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Take Care of Yourself First

Self-care, the key to thriving not just surviving

Self Care in scrabble tiles by Tiny Tribes from Pixabay

In order to stay grounded, calm and patient in times when everything around us is crumbling or in upheaval, the first rule to follow is take care of yourself. I’m not just referring to a pandemic, but any situation that impacts you and your life. This could be an illness of a loved one, financial problems because a major project doesn’t materialize, problems with your partner or spouse, unexpected expenses because your car broke down. The unfortunate reality is, especially in stressful situations, we tend to “forget” how important it is to stay strong. There are so many things that seem far more important to think about, or to tackle… and we put self-care on the backburner.

I’m not thinking about vacations or hours of meditation, or whatever helps you relax and recharge. I’m thinking of a daily practice. It is far better to incorporate small bursts of self-care during the day to stay grounded and keep a clear head. It will help you process what’s going on no matter what life throws at you. It’s the first step to finding an answer, developing a solution, or determining your next move.  

What is Self-care

Let’s have a look at what self-care actually means. Skip this part if you’re more interested in some ideas of how to practice self-care and move to the headline “Practice Self-care.”  

Self-care is the deliberate choice of taking care of your own needs on a daily basis, regardless of commitments, responsibilities, expectations from others.

As the bare minimum we need enough sleep and nourishment for our bodies. But that would only ensure our physical survival. In order to protect our wellbeing, physically, psychologically and emotionally, there are more things to consider.

It means knowing who you are, what you like and don’t like, what gives you joy, what you aspire to, what you value, how to set limits, how to deal with difficult situations, how to relax and decompress after a stressful or demanding day.

Self-care is something that energizes and refuels us, rather than takes from us. […] It is the key to living a balanced life.” It helps us be patient, when patience is needed, show empathy when empathy is needed, and have a clear head, when decisions have to be made.

It means taking the time to reflect on yourself and your day. What are you proud of? What would you like to do better? Are there any changes you would like to make? If so, how will you make these changes happen? What steps can you take?

Practicing Self-care

Woman reading

What recharges us or allows us to let go of the day is different for everyone. Some prefer sweating and working it out, others prefer quiet and writing it down. It can also depend on your mood, the weather, or the people you are with. In summer, you may prefer walking in nature, in winter you may prefer sitting down with a glass of wine and a good book.

Do you know what helps you decompress after a stressful or demanding day? What can you do on the spot to feel grounded or keep a clear head?

Here are some ideas in case you need a little reminder or quick start:

  • Take 10 deep breaths
  • Leave the room for a moment
  • Close your eyes and feel what’s going on in your body
  • Walk around the block
  • Get a cup of coffee or tea
  • Practice your favorite sport
  • Play with your children
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate or pray
  • Go for a walk at the beach, in the woods, in the fields, in your town
  • Have a glass of wine and reflect on your day
  • Read a book or listen to one
  • Light a candle and write in your journal
  • Do a craft (sewing, quilting, crocheting, coloring, painting,…)
  • Work in your yard
  • Sit and allow the day to pass by in front of your inner eye
  • Take a hot bath or shower
  • Prepare a meal and eat with your family or friends

There are so many things you can do; be creative and give yourself the gift of time to find out. What helps you to feel grounded? What helps you to decompress? And then, most importantly, do it. You will be a happier mom, spouse, parent, you name it, for it.  

I can’t wait to hear from you. Until next time,
Regine

The Myth of Multitasking

Want to get more done? Stop Multitasking. Want to do better work? Stop Multitasking.

Person texting while driving - dangers of multitasking
Mutitasking – Texting while driving
Photo by Roman Pohorecki from Pexels

Do you struggle with too many tasks and projects and don’t know how on earth you’ll ever get everything done? My advice: Stop multitasking!

Except for routine tasks, we humans are not capable of it, at least the overwhelming majority of us. In fact, multitasking is a misnomer. The word suggests that we do two tasks at the same time, when in fact our brain switches back and forth between two tasks. We just don’t notice it because it happens so darn fast.

You could argue that it doesn’t matter as long as you get your work done. But that is exactly where multitasking or the perception of multitasking turns into a problem. Our brain only has a limited capacity for processing data. The more complex a task, the more data needs to get processed, the more difficult it is for the brain to switch, the more time it takes.

If you imagine your brain as a multi-laned highway, all lanes are occupied with data that is needed to tackle the one task at hand, let’s say writing an email. If you add a second task, for example answering the phone, you split the data highway into two. Some lanes are occupied with data to write the email, but some lanes are now used to speak on the phone. Your attention is divided, your brain switches back and forth between the two tasks, and that has consequences.

The obvious result is that you may lose track of what the caller is saying because your brain was more engaged with the email. You may find that you made mistakes in your email because …. you get the idea.

Multitasking for most of us is only an illusion that impacts our performance, quality of work, and quite often also the quality of our lives. Instead of getting done more our brain is forced to switch back and forth between the two tasks, which essentially slows us down. An article of the American Psychological Association describes several experiments on task-switching. The goal was to determine the cost in time for switching tasks, and to assess how complexity or familiarity of tasks would impact the time of switching and productivity.

“Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks.”

What is even more important is the fact that […] “multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error” and it can cause mental blocks that […] “cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”

In short, the mind and brain are not designed for heavy-duty multitasking because it negatively impacts our mental processing ability.

Remember those moments when you were immersed in your work, the phone rang, you picked up and… the great idea that you just had disappeared? You may not even have started talking, but by switching from one task to another, you lost it. And starting where you left off usually takes some time. You need to connect the dots again in order to continue.

What could this mean for you and your work? If you have something simple to do like putting dishes into the dishwasher, loading your washing machine, and at the same time talking with a friend on the phone – keep on doing it. I don’t think it will either impact your conversation nor the outcome of the laundry or dishes. But if you are working on something complex like writing a blog, doing some research, or writing a proposal, you may want to reconsider. Focusing on one task and finishing it not only gets stuff off your To-Do-list, but it also gives you a feeling of accomplishment.

Especially if you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do, take some time to plan. Write down what you have to do and then decide when you will do it. I know, it may sound more like additional work instead of helping you to get stuff off of your To-Do-list. But the benefit of this exercise is that you can use quiet and undisturbed time for the really heavy-lifting and do the easy stuff when you have to expect or deal with distractions.

Give it a try. For the next couple of days focus on one task at a time. Pick a time that will allow you to concentrate 100 percent on it. How does it make you feel? Did you get the task done quicker? Did you enjoy this uninterrupted focus time? How did it feel getting it completely done? Something like this?

Two women jumping with joy
Photo by Jill Wellington from Pexels

I can’t wait to hear from you. Until next time,
Regine

F.A.I.L. – E.N.D. – N.O.

As solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, small business owners, or…, we have to accept the fact that not all we do will go as planned and be successful. Especially if it is our first attempt in entrepreneurship or running a business. We navigate uncharted territory and it is more than likely that we will make mistakes, fail, get a “no” to a proposal. Everybody will agree with this statement. It only turns into a problem when it happens. Mistakes happen to others, not to us. Wouldn’t that be nice. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. In fact, I know it is crucial that we make mistakes, fail once in a while, hear a “no” to our brilliant idea or proposal. What’s even more important is how we deal with these situations.  

I’m definitely not a master in always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I need time to digest what has happened, turn it around in my head until I find the silver lining. Throwing a pity-party is so much easier. Blaming the world for what went wrong. I can do that too and admit I have done it in the past. The sad part about it is, it doesn’t change a thing. It doesn’t make the situation any better or go away quicker. Quite the opposite is the case.

It’s far better to get back on your feet, dust yourself off, and think about what to do to get out of this pickle, fix the problem. Think of the very next step you can take. It’s the best medicine you can take.

Yes, you do want to take a moment and figure out what went wrong and why it went wrong. This way you learn and won’t repeat the mistake. I know, it’s never fun digging through a mess or unpleasant situation. Allow me to be blunt, it sucks, but it’s soooo important. Think of it as growing pains, business growing pains. When you come out on the other side you’ve trained one of the most valuable and important character muscles: resilience. By the way, it’s also extremely useful outside of the business world.

This is why I find the three “acronyms” FAIL – END – NO so inspiring.

Acronyms by Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, past President of India

I hope you’ll find the meaning also encouraging and inspiring. Don’t let a roadblock stop you. Think of a way how to either circumvent or get over it.

In case you had a less than brilliant day and need a little pep talk, keep the meaning of these three words in your heart. If you know someone who could use a little encouragement, share them. They reminded me more than once that giving up is not an option.

See you in two weeks,
Regine

Make Working from Home Work for You – Part 3: Habits that help you succeed

We made it to part 3 (here are part 1 and part 2), the part that is in fact a constant work in progress: developing and cultivating good (work) habits. Especially during very busy times or at times when motivation is a little low in supply, they can be a lifesaver.

According to the Oxford Dictionary a habit is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”

Since we’re focusing on good work habits, that’s exactly what we’d like to achieve. We aim for minimal effort to get something going or help us getting over a hump. Yes, I do realize that habits also have a dark side, but for the purpose of this blog let’s focus on the positive ones.

How do you go about cultivating good work habits? As the word “cultivating” implies, it takes time, effort and experimentation. You start off with a strategy or idea and over time you learn if it’s working for you or not. You may get tips from others, observe others how they do something or deal with a situation, or you read about it. In some cases, you’ll know right away what won’t work for you. Perfect. This saves you time, so don’t even bother. In other cases, you have to try to find out if this suggestion suits you, and tweak it a bit to make it yours.

What it actually comes down to is that you really have to get to know yourself, the flow of your day, situations that may throw you off, and all the other little sneaky things that keep you from doing what you should or need to do.

Cultivating good work habits isn’t a skill, it’s a practice.

Planning Your Day

One of my most crucial habits is planning my day. My preferred way is to plan the next day the night before. Sometimes that doesn’t work, so I do it before I start my day in the office. I noticed, however, that when I do it the night before I get up in the morning and already have a plan. It just feels good to visualize the day ahead, know where I have to be when, and what I would like to have done by the end of it.

Insights & Actions

In one of my previous blogs I mentioned that at the end of most days I take a moment to check in and see what worked and what didn’t. I call it “Insights & Actions.” By doing so I discovered what my most productive environment looks like, when I’m getting things done, but also when I struggled to finish or do my work. I include these insights in my planning.

The Most Difficult Task

If I have something that I find difficult to do, I try to get it out of the way as early as possible in the day. Good-bye procrastination. By getting it done right away I feel good about having tackled a difficult task, but, maybe even more importantly, I also avoided allowing it to become a “bigger” problem, at least in my head. A win-win!

Calendar Miracle

I have also started using my calendar in a better way. Why do I mention this? Stay with me, I’ll explain. To keep track of my tasks I use Microsoft To Do. Each morning I go through “My Day” and check the things I plan on doing. That includes quick things like calling someone or checking on the status of something, but it also includes all my projects such as redesigning my website, doing research for and writing my next blog. What it doesn’t show is the amount of time I may need for the individual tasks. That was a BIG problem for me. The number of tasks I wanted to tackle per day was simply unrealistic. After I started blocking chunks of time in my calendar for the bigger projects, I got much better at estimating what I can accomplish each day. A tiny change with a huge impact.

Dressed for the Occasion

Be Ready

In order to be able to focus on your work, it is helpful to have everything ready before you start. Like a chef who prepares his workstation and has all ingredients handy before he starts cooking, putting everything in place for the work you intend to do avoids distractions. I’m talking about files, documents, notepaper, pen, something to drink, you name it. It’ll cost you precious time, for example, if you have to search for a specific document in the middle of your work. The same idea can be applied when you are finished with something. I still remember that I was turning my office upside down in search of a document I hadn’t filed away after a conference call. I had buried it under a pile of paper totally unrelated and it took me quite some time to dig it up again.

The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking is an interesting concept, at least when used in connection with humans. Women are supposedly much better at it than men. Unfortunately, this is a myth. Multitasking is a concept from the computer world and should stay there. We, as humans, usually do a lousy job if we try. We either sacrifice our attention or the quality of our work if we attempt it. What does this have to do with good work habits? It’s simple. If you work on a complex task or need to focus on something a good work habit is to eliminate distractions.

Lack of Motivation

What can you do if you lack motivation? Do you need a break? Would calling a friend help you? You most likely know other solopreneurs or “home workers.” Go ahead, call someone and ask for a little pep-talk. If you can afford the time, do something else on your To Do list. I’m sure there is something on it that’ll kick you into gear again. Move your body, exercise, take a walk around the block, do your laundry, turn on music, do some jumping jacks.

A friend of mine rewards herself with a good book, a coffee, a movie, something fun after she has finished a specific task.

And sometimes you have no other choice but bite the bullet and do it, whether you feel like it or not. Sounds familiar? Then you may know Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art.” If you don’t know it, it is “A vital gem… a kick in the ass,” according to Esquire.

Batching

Before I come to the end, there is one more habit I’d like to mention: batching. Batch similar tasks. It’s much easier for the brain and needs less energy. As an example, don’t pay invoices or enter a payment each time you receive one. Wait until you have a couple, and do them all at once. If you have to make a bunch of calls, schedule a time to do them all. If you need to find images for your blog and/or newsletter… you get the idea.

Now let’s wrap this up for today. I mentioned a couple of habits you may consider trying out. If you do, be consistent. Give it some time (I’m not talking about days, I’m talking about weeks!). Ask yourself along the way, what works and why and what doesn’t and why. These answers will hold the information you’ll need to find and cultivate your own best habits.

A good time to look at your habits and routines is when you or your business undergo change. The questions to ask are: Do these routines or habits still serve and support me? Is there a better or easier way to do it?

And with this, I am turning this over to you. Do you have proven habits or routines you swear by? Please let us know.

Until next time,
Regine

Make Working from Home Work for You – Part 2

In part 1 of this two-part series “Make Working from Home Work for You” I talked about

  • The importance of your workspace and work environment,
  • Suggestions on how to combat loneliness while working from home
  • And some essential tools and/or technologies for your home office

This week I’ll cover the more subtle problems of working from home. The ones that we face every day, that are easily overlooked, and that may cost us dearly, even if we don’t want to admit it. Here they are:

  • Knowing your goals and planning your days
  • Taking breaks
  • Building your own good work habits

Knowing Your Goals and Planning Your Days

Choosing the right path is only possible you know your goal(s).
Foto: https://pixabay.com/images/id-1721906/
Kid at a fork of a path.

It sounds simple enough and straight forward: know your goals. But more often than not that is exactly what many, especially solopreneurs and creative people, tend to lose sight of in the course of their everyday work. There are so many ideas, so many things to do. We better roll up our sleeves and get started. Or should we?

Getting caught up in the everyday happens fast. It’s the little things that sneak in and eat our time. Think of your email inbox. You may be expecting an important email. You look for it and you respond, but that’s not where you stop, or do you? I at least didn’t.  Without even thinking I continued with the remaining emails and, two hours later, am surprised that the morning is gone despite the fact that I wanted to do something else.

Whatever your little sneaky time thieves are, stop them. The only way to do so is to know what your goal(s) are. If you don’t know, you won’t make the time. Write your goals down, vet them and make sure they align with your business and values. Break them down into projects, break the projects down into manageable tasks. It’s your roadmap to bringing your ideas and goals to life. Keep this list close and check it daily to make sure you’re staying on track.

That brings me to part two: planning your days. My daily planning is divided into two parts: part one is meetings, conference calls, etc.; part two are the “non-negotiables.” I don’t think I have to explain how meetings and calls end up in my calendar. But I’d like to spend a couple of words on the “non-negotiables.”

Non-negotiables are appointments I make with myself. These are time blocks I dedicate to projects I’m working on. Every day I pick at least one of my major projects and dedicate a certain amount of my time to work at it. I choose a time that allows me to bring the most energy and best circumstances to this work. That could mean picking a time of day when I’m usually undisturbed and which is quiet, or I arrange it that way (thanks flight mode). I set a timer that reminds me when “my time is up.” This way it’s up to me to continue or just finish what I’m working on.

Another equally important non-negotiable, for example, is my daily Yoga practice and meditation and my martial arts training twice a week.  

Lastly, if possible, I reserve Fridays for “housekeeping” stuff that I didn’t get to during the week, planning the week ahead, bookkeeping… you get the idea.

What I found by putting everything in my calendar is that I get a more realistic picture of the use of my time. If I need much longer for a particular task, I adjust my calendar entry and keep it in mind for future time approximation. Very helpful.

Having said that, I don’t plan 100% of my day. I always leave generous blocks of time empty. Don’t be a miser here. You’ll thank yourself when life throws unexpected stuff at you. If it does, at least you have the flexibility to deal with it without feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Or, as a best-case scenario, you have some additional time on your hands. I’m sure you have no problem coming up with something to do. There’s already enough stress and “catching up” in our lives; don’t add to it.

This is the perfect segway into the next topic:

Taking Breaks

Alarm clock and coffee beans reminding you to take breaks.
https://pixabay.com/images/id-1291381/
Red alarm clock and coffee beans.

I know it from own experience, heard it from peers, and read quite often about the fact that we as entrepreneurs or solopreneurs tend to forget to take breaks. The moment we have a free minute we start thinking what we can do to get another action item off of our To Do list.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with working hard to build or grow your business. Working hard only turns into a problem when you forget to take care of yourself, your family and your friends.

Like a battery needs time to recharge, your body and brain need time to recharge as well. Without rest you can’t expect to be at your best. You need enough sleep, food that energizes you, exercise that keeps you in shape. I know, you’ve heard it before, it’s old news. But especially in difficult and demanding times, when we actually need it the most, we readily throw these basics out the window.

We scarify time with our partner or with our kids for our business. We don’t take the time to be with friends. For a little while that’s not a problem. But it may turn into one if you stretch this time out too long. Your relationships suffer and so do you.

Step away from your desk and have a coffee or lunch with a friend or your partner. Play with your kids for a while. Call your mom and have a quick chat. It’ll take your mind off work, you give yourself a break, you reconnected with a friend, or it’ll make you feel good for having spent time with your kid(s). The result will be to return afterwards with more energy and often new ideas.

What is even more worrisome is sacrificing ourselves, or more precisely, not taking care of ourselves for the benefit of spending more time in and on our business. We tend to forget that self-care is the fuel for our body and our mind which in turn impacts our performance. It’s the little things during the day that you could do.  

A no-brainer for me is not to have your lunch or any other meal at your computer or desk. It’ll ensure that you know what and how much you’re eating, a plus for those amongst us who watch their weight, and you can “check out” for a little while. You may want to leave your phone at your desk to resist the temptation to check for emails, text messages, social media and the like. Enjoy your food instead and take a break.

Exercise. Whatever you enjoy doing, the operative word here is enjoy, do it. No excuses. Go to the gym, go for a walk, work in your yard, dance, practice yoga, whatever rocks your boat. I love my Taekwondo classes and Yoga. There is no better way for me to clear my head or work out any frustration (pun intended). Especially when I’m struggling with a difficult problem stepping away from it, doing something totally unrelated, gets my creative juices flowing. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and in the middle of that conversation, for no reason whatsoever, an idea strikes you that’s unrelated to the conversation but the solution to a problem you’ve struggled with? Has that ever happened to you?

Even if you can’t take or afford a vacation, there are so many things you can do without spending a lot of money that provide a change of scenery or a new experience that’ll help you recharge, feel more energized, and get your creative juices flowing. Your work and business will thank you for it.

Let’s take a break here. I thoroughly underestimated how much I would write about “knowing your goals and planning” and “taking a break.” I’ll move “building good work habits” to my next blog. I hope you don’t mind.

If you have any experience or suggestions to the above, please share it. I’d love to learn more and I’m sure others appreciate a reminder, a suggestion or word of wisdom as well.

See you in two weeks,
Regine

Make Working from Home Work for You – Part 1

Last year I wrote a blog about working from home. I described a couple of situations that may arise testing your productivity and ultimately your success. Since then I dug a bit deeper, did some research, and had more conversations with people who have first-hand experience on the work-from-home front. I learned about their set up, their tools, what kind of problems they deal with, how they avoid distractions, how they stay motivated, and what they learned along the way to stay productive and, yes, happy as well.  

Since there is quite a lot to cover, I decided to split this topic into two parts. Part 1 will focus on:

  • The importance of your workspace and work environment
  • How to combat loneliness while working from home
  • What tools and/or technologies support you

And part 2 will focus on:

  • Knowing your goals and planning your days
  • Taking breaks is important but easily forgotten
  • Building your own good work habits

Of course, it very much depends on your personality and your type of work, what problems or challenges you may face. So, let’s have a look and talk about ways to deal with them. The following suggestions may not be the (ideal) solution for you, but I hope they’ll inspire you to try and test them, experiment with your own ideas so that you’ll find out what works best for you.

My home office

1. The importance of your workspace and work environment

For some it is a no-brainer, for others it may be a revelation, that your workspace and work environment should support you, inspire you, and make you want to spend time there. It should be designed for the work you want and/or need to do and be free of interruptions and distractions. It should allow you to concentrate, be free of distractions and have undisturbed video conferences, phone calls, or whatever you need to do on a regular basis. Everything should be right at hand so that you can focus on your work instead of tools, technology, materials etc.

You don’t want to go chasing for a quiet space or a stable internet connection shortly before an important video call. This would be stressful and may have a negative impact on the conversation you’re going to have.

Loneliness working from home

2. How to combat loneliness while working from home

As much as you may love not having to commute, at times you may feel very lonely working from home. There is nobody to chat with, go to lunch with, bounce an idea off, have a cup of coffee with when you are stuck, or ask about a movie or a game.

The typical recommendation to this problem is a coworking space. Yep, that may be one solution if you find the right coworking space. Right in terms of location, right in terms of people, and right in terms of how much it cost. But there are other options.

Another very common suggestion is the café. However, this comes with a caveat. Usually cafés are noisy places with lots of distractions. If you can’t block out the noise and distraction you won’t be very productive (noise-cancelling headphones come to mind). You also may fight over the few power outlets or feel guilty because you sit there for several hours and only consume a café latte. In short, you trade one evil for another. If you happen to know a nice, quiet café ignore what I have just said.   

Moving to the next option. One article I read suggested to start a Meet-up group and arrange coworking days once or twice a week at a convenient location. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like an idea worth pursuing. The issue here could be finding a suitable location especially if we are talking about a group.

This brought the idea to my mind that you could ask other home workers if they would like to “co-work” once or twice a week. Two or three people are much easier to accommodate in a café. If you have found the right people for your co-working day(s) you may even invite them to your home if you have enough room.

Have you considered checking out your local library? It’s a quiet place, distractions are at a minimum, and libraries have desks or tables to work at. Could that be an alternative to working at home?

If you have any other ideas, please share them so that other “home workers” can benefit from them.

3. What tools and/or technologies support you

Tools and/or technology are also a big part of supporting you when working from home and connecting with the world. It is no secret that there are a myriad of tools, apps, and programs out there with the intention of making your life and work easier, faster and more productive. And that is why a word of caution may be in order. Don’t fall into the trap of having to try each and every one. Before you make a decision, if that decision is up to you, take some time to gain a clear picture of what kind of tool is really useful for your particular situation. Don’t be afraid to ask others about their experience and why they chose one app, program or tool over another. If you have narrowed down the options, do your own research, look at You Tube demos and check out trial versions if available. Then, make your decision. It may take a bit of time to find the perfect solution, but it will pay off in the long term.

As a simple example, some people love an electronic calendar that synchronizes with their phone, others still prefer a paper version. If you have a choice, pick the one that you feel most comfortable with and that’s easy to use. Just because something looks nice, is new and fancy doesn’t mean it’s meant for you. I’ll come back to the calendar in part 2 of my blog. It’s a simple but also important tool when it comes to your planning.

After this short detour, let’s get a little more specific. I do believe it’s a no-brainer to have a reliable phone and computer. Remember, it’s your work that’s on the computer and you don’t want to lose any of it just because it dies at a critical moment.  

A stable internet connection is also mandatory, especially if you make video calls.

Since we are talking about video communication… It’s one of the most recommended services and tools for “home workers”. I don’t know anyone who is working from home who doesn’t use a video communication tooI/service. It doesn’t replace face-to-face meetings, but it certainly makes working together much easier. You can have team meetings, client meetings, share your screen, record conversations, give presentations, or simply reach out and have a chat with someone to keep in touch with. Especially if you’re working in a team that’s scattered all over the country video communication is always mentioned as being a vital tool. Team members feel more connected and build stronger relationships which usually translate into better cooperation and work results. I couldn’t agree more.

There are a couple of video communication tools/services that I used over the years. I’m now mostly working with Zoom because it is well known, has a calendar add-in for scheduling purposes, has a recording option, is easy to use, and it works. Other tools/services are Skype, WhatsApp, JoinMe, Telegram, Duo, Facetime, to mention just a few. Depending on your needs, pick the one that works for you.

How do you keep track of your action items and projects? Do you know when you should reach out to a client or customer and follow up on a proposal? Are you part of a team that needs to stay informed and on the same page or are you a solopreneur and keep all threads in your own hands? Like with video communication there are many tools to choose from. Some are more designed for one-person use and others are designed for teams.

Most of the time I keep control over my action items and use a simple task manager such as Microsoft To Do, Wunderlist, Things, Todoist. They are intuitive and simple to use, exactly what I like about them. I have them on my phone and on my desktop, which allows me to add action items whenever I need to. No lost notes anymore, everything is in one place and always accessible.

If you prefer a paper version you could use the Bullet Journal method, Filofax, or any of the systems available in office supply stores or online. The market for analog productivity tools has exploded over the last couple of years and offers a huge variety. Every single one claims it will help you get better organized and keep track of your work and tasks. It sounds a little bit like a miracle cure. Keep in mind that it’s still up to you to use it and make it work aka keep it easy and simple.

If you are part of a team determine what exactly you would like a cooperation management tool or project management tool to do for you and your team. This is not my strong suit and I only know a few such as Trello, Asana, Basecamp and ZOHO. But if I had to decide which one to use, I would ask around, watch online demos, and test-run the ones that fulfil my requirements and are easy to use.

I know I said it many times, but ease of use is always the highest priority for me. I want all the tools, programs and apps I use to support me and make my life easier – not the contrary.

If you have found a system, tool or app that works for you, keep it. There is truth in saying never change a running system. Except if you absolutely have to.

Having said that, change is the most reliable constant in life. Your work or work environment may change. That’s a great moment to check in with your habits (more about habits in part 2 as well), tools and systems. Do they still serve you or is it time to have a closer look and make some changes?

That’s it for today. If you have any wisdom to share, please do so. I’ll continue with part 2 of “Make Working from Home Work for You” in two weeks. Until then,

Regine

Accomplishing Silence – Happy New Year

As mentioned in my last post of 2019 I took a couple of days off to reflect on and review the last year. By doing so I came across a downloaded blog from Rob Hatch about silence. To be honest, I don’t remember who Rob Hatch is and where I downloaded the blog from but I found it in my folder of “things to remember” and thought it is the perfect practice to welcome a new year. It may feel counterproductive at first, but the results I’ve had prove that the opposite is actually true.

With this short introduction and before I hand over to Rob Hatch…

And with no further ado, here are Rob’s thoughts on silence:

“Last week I found myself with a block of “waiting room” time. It was the type of waiting that required you to be nearby for an undetermined duration, just in case. And it might last an hour…or three.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not terribly patient in these situations. I prefer a little definition to my day.

Of course, I immediately began thinking about ways to make use of every minute. What could I accomplish with all this time? After all, I wouldn’t want it to go to waste.

My list grew quickly as I contemplated running a few errands nearby, squeezing everything I could out of the moment. And then I just stopped, let all of it go, and took some of the time to enjoy the silence.

Silence and stillness are not unproductive

That’s the way we tend to view silence. We’re often uncomfortable with it. Try spending 20 minutes in your car with the radio off. Better yet, count how many times you reach for the knob. Try leaving your phone in your pocket while you stand in line at the store. Or just try waiting, in silence, for anything for more than 15 minutes.

We are always looking for distractions to fill the silence. So we pull out our phones and check…something. I do it all the time. I’ve even advocated using these moments to be more productive by replying to a few emails for example. But sometimes silence is an accomplishment.

The fact is, our brains need this time. We need moments where our minds wander and our focus gets a bit fuzzy. That’s where connections are made and ideas emerge, in the quiet spaces in between. And they come when we stop looking for every distraction available to us to fill a void.

Just Do What?

My good friend Sheri’s favorite phrase is, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”

The key to the phrase is that we are always looking to ‘just do something’. Nike’s famous tagline, “Just Do It”, isn’t particularly helpful if we get stuck on ‘Just Do’ when we aren’t terribly clear about what ‘It’ is. And that’s where silence comes in because when we stop doing, even for a few moments, “it” tends to reveal itself.

Maybe your silence is prayer or meditation. Maybe you just focus on your breathing. Maybe you stare in wonder at a spider web or the night sky in late summer. The goal is to stop. The goal is to sit and wait in silence.

When we’re constantly told to hustle to be successful, it can be hard to allow for those moments. But I promise you they are as important as anything on your To-Do list.

My waiting room silence didn’t last the entire time. It didn’t need to. But the time I did spend, felt good. It cleared my mind and eventually I eased back into a few simple things. I emerged less harried and grateful for those moments.”

I’d like to repeat my invitation and ask you to find the time for silence in your day in the hopes that you will feel calmer, more focused and more purposeful in your actions. You don’t need a fancy practice. Allow yourself to do nothing for a little bit. Close your eyes if you find this helpful and “listen” to what happens. You may be surprised and grateful because thoughts and ideas have emerged that otherwise wouldn’t have found their way to you.

Regine

Photo by Anna-Louise from Pexels

End of Year Reflection

Journal with notes

To say it up front, this will be my last blog for this year. I’ll take a break over Christmas and the New Year and will return in January 2020.

I’ll take a break to take the time to look back at what has happened the past 12 months. I like to look at my achievements, what I’m proud of, what I’m grateful for, what made me happy or sad, what I’ve learned and what I’d like to focus on for the next 12 months.

Everyone who knows me knows that I keep a journal. It’s part of my daily routine. Before I get to work, I take a couple of minutes to write. It sets the tone for my day and reminds me of what’s important. I decide about one major task I’ll work on and check what other tasks are on my list. At the end of the day I frequently add what I call “Insights & Actions” especially if I haven’t done what I had planned to do. I take a moment and write down why I didn’t do it and what I will do about it.

I take these notes from the past year and go through them. Some pages I fly over, but some I read thoroughly. The pages I spend more time on are the ones holding the information about what I’ve learned, what I’d like to eliminate from my life or what I’d like to focus on the next year. They work like a compass guiding me on my business and life journey.

To give it some structure I use questions that I find relevant and that help me make decisions for the next 12 months. When I first started doing my yearly review, it was quite chaotic. Over time, I came across many different ways on how one can do this reflection exercise and picked the questions and ideas that I found most useful for myself.

Step 1

I created some focus areas that are relevant in my life:
* Business
* Development
* Family/Friends
* Finances
* Health
* Personal
These categories are not in order of importance and not comprehensive. It’s my personal list and may differ from yours.

Step 2

I take stock of what has happened the past year in these focus areas. What have I done/accomplished? Did I give it the attention and focus it needed (if not, why not)?  How did it go? Did my effort lead to the desired outcome? What have I learned (I use the answer to this question to adjust the course or make necessary changes)? And last but not least, why it is/was important to me?

Even if my effort or work didn’t lead to the desired outcome or result, I take it as an opportunity to learn something about myself, my business, or my approach….

Step 3

After I have finished Step 2, I have a pretty good idea about what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Marie Forleo writes: “If you know the things that have made the biggest difference in the quality of your life, you’ll be able to make wiser decisions as you plan the next ten years.”  (1)

And that’s exactly what I do. I use these insights to determine what I’d like to keep, what I’d like to change, what I’d like to add or what I’d like to eliminate in my business and/or life and write it down.

Adding the “why” helps me stick with my decision(s) or, if necessary, put them to the test. I’m likely to change, circumstances are very likely to change. Unexpected opportunities may present themselves. This exercise is my guide that helps me determine if what I’m about to do is aligned with my goals and values. In other words, is it really worth making adjustments and embracing an opportunity or is it just a “shiny object” that will lose its luster?

That’s it. That’s my way of reflecting on the past year and using what I’ve learned to apply it and set my goals for the coming year.

Give it a try and learn more about yourself and your business. If you have a hard time getting started, call me and we’ll work through it together. Besides learning a lot about yourself and gaining clarity, it’s a fun exercise and absolutely worth your time.

Let me know how it went.

Candles with Holiday Ornaments and wishes for a Merry Christmas

Regine

(1) (Marie Forleo: https://www.marieforleo.com/2019/12/decade-in-review-10-year-plan/?uid=47c2579a2c95b74b9c792a63fc6f9656#part-2/)

How to Create Your Elevator Pitch

Dreaded by many and needed by all:
The Elevator Pitch

Being able to introduce yourself, your project, your company or your fundraising efforts effectively and, maybe even more importantly memorably, is an art. One that many are struggling with, myself included. Instead of using a few crisp, concise and memorable words, we tend to say far too much, don’t focus on the relevant bits and ramble on and on and on … only to watch the interest disappear from our listener’s eyes.   

I’ve been there, I’ve experienced it and I’m done with it. The final push to do something about it was the, in my eyes, brilliant elevator pitch of a woman who organizes children’s play areas. This is how she introduced herself: “I’m Evelyn, The Toy Tamer. I do custom playroom organizing.” She added two or three more sentences providing a bit more context and done. Everyone knows her. Not necessarily as Evelyn, but as “The Toy Tamer”.

Thanks to quite a lot of networking events I attended, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs I spoke with, and research on the internet, I found plenty of information about all the important aspects to keep in mind but interestingly also about the length. If you are not happy with your elevator pitch or even worse, you don’t have one yet, let’s read on and create our own.

What is an elevator pitch or elevator speech?

Before we dive into the “how”, let’s have a quick look at the “what”.  My version of an elevator pitch: It’s a short introduction of yourself, your project or your company with the intention to hook your listener, make them curious and wanting to learn more. Find some more detailed definitions below and use them as guideposts. But always remember: Brevity is king!

[…] It is a quick synopsis of your background and experience and credentials […]

The goal is simply to convey the overall concept or topic in an exciting way without any extra words.

The information should be condensed in order to express the most important ideas or concepts.

It should spark the listener’s interest in your idea, organization, or background.

It’s designed to get a conversation started.

It should be geared specifically to your audience.

Don’t use jargon. The only exception: when you speak with insiders or peers.

[…] the first two sentences […] are the most important and should grab the attention of the listener. 

How long should an elevator pitch be?

Researching this question online, I found recommendations that varied between seven seconds to two to three minutes. In my opinion, seven seconds seem a little too short, even considering todays often criticized short attention span of people. Thinking of an elevator ride, where the idea of an elevator pitch or speech originated from, I would aim for 30 seconds. A good rule of thumb is to have more than just one version and use them depending on the circumstances, your listener and the purpose of your conversation.

Independent of the time, the first two sentences are always the most important ones. You either make your listener’s eyes sparkle with interest or see them drift away. This is of course not always because you don’t have a good elevator pitch, it could simply mean you are not talking to the right person. But it should serve as a reminder that it pays off to find the right words and focus for your intro.

What should be included in an elevator pitch?

  1. Who you are you and what you do:
    This is kind of obvious, but I mention it anyway. In one sentence, state your name and a brief explanation of what you currently do. Don’t get hung up on titles, they don’t mean a lot, but what you do does.  
    Example:
    I’m a writer for the technical products division of company A.
  2. What distinguishes you from others and why does it matter?
    Think in terms of what you love about your work, what special skills you have, how you apply these skills, what difference you make in your company or in your customers’ lives. In short, it’s time to brag. If this is difficult for you, ask colleagues and/or friends. You may be surprised what they will tell you.
    Example:
    I translate complex technical specifications into easy-to-follow instructions that anyone can understand at home. I love being able to distill something complex and full of jargon into simple, clear steps and help people master technology.
  3. Who is your ideal client or customer?
    If you own a business or you work as a consultant, it is important to add who your ideal customer or client is. Questions like company type or organization, values, and size may be relevant for you. If you work with customers or clients one-on-one you may want to be clear about what matters to them, values, age, likes, dislikes, problems they face, etc.
    Let’s take a coach or consultant as example.
    I work with executives and leaders, facing problems arising among international teams.
    I work with leaders in corporations to build trust through better communications and help them reach better results.
    Expanding on the example of the tech writer mentioned above we may say:
    I focus on technical companies in the XYZ area….
    I love to work with technical startups….
  4. What do you want or what’s next?
    This part is often overlooked, telling the listener what you want. Are you in the market for a new job that offers you more challenges in your current field, do you intend to switch industries, are you looking for a more senior role in your or another company, would you like to present your services or products, have you heard about a problem you may be able to solve?
    Before you end your pitch or speech, don’t forget to state what you want and suggest the next step. This could be following up with some additional information, asking for the opportunity to present a product, sending your resume, … you name it. Here are some examples:
    As a freelance writer: Now I’m looking to branch out and do consulting work so I can apply this expertise to other companies and improve the understanding of their technology.
    As someone who sells products or services: If you’re interested, I’m happy to send you some information about my products/services.
    If you touched on some specifics during your elevator pitch offer to mail the information discussed or mentioned.

How to create your elevator pitch

Let’s move on to the next step. How do you determine the specifics, the buzzwords, the hook for your elevator pitch? It’s time to grab a pen and paper or get your computer and start brainstorming. For each of the four categories write everything down that comes to your mind. Yes, I said everything. Take your time, be as specific as possible, and most importantly, don’t censor yourself. There is no such thing as right or wrong.

After you’re done with your brain dump, it’s time to prune. What do you want the focus of your elevator pitch to be? What is the most important information someone else should know about you, your company, or your project? Use these questions to get to the core:   

  • What is your goal?
  • Who is your audience? (You may need more than one elevator pitch.)
  • Don’t use industry jargon (exception: if you’re talking with industry insiders).
  • Where are redundancies?
  • What makes you stand out in your field?
  • What special skills do you bring to the table?
  • What problems do you solve for your company/clients/customers?
  • What language do your customers/clients use?
  • Why is what you do so important?
  • What are your values?

I know it is difficult to delete stuff. We instantly get the feeling of missing out on something, losing a client, a customer, or a job opportunity. That’s why it is so important to be clear about the goal. The more specific you are, the more aligned you are with your values, the more you know about your customers/clients, the more relevant and better your elevator pitch will become.

If you’re like me, I come up with a ton of different versions. I recommend you write them all down and “play” with them. Mix them up, edit them, exchange words, until you find a version you like. I found changing the sentence structure or replacing a word can make all the difference. That’s why I always keep all the versions I created until I’m done.  

Ok, we’re not quite done yet. There is one more step I highly recommend you do. Practice, practice, practice. Before you use your elevator pitch or speech, record it, practice it on a friend or with your partner, and ask for feedback. You don’t want your elevator pitch to sound rehearsed or manufactured. In one post I read that you don’t want anyone to feel “networked.” Remember, the purpose of your elevator pitch is to get a conversation started, to make people curious about you, your company, service, or product. You name it. One blogger suggested to use a question as a conversation starter instead of starting with your pitch. The reason being that with this question you may get some crucial information to help you “customize” your pitch.

I’m not ready yet to post my elevator pitch. I started working on it but it’s still a work in progress. I promise I’ll share it so as soon as it’s done. How about you?

Feel free to add your thoughts and recommendations. Or even better, share yours so that we can learn from it.

Talk to you next time!
Regine

Dream Come True or Nightmare – Working from Home

For many the idea of working from home sounds like bliss. You get up in the morning, brush your teeth, put on a sweater and jeans (or stay in you PJs), grab a cup of coffee and bang, ready for work. No makeup or shaving, no dressing up, no stressful morning commute.

Before you say a wholehearted “hell yes, that’s for me! I’d love to work from home,” hold on for a sec. Have you ever given it some thought what the “perfect” work environment is for you? As tempting as it may appear, working from home has its challenges as well, and it very much depends on your personality and/or work situation if this dream is a dream come true or turns into a nightmare.

Join me on a little imaginary tour and have a look at some of the most common situations I’ve encountered or heard of to find out more and help you make the right decision.

The Detour Morning

You’re ready to start your day. You have your coffee and go straight to your computer and start planning your day… and out of the blue you realize you have to wash your gym clothes because you want to go to the gym later that day. You quickly get up, put your gym clothes in the washing machine, and while you’re at it, you also sort the rest of your laundry. It will be so much quicker to put it in the washing machine later, and it’ll only take a minute or two. 

You go back to work. Oh, where were you? Ahhh right, planning what you need to do today. You finish your list and are ready to get to work when you see today’s date. It’s Feb. 20th and your Mom’s birthday is coming up. Oh no! You wanted to get her that book she mentioned a couple of times. No big deal. You quickly go online and order the book. But stop, wasn’t there this book your friend mentioned the other day that you absolutely must read? What was the title? Something like…. You’re sure it won’t be difficult to find it, and off you go searching for it on Amazon. While searching you come across some very interesting titles. You quickly read their summaries and add them to your wish list.

Back to work. Darn, what was it that you wanted to do? It takes you a couple of seconds but finally you remember that you wanted to finish the copy for the newsletter and find some images for it.

By the time you start your day it’s not 7:00 am or 8:00 am, it’s already 10:00 am, maybe even later, and you may have wasted some of your most productive and creative time. Please don’t get hung up on the specific time. It could be any time of the day that is your best and most productive and creative time. It’s about getting distracted and taking a lot of detours before doing the work. It could be procrastination (more about that in a future post) or just plain lack of discipline.

I know, discipline is not a sexy word, but without it making progress will take much, much longer. Do you have what it takes to stay focused, even when the laundry or your conscience calls because you almost forgot your Mom’s birthday? A good policy I found is to plan for these interruptions. Set yourself a “focus time” for 45 minutes, an hour or an hour and a half. Whatever works best for you, and do the work. If a thought or idea comes up, have a piece of paper and a pen ready to jot it down and return to your work immediately for the remainder of your focus time. Then take a break. Wash your gym clothes, get that gift … and keep an eye on the time. You’ll be surprised how quickly ten minutes pass, especially on social media.

The Run-an-Errand Scenario:

Your spouse is at the office and sends you a text. She just remembered that she forgot to go grocery shopping. Unfortunately, she has to stay late and can’t possibly do it. Since you’re working from home, it surely isn’t a big deal for you to quickly run to the grocery store and get a few items for dinner.

Working from home does allow for a lot of freedom and flexibility, and running an errand may not be a big deal. Just make sure that your partner or spouse, or anybody else for that matter, don’t take it for granted or expect that you’re always available when they need you. You have to set boundaries and stay in control of your day. Remember, your work is equally important, and you may have to say no. You call the shots!

The Little-kids Scenario:

I found this to be the most challenging one. And as you can read, it’s based on my own experience. I have a room that is my dedicated office. Yes, I feel very fortunate and consider this an advantage. But – and I don’t write this lightly – I also have a son. Kids, no matter what age, don’t necessarily differentiate between you “being at home” and “working from home.” If something important happens in their lives, they want your attention, and they want it now. When they’re little they may need a hug, or someone to console them. When they’re older they may need to talk something over, help with their homework, or just tell you about the injustice at school, you name it.

There is no one-solution-fits-all to this type of interruption. At least I haven’t found it yet. It depends on your kids, their age and your type of work. With little kids I believe you have to take the time. If you try to rush them, you just prolong the situation. They instantly feel that you are not available to them, and that makes it even harder to console them. With older kids you can set rules. We only had a few, but these were non-negotiable. For example, when I was on the phone, no interruptions were permitted, except for emergencies. That worked pretty well. You could use a do-not-disturb sign or close the door. In that case, they’re not allowed to enter and/or disturb you. Plan your most difficult and important work when your kids are not around and reserve less intense work for times that may not be uninterrupted, and I’m not just talking about kids.

Let’s take a break here. There are a million other things that I could have mentioned: checking social media, getting something to eat, making a quick phone call… you name it.

The point I’m trying to make is, do you have the discipline not to fall for “quick” interruptions and detours? Can you resist the “call of your spouse” to go shopping? Can you arrange your day around your kids so that you can do the work you need to do? How about social media? It’s common knowledge that we greatly underestimate the time we spend on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.

Take some time and consider your situation, your personality, and your work environment. What works best for you? What is your ideal workplace? What gets your creative juices flowing? When do you focus best?

Tell me about how you dealt with some of the challenges while working from home or what made you decide to go to the office instead.

See you next time!
Regine