3 Reasons To Let Go Of Control

Now if I know you reader, you are leading a busy life balancing a mix of career aspirations, family commitments, your health and fitness, hobbies and a fun social life.

You likely want to find satisfaction in all of these areas and, with that hope, comes a certain desire to control your life - through a to do list, an organised calendar or a running list in your head (or all of the above).

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live a well-rounded, fruitful life but with that desire to control every aspect of your life comes pretty big risks.

We can easily let ourselves down by missing an item on our list, others might not measure up to the image of our perfect life and it can just bring a whole heap of stress and anxiety with it.

Although I love to stay organised and work on creating a great life, I have also learnt to let go of some of the control I used to so tightly hold on to.

So why should you let go of control?

We are not living life on a points system

The brilliant coach Amy Young said this quote and I remember it daily.

Sure, ticking things off our to do list feels good, as does an organised schedule, but remember - there are no points for any of this.

 The experiences I’m more interested in prioritising involve fun and connection with other people, not scrubbing my bathroom floor or answering every email in my inbox.

At the end of January with an empty public holiday weekend ahead, I thought to myself ‘I could declutter the house this weekend and get everything super organised’.

My next thought was ‘Hey, I’ve got nothing on this weekend - I could go visit my family for a few days and go swimming, go on long walks, eat out and catch up with them’.

Guess which one I chose? I’m pretty sure I’m going to remember that weekend more than I’d remember a Marie Kondo-ed linen closet.

Control never lasts

How many times in the last year have you finished your to do list? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

We obviously don’t want to let our lives and households fall apart, but adjusting to the idea that I’ll never really be up-to-date with my to do list is something I’ve come to accept.

I remind myself that it would be worse to have nothing to do, no aspirations and be sitting around bored with an empty to do list.

I have things I want to do, blog posts I want to write, TV shows I want to watch, places I want to visit and I don’t need to come at them with a sense of control - just a sense of curiosity and appreciation.

Controlling others is fruitless

Trying to control others is one we’ve all indulged in, I’m sure.

Our partners, kids, coworkers - if everyone could just behave as we want them to, life would be so much easier right?

A big lesson I’ve learnt is - you cannot control anyone, only your own thoughts about that person.

An attempt to control someone may seem like you are helping them or making life easier for yourself, but accepting others as they are is much more likely to serve you.

Think of someone trying to control your actions, nagging on you to change, telling you to act in a different, unnatural way. Even if you agree to it, you will most likely go back to what you wanted to do in the first place.

Other people are exactly the same.

Letting go of the need to control others lets you off the hook stress-wise as much as it lets them be who they want to be.

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What are you trying to control in your life? How can you let go of that grip over the next week?

My Number One Tip To Solve Sleepless Nights

I’m pretty lucky readers - my mum is kind of a genius.

She likes to drop little pearls of wisdom in people’s lives and then shrug like it’s no big deal. Except it is a big deal.

Case in point. Maybe 15+ years ago my mum shared this tip with me, probably while I was bemoaning some insignificant boy in my life and tossing and turning each night worrying about what was going to happen next with us.

She told me I could use this technique to either help me get to sleep at night or to fall back asleep if I woke up in the middle of the night with my mind racing.

Over the years, I’ve often shared this tip with struggling coworkers and stressed friends, when they’ve confessed to me that they can’t sleep at night.

And still to this day a random person in my life will remind me over coffee that they’re still using this technique during hard times.

Pretty cool right?

So what’s the tip?

My mum explained to me that while our mind is racing with work worries, relationship woes, money troubles or whatever the issue du jour is, it’s almost like the people involved are IN YOUR BEDROOM WITH YOU.

I’ve had bosses, exes, clients, real estate agents, the whole lot over the years, standing at the end of my bed, while I stress about what has happened with them that day or mentally rehearsing what is going to happen next.

You simply say something along the lines of:

“Ok <insert name here>. I know that you think it’s really important that I think about you and our situation right now, but I really do need to get some sleep. I’m happy to think about you in the morning, but for now I’ve got to say goodbye.”

You then visualise walking that person out of your bedroom and closing the door behind them. They’re no longer in your metaphysical space and you have moved them along until morning.

And guys, it really does work!

That act of acknowledging how in your personal space they are (like, get out of my bedroom random coworker!!) and moving them out of a sacred time like sleep, not only helps you get more sleep, but often makes you realise how insidious the situation has become.

One last tip - in really tough times, sometimes the bedroom door doesn’t work and you’ve got to walk them all the way out of your entire house (slamming the front door in your mind can be therapeutic here too depending how much they’re frustrating you!).

If you’re having trouble sleeping, let me know if you try this tip. I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me and the people in my life.

 

Are You Working A 'Second Shift' Each Day?

My love for author and time management researcher Laura Vanderkam runs deep. I’ve read her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and I avidly follow her blog and any articles she writes that pop up on publications like Fast Company and the New York Times.

Laura has stacks more books you should check out and I have no doubt you’ll appreciate her mix of real data and realism. She doesn’t buy into people bemoaning they have no time but also doesn’t want us to fill every second with productivity - pleasure and creating memories are just as important.

The 'Second Shift'

I didn’t realise how long I’d been following Laura until I sat down to write this post. In 2009, Laura introduced me to the concept of the “second shift”:

“Back in 1990, sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the phrase "second shift" to describe the household labor married women did once they came home from their paying jobs.”

I’m sure many of you can relate - you rush in the door from work with your to-do list for the evening already swirling in your mind - dinner, kids, housework, your side business - whatever it is, it’s crucially important and you’ve got to get going on it as soon as you get in the door.

I talked through this concept with one of my amazing coaching clients recently. Although this work can be seen as important and can make us feel positive about our homes and lives, if we’re running from one shift to the next, there’s not a lot of time for pleasure or down time or even some semblance of calm in our days.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure many of us collapse in a heap on the couch or in bed at the end of the night and call that ‘down time’, but how would it feel to enter the second shift feeling rejuvenated and with some fresh motivation?

My evening routine almost always includes rest when I get home and I’d like you to try this out too.

The Challenge

This week, when you get home from your day out or enter the evening in general, I want you to take 30 minutes to 1 hour between your shifts.

Do something that brings you pleasure - read a magazine in the backyard with a glass of wine, do some yoga stretches - whatever it is, do it just for you.

If you have a busy family life that doesn’t allow for much alone time, read stories to your kids, or watch them play in the backyard while you get that wine and magazine time in.

The world won’t end if things run a little bit later each evening and I’m sure the memory of these times will far outweigh the to-do list.

Let me know in the comments below - what will you do between your shifts this week? 

 

How To Plan Your Work Day (And Week)

As a self-proclaimed time management strategy junkie, I've talked about how one of the ways I handle a stressful work day is by using the Productivity Planner.

A large part of my job is project management, so not only am I managing my own time, but also the time of my creative teams and often my external clients too.

The Productivity Planner, like it’s predecessor, the Five Minute Journal, has a super simple layout and beautiful design aesthetic, as well as plenty of inspirational quotes from well-known productive people. So how does it work?

Forward plan your week

Every Monday morning, I sit down with my coffee and start to fill out my tasks for the week - the planner asks you to pick your top 5 tasks, then your secondary 5 and then the 5 tasks you can complete only if you get the top 10 tasks done.

I also fill out the one action that will make my week more productive, which is good to pin down with a clear (and hopeful - ha!) mind on a Monday morning.

Ideas might be turn off email for periods of time, take regular breaks or batch tasks.

Prepare for each day

Once you have those 15 tasks nailed down, you move to the daily workday planner and continue to fill out a fresh plan each morning.

Not only do you choose your number 1 most important task to complete that day (and again the subsequent secondary tasks you can complete if that gets done), but the planner also encourages the Pomodoro technique.

The idea is that you work for 25 minute intervals, then take 5 minute breaks in between. So you estimate how many 25 minute blocks you need to get your task/s done, then being the race against time.

Look back on Fridays

Finally on a Friday afternoon, I complete the weekly review - no coffee this time, but a glass of wine about an hour away...

I note down what went well, what I learnt and (the most important part I think) what didn’t get done on my list and what will flow over into the next week.

That part of the review is particularly insightful as it reveals where I’ve procrastinated, where people haven’t gotten back to me on time or where I am or the team are letting projects slip.

What do you think of the Productivity Planner principles? I’ve been following them fairly consistently throughout 2016.

Would you like a follow up post with my learnings (and failings) around the process so far this year? Let me know in the comments below. 

3 Ways To Destress In Any Situation

Signs of stress can express differently in different people.

For you it might be increased heart rate or a sinking feeling in your stomach. For others it’s feeling out of control with a scattered mind and loss of concentration.

Whether it be at work, home, or any other situation, here are my tips for regaining clarity in a stressful situation:

Realise they are only thoughts

Often when we’re stressed we feel like we’re letting someone down - our family, our boss, ourselves. But often we have no hard evidence of this and it’s simply a thought we’re having.

I’ve been loving delving into Brooke Castillo’s teachings recently and she constantly reminds us that our feelings are caused by our thoughts and our actions are caused by our feelings.

One more time:

Our feelings are caused by our thoughts and our actions are caused by our feelings.

Here’s an example.

The thought ‘I am falling behind on the housework because I’m too busy’ may bring feelings of inadequacy, stress and overwhelm. Our actions might then be to frantically try to clean the house (when we’re already tired) or to flop on the couch and beat ourselves up with more negative thoughts.

If we realise they are only thoughts and we can change our thoughts, this will often have a major effect on the reduction of stress.

So try reframing the thought - in the example above you might change the thought to ‘I’ve been really busy lately so I should have a quiet night. I’ll get to the housework when I have the space and time to do it.’

Get organised

Although the example above advocates ease, if you have the headspace, getting organised will often ease the stress going on around you. You might clean your desk at work and start a fresh to do list, or you might try some decluttering at home to free up space.

Once you’re coming from a clearer physical space, you can often see things afresh and start to deal with whatever was stressing you to begin with.

See people

AKA get out of your own head...

As mentioned in my first tip, the stress we feel is pretty much always caused by our thoughts. If we’re alone, with plenty of time to let negative thoughts take over, often the stress won’t dissipate.

Try going to an exercise class, catching up with a friend for coffee or going to lunch with coworkers.

The very act of talking to others about new topics will give you perspective and changing your environment will help reset the stressed feelings.

How do you deal with stressful situations? Let me know in the comments below.

3 Steps To Managing A Stressful Work Day

When was your last work meltdown? Unfortunately the occasional stressful day at work is pretty much unavoidable.

With so many modes of contact, numerous meetings, deadlines and interruptions, it’s a wonder we’re keeping it together at all in the workplace.

A few weeks back I arrived at work and within half an hour was already feeling quite stressed. Emails were pouring in, people were dropping by my desk and our internal chat tool was going into overdrive.

So what did I do?

I stepped away from my desk

When you’re drowning, it can seem counter intuitive to drop everything and walk away. But this is by far the best tactic when you're feeling overwhelmed at work.

Go to the bathroom, grab a glass of water, or walk to the cafe and pick up a coffee.

This will immediately create space in your mind (I usually remember an important forgotten task during these times) and give you perspective. On this particular day, sipping a glass of water in the kitchen reminded me to go back to my desk and then...

I made a brand new to-do list

I realised I was likely stressed as I had not quantified where I was at and had not planned my day properly.

If you do no planning, you’re easily caught up in minutiae and distracted by interruptions.

You turn back to your desk after each interruption and wonder ‘where was I?’.

Once I wrote down what needed doing, I could drop the ‘crazy busy’ act and realise that yes, I had lots to do, but it was going to be manageable.

I did however have to recognise that maybe it wasn’t all going to be managed and completed today.

This meant I needed to regroup and then...

I used the Pomodoro technique (AKA you can’t do everything today)

I’m not completely strict with the Pomodoro technique but I take on its high level ideas.

The concept is that we all have peaks and troughs during the day and we can’t expect ourselves to work at 100% capacity, 100% of the time.

The Pomodoro technique quantifies this as 25 minutes of work on one task followed by a 3-5 minute break (preferably away from your desk).

I’m also looking forward to getting a copy of Alex Ikonn, Mimi Ikonn and UJ Ramdas’ new Productivity Planner. The planner looks great and advises you to only pick 3-5 important tasks for the day and structure the work day around completing those in the short Pomodoro bursts.

The idea that you’ll only complete 3 tasks in a day may scare people at first but, in reality, your time is best spent ‘single tasking’ these important items, rather than multi tasking small, less important tasks and basically only keeping your head above water.  

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed by stress at work? Let me know in the comments below and share this post if you think it will help others.

How To Support New Mothers

I’m not a mother myself but have been around lots of babies in the last few years, as friends and family members start to procreate. Apart from my intense fear of holding babies until they can control their necks (who’s with me?!), I’ve always tried to be as supportive as possible as the women in my life go through this life-altering time.

Below are a couple of my tips looking in from the outside, and I also enlisted the help of a mother of three with this advice.

Bring food

My #1 tip is to cook for the new mum and dad. 30 minutes of your life making a lasagna, casserole or whatever dish can easily be divided and transported, will make a huge difference to the life of their family. I usually recommend cooking something that freezes well, but have had numerous testimonies from friends that they eat pretty much whatever I bring them that night, rather than saving it for a busy day. As every day is a busy day now right?!

Forgive them

New mums have told me that they no longer feel like their head is in it - that they’re being a bad friend, host, partner, sister etc during the first months of having a baby. I’ve found this really never to be the case, but even if they are being hopeless, just forgive them.

A new mum’s friend became irate with her because she was always so distracted and was never available to listen to her friend’s problems. And proceeded to tell her so.

Making someone who is going through an intense time feel bad seems pretty low to me. Wait it out and try some empathy.

And the visiting advice from a mother of three?

  • Offer to cuddle the baby while mum has a shower
  • Offer to help mum have a walk around the block or sit with the baby while her and her partner do
  • Run a vacuum over the lounge floor
  • Make her bed
  • Come for afternoon tea (but bring the coffee and the cake)
  • Play with any other children
  • Talk about the 'outside world'
  • Leave your small children at home if you can
  • Offer to pick up groceries for mum from the shops on the way to visit
  • Hold the baby!
  • Don't stay too long
  • Food, food, food!!! (especially for dinner that night) Ed: Supporting my theory above!

Are you a mum? Tell me the best help you’ve had after bringing your new baby home.

 

Light Links: April

 
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How was your April? Mine was a great one - work has been busy but fulfilling, I've had some balanced weekends catching up with family and good friends, and life with Pickles the kitten is always sweet.

Grab a cup of your favourite coffee, tea or wine and enjoy some of my favourite links this month. And do let me know which one strikes a chord with you in the comments below.

See you in May! 

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We're starting off with something to bring ease to your weeknights: three easy, fresh and tasty pasta dishes. Sending this to the husband now. Hint hint...

Working too hard? Ok, who isn't really? I'm not guilty of all of these points, but holy moly numbers 3 and 4 stuck out to me.

I think I've always known I'm an HSP (highly sensitive person). Here's why we need rituals

You ladies know I'm now living the pared back life in my wardrobe (and yes, I promise there are more posts to come like that!). Here's some more realistic tips on building a minimalist wardrobe

Do you read Cupcakes and Cashmere? Her blog is massive, but she seems really down to earth. I'm always into behind the scenes posts - here's one on the tech and apps Emily uses day to day.

I could pretty much recommend every episode of the podcast The Lively Show, but this one stood out to me because of the bravery and honesty around, I'm sure, a fairly taboo topic. An interesting story about dealing with painful sex

Five Ways I'm Failing At My Own Advice

 

Over the last few weeks, I've fallen off the wagon. Exercise has taken a back seat, my work stress levels have been ascending and the thought of meal prepping on a Sunday makes me want to lie down and take a wine-induced nap. But hey, that’s what this blog is about – being OK with where you are and taking it easy on yourself. It’s also about honesty and transparency, so today I present you with the five ways I've been failing at my own advice.

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Advice #1

When blogging about how to make the most of your commute, I offered catching up on emails on the train/tram/bus to really get you ahead for the work day.

Reality

I guess with this one I have been taking my own advice, but checking emails has been causing me more anxiety than is necessary. I’ll often see mail that I want to act on straight away but don’t have the right files available on my phone. Or I’ll see an email chain that’s taken place that I haven’t been able to chime in on, then start thinking about how I’ll word the email when I arrive in the office. Arriving at work flustered and stressed is not the aim, so for now I’m letting this activity go from my commute.

Fix

My work email is right next to my personal email so I've shifted it into a folder on my phone I never use (and is located on the last screen) so I can’t access it easily and I’m not tempted for a quick peek (this never works right?!). So far, so good, which makes me more relaxed on the commute.

Advice #2

Plan your work day ahead so you feel accomplished at the end of the day. Otherwise hours can slip away and you leave work feeling like you didn't achieve anything.

Reality

Um, totally failing at this one lately. I've been saying yes to a lot of meetings, putting out little fires everywhere and am glued to my email, rather than working on more important tasks.

Fix

I am totally guilty of this but I love to change the way I manage my to do list. Some weeks I like Outlook, some weeks I need to handwrite it and for the last few weeks I’ve been using Trello, a free online organiser. I freaking love it and I think it’s definitely made me more productive. I include all of my different projects or clients as lists, then add ‘cards’ for each task. I can add due dates, archive (so satisfying to move things off as you do them) and see that yes, I have a lot of tasks, but only some are actually urgent, not all.

Advice #3

Plan for a well-rounded week – allocate equal time to all the important areas of your life – career, relationship, friendships, family, leisure, hobbies.

Reality

Does coming home from work tired and watching House of Cards all night count as a well-rounded life? Yeah, the last month has not been great for this one. I've been letting exercise go, been zoning out in Instagram instead of talking to my husband and secretly feeling happy when plans with ‘semi-obligated-to-see-friends’ get cancelled so I can do nothing.

Fix

Turning this around is so important. Last week I made an effort to get to the gym two nights after work and I left with much more energy and motivation than I came in with. I've also been making sure to spend at least 10 minutes talking through our days with my husband in the evening, and have been going out with the friends that leave me feeling inspired and full. My mood and energy have definitely lifted.

Advice #4

Practise gratitude in the mornings – list five things in your head that you’re grateful for as soon as you wake up.

Reality

Or alternatively, pick up your iPhone, check your emails, hear the cat meowing for breakfast and before you know it you’re on your way to work.

Fix

Taking a few minutes at the start of the day is so important to me for setting up the rest of my day. When I start with positive thoughts, ease into the morning and do some yoga, I’m a much more relaxed human being. I feel less stressed, can plan my day better and am more zen all around. Time to get back to the morning routine.

Advice #5

It’s ok to feel negative emotions completely. When you’re spiralling with negative self talk, set aside time to feel it.

Reality

As with any new job, I've been suffering a little with imposter syndrome as I learn the ropes. I’ve also been focusing on plans for the year ahead (read: wishing I had more $$ to travel more and fulfil those plans) and sometimes I find myself in a real spiral. I push the negative emotions away and think ‘I should feel happy. I shouldn't feel like this’. And guess what? That doesn't work.

Fix

Read The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. I've had so many epiphanies while reading this book, I haven’t even finished it yet as I want to give sufficient time for it all to sink in (he also recommends this – reading and practising the theories bit by bit). The crux of the book is a number of behavioural techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Parts of it centre on allowing yourself to accept negative emotions and scenarios you dream up and accepting our thoughts for what they really are, just thoughts.

So although I’m revealing how I’m failing at my own advice, that’s really only a story I’ve made up. So here’s to accepting what is and making moves to get life back to where we’d like it to be – one non-judgemental step at a time.

To finish, a couple of great quotes from The Happiness Trap:

"The mind loves telling stories; in fact, it never stops. All day, every day, it tells you stories about who you are, what you’re like, what you should be doing with your life, what other people think of you, what’s wrong with the world, what will happen in the future, what went wrong in the past, and so on. It’s like a radio that never stops broadcasting."
"The bottom line is not whether a thought is positive or negative, true or false, pleasant or unpleasant, optimistic or pessimistic, but whether it helps you create a fulfilling life."

Have a great week lovely readers.

 

Why schools are ahead of workplaces

At a recent work conference, I found myself in an awkward situation.

‘Close your eyes and smell it. Place it in your mouth and roll it around…’

No, my career is not going down the path you think. I was in a positive psychology session, savouring my malteser.

sunny disposition

Positive psychology

The session was run by Karen Marangio from Monash University in Melbourne and Kerri Morey, a psychology teacher from Brauer College. It was aimed at psychology teachers of 12–16 year old students. The presenters discussed the rise of positive psychology in schools and in wider society over the last 15 years or so.

Positive psychology is about creating and relishing the happy moments in our everyday lives and one of its main pioneers is Martin Seligman – he explains the concept succinctly in this video.

 

Brain breaks

Kerri talked about using positive psychology activities in class to refocus her students and improve concentration and enthusiasm – she called them ‘brain breaks’.

Why every trainer or workplace doesn’t use this strategy, I don’t know. Not only do we lose concentration in our day-to-day work, but longgg meetings and full day training courses are perfect opportunities to recharge.

As mentioned, one of the simpler activities we completed was to each take a Malteser and spend up to three minutes savouring it – the glossiness, the smell, the feel in our hand, the taste. It was great to reset the brain during a long conference, while also bringing up feelings of gratitude and activating our senses.

Other simple brain breaks might include :

•           the ol’ tap your head and rub your stomach trick
•           doodle time on a blank sheet of paper
•           a quick game of noughts and crosses.

Basically anything that sends your brain away from your work completely.

8 tips for a more satisfying life

We also discussed some of the strategies students at Kerri’s school are using to try and create a more satisfying life. Developed by Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, there are eight steps they are implementing:

•           Keeping a gratitude journal

•           Practising acts of kindness

•           Practising mindfulness

•           Thanking a mentor

•           Learning to forgive

•           Spending time with people you love

•           Taking care of your brain and body

•           Developing strategies for managing stress

 

Psychology wasn't even offered at my high school, and I think these strategies are so important and could be really beneficial in both schools and workplaces today.

Are there workplaces out there employing any of these strategies? Let me know if you work for one or have heard of any.

Martin Seligman also gathers and compares happiness data via his questionnaires. You have to sign up but it’s worth adding to this important study here