Unplug Yourself

Unplug YourselfI’m keeping today’s blog short and sweet because I want you to spend the five minutes you might have been reading this to do something else – I want you to Unplug Yourself.

By the time you read this, I will have been Unplugged for at least three days.

It’s one of the things I mention in the book, when I talk about finding your safety valve, because it’s something we rarely give ourselves permission to do, and it’s one of the most important tools we have available to keep our equilibrium.  Here’s a little excerpt…

“I’ve found that time and distance from a situation are both great healers.  I’ll burrow down into the sofa with the pooch for company, and a good book or film, enjoy a snooze and ride out the storm.

When things have settled a bit, I’ll put my head above the parapet and work out how to restore the situation to normal.”

I also saw a quote on Facebook by the wonderful writer Anne Lamott that explains it beautifully…

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

So I’d love you to do just that for five minutes. Just switch off.  Listen to some music, go and stand in the garden and enjoy the breeze, make yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger if you fancy it), or just sit quietly with your eyes shut and focus on your breathing.

Unplug Yourself.  Reset.  Enjoy.

 

Go With The Flow

GOI found this definition of ‘Go With The Flow’ in the Urban Dictionary –

‘To not attempt to exert a large amount of influence on the course of events, whether a specific series of events or events in general. A person who does this is often referred to as “laid back” or “easygoing”.’

Let me explain…

The new day job is all geared towards quarterly reporting.  Which in some ways is pretty cool – in the accounting world everything revolves around month-end reporting, and I’m thankfully not involved in or tied down by that monthly mayhem. The downside of this is that when we do report at the end of each quarter, it is a pretty full-on and tightly packed week. This has been the first quarterly reporting I’ve been through, and it was a pretty intense and stressful time.

Unfortunately for me, quarterly reporting week has collided with preparing to be away, as well as clashing with my plan to start working on Book Two. I had drawn up a detailed timetable of what I was going to do, how long it would take, and by the time you read this I was going to be all set for the following week.

Things haven’t quite worked out that way. After making the decision on which idea I’m going for with Book Two, I haven’t touched it again.  I have a mountain of filing and paperwork at home to get through. And my parents have seen more of the pooch in the last few days than I have.

I had two choices when work deadlines and chaos threw all my other plans into disarray. I could have gotten upset, thrown a wobbly, and spread that energy to everyone at work and at home. Or I could have decided to Go With The Flow. Either way, the end result would be exactly the same – long hours at work, and no hours at home.

I chose to Go With The Flow. Staying later and seeing things first hand has been a useful learning experience, and I know I’ll be able to make next quarter’s reporting process smoother as a result of what I’ve learned this time around. I’ve also demonstrated to my employers that whilst I stick to 9 – 5 most of the time, I’m committed to the role and will stay when necessary – they can rely on me. And when the numbers still didn’t look right after our third attempt, the group despair and giggles were a bonding experience with my team.

The other (possibly the more important) thing I’ve done is this – I’ve let myself off. I’ve consciously chosen not to feel guilty. Let me say that again. I’ve chosen not to feel guilty.

Work didn’t go as smoothly as planned, priorities changed and there was nothing I could do about it. I was never going to achieve everything I’d originally thought I would. That’s ok. Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to, or plan it to. You have to roll with the punches.

That isn’t the choice.

The only choice you have is to decide how you’re going to feel about what’s happening. So why choose negative, soul-destroying energy? If you did the best you could with what you had, then choose to feel good about that. Enjoy the positive energy that goes with that choice.  Why would you even consider the alternative?

Have a wonderful week and enjoy going with the flow.

Doing Scary Stuff

DOING SCARY STUFFI’m not sure if you’ve ever gone through this – I’m guessing you probably have.  As you know, I finished writing the bulk of Coping with the Horroffice at the end of last year.  Then there was a lot of work involved in getting the actual physical (and Kindle version) of the book ready and out there.  That took up quite a few months too.  But the bulk of that work is done now.  I will need to keep marketing it, so that people know it’s there, but I will now have some time to start working on my next book.

And that’s where the problem is.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely problem to have.  But it is definitely a problem.  I’ve got lots of ideas.  There are potentially two further books along the same lines as Coping with the Horroffice, so it would be a series of three eventually.  But I’ve always wanted to write some gorgeous fiction, and I’ve been  working on an idea I had a few months ago.  And then just a couple of weeks ago I came up with another idea I’ve fallen in love with.  And that’s on top of about half a dozen scribbled notes of ideas or concepts for other books.  So my problem has been that I haven’t been able to decide what to focus on.

I’ve been faffing.

A few notes on one idea, some characters for another idea, a bit of a plot outline for yet another idea.  Which is all great, but it isn’t moving me forward.

I’ve mentioned this dilemma to a few friends.  Some have said I should write the next in the series, some have said I should go for one of the fiction books.  And yet no decision has been forthcoming from me.

I had a chat to my business coach about it, which helped enormously.  She told me something which I already knew deep down, in my gut, but had to hear from someone else, someone who I trust has my best interests at heart.  She told me to write what I wanted to read.

And so I’ve been mulling on what I want to write that I also want to read.  That’s helped narrow it down to two ideas.  They both excite me.  But one of them scares the bejesus out of me too.  It’ll be a challenge, and a pretty big piece of work.  I won’t expect to have a first draft ready for quite some time (and I’m not a particularly patient person).  It’ll take a lot of planning with plots, characters, twists and getting the feel right.  And it will also take some research.  This is a little bit new to me, because so far I’ve written about what I know, what I’ve experienced, and so it’s flowed fairly easily.  The other idea would be similar in terms of input and work, but feels intrinsically easier.  I know I could do it well.  This new idea – I’m not so sure.  I might end up making a great big mess of it.

So, I’m going to do what all the greats, all the legends, all my inspirations say – I’m going to go for the scary stuff, for the book that makes me nervous and excited and itching to get going and terrified to start – because doing scary stuff is the only way I’ll learn and develop as a writer and as a person.  Writing this new book is going to scare me every single day, and I LOVE that!

I’m looking forward to sharing the highs and lows with you, and I’d love to hear what scary stuff you’re doing that makes life more awesome for you.

MOT pass or fail

MOTpass orfailIf you read my blog on Sunday you’ll know my MOT was booked for this week. It was actually booked for yesterday. So by the time you read this I will already know whether my car is an MOT pass or fail.

And with immaculate timing, knowing it was about to sit its annual test, my car decided to throw a huge hissy fit last week.  All sorts of random warning lights came on and had to be dealt with. A slightly stressful time for me and the car as we battled to get it roadworthy and fighting fit again.

As I was sorting it all out, I realised that one of the reasons it might have thrown a hissy fit is that I’ve been very remiss and I haven’t had it serviced in quite a while – in fact it is long overdue a proper bit of pampering from an understanding therapist/mechanic. And whilst I’ve given it no TLC, I’ve pushed it farther than it’s been used to, as we’re now doing longer commutes that involve the dreaded M1 – eurgh!  So really, I haven’t been fair to it – I haven’t prepped it in any way for the road ahead, and I still expected everything to go smoothly – naughty Heena.

It’s something I touch on in the book (Tip 3, Chapter 7 – Get Your Prep Right) – sometimes we forget the obvious prep that we should be doing, and then we’re surprised that things don’t go the way we wanted them to go.

So my little nugget of advice to avoid any work-related mid-week meltdowns?  Take five minutes to think about what you want to achieve over the next few days.  Then take a step back and think about what needs to be in place for that to happen. If you have two competing deadlines for Friday, don’t assume you’ll somehow magically find the time, work out exactly how much time you’ll need, work out what resources you’ll need, check they’re available and if you see any potential pitfalls, at least you’ll see them early and have time to work around them.  Make sure you and your work are MOT ready.

And in case you were wondering – we passed with flying colours (not even an advisory notice) – phew!

Wheels, Brakes and Warning Lights

Wheels,Brakes&WarningLightsIt’s been a funny old week.  I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of a planner.  Every Sunday, I take some time to plan out what I’m going to work on each evening of the following week, I plan out my meals, I plan out what I want to focus on over the week.  That way, when I come home from work, I don’t have to think too much, I can just check my planner and start taking action.

But this week, my planner has been completely eviscerated.  First of all, my car threw a wobbly.  It decided I hadn’t been paying attention to it and three warning lights came on within two days.  I have my MOT booked for next week, so I had to spend my precious evenings sorting things out.  And if that wasn’t enough, Simba was a little bit poorly too, so I had a couple of unplanned Vet visits.  Of course, all this has thrown my weekday and weekend planner into complete disarray.

As I was mulling over what I wanted to cover in today’s blog, it kind of hit me.  This week’s events had thrown me a little bit.  I had all sorts of other things planned (an online course, getting my blogs done early), but what I ended up doing was spending lots of time with my brother, as he was very kindly sorting out some of the aforementioned car wobblies.  And I really enjoyed chilling out with him, even if it was whilst we were sorting out the car. And I’ve also had a couple of catch-ups booked in with friends this week – something else I haven’t done in far too long.  When I’ve thought about what I need to plan in to my diary, for the last few months t’s all been related to work or the book.

So, although I’ve inadvertently had to put the brakes on my writing, I’m getting the chance to rebalance some other areas of my life.  (And the fact that I’ve allowed my own Wheel of Life to become lopsided when I devote the whole of Chapter 3 to the importance of keeping it balanced hasn’t gone unnoticed either – I definitely need to practice what I preach a bit more!)

It’s funny how life can give you serendipitous circumstances that you might not welcome at first, but that prove to be more valuable than you realise. Is there an area of your life that you think might need rebalancing?  I’d love to hear your views.

Spring Fever

Spring FeverToday was the very first day in a very long time that I didn’t need to wear my big quilted jacket to work in the morning. I didn’t have to wear it on the way home, or on my hour-long walk with the pooch this evening. I’ve even been able to switch the heating off for most of the day.

Today the sun was almost out, the sky was almost blue, and Spring was almost here. I could actually feel the excitement and anticipation fizzing around me, like invisible crackling fireworks. My lovely co-workers have been laughing and joking more than normal, no-one has been keen to stay chained to their chair and everyone has been in a rush to go home and enjoy the sun.

I’ve noticed that I’ve found it easier to eat healthily today too – no comfort food today thanks, it’s all about salads and smoothies.  I’ve been trying to kick this off since January to no avail.  And although January is when we make our New Year’s Resolutions, when we naturally start to think about the year just gone and the year ahead. it’s not necessarily the best time to make a fresh start.  In January we’re still in the throes of Winter, the last and harshest of the seasons.  Who wants a salad when it’s freezing outside?  Who wants to get up early and head to the gym before work when it’s still dark outside.  Who wants to spend cold dark evenings refreshing their CV’s and looking for a new job?

Spring though?  Spring is a completely different story. Everything just feels so much easier, doesn’t it?  I was also thinking I should follow the example of the experts – so I chose to look at Nature.  What does Nature do in Winter?  It shuts down, it hibernates, it takes a rest.  And then, all of a sudden, the days are getting longer, the temperature is getting warmer, Spring fever has kicked in and you notice Nature is kicking off its new projects – all of them starting in Spring.  So surely if Spring is good for Nature, it’s good for me (and you) too?

I found this little quote from Mark Twain, which expresses exactly how I feel right now…

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

With that thought in mind, what new projects or plans would you like to kick off, now that we’ve just enjoyed Nature’s wake up call and the first day of Spring Fever?

 

 

Code word ‘should’

CODEWORDSHOULDI’ve just written this week’s newsletter – it goes out every Sunday, and has at least one tip or action that I think might make your life a little bit easier and happier (if you want to be in on that little piece of scrumptiousness just drop your details in the sign up box opposite). So where was I? Oh yeah, this week’s newsletter.

In it, I talk a lot about the Shoulda-Woulda-Couldas. And it got me thinking about that word. There’s so much behind that one little word, isn’t there? ‘I should have stayed at work a little bit longer’. ‘I should have offered to lead on that project.’ ‘I should be spending less.’ ‘I should be working out more.’

Code word ‘should‘ – because of course, it is exactly that. It’s code for all sorts of things – failure, inaction, lack.  And the feelings it triggers? Guilt, anxiety, stress, embarrassment, inadequacy – pick whichever combination works (or doesn’t) for you.  It’s not a particularly happy word, and I’m not convinced it’s always a useful one.

We use it all the time too, don’t we? Watch out for it over the next few days. Notice how many times your thoughts kick off with the phrase ‘I should…’

The question we never ask, but maybe we should (sorry, couldn’t help myself!) is this – why?  Why should I have done X, or be considering doing Y?  Is the reason a genuine one, or is it because someone else (your boss, your partner, society at large) is telling you that it’s what you should want (see, there it is again) – I talk about this more in the book – Chapter 2 is all about what we want to do vs what we think we should want to do.  Why should you have stayed late – because you really do have a lot of work to get through?  Maybe because you want to leave earlier tomorrow?  Or is it because everyone else is staying late and you don’t want to be the odd one out?

What is your WHY?  Some shoulds are genuine, useful prods – they’re valid.  But not all of them.  I’d guess that a lot of the shoulds we torture ourselves with aren’t genuine, or useful – so why bother with them at all?

Ultimately, I think it boils down to this – if it isn’t making you happy now, or isn’t moving you toward being happier later, there’s probably no reason you ‘should‘ be doing anything.

So next time you find yourself thinking ‘I should…’, stop right there.  Ask yourself why?  If the why is a genuine one, then sure, go ahead.  Otherwise banish the should and all the crap that goes with it and go do something else instead.

Dress to impress

DRESSI forgot to tell you one of the side effects of my last contract.  As there was no real client facing work, the office dress code of ‘business casual’ had become more of a ‘mostly casual, but not quite jeans.  Oh, ok then, jeans, but only if they’re black and look ok.  Well, maybe dark blue jeans would be ok…’ and so on.

I’d started off wearing my work dresses, but they just felt too dressy and out-of-place.  So I started wearing slightly less formal outfits.  It didn’t take long for that to degenerate into turning up in leggings, boots and jumpers that didn’t have dog hair all over them.  I’d gotten sloppy in my work wear.  And although I didn’t notice at the time, that sloppiness was also having an effect on my attitude.

I was still working hard, and getting through what I needed to.  I wasn’t trying as hard as I had been previously to find a way out of this low-paying, high stress, low value contract and into something better.  I’d started to get comfortable with the stress, the long hours, the ‘no time to get it right, let’s just get it finished’ attitude that was prevalent there.  After all, it was close to home, so even if I worked a bit later, I was still home at a decent(ish) time some of the time.  And the pay was pretty poor, but at least I wasn’t paying more in petrol, or dealing with traffic.  And yes, the work was boring but at least I was working, right?

Yes – it was right for a little while.  It was right when the market was slowing down over the Christmas holiday and into the New Year.  But it wasn’t right when things started picking up and I found myself getting picky and turning things down because I was comfortable being uncomfortable.

That whole ‘too comfortable to expend any energy’ attitude had also seeped into my home life.  Tired from a long day at a boring job, and already in slouchy clothes, I barely made it out in the evenings to walk the pooch, let alone do anything else.  I started buying rubbish from the hot food van at lunchtime rather than make the effort to make a healthy lunch the night before.  I made less of an effort to arrange to see friends because sofa-surfing was easier.

Don’t get me wrong, I still did things, and I’m not laying the blame of all my energy-sapping at the door of my comfortable slouchy clothes – a lot of the blame lies with the energy sucking contract.  But what I am saying is that there’s a definite link between the two.  And I don’t think the link is in the slouchiness of the clothes themselves.  It’s in our perception of who we are when we are choosing to wear what we wear.  (I talk about this in more detail in Chapter 5 of the book – Tip 1 is all about how the way you dress can affect the way you feel).

Let me give you an example.  Around the time I started to look more earnestly for a new contract, I’d also had a bit of a spring clean with my wardrobe.  I realised a lot of my slouchy stuff, the stuff that I wore to work as well as at home, wasn’t just slouchy, it was shabby, baggy and shapeless (and not in a cool, chic way, more in a ‘halfway to hobo’ way).  When I wore it, I instantly felt shabbier myself.  Our feelings are intrinsically linked to our actions.  Feel good – do good.  Feel crap – do crap.  I binned some of the worst offenders, and got myself some nice new stuff.  And it helped.  The new stuff might be casual, but I FEEL great when I wear it.  And when I feel great I think I can take on the world, and so I try – see, what I wear and how it makes me feel affects the way I behave.

So when I realised last week at work that I was slipping into my old patterns, wearing shabbier work clothes and then hiding in the corner of the office not interacting as much as I could, I knew what I needed to do.  Over the Easter break, I spent a whole day binning every single item of clothing that doesn’t make me feel good when I put it on, irrespective of how new it was, how much use I’d had from it, how much of a security blanket it had become.  No hiding behind shabby shapeless crap anymore.

And guess what – I’ve felt better in myself, I’ve wanted to take action and this week I’ve tackled things at work and at home that I’ve been putting off.  So next time you’re starting to feel a bit bleurgh, force yourself to dress to impress (especially if it’s to impress yourself – you’ll thank yourself for it later), it really works.

Eggstreme Self Care

EggstremeSince last week’s blog and the breaking down of my mammoth mountain into small steps, I’ve encountered another little hiccup.  I’ve had a week of truly terrible sleep.

Some of it has been outside of my control – just sleeplessness and insomnia.  Add to the mix the fact that I’m a natural night-owl, and I tend to go to bed later than I should, given the time I need to be up again, and you can see where this is heading.  When the alarm goes off in the morning, I’m still tired so I hit snooze a few times, find myself (unsurprisingly!) running late and decide to skip breakfast to make up some of that time, telling myself that a large latte when I get to work will be just as good.  It isn’t as good though, and by mid-afternoon I’m barely functioning, and need a lot more caffeine to get me through to the end of the working day.  When I get home, I’m so tired that I’ve dozed off in front of the TV for an hour or more…and…yup, you’ve guessed it, I’ve then ruined my sleep pattern because I’m wide awake when I should be winding down.  Does any of that sound familiar?  Have you found yourself in a similar pattern?

None of this is helpful when you’re trying to fit in a full day at work and a full evening of writing or blogging or tackling Amazon listings in the evening, as well as walking the pooch and giving him some quality playtime (oh and you know, running a house, cooking, cleaning, washing and all that jazz).

I already know how important sleep is – I’ve devoted all the actions and tips in Chapter 8 of the book to it.  So why have I not taken my own advice?  I guess it comes down to self-care.  We have a long list of things we think are important – family, friends, our job, our pets.  We then have a long list of things that might not be important but which need our attention – cleaning, cooking, washing, sorting out bills,…the list is endless.  And because it’s endless, we rarely get time to look after ourselves.  And then we find  we’re exhausted, listless, lacking in motivation.  On the rare occasions we do allow ourselves some time to re-energise, we often feel guilty – we feel as though we’re being selfish.  Society has taught us that it’s all about the grafting, the beavering away, the selfless giving of ourselves.

But here’s the thing – if we haven’t spent time nourishing ourselves first – whether that’s through getting enough sleep, or getting a massage, or getting away for an afternoon at the beach – we don’t actually have anything to give.

I came across a quote from the wonderfully wise Maya Angelou which I think expresses it perfectly –

“I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves, and tell me ‘I love you.’…There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”  – Maya Angelou

So I’m going to indulge in some eggstreme (sorry – but it IS Easter!) self-care – and allow myself to catch-up on sleep, to get into a good sleep routine and to enjoy a guilt-free day of walking the pooch, shooting the breeze with the family, and quite possibly demolishing a chocolate egg whilst reading a good book.

What are you going to include in your self-care prescription?

 

Mammoth Mountain – Small Steps

Mammoth MountainI’ve done most of my induction training, I’ve got access to most of what I need and I’m starting to understand what I’m doing at the new contract (I suppose I should just say contract now – it’s been a month, so it’s not really new).  The area I’m working in deals with quite complex data and reporting, and the reason I’m here is to help make things work more smoothly, more efficiently, whilst producing quality work.

 

It’s taken a while to start to get my head around the area, the systems, the reporting and the issues – I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting closer.  The team I’m working with seem to think I’m on the right track with what I’m doing so far, which is great.

 

So far, so good.  But this week they’ve given me one of the chunkier projects I need to tackle.  I think I’m starting to understand what I’m looking at, what the issues are and how I might be able to tackle them.  And as I get my head around what I need to achieve I’ve even made some headway and started to pull together some solutions.

 

But I’ve been hit with a little curve ball.  Having seen and liked what I’m doing so far, I’ve now been given another piece of the problem, and as it’s all related to reporting deadlines, I need to get it sorted and soon.  Which is fine, that’s what I’m here to do.  What’s thrown me is that this is a much more complex problem, it’s much chunkier, there are more strands to it, and the underlying issues are more complex.  The amount of time and work and the complexity of what I need to produce has overwhelmed me.  And for a day or two after I was given the brief I’ve employed that useful technique…oh, what’s it called….wait a minute…oh yes – procrastination!

 

In this case the procrastination has actually been useful – I had a light bulb moment whilst munching on a sweet and not doing the thing I needed to be doing.

Here’s my light bulb – I’m going to imagine the project is like one of those giant gobstoppers that I used to spend my pocket-money on.  When you first pop it in your mouth, you think you’re never going to win this particular battle – the gobstopper is huge, and there’s no way of breaking it down.   But, if you’re anything like me, you start to chip away (quite possibly chipping away some of your own teeth in the process).  At first, that seems to make no difference.  You work at it for what feels like ages, and nothing.  And then, you notice a tiny difference.  You can tell something is changing.  It feels a little bit smaller, you feel like you’re starting to gain the upper hand.  Then all of a sudden, one good crunch and you’re in – the gobstopper is no more, it’s just a mass of crumbly crunchy sweetie goodness.  The thing is though, it’s not actually that last crunch that did it.  It’s the combination of all those other little crunches and bites that weakened the structure.  The final crunch was just that – the final crunch (and the most satisfying!).

 

Well – the way I’ve tackled the project has been a bit like the way I used to tackle gobstoppers. AND I’ve taken my own advice from the book – Item 6, Tip 2 – Break it Down (handy, eh!).  One big crunch isn’t going to do it.  One long chunk of time isn’t going to do it either.  Instead, I’ve taken the ‘break it down’ approach.  I’ve looked at where I need to get to, and then I’ve worked backwards to where I am now.  I’ve listed all the things I need to do and all the small steps I need to take.  And now I have a plan.  I can see how each of the smaller chunks will eventually lead to a workable solution.  And having a plan makes me feel more in control, which makes me more enthusiastic about the days ahead.

 

Heena (1) – Gobstopper/Mammoth Mountain of a Project (0)!

 

(p.s. If you want some help tackling the mountains of paperwork in your in-tray, then check the book out – it might just help).