Work or life? Is balance possible?


High season is upon us here at Happy Holidays in France. What was supposed to be a job whilst I take a career break in France, perfecting my French, is starting to feel very much as though it is taking over my life. Perhaps this isn’t helped by mobile phones and emails which mean my customers can reach me 24 hours a day with any query (some small and minor, some serious and urgent).work or life

Having done some very demanding roles in my time, work / life balance always seemed like the Holy Grail – something highly desirable to achieve, but usually just out of reach. Was it was actually about the roles / jobs I was doing that stopped me having a life apart from work, or was it is actually me – my ways of working, enthusiasm, determination to do a good job – that actually is the issue. Perhaps I like working long hours, often without a break, or feel that I have to?

A simple example – taking a lunch break. At one of my previous employers we actually had a ‘Take back your lunch break’ campaign to encourage people to take some time out during the working day. (Study after study shows it actually boosts productivity and is good for us.) We went so far as to offer incentives such as free head massages, live music and free food. A few people took advantage of what we offered and participated, but the majority didn’t. We asked those who didn’t take part why and had answers such as ‘I’m too busy. If I take time out I’ll get more behind.’ ’My manager never takes a lunch break and looks down on people in the team who do.’ (Did I take part too? I’m sad to report that I was also in the ‘too busy’ camp and didn’t.)

I told this story to a French colleague recently, who was outraged. ‘How can you not take a lunch break?’ she exclaimed. She and her colleagues who work at the resort always take at least an hour for lunch, sometimes an hour and a half, even on the busiest days. It is a key part of the French culture and the French work place that everyone takes their ‘l’heure de déjeuner’. The resort doesn’t suddenly grind to a halt, the work still gets done and they keep their sanity.

Perhaps something for me to think about the next time a text or phone call interrupts my lunch….. Maybe some balance is possible after all if I choose to make it so.

 

Wake up more self disciplined… here’s how

Self discipline is a topic that comes up time and time again for me. Personally and with our clients. Particularly at this time of year when the children are off school and I want to manage my time in terms of how I can fit more in, still see them and get everything done that needs my attention. I know that I am better when in a routine and this time of year, that routine is thrown a bit.

Self discipline is often a topic that comes up in coaching or as a training request – though it’s usually called Time management or Personal organisation.

jimmy-edwardsAnd actually it is not that complicated. Self-discipline is nothing more than a.  It is your ability to self manage your own thoughts and actions, regardless of your emotional state.  And it is something that EVERY successful person on this planet has had to develop at some point.

Just imagine for a second that your mind is like an untrained dog on a lead.  Even though you may be holding the lead and you ‘feel’ like you have control, you will quickly realise how wild and unruly an untrained dog is… He will end up dragging YOU along, going wherever he’d like to go without any regard or concern for anyone else around him.  The dog will just impulsively go where he wants…

The untrained mind acts the exact same way.  Our minds will habitually seek out pleasurable experiences, avoid uncomfortable situations, and continually ‘trick’ us into giving it what it wants.  If we don’t learn to train the mind, the mind will always have control over us… We will fall into the trap of living life on a lead and not achieve our full potential.

A trained mind is essential for anyone who is looking to grow and become a more effective, more powerful human being.  And I’ll be the first to admit… I wasn’t born with a whole lot of self discipline.  It’s something that I’ve had to consciously develop and work on for quite some time now.  But my lack of self-discipline really became apparent when I entered into the world of entrepreneurship.

As an entrepreneur, I had no one telling me what to do, when to do it, or how to structure my workday.  I was completely on my own, I had no one looking over my shoulder, and I was accountable to no one but myself.  This was a major challenge for me because I was used to the discipline of working in a large corporate organisation and having a managed diary and day with a big team to do things. Over time, I have had to learn this skill of self discipline… It’s not always an easy one, but it is absolutely necessary.  Without self discipline, there is no structure, no routine, no habits… And success is ultimately a HABIT.

Become a conscious observer of your thoughts

First and foremost, you have to learn the skill of mind observation.  Most people are so consumed by the thoughts in their head, that they don’t even question them!  They take everything to be true and let the ‘untrained dog’ blindly lead them.  So it’s critical that you create some space between your thoughts and the observation of your thoughts.  Spend some time observing your mind. You can take mental notes or even keep record with a journal, but just make it a point to start observing your thoughts throughout the day.

What you will most likely find is that your mind is quite unruly!  It is constantly jumping around from one thought to the next, and most of the thoughts that go through the mind are not even based in reality.  The mind will seek to ‘get what it wants’ at any cost.  When you learn to observe your thoughts, you will learn to take a bit of space before you automatically and unconsciously go along with the whims of your mind.  You begin to become the observer of your mind.  And from this place, you can start the practice of self discipline.

Create A Routine

Having a daily routine is a fundamental part of self discipline.  This will lay the groundwork and create the infrastructure for massive productivity.  When I get up in the morning, I make a cup of tea and take the dog for a walk to clear my head and plan the day ahead. If I am back before the family are up I sit down to work for a bit. Often I draft a blog entry or tweak our business plan. After that, I feel energized and ready to start my work day.  This morning routine definitely helps me to start my day on the right track… And the days where this doesn’t happen, I feel a lot less organised and less productive.  Having a daily routine is like driving with Satnav… You know exactly where to go!

Create A To-Do List

Being an entrepreneur can get quite distracting sometimes… With all of the information and entertainment out there on the web, it can be easy to get distracted and completely off track.  This has happened to me numerous times… I’ll sit down to get some work done and before I know it, I’ve just spent hours responding to emails (other peoples priorities) and web surfing!  So a great idea for cultivating more discipline throughout your work day is creating a to-do list.  Start with the most important or most difficult activities first and check them off as you go.  This will give you some clear direction and keep your level of productivity high.

Delayed Gratification

One of the best practices for self discipline is delayed gratification.  As children, we are taught to finish our chores and homework BEFORE we can go out and play.  This same practice is incredibly effective for adults, too.  Make it a point to reward yourself after a productive work day.  You can pour a glass of wine, sit down with your favorite book, go out for a nice meal, or any other pleasurable activity that you enjoy.  Just make sure you reward yourself AFTER you get your work done and only then.

Set Clearly Defined Goals with Deadlines

Initially you need to be very clear about why you want to become more self disciplined in the first place. What is your ultimate goal to which you are devoting your working life. Once you have that I would suggest starting out by creating a goal for the next 90 days.  After that’s clearly defined, create a goal for the next 7 days… And then you can start setting very small, daily goals that go along with your to-do list.  Review your goals everyday and this will keep you on the right track.

Persistence and Consistency

It’s not enough to practice self discipline one day and then forget about it the next.  You have to stay consistent and make it a daily priority.  Stay consistent for 30-60 days and your perseverance will transform into a habit.  Once you consciously create an engrained habit, it will become so much easier for you to practice self-discipline…. It’ll just feel natural.

These are just a few ideas to get you started on the path towards true effectiveness, productivity, and success.  When you train your mind and train your actions, you can then honestly say that you are ‘your own boss’!  No one else can be your internal manager but you…even if you have a manager, he or she won’t have the time to get too involved in your work. So it’s your responsibility to step up to the plate and train yourself to become the empowered and successful person you know you can be!

 

Hitting the headlines in Moneywise

moneywisePeople issues are in the news every day and here at Amelore we’re never short of opinions and expert advice. If there’s a topic hitting the headlines or an issue we’re getting asked a lot about, then we’ll usually write about it here or for one of the websites we contribute to.

Amelore MD Ruth Cornish has been writing for Moneywise for the last few years and continues to provide feature articles for their print and online audiences, take a look at her latest contribution on preparing your child for the working world:

http://www.moneywise.co.uk/work-wages/salary-benefits/prepare-your-child-the-working-world

We’re also delighted to have become a contributor to the Talented Ladies community, a network of self-employed women sharing advice and best practice. Our blog on work and motherhood appeared recently, watch out for more from us soon.

http://www.talentedladiesclub.com/all-help/all-how-to-work-flexibly/all-how-to-work-flexibly-managing-your-career/is-the-guardians-advice-prejudice-or-practical-whats-your-view/

If there’s an HR issue you’d like to hear more about, let us know at ruthcornish@amelore.com

 

Get rid of performance management… Here’s how

It’s not a very well kept secret that most HR professionals know that appraisal or performance management systems don’t work. But actually it is quite hard to push back when your boss is asking you to implement or manage or fine-tune one and it is still(ish) an accepted, respected even, business practice.

In my last job before I set my company up, the large government agency I worked for had invested in a highly complicated hungry system that required constant feeding and which I absolutely felt was a waste of time and energy for everyone. Public sector is always a tough environment to effect change as the Unions are highly suspicious of moving away from any system or process that doesn’t guarantee year on year pay rises, understandably. So often the temptation is to get into very detailed systems to manage Industrial Relations.

Thing was, as a senior HR leader I had to regularly defend this system when not only did I not believe in it for the organisation, I didn’t believe in it for me or my team. This coupled with the knowledge that if you wanted to see a really poor set of extremely non-SMART objectives you only had to go to the senior team or the HR department.

So fast forward 5 years and here I am running my own company and at last free to publically recommend the removal of appraisal systems to all my HR colleagues. Not only that but it’s starting to become a key area of focus for us as we help companies to move forward and think differently and have a good clear out of outdated ‘HR’ practices.

Here is how to go about it:

  1. To make a compelling recommendation to your Board, you need to know the cost and effectiveness of your current system. Set up a project team or get someone externally to do it for you. Don’t get sucked into the ‘we don’t have the budget’ argument. Every day you promote or prolong a system that you know doesn’t work and costs your company money, you are damaging your personal and professional brand.
  1. So now you have the research and know that not only do most people welcome the end to this process, it is costing an unbelievable amount of money for little obvious gain. If you asked a good set of questions, you will have picked up that employees still want development and progression at certain stages of their career, and at others to be left alone beyond the usual CPD. You may have picked up what your organisation sees as a possible way ahead – this might be nothing or a feedback loop or something that you haven’t worked out yet. Which is the exciting part.
  1. To pull your proposal together you need an alternative or a compelling reason for making the change. You will know what your organisations goals and ambitions are. Pull together a small project team and work with interested influential parties. Clearly you will still want to be able to reward those that work hard and are competent in their field so make sure you address that.
  1. You will find that most senior executives are of the opinion that one needs to legally have such a system. If you then get into consulting employment lawyers about it you will freeze in your tracks and probably agree to retain them to introduce more polices and procedures just in case….but… take a deep breath and ask yourself when was the last time that you actually managed an employee out via the capability route? And actually when was the last time a poorly performing employee had actually been told about it or marked down on their appraisal if indeed they had had one. And we all know that the real high fliers are too busy to appraise or be appraised. Especially in legal firms…
  1. You know that your organisation wants information on employees but that actually it is hard to come by. Even your appraisal process no matter how sophisticated won’t have really shone the torch in places that would excite your senior team. Think about how what you need to monitor and report on corporately. CPD is one area that should be critical for any professional firm to monitor but is often at best a tick box on an appraisal form or left to individuals to monitor. But there might be others. Think as broadly as possible. Don’t limit yourself to traditional areas – think of new ones. You might just identify something to focus on that will give your organisation competitive advantage.
  1. Recognise that doing something fairly radical like removing a long established system is changing the way your company works and interacts with employees (I’m not using the jaded old term engagement here because I don’t like it). The HR team will also want to create some space to look at the service it provides and how it adds value to the business and may consider letting go of other more traditional practices. This is an area worth investing in as it will up skill and inspire not only the HR team but the relationship with the business. Using an independent third party to facilitate and manage this can be key to a successful outcome.

I won’t wish you good luck at this stage as this is not about luck at all. This is about you as an HR professional and/or business leader critically evaluating an established system and making recommendation for change to help the organisation deliver its goals.

If this were the Finance or Marketing team with a similar issue ask yourself not only how they would approach it but how quickly they would make the change happen?

Enjoy.