Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

Why OOO aren’t just for when you’re “out of the office”

How many emails do you get a day? 10, 20, 50, more?

I wear many hats: journalist and editor; communications consultant; trainer; holiday home owner; creative writing retreat host; barn renovator. I’m in touch with many people and I have a lot of people wanting to get hold of me.

It would be easy to find myself in a state of overwhelm, drowning in emails, too many of which are from people demanding my time, energy and money. Instead I decided to reframe my relationship with my inbox.

I view every email contact I receive as an occasion to help people better understand me and my businesses. And just as importantly, as an opportunity to manage expectations. I control my inbox instead of it controlling me.

Let’s take this latter point first.

Most people use their OOO to let others know that they are indeed out-of-the-office and as such there will be a delay to their reply.

However, even when you are in the office, unless you are a slave to your inbox and have it open all the time – in which case I would seriously question your levels of concentration and productivity – you are not going to respond immediately.

Despite this though, many people expect an almost instantaneous reply. They have little regard for your actual priorities and think it should be all about “me, me, me”. (The person who sent me the press release at 10am and then sent a chasey email two hours later. Yes you. I’m talking to you here).

By setting an OOO each morning and providing details of the likely response time they’ll receive, it helps set expectations. It also indicates that if they’ve got something that is actually urgent to ask of me, they should find another way to get in touch. And always, if clients call or WhatsApp me, I’ll respond asap.

So that’s a helpful use of the automatic reply beyond your usual holiday scenario.

“This week I’m in the Dordogne hosting a relaxing retreat for busy women”
Much more fun though is using my OOO to let people know what exciting projects I’m working on. I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some brilliant minds on activities that really do change the world. My work is also varied, challenging, fun. Why wouldn’t I want to tell people all about this?

I like to set colourful and creative OOO’s that help spread good cheer, share key messages and strengthen understanding of the depth and breadth of what I am capable of.

Some of my recent favourites have included:

Thanks for your message. Today I’m working with the awesome Prisoners of Conscience, which supports people who have been persecuted for standing up for human rights. They rightly have my full attention and so I won’t pick up your message until tomorrow. I really appreciate your patience, thank you. And if you fancy learning more about the important role that Prisoners of Conscience plays, check them out here.

And…

Today I’m writing radio scripts, coaching clients to enhance their writing skills and working on the marketing for my creative writing retreat. I’m also finalising the details for the Lucidity Network’s business book club. If you’re not already a member of the Lucidity Network, you need to ask yourself one question – why not? Hope to see you there soon! (And I’ll get back to your email asap, thank you!)

And…

This afternoon I am helping a client taste test and photograph a collection of Italian meals. It’s a hard life, sometimes. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. With thanks for your patience, Becky 

Now, the astute marketeers among you will be wondering whether this is a GDPR-friendly approach or not. I’m happy to confirm that having checked with clever people who know about this kind of stuff that it is.

They told me that if there is no “sales pitch” included in the copy then it’s absolutely fine. And even then, it’s still ok as the OOO is in response to an email that I’ve been sent. A “conversation” is taking place. This is not me contacting someone out of the blue. The only risk would be if I sent a very salesy OOO to someone who had contacted me to say they wanted to opt out of email communication.

The responses I have received to my OOO’s have always been super positive. People often contact me to say how much they enjoy reading them, how inspiring they are and how they’re going to start doing the same. They’ve also been shared across social media multiple times and Richard Sved even wrote a blog about it! (Thanks Richard!)

In Richard’s blog he comments on how my OOO is “lovely, surprising and delightful” to receive, which leaves him with lots of positive messages about how I feel about my work. Which is precisely the intention. I want people to feel as excited about it as I am! So, I’m going to end this blog by paraphrasing Richard’s excellent blog title and ask you: When was the last time your OOO made someone go “ooo-h”?

Let’s start an OOO revolution. Let’s use it to engage the world in what we do, to share messages of positivity and success, or to simply bring a smile to someone’s face.

Will you join us? Let us know in the comments – and show us some examples of your shiny and sparkly OOO messages.

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Are you asking the right question? (Part 1)

Are you asking the right question

Are you asking the right question?  What question might lead you to unexpected answers?

To help you to answer these questions I have to take you back to the very first days of my Ph.D. studies in Cybernetics. And, I hear you say, as many have said before, ‘What is Cybernetics?’

Cybernetics, as a discipline, started between the two world wars. Three people were having a conversation and they realised that they had important ideas that they could not share because they were using mutually exclusive language, which is to say, words and ideas that each other could not understand. The three were: a mathematician, a telecommunications engineer and a neurophysiologist.

They said, ‘we must form a language that will enable us to talk across the disciplines’. They called it ‘Cybernetics’ using a word that Plato had used, almost in the same way that Plato had used it.

Fortunately, the word turns up twice in the Bible. Once where in the letter to the Ephesians, there are ‘gifts to the churches’. Unfortunately, in the UK, but not in Germany for example, we totally devalue it. The word is usually translated to ‘administrators’ or ‘helps’. If you think about it, without good administrators, nothing much would be able to happen!

The other time it turns up it is much more instructive. The Bible says that Paul talked to the ‘kuberneis’ of the ship. He was the ‘kuberneis’ of the ship in two respects. First, he was the manager of the people on the ship. He did not provide them with their energy and motivation, they came with that. His role was to monitor all that; damp it down and provide negative feedback to get them to do what he wanted them to do.

Secondly, he was the steersman of the ship, and this is more informative. As steersman, the wind, the waves, the people rowing and the currents provided the energy. His job was to monitor all that and then steer providing force in the opposite direction, providing negative feedback, to get the ship to go in the direction that he wanted.

The examples are useful in understanding how Cybernetics is such a valuable discipline. It can be applied to something mechanical like steering a ship, or to something much more nebulous like people management. Indeed, it can even be used with disciplines that involve values and justifications such as economics or theology. That makes Cybernetics unique among the sciences.

Cybernetics is uniquely a multi-disciplinary discipline, that one can use to analyse huge complex problems, when all other forms of analysis have failed. Cybernetics has indeed supplied the ‘black box analysis‘ for problems like that. Another Cybernetics analysis may be applied to a complex problem that has resisted analysis by all other means. To do the analysis, first, one tries to describe the problem in the best possible way and then one looks around all the other disciplines to see if there is anything that resembles it in any way or see if it reminds of something about it.

Without cybernetics we would have some form of computers, robotics and artificial brains, but they would probably be very different. The Russian space programme was run on a very mathematical form of Cybernetics.

So, that has not answered the original question. The answer will come soon!

Note: The Wikipedia article on Cybernetics is excellent, as are the references in it.

Look out for part 2 of Genevieve’s blog on Cybernetics coming next week.

 

Genevieve M Hibbs former: nurse (general and occupational health), midwife, Christian missionary, lecturer, elected councillor, mayor and a member of the Lucidity Network. To connect with Genevieve and the other wonderful members of the Lucidity Network join our free Lucidity Facebook community for clearer thinking and better results.

5 ways reading will boost your communication skills

5 ways reading boosts your communication skills

1) It gives us something to say

In a world where information is the new currency, reading is one of the best sources of continuous learning, knowledge gathering and idea sharing. Books and articles give us the ability to roam throughout the world, travel back in time and look to the future, affording us with a deeper view of ideas, concepts, practices, emotions and events. Reading can open your mind to new choices that you may not have known about or considered before. This is all information which we can then share with others.

2) It helps us understand other people

The first rule of effective communication is to know your audience. Reading about other people can help you understand them better. The same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated when you read about something as when you experience it. Unlike watching the television or listening to the radio, reading gives the brain more time to stop, think, process and imagine the narrative form in front of us. Therefore, reading can help put you in someone else’s shoes, to get inside their heads and experience the things they have. The more you understand someone, the more you can tailor your communications to what they need.

3) It increases our vocabulary

The more we read, the more likely we are to come across new words. Business books, in particular, have words and phrases that are unique to their topic. If you need to communicate with particular sectors and industries, understanding the language being spoken is essential. Otherwise, how are you going to know your CTR from SEO?

4) Reading strengthens the brain

And a strong brain means more effective communication overall. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As we read, our brain decodes abstract symbols, makes connections, and conducts various visual and auditory processes. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that mentally challenging tasks, such as reading, help to maintain and build brain cells and connections between those cells, helping to preserve the memory and thinking skills.

5) Reading can give us the ability to make a point

The more we read, the more our brains are able to link cause and effect. The ability to communicate cause and effect is a central component of any argument, sales pitch, negotiation or story. As such, a well-written article or book will be structured in a way that helps us to think in sequence rather than jumping from point to point.

If you’re keen to read more, expand your mind and learn new stuff, why not join the Lucidity Network and participate in the business book club? Members have the opportunity to nominate their books of choice, and all discussion will take place virtually meaning you can take part no matter where in the world you are.

Membership of Lucidity Network is only open for a short time though so you need to get in quick. Join now so you don’t miss out.

If you’re already a member of the network and want to join the book club, drop Becky Slack a line to register your interest. She’s leading on the group and will be coordinating the reading list.

 

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.

Five ways to thrive in 2019

5 ways to thrive in 2019

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, January and February can feel like a bit of a slog.  It’s cold. We leave the house in the dark and come home in the dark. That flu virus that sprang up in October is still doing the rounds. We’re still secretly recovering from the overindulgence of Christmas and thriving can feel like the last thing we’re doing.

That’s why last month it was such a breath of fresh air to interview Colette Heneghan of Optimum Living about how to thrive. Colette specialises in helping people working in high-pressured corporate environments as she puts it ‘to be the architect of your own day and not the victim of it.’

If you’ve never felt stressed out by your working day or never felt like you’re stapled to the mattress when the alarm clock goes off in the morning then stop reading. This blog will be a waste of your time.

If, however, you’ve ever felt just tired all the time and overwhelmed by juggling lots of different tasks and priorities. Or if you’ve ever had a day when it gets to 4 pm and you realise you’ve not eaten, or been to the toilet and your feet are like ice blocks because you’ve not moved for six hours then read on.

Colette helps people because she’s been the ambitious burnt-out person and so has a stack of practical tips and tools to turn you from a victim to an architect.

Colette’s advice is to first know the signs that you are not thriving. We’re all different but the most common ‘red flags’ are cancelling social plans because you’re too tired because of work. A one-off is nothing to worry about but if it becomes ‘normal’ to choose catching up on work over friends and family then it’s time to take a step back.

The second common ‘red flag’ is how you feel when your alarm clock goes off in the morning. If more often than not you feel dreadful, like you have to drag yourself out of bed, or for example you have to roll onto the floor so you are so uncomfortable you have to get up (which of course I’ve never done) then that’s bad too.

And if you often feel overwhelmed that you can’t get everything done and end up jumping from one thing to the next, working through lunch and not getting through your list that’s a ‘red flag’ too.

Colette’s first piece of advice is to take a step back give yourself a break. Then start with a blank screen or a blank notebook and write down everything you’re working on and everything that is stressing you out. Get it all in one place so you can see what you’re dealing with. Then she advises not to make big radical changes all in one go, but to make small changes and ‘Never underestimate the power of quiet consistency’.

Colette suggests five things to prioritise in order to thrive:

Seek out daylight early on

Daylight sets our energy dial-up high and helps us sleep later on by regulating our sleep/wake cycle. Also known as your circadian rhythm, the sleep/wake cycle is a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. Start to notice what times of day you feel more awake. For example, most people have a slump in the afternoon. Work with your natural cycle and do the hard work, the things that you have to really focus on either earlier or later in the day when you are in the alert part of your cycle.

Eat the rainbow every day

We mean fresh fruit and vegetables and the more brightly coloured the better. Different coloured foods play different roles in the body. Eating a variety of colourful food provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to nourish your body that can’t be replicated in a supplement. Aim for at least three colours at every meal and two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables over the course of the day. (Skittles or the cherry on your Tequila Sunrise don’t count here).

Move more

Our bodies were designed for motion not for sitting behind a desk for hours on end. You don’t have to fork out for a gym membership or a new personal trainer. It’s the small things that add up every day, for example, get off the tube or bus one stop early, take the stairs instead of the lift, set an alarm during the day to get up and have a walk and a stretch every hour, or you might even start your day with a 20-minute workout fresh from YouTube.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep can affect your immune system, making you more likely to get sick with colds, flus and other illnesses. Set yourself up to have the best nights sleep. Get into a pattern to go to sleep at the same time each night, switch of screens, make the room dark, control the temperature – on the cool side is better than too warm and make it a comfortable place with good pillows and duvets, an environment that you look forward to being in.

Hydrate

Get into the habit of carrying water with you in a reusable bottle. Remember to sip from it regularly throughout the day. It’s a simple ritual to top up energy and daily focus, but because it’s so obvious we often overlook it.

I suspect that the tips above aren’t new news. Think about how you are working right now? What things can you, and want to work on from the list above to help you thrive?

There’s often a gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do. So plan your day to close that knowing-doing gap. For example, if you want to be better hydrated, carry a water bottle, if you want to eat the rainbow stock your fridge and cupboards with fruit and veg. You know it. Now do it and make the small changes that will make a big impact on your ability to thrive.

If you’d like more tips and tools to thrive then check out Colette’s latest book Work Fuel available in March 2019 and pre-order here.

The ‘How to thrive in 2019 webinar with Colette Heneghan is part of the exclusive content available to Lucidity Network members.

The Lucidity Network is a professional development network that combines a mix of face-to-face meet-ups, online toolkits and access to a community that supports you in getting the results you want. We’re open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open for new members. In the meantime, you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group for clearer thinking and better results.  

The pitfalls of flexible working and how to avoid them

The pitfalls of flexible working

The world is changing too fast to think you’ll be working in the same role for long and the notion of a career for life is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist. In addition to the changes affecting permanent employment, freelancing is on the increase as people opt for a more flexible working lifestyle and swap the morning commute for a desk at home or a local coffee shop.

On a day to day basis, those working in conventional 9 to 5 jobs are also experiencing a shift in working style as flexible working, part-time hours, working from home and hot-desking (hot-desking policies often driven by cutting overheads as flexible working and an increasing part-time workforce means less desk space is needed) are becoming increasingly common.

We no longer need to meet people face-to-face in real life to get work done. Technology is a massive enabler to remote working for full-time employees and freelancers, for example, there’s plenty of free video conferencing options to choose from as well as sites like Fiver springing up where freelancers can get paid their expertise from anywhere and to anywhere in the world.

There’s a ton of benefits of working at any time from anywhere to freelancers, business owners and employers, but like any new system or way of working there are realities that get overlooked. For example;

It can be lonely working from home. I know this from personal experience.  When I first went from working in an office to working at home it hit me. I really missed my colleagues. I missed being able to bounce ideas and sense check things with them. If you work from home you must be able to deal with being on your own for long periods of time and if you are an employer you have a duty of care to staff to make sure they can manage the isolation of working from home.

Stress levels are rising as flexible working means we don’t switch off from work. We constantly check our phones, answer our emails and update our social media. This constant ‘being on’ is not good for our physical or mental health.

Hot-desking increases germs and illness in the office. According to the reputable publication, The Sun Your desk could be harbouring 400 times more germs than a toilet seat”. Sensationalist perhaps, but the incidence of germs spread around the office is greater when you are hot-desking and using different computers than when you keep your germs to themselves at your own desk.  

Your employees might object. I’m an advocate of hot-desking to create the water-cooler moments that spark innovation and creativity. However, water cooler moments rely on people speaking to each other. When people resent being told to hot-desk they often withdraw and don’t interact with their new colleagues around them. If a hot-desking policy isn’t implemented with an understanding of the current culture and care isn’t taken to involve employees from the start of the process, you can end up with a culture clash that causes so much disruption and upset it can do more harm than good.

There are solutions

If you work from home schedule your day carefully to ensure you do have conversations with other people, build a support network so you do have people to bounce ideas with, for example, join a mastermind group or get a mentor.

Put systems in place to not check your phone at all hours of the day and night and turn off notifications outside of working hours.

If you work in an organisation get some cleaning cloths (or ask your employer to provide them) for the keyboard and desk to stop the spread of germs.

If you are implementing a hot-desking or working from home policy carefully consult with employees and consider the culture shift required to make it work before piling in.

This changing face of work is one of the reasons that I’ve up the Lucidity Network  – whether you work for yourself or in an organisation it’s a ready-made professional support network that combines a mix of face-to-face meet-ups, online toolkits and connections to an energizing community that accelerates your progress so that you get the results you want.

I also run the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for support, inspiration, clearer thinking and better results.