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/

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.

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!

The Pursuit of Balance

There is always talk about the ever-elusive ‘work-life balance’ – who has it, who doesn’t.  All the articles on the Internet and the chatter on social media make it out to be a thing that is always just out of reach; like a balloon that you’ve let go of, but as hard as you try, you can’t jump high enough to get it back.

For the past year, I think I can safely say we’ve all struggled with finding balance, whatever form we wish that to take.  Very few people on the planet today have experienced a global pandemic, so you’re not alone!  So we’ve got that on our plates as well as its compounding ‘elusiveness’. No wonder we’re often feeling out of balance! 

I’ve learned two things:

1) We perceive ourselves to be ‘out of balance’ not because we can’t do it, but because the goal is constantly shifting and changing.  Priorities change minute by minute, quite often so fast that we don’t notice it and all of a sudden, we’re feeling out of balance again.

2) In these days of remote everything, the line between ‘work’ and ‘life’ is really, really blurred.  I mean REALLY blurred. Because our work space and our living space is now the in the same place, there is no transition time between leaving work and arriving at home.  We used to use that time in the car or on the bus to de-compress, shift to our personal selves and change our environment.  Now we just try to cope with whatever is in front of us at particular moment, whether it’s a personal task or a work task, we just deal with it.   In amongst all of that chaos, we’re told we need to find time for ourselves alone.

You are the answer.  You yourself are responsible for your well-being, all day, every day. Not your job, not your spouse, not your kids.  It starts and ends with you.  It follows then that you need to make yourself the priority, say ‘no’ sometimes and stick to boundaries so that you can be your best self for everyone and everything in your life. This is the center of being in balance. Makes sense, doesn’t it?!?

Many years ago, I made health and fitness my first priority for two reasons.  The first is that I came out of corporate physically and mentally fried, and the second is that starting a business meant that I was going to be in control of everything I do. Not my boss, not my spouse, me.

That in itself brings a sense of freedom; freedom to choose what to do with my time as the days stretch out before me.  I start each and every day in three realms: physical fitness (weights, cardio), mental fitness (brain games, reading) and reflection (journaling, meditation).  It’s what works for me; odds are that what fires up your day is totally different. My regimen starts my day off right, prepares me for the day ahead and gets all my systems firing.  I started off by scheduling this commitment in my calendar several years ago and I did it daily, without fail.  Now it’s my morning ritual; I don’t schedule it, I don’t even think about it, I do it automatically.  Total game changer.

If I was able to give you two hours of time every day to put yourself first, what would you do with that time?  Why not schedule it alongside the other time slots in your calendar, make it a priority and do something just for you?

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