Are you fine?

What’s the response you hear most often when you ask the question. ‘How are you?’

I’ve noticed that there are three primary answers.

  1. Fine
  2. Busy
  3. Really Busy

None of these are adequate answers. Perhaps it’s not really a question that expects, or has time for a detailed response.

Are you fine?

It’s an important question to know the answer to though, especially if you manage a team and especially now as we go from lockdown and remote working that we’ve got used to – to something different.

When we’re faced with uncertainty human beings feel threatened. We want to feel certain and safe. Don’t underestimate how emerging from lockdown will impact everyone in your team, and it is likely to impact them all differently. That’s why it’s really important to understand how people are doing beyond ‘fine’ and varying degrees of busy.

If you don’t know how your colleagues are, it’s hard to help them. It’s also harder to know how people are really doing if you can’t meet in real life. It’s harder to pick up on non-verbal cues; the way someone is sitting, their energy and their overall demeanour on a screen. It can be easier to hide if you’re not OK too.

That’s why I want to share with you one simple question that will help you as a manager understand more about how your colleagues are, and therefore give you a better opportunity to support them.

At the Lucidity Network we support people with learning and development including resilience and wellbeing. Our in-house HR expert Rachel Atkinson, founder at Red Feather Consulting regularly shares her top tips.

Change the question

Instead of asking ‘How are you’? Rachel suggests asking How are you feeling on a scale of 1-5?’  With 1 that you’re feeling ghastly and 5 that you’re feeling fabulous.

  • This makes it hard for the person to answer ‘fine’ or ‘busy’ which effectively closes down a conversation.
  • When someone says their number, you can then ask why that is, and if they’re anything less than a 5, you can enquire about what you might be able to do to nudge them closer to a 5.
  • This question opens up conversations about how a person is feeling and what they might need from you to support them.
  • It can help people tell you they’re not great in a simple way. Saying ‘I’m a 1 today’ can somehow feel easier for many people than saying ‘I’m at burnout’.
  • It helps the person responding consider how they are really feeling, rather than the auto pilot ‘fine’ or ‘busy’.
  • It works in one to ones, in team meetings or meetings involving different teams and departments.
  • It works online – as a facilitator, asking people to put where they are on the scale in the chat box can help you judge the room, the pace and the style required to get the outcomes you want.

What do you think? Give it a go and let us know how you get on.

Thank you Rachel for the inspirational tips. If you’d like to join us at the Lucidity Network and benefit from Rachel’s expertise then there’s more information on how to join us here.

Do you trust your team NOT to overwork?

Just over a year ago, as we went into lockdown and organisations had to shift to remote working, several of my conversations with clients were about trust.

‘How will I know that my people are working if I can’t see them?’

My view was that the problem wasn’t that people weren’t working hard, the problem was that managers didn’t trust their teams.

A year later, according to the Blackbaud future of work 2021 report, it would appear that worries about trust were largely unfounded as respondents were almost unanimous (94%) in stating that they felt trusted.

The challenge for many over the past year has been less about lack of trust and more about presenteeism and working harder, over longer hours and being less able to switch off than we did when we were working from an office.  The boundaries between work and home are easily blurred when the office is the kitchen table, (One of my clients told me that Christmas dinner was ruined because she was eating at her desk) many of us feel personally compelled to work all hours and this isn’t helped by emails arriving in our inboxes at all times of day and night.

We are working longer hours than before the pandemic.

According to the future of work report, when asked for more details about their daily working routine, 72% of respondents said they ‘tend to work longer hours either some or most days compared to before the pandemic. Most people clocked up their extra hours later in the day, with nearly a third finishing work later most days than when they were office based’. A third of people work longer hours overall than pre pandemic.

Although the report would indicate that there might be a high degree of trust, and employees may feel trusted, many people still feel personally compelled to work long hours and respond immediately to emails, which over a long period of time is taking its toll on our health and wellbeing.

Overall, despite feeling supported by their employer, people’s wellbeing has deteriorated over the past year. Almost half the respondents to the future of work survey felt their wellbeing has deteriorated in the pandemic.

Blackbaud highlights, ‘Going forward, a conscious focus on the health and wellbeing of our people will remain of paramount importance to the support of our teams and the effective delivery of our visions and missions…’

This doesn’t just apply to non-profits but to all organisations.

It’s a tough challenge to solve and given that according to Blackbaud, flexible working is here to stay (90% of all respondents agree that flexible working will continue even when the pandemic has become a distant memory), it’s a problem that organisations need to tackle if they’re going to maintain a happy and productive workforce.

I’m seeing many organisations taking their employee wellbeing seriously and implementing the HR and workplace wellbeing advice. I’m seeing leaders give permission to their employees to switch off, leading by example and providing training in how to work remotely including looking after their own wellbeing, time management and productivity training. Yet, despite this, employees are still checking and responding to their emails late into the night, still feeling overwhelmed by their working life and still operating with high levels of anxiety.

For example, I was recently working with a team whose senior leaders are actively helping their teams look after themselves. They can work flexibly, they have an open and honest culture and there is a high degree of trust and support between leadership and employees, they are encouraged to work specific hours to not allow work to creep into their home life, they have a generous holiday allowance which they are encouraged to take, people care about their work and have good relationships Yet, despite all the actions that the leadership are taking, the majority of the team work more hours than they are expected to and experience stress and anxiety as a result.

It’s almost the reverse of the problem we thought we had. Our people can’t be trusted not to work too hard!

So what do you do if you’re following the best advice and doing all the right things, yet your team is still overwhelmed and anxious?

If I’m honest I don’t have a blueprint here but my thoughts are;

  • Keep doing all the things you’re doing. Lead by example, don’t send emails in non-working hours, keep checking in with people both via structured one to ones and informally.
  • Consider specific processes for bringing the importance of wellbeing into the spotlight and making it normal for employees to talk about wellbeing and how they’re feeling, for example some organisations have wellbeing buddies (people matched up with colleagues with the objective of checking in on how they’re feeling) and mental health first aiders. 
  • Help your employees with prioritising and time management.
  • Know that saying that people have permission (for example to take some time off if they’re feeling exhausted) doesn’t mean people know that they have permission. Check that the message has got through.
  • Remember that you’re dealing with established patterns of working that were in place long before the pandemic. How might you understand more about the root cause of peoples behaviour? Asking open questions and listening can help understand what is going on for someone, and for example can you explore why they feel they have to answer emails immediately or always be working?
  • Make your one to ones work harder and use them to understand how people are feeling as well as their progress on their tasks.
  • Consider coaching or training – people have missed human interaction and the time and space to spend time together as a team.

What are your ideas and experiences? All comments welcome.

Lucidity and Vivid Leadership are running our next resilience, confidence and creativity one day online training that will help you unpick some of these challenges. Our next open course is on 18 May. Here’s the link to join us.

We also run this resilience, confidence and creativity day for whole teams of up to 16 people. If you’d like to have a chat about your whole team doing this course book a time to chat here.

For the full Blackbaud future of work 2021 report – go here.

How having a meaningful ritual can improve your working day

Your alarm goes off. You turn it off. Count to ten. Stretch. Get up. Put the kettle on. Pat the dog. Have a shower. Make coffee. Turn on the news. Feel stressed. Turn off the news. Start work while drinking coffee.

Is that a daily ritual? Or is that just a routine?

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine is how you think about it. It’s how you perceive your actions. Are they mundane chores that just need to be completed, or are they actions that bring meaning, learning or joy into your life? It’s all about your mindset.

And if, like many of my clients, you’re feeling bored right now and running out of motivation, shifting your mindset might also help you get through these next few months as we emerge from lockdown.

A daily routine is a series of tasks that you complete every day in the same order. For example getting up and going to work, stacking the dishwasher, brushing your teeth and getting the kids ready for school. A routine can feel mundane and boring because it’s something you have to do. You can complete your routines on autopilot. They might be efficient, but routines are not necessarily motivating or enjoyable. They are viewed as a chore.

A daily ritual is similar to a daily routine since they are also a series of tasks that are completed in the same order. But a daily ritual differs in its intention. Daily rituals are meaningful practices and are internally motivated. A daily ritual can provide energy and enjoyment along with efficiency and structure. A ritual is a carefully selected way of doing something that has a sense of purpose and a positive side effect in addition to the straightforward completion of the task.

In my last job, I used to get to the office early. I’d switch on my computer and while it was starting up, I’d put the kettle on. While the kettle was boiling, I’d log in and download my emails. Then I’d make my tea and make some porridge in the microwave. Then I’d go back to my desk and read my emails while drinking my tea and eating my porridge. When the porridge was finished, that’s when I kicked into work mode.

Was my series of tasks a daily ritual or just a routine?

It started out as a routine. Then I started to think about it and deliberately made it motivating. I bought a really lovely bowl for my porridge and beautiful cup for my tea. It started to become more pleasurable, meaningful and enjoyable. I reframed ‘getting through my emails’ to ‘mentally preparing for my day’. It was my quiet time. I found out much later that colleagues knew to leave me on my own until my porridge ritual was over!

There’s a balance to be found with routine and ritual. We’ll always have routines that we need to do to be efficient. There’s always stuff that simply needs to be done. But there’s a lot of value in finding routines, (or even parts of routines), that we can turn into rituals for the benefit of a better day.

Rituals can help us take the boredom or stress out of a regular activity, they can help us be more thoughtful, help us connect to our purpose and help us achieve our goals.

How to transform a routine into a ritual

The difference between a daily ritual and a routine is your subjective experience of the activity. While we may often associate rituals with religion or spirituality, I believe we can transform any routine into a ritual with the right attitude and perspective.

Positive affirmations – one very simple thing you can do is recite affirmations.

Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome negative thoughts. Say them to yourself as a way of helping you to achieve a positive mindset.

For example, during my morning work ritual, I changed my internal dialogue to ‘I’m never going to get through all my work today’ to ‘I’m going to have a good day and get the important tasks done – and porridge time is where I prioritise what they are.’ This is just one way to turn something tedious into something more helpful.

Connect to a bigger purpose

Take a step back and see the bigger picture and purpose behind your daily routines, and how they improve your life as a whole. Connect to this by asking yourself ‘why is this important?’ And keep asking ‘why?’

Why is cleaning my teeth important? Because healthy teeth and gums mean I can eat what you want. Why is that important?

For a healthy diet. Why is that important? Because when I’m healthy I feel better and can do more which makes me happy.

This will add more meaning and help you view your routines as more of a ritual because you understand how they are helping you to achieve a bigger purpose.

Adding intentions

Rituals are the foundation upon which great work is completed. The difference between a daily routine and a daily ritual is intention.

What are the things that you do every day that you could add intention and purpose to and make into a daily ritual?

Pick one of your routines and think about how you can turn it from an autopilot mundane task to a more meaningful experience in your day. For me, I bought a cup and a bowl and shifted my mindset from getting through emails to something more positive to turn my morning routine into a ritual.

Think about the list below and pick one routine to start:

Getting up in morning.  What can you do as part of your morning ritual to get your day off to a positive start? Examples might be to spend 3 minutes being mindful or doing some stretches before you do anything else.

Going to bed. There is now a huge body of research on the benefits of a good nights sleep. Turn your going to bed routine into a ritual for better sleep.

Preparing breakfast. Another morning routine that you can turn into something more intentional and therefore a daily ritual.

Eating. Slow down and be mindful. Reframe a rushed lunch as fuel for your afternoon productivity. A great resource for mindful eating is Work Fuel: The Productivity Ninja Guide to Nutrition by Collette Heneghan and Graham Allcott

Walking places. Can you reframe the walking you have to do in your day, for example walking to the bus stop, the shop or walking the dog, as a ritual, not a chore?

Doing exercise. Turn dragging yourself to the gym or for a run into a positive experience. Tell yourself you can do this! Alternatively, if you absolutely hate the gym and can’t ever imagine finding positive purpose there, work out how to make exercise an enjoyable ritual. My solution was that I got a dog. You can check his Instagram out here.

Doing the weekly food shop. You’re not doing a chore, you’re fuelling you and your family for success.

Being grateful. A good way to reframe your mindset to a positive one is to make being grateful a daily ritual. At the end of the day, list the things that you are grateful for – big and small.

Taking a shower. A great place to think, practice mindfulness and notice how the water feels.

Cleaning your teeth. Are you cleaning your teeth or keeping your mouth healthy and fresh?

Cleaning. Is it a chore or an opportunity to disconnect from your day?

Making your daily ritual a success

Now you’ve started to think about it, I expect you have dozens of routines that you might choose to turn into daily rituals. What’s important is that you develop your rituals that add meaning and purpose to your day. As you’re working through this, there are three simple things to remember:

Prepare Your Environment

Creating environmental change has a dramatic impact on what you do. For example, if you set your running shoes out before you go to bed, you’re more likely to run in the morning. Get yourself really good coffee and a great cup if you’re turning your morning coffee into a ritual.

Small steps

We’re more likely to be able to form rituals if we start small. For example, if you have a goal to start running, don’t aim to run very far on day one. Start small and build up. The Couch to 5k app is an excellent example of this as it takes you from your couch to being able to run 5k in small steps in 9 weeks.

If you want to live a mindful life, start with one minute of sitting. If you want to spend more time outside, walk once around the block each morning.

Better done than perfect

Spending time every day changing routines to rituals doesn’t mean that you will end up with something perfect first time. Don’t give up. Keep practising. Find something that works for you and makes the routine more meaningful.

Bottom line

You are a unique individual with your own purpose and set of goals that you want to achieve. There’s not a right or wrong set of rituals to follow, the secret to success is identifying your daily routines that can be turned into the rituals that inspire and motivate you to achieve your set of goals.

Good luck!

A version of the blog was first posted at Life Hack. 

No wonder working from home can feel stressful

2020 was series of unexpected events. Corona virus has had an impact on everything. Our health and stress levels, how we live and how we work. Many of us have had to change and adapt to a new way of living and it’s unlikely that we’ll return to ‘normal’ any time soon – if ever.

Months of adapting to change can take its toll. Many of the teams I’m working with are feeling exhausted, anxious and stressed out.

We’re all different and this sort of constant change and feelings of uncertainty affect us all in different ways. It’s true that we’re all in the same storm and yes, we’re all in very different boats.

Whatever boat you’re in, a useful tool is being able to spot your signs of stress early and then do something about them to stop stress escalating.

For me, I know that when I’m feeling stressed or under pressure I get clumsy, I’m irritable and I can’t concentrate or focus on anything.

You may experience physical signals, for example, headaches, feeling tired all the time, shallow breathing or the feeling that you’re not getting enough air.

What are your stress signals? What are the things that happen to you that signal ‘uh oh I’m getting stressed’?

When I used to say I was feeling stressed, sometimes people would helpfully suggest that I drink a glass of water or go for a walk round the block. It would really wind me up because having a drink or a walk felt like such an over simplified remedy for how I was feeling.

Then I did some research about what was happening in our bodies when we’re experiencing stress.

It turns out, that when we feel threatened, whether physically, for example feeling on edge walking down a dark street at night, or mentally, for example, threatened that our reputation is at risk if we don’t make a looming deadline our nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones. These hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol prepare the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, and speed up your reaction time, preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand. This was very useful for survival if we had to run from, or fight a wild animal. It’s less helpful if you need to think slowly and carefully about the best way to respond to a difficult email from a colleague or customer.

So when we notice early signs of stress, we need to act. We need to kerb the flood of hormones preparing us to fight or flee. This is about changing our state. Which is why, if you act as soon as you feel the stress rising by changing your state by doing something as simple as having a glass of water or having a chat with someone, it can help reduce feelings of stress.

Stress and working at home

So lets think about this stress response when you’re working in an office.

You’re already feeling the pressure of a deadline, the internet is running slow and everything is taking ages to download and then you get an annoying email from your boss. ‘Argh’, you think. Enough.

You decide that rather than fire back an immediate angry response to your boss, to get a cup of tea, and have a think before you reply. You get up and walk to the kitchen. On your way you pass Steve’s desk, you say hello and offer him a cup of tea while you’re making one for yourself. He says he’ll come with you because he needs to put his lunch in the microwave queue. So you go to the kitchen together and have a chat while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. You head back to your desk feeling a whole lot better than when you left a few minutes before.

So without knowing it, your stress was rising and you stood up and changed your state, walked around and chatted with a colleague. By the time you’re back at your desk less than 10 minutes later your cortisol and adrenalin levels have reduced and you can think properly about how best to reply to the annoying email and get back to the pressing deadline.

In an office that’s how you reduce your stress and you often do it without even knowing it. When you’re at home on your own, you don’t have colleagues to chat to on the way to the kitchen, and so its easy for stress levels to escalate.

So when you’re working from home and managing your stress, it helps to be more deliberate then when you’re working in an office. Here’s our tips.

  1. Notice when your stress levels are rising – what are your early warning signs?
  2. Remember that your body is being flooded with cortisol and adrenaline and what you need to do is reduce the levels.
  3. You do this by changing your state which sounds complicated but the actions to do this are simple. We’re all different so you might need to experiment with what works best for you. Here’s some suggestions;
  • Stand up and stretch
  • Breath – slowly in and out for a few minutes
  • Get up and get a drink (preferably water, preferably not wine or gin)
  • Walk round the block
  • Walk round the lounge
  • Phone a friend
  • Water your plants
  • Make a fuss of the dog
  • Sing a song
  • Dance about

Let us know how you get on. And if you’d like more practical help to boost your resilience, confidence and creativity then join Charly White and me for our upcoming one day training. More details and sign up here.

Why the ability to solve problems is more important than having a right answer

When I was 8 years old I knew all the flags of the world. When I was 16 I knew about Pythagoras theorem and when I was 21 I knew how Nylon was made.

Whilst flags, Pythagoras and Nylon are all interesting to a degree, I’m not sure how genuinely useful any of those topics have really been in my career. I learned about them to pass exams. I crammed the information in order to regurgitate it and get as many questions right as I could. Then I forgot it all. My schools and Universities could tick a box though. If enough of us remembered enough facts it meant they got better ratings, which meant more students and more money in subsequent years.

Throughout education I remember being rewarded for getting things right. And I learned this young. At an early age I figured out that asking challenging questions, thinking differently or being a maverick didn’t make me popular with teachers, so over time I stopped.

Then when we start work we are given key performance indicators and objectives. As adults working for an organisation we are measured and judged on how we conform to a set of pre-defined objectives. These are just the grown up versions of getting rewarded for getting things right passing tests, and ticking boxes.

So it’s no wonder that so many organisations struggle to be successful at innovation. Learning to pass exams rather than learning to think for ourselves discourages innovation from an early age, and lets not underestimate the impact that our early years experiences have on our adult behaviour.

Innovation isn’t about confirming to a set of rules or learning about how things have always been done. It’s about thinking differently, responding to change and solving problems. I’m not saying that it’s not important to learn from history and the great discoveries that have gone before us, but if we are not mindful, we may end up focusing on the events of the past and miss the real lessons of the innovators experiences; of questioning the status quo, learning from the present and not giving up when others said it was impossible.

And the real life lessons that we experience are really important in a world that is changing faster than ever before and will never move so slowly again. It’s unlikely that anyone entering the workforce today will have the same job in ten years time. *One estimate suggests that 65% of children starting primary school today will end up working in jobs that currently don’t even exist.

Right now we need our innovation and creativity skills more than ever before.

We’ve been forced to change radically in 2020. Many of us have already adapted to working from home or adjusted into new roles. We’ve stayed connected, and many people have been even more connected while remaining socially distanced. Parents have adapted to teach their kids (and many kids have adapted to teach their parents)!

Human beings are good at creativity, innovation and adapting, but we’re not used to having to adapt so quickly in a highly stressful situation and for a sustained period of time. The adrenalin needed to respond to a crisis exhausts us and we run out of steam. Gary Gower talks about it in his recent blog about getting past the 6-month wall.

When we’re stressed, anxious or out of steam our ability to think creatively is diminished.

When we feel stressed, it’s common to experience ‘brain fog’ – that feeling of not being able to think straight. When we’re out of steam we can lack the ability to focus or concentrate on anything properly. When we’re anxious we can make quick and ill thought through decisions or procrastinate so much that we do nothing at all.

This is because when we’re feeling stressed or anxious our basic survival instincts kick in and our bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. This makes it very difficult to access the creative thinking parts of our brains needed to solve problems effectively.

We are all creative and according to research, to think creatively we simply need to be in a relaxed or playful mindset. That’s why many people have their best ideas in the shower, walking the dog or in the pub. Ideas flow when we’re relaxed.

There’s no relaxation or playfulness when we’re operating in fight, flight or freeze mode. So in a crisis it can be hard to think creatively and solve problems, despite knowing that in a crisis is the time when we need these skills the most.

Being able to solve problems is a very important skill right now. That’s one of the reasons that I set up the Lucidity Network. It’s gives members training materials, connection with others to help solve problems and group coaching. Join the Lucidity Network here.