Focus in 2015

Quite by accident in December last year I found out about Susannah Conway’s Find Your Word mini-course via some planner addict friends and I found it to be a really helpful process to go through in terms of defining some personal goals for myself in 2015.

Focus in 2015

My word is FOCUS, there were other words that really appealed, including connect, and simplify but focus is what I need to get to and focus is not where I am right now. I also felt that this word was sufficiently action orientated to be encouraging – I will ask myself “am I focussing on being present in this moment?” “is my focus elsewhere or where it needs to be?” “how could I focus better on switching off?”

focus

Through counselling last year I’ve learned to expose myself to experiences I find uncomfortable and I also learned a lot about anxiety and how it holds me back. Managing anxiety takes focus and practice and this is increasingly becoming important to me as I have a lot less time to myself, and a lot less time to practice, now I’m back at work, working longer hours and nap times are a thing of the past.

I arrived at FOCUS after exploring my anxiety further last year. I learned that at its root, for me, is a desire to be productive, it’s in the quiet moments when I have nothing to do that I find a disquieting voice creeps in and I start to worry (hello ‘what ifs’ goodbye ‘calm collected’ self, if you will). I’ve learned a lot about managing this; if I step up my productivity I risk taking on too much and burning out, but if I listen to the disquieting voice, and just learn to let it be, paying it a low level of attention and moving on I find I start to enjoy life more and the noise in my head lulls again. So focus is a good starting point.

I am not a very focussed person, I flit from one thing to the next. I have lots of ideas, so many that I struggle to prioritise them, and I take too much on to fill the gaps. I’ve always done this, at primary school when the teacher gave out ‘jobs’ to do I’d always have my hand up, not just for the first job, that too, but also for anything that came later, I have an acute ‘fear of missing out’ and that can be disruptive; it’s where I lose hours to Pinterest or flitting between the open tabs of the desktop that is in my head, planning, thinking, being productive.

I’m sure I’m not alone in browsing pins for inspiration, but it’s more than that. It’s getting caught up in something and suddenly realising it’s 11pm and that book I’d been looking forward to reading hasn’t been read, I’ve distractedly binged on food I didn’t want or need and all that would be OK if I even enjoyed the browsing but there was just something driving me on, a compulsion, and one I have been working hard to get under control. I’m getting there, last week I sat for an hour and had a cuppa and just sat alone with my thoughts, not trying to collect them, but just let them be there.

So in 2014 I learned to control this to a degree, but in 2015 I need to start to focus myself further. In 2014 I achieved two big lifelong aims, I finished my Masters after many long years of part-time study, and I had a research report published that I feel really very proud of. In both cases I showed my ability to focus, but it was at a cost to other areas of my life where procrastination reigned supreme again.

I’ve started 2015 with a renewed energy, and took this focus into this weekend taking a trip to the beach despite the blustery weather.  We probably chose the coldest day of the year for it and were all blue after 15 minutes but man it blew away the cobwebs, it’s hard not to focus on the moment when your toes are freezing!

beach

The word ‘focus’ came to me when I was at my computer. I saw a photo on my desktop, a piccie of my darling girl in the sun, I was at work but wanted to reach out and hold her hand. I wanted to go back to that day, a day where I was really present in the moment and bring that presence into all aspects of my life, so that is why I now have a small card in my planner, and another on my computer screen with one short five letter word, I’m ready for the challenge, let’s see what FOCUS is all about in 2015.

beach1

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The flexible working request, making it work for you

As the self-proclaimed queen of flexible working I read Tuesday’s Guardian interview by Tanya Korobka with Tracey Eker of Flexiworkforce.com with interest. I totally agree with the writer that we need to turn the UK into a place which values productivity over presence. Flexible working rights have now been extended to all but it’s only a right to request and more traditional employers are likely to want to maintain the status quo.

The flexible working request

Found on blog.expertmarket.co.uk

Productive without being present?

Is bums on seats9 – 5 really what we should value when the world is increasingly a 24/7 workplace?  Even before children I brought a degree of flexibility into my working life; I know I do my best writing 10 – 2 from home, not from the office, and before Joss came along I was always a ‘later to work’ kinda gal enjoying extra time in bed and then working later.

As I’ve gotten older and become a mother I have realised I quite enjoy working an hour or two before colleagues arrive, starting earlier and sometimes finishing earlier too, then picking up between 8pm and 9:30pm when I tend to do my best idea generation.

At the moment I’m back to working 21 hours over three days, of course part-time working doesn’t equate to flexible working but I deliver those 21 hours in a range of ways, I currently need to be around during core-hours, but will occasionally balance an early finish with an earlier start the following day; I would prefer to be more flexible than this though.

Doing work differently

When I tell people this is how I work they generally assume it’s unhealthy to take work home for the evening, saying that 9-5 gives a work-life balance that my schedule doesn’t allow for. Or they’ll assume I’m not as productive, dipping in and out of work instead of having a solid 8 hour run at it.

I’d challenge both of these assumptions, firstly I am much more productive working the way I do because I thrive when busy – I’m ‘flexibly-busy’ to coin a phrase, and I don’t just work one desk-based job, I also volunteer, run a few networks and blog too, my ‘on-time’ is really varied and interesting which suits me.

As a researcher I have times in the cycle of my projects where I really immerse myself in the field I’m studying, it seeps into conversations with friends, I mull it over with my coffee – passionate much? You bet, I love this line of work and it’s totally appropriate that I work at it flexibly.

Don’t get me wrong, I do lament the 24/7 ‘at it’ culture, but flexible working doesn’t mean longer hours in the long run, it’s just that the hours I work are often delivered differently. The only downside to flexible working is knowing your limits, when you live a flexible life it’s easy to say yes to everything and to this end you need to plan your me-time with flexibility too, but isn’t that the beauty of flexible working?

The flexible working request

With compressed hours we can get an extra day back to ourselves, or that time with the kids in the morning, or after school; this kind of flexibility is good for our mental health and wellbeing too.

Trust is key

Of course Tracey was bang-on in her assessment of the key to flexible working; it absolutely requires trust, and bags of it. My employers get 110% from me, as I deliver on time, every time, should how I got there need to concern them?

In an ideal world I would work more flexibly still, why stop at compressed days or working from home? I suffer with seasonal affective disorder, I’ve blogged before about how I work better in the summer when the nights are lighter and I feel I have a reward at the end of a long day in the form of a walk with my family.

Extended family time in the sun slips away into a doldrumous and dreary winter though, and I’m not so productive, tend to need more frequent breaks and struggle with depression. Flexible working can combat the longer days and the well-known to business dip in productivity by allowing an hour or two off in the brighter afternoons for example.

Culture

Of course all of this requires a cultural shift; freeing people up to be judged on their results rather than valuing the time they put in better suits the creative and more connected ways in which many of us now prefer to work. Gen Y knows it can produce consistent results whilst working flexibly and enters the workplace looking for flexibility, a stronger work-life balance and wellbeing at work too.

I agreed with the writer’s opinion that it tends to be women who work more flexibly and it’s hard to find an acceptance of flexibility at the top. There’s a definite sense that employees want to work in new and different ways whilst management wants to maintain the status quo.

Sadly when flexible working laws came in, especially new laws to extend them to all workers, businesses talked about having to ‘brace themselves’ against requests rather than embracing new ways of working, reflective of our very male-dominant working structures.

Speaking to friends who have worked flexibly longer than I have they recall feeling excluded as meetings were booked in on their days off, or pressured to change their working arrangements, hardly the flexibility they were seeking, but their employers agreed to their new working terms inflexibly!

When employers lead by example, working shorter working weeks as some CEOs now do this leads to a happier workforce, we get the job done in less time, think sharper and leave feeling fulfilled looking forward to our down time.

The flexible working request, making it work for you

So you’ve made the flexible working request and it’s been accepted, now what?

  1. Keep a work pattern diary to work out where and when you do your best work, if like me you write better from the library with resources to hand, or from home, or prefer to make your telephone calls when the office is quiet before everyone else comes in work to these patterns, they are your strengths!
  2. Know when to switch off and try to have switched off periods during the day. I check my emails once every two hours on the hour so I don’t get disturbed by lots of auto updates, I also try to use technology to my advantage, so I can check emails on the go and be as responsive as I would be in the office.
  3. Keep talking to your manager and make sure that they see the results of flexible working, ask to review the arrangements during your supervisions too. You need to make sure they don’t think you’re opting out of anything by working flexibly
  4. If meetings are planned for your day off try to gently change these arrangements, don’t take it personally or feel overlooked but don’t apologise for your working arrangements either, try to arrange it so they’re organised when you are in the office, and try to get a working relationship going where you and colleagues can all be a bit more flexible about where and when you meet
  5. Be mindful, try to live in the now at work and at home, I’m still learning to do this, but it’s important to be where you are and not where you’re not, whether that’s at home, your other job, with the kids or your partner, it really does help with your work-life balance!

What about you? Do you have enough flex in your work life?

Mums' Days