What do you do when you’re having a “I can’t focus” sort of a day?

Thinking child bored, frustrated and fed up doing his homework

We’ve all been there haven’t we?  You go to work one day and the focus isn’t there and no matter what, you can’t seem to get it back again.  And we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it…surely we can’t work at 100% capacity the whole time? For me it’s usually for the same old reasons:

  • Too much whizzing round my head
  • I have too much to do and I don’t know where to start
  • Not enough time pressure to get a job done
  • I’ve had a really busy few days, riding on adrenaline and afterwards I hit a downer
  • Hungover
  • Tired
  • Or to be honest…I just can’t be bummed

However, even on a good day our attention span is pretty poor.  A 2015 study by Microsoft Canada found that our average attention span – “the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted” ­– was 12 seconds in 2008. Five years later it was only eight seconds – one second less than a goldfish’s and according to Caroline Beaton’s article in Forbes as we have evolved as humans it has been instinctively hard to recognize and prioritize. Our attention problem is due to both lack of focus and focus on the wrong things.

I am fortunate as I work from home but I find it even more distracting at times than working in an office environment. However I have mastered some techniques to help me tune in. These are my tips and I do hope some of them work for you.

  1. Exercise is always key for me – whether a good workout at the gym, a walk with the dog or even pavement pounding the streets of London. It gives me some headspace and allows me to ruminate and help rationalise thoughts. Interestingly some research by the University of Michigan showed that walking in “nature” helped refocus and for me they have a point.
  2. I put the big stuff to one side and work through a list of quick wins which don’t necessarily need the brain power but at least I’m achieving something e.g. filing, invoicing, expenses etc.  This then often leads me on to the bigger stuff.
  3. Eat healthily and drink plenty of water – if I do this I feel so much more alert and my concentration increases.  Eating sugary or carb-laden food makes me sluggish and I lose the will to do anything.
  4. I listen to a focus playlist on Spotify.  This really works for me and resets my mind and concentration.  I don’t have to listen to it for that long but gets me into the right frame of mind. Apparently ambient noise is the creative sweetspot according to Helpscout.net. Although weirdly I can’t bear having music on in the background when I’m trying to read a book.
  5. And as per Life Hacks tips I try and avoid looking at my emails the whole time and the same goes for social media too.  This is sooo difficult as they both have become entrenched into our very being.  I now limit myself to Facebook to once a day and save browsing through LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram for 1st thing in the morning and in the evening.  (I could be telling myself a little white lie here…but honestly I’m trying!).
  6. Do something I love e.g. researching for my next blog posts for relevant articles and photography, think about new business opportunities.
  7. Work in a different area rather than my desk or even work remotely

So what do you do?

With age comes acceptance, knowledge and a certain mellowness

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…..so don’t leave me sitting on the sidelines!

I had my 30 year school reunion last week. My arm was twisted by a friend – the only one I regularly keep in touch with and, as she was coming down from Cumbria and she needed a bed for the night, I couldn’t really refuse. However it was with trepidation that I entered the wine bar partly because the last one I went to well over 10 years ago was so hideous.

And you know what it was actually quite a pleasant experience. I’m sure fueled by too much rose, adrenaline and nerves. I looked around the room and everyone looked the same although weirdly a lot taller than I remembered (I was always a titch). As I stood back and observed, people mingled and then resumed the cliques we had had back at school. We were and are a right mixture of personalities and professions (& I include full time mums in this) but those 7 formative years of boarding school have given us an underlying lifetime bond. If I think back to the previous one we were all in our early 30s paving out careers, families and a place in society and had something to prove which made the event, for me, wholly uncomfortable. This time round there was a much greater acceptance of who we are giving a far more relaxed a day enjoyable evening.

I think the same thing applies to our careers…

In our 20s and 30s we want to get noticed and we strive and stick our elbows out to get there. We may not have all the experience but we strut and talk the talk to get what we want perhaps to the detriment of others and putting those solid work foundations in place. Fast forward to women and men in their late 40s who have had the ups and downs of a career but can offer knowledge, transferable skills, insight and maturity in making business decisions.  We might not be the trendy bright things of today (although we were!) but we shouldn’t be overlooked at work. We are the voice of reason.  We still want to learn and progress and be excited in the jobs that we do, it’s just that we may not look particularly hip and trendy.  The young can learn from our experiences whilst we can learn from theirs and discover their world of what’s hot and what’s not, emerging trends and technologies whilst we can help shape a great future for them and the businesses we work for.

Go on, give us 40 somethings a go.

The value of networking

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I’ve had lots going on recently; holiday, a new puppy, some consultancy work and I ran my second networking event. So unfortunately my blog has taken rather a back seat of late. On the plus side it means I’m busy and stimulated which make me happy.

So back to my topic this week networking.  Firstly, not just the formal activity of networking but those general inroductions you make through everyday life and through work.  For example, over the past 6 weeks I have been immersed into the world of DHL and last week I had the opportunity to help run a workshop for the Life Sciences & Healthcare sector.  Working with the global head of this sector and key members of the marketing team was inspiring.  Their passion and knowledge couldn’t help but rub off on the rest of us who were there from Blackdog and I am sure the work we will do for them will reflect that.  But it’s also those casual conversations and off-the-cuff remarks which really help the partnerships too.  Our conversations spanned from work to football to sneaking extra children and dogs into hotel rooms, custard, living abroad, taking home comforts back to the US i.e. Cadbury’s chocolate and even Little Britain! Finding those common links which helps you understand that individual on a more personal level will also strengthen the business relationship.

Back to the “physical” networking events. There are so many out there; those that are for women only such as Athena, referral events; BNI to name a couple but I wanted to start one which is more about supporting individuals and local businesses. “Networking @ No. 18”.  Two in and I’ve found it fascinating. Listening to other people’s ideas and realising that your experience and skill set doesn’t always have to be the right answer or the way forward. People’s minds work in different ways and it’s that different perspective that I am relishing.  I hope that it will make me think broader and deeper when I do my work and take the time to look at it from all different angles – not with a straight communications head on. At the end of the day, for me, it’s not just about trying to win new business but supporting individuals and other businesses to grow and flourish.




Body shapes and working out

Even young superheroes need to train to be stronger.

A very personal blog today….yet again about exercise.

I went to my 1st suspension circuit training class the other day which was a mixture of using the TRX, aerobics and core strength exercises.  I really enjoyed it and felt I’d used every muscle in my body afterwards. Actually I was pooped particularly as I was daft enough to do a fitness pilates class straight after. Will I ever learn?

The funny thing was when I looked around the room I was the only person with my body type i.e what I would describe as somewhat chunky with an ample bosom.  Everybody else was lithe and lean.

It got me thinking… if I continue to do this form of exercise will I become lithe and lean (I somehow doubt it), does the lean body shape respond best to this type of exercise or are the chunky types put off when they see the athletic bods strutting their stuff and think “I can’t do that”? I don’t think there is a right answer but I believe people lean towards exercise that their body responds best to.  For me it’s most definitely heavy weights and endurance which doesn’t lend itself to the long-limbed, bouncy pony tail look (can’t even do the shiny ponytail!) but at least I know I’ll be fit and strong well into old age.

With this is mind I have decided to undergo an experiment after the Easter hols – anything to keep me entertained! Over a 4 week period, with the help of my personal trainer, James, I’m going to see if I can change my body shape by primarily changing my exercise routine but also being slightly more vigilant with my diet. This article from The Conversation outlines what can and can’t be done.  My regime will no doubt include more HIT training, pilates and doing lighter weights but with more repetition.  I obviously can’t change my genes and my physiology but I might be able to give the impression that I look leaner. I might even take a before and after photo if I can face it.

So watch this space and I’ll report back…

Why do we expect something for nothing?

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As I was heading down the stairs at Oxford Street tube last Thursday night I was bombarded with magazines which were being given out for free; ES Magazine, NME and even Grazia to name but a few. But why?  Good journalism comes at a price.  I know it increases circulation and makes it a more appealing to the advertisers but, because it’s free, in people’s mind it becomes instantly disposable.  A quick flick through and it’s either thrown into the bin or left on the tube for somebody else to pick up.  And I know I’m guilty of it…I expect the newspapers to be available online without paying and then get v cheesed off when the article I want is behind a paywall. But if I’m honest I do feel some newspapers are dumbing down their content.  Where’s that great journalism that British papers are world renowned for? I so wish the editors and readers would value great content rather than it being watered down to appeal to the masses.  So instead I am brand disloyal (apart from Private Eye), and read across all publishers to get a true view of a story. Even then I doubt if I get the true story.

However, I digress….these free publications did make me wonder why we have come to expect something for nothing, or at the very least at a knock-down price and for business is it a false economy? We buy food and clothes at rock bottom prices unaware of the impact this has on the environment or that in so doing we are encouraging child labour. Fab advert by the Fairtrade Foundation BTW.  The work we do, whatever it may be, has a value to it and we should value it accordingly.  Of course there are times that we will do the odd favour for friends and family and I’m always up for some bartering or pro bono work for charities. But from (bitter) experience I have learnt that those who try to hammer you down on price are those who don’t really appreciate or truely understand what you can do for them.  And the time you spend trying to justify your work and explain your worth you could be working for somebody else who really does value your knowledge.

So my tips for the day is appreciate other people’s skills and products and pay for them accordingly. If you have a new business win make sure that business understands what you’re offering and its worth. If you’re buying a product think about its provenance. And finally value who you are and what you do and others will value you too.