Resilience In The Workplace

It was Iain Dowie who first coined the phrase bouncebackability in 2004, when he was manager of Crystal Palace. He was using the term to describe his team’s ability to come back from defeat in their previous match, but the word has now entered the English language to describe the ability to recover from any setback.

My work colleague Olivia had bouncebackability. She was in her early 20’s, about 10 years younger than me, and yet I was always amazed at how resilient she was. She worked with vulnerable young people, helping them to get back into work or training. They were challenging clients, living chaotic lifestyles and making poor life decisions. Clients that she’d worked hard for to get a job would walk out after only a few hours and she would have to start from scratch with them to try to get them into something. And yet Olivia was always upbeat, optimistic and positive, even when things weren’t going her way.

One day I told her how much I admired her resolve and asked her what her secret was. She kind of shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said “it’s just the way I am.”

That got me thinking, is resilience something you are born with – you’ve either got it or you haven’t – or is it something that can be developed  – like a skill?

Resilience can be thought of as our ability to face adversity, adapt to change and recover from setbacks. People who are resilient may still have to deal with strong or uncomfortable feelings and emotions (such as sadness after a bereavement), but they are able to handle them without becoming overwhelming.

Research into resilience suggests that it is not a trait, genetic or fixed, but instead it is a set of skills, or a process, that can be learned by anybody. In fact, in America, the Penn Resilience Program, which has been used with a wide range of participants, including military personnel, has been shown to:

  • Increase well-being and optimism
  • Reduce and prevent depression and anxiety
  • Result in fewer substance abuse and mental health diagnoses
  • Improve physical health

So, what are the factors that help to build our resilience?

Social support – Having a good network of support, whether it is friends, family, church groups or support groups, is consistently seen as being a major source of resilience.

Self-esteem & self-confidence – being aware of your own strengths and having belief in your own abilities.

Problem solving skills – having the ability to make decisions, put plans in place and to see them through.

Social skills – such as a communication skills, assertiveness and empathy.

Emotional regulation – the ability to handle your thoughts and emotions appropriately.

So, if you would like to be more resilient, below are 4 tactics that you can start to practice right now that could help you to bounce back from any setback.

 

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is sometimes described as learning to be in the present moment, without judging our thoughts or feelings. Another way of thinking about mindfulness is having more control over your attention. Rather than getting caught up in negative thoughts you can learn to focus your attention on something else; whatever you chose. That might be focusing on the dishes you are washing, walking the dog, playing with your children, the person you are talking to etc.

Mindfulness has been subject to lots of research recently and most of it suggests that it can help with reducing stress and worry and can improve relationships. Mindfulness is also shown to increase focus and more helps us to be more flexible in our thinking.

A really easy technique you can try is called mindfulness breathing, which simply involves spending a few minutes focusing on the rhythm and sensation of your breath. There are lots of mindfulness apps and recordings you can follow. This is a good example on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEfs5TJZ6Nk

 

Set Aside Worry Time

Telling people to stop worrying is pretty pointless, but a study in 2011 showed that postponing worry to a scheduled 30 minute slot helps people to cope better with workplace stress. The technique, called stimulus control, involves 4 steps:

  1. Recognise when you are worrying
  2. When you realise you are worrying, postpone it and focus on the task at hand
  3. Set aside a time and place to think about those worries
  4. Use the time you’ve set aside to to try to solve the problems that worry you

 

Stop Multi-tasking

It’s something that women are renown for, and men are supposedly hopeless at, but multi-tasking isn’t helpful in the workplace. Research by the American Psychological Association even suggests that multi-tasking can reduce productivity by up to 40%. Going from task to task, taking a random approach to work, can add what’s called “cognitive load”, or mental effort, adding to the stress in our life.

A much better approach is to allocate dedicated time to do specific tasks during the day, much like you might allocate time to going to the gym or watching a football match. So, for example, check your emails at 9am and 1pm for 30 minutes, but keep your email software switched off the rest of the day. Try to be more regimented in your approach, prioritise your tasks and focus on what is important rather than what is urgent.

 

Develop Planful Problem Solving Skills

As noted earlier, effective problem solving is one of the key factors to building resilience. Problem solving helps prevent us from feeling overwhelmed by challenges at work. But what does good problem solving look like?

One of the most widely used models for problem solving was developed in America by Arthur and Christine Nezu, and it is so helpful at building resilience that it is now used by US military veterans to help them to adapt to civilian life.

This 7 step model can be applied to any situation and centres around the use of brainstorming to generate ideas. Brainstorming involves coming up with as many ideas as possible – the more ideas you generate the better – but requires you to not judge or evaluate those ideas whilst you are brainstorming. Next time you are faced with a problem at work have a go at following these 7 steps;

  1. Describe your problem – can it be changed? If not learn to accept it
  2. State your goal – what’s the best case scenario for you?
  3. Describe any obstacles to achieving your goal eg time, money, knowledge etc
  4. Brainstorm ideas – think of as many alternative ways you can achieve your goal
  5. Write down the major pros and cons of each idea you came up with
  6. Decide which ideas have the most pros and fewest cons and write an action plan for how you are going to put them in place. Make your action plan SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Time related)
  7. Carry out the plan and observe the consequences. Reward yourself for your effort not the outcome.

Photo by citirecruitment / CC BY

 

Living Well With A Disability: 5 Powerful Strategies To Combat Stress

John came to see me for an appointment just after Christmas. It had been a tough holiday for him this year. 3 months earlier he had been diagnosed with a condition called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) which causes extreme tiredness, muscle pain, poor sleep and headaches. Trying to manage Christmas with his partner and his family, while also trying to cope with his illness became too much for John and by New Year he was locked away in his bedroom, stressed and exhausted.

John had found out about my service through a friend and he called me to say that he was struggling and needed help. I asked him how he knew that he was stressed and he explained that he felt overwhelmed by his emotions. He found that he was easily irritated, the little things (and the big things) stressed him out and he worried constantly, like his brain was on overdrive. He told me that he felt the stress in his body, his muscles felt tense and he kept getting butterflies in his stomach. When he was stressed he found that he either took it out on those that he loved or he wanted to run and hide and not face his problems anymore.

There are an estimated 10 million disabled people in the UK like John, many who face extra challenges as a result of their disability. An American survey showed that 45% of people with a disability (and 36% of those with a chronic illness) reported a lot of current stress. Statistics from the UK government show that people with a disability rate their life satisfaction and happiness lower (and their anxiety levels higher) than those who do not report a disability.

It’s almost Easter now and John is doing a lot better. He is calmer and more relaxed and he is feeling more hopeful and optimistic. Dealing with his CFS is still hard work, but he knows that his symptoms improve when his mood improves.

So I asked John, “What did you find most useful about the treatment?”.

And so, these are the 5 strategies that helped John combat his stress. These strategies can also help you to manage your stress, both now and in the future.

 

Reach Out To Family & Friends

If you are stressed it is common to just want to go back to bed and throw the duvet over your head. Unfortunately, spending time by yourself (sometimes called social isolation) can make you to feel worse about your situation and can lead to depression.

Staying connected with family and friends will help you feel stronger and more resilient.

John found that calling an old friend from high school really helped to cheer him up and put things into perspective. He also made sure that he built time into his week to spend quality time with his partner, such as going out for a meal or going to the pictures.

There are lots of things that you can do to stay socially active, for example:

  • Take up a hobby or pastime that gets you out the house and meeting other people
  • Take up a sport or go and watch your favourite club play
  • Write a letter to an old friend
  • Invite your family round for a meal

Learn to relax

When we are stressed our brain triggers something called the fight or flight response (sometimes called the stress response). This change is designed to help us to cope with life or death situations (like being chased by a lion). This is what creates a lot of the unpleasant symptoms of stress such as tense muscles, heart beating faster and stronger, shortness of breath and sweaty palms.

When we are dealing with long term stress, or chronic stress, we are constantly being triggered and our body doesn’t have the chance to go back to a state of balance (what scientists call homeostasis). Therefore, we need to learn deep relaxation so that we can trigger the relaxation response (the opposite of the stress response).

When I talk about deep relaxation, I’m not talking about watching Eastenders with a bottle of beer after a day at work. Deep relaxation is created by switching off the outside world and “letting go” completely.

I taught John how to use hypnosis to relax (and you can follow this link to practice a simple 10 minute hypnotic relaxation session) but there are lots of other useful techniques you can look into:

  • Meditation
  • Autogenic training
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga

Practice Acceptance

John had his life already mapped out. He was ambitious in work and had career goals that he wanted to achieve. He was going to travel and see the world. He also wanted kids of his own in the future.

John felt like his CFS had robbed him of all his dreams.

We talked through the benefits of learning to accept his situation. Just as we grieve when we lose a loved one, we can also grieve when we lose the life we thought we were going to have. However, whilst it is healthy to grieve, it’s not healthy to brood about the past or a future that you were never promised.

I gave John this quote written almost 2000 years ago by a philosopher called Epictetus:

“When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”

John began to focus on the life he had, limitations and all. He used mindfulness techniques to be more present and found that he didn’t get so easily hooked into negative thoughts or feelings. He learnt to use his energies planning for the things he could do, rather than worrying about the things he couldn’t do.

Acceptance can be a practice that takes time, but John found that “letting go” and accepting that things were the way that they were helped him to deal with life so much better.

 

Commit to your values

When we are stressed we lose focus of the things that are important to us. The impact of John’s stress meant that he had lost his direction in life. Spending some time thinking about his values, helped John to get back on track. He started to do more of the things that he enjoyed and were meaningful to him and less of the things that were unhelpful.

Our values are what give our life meaning and purpose. They are expressed through our behaviours and our actions. They are different to goals as they don’t have an end-point. Examples of values are:

  • Compassion
  • Assertiveness
  • Generosity
  • Fun
  • Loyalty
  • Self-control
  • Teamwork
  • Vitality

Spend some time thinking about the different aspects of your life; work, family, relationships, education, parenting etc. Then think about how you want that aspect of your life to look if you were fully committed to your values.

For example, “In my personal relationship with my partner my intention is to be caring and affectionate when I am with them”.

Thinking about you values might help you get involved in new and interesting activities, such as:

  1. Joining a disability support group
  2. Volunteering in your local community
  3. Getting involved in a local church or faith group
  4. Starting an educational course

Get Organised

In his working life, John was a manager who loved being in control. He always had his things-to-do list handy and put all his appointments in his online calendar. He always knew what his priorities were and always met his deadlines.

His personal life, on the other hand, was completely chaotic. Bills were always paid late, birthdays missed and bins never went out on the right day.

This just added extra pressure on John and made him feel more stressed.

By applying some simple planning techniques John was able to get his home life back under control and reduce his stress.

The easiest strategy to start with is called the 4 D’s of productivity. When a task comes your way, use the 4D’s to decide how best to deal with it:

  • Do it – If the task can be dealt with straight away, don’t wait  – get it done straight away
  • Delegate it – Is there someone else better placed to deal with it? If so pass it on. You might agree to do something in return to help them out
  • Ditch it – If it’s really not important, bin it. Then you can focus your energies on more important stuff
  • Defer it – If the task is non-urgent, or you don’t have time to complete it, put a reminder in your calendar or diary and allocate enough time to deal with it.

Is Your Club Trying To Kill You?

Perhaps it was during a particular match that you finally realised it, or perhaps you worked it out over a longer, more drawn out period. Long, painful, trophy-free years….seasons filled with clueless managers, hopeless players and never-ending boardroom battles…

However you came to it, the conclusion is clear; your football club – the team that you’ve given your heart and soul to – is trying to kill you.

Don’t take it personally though…all football teams are trying to bump off their fans and I’ve got the evidence to prove it.

A study published in 2008 showed that watching a football match more than doubles the risk of having an acute cardiovascular event (that’s a heart attack to you and me). The study showed that during the 2006 World Cup the number of emergency patients with heart problems more than doubled when Germany were playing in World Cup matches (43) compared to days when they weren’t playing (18).

A second study looked at saliva samples taken from 58 Spanish soccer fans during the World Cup in 2010. The study showed increased levels of cortisol in the samples, which were even higher in those who identified more strongly with being a football fan.

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced when we are under stress. It causes our heart rate and blood pressure to increase and our blood vessels narrow. High levels of cortisol over a long period of time can cause depression, weight gain and anxiety.

Even worse, cortisol can actually decrease your sex drive. You see, they don’t even want you to have any fun when you are alive.

If that’s not enough proof, how about this. An experiment carried out on Premier League football fans showed that an average fan’s heart rate increased to almost 150% of its normal rate when their team conceded a goal but increased to 215% when their team scored.

The final nail in the coffin is a study that showed that (American) football fans ate around 16% more saturated fat when their football team lost a game. Saturated fats are known to increase the cholesterol in your blood and increase your chances of developing heart disease.

But, don’t worry…there is a way you can fight back. Follow these 3 simple strategies and you’ll get through the next season in one piece.

Exercise

Regular exercise is proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, control your weight and improve your mental health. Just 75 minutes a week can extend your life by almost 2 years.

Exercise is a great stress reducer as well as it decreases the cortisol in our body and increases the production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which improve our mood and also reduces physical pain.

Any type of moderate exercise helps, from walking the dog to having a kickabout in the park.

Practice Meditation

If it’s good enough for Sam Allardyce, it’s good enough for you.

“Big” Sam has been practising transcendental meditation for over 12 years to cope with the stress of being a football manager. He told the Guardian newspaper;
“…it’s easy to carry out. Fifteen minutes, half an hour – you don’t have to be going into a quiet room with music on or anything like that. You can be anywhere at any time, as long as you find a relatively quiet place…It refreshes you and makes you feel good to push on.”

An easy meditation technique to start with is simply to sit quietly with your eyes closed, taking your full attention to your breathing for a couple of minutes. Focus on the sensation of every breath and let any thoughts that you have gently flow through.

 

Practice Gratitude

The biggest cause of stress to a football fan is focusing on the negatives; the losses, the injuries, getting knocked out the FA cup again…

Having an attitude of gratitude helps to put all of that into perspective. Spend a couple of minutes at the end of every day focusing on the things you are grateful for…family friends, an act of kindness…and you can go to bed happier, healthier and less stressed.

Practising all three of these strategies will help you to feel less stressed, more resilient and less likely to keel over in the face of another drubbing by Stoke.

Reduce Stress Today With These 25 Low Cost Ideas

With Wednesday 2nd November 2016 being National Stress Awareness Day I thought it would be a great time to look at some really useful ideas to help you better manage your stress.

I have a phrase that I use with all my hypnotherapy clients who come and see me to reduce their stress:

“Start to do more and more of the things that are helpful and less and less of the things that aren’t helpful”.

As effective as hypnosis is in dealing with stress, anxiety, phobias and panic attacks it should be seen as just one of a number of strategies that a client can use to improve their well-being. There are lots of other activities that can help to reduce stress, many of them supported by research and studies.

So with that in mind, I’d like to present 25 low cost ideas to combat stress.

Some you will recognise and perhaps have tried in the past. Some you may already find helpful in making you feel calmer and more relaxed. Why not try out some new tactics and let me know how you have got on, or let me know what works for you and I can add them to the list!!!   

#1 Take a dog for a walk

Studies show that on average dog owners exercise more than non-dog owners, which by itself is beneficial in managing stress. Taking a dog for a walk also gives owners the opportunity to spend more time in nature, which is shown to increase a sense of well-being. In addition, research also shows that spending time with a dog can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

#2 Learn a new skill

Whether it is learning a new language, taking up photography or improving your flower arranging skills, studies show that learning a new skill can improve your well-being. Benefits include increased self-confidence and self-esteem, improved optimism, greater life satisfaction and a greater ability to cope with stress. 

#3 Tidy Up

Perhaps not the most exciting suggestion on this list but researchers have shown in studies that clutter reduces our ability to remain focused and lowers the brain’s capacity for processing information. If we tidy up our mind can start to focus on solving our problems and reduce our stress.  

#4 Meditate

Meditation has long been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life. Recent studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can even reduce the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response. This in turn leads to reduced stress levels. 

#5 Write things down

Whether it is writing a daily journal or diary, a things-to-do list or updating your calendar, finding the time to get our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper can reduce our stress. Research suggests that writing a regular journal can also strengthen the immune system and decrease the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. 

#6 Talk to someone you trust

Therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy are known to be effective for treating a range of issues including stress and anxiety, but calling a friend can also be helpful. Research has shown that positive social support can enhance resilience to stress, decrease the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and reduce medical morbidity and mortality. 

#7 Listen to relaxing music

Next time you’ve had a particularly stressful day turn off Radio 2 and put on Classic FM. Studies show that listening to slow, quiet classical music can slow down the pulse and heart rate and decrease our stress hormone levels. 

#8 Practice self-hypnosis

As a hypnotherapist, perhaps it is not surprising that I would suggest self-hypnosis. There is lots of scientific evidence that supports the use of self-hypnosis for the treatment of anxiety, chronic pain, habit disorders, hypertension, insomnia and depression. To find out how to start practising self-hypnosis read this blog post.

#9 Hug it out

A simple hug is shown to reduce cortisol levels, the hormone that is released during times of stress. In addition, research shows that when we hug the hormone oxytocin is released. Known as the “trust hormone”, oxytocin can help to reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety and improve memory.

#10 Catch some rays  

Although the opportunities are limited in the UK, it’s a good idea to make the most of the sunshine when it does appear. Research shows that in addition to the benefits of producing vitamin D, which can boost the immune system and improve bone growth, the body also produces nitric oxide, which lowers blood pressure. 

#11 Breathe deeply

Deep breathing, sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, is a great way to trigger the relaxation response. Pioneered by Dr Herbert Benson, the relaxation response is shown to help with health problems that are caused chronic stress such as fibromyalgia, stomach disorders, insomnia, hypertension and anxiety disorders. 

#12 Own a pet

There are plenty of studies which show that companion animals are good for both our physical and mental wellbeing. For example one study showed that pet owners have a lower resting heart rate and are less likely to see spikes in heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations. 

#13 Get creative  

The next time you feel stressed get out your pens, paints and glitter glue. Research shows that only 45 minutes of creative activity lessens stress in the body and reduces cortisol levels, regardless of your artistic ability. 

#14 Cut out your cuppa

In our culture we tend to put on the kettle in moments of stress or crisis and have a comforting cup of tea or coffee. Unfortunately, the caffeine in your cuppa can actually increase your stress levels. Research shows that 4-5 cups of coffee a day, combined with your daily stressors, can increase your blood pressure and increase your risk of long term heart disease.

#15 Develop an attitude of gratitude

Spending 5 minutes focusing on 3 good things that have happened during your day can really help to put things into perspective. Research into developing an attitude of gratitude shows that it has many benefits including improving physical and psychological health.

#16 Get a good night’s sleep

Many people find that when they are stressed one of the first effects is a poor night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation can affect our memory, judgement and mood. Chronic sleep deprivation can even contribute to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure. To learn how to implement good sleep habits read this blog post.

#17 Work up a sweat

One of the most recommended strategies for coping with stress is exercise. Regular physical activity, particularly aerobic exercise, not only improves your physical wellbeing but also improves your mental fitness. In addition to reducing stress, exercise can reduce fatigue, improve alertness and increase cognitive functioning. 

#18 Read a book

Just 6 minutes of silent reading can slow down the heart rate and reduce muscle tension. In studies, reading was also shown to reduce stress levels by 68%. 

#19 Give something back

Volunteering can not only improve the lives of others but is shown to be beneficial to ourselves. Research has shown that volunteering can reduce stress levels, decrease the risk of depression and increase feelings of happiness. 

#20 Get some fresh air

Get out into the countryside and you can experience the physical benefits of a good walk. However, studies have also shown that a walk in the countryside can reduce our tendency to ruminate and focus on negative thoughts. This in turn can reduce stress, anxiety and ease depression.  

#21 Practice yoga

Combining a mix of postures to improve strength and flexibility, breathing techniques and meditation, yoga is a great tactic for reducing stress. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga regularly have higher levels of an amino acid which aids brain functioning and promotes feelings of calm.

#22 Put on your favourite comedy 

They say that laughter is the best medicine and that can now be backed up by scientific evidence. The benefits of having a good laugh include boosting the immune system, relaxing the body and reduces stress and tension, increasing the endorphins (mood boosting chemicals) in the body and improving blood flow.  

#23 Chew a stick of gum

Perhaps one of the strangest suggestions on this list, but research in 2008 showed that chewing gum reduced levels of cortisol levels in participants. 

#24 Get a hug

Do you need some scientific evidence to persuade friends that more hugging would be a good idea? Well, research shows that in addition to reducing stress and anxiety, hugging can also reduce blood pressure and improve your memory .  

#25 Turn on your Xbox

Despite the dangers of violent video games being reported in the media, some research shows that playing video games can actually be beneficial. For example, one study showed a correlation between playing video games and handling stress better.

Get Organised: 6 Steps To Less Stress

I always find it interesting how clients can be brilliantly efficient and effective in some areas of their life but not in others. For example, clients who can manage so well in stressful working conditions,
who can manage large teams of staff or complex working environments, can fall apart when dealing with a difficult home life. The skills and knowledge that they draw on in the workplace go out the window when confronted with a stroppy toddler or intrusive parent.

Using effective time management and organisational skills throughout our lives is a great way to reduce our stress and anxiety. Many clients find themselves overwhelmed by emotions when dealing with life’s challenges and it is usually linked to a feeling of losing control. Learning to relax and slow down, by using techniques such as hypnosis or mindfulness, can really help but so to can making some very simple and practical changes.

If you want to get back that feeling of self-control, and start to feel less stressed, try to incorporate these 6 changes into your life today.

Ditch Perfectionism

Striving to do your best can be a good trait to have. It can lead to great achievements in your life such as passing exams or a successful and rewarding career. However, research shows that the dark side of perfectionism can lead to poor physical health and even an early death.

Setting high standards for yourself can help you to achieve personal and professional goals, but setting unrealistic standards throughout your life can lead to unwanted stress.  

The key to ditching perfectionism is starting to accept that you can’t be perfect at everything that you do. Begin by changing your “self talk” – the words that you say to yourself. Replace “I must…”, “I should…”, “I have to…” with more realistic words such as “I hope to…”, “I’d like to…”, “I wish to…”.

Then make sure that you start to set yourself goals and targets that are realistic and achievable. No one can be the perfect parent, perfect partner, perfect employee and the perfect son or daughter.  

Finally, congratulate yourself on your successes but be more compassionate with yourself when things don’t go the way you had hoped.

Stop Procrastinating

Do you find yourself putting tasks off or avoiding them completely? Perhaps you are avoiding them because you’ve just got too much on, or perhaps you are just not motivated to do it. If you are a perfectionist perhaps you are avoiding it because you don’t want to do it badly or wrong, or perhaps it’s a task that you know (or assume) you are just not going to enjoy doing.

Procrastination, and the worry that sometimes comes from putting off a task, especially with an impending deadline, can lead to additional stress. Much better to tackle the task head on as early as possible.

A great way to avoid procrastination is to start by reaffirming your goal.  Is it a task that really needs to be done? Are you the best person to do it? Do you know anyone else who has completed it who can give you some advice? What is the outcome if the task isn’t completed?

Then set yourself a realistic deadline and allocate sufficient time in your diary to complete it.

Finally break the task down into smaller, more manageable steps.

Set Priorities

When we have so many competing tasks and deadlines it can be hard to see the wood for the trees and easy to become overwhelmed by negative emotions. To prevent this from happening take some time to set your priorities. What are the key tasks that you need to complete and what can be pushed back, or is simply no longer required?  Once you’ve made a decision on your most important tasks you can begin by completing those tasks first.

Have A System

For many people who are stressed, when their brain is ramped up and on high alert, their mind becomes filled with all the things that they have to get done. In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen stresses the importance of moving planned tasks and projects out of your head and having a proper system for filing and recording them. In Problem-Solving Therapy: A Treatment Manual the authors discuss the value of “externalising”, getting all the clutter out of your head so that you can think more clearly.

Many of us might be really organised in work, but allow our personal life to become chaotic. To get organised quickly and simply there are 4 essential steps:

  • Set up a filing system – invest in some folders and something to store them in (you don’t need to buy a filing cabinet, a small expander file might be sufficient). Collect everything in your house that needs to be filed away eg bank statements, theatre tickets, instruction manuals, post-it notes and create a file for each. Make sure you create suitable systems for electronic documents and email as well.
  • Get a note taking device, either a physical notebook or an electronic one such as the Evernote app. Use it to jot down ideas or anything that comes to mind – get it out of your head!!
  • Buy a calendar/diary or make the most of online calendars such as Google Calendar. Put everything in it – birthdays, anniversaries, appointments. Start to use it to book time out for things that are important to you eg going to the gym, meeting friends, taking the kids swimming.
  • Start a task list/things to do list – again, this can be physical, such as an A4 pad, or electronic, such as the app Remember The Milk. Write down everything that you need to do, no matter how small. Review it regularly and keep it updated.

Start to say “No”

Are you a people pleaser? Does it feel wrong to say “No” when others ask you for help? Are other people’s responsibilities getting in the way of your goals?  Then you need to start saying “No”.

It might seem hard at first, you might feel that you are letting other people down or are worried that other people will think badly of you. However, learning to say “No” can be liberating. Consider how much extra time and energy you would have if you had said “No” more often.

So, start to practice saying “No” to the small requests and work your way up to bigger things. Don’t apologise and avoid the trap of saying things like “I will try to do it later if I’ve got time”. Learn to be polite but firm and accept that you can only be responsible for your own feelings and you can’t influence how other people feel.

Learn To Delegate

Just as many people can’t say “No”, others find it difficult to delegate tasks. Perhaps it’s the fear that another person won’t do the job as well as you (see Ditch Perfectionism) or perhaps you don’t want to be seen as being weak. Whatever the reason, now is a great time to start delegating tasks.

The 4 D’s is a classic productivity system for deciding what to do with the tasks you have:

  • Drop it – Does it really need doing? If not, drop it
  • Do it – Can it be done straight away? Then do it now
  • Defer it – Is it going to take more time or resources or knowledge than you’ve got now? Then defer it
  • Delegate it – Are you the best person to do this task? If not, delegate it

In the workplace if you are a manager, then delegation is a skill that you should be developing anyway. Even if you are not a manager there may be opportunities to delegate tasks to colleagues who are better suited to the task. Perhaps in return you could do something that you are better at or would enjoy more.

Even within a family setting, tasks can be delegated effectively. Including children in household chores is a vital part of learning life skills. Teaching children to tidy their own room, wash up or make their own breakfast can free up your time considerably. Make sure you explain the task fully to them and learn to accept that they aren’t going to reach your standards straight away.