Last week I dropped my Smartphone. It smashed and wouldn’t function. Panic! How does one do without? Doesn’t everyone these days expect to be receiving and answering not only phone calls but also texts and emails immediately?
The store lent me a phone and said it would take up to 2 weeks to fix. TWO weeks I asked in horror? But I had no option but to accept the temporary phone they lent me in its place. An old fashioned phone with buttons that you have to press several times to get the letters you want. No email, no internet. I prepared myself for a very difficult time.
After a day I noticed I was more relaxed. I was finding life easier. Thinking more clearly. That instead of having that terrible ‘fidget factor’ of checking for emails every minute or two (and running a business means there are always new emails to attend to) I was actually feeling calm. I was able to concentrate on what I was doing, whether at work or with my family, without being half-in and half-out of presence.
Checking my email two or three times a day instead of every few minutes was not a disaster but a bonus. And I have come to realize that I had got just as caught into the addictive habit of email-checking that I advise others against – physician heal thyself, as they say!
Recently the boss of Swisscom, the Swiss telecoms company, who died this week, commented that today’s increasingly 24-hour business culture was dangerous because it has the capacity to drop people into permanent activity. ”When you permanently check your smartphone to see if there are any new emails it leads to you not finding any rest whatsoever.”
I picked up my newly mended smartphone this morning. I shall remember to discipline myself to have breaks so as to allow my mind the rest, refreshment and space it needs to reflect and generate creative thoughts. If the brain works in hyperactivity 24/7 you will never be able to access the wisdom and intuition that is held within it. Breaks are productive.
Mike Farrar, the Chief Exec of the NHS Confederation, spoke of the need to recruit on values as well as skills when it comes to nurses and medical staff who have responsibilities for patients. It surprises me that this has not been an integral part of recruitment in the past in view of the sensitivity of the tasks such staff undertake each day. He also mentioned that he felt staff needed to feel empowered rather than inspected, and that those staff who felt valued and empowered tended to also give greater quality of care and compassion at the bedside. Again, this is wise but also something one would have imagined was already an integral part of leadership in such an environment. But obviously not ..!
When making decisions about how to act, ethics and principles need to be at the core of leadership. It is a hard path to tread, sometimes, but when values are neglected a whole organisation can go off-course, as we have seen with Mid-Staffs hospital.
The tragic stories of neglect, verging on downright cruelty, that are emerging from the Staffordshire Hospital enquiry are a lesson for us all to consider. This is not only a time for pointing fingers at others; it is surely a time for each one of us, as well as those involved, to stop and hold a mirror up to ourselves. For what has happened at this hospital is a reflection of our society as a whole. Relatives, doctors, nurses, managers, consultants, cleaners and suppliers were visiting those wards and yet took inadequate steps to call a halt to practices that were endangering lives.
So we each need to examine our own part in what appears to be an approach that lacks either thought or compassion. Ask yourself, what you might have done in such circumstances where you saw others callously neglecting their humanitarian as well as their professional duties? What would have led you to cast your eyes away from suffering and not take action? Where, in your own lives, have you chosen on some level to ignore the suffering of another, or not acted on something that you knew should have been acted on? I suspect most of us have the odd regret on this score.
If you read Margaret Heffernan’s excellent book Wilful Blindness (and I encourage you to do so – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wilful-Blindness-Ignore-Obvious-Peril/dp/1847399053 ) you will read of many instances where people have disregarded the signs of wrongdoing. You will also learn that we justify and rationalize our actions for a variety of reasons, including hating to be the ‘odd one out’; or wanting to think of ourselves as a ‘good person’ and therefore being unable to face up to the fact that we are associated with something immoral; or because we find rocking the boat too difficult.
It seems clear to me that we need to help people to open up their eyes and think. We cannot take it for granted that school education provides students with the analytical, reflective skills that enable people to stop and consider (1) what is happening (2) what they think intellectually or feel emotionally and ethically about the situation (3) what action they feel they wish to take (4) – and here is the nub – if they take that action or non-action then what …?
It is this systematic question of impact and consequence that seems to be missing at Stafford but also in some of the target-focused tick-box methods one encounters in large public and private organisations. For example, “if I put this tray of food on a trolley out of reach of a patient then what will happen?” Or “if I don’t change a patient’s sheets then what will happen?” Or in business “if I promise to do something but don’t do it then what will happen?” “If I turn up at a meeting disgruntled and choose just to be negative then what …”?
We all have an impact on events and on other people by what we say or don’t say, by what we do or don’t do, and by the physical and emotional energy we bring into a room. We have a responsibility to be accountable for our actions. If we are to create a more thoughtful, proactive and compassionate society it takes each and every one of us to consider how best we can act and contribute to make this happen.
Here in the UK we are are entering the season of parties, over-eating and drinking. Or perhaps that’s just me! But what we probably all really need as we enter these dark winter months is to refresh ourselves both mentally and physically. But this won’t happen by itself – it will take planning, otherwise we will find that we end up more rather than less exhausted by the time we return to work at the end of this seasonal break.
Something that has become clear to me in the latter part of this year is how many of my clients are exhausted by the psychological intensity of working in this technological age, where there is no real boundary between work and leisure. People go on holiday, or home for the weekend but the emails keep coming in and the mind therefore never rests. The impact of this is fatigue, resulting in physical tiredness and also in a sluggish -or overactive – mind. Sometimes this leads to outbursts of anger, sometimes to insomnia and sometimes to illness. It isn’t an effective way of living or working.
A study way back in 1908 showed that reducing the working day from 9 to 8 hours actually increased output. Henry Ford reached the same conclusion, as did Proctor & Gamble in 1980. If professionals sitting at computers were monitored by Health and Safety they would no doubt be advised that the human mind cannot function at peak performance for long periods of time without loss of higher-intellectual processing. All work and no play doesn’t just make Jack a dull boy, it also makes him a pretty stupid one who is more likely to make mistakes than someone who has sharpened their thinking with a rest. A tired worker tends to perform like an unskilled worker – and that isn’t good for business.
Fatigue specifically impacts the processing of visual information and numbers. This has relevance to many people looking at screens doing their annual budgets and tax returns! Long hours accompanied by continuing work at home, or entertaining clients, can lead to sleep deprivation, which a Professor at Harvard Medical School has argued is ‘dangerous’. The energy needed to discriminate, solve problems, and make good critical judgements is switched to the challenge of staying awake. It doesn’t make sense for the organisation or the individual.
So, how will you make sure that you do find real downtime over this seasonal break? Personally I have found that over the 20 years of running Positiveworks I solve all my best problems when I am away from my desk, looking out to sea or walking in nature. Turning off my mobile and email frees my mind to think more creatively, grasp broader concepts and tap into intuition. When I am tired I can’t access the solutions or ideas I need to take my thinking to the next level. So give yourself permission to switch off when you can because neither you nor your business benefit from you being exhausted. Set yourself times where you release thought of the workload and allow your mind to wander peacefully, your body to relax. Have fun – I have no doubt that you KNOW this stuff but the question is how will you make sure you actually DO it??! All good wishes and Happy Christmas from me and all at Positiveworks.
How often do you get to relax and allow your mind and body to recover from thinking about work and chores? We live in a busy and complex world and it is easy to forget to enjoy the simple things of life or make time for hobbies. In simple activities such as sitting reading or listening to music, drawing, walking in the park or countryside you create a sanctuary, a protective wall where the realities of the outside world are kept at bay for a short time and you can refresh your energy and forget the bills.
When I look back on my life and childhood I realize that the times I treasured were those spent by the fireside with my parents or siblings, playing board games or reading books together. It wasn’t grand holidays or treats to theme parks (I don’t think there were any!). We only had one holiday abroad but wonderful holidays in the garden and an annual trip to the Broads. Food was simple, as were clothes, but we were happy.
Today people have high aspirations and can believe that it is the expensive gadgets, homes or holidays that will make them and their family happy. Perhaps you might find more fun on your doorstep? What is it that you enjoy doing that helps you relax and feel able to face the world?
It takes planning to make time for relaxation, otherwise life becomes a continuous stream of things you ‘have to’ do rather than things you ‘enjoy’ doing. I am aware from my clients and friends how difficult people find it to sit quietly, to read, to go for a walk or listen to music without the interruption of a mobile phone or BlackBerry to disturb the peace. Technology has become a ‘fidget’ and it is easy to find yourself fiddling with your smartphone every few minutes, or tuning in to a call, text or email in the middle of a conversation instead of being fully engaged with those with whom you are spending time. I find that many people are half-in half-out of situations, their body in one place but their mind in several different places. You can find a greater quality of experience when your mind and body are in the same place.
We travel this fine line where we strive to protect the precious aspects of our life within the onslaught of demands from outside and endless ‘doom and gloom’ broadcasts from the media about the economy. But if you don’t take time to relax and refresh you will find it harder to manage the ups and downs of life with equilibrium. The delayed or cancelled train, the irritating buzz of your neighbour’s Ipod on the tube, colleagues who don’t do what they say they are going to do, or noisily crunch onion crisps at the desk next door, the boss who never says thankyou or well done will all become more stressful and difficult to manage. Your body needs quiet times to re-balance and stay healthy, your mind to find peace.
Identify what it takes for you to relax and refresh yourself and put it in the diary. Plan your evenings so that you do one or two things that you really enjoy rather than just collapsing in front of the TV. Plan your weekends so that you play a game, paint a picture, go for a bike ride, take some exercise and do those things that energise you and those you love. Don’t allow the weekend to be endless chores so that you find on Sunday night that all you have done is go to Tesco or Ikea! Make time for downtime a priority. What will you do this week to refresh yourself? You can see some more tips here http://www.positiveworks.com/newsoffers/stresstips.htm .
It’s the Budget today and as yet none of us know what might happen. Something I feel strongly about is the need for each of us to think carefully about the choices we make in both work and personal budgeting. In running my own business I notice every small expense and question it – one taxi ride may make life easier but eats into my profit. But I see individuals in both the public and private sector wasting both time and money without thought because the budget is coming from their organisation’s coffers, not from their own pocket.
Dan Ariely has written a fascinating book Predictably Irrational which demonstrates how people will take stock from a company’s stationery cupboard but would not remove physical bank notes. They don’t consider the first to be stealing but they do consider the second to be theft. My point is that each of us needs to consider carefully how we spend each penny and, indeed, whether it is ours to spend. There is always a consequence and rash spending or waste can bring down a country or bring down a company.
The Tax Department and the Ministry of Defence, among others, have apparently lost considerable sums of taxpayer’s money through incompetence or through badly thought-out procurement contracts which have landed the country with millions of pounds worth of uncollected tax and contracts for helicopters that won’t fly in cloud. I am also aware that there have been profitable contracts for management consultants within the NHS and other government departments. Were this their own business, their own money, would they have paid out these sums with such alacrity or would they have considered more carefully whether they have the knowledge and expertise to do the work internally?
When Jamie Dimond came in to JP Morgan, the investment bank, he introduced the concept of fortress accounting – ensuring that every penny spent was well considered. The story is that he went up the street outside their New York headquarters tapping on the windows of all the taxis and chauffeur-driven cars waiting outside, asking them for whom they were waiting and then checking whether each journey was essential to business need. As with taxpayer’s money, people in large organisations can lose touch with expenditure when it is not coming out of their own pocket and need to be reminded that combined spending by many individuals can bring an organisation down. Just as over-spending or waste in the public-sector can result in massive deficits.
It is self-defeating to try to label one sector the angels and the other the devils. What can be helpful to make the UK economy grow is for each of us to consider the daily small choices we make with expenditure so that other people’s money is not wasted. At the same time as money needs to flow to make an economy prosper, if we do have the budget then we can enjoy spending what is ours to spend!
The birds in my garden don’t listen to the news
can’t know of Assad’s brutality
or of families struggling in poverty
their exuberance counters John Humphrey’s bombast
the midges floating in spring scent disregard Ahmadinejad
or Israel’s threat of nuclear holocaust
the buds burst forth despite the Greek debt
the leaves hiphop to the wind’s gentle tune
drowning out the Dawkins’ rant
with the oblivious chatter of resurgence.
March 2011 – enjoy these spring days!
I’d just like you to stop and think a moment… if you are a woman do you feel you always respond as your husband, partner, colleague, brother or son might respond to a situation? If you are a man do you think and respond like a woman? Or are you aware of some differences of perspective?
We may talk in a spectrum of stereotypical thinking, which may now be outdated. However, when one asks young or old professionals what their grandmothers told them you often find that those stereotypical beliefs and messages live on in today’s behaviour. Equally most people in relationships, whether work or personal, do often comment that they respond differently to their colleagues of the opposite gender. Not always, but often.
What does this mean? It is an asset not a problem. We are more likely to solve the world’s challenges with an equal distribution of male-female experience and creativity than with only 50% of the population making decisions, as is now generally the case. Surely all governments, organisations and teams (whether family team or business team) can benefit from the diversity of approach and response that is gained from mixed viewpoints. See also http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/comment/comment/women-in-boardrooms-make-for-better-businesses-7543254.html. A woman has a different experience of life because she has a physically different body and also because of how others respond to her, just as does a man. This results in diverse perspectives, ideas and solutions to problems. The brain and emotional responses are also stimulated and shaped by differing hormones. Testosterone causes different behaviours to oestrogen.
So let’s take action to move towards a world where men and women share power at the top of business and at the top of government. Surely this has the potential to result in a more balanced view to shape the crucial decisions taken on our behalf.
You may have seen the Horizon programme about The Truth about Exercise which featured Dr Michael Mosley investigating various proven theories about exercise and its health benefits. The clearest message that came through to me was that sitting in a chair with little walking exercise each day kills you. Gradually your body will deteriorate and the chemical balance destabilises.
Many of my clients have very sedentary jobs working within large organisations. Despite my own and other people’s efforts to encourage managers to support daily exercise and help their staff to take frequent breaks there is still a depressing amount of sedentary presenteeism occurring in the workplace. Perhaps noone has fully understood how sitting in a chair kills us?
One or two of my more enlightened client organisations encourage their staff to take breaks every hour, set up rota systems whereby people can move away from their desks to walk around or go to the gym, exhort staff to stop for a proper lunch rather than munching sandwiches over their laptop. Not only is this kind of practice better for health – and especially long-term health – but it is also better for creative thinking and clarity of thought around decision-making. Most people gain their best ideas away from their desk so why be chained to the least creative area of your life for the major part of the day?
What could you do today to ensure you get a good 60-90 minutes of walking? It is proven to reduce your likelihood of diabetes and long-term health problems so it must be worth it. As they say – YOU must be worth it!
I was an anxious child and one of my problems was that I heard noises at night, making me think that our house was under attack. My mother would assure me that all was quiet in our house in the middle of the countryside but inside my head I could hear armies of marauding people stomping through the house. Thinking about this now I realize that I was probably experiencing tinnitus which is a condition where people hear sounds in their ears. It is exacerbated by stress and anxiety.
My mother was patient with me, reassuring me. She took me by my hand through the house to demonstrate that we were not under attack and that there was no-one in the house other than our family. This was sensible as when one is anxious it is easy to create imaginary scenes that fuel the anxiety – in my case the sounds in my head attached themselves to images of our home being under attack. None of this was actually happening so watch where your imagination takes you!
There were two actions my mother helped me to take that are still useful to my clients today – 1. checking reality and staying in the present. Anxiety usually results from our creating imaginary scenarios in our head of all the things that could go wrong. These scenes may never happen so one is only making oneself anxious as a result of an over-active imagination.
2. focusing on something other than the sounds in my ears such as putting on some music, or repeating another sound, or repeating a mantra or positive phrase.
Both of these are basically helping you to stay in the present and focus on the positive through controlling the focus of your mind and senses. I hope these tips may help any of you reading this who experience these problems.