Monday, 23 March 2020

#15: My Top Ten Tips for working from home

I first started working from home back in 2006 and can remember one early episode which sharply brought into focus the reality of the challenges that can present. My son Charlie was about a year and a half old at the time and couldn’t understand why his daddy was shutting himself away behind a door. I was on a phone call to the office with my new boss when the screaming started. “Is everything ok?” says my boss. “Yes fine, please ignore the screaming” I replied. “But he does sound very upset.” I had to abandon the call as the concerns, and the screaming, grew. My son was ok after a mummy cuddle, who was also working from home. So, if you now find yourself working from home and trying to cope with the children being kept off school and home from nursery, here are my top ten tips for home working.
  1. Dress food feel good - Whilst it is tempting to have endless pyjama days in front of the pc, do try to avoid doing so. I remember my granddad who used to dress in a shirt and tie only to sit in his lounge with only family for visitors. Make a point of dressing well, so you can think well.
  2. Get outside for 5 minutes - There is great evidence that just 5 minutes outdoors is enough to lift our mood. Start the day with a 5-minute dose of nature. Step onto your balcony or garden or get out into a green or blue space. Ask yourself “What do I notice?”. Become fascinated and immersed in nature for a few minutes. Repeat after lunch, gentle exercise after eating aiding digestion and at the end of the day, to help create a division between work and home time.
  3. 45-minute work chunks - Set yourself a recurring alarm on your phone for 45 minutes. Attention dwindles significantly after this period and staring at a bright computer screen for prolonged periods is detrimental for your eyes too. When the alarm goes off just stop, don't ignore it. Get up and walk around, check your posture, do a few yoga stretches, trust that whatever you are working on will still be there when you sit back down again.
  4. Do one thing - Set yourself one thing to do for the morning and one thing to do for the afternoon. For the multitaskers amongst us that might feel too easy but it is important, in the absence of an immediate physical team or boss, that you focus on the really important tasks which need doing. By doing that thing first in the morning you will feel better and form effective work habits.
  5. Put things out of reach - It is all too easy to stay seated for extended periods of time, the negative health consequences of which are dire. I leave my stapler and hole puncher upstairs so that I have to go upstairs to go and get them. Getting some much-needed steps and stair exercise each time.
  6. Develop a list of mantras - positive self- talk can be helpful to tackle the demon thoughts which might emerge when you are working alone at home. Develop your own mantras, short affirmations you can draw upon “I am great at this”...I can do this...the only way out is through...if you are going through hell, keep going.” 
  7. Visualise a good day - when you sit down to start work visualise yourself at the end of the day with key productive tasks completed with satisfaction and ease. Imagining a positive outcome is the first step to that becoming a reality.
  8. Spend time with the children or with the dog - there will be times when the children or your pet is demanding attention. Give them the attention, give them a hug, stroke the cat, give them your full attention for five minutes. Tell them you love them. It will make you both feel good.
  9. Set up virtual coffee mornings - actively ask colleagues to join you for a video call for no other purpose but to catch up over coffee. Book these in your calendar so that you have regular social contact that would otherwise happen naturally in an office/team space. Actively invest time for social networking support.
  10. Turn off the news - Whilst the news is a helpful source of updates during these challenging times, there is a good argument for limiting your access to the news whilst you are working. If you need to find something out about the latest developments you can do this at lunchtime or at the end of the day. Try phoning your parents and get their take on the news. Rationing and limiting your consumption of news will help focus, reduce distractions and help keep things in perspective. If you need some helpful background noise then instead of listening to the radio try peaceful music which is repetitive and calming such as Max Richter’s Sleep album, the RSPB’s Let Nature Sing put on repeat or Gregorian chanting for example. 
And finally, practice gratitude. Be thankful for being able to work from home, for having functioning IT to enable you to communicate easily with others from the safety of your living room, and be thankful for the health of your family. An attitude of gratitude will keep you open to the possibility of the positive - write down three things you are thankful for today.

Stay well and work well.

Monday, 16 March 2020

#14: Thinking of moving to a remote corner of Scotland?

When Lucy and I told our friends in Essex that we were relocating to North East Scotland the overwhelming response, aside from the initial positive pleasantries, was ‘You know it gets cold and dark up there in the winter don’t you?’ Since moving we have met many like-minded folk from England who have also made the best move of their lives. Now it appears that we may have just moved ‘ahead of the rush’ as more people start thinking about living a quieter, less frenetic life, characterised by community and outdoor activity and not filled by jobs and commuting. An outdoor life with family and others first. If you are thinking of moving to Scotland, I would say do it! But if you are needing a bit of guidance I thought it might be helpful to share our personal search criteria list for a family relocation to Scotland.

This time last year we made the trip from Essex to Aviemore and beyond to look at houses in the North East of Scotland. Our goal whilst on our house hunting holiday was to find a new family location and home which could house the four of us (Lucy and I, along with our two children, now 13 and 10) as well as my parents, as we looked to sell two houses in the south-east and buy a larger family home together in Scotland. The six of us sat down and drew up the following collective criteria for our new home:
  1. Waterside, view of water from the property
  2. Close to a park or green space
  3. 5+ bedrooms (for our extended family: 4 adults and two children)
  4. Downstairs bathroom and/or bedroom (if my parents might need it in the future)
  5. Upstairs bathroom (and/or ensuites)
  6. Two lounges downstairs
  7. Large kitchen diner
  8. Potential for two desk office space (for working from home if needed)
  9. Garden with side/back access big enough to grow our own fruit and veg
  10. Shed or wood store
  11. Off-street parking for 2 cars
  12. Sunroom/garden room
  13. Solar panels or eco/energy-saving features
  14. Conservatory
  15. South or West facing orientation
  16. Independent kitchen/space for Mum and Dad
  17. Storage space/loft
  18. Local clubs for swimming, cycling, running, sailing
  19. Local pub (never really had a local pub, within walking distance before)
  20. Local shops and amenities
  21. Less than three miles to good schools
  22. Local hospital, medical and social care if we need it (Mum and Dad have both had health scares)
  23. Broadband and good mobile phone reception
  24. Access to outdoor adventures
  25. Access to a train station and bus station (so we are not reliant on the car)
  26. Access to Inverness airport (for holidays and work trips in the UK).
The more we spoke about what we were looking for the longer the list grew until we had over 25 items on our list. In that week-long house hunting trip it quickly became obvious that Nairn ticked nearly all of our boxes. But it was the magnificent beaches that ultimately sold us on Nairn. 

Nairn central beach at low tide looking over firth towards Cromarty


The house we chose, in the end, didn’t have eco features, nor a downstairs bedroom and there wasn’t an independent kitchen for Mum and Dad but these could be added at a later stage if we wanted and needed them. But amazingly we found very much what we were looking for. There is a wonderful Scottish phrase we have often heard since ‘Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye!’ There may well have been a healthy dose of destiny in the mix too. 

If you are thinking, maybe because of Brexit or because of the recent global challenges, it is time to think about and plan a move to Scotland, rest assured there are many rural communities, like Nairn, who will welcome and support you and your family. Six months into our new location and with a new job starting tomorrow we have very much settled into life in our remote corner of Scotland. So make some time, sit down with your loved ones and draw up your criteria list - where would you love to live, how would you like to live, what would you like to be doing? Make your list and start looking at places on-line, book a house hunting trip and you might just surprise yourself at what you can find. Rural Scotland might just be the answer to your problems.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Lucky #13: New Charity Venture with Green Hive

Superstition is a rather strange thing but thirteens certainly do have an uncanny way of aligning with positive events in my life. This post brings the 4HQ blogroll to thirteen and I certainly hope this thirteenth post is auspicious because I am pleased to introduce you to my new charity venture as Manager with Green Hive.
A view of the River Nairn from the harbour looking towards the distant hills
The River Nairn to the hills and source beyond
About six months ago I wrote my Future Framework to check against in deciding what matters to me and in assessing the various work opportunities as they presented themselves in Scotland. The advert for Green Hive Manager post came out on Christmas eve in the local paper. As it turned out this could not have been a better gift. It neatly addressed my interests and passions for the environment, innovation and in social sector leadership. After the various application stages I am extremely pleased to have started with this amazing environmental charity based in Nairn. We have the vision to be a local exemplar taking action to address global environmental challenges. We are an inclusive, collaborative organisation which engages the local community in sustainable solutions to bring about a better life for the people and place of Nairn. The breadth of our Green Hive activities ranges from beach and river cleans to repurposing fabrics into bespoke bags and a brand new plastics upcycling workshop. We are just getting started with re-purposing what would otherwise be wasted into beautiful and functional items. Globally, there is a need to move beyond the evidence into action to help the environment thrive. The scale of the challenges can be daunting, but by focusing on what we can do in our local communities we can start to re-imagine a more positive future for all of us.

Do you have your Future Framework in place? Are you ready to seize the next opportunity which comes your way? What would your core interest be? What matters most to you in your next job? For me there is a joy in working locally, for the first time in years, and yet thinking globally. There is an element of time sovereignty in walking to work and not facing a train or car commute. Family and others first is another value which can be upheld in working locally to benefit the community which has so warmly welcomed my family and I. Jobs, now more than ever, can be re-designed flexibly to be home based but I think we will also see more jobs being locally based as we all rise to the environmental challenges in front of us.

The River Nairn from the harbour with a view out to the sea
The River Nairn out to sea
Since relocating to North East Scotland I have been developing a number of work related projects, call it a ‘portfolio’ or a ‘cocktail career’ - there is a precedent in these parts for people having more than one job and the wearing of many hats is commonplace. Delivering multiple projects requires an appetite for variety and efficient working practices to cope with all the juggling. I like juggling, but what I have learnt is that all these organisational/projects which are work related are all rubber balls - if you drop one in all likelihood they will bounce back. But your health and your family juggling balls are both ‘glass balls’ in that if you drop one of those, they can break. So making decisions about future opportunities has to keep these two balls in the air at all times, and ever be our focus. In the studies of people on their deathbeds, no-one says they wished they had worked more, many wished they had found more time for family and health giving activities. In getting started with Green Hive I am keeping this at the forefront of my mind.

Monday, 24 February 2020

#12: How to single task and bring a new focus to work

There seems to be a sense of complicitness about busyness. We must have 100 apps on our phones, 10 tabs open on our computers and time management systems to track how busy we are, with ever more complicated colour coded calendars keeping track of the sheer amount of work, hobbies, kids, life admin and all the associated events. How often have you been asked ‘how are you?’ only to answer ‘busy.’ Maybe for a moment, we can delude our egotistical self that we have left this encounter with more status than when we arrived. But telling people we are busy is really just telling the other person that we are unable to focus. But in a world where multi-tasking is both desired and seemingly required in more situations at work and at home how can we go back to one-thing-at-a-time or ‘single-tasking?’

Attitudes precede our habits. If we think that busyness will bring kudos then we may fill our time with repetitive reinforcing behaviours which soon become habits. But perhaps, upon waking in our beds, we can recognise our attitude and give ourselves a chance of changing our habits as soon as we wake. Instead of leaping out of bed and starting with the long busy task list ahead we can simply be in bed for a moment, perhaps a minute, listening to our breath, maybe looking out of the window.

Start the day with a positive question: If I were to do one thing today what would it be? What would be the most critical thing today? What would the one thing be that would bring me joy? What would be the one thing which helps someone else?

Reflection is something that need not take an hour, it can be a moment where we simply sit and ask ourselves a searching question. So, breathe, slow the breath, calm the mind, for a moment and ask yourself - What is my focus for today? Write it down, write one thing down for the morning and one for the afternoon. Turn off the phone, turn off as many other distractions as you can, put up a do not disturb notice if need be, turn off notifications, maybe turn off the computer and go use a pencil and paper. Get it done. Have a break, have lunch. Enjoy lunch. Go for a short walk. Repeat.

A helpful practice for supporting us to address the single task at hand is walking. Try walking a circular 10-minute loop, make it five minutes if you are pushed for time, but try and leave the building, get to some green space (even if it is a tiny pocket park or under a tree) and get some fresh air in your lungs and listen to the birds. 

A path through trees in a Scottish forest with a walking route marker

Walking forces us to take a break, but regular walks are also the simplest thing we can do to break the serious consequences associated with long periods of time sitting down staring at a computer screen. Have you noticed your back aching, your eyes straining? Time for a walking break. Call it a ‘walkshop’ or a ‘walk and talk’ if anyone at work asks why you are heading out, call it ‘time to think’ - you will come back refreshed, the brain will have more oxygen and you will be more productive. But like the other tasks in our lives, focus on the simple act of walking, just walk, don’t set yourself a step goal, try to solve a problem or make a phone call whilst out walking. Use your time walking to practice the habit of single-tasking. Over time, busyness can be replaced with happiness, and being more focused on the important things in our lives can make us realise how much dross we spend our time worrying about.

Take these steps tomorrow and see how it feels to be absorbed in fewer more effective tasks giving them your full attention:
  • Stay in bed for an extra minute - start with a change of attitude and give yourself a positive question: What am I going to do today that brings me joy?
  • Do that thing - it doesn’t necessarily need to be added to a list, just do it, first chance you get
  • Take a break
  • Reward yourself with a walk outdoors somewhere in nature
  • Ask yourself another positive question: What would be the most important thing to me today?
  • Do that thing.
  • Repeat.
Doing one or two important things really well each day may be one of the steps on the path to less stress at work and a happier home life.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

#11: Synthesis or Unite and be Mindful

I am fascinated by human interactions, the minutiae of life events, taking pleasure in the seemingly odd coincidences. I don't believe in coincidence by the way. I don't really believe in odd either. I believe that everyday life events present us with hints and guide us along our path if we are mindful enough to notice them. I am reminded of the Jose Gonzalez track Hints lyric: We need hints before we get tired...we need a hint to know we are on the right track. In my work with people with dementia, I am reminded of the image of a lampost in the fog. In the Highlands of Scotland by the Cairn on the hill in the mist.

View of Edinburgh Castle bathed in sunshine


I was at a friend's house in Edinburgh the other day, and just as we were leaving, front door open, she invited me to draw a 'power card' from the bowl of cards in the hall. More of these minuscule life hints happen in doorways and transition areas than other places in my experience. My card was Synthesis - to put together, combining things to make a whole. This came at the end of a week where I had been sitting in the Nairn courthouse contemplating St. Ninian’s motto blazoned on the wall, "Unite and be mindful”, a week where I hosted a Zoom meeting of consultants keen to come together, to combine our individual skills and strengths. To be more than the sum of our parts, for a greater whole. This same week where I have held mentoring conversations with leaders in Nairn, London and California about the need for togetherness, not separation, for collaboration, not isolation. Specifically where people living with dementia are concerned. It may not be easier together but it will be better together.

Your ideas, your project, your organisation might be wonderful, might be a game-changer. But the question is not how can you grow, how can you scale? The question is how can you combine? How can you join together to maximise impact? The synthesis you find may come from an unusual source.

Try keeping unity and union in mind in the next week and see how you can work better together, make something new.