simple stress-busting techniques to keep your team productive during busy, stressful times is time and effort well spent – for yourself and your organisation.

For some, relaxation techniques are seen as a luxury that many managers can’t afford, however this viewpoint is slowly changing with recent studies indicating that managers trained in mindfulness have been shown to make more rational decisions, which rubs off on their team. The skill of being able to detach from your feelings during periods of stress, means business decisions are more focussed and considered, based on evidence rather than emotions – and that can only be good for business.

It follows that those managers who plan a small amount of time into their diary each day to refocus and retain a calm centre, will provide more measured management to their teams which will, in turn, drive better performance and deliver improved results for their organisation.

There are a number of signs evident in the workplace that managers can look out for, as an early indication that they may be bearing more than their fair burden of stress:

  • Forgetting someone’s name as soon as you hear it
  • Listening to colleagues while doing something else at the same time
  • Eating without being aware of eating
  • Reacting emotionally to work scenarios
  • Daydreaming when going about your daily tasks
We’ve compiled three simple exercises that managers can build into their working day to help keep calm at work, enabling them to better support and develop their teams.

With five minutes to spare: Become aware of your breathing

The purpose of this step is to really think about the act of breathing – you don’t have to breathe in a certain way, for a certain length of time, just think about what you are doing. Find a quiet space – a closed office or small meeting room is ideal – sit down and really focus on what you are doing. Concentrate on those parts of your body you use when you are taking a breath in; savour the moment before exhaling and relish in the calm that flows across your body as you breathe out. The objective is not to let the mind wander or enter a trance-like state – it is about taking notice of our body and what it does to stay alive. If other thoughts start to enter your head, acknowledge them, then click your fingers as a cue to bring your focus back to the physical act of breathing.

Ten minutes – concentrate on your colleagues

This is an exercise in observation. By taking in the actions and behaviours of those around us, we gain a deeper appreciation of them as individuals, which leads to improved working relationships. This helps managers make more grounded choices when communicating with others during times of stress. People watching is a popular pastime, usually undertaken for pleasure, but its value as a mindfulness exercise when done in relation to the workplace in underrated. The objective here is not to spy or pry, it is about observing what makes your most important asset – that is, your team, tick and using that knowledge to inform your future managerial decision making. Ask yourself questions as you observe: Why are they here? Are they happy? Nervous? Irritable? Why? What does the way they hold themselves say about them? Does the way they interact with colleagues match up with their body language? To spend just ten minutes observing those around you and learning from what you see, will result in much calmer team dynamics.

Fifteen minutes – take in the task

Multi-tasking is a skill in itself, but do you ever wonder about the quality of your outputs? There is nothing more productive and rewarding than being fully present and totally focused on one piece of work at a time. Mobile phones, emails, social media, and intranets are all competing for attention while we complete work tasks to the best of our ability. This exercise takes about fifteen minutes. Pick a task, any task that sits on your to-do list. Remove yourself away from all distractions, switch off all competing technology and just concern yourself with the task in hand. If you start to daydream, click your fingers as a cue to bring your focus back to the task you’re doing. When your fifteen minutes is done, review your work. The knowledge that the task has had your undivided attention brings with it a sense of pride, which in turn reduces anxiety and stress. You’ll find that after one task well done, you’ll be able to review your own workload – and that of your team – with a renewed clarity and focus.