Family & WorkMaking Work, Work

Book the Christmas night out. Arrange the venue. Sort the menu. Organise the free drinks and the bar. Set the dress code. Book taxis. Send invites. Chase numbers. Chase numbers some more. Marshall people. Organise the Secret Santa. Buy extra presents for the Secret Santa when someone doesn’t bring a gift. Agonise over sending cards to the office. Buy cards. Find something to wear. Attend night out.

Book the food delivery slot. Book tickets to see Father Christmas. Book tickets to the panto/ballet/Christmas play. Buy festive jumpers. Plan the menu. Buy the Christmas tree. Get the Christmas tree home. Buy Christmas cards. Write Christmas cards. Organise a family photo. Oversee the making and extremely slow writing of child’s class Christmas cards. Find £1 coins. Send £1 coins to school. Plan advent calendar. Make mince pies. Make more mince pies. Buy mince pies. Locate Christmas decorations. Decorate tree. Decorate house. Buy presents. Buy presents for your family-in-law. Wrap presents. Entertain children. Find ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Be Santa. Get up early. Cook the Christmas dinner. Decorate table. Serve Christmas dinner. Be nice to extended family. Collapse in exhaustion.

Exaggerated perhaps, and possibly only for those with school-age children, but pretty overwhelming. And if any of it sounds familiar, it is likely that you shoulder the mental load – that is the task of orchestration and project management – of Christmas. At work, or at home.

Now of course not everyone celebrates Christmas but the point remains. To facilitate ‘a nice time’, be that Christmas or any other occasion, the burden usually falls on one person. Despite the situation improving in recent years in terms of gender balance, research still shows that the mental load falls disproportionality on women.

you should have asked cartoon

There is a reason that cartoons like this one, and the excerpt from the book below, get thousands of likes within minutes. They’re funny. But they’re also pretty real.

christmas to do list

In 2017, a report commissioned by a US nonprofit care organisation Bright Horizons, but which is still no doubt applicable to the UK, found that mothers are “responsible not just for their half of household duties and childcare, but also for organising, reminding and planning virtually all family matters”. The more the woman earnt, the worse it was. Even just looking at holidays and family gatherings, the study found that primary breadwinning women are 30% more likely to organise them.

The reports might show improvement, and the United Nations has done its bit by launching the Unstereotype Alliance to eradicate all harmful gender-based stereotypes from advertising, but none of that is any good if you’re in the thick of it.

So, some suggestions on managing the mental load this Christmas:

Start talking now

Have a conversation now with all the relevant people in your household/wider family with whom you usually celebrate as to what they would like the next six weeks to look like.

Sure, there may be some traditions that you all agree on keeping, but don’t adhere to the well, we always do that. If it is time to find a new tradition, move on.

Set boundaries early

If there is any year to abandon wasteful presents that no-one enjoys receiving or buying and the pressure to reciprocate, this is surely it.

Agree now what gifting/cards and so on that your team at work / family as a whole will participate in, communicate said decision clearly, and then divide up the tasks. At home, every adult in the family buys (and wraps) their own presents – no excuses. You are all busy.

If you have a significant other, you can also take that moment to make it clear what, if anything, you are buying, and reciprocally. I don’t mean tell them precisely (although that might be better) but more a general agreement on budget / type of expectations. Emma Thompson might have realised her husband was a slimy *** in Love Actually but women everywhere also felt her pain in hoping for one thing and receiving something totally …. other.

Divide and conquer

One of the most telling things about the cartoon above is the line “you should have asked”. That’s the mental load right there – the person bearing it doesn’t want to have to ask. They want each person to be clear about what they need to deliver, and to do that without letting the side down, and without imposing on the other party.

If you’ve agreed to organise the Secret Santa for the team, that means actually doing it. Not just picking the names or sending the first email. It means checking that everyone has a name, sorting the drop off location, deciding when the presents will be handed out, making sure you have a couple of neutral back up options, and then actually checking every one has a present.

If you’ve agreed to sort the Christmas jumpers for school, that means doing it all, including working out what size you need, what the theme is, what else they will wear with it, and when you need to do it by.

Likewise, if you’re in charge of laundry, it doesn’t mean putting a load on and shrinking it all in the dryer. It means making sure no-one runs out of clean clothes, that specific kit is clean on the days that it is needed, and that nothing changes size.

Credit for what already happens

Chances are, your colleagues/ partner / support network already does a fair amount and that there is plenty of teamwork already happening. Acknowledge this, give credit where it is due and work out how to move to the next stage.

Trust people

If you don’t want to shoulder the mental load, you need to let go. Remember that “done” is better than “perfect” and by perfect I mean your idea of perfect. Accepting that another person will have a different perspective and will achieve things differently is part of managing the mental load.

If you’ve discussed generally what is important to the outcome, what values need to be taken into account, and the budget, let others get on with achieving their parts of the task in their own way.

Just as it would be infuriating to be micromanaged in a more professional context, remember that the objective is to have to do and remember less, not treat others like they did it wrong just because it wasn’t how you’d have done it.

On this note, best wishes for the festive season and remember to spread some good cheer!

Family & Work

Returning to the office after a relaxing and recharging break (or just some time away from the daily grind) doesn’t have to mean you return automatically to how you were working previously. With some consideration and thought, here are some practical tips to keep the holiday vibe alive back at the office.

#1 Re-evaluate or change your routine

On holiday one of the things we often appreciate most is the change in routine. Try to avoid falling back into your old routines by being intentional – schedule walking meetings where appropriate, get up and talk to colleagues if you can rather than firing off one sentence emails, and look into techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to keep focus when carrying out mundane tasks.

Experts say that the “best way to modify habits is to replace them with a new habit”. If you regularly drink your morning coffee whilst reading emails, try instead to invite a colleague to drink your coffee together to discuss the day’s tasks.

#2 Look over your reading or podcast list for the autumn / listen to a summer playlist

Summer is full of articles about the best beach reads, or the best podcasts (read ours here) but don’t forget these recommendations will still be applicable once you’re back from your holiday. If you only ever find the time to read or listen to podcasts when you’re away from work, try changing up your commute by reading – or listening to – a novel rather than scrolling through LinkedIn or a newspaper.

Not everyone works well listening to music, but if you do, consider compiling songs (like this Spotify list of songs for lawyers) that remind you of your holiday on Spotify and listening to it when doing more admin-related tasks to lift your mood.

#3 Take your full lunch-break (and use it to be a tourist)

According to research carried out by Mastercard and Ipsos MORI in 2016, only 17% of British workers take an hour for lunch, with the average lunch-break lasting only 28 minutes.

Yet on holiday, we spend a great deal of time lingering over meals and exploring new places. Keep this vibe going by stopping work when you can to take a proper break, and use it to really explore the places surrounding your work. 

If you work in a city and enjoy culture, there are galleries, churches and public spaces which you can spend half an hour exploring and learning about the history of the areas or being inspired. There are often lunchtime concerts and talks.

If you work more remotely or from home, try finding new footpaths and exploring your immediate surrounds on foot.

#4 Get outside

On holiday, we often spend a huge amount more time outside and consequently we feel much better for it. The effects of Vitamin D on our mood as well as our health is well documented. A lack of Vitamin D can cause fatigue, tiredness and depression as well as making us more susceptible to colds and other illnesses commonly making the rounds in offices and public transport.

Keep this wellness feeling going on your return and fortify your immune system for the winter months by getting outside to absorb Vitamin D. NHS advice is to spend short periods outside between 11am and 3pm without sun-cream and with forearms, hands and lower legs exposed between March and the end of September.

#5 Practice optimism/gratitude

“When we take time to notice the things we are grateful for we raise our energy levels and become more happy and optimistic,” says Laura Walker, a mental health nurse and happiness coach. 

Take inspiration from Walker’s ‘gratitude stone’ (hers is a stone she painted with Mandela but it doesn’t need to be something so monumental) by keeping a stone or shell that you found on your holiday in your pocket or bag. 

“Whenever I see the stone I stop and consciously think of something I feel grateful for. I love this because it takes me by surprise as it often turns up on top of the washing machine or other random places”.

She is a firm believer in a daily gratitude practice; it doesn’t need to be a stone or shell, it could be a daily journal, or just taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you’re thankful for experiencing or that bring you pleasure, such as looking up and noticing the sunlight on your walk to the station or enjoying the smell of your hot coffee.

#6 Set boundaries for tech use

Our brains are not designed to be constantly in use. We need to spend time idling in order to let our brains re-charge and work more efficiently but an ever-present screen with a never-ending list of tasks to complete prevents this from happening. 

On holiday we naturally spend more time doing things away from a screen or technology, such as reading, playing sports, or sight-seeing, which gives us an added benefit that our brains have had more time to switch off more fully.

Try continuing this back in the office by actively setting realistic boundaries with technology. Try setting yourself screen time limits, reading or listening to podcasts on your commute and stepping away from your screen during breaks (see #1 above).

#7 Be more present

Experts advise that the key to a balanced life is one in accordance with your values. If you are very clear on your values and work to your strengths, you will feel more fulfilled, more engaged, more consciously in control, less stressed and more present. Presence really is the key to keeping the ‘holiday vibe’ alive. 

Try consciously reducing multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time.

#8 Consider your holiday epiphanies and schedule your diary accordingly

Ellen Price, Founder and Coach at Think Feel Do says we make the best decisions about what needs to change or be given priority once we’ve had a holiday break. “The best gift you can give yourself to carry forward the benefits of the holiday is to schedule your diary in accordance with your values,” she says. 

“If being home for your kids bath time 3 times a week is important to you, block the time, make it non-negotiable and then make sure you turn your phone off and stay present with it”. 

“If getting promoted this year is important to you, work out what you need to do to achieve that and prioritise your diary for those things and be really present with them.”

#9 Replicate the scent of your holiday

“There is lots of buzz at the moment around the idea of ‘functional fragrances’, which are scents explicitly designed to lift or shift your mood – think aromatherapy with added neuroscience,” says Lizzie Ostrom, founder of Odette Toilette, who create experiences that invite feeling, thinking and exploring through scent. 

“But actually, any perfume or smell can do this, and it’s within our power to build that association. One easy way to do this is to choose a particular or new perfume to wear on holiday. You can then wear it when you’re back if you want to snap out of a stressful situation and feel emotionally reconnected with that languorous feeling of being on holiday.” 

You could also do the same thing by using up your holiday sun-cream once you return to the office, or by using a shower gel after you cycle or run to work which has a similar scent.

Using a new scent on holiday does come with a warning though. Lizzie says that “I once used this technique on a trip to the US and felt so grim the first two days, my perfume made me feel a bit queasy thereafter. So hold-off spraying on your travels until you feel a bit more settled and in a restful mood!”

#10 Swap your mid-afternoon fizzy drink for an ice-cream

If all of the above seems too much, this one is super easy. Instead of reaching for a can of something cold and fizzy during the mid-afternoon slump, combine getting outside with a change in routine and walk to the nearest shop to pick up your ice-cream of choice.

Family & Work

Or the train, or gym. Wherever you’ve time spare to yourself, get your headphones on and dive into our top picks of educational delights, interviews, humour and the ultimate in fluffy indulgence if you have even a passing interest into the royal family.

If you’re more into a busman’s holiday, see our top picks of legal podcasts for 2019 here.

To while away an entire afternoon…

#1 Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

American journalist, political commentator and broadcaster Dan Carlin is famed for his unique blend of “high drama, masterful narration and Twilight Zone-style twists”, winning awards for bringing history to life in a rather unorthodox way.

His Hardcore History podcast episode Ghosts of the Ostfront, regarding the Eastern Front of World War Two, won Slate Magazine’s award for the fifth-best podcast of all time.

Episodes are often four hour deep dives into periods of history you won’t have studied in the same way at school.

#2 Serial

You’ve probably already heard of Serial, as episodes of seasons one and two have been downloaded nearly 350 million times, establishing an ongoing podcast world record.

Serial is created by Sarah Koenig, who says the podcast is a bit like a documentary “about the basics: love and death and justice and truth. All these big, big things”. A non-fiction narrative, Serial is divided into episodes, with each series investigating a different issue – season one is built around the murder of an 18-year-old high school student who disappeared one afternoon.

Serial has won awards for the innovative telling of a long-form non-fiction story (including the first-ever Peabody awarded to a podcast) and needs to be listened to in order – not one to dip in and out of but one to keep you gripped for weeks to come.

If you’ve only got an hour…

#3 Longform Podcast

Longform.org recommends new and classic non-fiction from around the web and the associated podcast is a weekly conversation with a non-fiction writer on how they tell stories.

All lawyers no matter what work they actually do surely once harboured a secret desire to uncover crimes and this episode with Jeff Maysh does exactly that. A freelance writer based in LA, Maysh uncovered the story of the ex-cop who gamed the McDonalds Monopoly game and stole millions, writing a piece for the Daily Beast earlier in 2019 about “Jerome Jacobson and his network of mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, and drug traffickers [who] won almost every prize for 12 years, until the FBI launched Operation Final Answer“.

“I’ve always looked for stories with the theme of identity and identity theft. I’m very interested in people leading double lives. All of my stories are the same in a sense. Whether that’s a spy or a fake cheerleader or a bank robber or even a wrestler—someone is pretending to be someone they’re not, leading a double life. I find that really exciting. I’m drawn to characters who put on a disguise.” ~ Jeff Maysh

Longform Podcast Episode #307: Jeff Maysh

#4 The Axe Files with David Axelrod

Podcasts about American politics can be a fascinating and rewarding rabbit hole and the best is hosted by David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama, and director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

His podcast, The Axe Files, has a 300 strong back catalogue of episodes where he has interviewed the great and good (and otherwise) of US and UK politics as well as a host of others.

Highlights over the years have included Barak Obama (#108), Karl Rove, former White House senior adviser and deputy chief of staff (#80), Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (#208) and staff writer for the New Yorker Jeffrey Toobin – he covered the O.J. trial as a journalist (#241).

#5 That Peter Crouch Podcast

Die-hard football fans will no doubt already listen to former England and Liverpool player Peter Crouch’s collaboration with Five Live alongside Tom Fordyce and Chris Stark. Those less obsessed may appreciate Crouch’s remarkedly natural talent for opening up and giving an intriguing analysis of his time as a professional footballer. That Peter Crouch Podcast is taking a break from new episodes for the summer but there are plenty of back episodes to whet your appetite for the new season starting again come August.

#6 13 Minutes to the Moon

Another BBC production, this time the story of how the first moon landing was saved. 13 Minutes to the Moon tells the story of the people who made Apollo 11 happen and who prevented it from going badly wrong. The series of 12 episodes was first released in the lead up to the 50th anniversary on 20 July 2019 and episode 11 is the 13 minutes in real-time. As it says in the first episode, it isn’t a spoiler to say we know they got there, “this podcast is about trying to understand how that happened.”

13 Minutes to the Moon is hosted by Dr Kevin Fong, a medical doctor with a special interest in space medicine who wished he could have been an astronaut, who “wanted to take the listener along with him on a deep dive into a subject of a lifelong fascination”.

#7 How To fail With Elizabeth Day

How To Fail With Elizabeth Day “celebrates the things that haven’t gone right” where guests explore what their failures have taught them about succeeding better. Day, a British journalist, broadcaster and novelist, was previously a features writer for The Observer from 2007 to 2016 and has also written four novels.

Looking at the twin concepts of success and failure, Day says:

“It was fascinating to see how men and women had different attitudes. Many of the men I approached balked at the idea they had failed at anything. They cited lost tennis matches, unrisen soufflés and the inability to play a musical instrument. The women routinely responded that they would have trouble whittling down their myriad failures to just three instances”.

Start with some of the most listened to episodes: Dolly Alderton (S1, Ep 3), David Nicholls (S1, Ep 7) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (S5, Ep 2) as well as Day interviewing herself (S1, Ep 8).

#8 The New Yorker Radio Hour

The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick, presents a weekly “hourlong program that is very much of The New Yorker, infused by its values, hosted by its writers and editors and artists, but also something unique, capacious, freewheeling”.

The extensive back catalogue includes guests such as Aziz Ansari, Sarah Keonig and Amy Schumer alongside staff writers and cartoonists but it is perhaps best listened to in ‘real-time’ so start with the most recent, which unsurprisingly this week features again the anniversary of the moon landing.

#9 David Tennant Does a Podcast With…

Interviewing the biggest names from film, TV, comedy and others, David Tennant and his widely appreciated “velvety voice” gently coaxes out his guests’ stories and manages to ask the questions to which you might never have known you wanted the answer.

Guests, an eclectic mix, include Olivia Colman, Gordon Brown and John Hamm but there is no extensive back catalogue as this podcast only started in January 2019.

#10 The Minimalists

Return home inspired to pare back your possessions and re-assess your values by listening to Joshua Fields-Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, better known to their millions of listeners as The Minimalists. Addressing all manner of topics including positive thinking, holidays, budgeting, possessions and the decline of the American Dream, the message is to inspire people to lead more meaningful lives.

And the aural equivalent of a trashy magazine…

Royally Obsessed

Presented by American journalists Kaitlin Menza and Lisa Ryan, who both write about The Royals for everyone from Cosmo to NY Mag, this is the ultimate in switching off beachside. Sometimes we all need to listen to something a little less serious, so if you’ve even a fleeting interest in Kate, Meghan and royal fashion, this will pass the time nicely.

Do you have an essential listen to add to our list? Let us know @ObeliskSupport