Monthly archives "August 2014"

Friday Focus

It’s Friday, you’re in your ‘casual Friday’ clothes, someone brought in cakes and everyone is feeling a bit more chirpy, cheerful and chilled out.

Brilliant!  We both know that most days in the office aren’t like this – so make the most of this relaxed vibe and use it to your advantage.

Friday focus

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Whether it’s booking yourself into a meeting room, blocking off the time on Outlook, or just asking your colleagues to answer your phone for the next half hour (play fair though and return the favour!), give yourself thirty minutes of Friday Focus.
  2. Grab a pen and a notebook. Think back over the week you’ve had. List everything that went well. List all your achievements, large or small (anything from winning new business to working out how to do a vlookup). Then take a look at your objectives (your personal objectives, not the company’s objectives for you – I talk about this more in my book, Coping with the Horroffice). And think about how you’ve taken steps towards them through what you’ve achieved.
  3. Finally, look through what you’ve got planned for the following week. Are there any actions you can take within what you have to do that will help you take another step closer to your goals? Jot them down. take a minute to picture how well next week will go for you.

Doing this once a week, every week will make sure you’re always focused on your goals and on the next small steps you’ll be taking to get there.

Let me know how you get on, and have a fabulous Friday!

Tayto vs Walkers – The Office Crisp Off

Today was a bit of a slow day in the office. We were waiting for the stuff we’d submitted to be approved or thrown back at us, everyone one was exhausted from working like maniacs to get our reporting completed and although there was probably plenty we could have been getting on with, no-one really had the energy or inclination.

Crisp OffSo we decided it was the perfect time to hold ‘The Great Office Crisp Off’.

To put it into context for you, we have an office in Ireland as well as several in the UK. About a third of our current staff have come over from the Ireland office. When, last week, we decided we needed some savoury treats to get us through that awful part of the day where your body is ready to go home, but your mind (and boss) are saying you need to stay and finish your month-end reports, we sent out for sustenance. The good, healthy kind – not! A big six pack of Walkers arrived, our Irish Boss (IB) scoffed and said Walkers weren’t fit to be called crisps. The only crisps worth eating were the mighty Tayto. Ever since, a debate has been raging fiercely within the office – which is the better crisp – the Irish Tayto or the English Walkers.

After days of discussing, arguing and berating we decided there was only one way to decide – and Office Crisp Off was born. Tayto vs Walkers. We would have a blind taste test of both varieties and vote on it. And today was the day. Crisp Off would take place throughout the day – any accidental visitor to the finance department would have to partake if they wanted to leave, or wanted any number-crunching help, ever again.

As the initiators, each member of the finance team solemnly went to the tasting area (aka the spare desk). We studied the crisps, sniffed the air around the crisps, and then slowly chomped through a sample of the crisps.

After much deliberation, we cast our vote via pink post-its – A or B?

Each post-it that went up elicited oohs, aahs, explanations for voting choices. IB was convinced crisp A was the mighty Tayto and voted accordingly. Others disagreed and said B was the tastier option. Yet others thought A was not very tasty but definitely the Tayto. And so on…

By three-thirty it was neck and neck. Seven votes each. We needed a decision. And a tea-break. And someone neutral to break the tie. Just then, the IT guy arrived. Perfect.

We sat in silence as he tasted, considered, and wrote out his vote. There was an intake of breath as he stuck his pink post-it firmly on the wall.

A! It was A. Crisp A had won the day. IB was delighted. Of course it was A, he announced. A was the better crisp. We turned over the plates to confirm the win. The office erupted into laughter. Crisp A was the much maligned Walkers! And to make matters worse, IB had voted against his choice, he’d only gone and voted for the Walkers!

There was only one thing for it – IB resigned himself to making the three-thirty tea round as a family pack of Walkers was placed on his desk.

Fake it til you make it

fake it till you make itFake it til you make it.  I’m sure it’s an expression you’re familiar with.  It’s been around forever.  And with good reason.  It works!

I’ve seen it myself in my own life, both at work and in personal situations.  When I started my first contracting role I had taken a break of over 18 months from accountancy.  I felt like I’d forgotten everything and I was terrified that my new employers would find that out within hours of me being there.  But I’d spent my time off studying NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and one of the things I’d learned was how you can use the way your body and brain are interlinked and hard-wired to your advantage.  One of the ways is to fake it til you make it.  And that’s because your brain doesn’t really distinguish between what’s imagined and what’s real.  It’s why seeing spiders on-screen (and typing the word right now) still freaks me out, even though there’s not a real one of them (eurgh!) around.  So, knowing all this, I decided I was going to nod intelligently, take copious notes and just fake knowing what I was doing until I worked it out or until they caught on.  And actually, I managed the former, because they extended an initial three-month contract into six months.  And you know what?  By the time I left, I genuinely did feel like I’d added value, so it didn’t just work for my employers, it worked for me too.  And there was a little less faking it at the next contract, because my brain already knew I knew stuff!

If you want a little more help with the concept, and an excellent dose of motivation to hand, check out the TED talk by Amy Cuddy on the subject – I loved it, and it’s something I refer back to when I need to remind myself of the power of ‘fake it til you make it’.

Dress for success

dress up show upOne of the tips I share in my book, ‘Coping with the Horroffice’ is to dress for success.
I’ve seen the difference for myself in more than one office environment or workplace.  When I first started out as an audit junior we had a very strict dress code.  The the whole ‘business casual’ thing came in, and everyone started to dress down.  And although it was lovely not to have to be suited and booted for the office every day, rocking up to work in something a bit shabbier definitely didn’t feel quite right.  And as the time wore on, the outfits got more casual and less business.  And then my mum stepped in, and told me I didn’t look like an accountant, I looked like a drudge.  It was a bit of a shock, and no-one ever likes to admit their mother is right, but her comments stayed with me.
I started making more of an effort at work.  And I genuinely noticed a difference.  Other people took a little bit more notice, I got more comments on what I was wearing and that made me feel better.  No-one wants to be invisible.  But even on the days when no-one commented, I still felt better when I’d made the effort to dress up and show up – and that changed my energy internally.  I felt more positive, ready to take on the challenges of the day, just a bit more confident in myself.
And ever since then, whenever I’ve had a challenging day looming at the Horroffice I’ve made an extra effort with my outfit, and it’s always made a difference.
Try it out for yourself and let me know what happens.  Just please don’t tell my mother she was right!

Three quick tips to beat the Monday blues

Beat the Monday bluesIt’s the start of another work week.  You look at what you need to accomplish by Friday evening and it feels like climbing Mount Everest would actually be the easier option.  Instantly you feel disheartened and slightly depressed.  Not the best way to kick off the week, but definitely not uncommon.  And because the Monday blues has become so common, we tend to shrug it off as ‘just one of those things’.

But if you stop to think about it, there might be more to it than that.  If you love what you do, you’re excited about getting on with it.  Even if there are bits of the job that you find more difficult, because you love what you do, or are excited about the end product, you can get through them.

So if you regularly go down with the Monday blues, it might be a sign that you’re not actually happy at work.  In which case, you need to look at what it is that’s causing this, so you can start to change it.

It might just be that you’re in the vicinity of someone else who’s been struck down with Mondayitis.  It’s highly contagious, and spreads quickly and easily through shared workspaces and conversations.  It only takes one colleague to be struck down by the Monday blues for it to start to infect everyone else.  So what can you do to avoid catching it?  Here are three quick tips to help you cope.

  1. Sort Monday out on Friday.  Before you head off to enjoy your much-needed weekend R&R, take five or ten minutes to look at what you need to get through the following week.  Plan ahead, and especially for Monday morning.  That way, when you get in to the office on Monday, you already feel organised and a little ahead of the game, which is a great way to kick off the week.
  2. Eat that frog.  Mark Twain’s famous quote was “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  Although I’m hoping you don’t need to do that literally, if you plan to get the most difficult thing you have to do out of the way before lunchtime on Monday, you’ll head into the rest of the day and week feeling like you’ve already achieved something and also feeling pretty great about yourself.  Worth a try, surely?
  3. Keep Monday meeting free.  If you can manage it, try to keep your Monday free of any meetings.  It gives you the whole day to really get through your workload before new emails, tasks and issues hit your in-tray.  It also gives you a chance to prepare for any meetings later in the week.

I hope these ideas help make your Mondays more manageable.  Do let me know how you get on!


Think like a bumble bee!

‎”Aerodynamically the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.Mary Kay Ash


A little thought to kick your weekend off with…

Was there a time when you just did something without thinking, and surprised yourself, because you hadn’t realised you actually could do it?

Next week, assume the mindset of the bumble bee – do whatever you want to do, without worrying about whether you can, and you’ll find, you already have, haven’t you?  Give it a go, and have a beautifully buzzy time.

Have a wonderful weekend, and a bumble bee of a week!

Manage your manager

manage your managerI had a bit of a difficult day at my current contract today.  It dawned on me that I wouldn’t be working on the contract that I’d signed on for – it’s been mis-sold to me in terms of work, hours and environment.

There isn’t anyone at work I can discuss this with, being fairly senior in the current team.  And the recruitment consultant that placed me there is away for a couple of weeks.  So for now at least, I will have to carry on as I am.

Part of the problem is that the manager I am taking some of the work over from is young, single and works from eight in the morning until eight or nine in the evening.  He works weekends too.  Which is fine for him – he’s a permanent member of staff, wants to get ahead and has something to prove.  That’s not where I am though.  I’m a contractor, doing this whilst I build up my own business.  I also have commitments at home, so I can’t and don’t want to devote the hours to a role I am only in temporarily.  It’s an unusual perspective.  But I don’t think it’s necessarily an unusual problem.

I’ve found over the years that a lot of the managers I have worked for have had very different objectives and expectations of me than they had described.  When I was younger, I didn’t stop to think about that expectation gap.  I just thought I should get on with what I was being asked to do, however unreasonable it was.  I would never speak up and point out that a manager had said one thing but was then expecting something else.

As I grew more dissatisfied, I started to become a little more vocal.  That was ok in that at least I’d spoken up, but it still didn’t always help.

What I’ve found works even better than that is to actually manage your manager as much as they manage you.  So in my recent contract roles I have been much stricter about sticking to the brief I was given, and much stricter in pushing back where I don’t feel I can give them what they’re asking for, or where I’ve felt they asked for one thing and are now expecting something else.  You might have found it yourself – being briefed on a task, given a deadline and then finding that the goalposts have moved and no-one has bothered to tell you.

This is where managing your manager comes into play.  Next time you take something on, whether it’s a one-off project, or a regular task, sit down and get as many of the details as possible agreed up front – deadlines, report formats, expected hours, involvement from others, assistance available – whatever the factors are that you’re aware of.  Ideally, if you can, once you have all that, put it all down in an email or spreadsheet and mail your manager with your understanding of the project, new regular task, or method of working and how you’ll achieve it.  And then at regular intervals, keep them updated.  This way, if things start to veer off track, you have early warning.  You’re also stating expectations up front, so if things change, you can highlight this as a mitigating factor for any adjustments you have to make.  It gives your manager an up-to-date idea of where you are, demonstrates how proactive you’re being, and shows you’re taking responsibility for your project.

Perk up your office posture

office postureAs I was sitting at my desk today, about mid-morning I noticed that I was almost nose to screen, and slumped over my desk, shoulders hunched, arms tense, eyes glazed over.  It’s not a surprise that at the time I was trawling through a mind-numbingly detailed and boring spreadsheet, with very little enthusiasm.  My body was simply mirroring my brain.  And as I looked around at my colleagues, I noticed we all had the same slumped slouch going on.

I got up, walked to the water machine, gave myself a bit of a shake and sat back down, but this time with a little more ooomph and ooh la la.  And it made a difference to the way I dealt with my work for the rest of the morning.

Which makes sense.  Your body and brain are hard-wired to connect particular postures with particular feelings.

So if you’re struggling to shift the feeling, you can cheat a bit and change the posture first.  The feeling will follow – it has to, cos it’s hard-wired that way.

Here’s a sneaky tip to perk up your office posture any time you feel yourself hitting a bit of a slump.

Try it, right now, sitting at your computer.  Just push your shoulders back and lift your head a tiny bit.  It;s not a huge change, it won’t look odd, and it’ll feel lovely.  And I promise it’ll make you feel a bit better.

It works any time, anywhere, sitting, standing, walking, whatever.  Although it might be a small physical change, the physiological shift of sitting taller, standing taller, walking taller will also shift the way you feel, your state.  And as you feel better, you’ll find your office day becomes a little easier too.

Try it out and let me know how you get on!

Dealing with the office chatterbox

office chatterboxPicture the scene – you’re sitting there, head down, ploughing through your work to meet a tight deadline, completely engrossed in your work.  As is everyone around you.  Silence, progress being made, deadlines looking achievable.  Suddenly someone pipes up with a loud exclamation, and launches into a monologue.  You make the mistake of looking up and catch their eye, which only encourages them.  Now they think they’re in a conversation.  Before you know it, everyone is half looking up, half-nodding, half ignoring the monologue machine.  Finally, ten minutes later, they wind down.  Work resumes.   Until twenty minutes later, they do it all again.  Yep.  You’re working with the office chatterbox!

So how do you deal with the office chatterbox in a way that won’t upset them but will allow you and the rest of the team to work without disruptions every half hour?

One thing you could do, if it’s possible, is try and work out why the guilty party feels the need to talk constantly.  In one of my contracts a while ago, the most senior member of my team was known to be a serial chatterbox.  I used to dread him coming over to my desk to ask a question.  One question could knock my schedule out by half an hour!  But after listening to him I realised that he was very insecure and his chatter was always related to showing how much he knew, how long he’d been there, how many contacts he had.  So I decided the easiest way was just to acknowledge that up front, with the hope that he would feel less insecure, and less likely to want to give me his whole CV again.  And it worked, to an extent.  I got less CV and more work information.  He didn’t change completely though.  And that’s where trick number two comes in handy…

If you have someone who is being a chatterbox just because they like being the centre of attention (something I came across at a recent contract, with a very junior team member, who constantly behaved as if we were all at a social event together) then you need a different tactic.  And this is where your computer screen and Outlook come in very very handy.  Once you realise you have a social butterfly type office chatterbox on your hands, you need to take away the thing that feeds the chatter – your attention.  So when you hear that exclamation, don’t look up, don’t make eye contact, don’t engage at all.  Keep your eyes glued on your computer sheet as if your life depends on that spreadsheet you’re working on.  If the chatterbox tries to engage you directly, use Outlook and set yourself a little alarm, to go off in a minute or two.  You can then exclaim that you need to get something urgent done and stop the conversation.

And finally, if all else fails, there is still one trick in the book – excuse yourself to go to the loo!  Obviously you can’t do this every time you need them to stop talking, but it’s a useful last resort!


Did I just say no to extra work?

I started at a new number-crunching day job today.  It was an interesting day, and as first days tend to be, there was an induction, a lot of information to soak in, no computer or access to the systems, and therefore not much actual work completed.

just say noBut my new employer did have one interesting conversation with me.  They are running some training courses in a particular area of the system and they asked me if I would like to attend.  The training day itself would involve several hours of travel, around a normal 9am to 5pm working day, and it is unlikely that I would get either the time in lieu or payment for those hours.  And once I am a ‘superuser’, there would be additional responsibility and hours involved – quite a lot of extra work, in fact.

My initial reaction was to say yes.  Because that’s what you do when your boss asks you to do something, especially something extra.  I also wanted to say yes because we all like to be liked, and by saying yes I guess my boss might like me more, might see me as an enthusiastic, valuable member of the team.  And i wanted to say yes because I was grateful to be seen as someone who they felt warranted investing additional training resources in.  But I didn’t say yes.  I said I’d think about it and let him know.

And I have thought about it.  I have thought about the reason I have taken this role in the first place – it’s close to home, so I have less of a commute and more hours at home, it’s a relatively straightforward role so I can bring my efficiency to the core and ensure I work as close to the core hours as possible and it pays the bills whilst I build up my real vocation into a full-time career.  So actually, saying yes would go against my personal agenda, and would nullify some of the reasons I took on the role in the first place.  And whilst my employer may be disappointed, I know and they know this project is not my core role, they will find someone else who really does want to take it on, and balance will be restored.  Although it is possible that it may affect the way they see me.  But that’s fine, I’m not looking to progress up the career ladder here.  I’ve considered all the options and I’m choosing what’s right for me.

So next time you are asked to do something in addition to your normal work, just take a moment to think about it.  Ask yourself if it really benefits you.  Does it move you further towards your own personal career goals?  Or does it detract from them?  Make your decision based on what’s right for you, not just on what you think people want to hear.  Don’t say yes just for the sake of it.  Be brave – say no to extra work you don’t need to take on!