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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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.

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?
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.


Do clicks really count?

In our social media driven culture, its easy to get caught up in living for ‘like’ and counting clicks.

I’m not just talking your average social media junkie here. Businesses have been caught up in it too.

It’s tempting to evaluate the success of your social media campaign by the click rates, and to believe that going viral is the holy grail.

But do clicks actually covert to ‘sales’ or increase brand awareness?

This tongue-in-cheek take of the click obsession is food for thought: The BUYRAL Video – Professional Clicking.

The Internet Advertising Bureau’s Social Media and B2B Marketing White Paper, released earlier this year, is a useful guide to all things social media. It also includes information on tracking and measuring your social media efforts.

As for me, I’m clicking off for now. A bientot!

Multi-tasking – are you becoming a human tornado?


Give up multi-tasking. and get back your focus...

Sometimes I feel a bit like a human tornado – and I’m sure you do too. These days, we seem to equate busy-ness with being a success (if you’re busy, you must successful, right?). And we are busy – taking multi-tasking to a whole new level.  

Some researchers think women are better at multi-tasking than men. Perhaps. One thing is clear from the research – women are better at planning and strategy. Men tend to jump straight in. ABC Science talks about this and we tell you how you can join the experiment later.

But one thing at a time… The truth is, we all really, really suck at multi-tasking – we just don’t realise it. It might feel like we’re getting so much done, but I’ll bet you have a sneaking suspicion you could be more productive.

That email notification that just flicked up in the corner of your screen… it’s going to take you about 30 seconds to re-focus. The twitter feeder? Forget it. You’re just not concentrating on the task at hand – and you’re going to get stressed because you’ll miss your deadline. The phone calls and drop-ins at the office? Yes, they’re important but they’re also stealing your focus.

Fine, but what do we do about it? The first thing is to recognise that you’re multi-tasking. Then you need to start to exercise your ‘focus’ muscles (see our 50-minute focus post). You can block out times to do project work and have a goal. For example, to finish reviewing and commenting on that report, then send it back to the author. Tick!

You’ll be surprised how much you get done when you do one thing at a time.

You could also try being ‘disconnected’ for a set period each day (or at least for one day a weekend). If turning off email, twitter, facebook, your mobile or other social media makes you shudder like a junkie turning up to rehab, you really do need to do it.

When you do, you’ll be surprised how it clears your mind and eases your stress (once you make it through withdrawal). Maybe it’s time for a little retro-connecting – for private lives and catching up over coffee.

Before you go, find out what ABC Science says about our ability to multi-task – or not. And while you’re there, why not test yourself and join the experiment. University of Queensland scientists want to know what makes a good multi-tasker – plus you’ll find out how good you are at multi-tasking.

Take the test …but disconnect from those nagging bells and beeps first. Just for 30 minutes. 

More jazz… outsourcing design

images[27]You’ve found a great copywriter and it’s time to call in a graphic designer – but you feel like you’re about to land in a foreign country (without a map). In our last blog we talked about outsourcing writing and editing. Now here’s some useful design-land travel tips…

‘We need some marketing material. Maybe a brochure?’ you squeak out in your best approximation of graphic design speak. But then come all the questions full of words you just don’t comprehend…

DL? A3 folded to D5? Gateflaps? Will it be available online? And images…JPEG? GIF? PNG? (Isn’t that one of our Pacific neighbours?) There are different images for a website? Four-colour or spot? Do you want it to bleed off? Got a bromide? What about bmps, eps and wmfs? STOP!

It’s time to read our (Hitch Hiker’s) guide to graphic design, and most of all – don’t panic.

First of all, remember that your role is to communicate what you want from the final product, not provide the technical know-how to get there.

Knowing the language designers speak can be helpful, but the right graphic designer will provide a better design than you ever imagined. They’ll also let you know exactly what they need from you.

“What we want them to come to us with is an open mind,” says Adrienne Williams, graphic designer and owner of See Saw Illustration and Design. “They can come with a degree of detail about what they want, but during that first meeting they might discover the product they wanted might not be the right one.”

So before you meet with your graphic designer, think about designs you’ve seen and liked. Collect samples. Are there any colours you prefer? Do you want the colours to be warm, bold or neutral? Are there corporate identity requirements for colour, logo, or wording? Simple but effective descriptions can help a graphic designer choose, or create, the right colour and ultimately the right look for you.

Adrienne also suggests clients bring examples of what they don’t like, especially with logos. “It really gives us an idea of where their tastes lie and how they want to be portrayed.”

Entering design-land can have plenty of oo-ah moments. We hope this helps you enjoy the trip.


Lou & Sandra

Dragonfly team

Can you feel the love?

Don’t you love those opinion polls that come up with definitive stats about what women/ men/ kids/ bosses/ employees/ mothers/ fathers/ retirees/you-name-them want? Nobody has ever asked me. Or, I confess, if they’ve called on a Sunday or after six I’ve fobbed them off (Nicely of course).

In business, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘knowing’ your clients – but do you really know them? When was the last time (or the first time?) you asked them what they need or want? Do you understand why they buy from you, or don’t? Do you understand the space they’re in right now?

And if they’re telling you, are you really listening?

Take a quick look at The Break Up*? It’s a nice exploration of the relationship between you and your clients / customers – or, rather, a nice reminder of the relationship you don’t want to foster…

Can you feel the love?



*Creds to colleague and business coach Lisa Murray who mentions this on her website.

How do you take your tea? Making meetings work

Dragonfly Ink - making meetings workWe’ve all had that one person in our working life who has made a real impact on us… whose words have stayed with us and influenced us over the years. For dragonflyologist Sandra Makaresz, it was her first boss.


My first boss ran a small business, but the things he taught me were universal. I’ll always remember his words ‘other places run on meetings, we run on cups of tea’.


Now I know you’re not about to give up the weekly WIP meeting for happy hour at the Bushells factory, but it’s the psychology behind it that counts – no matter what size your organization.


Meetings can mean agendas, minutes, conference calls, e-forums, notes, dissent, backward-and-forward, coffee, personality clashes, drooping eyelids, more coffee, must… stay….. awake. 


Stop. It’s time to put the cup of tea back into your meetings.


You see, cups of tea are informal things that require conversation. A reflective time, where people calmly share ideas on an equal footing and everyone is heard. It’s an atmosphere not often seen in a business meeting, but one that’s important to the people in those meetings.


Here are some tea-time philosophies to consider:

  • No-one enjoys cold tea – Sometimes it’s not to your advantage to push on when people become tired or distracted. Take a break, or work out who really needs to be there for which parts, and allow others the freedom to get on with their real work if it doesn’t involve them
  • Not everyone takes their tea the same way – So why make them take their meetings the same way? Good preparation allows you to distribute agendas and relevant information beforehand, so that people can come prepared. People can think about it if they need to, make notes, even submit their thoughts back to you to be included in the meeting and achieve better outcomes sooner
  • Tea is a civilized drink – ‘Civilized’ might sound old fashioned, but doesn’t everything come back into vogue eventually? If meetings turn into competitive battle-grounds, they begin to serve the purpose of individuals rather than the business. You hired each person on their merits, because you thought they had something to offer. As the meeting convener, it’s up to you to find a way to let them show you.

Even if you don’t change anything about your meetings, the ‘cup of tea’ is a helpful image to keep in mind. It means you want to know what your people think, because it’s these people who can improve the way you do business.


Downsizing fallout – what about the ones left behind?

I recently wrote a post: your brand, your people – being ready when things turn around. It focused on the people companies retrench in tough financial times like these, and how this can impact on your brand. 

But there’s another side of the story… the ones left behind.

They’re the ones that take up the slack. So while they’re juggling bigger work loads and feeling guilty because they’re (apparently) ‘the lucky ones’, they’re also often waiting for the tap on the shoulder themselves. Add to this the fact that those retrenched can be part of their social circle, both at work and outside of work, and it can make for an unhappy work environment.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran a brilliant article Retrench Warfare last weekend (March 14). It’s essential reading – whether you’ve been retrenched, you’re safe for now, you’re a line manager, or you’re running the company.

A related article from February this year deals with stress in the workforce, and how managers can deal with it. Read article…

Food for thought…



Your brand, your people: Be ready when things turn around

As the global financial meltdown continues, organisations are having to find ways to trim back to stay profitable – or just to stay in business. And it is the organisation’s people that are often the first to go. 

Many organisations see their communication department as the place to start. But Russell Grossman, director of communication at the UK Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform prods our memories in Natasha Nicholson’s article Staying up during the downturn (CW Magazine, Jan-Feb 2009):

“…remember the disastrous consequences of doing that in the last recession [in the U.K.] more than 15 years ago. Firms that did so were ill prepared when they needed to power up again. The firms that didn’t lay off all their communicators had a clear advantage after the economy improved”.

Unfortunately, losing people equates to losing both skills and company knowledge – but there is another thing to consider. Your brand.

Just last year, organisations were focussing on attracting and retaining the right people in a competitive marketplace. A lot of time, money and effort went into building a credible brand  and becoming employers of choice.

All that good work can unravel very quickly – especially if ex-staff start talking your organisation down. So the heart-wrenching task of laying people off needs to be handled with care and compassion – for your sake and theirs. 

Head of brand and employee engagement at Publicis Consultants in the UK, Kevin Keohane, ABC, puts it perfectly (CW Magazine, Jan-Feb 2009):

“…the way [people] are treated on the way out the door is likely to have big implications on how they perceive – and communicate about – your organisation… Handle the departure well, and you may create an advocate for life, who may come back to work for you, refer star employees to you, or promote your product or service. …Handle it poorly…and you’ve probably created a vocal brand assassin.”

And finally, Gaynor Parke advises organisations not to panic in Be Resourceful (emPower magazine), and reminds us of this piece of wisdom from Henry Ford

“You can take my business, burn up my building, but give me my people and I’ll build the business right back again”.

And he’d know.


There’s another side to retrenchment… read this dragonfly post about the ones left behind