Take five for a work-from-home headspace

583C213F-EDB1-469A-8A10-099B52C8F9C8Getting into a home-office headspace isn’t easy at the best of times. Making the readjustment when COVID-19 is dictating how we live, socialise and work is a real challenge.

Before taking on a full-time role two years ago, I spent 15 years working on major projects, both from home and client offices. Distractions, I’ve had a few. Especially during school holidays, when our five blended (and stir-crazy) young children created full-on havoc.

Along the way, I’ve picked up a few useful tips that might help your transition and improve your home-work productivity. It’s worth a shot, right?

  1. Turn up at the desk, preferably not in your pyjamas. I once heard about a woman who’d get into her corporate wear and walk around the block with her briefcase as if she was going to a workplace. Okay, we’re in lockdown and a skirt and heels don’t count as exercise wear. You could also be mistaken for an end-of-the-world salvation salesperson, but you get the point. Getting dressed, making your coffee or tea, and turning up at the desk sends signals to your brain that it’s work as usual – and that means being outcomes-focused not just checking in.
  2. Switch off for a productivity hit– obsessively checking your emails and social media is just going consume your brain and your day.

Emails: schedule in times for checking and responding, and stick to it. Turn off your email notifications and consider setting up an auto-responder so people will know they’re not going to hear from you straight away – and to call you if it’s super urgent. You might be surprised that most people are okay without an instant response.

Social mediawrestle that FOMO beast to the ground and have designated social media blackout times. Since 95% of posts are COVID-related, you won’t be missing much – except the anxiety spikes.

  1. Make a plan – On Fridays, write your plan for the following week. This helps to keep you on track and motivated, and there’s something satisfying about ticking things off as you go. Disclaimer: be realistic. Don’t put 30 things on the list if you can only achieve five.
  2. Forget multi-tasking – it really doesn’t work and, in the home office, it’s a disaster. You’ll get to the end of the day and not have a clue what you’ve done. So check your weekly plan, pick a priority task and block off the time to do it, then dive in and work on that concentration muscle (which will only get stronger).
  3. Keep active and connected – don’t skip your lunchtime chat, walk, crossword or whatever it is you do to break up your usual day at work. And don’t give up those Friday afternoon wine-downs over Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Houseparty or whatever your favourite platform is. Taking care of your physical and emotional wellbeing is always important – and it’s absolutely vital in these challenging and isolating times!

If the idea of switching off or writing a weekly plan makes you break out in a cold sweat, start small and build up to it, just like you would if you were learning to run. It takes two weeks to form a habit apparently – which is good because we might be in the home office for a while yet. So #stayhome, stay well and be productive. We can do this!

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Email etiquette… lest we forget

iStock_000008146908MediumWhen email was a new thing, there were a lot of etiquette tips flying around as we all learnt (sometimes the hard way) about communicating sans body language. These days, we’ve all got it worked out, right?

If a recent email ‘conversation’ about a touchy family issue has taught me anything, it’s that some of us still don’t get it. And even if we do, it’s good to be reminded…

Keep it simple

Concise, clear, need-to-know – that’s the key to any communication. How many emails have you received where the vital information is buried in shovel loads of unnecessary stuff? So don’t hit send until you’ve read through and edited your email.

Stay cool

Email ‘yelling’ is a very uncool. You probably wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) do it to the person’s face. So LOSE THE CAPITALS,  inflammatory coloured fonts, and (a new one) long paragraphs in bold italics. 

Rapid response

Responding promptly to emails shows respect. Even a quick ‘I’m onto it’ or ‘got it, thanks’  let’s the sender know you’re following up or you received their email or attachment. The alternative is a ‘blank look’ and nobody likes to be ignored.

To CC or not to CC

Keeping people ‘in the loop’ is great if it’s really necessary. But you risk  desensitising them if you go crazy with the CC option – and they may overlook an important direct email from you later.

Nothing to hide

Consider why you’re blind copying someone into an email. There’s a difference between hiding something, and protecting someone’s privacy (such as sending to email lists). A good rule of thumb: if you can’t openly copy someone in on an email, don’t copy them in at all.

Last in, first out

Always respond to the last email in the conversation first, because the older stuff may have already been sorted. But do skim over the email trail before asking a question that may already be covered.

Talk to me

If we use it well, email is a convenient and fast way of communicating in our busy lives. But don’t give up on that quick call or a face-to-face chat, which will often get things sorted faster than a bunch of emails back and forth. It’s how we used to roll, back in the pre-email days…

Is your in-tray overflowing?

FullSizeRenderMy friend and I were talking this week about how overwhelmed we feel with everything we have to do – and how it’s pretty impossible to get to the bottom of the ‘intray’ (of our lives, not the overflowing one on the desk), because stuff just keeps piling up.

It got me thinking – what’s the intray on your desk for?

All my working life (which feels like forever), I’ve tried to use my intray for something other than the launch-pad to the rubbish bin; the place I put stuff I can’t get to right now (and clearly never will); the thing I ruthlessly clean out every six months.

It’s surprising what I find in my intray. Things that were so urgent three months ago have somehow been resolved without fuss.

Articles I just had to read, that don’t catch my interest anymore. The business card someone pressed upon me at some event, before launching into a ten minute description of all the ways they could make my life better and my business more profitable. Conferences I forgot to go to. A timesheet I’d misplaced (in my intray?). And so much more. All tossed away without guilt…

Like the stuff you have to do in your life that you never get to, the intray kind-of hovers in your peripheral vision and occasionally sends you on a quick guilt trip.

The truth is,  when I die, my in-tray will be full. It’ll be crammed with all the to-do stuff that I never got to – because I’d rather be doing something else. Anything involving fun actually.

So I’m working on developing an immunity to the intray of my life – like the one I have to the overflowing, red faux-leather thing on my desk.

I’m going to do what I’ve got to do to survive (and thrive) and everything else is going where it belongs. In the bin. Wish me luck.

You are a project

I can’t remember a time when I felt I was okay just as I am – at least, not without a few tweaks here and there. I’m guessing I’m not alone in thinking like that. We are who we are, but most of us aren’t particularly satisfied with that – and we let it hold us back.

We think we’ll be okay once we lose weight, or get a better job, find a partner, have a baby, get published, get famous, win lotto… The problem is, like getting cosmetic surgery, we’ll wake up and be looking at the world through the same eyes. And we’ll be looking for our next fix.

But what if we took a different approach? What if we said – hey, this is what I am. Now how can I work with that? And I’m talking about working with our flaws, instead of against them.

Because if all we focus on is the bad stuff – the things we’re not – the less we’re going to get out and give things a go. The less we’re going to put ourselves out there… until we’re all fixed and perfect.

Think about a civil engineering team who have the task of building a road from A to B. Except between those two points are a mountain, a river and a floodplain… and lots of other hard stuff to contend with.

What do they do? Do they say… oh, there’s a mountain there, and that floodplain isn’t great. Let’s not bother. No, they sit down and identify all the issues – the realities. Then they find a way to work within those parameters, and figure out what they can do differently or better so they get that road built.

And when it comes to who we are, I reckon we have to do the same thing. Work in our strengths. Work on our weaknesses. Not throw up our hands and say I’m just not good enough, or pretty enough, or funny enough, or fit / wealthy / intelligent / creative / tall / young enough…

So face your life like you’d face a project. Work out exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are. Then ask: how can I work with what I am to get where I want to be? And when you’re on the way, and your confidence is building, start working on your weaknesses.

Because if you wait until you’re ‘just right’, life will have whooshed past you – faster than you’ve ever imagined.

And hey, if we all put ourselves out there, we’ll be among friends, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Okay, I’d love to hang around chatting all day. But I’ve got project work to do!

ciao for now

Lou

P.S. Take a look at incredible paralympians like Chinese amputee He Junquan, cyclist Barbara Buchan, and so many others. And when you think you can’t do something, think about a man with no arms who became an elite swimmer… now that’s inspiring.


We are all a ‘work in progress’. This post was originally published in our blog, the art of moi, in 2009. And the project continues… 

Pitch (im)perfect revisited

I wrote the blog post below four years ago, after a particularly harrowing experience doing a pitch in a workshop. I didn’t realise how this affected me until this week, when I did some public speaking for the first time since then.

I wasn’t particularly nervous about getting up, just wanted to avoid putting myself out there at all costs. But it was for a close friend and colleague, so up I got and it was actually fun! Most importantly, the next day I realised I was free again. So don’t let yourself be bumped off your path. Or if you are, get back onto it, then put your hands in the air, Rocky-style, and say… I’m back!

What happens when you put yourself – and your ‘baby’ (non-fiction book idea, fiction manuscript, idea for a tv series or screenplay, whatever it is) – out there, and not only does your pitch fail, but you get the distinct impression you should really crawl back in your hole and stay there? It happened to me this week – and, not surprisingly for a sensitive creative type (read neurotic!), it really knocked me around.

All the crappy things in your head come up – things about self-worth, past failures (somehow your successes diminish at a rapid rate) and whether you should give up now, because rejection really hurts (ouch!).

So, after a quiet meltdown, I realised some ‘deconstruction’ was needed! I’d written a blog recently: The Upside of Failure, so I decided to take my own advice. And I know my writerly readers out there will relate to this, because we have to risk exposure and rejection in order to reach for that elusive publication dream. Here’s the lessons I took out of my failure:

  1. Hold things lightly. Don’t wrap up your entire self worth with the outcome. Because it may just be that you don’t appeal to that person’s area of interest or taste.
  2. Take risks – but take the risks that involve reaching for your dream, not the risks that are about things you don’t care enough about, don’t really want to do, and aren’t worth wasting your precious energy on (like thinking you need to go for a particular job to be seen as successful, even if you know you’d absolutely hate it!)
  3. Before you give up – work out whether you’re just going through a dip (so it’s worth sticking at it) or whether you’re actually on the wrong track and headed for a dead end (Seth Godin’s The Dip is a must read…)
  4. Work on the things you can change, but hang onto the things that are essential to who you are (aka authentically you). Don’t changeyou to fit anyone’s mould or idea of success.
  5. Take lessons from failures, then let them go (the failures, not the lessons)
  6. Last but not least: stop doing what what you do (paint, write, create) just to get a result (like publication or money). Create from the heart. Do it because you love to do it and it’s vital to your wellbeing. Love the process, and you are already a success… the money and recognition will be a (nice) bonus.

And remember, some people are just plain rude. Their ignorance is a reflection on them, not you. If all else fails, crank up Alanis Morrissette’s I see right through you and sing your heart out. You’re not the first one to feel these things, and you won’t be the last. It’s what you do with how you feel that matters.

So power up your dreams and go for it… I know I am.

This was originally posted on the art of moi in October 2011

 

 

Is it time to change your act?

copyright: Louise RalphI was playing charades with some friends recently (okay, some of us never grow up). Apart from us all rolling around in fits of hysteria, it was an interesting insight into human nature.

Someone would get up to perform their charade and, after the usual ‘third word, two syllables’ mime routine, they’d launch into vigorous actions, most of which nobody could decipher.

They might be acting out the Sound of Music, but we’d be convinced they were channeling the Karate Kid while washing their car.

But instead of changing their actions, they would keep repeating the same thing…over and over again. As they became increasingly frustrated, those same actions just got more expansive and frantic.

By the time they’d dropped to the floor in exhaustion, we were convinced they were trying to be a wide-mouth frog washing an elephant.

It made me think about how we communicate – in business and in our personal lives. When was the last time you paused and actually checked the way you communicate? Is it working, or are you going through the motions, getting increasingly frustrated because you’re not ‘being heard’?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Evaluating communication takes time and effort, but it is vital if you want to get a return on your (financial, emotional or physical) investment.

Now is a great time to look at what works and what doesn’t – and take a fresh approach to your communication in the new year.

But I have to go now. I’ve just been asked to act out ‘photosynthesis’. Tip: Avoid playing charades with scientists or children.


“The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”

George Bernard Shaw


Another dragonfly flashback: First published in The Buzz, our e-newsletter (2006).

Are you getting your message out there or in there?

What’s your approach to communication? 

If your communication plan is focused on getting your message ‘out there’, you’re not alone. It’s easy to gather ‘hit’ stats these days, so we’re starting to believe a hit equals being heard.

We even measure media campaign success rates by the number of centimetres a story got in the newspaper, divided by something to do with ad $$$, times the… What’s that about?

It’s time to take the road less travelled when it comes to communication… and think about how to get our messages ‘in there’. Because (to really mix metaphors) using communication tools as a battering ram isn’t a good look.

And keeping ‘at it’ won’t make an impact, especially if what we’re doing is telling people what we want them to know.

Photo: freeimages.co.uk

Photo: freeimages.co.uk

Why isn’t anyone listening?
T
he trouble with communication is that people aren’t computers. We can’t put data in and expect a certain result. The way people behave, what they need, and why they ‘buy’ are more complex than the connections on our motherboards.

So if we want to do more than just get our messages out there, we have to take a good look at the market, who our clients and customers are, what they’re buying, and why.

Who are you talking to?
Think about Richard Branson’s fresh approach to promoting and running his airline. He succeeded where other ‘budget’ airlines had failed. Why? Because he knew exactly who he was talking to. And it wasn’t business class fliers.

Virgin was all about getting more average income earners in the air. And it started with a client-focused approach to communication.

What’s in it for me?
What will your product or service do for your client? Think benefits. Compare a Virgin ad to one for 
another airline’s business class. Different audiences… very different benefits.

Client benefits are about feelings and needs. Looking good (to peers, shareholders, clients, friends), working smarter not harder, being seen as ethical and (these days) green, being more profitable, saving time, being instrumental in getting the job done (…and therefore looking good), and more.

What is it that will make our existing or potential clients/customers listen and act on our messages?

A new way of talking
It takes a lot more thought and it’s not an easy process. Most of us are locked into just getting our messages out because that’s where our bosses or clients see value for $$$ – and it’s a hard habit to break.

It’s like learning another language. We have to take small steps, do the groundwork, and practice, practice, practice. And it helps if we can get others understanding and using the same language. 

Changing our language might help change the way we approach communication.

Because the companies that know how to get their messages ‘in there’ are the companies that succeed.

 

Adapted: Article first published in the Dragonfly Ink’s e-newsletter, The Buzz, in July 2008.

 

Are you a random ‘capitalist’?

alphabet People contributing to technical reports and other documents usually have highly specialised skills – like engineering, architecture, science, accountancy and IT.

So they don’t have time to think about pesky grammar rules – which means things can go a little pear-shaped.

Not that we’re complaining. It keeps editors like us out of trouble and means we don’t have to sell body parts to make a living…

Many of the reports we work on suffer from ‘random capitalisation’. Capitals for emphasis. Capitals to show someone’s role is important. Capitals because a word looks like it should have one.

Using capitals can be tricky, so here are some quick tips and examples to keep those capitalist tendencies under control…

Wrapping the caps

  • The first word in a sentence is capitalised
  • The pronoun ‘I’ is always capitalised, e.g. I think I can
  • Use capitals for proper nouns – names, nationalities, places, brands
  • Never use capitals for emphasis, e.g. This is correct, but This is Not Correct
  • Don’t use capitals for roles unless it’s part of the name, e.g. Mayor Bird and Mr Bird, mayor of Birdsville are both correct capitalisation of ‘mayor’
  • Unless they’re part of a title, words like ‘project team’, ‘feasibility study’ and ‘environmental impact assessment’ shouldn’t be capitalised.

Something I prepared earlier

Copyright: Dragonfly Ink Using capitals for document titles and headlines can also be a style thing, so check your organisation’s style guide to find out their preferences.

We hope this helps you eliminate those capitalist tendencies – in you or others. Meanwhile, we’d better get back to saving the world… one capital letter at a time.

Keeping it simple…again

After a few years of being (almost) buried in technical writing and editing projects, I’ve decided there is no better time than right now for my dragonfly blog to take flight again. So arm doors and cross-check… we’re off!

I’ve always been a KISSing fan – that’s keeping it simple for success. So I often smile (and occasionally grit my teeth) at the things I read, virtual red pen at the ready.

Things like: “If in the situation where damage may be caused to the machinery during the towing of the machine…”

How much easier just to say: If machinery could be damaged during towing…”?

Unfortunately, most of us learnt to write ‘long’ at school and later during our tertiary education adventures. After all, we had 1,500 word essays to write – so getting to the point wasn’t exactly, well, the point.

But think about people in work situations, particularly on work sites like construction and mining. They have to get the job done, may have finished school in Year 10, and often have English as a second language.

Look back at that first sentence about damage during towing. If you’re like most people, you probably missed the second word (‘in’) so the sentence didn’t make sense until you read it again.

The worst part – it’s only the opening phrase and already your brain is switching off.

And when it comes to people’s roles and safety on a job site, switching off is not what we’re aiming for.

Here’s what we do want:

  • clear, simple language
  • tailored to your audience
  • with information they need and can trust
  • in a format that’s easy to follow.

So say what you mean and keep it simple for success. That’s smart.

Revealing layers of history: Ken Fletcher Park

Copyright: Louise RalphFor our first site visit to the former Tennyson Power Station site on the Brisbane River, we dragonflies were offered a long wooden stick each.

To beat a path through the long grass, we asked. No, to warn off the brown snakes, the site manager said.

It was the beginning of an interpretive journey which, while challenging, didn’t involve slithery encounters.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

river people, river connections…

Touched by floods, shaped by civilisation

It’s hard to believe that a relatively small tract of land not far from Brisbane’s CBD could have such intricate layers of history.

Like the river itself, the connections run deep – from Traditional Custodians and lost explorers, to mills and mansions, and from a power station to centre-stage tennis and an elite residential development.

A project like this requires the successful collaboration between the client, landscape designers, graphic designers, researchers and copywriters, and all the trades that go into its execution. But its success goes beyond that.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Ken Fletcher (1940-2006) was arguably the best tennis player to come out of Brisbane.

It’s the people who share their stories and knowledge that make the difference.

To reveal the layers of history that have shaped this place, we talked with an Aboriginal Elder, community groups and individuals, a former power station employee, demolition contractors, the Queensland Energy Museum curator, historians and more.

Seeing a project like the Ken Fletcher Park come to life and being part of the process is always exciting.

Now, wandering (incognito) through the park, it’s fantastic to see kids at play and so many people enjoying the parklands – and stopping to discover the stories of this place.

Not just glancing at each panel and moving on, but actually reading and pointing things out to each other.

Now that’s what I call success…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

While civilisation shapes the landscape, floods remind us that nature has the ultimate power. Ironically, as I take this photo on 28 January 2013, the river really is rising in the background, and Brisbane prepares for another flood…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Brisbane’s aquatic hotspot: Sharks could often be seen in the river here, basking in the warm exhaust water discharged from the power station.