We were both watching our daughters in a horse-riding lesson. Every few minutes her phone would ping, and she’d huff, type a reply, then put her phone away, only to be interrupted a few minutes later.
I wondered if it was an emergency – but apparently not.
“It’s my husband and mother in law. I don’t think they realise I’m here, with my daughter, in the middle of a riding lesson.”
“I just want to watch my daughter have her lesson!” she sounded exasperated.
I shared my philosophy with her – surely a text means you can send me a message whenever you choose, and I’ll reply when I choose. After all, if you want to have a same-time conversation, you can always call me.
“Oh no, you see, I like to be punctual…”
I think what she meant was she liked to be prompt. She didn’t like the thought of keeping people waiting. But were they really waiting in the first instance? And were they simply replying because she was replying to them?
What if they’re not leaving you alone because you’re not leaving them alone?
A similar conversation cropped up with a friend who works in the charity sector – where a work conversation for her was generally an outside-of-work conversation for everyone else:
“People who want to volunteer or fundraise for us generally do it outside of their working hours – so I quite often find emails arrive in the evenings after I’ve done a full day’s work.”
But how many of them would have been absolutely fine with her replying the next day, during her office hours, I asked? She smiled. The penny dropped.
Often the truth is, we don’t really want them to leave us alone – at least not forever. We still want to hear from our family, our friends, our supporters and our clients. Just maybe not right now.
And who says it has to be right now? What if it’s just you?
What if they’ve already left you alone – or at least left it with you, to pick up when you choose?
Sometimes when we feel taken for granted, it’s actually our own assumptions that we’ve taken for granted.
We often answer this question with some form of “because they…”. Have a go at starting it instead with “because I…” see where that leads you.
I’d love to hear what comes up for you. Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks to Marie Kondo, so many of us are currently asking this question about our stuff.
But what about how we spend our time?
There was a moment recently when I spotted an email that got me surprisingly excited.
It wasn’t a big deal or opportunity. It was my new violin teacher following up our first lesson with a few recommendations of music scores to buy.
But there was definitely an ‘ooh!’ and maybe even a little squeal of excitement when I spotted it.
It sparked joy.
How much of what you spend your time on sparks joy for you?
Now I’m not suggesting that everything that doesn’t spark joy is worthless. (Although if you do decide to have a ruthless cull of your diary – I’d love to know!)
But it’s worth asking, if it doesn’t spark joy, what purpose is it serving?
Perhaps it’s something that supports the things that bring us joy
Laundry, tax returns and negotiating contracts certainly fall into that category for me..
Perhaps it’s something we’ve just defaulted to
Booking in a manicure, a night out with friends, or a trip to Legoland with the kids – just because it’s what we’ve told ourselves ‘rest’, ‘fun’ and ‘life outside of work’ looks like.
Like when we say yes to all the social engagements when we’d secretly love to have a date-for-one with a hot bath and a book. When we ‘treat’ ourselves to a day in front of the TV with our PJs on, but our limbs are yearning for a good stretch on a long hike.
When we splurge on a spa day when we’d be far happier getting muddy in the garden. Or when we put ourselves forward for that big shot promotion, because that’s what we’ve told ourselves ‘success’ looks like – but in reality it takes us further away from the work we really love to do.
Perhaps we’ve just tried to pack so much in, that we’ve squeezed the joy out of it
I love reading. It feeds my soul, and my work. But last year, the Goodreads challenge I set myself was too high. There came a point where I noticed I wasn’t enjoying it – or absorbing – as much, because I was simply trying to fly through books to hit my target.
Setting targets can be great for momentum – just as scheduling can be a great way to make things happen – but if our targets and our schedules have us flying from one thing to another, we can end up squeezing out the value, impact and the joy.
When you think about how you spend your time – does it spark joy? Let me know below!
It always amazes me how many people try to solve the productivity puzzle on their own. They read books, they scroll through blogs, they even book themselves onto workshops.
And while that’s all brilliant, at some point we need to talk about how we work with other people. Our clients, our colleagues, our bosses, maybe even our family. Because we don’t work in a bubble. Like it or not, other people have an impact on how we work.
Given that it’s National Conversation Week. I’m inviting you to start a Really Productive conversation with someone you work with and ask them:
“If you could tell me one thing about yourself that would help me to understand how you work best and how we can work better together, what would it be?”
We often treat people how we’d like to be treated, but what’s more helpful is to treat them how they’d like to be treated – and that’s not always the same thing!
As I wrote in the Being Human chapter of How to be Really Productive, productivity is inherently personal. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.
The more we understand our own personality and preferences, the more we can tailor our productivity habits and strategies to suit. Likewise, the more we understand how other people like to work. The better we all work together (and the more we enjoy it too).
So, here’s my invitation to you – use this question to start a conversation with someone you work with.
“If you could tell me one thing about yourself that would help me to understand how you work best and how we can work better together, what would it be?”
I’d love to know what kind of conversation this sparks. Let me know below!
I was asked to take part in a panel last Summer with Sage UK. The topic was “Women with ambition – From Bossy to Boss”. As I scanned through the questions, words like “gender pay gap” and “quotas” jumped out – and I recognised a familiar feeling.
What am I doing here? Who do I think I am?
This is not my area of expertise.
I don’t have a big story of overcoming oppression. I never got fired for being a woman or being pregnant (although I do remember a highly inappropriate comment from a young, inexperienced finance director!) I’m not a CEO of a big company. I’m not familiar with the research or the government policies in this area.
I’m not qualified to speak on this subject, I thought.
And you know what? I could have easily said no to this one.
Because it was the school holidays and I generally don’t work in the school holidays. Or because it’s not my topic – productivity is my thing – my area of expertise.
But I said yes.
Instead of saying “I can’t because…” I said “I can if…”
I can do it, if the company asking me was willing to cover the expense of a family train ticket (which was actually cheaper than a standard adult return) so that I could bring my kids, a friend and her kids and make it a day trip for all of us to London.
I can do it, ifinstead of having to be the expert, I simply speak my truth and share my experiences.
As it turns out, I had plenty to say.
A lifetime’s experience, plus brilliant examples from friends and colleagues – and yes, I snuck in a few words on productivity!
In fact, that sums up a lot of what we ended up talking about – imposter syndrome, saying yes to ourselves, taking the risk, being willing to show up, learning from knockbacks.
When we think “I can’t because” we find reasons to say no to ourselves. We see our constraints as evidence that disqualifies us.
When we start thinking “I can if” we embrace constraints as our criteria.
“I can take that promotion if… [I have flexibility and boundaries in place to make sure I can meet my family commitments].”
“I can expand my business if…[I make my services more scalable]”
“I can take that sabbatical if… [I build up my team and stop getting in their way]”
“I can make time for ___ if….”
What constraints are you facing at the moment? Where do you find yourself saying “I can’t because…”? What if you said instead “I can if…”
That feeling of a brand new year ahead of me, the chance to review the journey so far. Celebrate my ta-da’s from the year that’s been, marvel at what’s changed (and what hasn’t!) and set my intentions for the year ahead.
But here’s the thing – if you haven’t had a chance to do that yet, you haven’t missed the boat.
New Year’s Day. Ditch the Resolutions Day. Blue Monday
These are just arbitrary days. Yes, they can be helpful to generate momentum – and yes, a deadline can be a powerful thing. But when you feel like you’re constantly treading water trying to keep up with all the dates, it’s worth asking
Who’s setting the dates?
Take Blue Monday for example – supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Turns out it was part of a travel company’s PR campaign to get more people booking holidays in January!
It’s also up to us to define our own starting lines.
The first of January seems like a nice neat starting line.
But it doesn’t have to be the only one.
As 2018 rolled towards 2019 I had a hunch of what I wanted to release, create and change in the year ahead. But I needed time and headspace to flesh it out. For some people that week between Christmas and New Year is the perfect time to review and plan, but for me, that was a week of pyjamas, board games and random meal times!
It’s taken me the best part of two weeks to do that thinking – and that’s after going back to work on 8th January.
Even now, it’s tempting to rush it – to play catch up. Instead, I’m reminding myself to take my time and say – to myself as much as to you – all in good time.
So if you’re feeling rushed into another cycle of crazy – you haven’t missed the boat, just because you see others racing around in their boats.
It’s your boat remember? You choose when and how you get started.
Let me know how you get on in the comments below…!
Ever catch yourself thinking I’m not sure I want to do this anymore?
When everything feels uphill, or humdrum. When the work has lost its colour, or you’ve lost your mojo. And you find yourself thinking what the heck am I doing here?
When it happens in small doses we call it a blip. When it hits hard and doesn’t shift we call it burnout.
I’ve known people get floored by this.
But what if the answer isn’t to avoid it, but to embrace it regularly?
You see, when things get hard, our instinct is to hold on tighter – make it work, make the ideas come, push through the fog.
But what if the reverse is actually what we need?
Let go. Drop it. Walk away.
I’ve been listening to one of Rob Bell’s podcast episodes this week on What Happens Every Six Months – thanks to Ben who replied to one of my emails and suggested it (thanks Ben!)
It’s rare that I listen to a podcast twice, but this had so much good stuff that I wanted to make notes on. I’d highly recommend you listen to it in full when you get the chance, but here’s what particularly grabbed me that I wanted to share with you.
It happens regularly
Every six months, Rob got to a point where he wanted to drop it all and walk away from his work.
“I would get so uninterested in what I do. Zero mojo. Zero energy. All of my ideas would just shrivel up… I don’t really feel like talking, I don’t have anything to say, maybe it’s all over?”
Instead of ignoring that feeling or trying to push it away, he decided to follow it to see where it would lead.
He let himself drift. To stop creating. Stop producing. And walk away from it all.
Anybody else find this terrifying?
I think this is why we find it so hard to rest, to switch off completely. We’re terrified that if we let go, we’ll lose it all – or lose ourselves.
What if it all falls apart? Or worse, doesn’t fall apart and it becomes blindingly obvious that I’m not needed at all?!
What if I lose it all because I took my eye off the ball? The opportunities, the credibility, the community, the momentum – everything I’ve worked so hard to build?
What if I don’t want to come back at all? What if I lose my edge, my mojo, my spark? What if I drift away forever?
Except we don’t.
We discover perspective
I love the way he described how he would look at his work and go “wait, that’s what I do? That is a strange way to work!”
Sometimes we can take ourselves and our work far too seriously. To be able to step back, to look at our work with marvel, wonder or just plain ‘what the heck?!’ gives us a chance to reset and see things from a new perspective.
We make peace with what we can’t control
“When you take your hand off the wheel, you are forced to come to terms with all the ways you’ve been trying to control things that aren’t allowing you to control them.”
I see this happen sometimes with a workshop delegate who is so stressed by someone else’s behaviour that it dominates their attention. To the point where they refuse to use the workshop to focus on their own workload, habits and decisions – things that would actually help and that they do have control over – because they’re holding so tightly onto the thing that somebody else has or hasn’t done.
He calls this grasping energy. A toxic, frustrating loop that builds up when we keep trying to control, manipulate or force things into place and it’s just not working.
And it’s not always because we explicitly want to control others. It can happen when we care too much, and grasp too tightly. The problem is we can’t care all the time. “The heart can only care so much, then it needs a break. It needs a release valve.”
We find our way back
After a while, there would come a day when he’d stumble on an idea and think, “oh that’s interesting!” which would remind him of something, and connect with something else. One idea leads to another.
“All of a sudden I’d find myself making things and getting back into the groove.”
We don’t drift forever. We find our way back, with more energy and more vitality.
Rest has a funny way of stripping off the ego, and reinvigorating the soul
When your work starts to lose its edge or its colour, maybe the answer is to walk away.
Trust that it’s ok to be lost for a while, and know that you won’t be lost forever.
Perhaps because wherever you walk to – there you are. What changes is the baggage you strip off along the way. The control, the ego, the proving. The obligations and expectations of what success should look like. The stuff that doesn’t belong to you. The stuff you’ve been clinging on too tightly to.
You find yourself again.
Your mojo. Your spark. Your edge. Your imagination. Your compassion.
And let’s face it, when we hold on too tightly for too long, we lose the things we’re desperately trying to hold onto anyway. We have less and less imagination. Less and less compassion. Less and less energy.
Sometimes you have to walk away to find out just which bits you’d really miss.
Sometimes you have to release control to realise how much power you really have.
What do you think? Is letting go terrifying or liberating? Let me know below…
Offering a service or asking for help? Sometimes in our willingness to serve we can be too open about what we have to offer – or what we’re asking for. Could you give the gift of clarity to reduce decision fatigue for your clients or colleagues and improve your working relationship as a result?
How does mental health affect productivity? How does productivity affect mental health?
Some of the more gung ho productivity advice seems to create a culture of perfection. Where productivity has become synonymous with a perfect picture of health – mental and otherwise. Where being productive means being ‘on it’ all the time. And anything less is a waste of time.
Arguably, that’s the kind of ‘productivity’ that got us into this mess – a culture of over-achieving, never enough, guilt-inducing busyness.
Real productivity is not about perfection. It’s about being human.
It’s about getting the work done when we’re not totally on it.
It’s about making sense of what we need to do, or not do.
It’s about understanding how we find our way back to ‘on it’ – because when we are there it does feel pretty good.
Productivity is a process of rising.
Sometimes rising is about flying high. Some days it’s literally about rising out of bed.
Rising amidst the chaos, the busyness, the overwhelm, the numbness or the panic, to find a way forward when the road is neither clear nor straight.
Rising above the mud-slinging and blame-shifting, and the temptation to shrink into self-protection mode.
Rising despite the limitations we put on ourselves – the ‘can’ts’, ‘have to’s and ‘should’s, the self doubt, the inner critic and the imposter syndrome.
Rising within the uncertainty and imperfection of the world we live and work in, with all the people who drive us crazy – including ourselves.
It’s the tactics that help us to reclaim a sense of clarity and control – over our workload, our to-do lists, our calendars and our inboxes – not so that all those things can be perfect, but so that we can see a way forward.
It’s the practices that remind us of the good that we have done, still do and can do – even when we feel completely rubbish.
It’s the perspective that lowers frustration and releases guilt, and gently steers us from what we can’t do to what we can do.
It’s the tools that lighten the load and help us to function on days when are totally spent.
And it’s the words that speak life into us when we are utterly defeated, that rekindle a spark of hope and an inkling of joy.
That’s the productivity and mental health conversation I want to have more of. How about you?
This is something I wrote a while ago for my email subscribers on Time to Talk Day. Given that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week I want to share it more widely here. If you’d like to take the Really Productive conversation to your inbox, feel free to sign up at the top of the page.