Making Work, Work

As the U.S. prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, taking the day to stop and give thanks for the good things and people in their lives, we started thinking about how to be more thankful on a regular basis. All too often, gratitude falls by the wayside, as we inevitably focus more on the things we don’t yet have and the obstacles and challenges that inevitably come our way in life and work.

There is a lot to be said for making gratitude a regular part of our mental exercise. So much so, that the practice of writing a gratitude list or journal is becoming increasingly popular.

A gratitude list can be a very useful tool for professionals – it can help boost resilience in the face of adversity, reminding us that these things too shall pass and are part and parcel of the path to growth and happiness. It can also be a productive way of working out solutions to ongoing problems and dissatisfaction in our lives.

The most appealing thing about a gratitude list is that unlike some self-care trends, it focuses your attention outside of yourself. By thinking of the actions of others that you are grateful for, you become more aware of how your own actions can impact on others, and think about how to return the favour to those who have offered support, a kind word, a laugh or a happy distraction at stressful times.

Being able to feel and express gratitude are also good leadership skills. According to former lawyer and church pastor Carey Nieuhof, gratitude fuels a better attitude to work, making us want to maximise the opportunities we feel so fortunate to have been made available to us, instead of wasting time begrudging what we feel we are owed. Gratitude also makes us more naturally encouraging and attractive to be around, and helps us to see even more opportunities with an ‘abundance mentality’.

Where to Start

The first step to starting your gratitude list is let go of any guilt you might feel about not always acknowledging the good things in life the way you might have wanted. Everyday gratitude isn’t something that always comes naturally to many people, you are not unusual in this, and that is the reason why you are starting the list.

Next, buy a notepad, and choose it carefully – you want it to feel special and important. If you prefer digital alternatives, you can set up a personal Trello board, which enables you to make notes and add attachments to notes you have made that remind you to take action to thank a person or send a gift. Plus, if you use Trello for other projects it might be beneficial to have it in the same place to encourage you to update it.

Journey is another app useful for journaling and personal notes-to-self. With a focus on simplicity and seamlessness, it can be used across multiple devices so you can jot down your thoughts on whatever device is closest to hand and add relevant images, and automatically adds info on the weather and location at time of the input. You can also easily search back through posts using tags or calendar filters and share selected entries with other people, should you wish.

To embed the habit of noting the things you are grateful for, there are various suggestions on ways to encourage the behaviour. Some people create a ritual, setting aside a certain amount of time and always doing it in the same place and under the same conditions e.g. in bed with a warm drink. It’s not always practical in a busy working day to do this, and with little headspace it is often better to jot something down in an app immediately after it happened, giving you the opportunity to return to it later to add more details on reflection.

The SmartTribes Institute has a Gratitude Practice, which may be useful to help focus the mind:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Focus on one thing in your life you are grateful for at this moment
  3. Offer a silent thank you to that person/for that thing
  4. Relax into that feeling of gratitude
  5. Take a deep breath
  6. Go forward feeling more gratitude

What to Include in Your Gratitude List

If you are unsure how to structure your list, a quick Google will find plenty of templates available. Typically, entries are kept short with bullet points outlining what happened, who was involved and why you were thankful for it.

Another way to manage your list is to divide it into categories. You don’t have to fill in each category every time. Some example headings could include:

The Personal – Features and instances from your home and family life, social circle, and individual activities you are grateful you get to do.

The Professional –  Everything and anything to do with work – opportunities, colleagues, work location, even the good office chair…

The Bigger Picture – things that don’t fall into a particular category or aren’t linked to a particular instance or event, but impact your life all the same e.g. being grateful for peace, for stable climate, for rights and freedoms.

Keep it Going

Try to make an entry every day – weekly at the minimum. The more regularly you do it the habit forming it will be. Though your gratitude list will be a mainly personal endeavour, it may be beneficial to share some details of what you are doing with others, as they will be interested to hear how it is working for you and offer their feedback, which will reinforce your commitment to the task.

Happy listing!

With the Christmas holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to start jotting down the things you have been thankful for. We’d love to hear what would be on your gratitude list for 2018 – let us know @ObeliskSupport.

 

Making Work, Work

If you work from home permanently or on a frequent basis, you’ll recognise some of the negative feelings that can creep up on you: the sense of isolation and feeling detached from the office, insecurity about your position with a company or with clients from the lack of face to face contact, and a lack of boundaries between work and home life. Many of our legal consultants at Obelisk Support work from home and may be familiar with these thoughts. It is so important to break this cycle and step out of your bubble. With personal experience, here are my tips for protecting your mental health when working from home.

Create a Comfortable and Protected Workspace

A home office is a necessity. Even if you don’t have space for a room to yourself, making a dedicated and undisturbed work zone is so important – for example, my workspace is one half of the dining room table. I can close the doors for quiet time and for calls and interviews, and I have easy-to-move storage trays for paperwork when the entire table is needed for dinners, my daughter’s homework or various arts and craft projects. Plus if you have regular video calls you’re not scrambling to find a tidy, professional looking space to beam in from each time…

That aside, if you’re finding it hard to concentrate or get motivated, the advantage of working from home is that you can move around freely, without waiting for a meeting room or comfortable chair to become available! Sometimes your comfortable sofa is a better place to jot down ideas for a new project, or you can grab the opportunity for some fresh air outside while on a call.

Declutter Your Home Environment

Though I wouldn’t claim to be a naturally tidy person, since working from home I have become acutely aware of how clutter affects my mental health and concentration. This can be even more difficult to manage when you share your living space with others, particularly with children or if you live with someone who is a natural hoarder.

There are some great tips for sorting your home working space here, but if you find that clutter elsewhere in the home is affecting your mood or encroaching on your space, discuss having a good clear out of your whole living environment. Many people swear by Marie Kondo’s method, and though you might find some of the ideas extreme, it’s a good starting point for better ways to organise your living space.

Use Separate Devices for Work and Leisure Screen Time

Wherever possible, keep your work-related digital communications and documents on dedicated work devices, so they are not popping up in notifications or are sat staring at you on your desktop when you are using those devices during your leisure time. Tracking cookies could also affect your search or social media history with mixed use devices, resulting in ‘tainted’ results. It might seem like unnecessary hassle, but having a dedicated work mobile and personal mobile will help you maintain the boundaries between work and leisure, which so often get blurred when working from home. Plus, it is also easier to keep track of usage for tax purposes if you are self employed – which will also help keep the stress levels down!

Take at Least One Screen-Free Break Each Day

This is important in any work environment, but especially so at home where the temptation of TV and streaming services are at your fingertips. Step away from the computer and do something that requires a different type of concentration. A bit of light tidying in the home, a walk or a run, even simply going for a drive requires a change in thought process and engages different reactions allowing your other faculties to recharge. Anything that gets you up and stretching and out of the house is preferable.

Some fitness devices like FitBit activity trackers remind you to get up every hour and walk at least 250 steps, motivating you to be active during long periods of physical inactivity.

Connect Frequently With Your Communities

We are a social species, and even those of us who are comfortable in our own company need to connect with other people from time to time. Working from home can feel like you are isolated from the core workplace community. Try to ensure that your communication with colleagues/clients and associates is not always urgent and task-focused – sharing ideas, interesting relevant articles you’ve come across helps keeps sense of community and shared inspiration.

For a confidence boost, try getting involved with local community organisations that interest you, to maintain a sense of connection outside of the home. If you are finding that working at home is really taking its toll, talk to friends and family about your feelings. This may then give you the courage to share your feelings with work associates or other support networks who can offer practical help and understanding.

Use Shared Workspaces

A change is as good as a rest, so they say. If you are experiencing a creeping sense of cabin fever, it may be time to make regular use of shared workspaces in your local area for a change of environment. Workspaces are better than working from a coffee shop as they are set up with the facilities and quiet room you need to concentrate and be productive. Public libraries can also offer good working environments. Regarding coffee houses, I am also reluctant to spend much time working in them as it is important to not let places of leisure and relaxation become places of work. If you don’t have a suitable workspace nearby, perhaps enquire with people you know about any spare space they might know or be in possession of.

Remember the Benefits of Working from Home

It’s all too easy to fall out of love with working from home when we slip into bad habits, but try to remember the opportunities and freedoms it gives you. Here are just some of the advantages to remind you why you are one of lucky ones:

  • You’re in charge – you are free to use your home as you wish, there’s no need to ask for permission or to check schedules for meeting rooms
  • You have no commute – you can work that little bit longer and still be present for bedtimes and homework
  • You create a schedule to suit you – as you get into a rhythm you can choose the hours and day structure that suits your energy and peak productivity times.
  • You have access to enjoyable home projects – on your break, you can spend a little time on those other projects you can’t take into the office – that painting you want to finish, the DIY, gardening or craft project that’s been on the to do list for months, there is more you can achieve when work and home are in the same place. Just try to keep them separate and distinct.

Support Networks for Home Workers

If you feel you need additional support and someone to talk to while working from home, online support groups can be a lifeline. Here are just a few examples of organisations you can contact and connect with, digitally and in person:

  • Meetup.com is a place where you can find local and global support groups and events for people working from home.
  • Aoife Lee Parent Support (Ireland) runs corporate talks for working parents.
  • The Samaritans are not just there for people in deep crisis – they campaign for better mental health in society including in the workplace and are always available on 116 123 to listen when you need to talk it out, whatever the circumstance.
  • Facebook features an amazing number of professional-minded groups, some with regional features. Most are closed groups that require admin approval and feature moderated discussions.
  • LinkedIn is another great place to look for professional groups. Some require admin approval and proof on your LinkedIn profile that your area of expertise or professional history are relevant to the group.

However good these networks and groups are, remember to get out of your house and have a fulfilling social life. What’s the point of working otherwise?