Three tips to beat the curse of busy

Ants are busy

When someone asks, ‘how are you?’ is your standard default ‘really busy’? Are you constantly responding to urgent and important requests on different devices with no time to think straight? Do you feel like you are on a hamster wheel running round and around with no time to stop and consider what you are doing? You are not alone. In the recent Lucidity Innovation Launchpad survey 82% of people told us they don’t have time to think because they are too busy fire-fighting everyday tasks and managing an ever increasing ‘to-do’ list with no time to do it because they are in constant meetings, juggling conflicting priorities and are stressed out at being pulled in all directions.

Is your standard default ‘really busy’?

Based on our research and experience it would seem that we are in the midst of a busyness epidemic. Huffington Post described busyness as a sickness. And we would agree since excessive busyness can cause fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain.

We’re so busy responding to other people’s ‘urgent and important’ we don’t take stock of whether the activities are truly urgent or important. We don’t take time to consider, if what we are busy about, are the right activities that will get us the best results. The stress levels associated with this sort of constant busyness are bad for us. Our health suffers, concentration ebbs, decision making is impacted, we miss opportunities and we can lack focus and become inward looking.

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” Henry David Thoreau

That’s why over at the Lucidity Network we put some training material together on beating the curse of busy and making time to think. Here are our top three tips:

Tip 1. Work when you are at your best Humans are not programmed to work between the conventional office working hours of 9-5. Some people are best early morning, others are night owls, and some thrive at 3pm. Save time by working out how you can do the most difficult stuff that requires real thinking when you are at your Note your working patterns over the next week and notice when you do your best thinking. When are you in a slump? Start to plan your day to do the difficult tasks when you are at your best and take a nap (we’re serious) or do the tasks that take less concentration when you are in your slump.

Tip 2. Get rid of distractions If you are attempting to do meaningful work turn off all distractions. Switch off your email, put your phone out of reach where you can’t check Facebook or WhatsApp and turn off all notifications. If you work in an office put headphones on (even if you are not playing anything through them, they can signal ‘do not disturb’ or if your office environment is too distracting book a meeting room or work from home. Interruptions stop your flow and your brain’s thought process. Once you are distracted, the brain has to find where it was, re assess the situation, and then make the effort to get back to that stopping point. That can take 15 minutes per distraction which adds up to a massive amount of wasted time. Research also shows that people in a flow state are five times more productive than they otherwise would be. Turn off all your notifications, for example on email, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to give yourself a chance of concentrating for more than 10 seconds.

Tip 3. Work in short bursts Humans work best in short bursts. The optimum short burst time i.e. the length of time worked vs when a break is needed will vary from person to person. Start by sitting down to focus on a piece of work for 45 minutes. Then give yourself a 15-minute break. Set an alarm to make sure you do it. Go for a walk around. Have a stretch. Breaking up your time prevents boredom and helps you to maintain a high quality of work. Lengthen and shorten your bursts to work out your optimum time.

And I’ll give you an extra one for free. Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is simply not effective. It’s true that we can do several tasks at once, but we don’t do any single one of them well. Researchers have shown it’s more efficient to do one task after another rather than several things at once.

The Lucidity Network offers more help on making time to think, including a webinar interview where Productivity Ninja Grace Marshall shares her best tips for productivity as well as training bundles on resilience, confidence and creativity. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. Facilitated via a Facebook Community with group coaching, mastermind groups and online content to help you tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook. Click here for more information and to join the Lucidity Network.

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog

Lucy Gower and Gary Gower

Have you ever talked about doing something and just never got round to it? Do you have items on your ‘to do’ list that have been on it for years? Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

Yes? I suspect that most of us have.

It’s so tiring talking about things again and again, putting them off and making excuses for not doing them.

It was happening to me.

For years I’d been talking about getting a dog.

I’d tell people how much I wanted one and how my life would be better with a dog in it. But there were so many reasons not to change, the responsibility of looking after another living thing, the cost of vets bills, insurance, food, doggy day care and then the limitations, not being able to go out all the time or go on holiday. People I spoke to fuelled by doubts and by the time I’d had the conversation with them I’d talked myself out of getting a dog.

But the topic kept playing in my mind. I couldn’t shut it down and I was boring myself. I decided that I either had to get a dog or shut up talking about it.

Then one day I just bloody got the dog.   Here he is. He’s called Gary. You can follow his adventures on Instagram at garygower_dog _diaries.

The doubters were right. When Gary was a puppy it was really hard. The first thing he did when he arrived aged 12 weeks was a poo under the kitchen table. I spent most of Easter 2018 standing in the garden in the rain training him to go to the toilet outside. The rest of that Easter was spent going backwards and forwards on the tube and bus so he wasn’t scared of public transport. We spent a lot of time sat on the bench opposite Wood Green bus garage getting him used to traffic noises and sirens. There was the night I slept on the kitchen floor next to his crate with a broken foot in a plaster cast (which is a different story) because he wouldn’t stop barking. There was the day he humped my arm while I tried to conduct a work Skype call. There was the day he chewed through my laptop cable which cost £80 to replace. There was the day that he ran amok on Southwold beach and it took a core group of 5 of us plus most of the population of Southwold over an hour to catch him. There was the day he rolled in a dead fish. There was the day he jumped up and took a hat out of a strangers hand, shook it to death and dropped it in a muddy puddle. It took months before he realised doing a poo in the hallway in the middle of the night was NOT OK. He’s been massively disruptive. I’ve never apologised so much since I had a dog.

He’s also been brilliant. I’ve learned a lot from Gary. Patience, that the simple things in life can bring great joy, to live more in the moment, not to take things too seriously and be grateful that all I have. He looks after me. Because I have to walk him every day, I have to switch off from work (and when you work for yourself and love what you do that can be hard). I get more regular exercise. People talk to us on the tube, and if people don’t like him they move and we get a seat! I’ve met new friends, discovered new places to walk and can now throw a ball really far.

Do you know what? It is a big responsibility looking after another living thing, he does cost me money and when I go on holiday either he comes too or someone else looks after him. The logistics of who looks after Gary and when causes me headaches. And the joy of Gary far outweighs all the negatives.

Do you put things off and then tell yourself that you’ll start fresh from Monday?

So my point?

This isn’t a blog about whether to get a dog. This is a blog about genuinely thinking about what you want and deciding to commit (do you want a new job, to move house, a different relationship, learn a new skill, lose weight, a different lifestyle…?) The context doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you make a choice whether to do the thing or not. The talking about the thing and not taking steps to achieve it is a tedious and tiring place to be. You deserve more than that.

Making any sort of change is hard. Do you put things off? Friends and family won’t necessarily give you the best advice either. You have to get brave and focus on what you want.

So, those things on your list; tackle them or scrub them off forever and free up your brain to focus on the things you really want to do. Ask yourself what would happen if you don’t do the thing? I didn’t want to be the person that always wished they followed their heart and got a dog. I wanted to be the person walking on the beach with my dog. What’s your thing on your list that you’d regret not doing?

Go on, channel your inner Yoda. ‘Do or do not, there is no try’

I set up the Lucidity Network to help people push forward and do the things they want to do. It’s a community of generous people who help each other get the important work done. It’s facilitated via a Facebook Community with meet-ups and online content to help members tackle the complexities of working life that didn’t come with the management handbook. You can find out more and sign up here. And if you join, you might even get to meet Gary.

Three public speaking tips from an expert panel

Tips for public speaking

I was recently approached by energy giants, Gazprom, to share tips for public speakers. Here are the top three takeaways from me and the other members of the panel. You can read the full piece here.

Speaking in front of a room full of strangers can be one of the more daunting aspects of your career, whatever your level of seniority. With all eyes on you, your inner critic can have a field day, making you worry you’ll ‘mess up’ or make a fool of yourself. Do you know what? – often, when I ‘mess up’, or go off script it’s the best bit! Here are three tips for public speakers to worry less about messing up and enjoy your next presentation.

Treat it like a performance

Approach your presentation as if it is a performance. People want to learn, and they also want to be entertained. A ‘do your best performance’ mindset can help to put you at ease and your delivery will be more fluid. Grab your audience’s attention by just being your best and real you up on that stage. Ditch your notes and if you use presentation slides, go light on text and big on images that enhance your core messages. People are there to listen to you – not see some big slides on a screen.

Get the audience involved

Get your audience involved as soon as possible. It takes the pressure off you, gives you a sense of the mood of the room and gives you a moment to regroup. Ask them a question that people can put their hands up to. Ask a question that will have a lot of ‘yes’ answers, giving the audience an opportunity to participate and agree, for example, a lot of people fell into the profession of fundraising. Asking people who else is an accidental fundraiser (at a presentation to fundraisers) gets hands raising and builds rapport because they know you are one too. Obviously adapt this to your audience! Take people on an emotional journey during your presentation by telling stories. People learn and remember more through story and they also remember how you made them feel. Having a variety of stories, data, diagrams and models helps to change pace and keep your audience’s interest. It can also offer a chance for your audience to engage emotionally with your topic.

Do your last minute prep

The last of the tips for public speakers is the few bits of on-the-day prep that will ensure you’re ready and raring to go. In case you’re running short on time, map out where you’ll be at specific points in your presentation and make a note of the things that could be left out if things get delayed. Arrive early and double check the equipment you’ll be using. Is there a mic? Where’s the clicker to move the slides along? Do a sound check (especially if you have video content), Where will you stand – or depending on your style – where will you pace about? Is the laptop fully charged? Is your calendar auto reminder turned off?  Think about what you are going to wear – both in practical terms, for example, is there a place to put the battery pack for the microphone and does it fit you properly?  If you are distracted because you’re uncomfortable in what you’re wearing it will impact on you delivering your best performance. And finally make sure that what you’re wearing makes you feel good, feel confident and ready to take on the world.

If you found this blog useful you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Do you Dare to Lead?

Since I picked up this book, Brene Brown has started popping up everywhere and I am not ashamed to say I am a bit of a convert to her ideas – and I am not alone. Her Ted talk on vulnerability has been seen by over 40 million people. In her recent Netflix series about courage she jokes about intimidating people as she introduces herself as an ‘expert in shame.’

Brene is research professor at Houston University, where she and her team do lots of research about courage, shame, vulnerability and empathy. Her team works with top organisations helping them develop their leadership teams and improve organisational culture. These universal themes of courage, shame and vulnerability permeate all our lives, affecting how we feel, live and love. You can apply them to different parts of your life too from love to children.

She has written a number of bestsellers around these topics such as ‘Rising Strong’ and ‘Daring Greatly’. This new book, the one chosen for the Lucidity Book Club, ‘Dare to Lead’ was the result of feedback from different leaders who said they wanted a workbook, something that pulled all the different tools from her other books together to help them be better leaders.

One thing that stuck with me from the intro was how she explained that most people think of courage as an inherent trait. But she says it is not – fear is not a barrier to bravery, people in fear do brave things a lot, it’s more about how we respond to fear. This book is a toolkit to help you learn to get better at getting braver.

So what did the book group think?

This is not a quick read. During the book group, we talked about how dense the book is. It is packed with insight but it’s definitely the kind of book you are going to need to go back through a few times. It covers a lot of ground, in a lot of detail.

There are lots of moment in the book when you recognise something of yourself, your styles or someone else at work. In the first section called rumbling with vulnerability there’s a section on empathy misses and I know a few of us cringed at the realisation we had had massive empathy fails.

In the chapter about rumbling with vulnerability: she talks about the importance of learning how to rumble – this is about having difficult conversations. The book used unfamiliar terms. The language was a bit of a barrier for some, and I admit I had to go over things a few times to make sure I was really getting it.

Someone described it as very Americanised. They said they had flashbacks to Westside Story every time they read the word rumble. It nearly had them putting the book down permanently. The way they got around it was by changing the word rumble to ‘having an honest and open conversation’. You have to be committed to the book to get past this. It would definitely be a flag for any skeptics with reservations about casting aside their vulnerabilities at work and its value.

There was a bit of a discussion about how confident you would feel taking this into work and doing it with your team using the same language. We all agreed, there were things here and there that could make a difference straight away but getting buy-in from everyone would be tricky – unless it was led from the top.

It’s worth mentioning the workbook on her website that accompanies the book. It has all the personal and team exercises and the website has lots more information. There is a glossary too which really helped me while I was getting to grips with the new terms.

One of the other sections we talked about was the section on values. Brene spends a fair bit of time making sure you understand why your values and ‘leaning’ into them is important if you want to be a daring leader. Whittling down honestly to your two main values is not an easy task though. Some of the book group had managed it. If I am honest, I am still working on mine!

Amour is another of Brene term which she dedicates a whole section too. This is what we use to protect ourselves at work, and in our lives, it could be something like hiding behind cynicism or using your power over people to get what you want. The book talks a lot about how being curious and asking questions can help us understand our own armour. The book had helped one person recognise a lot of the different types of amour being lugged around her office. It also got her wondering why and thinking about how this is affecting the organisation she works for.

At the end, everyone gave one take away from the book. We had one person who was definitely going to have that difficult conversation with their CEO. Someone who would be embracing courage and speaking up, rather than letting it brew into something else. Another, working on doing empathy better, much more consciously. Someone else will be working on those difficult conversations and getting braver at saying no to clients and pushing back.

I had so much to take away from this book but the section which resonated with me the most was in the final section Rising Up. This focuses on our own resilience and how we can build it up. In it, she describes us as story making machines – wherein the absence of facts we fill it with our own story – most likely negative.

My husband has just got a senior leadership role and with that a new team, so we spent most of the last month passing the book back and forth, as I ooo’ed and ahh’ed as I came across things that I thought could help him and me.

Wanting more, I have been scouring her website. I took advantage of the free audio chapter on her website for her book Rising Up – which looks at how we can raise courageous children, and in case I was in any doubt, it confirmed I am definitely hooked on Brene.

Guest blog by Sarah Younger, Communications and Development Officer at St Michael’s Fellowship and a member of Lucidity’s Business Book Club.

Interested in joining our book club? Take a look at the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

8 tips for boosting your confidence with creativity

Creative thinking

We often think that creativity is about whether or not you can draw. It’s not. Creative thinking can apply to anything. You can be a spreadsheet superstar, a marketing maverick or a clever content creator.

If you reframe creativity as ‘problem-solving’ it will help you feel more comfortable and makes creativity feel like less of a dark art. Creativity is about solving strategic problems, spotting opportunities, making connections and making good ideas happen to deliver the best learning and development for your employees and volunteers.

All human beings are creative. Research shows that creativity is more about a state of mind. And when we are in a relaxed or playful state our subconscious keeps working away, making connections and solving problems. That’s why when I ask people where they have their best ideas it’s very unusual that people say, ‘sat at my desk.’They usually have their best ideas when they are not at work: in the shower, driving, walking the dog, asleep, talking with their children or even on the toilet.

It can be difficult to work in an environment when we are expected to deliver more for less, inspire audiences with different needs to want to learn and ensure that employees have opportunities for professional development.

Yet so many organisations put their employees under pressure to simply ‘be creative’ or offer up massively unhelpful phrases like ‘think outside the box’ but without providing any guidance about how to do that.

So here are some simple tips to develop your already excellent creative thinking skills:

Know yourself: You are already creative. Step away from your desk. Think about where you have your best ideas and make time to go there. If this means spending more time on the toilet then so be it!

Get more curious: According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore you need to expand your portfolio of knowledge so you have more old ideas that you can put together when needed. So get more curious about the world. Read more books, go on a course, listen to a webinar and attend that talk.

Break patterns: As we get older we repeat the same patterns. You’ll have experienced this when you feel like you’ve been on ‘autopilot’, for example, got to work and not really noticed how you got there. This inhibits our creativity because we simply repeat these ingrained patterns. To help break them, change your habits. Start with the things you do on autopilot. Change your route to work, listen to a different radio station, watch something different on TV, go to a different place for lunch. All these small changes will help to create new patterns, new neural pathways and help your brain to be more flexible at making new connections.

Ask why: When we’ve worked in an organisation for a while we accept the status quo, we accept ‘how things are done round here.’ Wear a different lens, pretend you’re new and start asking ‘why?’ When a new employee starts, ask them what they’d change.

Make it so: It’s actually much easier to say we can’t do something. That means that nothing changes. However, confident creative thinkers have a restlessness to solve problems and make things better. They are constantly seeking to ‘make it so’. The process of making the seemingly impossible possible also helps to flex your creative thinking muscles.

Ban idea killer phrases: You know them. Those phrases like ‘we tried that before and it didn’t work’ ‘we don’t do it like that here’ ‘we don’t have the budget’ ‘the board will never sign it off’. Stop using them. They may be true. However, the world changes fast and something that historically wasn’t the right solution might be now.

Say ‘yes and’: Encourage confidence in creativity by making a small change to your language. Rather than using an idea-killer phrase (even ‘yes but…’ is negative) change your language to ‘yes and’. ‘Yes and’ encourages people to keep thinking creatively, solve problems and keep making those new connections and creates an environment where creativity can flourish.

Practice: Like any skill the more you practice the better you get. The small changes you make every day will add up to powerful confidence in your own creativity.

If you liked these tips you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Charity Learning Consortium.