The Blame Game

Blame GameWhen I got back into the office after a week and a half away, my team were just finalising the quarterly reporting that I’ve been brought in to assist with.

I’d created a workbook that was designed to make our reporting more efficient and more transparent.  We’d tested it and everything was looking good.  But when we got to the actual reporting things did not go smoothly at all.

We lost a couple of days because of the May bank holidays, which weren’t recognised, so our deadline wasn’t extended.  There are a couple of other teams and departments we liaise with and one of the key players was away after running the initial report.  This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the initial report was incorrect.  And finally, my team hadn’t used the workbook I’d designed in the way I had designed it, so not only did it take longer, but there were actually more initial errors.  Not good, right?

So when I came back on Monday, I was expecting a tough week, working through all the issues, and also playing the blame game.

You know how that goes. Something goes wrong.  No-one wants to take responsibility.  Everyone attempts to blame everyone else.  After much slinging of mud and ill-will, nothing is settled, everyone is unhappy and work becomes a little more miserable and Horroffice-esque.

So imagine my surprise when this week, when we sat down in our team to discuss everything, each of us genuinely accepted the part we played in the process.  For my part, I felt I needed to be clearer with the instructions and ensure the entire process was completed before letting anyone look at the date, but the manager I work admitted something I’d been nervous about raising – she stated that she’d gone in when the process and workbook were only half done and had started working on those numbers, and in retrospect she should have waited.  She wasn’t playing the blame game.  After the flood of relief on my part, we had some great insights from the experience which we know will improve things for the next quarter.

The same thing happened in our meetings with the other teams – no blame game being played anywhere, just a genuine desire to learn and make things better.  It’s something that I’ve only seen at a few companies.  In recent contracts the blame game seems to be the only one being played.

And you know what?  Just those open, honest, blame-free meetings made everything better.  That attitude, that “Ok, what can we learn from this, how can we re-engineer the process to improve it?” mindset, that made a huge difference.  No-one was on edge, worried that the blame game would land at their feet, and they would tagged.  Ideas flowed, and I’m genuinely excited to see how we improve the quarterly process.

So maybe we can all try that mindset on for size in the next few days – when something goes wrong, whether it’s at work or at home, tell yourself you’re not going to play the blame game (even when others do), you’re just going to ask what lessons you can learn instead, and see how much better you feel for it.


Winds of change

winds of changeIt’s been quite a week hasn’t it?  For me personally, it’s been an eye-opening and slightly exhausting week.  I was away on holiday in Las Vegas.  I’ve never been there before and it was a real eye-opener.

If you haven’t been either, then I can only say that everything you’ve read about or heard about is probably true.  Vegas is a completely crazy place – anything and everything goes, there is no normal, and I can see how people lose themselves to the city.  I had a wonderful time, I didn’t lose too much (I’m not much of a gambler), I made some fantastic new friends and partied harder and longer than I ever have before.  I came back completely exhausted, and very grateful for an amazing holiday and a very lovely life to come back to.

Mind you, I chose to come back on the craziest day in politics in five years – Election day.  Of course, after I’d voted I was glued to the election coverage for the next twenty-four hours.  Given the surprise results overnight and the altered political landscape, the resignation of the three party leaders within an hour of each other wasn’t actually much of a surprise.  The winds of change had been pretty blustery on Friday morning.

It got me thinking about change.  And how we cope with change.  And then I came across this quote, which I love, and which expresses it perfectly…

“The pessimist complains about the wind.

The optimist expects it to change.

The realist adjusts the sail.”

William A Ward

What do you think?  Which one are you at the moment?  And which would you like to be?  if it helps, remember that it only takes a tiny change in attitude to make that happen…


Compared to who?

compared to who-“Did it really take you all day to do that report?  Gosh.  Shirley used to be able to do it in under two hours.”

“It’s funny that you’re so short – everyone else in your family is so tall.”

“Research shows the average thirty-year old today has little or no savings compared to their peers from 1970.”

What do these three statements have in common? They’re all comparisons. They’ve all been made by someone else. None of them are of any use to you.

Here’s an excerpt from the book that goes into this in more detail…

“It’s not realistic to put two people in the same environment with the same tools and necessarily expect exactly the same outcome. Even twins would perform differently from each other because we all come with our own motivation, baggage, skills, issues.”

It might not be realistic, but we all do it. We all compare ourselves to other people – our peers, our predecessors and our competitors at work, as well as our family, our friends, and the versions of ourselves the media tells us we should be.

The problem is, we don’t always use these comparisons to help us. We use them as a stick to beat ourselves up with. I’m not sure how helpful that is. When I took my dog to puppy training classes one of the first things they taught us was that treat based training gave much more successful results than punishment based training.  I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of treat based success – the pooch can still be persuaded to try almost anything if I wave enough treats at him.

So why do we punish ourselves with useless comparisons?  Partly I think it’s because it’s the norm.  Everyone else compares us too.  Ever since we were children we’ve been taught to compare ourselves – exams, family traits, bank balances, height, age, weight, social status, annual appraisal grades – there are countless ways we’re being compared and measured and judged.

We can’t stop other people using these comparisons but we can stop ourselves from using them, especially from using them as a way to beat ourselves up.  Let’s make a pact not to do that to ourselves, or each other if we can help it.

The only useful comparison I think you can make is to say ‘Am I doing the best I can?  Am I getting closer to my goals than I was yesterday.  Am I moving forward?’

Compare yourself to you, only you, and only as a means of moving forward.  Everything else is meaningless.

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.