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


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… 

The Upside of Failure

There's an upside to failureMost of us learned our lessons well as children. Failure = bad, useless, stupid. The clear pathway to success was NOT to fail.

We learned to fear failure, to avoid failure at all costs – and even to deny that we’d failed, by blaming someone or something outside of ourselves.

But some of the world’s greatest success stories were built on failure.

Stephen King threw his Carrie manuscript away because he was tired of being rejected. Luckily his wife fished it out of the garbage bin.

Henry Ford, who crashed out many times before tasting success, said: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, only this time more intelligently”.

Richard Branson is no stranger to failure either. He believes being unafraid of failure is one of the most important qualities of a champion – in any field.

So you’ve challenged yourself, and fallen short? Here’s the upside of failure:

  • You had the guts to try
  • You’ll know that burying your head in the sand just gets your butt kicked (well, it’s a clear target, isn’t it?)
  • You won’t wait around for a miracle
  • You’ll recognise your mistakes and find ways to recover from them
  • You’ll hire good help, and collaborate with people you trust
  • You’ll be more determined to succeed next time – in fact, next time you’ll plan to succeed 
  • You’ll begin to lose your fear of failure – because you WILL survive, no matter how bad it feels at the time
  • You’ll find out that you’re stronger than you ever imagined
  • And you’ll keep aiming higher, because you’ll get a taste for rising to challenges.

A Newsweek photo series caption puts it best: “If at first you don’t succeed… you’re in good company.” 

Finally, from my most favourite speech by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910: If you fail, at least you will fail “while daring greatly. So that your place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory, nor defeat”.

So if you haven’t challenged yourself lately, be inspired. Dare to fail.


Improve your mind power…leave work on time!

computer_and_personYou’ve probably had days where you forget stuff, times when your brain seems to turn to sludge and you can’t remember your own name, let alone anyone else’s. Imagine every day being like that.

We take our mind power for granted, especially when we’re working and apparently exercising it. Crosswords and brain exercises are for oldies, right?

Think again. Trying to impress your boss or co-workers by starting early and finishing late just might backfire on you.

If you’re working more than 55 hours a week, your cognitive function – memory, attention, and reasoning – may be affected.

In January 2009, the American Journal of Epidemiology published the*Whitehall II Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function study. It found that middle-aged people working 55 hours a week didn’t perform as well as those working 40 hours a week.

In fact, when it comes to memory, attention and reasoning, the decline from overworking is on a similar scale to smoking, a known risk factor in dementia.

Even if you haven’t hit middle-age, you’ll be forming work habits that you’ll find hard to break later.

So whatever stage of life you’re at, aim for balance (and I’m not talking bank balance). Your mind-power may depend on it.

*Stephen Pincock talks about this and other intelligence research in his book Get Smart! 100 Lifestyle Choices That Affect Your Brain (published by Hardie Grant Books).

Working with the GFC (or…enough of the doom and gloom please!)


Some things are bigger than the GFC...

Some things are bigger than the GFC...

When’s the last time you turned on the radio or TV and didn’t hear another Global Financial Crisis report, or got together with friends or colleagues, and the GFC didn’t enter into the conversation at some point?

The worst thing about the GFC is that it’s making us all fearful, and overwhelmed by a sense of impending doom and loss. Will you lose your job, your house, your shirt…? How long will it last and how bad will it get?

We react by tightening our belts and hunkering down to wait it out – all the while, feeling a deep sense of scarcity.  But is that really the way to go?

Perhaps it’s time we started to live a life of abundance – in the Zen ‘I have enough, I am blessed’ sense of the word, not the ‘live to excess, pay later’ perspective.

Because the more we feed that sense of scarcity, the tighter those belts get (and not in a good way). Pretty soon the anxiety is cutting through us, and our productivity is dropping as fast as our optimism. 

US company TNL Marketing puts it to their clients this way: “Tighten your belts too much and you may lose your shirt”.

Think about it… if you are cutting back and back and back in your business, you may end up with very little left or with such dramatically dimished capacity – and vitality – that you might as well shut your doors.

Find a better way…

The GFC presents an opportunity for all of us. It is a time to reflect, to innovate, and to clean up our act a bit. Here are some ideas (feel free to add to them via comments!)…

For business

  1. Repackage your services. What can you offer your clients or customers that is fresh and fills a need?
  2. Instead of cutting out your internal or external newsletters altogether, offer them as e-newsletters. You’ll save on printing while still keeping in touch – and they’re easier to manage than you think. But remember that print and online newsletters appeal to different audiences and convey information differently, so weigh up the real ‘cost’ before you decide…
  3. Revisit your communication and marketing plans (You do have them, don’t you?), and make sure you add social media to the mix
  4. Take this opportunity to get your business systems up to scratch. Not only will it make your business more saleable, it also captures the knowledge you and your people carry around in their heads. Tacit knowledge is the most valuable asset your business has to offer, and yet it’s usually the last thing many businesses think about.
  5. Review your business plan. Do you have SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-conscious?
  6. Get your team together and have some fun. Get out of the office, organise a lunch or Friday Unwinds. Now, more than ever, you and your people need to have open dialogue in a relaxed atmosphere.

And for you…

Don’t forget to live a little in your personal life too. You can have a lot of fun and still be cost efficient, you just have to be a bit more imaginative.

Most importantly, take the lead. Don’t let conversations turn into wallowing and negativity. Now is the time to put positive thinking into practice – or as one of my dragonflyologists says “seek out ‘salute to the sun’ positions” (it’s okay…she’s kidding).

There are many ways to live simply and do business more efficiently. So live a life of abundance, get creative… and keep your shirt on.


Okay, that’s enough Zen for today…

cheers, Louise

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…



Change: the silver lining

queenstown-nz-copyright-louise-ralphWe live in a world where change is constant, relentless. We change relationships, family structures, careers, how we live and work, and (if you’re up for it), even the way we look.

Most of us, and certainly our children, will never understand the meaning of working in the same job for 40 years and retiring with a gold watch… which is proof change isn’t all bad.

Organisations are constantly restructuring, downsizing, implementing new technologies and procedures, and relocating.

Change is threatening because we can’t control it. Often we are so overwhelmed with our change-demons that we don’t notice the opportunities change presents to us.

Yes, change has a silver lining. Change can:

  • kick you out of your comfort zone (and sometimes it hurts!)
  • present you with challenges that stimulate personal growth
  • make you reflect on what is important to you, what you want
  • get you looking for ways to improve your capabilities, networks, adaptability
  • open doors you didn’t even know existed, and
  • motivate you to try something new – like starting that business you’ve been thinking about forever.

Change is also a great wake-up call. It stops complacency dead in its tracks and means you will be better equipped to deal with change in the future.

When I was fifteen years old, I read some words about change I have never forgotten. The author’s name escapes me, but she said something to this effect:

For some, stability is the glue that holds their lives together, for others a rut can be so deep it becomes their grave.

Embrace change. There is plenty of time to be still later.