life lesson

Last Monday, on her way to the park for her morning stroll, my mum found a £10 note. She is certain the teenage schoolboy, who was walking ahead of her with his headphones in and his hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, had dropped it. She called after him but he didn’t hear her.

She quickly donated the money to charity but she’s since been despairing about the boy’s fate that day. How did he get to school without his bus fare? How did he pay for lunch? Will he have to go without all week?

Her friend and I have tried to console her with more positive outcomes. Maybe now he’ll invest in a wallet and discover a love for accessories? Maybe he was going to spend it on sweets and this saved him? Maybe now he’ll be so focussed on money that this will be a turning point to make him a multi-millionaire?

Tomorrow is Monday. My mum has set her alarm for nice and early, she’s put a £10 note in her purse and in the morning she’ll be off to find out the answer. Place your bets.

to be or not to be

Each morning, in my journal, I write a word that I aim to achieve that day. I refer to this word every few hours to keep me on track and then, in the evening, I reflect if my actions embodied the word I’d selected.

On Wednesday, two weeks ago, the word was “patience”. It’s ironic that I’ve never been less patient in my entire life than I was on that day. I was running a series of errands. The moment I got to the bank for my first task, only to find that the bank had recently delayed their Wednesday opening time, I’d exhausted my patience quota.

It’s very challenging to simply be in a specific state. I can’t just be excited; I can’t just be patient.

With this is in mind I chose patience as my goal for the following day and selected “compassion” as my word to focus on. It was incredible. I can achieve patience by being compassionate. Now, that’s exciting.

misunderstood

I vividly remember the first time I received a prickly email. I was in my early 20s. The email was sent from my manager to me shortly after I joined the company. As I tried to recover from the strong tone, one of my peers, who was also on the email chain, messaged me on the side with a well intentioned “You’ll get used to that. ;)”

It’s not uncommon to encounter these situations that we’re triggered by. It could be a remark from a stranger, a post we’ve read, a comment from a family member or friend. There’s an urge to respond in a similar fashion or to try to ignore it – perhaps neither of which are conducive to progress.

The tactic that helped me to find my manager’s emails easier to digest was to read her emails in a completely different voice. This type of disassociation allowed me to extract her key points from the email – which were mostly very reasonable – without dwelling on the style of her message.

I have reflected on why I never spoke to her about it especially when there was ample opportunity for me to do so. I think it’s because – deep down – I knew she didn’t intend anything negative. Over time I’d become aware of some insecurities she’d been feeling in her role and I – without consciously realising at the time – must’ve had some level of understanding of that.

state the obvious

Last week I led a call in which the Client team – to help bring me up to speed on the project – reeled off the extensive list of open issues. Every single one of these issues needed to be resolved by me and my team. There was a pause as I finished scribbling everything down. I looked at my page full of actions, took a deep breath and announced “This is super annoying, isn’t it?”

I know it might seem counter intuitive to make this type of comment to a Client in a tense situation but I believe it can be very progressive. It demonstrates that you truly feel the burden to the Client, and therefore will work with urgency to rectify the situation, and it immediately changes the tone of the call which helps to get the relationship back on track.

I was glad when the Client team erupted into laughter and then started joking that “annoying” was perhaps a polite term for how they were feeling. We closed the call all feeling much lighter and more positive about the situation. (And, in the event the Client team is reading this, I confirm I’m getting back to work, pronto!)

SMART

My goal for this year is to form these habits:

  1. To consume at least 60g of protein each day. For this I’ve downloaded an app to record my macros until I get into a decent flow of mentally counting protein intake. I’ve also stocked up on protein bars which I’ll have as my afternoon snack.
  2. To get my hair cut every 8 weeks. I’ve booked my first appointment for next week and I commit to always accepting the offer to book the next appointment at the end of each visit to the hairdressers.
  3. To stretch for 10 minutes each morning. This is the trickiest one. I know 10 minutes isn’t very long but I’m unsure how to easily incorporate it into my daily routine. I will think about the barriers and see how to remove them.

classic

I spent the last 12 weeks leading a project manager bootcamp. One of the topics I covered was how to gain trust from your Clients.

1. Clearly demonstrate your logical thinking.

2. Appeal to your Client’s emotions.

3. Show you are credible through your reputation of working with the Client, your in depth understanding of the subject matter, and other tactics such as the way you speak.

I thought I’d developed the ultimate formula for this, only to learn that Aristotle beat me to it by a mere 3000 years. These elements are exactly his Three Modes Of Persuasion: logos, pathos and ethos.

I could be deflated that my theory isn’t novel but in fact I’m thrilled by that. For me the rediscovery of the theory highlights its resounding effectiveness and relevance.

type

It’s been an incredibly busy few months at work so, when my colleague messaged us in our group chat to say that he was logging off early to “go out and give his wife a life”, we all understood.

His comment made me reflect on if I needed to reassess my priorities. I’ve been careful not to neglect anyone or anything, including myself, during these months but I know I’ve time boxed my days so tightly that I’ve not allowed time for any spontaneity.

It was a surprise when my colleague posted a new message in our chat just thirty minutes after the last one. “Oh, that was an unfortunate typo. I meant “lift” not “life””. The group chat erupted into laughter and stayed lively long into the evening while we all ploughed through our work as usual.

business sense

One of the concierge, for the estate on which my friend lives, works full-time, is a hands-on parent to his four young children and he is studying three years full-time for a bachelor’s degree in Business Management.

When we bumped into him last week, he joked that he sometimes feels like he’s in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. “Everywhere I look I only see water! I could swim back but I’m not going back”.

This man made a choice about his life and the vastness of the journey is not a deterrent to him. His mindset is positive, he is only looking forwards and, with time, he will arrive at his destination having inspired countless people on his way.

I’ve said it before

I was bombarded with compliments after a recent presentation I gave at work where I had to break bad news to a Client.

“You’re such a natural.”

“You answered all the difficult questions with such ease.”

“You handled that situation so well.”

I’d spent 3 hours practising that presentation.

I’d rehearsed everything from the things I’d say when introducing myself, to the places I wanted to pause, to the seemingly “off the cuff” examples I planned to give and, very importantly, to the way I wanted to use my voice from start to finish.

emergency friends

I’m in the waiting room of my local A&E. Everyone is looking at their phones. Well, everyone except me. I’m preoccupied assessing each person to guess the variety of incidents that brought this group of strangers together on an overcast Saturday afternoon.

Aside from the discomfort I’m in, I’m actually having a lovely time. There’s something cosy about having this semi shared experience with all these people and, knowing that I will spend the next few hours here, I feel quite at peace watching the comings and goings of the hospital.

Barry, his real name, is sitting next to me. He just returned from seeing the triage nurse and is now on the phone telling someone he’ll be a while yet and to leave his dinner in the oven. I haven’t a clue what ailment Barry is suffering from today but I deeply wish him a speedy recovery so he can go home to his loved one.

and, done

I have spent the last hour drafting and then discarding several blog posts. There are countless topics I could write on but none of them feel right today.

Since my last “me time” weekend where I spent the day reading and reflecting, I committed to publishing a post each week.

There are two reasons for this:

1. I must perform the act of writing if I want to call myself a writer;

2. The quote “You don’t need motivation; you only need discipline” deeply resonated with me.

So, here I am, trying to be disciplined about writing, and importantly honouring my commitment.

key to happiness

I became a different person a few months ago. I’m not sure what prompted it but something clicked in my mind that instantly altered my entire mindset.

I simply decided that before I respond to any situation I will ask myself “How can I contribute here to achieve the best possible outcome?” It seems hyperbolic to say that this basic question has revolutionized my life but it is truly has. Please allow me to share some examples to illustrate this.

Example 1: When my mum told me that my brother felt offended that I hadn’t visited him recently, my immediate response would’ve been one of defence and, I regret to say, of attack. I would’ve argued that he easily could have visited me. Instead, by focussing on the desired outcome, I contacted my brother to discuss his concern and by doing so, it allowed us to have a good chat, clear the air and resume to being on good terms.

Example 2: On a recent work call a teammate volunteered to complete an action because no-one else on the call spoke up. The accountable party for the action were on the call but remained silent. Ordinarily in similar circumstances I wouldn’t have said anything for the fear of making the situation more awkward than it already was. However, when I reflected that the objective of the call was to determine a plan of action with all parties, I enquired on the call if the accountable party would in fact be best placed to complete the action as they were the subject matter experts. They agreed – albeit reluctantly at first – and the action was completed in the most efficient way.

Example 3: When someone dangerously cut in front of me in the queue for petrol during the recent UK fuel crisis, I normally would’ve allowed that to trigger instant high emotions in me. I wouldn’t have outwardly behaved any differently but I know I would’ve stewed on that and perhaps allowed it to affect the rest of my day. This time was different. On this occasion I genuinely didn’t feel anything negative. In fact I felt relieved that I was safe and then I resumed my focus on driving towards an available pump.

I realise that none of these examples sound particularly life changing within themselves but therein lies a crucial point. This new mindset isn’t one I use occasionally; it’s in fact my new way of thinking about everything. It has brought me so much peace that I feel like I’ve unlocked the secret to the Universe.

better left unsaid

I didn’t quite hear my mum’s reply after I’d enquired how she was. When I asked her to repeat it, she did, with a little smile. I knew then that her first reply must’ve been a cheeky one.

“Is that what you said before?”

“Yes”.

“Really? I thought I heard you say something else”.

At this point we were smiling and beaming at each other. Quiet.

“Okay, I must’ve misheard.”

I’m sure as I turned to leave the room, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my mum let out a sigh of relief. Who knows? It seems my ears were playing tricks on me before, maybe my eyes were doing the same this time.

do what works

“How do you get so much done each day?” was the question my teammate asked me at a recent 1-to-1. I requested some time to think about my answer because – at that moment – I realised I had never thought about it in that way before.

I do have a comfortable work flow. I believe this has slowly fallen into place over the years of me trying various tactics and the ones that have worked for me, stuck, even without my full awareness. I think that’s something interesting to explore within that itself which I’ll save that for a future post.

I’ve spent the last 4 weeks assessing how I optimise my efficiency at work. Here are the 5 themes I’ve observed.

  1. I aspire to touch everything only once e.g. when I open an email or message – I either reply to it or file it immediately. If it’s something I can’t do instantly – I’ll plan it in my schedule by blocking the time needed to work on it. I then try to forget about it.
  2. I strive to keep my emails extremely succinct.
  3. I schedule meetings for the minimum time needed to achieve the purpose, instead of the conventional 30 minute denominations. In general I aim to wrap up meetings as quickly as possible unless they are 1-to-1s with my teammates.
    • I use the remaining time (typically 5 – 15 minutes) before the next meeting to focus on completing the quick actions from the last meeting and planning time for the larger ones. If possible I’ll also use the time to get ahead by working on other tasks that are due that day.
    • I complete the quick, urgent actions during the meeting itself e.g. messaging a teammate to ask for some support or scheduling the follow up meeting.
  4. I use my Outlook calendar to assign time to complete actions and then I concentrate on using that time to execute.
    • I have many placeholders already scheduled in my calendar, on a weekly basis, to complete actions. I update these with the details of the actions as they come up. These placeholders often get taken up by meetings but I then quickly replan my schedule to ensure I don’t lose the time for working on the actions.
    • I find that time blocking works for me when I have commitments in my schedule that are unmoveable e.g. a gym class, walking the dog, catching a train. These commitments help to focus my mind to complete the task in the allocated time.
    • If I embark on a task and then find I’m not sure how to execute it – I don’t use the allocated time to think about it. Instead I reschedule the time and allow my subconscious to come up with the answer. It indeed feels like magic when the answer then comes to me out of blue but this tactic consistently gives me great results. I then resume work on the task in action mode.
  5. I try to group things together, e.g. if I realise I need to talk to my teammate or client to complete an action I’ll add that item to the agenda for my next scheduled call instead of spending time to write an email to them. This approach has multiple benefits for me:
    • It gives those 1-to-1s a clear agenda.
    • It reduces email traffic.
    • It sets a sustainable expectation with my clients around communication.

When I reflect on the above list, I realise this work style is not completely serendipitous for me. In the past I have felt overwhelmed by my task list and allowed it to dictate my life. This was not enjoyable despite the fact I love my work. I have always tried to adjust this and – while I occasionally work long hours – the difference now is that I consistently work with a focussed sense of purpose.

I conclude by distilling the objective of my current work style to “keeping a clear mind”. I only think about one thing at once, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. This approach works for me and I hope it works for you too.

artwork

I started this blog in 2020 stating the intent was to help me focus on performing acts of kindness but there was in fact an additional reason.

I now clearly understand that I also started this blog because I love the process of creating a written piece. It feels magical to freely express myself in this wonderful art form.

I will, of course, occasionally still write about kindness as it’s a matter that will forever remain important to me but I am highly excited to write on other topics too and to continue the journey of capturing my general musings in written word.

Day 296, £1825 target met

As 2020 draws to a close and I – like so many of us – reflect on the year gone and the year approaching, I feel compelled to write about a cause I have been following for the past few weeks.

There are currently hundreds of thousands of farmers protesting in Delhi, India and millions of people across the World for the retraction or reform of the Indian agricultural bills that were passed in August 2020. The bills essentially deregulate how produce will be traded by opening up the national market to private corporations to buy directly from farmers without any established pricing structure. The bills introduce a change that is certain to be exploited with small scale farmers – 82% of the 70% of rural households that depend on agriculture for their survival are small scale – facing the risk of losing their livelihoods.

This is a matter close to my heart. It is not an exaggeration to say that I am indebted to my ancestors for enduring the hardships of farming as it gave my family the opportunity to move from India to the United Kingdom to build a future. I see this passion in each farmer that has gone to Delhi to protest. They are protesting for more than equality. They are protesting for the future of their children.

I have donated £563 to a trusted organisation that is supporting the farmers in this fight. This donation enables me to meet my target. This donation enables me to help the Indian farmers meet theirs. This donation enables me to close 2020 by still living the values I will continue to live by next year.

Day 291, £1262 donated so far

I have recently started asking new teammates to prepare a shield to show me in our first 1-to-1. We take turns during the 1-to-1 meeting to share our shields – divulging our core values and favourite quotes as well as describing what we’re like at our best and our hopes of working together.

I know 2020 took us all by surprise. I feel the same for the year we had at work. In a year where we had an unprecedented workload, a departure of many of our experienced teammates and a long pause on overdue promotions – I was most overwhelmed by the camaraderie of my team. I was in awe every day at how they pulled together to look out for each other and to support one other to achieve their best work.

The theme of all my “shield 1-to-1s” is support: I am supportive at my best and I hope to be part of a supportive team. I am proud to say it is true that each of my teammates truly lives by this value. In keeping with that theme I have donated £432 to Centrepoint to sponsor three homeless young people to each have a room for a year along with the essential support to help them turn their lives around.

Thank you, Neon, for making a difference each day during an exceptional year.

Day 245, £830 donated so far

It’s fair to say Wikipedia is my go to reference whenever I need to check some information. I can easily spend hours clicking through the hyperlinks from one page to the next until I invariably land on one of the more obscure pages and realise I’ve gone too far.

Wikipedia relies solely on donations from readers. It doesn’t run any ads on the website nor does it claim to sell data from its readers. Today when I received an email from Wikipedia referring to me as a “longstanding valued donor” for my £10 donation from three years ago, I realised how much I take this free resource for granted.

I have donated £35 to the charitable arm Wikimedia Foundation. I now feel no shame in spending the rest of my evening using Wikipedia to learn more about the work of this charity.

Day 228, £795 donated so far

I felt deflated this morning when a plan to go for a long Sunday morning walk with a friend was cancelled at short notice. I’d been looking forward to catching up with him after so long and doing that while surrounded by nature.

I’ve often allowed for this type of disappointment to impact me more than I wish it had done. I would focus on a feeling of rejection instead of looking for the opportunity in the time that had been gifted to me from the cancelled plan. I chose to respond differently this morning.

It’s exactly five months today since I last posted on my1825.com and I realise I am 80 days behind my £5 per day goal. I have chosen to reignite my important mission by donating £55 to the National Trust by purchasing a stylish backpack from the gift store that I can use on future nature walks.

I’m very glad that – while one special plan didn’t go ahead today – the extra time allowed me the opportunity to get my1825.com back on track and that is the best outcome I could’ve hoped for.