The Value of Black Goo

I was in denial. My driveway needed re-sealing for quite a few years and I was really hoping the night fairies would come and do it for me. Alas, no. A couple of summers ago, I thought I’d do it myself: get the bucket of black goo and the roller from the DIY store and spend time in 35C heat rolling said black goo on  my 2 cars wide and 2 cars long driveway. I never quite got around to it. I’m not a procrastinator but somehow I always managed to justify my lack of dedication to this part of home ownership.

About a month ago, a young man from 2 streets away knocked on my door and told me that he had a new business re-sealing driveways for the summer. He was studying accounting at university and thought this type of business venture would help him in school. (Great idea!)

I asked him how much to do the job and he said $195 tax in. I had to think about it – that’s quite a bit of money just to roll out a bucketful of black goo. I looked at my dismal driveway and thought woefully how long I had been putting off the task. I called him back to say that I would take him up on his offer. We scheduled the work for the following day.

My hero came over close to supper time the next day and while I was preparing the meal, I checked in on the progress by periodically going back and forth between the kitchen and the living room. The first thing I saw was him power spraying all the weeds out from between the driveway and the curb. I didn’t even think of that. The next trip to the living room I saw him power spraying the entire surface of the driveway. I would have swept the driveway; I didn’t even think of power spraying it. Then he taped off the entire perimeter of the driveway so that no black goo would get on the lawn. After that, he manually filled in all the cracks and holes (there were many). Only then did he roll out the black goo.

By the time he finished, that $195 was the best money I ever spent for value of work. Not only did he save me the labour of doing that type of work in the summer’s heat, he also provided value because he knew what he was doing. He’s done a lot of driveways and has a level of expertise that I will never have (nor wish to have). Sure, I could have done it, but outsourcing this task yielded much better quality results and freed up my time. Now I have this task off my to-do list.

There is value in everything we do, both personally and professionally; our expertise in what we do daily provides value to others.   What do you need help with in your daily life?  In my view, it’s worthwhile seeking out resources to help you get things done, things that you don’t know how to do, or have no wish to learn how to do, and free up your time on what matters most to you.  Agree? Disagree?

The Good, the Not that Bad and the Manageable Side of Remote Work

If you’re one of those lucky workers out there who has found a place that suits you, whether it be in-office, remote or a hybrid of the two, congratulations! Having a place that you feel productive, content and comfortable can allow your talents to flourish and let you be your best is not always easy to accomplish.

I’ve operated my remote support agency for nearly 18 years.  It took me a while to get used to working from an office set up in my personal space.  I did eventually get used to a concept called ‘boundaries’ and now I wouldn’t work anywhere else.  I’m the most productive in a quiet environment with no distractions.  But that’s me; you will likely have a much different set of working environment needs than I do.  And that is totally okay.

Having to live with a global pandemic these past almost two years has forced everyone to re-examine how and where work is completed.  We’ve had to go that extra step and actually ask employees (rather than presume) what environment would help them be the most productive in their job.  We’ve had to cross the line between a person’s personal needs and their work needs, and instead of saying in the interview ‘this is what you’re required to do, when and where’, we now ask in the interview, ‘what environment are you able to provide these deliverables?’ In this article, let’s look at the good, the not so bad and the manageable side of being a remote worker.

The Good

Forcing everyone to work remotely, especially last year, has helped us learn more about ourselves and what working environment we thrive in; doing so has also shown us what working environment we do not thrive in.  This in itself is a great learning point and also shifts the relationship between employer and employee; just by asking what would help their employee get through their workday and by putting a telework agreement in place, tells the employee that their employer trusts them to complete their work, without being monitored. This alone can be a much-needed motivation boost. The remote worker may feel a sense of ownership and pride in their work knowing that they are in control, leading to a boost in productivity. Productivity can also result from the ability to work at a flexible schedule, taking advantage of more productive periods of the day rather than being in an office from 9 to 5 and being ‘on’ all the time.  More ‘points’ scored there!

Some remote workers find they have a better sense of well-being with no commute to provide an extra source of stress, eating home-made lunches instead of office take-out and perhaps taking some of the old commute time and turning it into a work-out or walk.  Even more points! 

The Not So Bad

If working remotely suits you, as with any job, you need to be prepared. This includes making sure you have the proper tools to be a productive, content and comfortable worker.  Working in a traditional office comes with many things that the worker is not responsible for providing, so it is important to understand what you will provide.  For example, you may have a desk and chair at home somewhere, high speed Internet and some software.  You need to ask what your employer will provide at their cost or pay you for, e.g. they may now reimburse your monthly Internet bill.

The Manageable

For all of these wonderful benefits of being a remote worker, there are some pitfalls that are important to address. While technology issues and a shortage of physical supplies or equipment may prove challenging, the solution for these is a simple fix, purchase or pick up from the office. However, there are some challenges that take a little bit more work and a little more effort to start some good remote worker habits.

 Managing procrastination, distraction and time are key to get you in the best situation to be successful. Yes, it is true that these are also needed in the traditional office, but these things are even more important when you’re working remotely. Working in a traditional office when distracted or under the curse of procrastination can be managed easily as there are other people around you still working which can give you that little extra push to get back on track, but when you’re alone this is more of a challenge.

Either way, creating work habits that are conducive to getting the job done but leaving it when the work-day is over is incredibly important in being a successful remote worker. Consider having a closed office, letting family and friends know your work schedule (a.k.a. those ‘boundaries’), and having a good pair of headphones to cut down on noise will all help.

It’s likely that the time between work and home have now blended together, so leaving the home tasks for after work and leaving the work when it is time to take care of personal tasks can help (and stick to it!). For more ideas on dealing with distraction, flex-jobs has a quick list of solutions.

For further insights, purchase my new e-book ‘Humans Working Remotely: Guiding Success for the Current Future’. It’s available to purchase here: https://virtualworks.ca/product/humans-working-remotely/

The Power of Time

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” – Anthony Robbins

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

These two great quotes are making the same point while coming from different directions; the authors are saying that our lives are in our own hands and that we should look at all the parts of our lives honestly and make conscious choices confidently so that we may benefit.

We have the power to change our lives by using what we already have inside ourselves: Tony Robbins knows that lack of self-confidence often holds us back; Ralph Waldo Emerson shows us that it’s what’s inside of us that counts more than the past and the future.

Even though they haven’t written books called “Time Management”, these authors teach us a lot about successful time management and successful life management.

The past 19 months have taught us that time can stand still, expand to fill how long it takes a task to be done, stretch out endlessly before us or reduce itself so small that there simply isn’t enough of it.  Yet, we all still have 24 hours in a day.

Another great quote is from David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done” and “Ready for Anything”. He gets right to the point when he says, “Time is just time, you can’t mismanage it. What that really means is that you mismanaged the agreement you had with yourself about what you should have accomplished.” He goes on to say that time management is really a complex issue of self-management where work needs to be captured, clarified, organized and reviewed in line with your purpose, values, vision, goals, and strategies. When these things are in line, you’ll feel good about how you’re managing time.

It’s really that simple.

Coping With Unexpected Change

It’s inevitable. Change will happen whether you are expecting it, or not, in your personal lives, in society and in the workplace. Generally speaking, when we expect a change, it is more manageable to deal with and depending on what it is, it can be a good thing. Unexpected change is the one that takes a little more effort to get through as it may require a re-adaption to processes, environments and people around us.

So, what are some things we can do to manage unexpected change? We can’t plan for it. Forbes Magazine touches on a few methods to deal with change in the workplace, such as preparation calming fears, letting go of perfection, and so on.

  • Take a look at the situation objectively, removing thoughts that these changes are directed toward you.
  • Think of the potential that can grow from this change. Think positively about the “surprise”.
  • Keep up to date those things that have not changed by continuing to take care of yourself and maintaining your routines.

When change happens, it might be wise to take a look at the entire situation from an objective standpoint. Instead of focusing on how this is affecting you as an individual, take a look at the big picture. Was it perhaps necessary from an organization standpoint for your workplace to change in order to keep up with a changing industry? Are there redundancies your employer is trying to work with? At times, we may look at changes at work and think “What did I do to deserve this?”, but in fact it may not have been something you did or didn’t do, but something that just happens in the course of running an enterprise. No, it is not pretty and sometimes human beings have to make difficult decisions.

Consider that the changes at work are an open door to something new. Although change may be scary and it may not always be easy to flip around a negative impression already established, it may be needed to help you move forward. The opportunity to grow can found by moving past fears you may have about the change to come and making a decision that this change is going to be good. Maybe there is an opportunity to learn a new skill within your job as a result of this change, or maybe the new skills can be learned in leaving this job for another one. Either way this can be an opportunity to further develop your skillset and knowledge. If you are leaving to find a new opportunity, what you have learned in this job can help you determine the things you like or may not like in going to the next job.

During a time of work change it is very important to keep up with personal care and maintaining your regular routines. You might think “Well I’m not going into work so why should I bother getting up early?” Maintaining your schedule and using the time that would have been at work doing something productive can help stave off negative feelings and allow you to keep a sense of consistency during a time that may be anything but consistent. Regardless of the situation, stay strong and forge on to a better path carved out for you by change.

Practicing Mindfulness

I started to reflect on the cause of why some days are more productive than others and landed on the concept of distractions; how one has a tendency of thinking back and thinking ahead.  Have you ever caught yourself worrying about the tasks that need to be done later in the day or tomorrow, whether this or that will turn out the way you hope or stressing over things that happened yesterday or last week?  I’ve found that the days where it is easier to get things done are the days where I am totally focused on the task at hand, in other words, I’m being in the present moment.

I can’t be the only one that has discovered this pattern, and this fits nicely with the term ‘mindfulness’.  It’s one of those things we hear so much about, but what does it mean to be mindful?  Some might think it is like meditating (that can happen as part of practicing mindfulness), or like forgetting about things (depends on what you are thinking about), but what it really means is to bring you to the present time and to be present and aware of what you are doing now, at this moment in time.

What is Mindfulness?

According to mindful.com, it is “…the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” That sounds simple but can be challenging in practice.

My colleague shared her own experience in trying to be mindful and said she lasted maybe two minutes before she became distracted.   She tried it as just a re-adjustment of her thought processes to try to concentrate on what she was doing and even tried it through meditation.  However, she didn’t give up.  She started slowly with one simple process, when she found herself becoming overwhelmed and distracted, she stopped everything she was doing for a moment.

At that moment she decided that she was going to fix this through her thought processes by taking note of what she was thinking about the moment she felt overwhelmed.  If it was something in the past or something not yet to take place, she stripped it away and thought to herself, “What am I doing right now?”  She would listen to her breathing, acknowledge where she was in her physical location and set her mind to the task at hand. Turning back to what she was trying to accomplish she would attempt to focus on that alone.

Now that’s not saying there haven’t been many times where she tried and still became distracted, but the key was not giving up.  Mindfulness is learning process and takes time and practice.

Why is it so important?

Some of the common benefits of practising mindfulness include:

  • reducing stress;
  • better sleep patterns;
  • weight management (maybe because we are thinking about what we are eating);
  • reduction in automatic negative thought processes;
  • assistance in managing anxiety and depression;
  • improved general health (physical and mental); and
  • improved concentration. 

Even therapists that suggest mindfulness to their clients have noticed a change in how they provide therapy by practicing it themselves.  As noted by the American Psychological Association in 2012, studies suggest that by practicing mindfulness, therapists not only benefit from the reduction of anxiety and depression but it is found to improve how they care for their clients through more empathy and compassion to their clients with improved skills in counselling.

There we have it!  I focused and this blog is now finished! One small victory!

If you’re seeking your one small victory, don’t give up and remember:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.  The mind is everything.  What we think, we become.” ― Buddha

TIME OUT!

Now that summer is here, some of us may head off to the beach or a cottage, some may be working in the heat of summer, while still others may be getting comfortable near a fan. As noted in the acrostic above, summer is an opportunity for us to do a few things to keep ourselves calm and relaxed as we unwind this summer.  And let’s face it, we deserve it after the year we’ve had!

Slowing the pace 

By taking the time to stop what we’re doing, or interrupt the daily cycle to listen, take a breath and live in the moment, even for just a minute, we can gain tremendous benefits such as lowering stress levels, lowering our heart rate and improving our mood and psychological engagement.   Lifehack.com has a list of ways to slow down in a fast-paced world.

Unwinding and unplugging

Try going a day (or longer) with no technology, explore the magic of un-plugging. That means no phone, no television, no media of any kind.  Instead, why not try taking a relaxing bath, read a good book (preferably made of an ancient fiber called ‘paper’), playing music or painting, or any other activity one would consider “old school”.  By taking note of how you feel at the end of the day or more with no technology and note if you had an unwound day without it. Getting in touch with some of the old ways of doing things can make a difference in one’s day and it can actually help you feel mentally refreshed.  A colleague mentioned when she needs to unwind, she bakes some bread but doesn’t use machines to make it.  Just a bowl, spoon and her two hands.  She swears by it as a stress reliever.  Personally, I knit dog sweaters throughout the year – it’s very meditative and I find I process information and solve problems while the needles are clicking away…

Meaningful time for us

Don’t feel guilty about taking some much-needed quality or meaningful time out just for you. How we define that time may be different for everyone.  Perhaps it means to be alone to collect your thoughts without interruption, or it may mean making time for family and friends.  Just remember to not feel guilty about taking that time back but if you need some convincing on why it is important to take the time for yourself, Psychology Today runs through a few reasons to not feel guilty about solitary time for you and Time.com talks about the importance of meaningful time with those around us (socially distanced, of course). 

Motivation to move

So far, we have talked about slowing down, unplugging, unwinding and taking time for ourselves.  This all sounds pretty relaxing, but what about the importance of getting up and moving?  While this almost feels counter-intuitive to the strategy of relaxing, exercise can make that relaxation all the more impactful by adjusting our body chemistry to reduce stress and boost mood, allowing us to better make use of our previously discussed methods for relaxation, as mentioned in Harvard Health. Alternatively, if the heat has got you down, taking a dip in the nearest pool or lake is another great way to stay in shape.

Explore our environment

While you’re getting up to exercise, why not take it outside. It’s summer after all!  This gives you a wonderful opportunity to mindfully take in nature within your neighbourhood, or local trails.  In our busy days, we don’t always get to take in the beauty of our environment.

Remain relaxed

Finally, some days just feel like chaos rests at the top of our minds. This is the perfect chance to try some meditation exercises (check out the ‘Calm’ app) to quiet the chaos, reduce stress and bring us back to that place where we can once again enjoy a slower pace by unwinding and making our summer a meaningful one. 

Have a wonderful summer everyone!