What makes you, YOU? I’ve just rediscovered ME

I’ve had the most amazing pre-summer holidays holiday last week and sneaked my daughter out of school for a few days (naughty naughty!).

First of all It started off with a long weekend with all my family to celebrate my mother’s 80th – my family like to stretch out celebrations for as long as possible (my brother’s 50th lasted for at least 6 months!).  We stayed at the luxurious and super comfy Launceston Farmhouse near Blandford Forum – I highly recommend it for a house party.  This was then followed by 3 days on the beautiful Suffolk coast staying with my in-laws in a rustic “cottage” on the beach at Walberswick. From all mod cons to the very basic, both places are wonderful in their own ways.

What it highlighted to me is that during those fews days there were times when I was really me.  Not worried about school, work, chores, money, husband, daughter, my Sainsbury’s online delivery. Just me being me.

And what were those moments?

They were so simple…

  1. Playing clap catch (v simple game of having to clap before you catch the ball from anybody in the circle) on the lawn with family ranging from 7 to 80
  2. Go-karting – I really didn’t want to do it (‘cos I’m a woos (sic)) but once I was on the track I let rip and effed and blinded my way round the track loving the adrenalin and speed kicking in.  I was probably going at a snail’s pace compared to everybody else but I didn’t care
  3. Swimming in the sea.  This is the one that really got me.  An early morning swim in the chilly waters of Suffolk.  I choked back the tears as I lay on my back buoyed by the swell of the sea and staring into the blue sky.  It allowed me to be still and realise that this is who I am, this is what I love and to question why I don’t do this more often

Being back into the routine of life this week, I let myself drift back to those moments and what I’ve promised is to:

  • Make more time for myself
  • Do more activities – hopefully with my husband and my daughter – that bring out the kid in me
  • Visit the seaside as often as I can – even if it’s too cold to swim. Just the wide open spaces allow me to breathe
  • Go to more exhibitions and creative installations
  • Be a little bit braver and try new things without whingeing!

And what’s more an article I read at thriveglobal.com states that neuroscientists now believe that reminiscing about happy memories can help you handle stress – so what’s not to lose?

What do you do to bring out the you in you?

Owning a puppy and work – who knew they were so similar?!

Our daughter, Juno, had been pestering us for ages about getting a puppy and we thought it would be a great idea, taking the pressure off her as a only child and give her something to look after.  We all agreed that we would start looking once we were back from our Easter hols.  And within a few weeks the gorgeous Rudi landed on our laps and we were all delighted.  But bearing in mind that this was a joint family decision this is what I’ve learnt – and so much of it applies to work too that it’s uncanny!

  1.  Yes it was a joint decision but guess who has had to take ownership of the “project”?  Me!  No matter if a decision is made by committee somebody has to take control
  2. And of course when the proverbial and actual “sh*t hits the fan, I’m the one picking it up. One day I’ll get Juno to do it but it’s going to take a while…
  3. I had hoped that having a puppy would get us all out for lovely family walks – err no. You can take a horse to water but my horses ain’t drinking.  It’s all about finding a way to encourage people to change their habits and adopt new ideas.  However much I want to shout at them “will you bloody well take the dog for a walk” I need to take a more coercive approach – no doubt involving chocolate and a pint and a packet of crisps or perhaps some subliminal messaging might help!
  4. In terms of my daily work output I seem to lose at least an hour a day to dog walking, playing, feeding but it has made me more efficient.  If I wake early I walk Rudi before breakfast, I group similar tasks together to get through them quicker and I plan and ponder as I walk. And I’m sure once he’s older and trained I’ll be able to make a few calls too
  5. A walk, or an excuse to get up from my desk is definitely good for the soul and the body.  It clears my head, allows me to stretch and move and ruminate
  6. You talk to complete strangers but it’s amazing what you learn – never be afraid to start a conversation and find a common link with that person and you never know where it may lead.
  7. Giving Rudi short bursts of attention for puppy training has meant he’s come on leaps and bounds in a very short space of time.  Apply this to your team at any stage of their development and they will know you are there to support them and give them the confidence to take the initiative and be creative
  8. I’m now part of tribe (for the 1st time EVER) and I fit in as us dog walkers come in all shapes and sizes and judging by Rudi, dogs do look like their owners – small, round with curly hair but very loyal! Embrace being different and be proud of who you are.  We can’t all conform to a certain ideal but learn how to play to your strengths to develop yourself and your role
  9. I talk gobbledygook to my pooch and apparently when I worked in at Seven I had my own vernacular so no change there then
  10. Bumbags are cool, bumbags are cool, bumbags are cool. If I say this often enough they will be.  Thank heavens my friend Torri, a stylist, wears one when she’s on a shoot.  Hers is full of pins, safety pins, cotton, needles and scissors.  Mine is full of poo bags, dog treats, some change, tissues, house keys and my phone.  I know, not much similarity but a start!

And after 5 weeks of owning a puppy I now can’t imagine life without him; he’s well and truely part of the family

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

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

…..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

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.