Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Dare to delegate: maximising efficiency in the workplace

Returning to work after the summer break can be a little overwhelming and it’s easy to slip back into old habits – taking too much on and struggling to maintain the work/life balance we all crave.

For many of us, delegation is the one thing that we really struggle with. How many times have we agreed to more work than we can realistically handle? How many times do we do things ourselves, rather than spread the workload with others within our team or seeking freelance help from outside?

Doing everything ourselves might seem like the right thing to do, but the reality is that not only is it bad for business, it’s also not conducive to optimal wellbeing.

Here are our three tips to help you manage your workload and delegate effectively to maximise your effectiveness and efficiency in the workplace.

Start small and work up

For many of us, delegation marks a loss of control. We fear that other people won’t complete the task in the same way or to the same standard as we would and that makes us reluctant to let go. Delegation is a skill. And, as with most new skills, the key is to start small. To begin with, delegate only the smallest of tasks – then as your ability to let go grows, so too can the tasks you are willing to pass over to someone else.

Prioritise your workload

In order for you to successfully delegate, you need to be clear about your own workload. As work comes in, categorise it. Does it have a deadline? What is the expected outcome? Is there anyone else with the skills needed to complete the task? Anything with a less urgent deadline or a lower skill requirement, can be delegated, freeing up your time to the value-adding tasks. Keeping hold of tasks that could be easily or more quickly done by someone else doesn’t make good business sense – you should recognise your own strengths, and those of others. That’s the way to ensure efficiency at work.

Include instructions

This article from Psychology Today's blog suggests that the real reason we find it hard to delegate is not that we don’t want someone to share the burden, but that we are often dissatisfied with the results that come back to us. This can be easily overcome with the use of detailed instructions. These serve two purposes: to outline your expectations with regards to outcomes and to make it easier for you to let go of certain tasks. Even if the task is straightforward, the act of writing up instructions for whoever you delegate to, will avoid any misunderstandings in communication when handing over the task and help ensure that standards are maintained.

Still not convinced? Remember, delegation is not an indication that you are unable to manage your time effectively, it’s the opportunity for you to help others to grow, to strengthen collaboration skills and to develop trust / confidence within your team.

Delegating the tasks you haven’t had time to do could actually lead to greater creativity in the workplace – helping to identify efficiencies and finding better ways of doing things. So by delegating, you’re actually doing someone a favour!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Avoiding a stressful September

Have you noticed how less stressed everyone is during the summer? Whether it’s the fine weather or the promise of a break away in the sun, somehow life seems easier during the summer months. Come September, however, and we soon see the stress start to escalate again…

Master our two simple exercises and help make your September as stress-free as possible.

Focus for fifteen minutes

It’s easy to get distracted in today’s busy, digital workplace. We’ve often got our fingers in many pies and we’re multitasking more than ever before. We challenge you to take a step back and focus for fifteen minutes each day. Think about what you want to actually achieve, rather than busying yourself with lots of things concurrently. Concentrate on the quality of your outputs, rather than the quantity of tasks you’re engaged with at any one time.

Yes, the rest of your day can be spent juggling, but we reckon after just a quarter of an hour spent on executing one single task on your to-do list, you will feel more positive and productive than you will the rest of the day.

This is what we want you to do during the fifteen minutes:
Remove yourself away from all distractions, switch off all competing technology and just concern yourself with the task in hand. If you start to daydream, click your fingers as a cue to bring your focus back to the task you’re doing. When your fifteen minutes is done, review your work.

Expect to feel a sense of pride from a job well done that will reduce any anxiety and stress. Realising what you can achieve in just fifteen minutes will also enable you to review your own workload – and that of your team – with a renewed clarity and focus going forward.

Connect with your colleagues

We guarantee that if you’re feeling the September stress, your work colleagues will be too. We want you to spend five to ten minutes each day connecting with someone you work with. You can use the five minutes to discuss a work-related topic or to find out more about them as individuals outside of work. What you discuss is not important, it’s the time spent together that will build the bonds you need to create a stress-free working environment going forward.

By taking the time to get to know the people we work with, we can gain a deeper appreciation of them as individuals, which leads to improved working relationships. The better we know people, the easier it is to communicate with them during times of stress and the more manageable our work issues will become as a result.

Taking time to connect with others may seem like a frivolous waste of time, but believe us, it’s five minutes well-spent. Stronger work relationships help us make more informed and grounded business decisions.

So, with September just days away – set yourself a challenge: to make it as stress free as possible.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Simplify your life beyond the summer

During the summer months there is a tendency to live more simply than we do the rest of the year. Spending more time outside, when the weather is fine and the evenings lighter, makes us feel more satisfied and able to cope with less ‘stuff’. What can we take from our summertime living habits that would help us live a simpler life all year round?

Simplifying life helps to reduce stress by creating less reliance on material things. The ability to simplify life comes from an inner sense of well-being, a satisfaction with what we have already and an appreciation of what / who we have around us.

Start as you mean to go on

To make sure your day is simpler, you must start as you mean to go on and that means creating a morning routine that impacts positively on the choices you will then make throughout the day. Mindfulness techniques or practising gratitude can create a feeling of calm that will then emanate throughout your day. Just five minutes in the morning can set you up for the whole day.

Cut complaining

Making a conscious decision to complain less can help to simplify your life too. Often, we focus on things that lie outside of our control and these can occupy our minds, creating unnecessary chaos in our thinking – this could include things such as rising cost of living. There’s nothing we can do about the economy, but we do have control over what we use. Set yourself a challenge not to complain for the next two weeks – thinking only about those issues over which you have some control. You’ll soon see how this can help create a sense of peace.

Ditch the distractions

Electrical devices are a great way of helping us to access information when we need it and are a useful organisational tool. However, have you noticed how much time you waste? Distracted by non-essential activities on these very devices. Want a simpler life? Ditch the devices. Your mind will thank you for it and you’ll feel calmer and more centred as a result. Given how much time we all spend on our gadgets, a total device ban may seem daunting. If that’s the case for you, start off small – have an hour free one week, and increase the time by the hour until your mind starts to rest.

Cut down on choices

Have you noticed that the number of choices you have at any one time is just overwhelming? Even simple decisions, like which milk to buy, are met with numerous choices, which can lead to confusion and dissatisfaction. This Huffington Post article looks at the power of limiting our choices. It considers how much simpler our lives would be if we cut down on the choices we have to make on a daily basis. Give it a try.

If this post has inspired your to start living more simply – why stop there? We look at the benefits of living a minimalist life in a previous post – it includes tips on how to declutter and learn to live with only those things we need.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Mentoring - how to be a good one and how to choose one

Years ago ‘mentoring’ was as simple as helping a new colleague feel welcome or listening to your co-worker as they let off steam about a manager or an increasing workload. Today, mentoring is regarded as a valuable and measurable tool to assist in an employee’s professional development.

Done properly, mentors provide a sounding board at critical career points, supporting and guiding on a specific career path. They help provide us with a unique perspective on the challenges we face, due to their understanding of us as individuals and – usually – an appreciation of the business or sector we work in.

A recent survey by the Accountemps recruitment company found that 86% of executives saw having a mentor as an important tool for career development. That said, only a quarter of those surveyed actually had someone they could regularly turn to for advice and guidance. 

This could be for one of two reasons:

  1. We don’t know how to find a good mentor, or
  2. There aren’t many good mentors about

Finding a good mentor isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a number of factors that you need to consider.

People need to be clear about what they actually need in a mentor

What skills are you looking to develop? What gaps in your knowledge and experience are you looking to fill? You need to be honest with yourself about what you need from a mentor in order to find one who can support you in the right way. As we develop and grow, so too will our mentoring requirements change. Some mentors will grow with us and sometimes we will need to draw on more than one mentor to help us develop and fulfil our true potential. Set yourself a twelve month plan about what you hope to gain out of a mentor/mentee relationship and be sure to review it – with your mentor – at regular intervals during the year as you would any other development intervention.

People should consider working styles when choosing a mentor

Choosing a mentor based on the person you want to be is dangerous – you shouldn’t be looking to fundamentally change the way you are, but more to learn certain skills, such as empathy, collaboration and reflection, that will help you do your job better. By choosing a mentor with a complimentary work style you will avoid personality clashes and ensure that you get the most out of their support and guidance.

People should look for mentors who can listen as much as they talk

A successful mentoring relationship is a 360 one. Your mentor needn’t have been down the same career path that you have, nor should they just feed you the answers to the challenges you face. They are there to act as a sounding board and provide valuable insight that helps you reach your own conclusions. This can only be done if the communication is open, genuine and two-way.

So what does it take to be a great mentor?

Mentoring is a different relationship than the traditional manager / worker one and to become a great mentor you have to see the mentee as an individual, rather than a subordinate. You have to be prepared to look beneath the mentee’s work performance and develop an appreciation of their personal life to truly understand what drives the business decisions they make and shapes the way they behave at work. describes a great mentor as someone who is ‘honest and unafraid to tell you hard truths about yourself and your work’. They ‘push you to take risks and aim higher’.

More often than not, the best quality that a mentor can have is the ability to inspire. To make people aspire to be better people and to give them the confidence to believe they can achieve what they set out to do.

Great mentors get as much value out of the relationship as mentees do. Some of this value is obvious: improved relationship management skills, deeper insight into how people think and operate, as well as experience in challenging, exploring and testing alternative theories and perspectives, which they can then replicate in their own work.

If you’re looking for more information on how to get the best out of people, this TEDTalk playlist is worth a look.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Summertime productivity tips

Admit it – how much time do you spend gazing out of your window when the sun is shining, thinking about all the things you could be doing rather than work?

When the weather is nice outside, there are a million and one things we could be doing – but how do we fit it all in? We’ve pulled together some tips on maximising your productivity during the summer months so you can enjoy time at work - and at play.

The early bird

Longer days mean we can get up a little bit earlier in the summer months and it’s still light. Imagine what you could achieve in just one more hour – especially if the rest of your household is still sleeping! The extra time can be spent planning the day ahead and what you want to achieve, as well as doing all the preparation work you need to ensure your day goes smoothly.

Don’t answer

This is quite a difficult one to achieve, but we think it could have a big impact on productivity – make yourself a promise that you will not answer your phone all day. This article outlines the thinking behind the action [link:], it works on the premise that if the call is important, they’ll leave a message and you can pick up your messages when you have finished the task or activity you were doing when the phone rang. Breaking off from what you’re doing loses momentum and wastes time. Give it a try and see what you think.

Plan to be productive

Even if it’s the holidays, set some time aside on a Sunday evening to plan what you want to achieve during the week ahead. If you commit something to writing you are more likely to complete the task, while sticking to a schedule – even during the summer break – helps you keep on track and feel fulfilled. You can build in ‘down time’ too, as well as relaxation activities. If it’s on your weekly plan, you’ll do it, guaranteed!

Do not multitask

We love to multitask – it makes us feel invincible and as if we have everything under control. But think about it - do we ever spend any time thinking about what we’ve actually achieved while multi-tasking? It is an illusion that we will accomplish more if we multitask. How can we put the same focus and energy into several tasks, as we would to just one? This summer, address just one task at a time and vow to accomplish it to the highest possible standard.

Three simple tips

Productivity is sparked by times of relaxation and reflection. These three simple summertime tips will help you strike the balance between relaxation and productivity.

  1. Write things down, rather than keep them in your head – leave your brain clear for thinking and ideas.
  2. Open the windows and get some fresh air – go for a quick stroll if you can, but at the very least take a minute or five to take in the fresh air during every working day.
  3. Use waiting times – e.g. while in queues or waiting for public transport – for thinking or unwinding, rather than doing stuff, that includes responding to emails, text messages and surfing for information. 

Summer brings with it lots of distractions, but if we plan ahead and make minor modifications to our daily schedules we can remain productive.

For more practical advice to help ensure you deliver your best self at work during the summer months, read this article.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The differences between male and female leaders

A survey of American workers suggested that more than a third of all workers would prefer a male boss, over a female. Factors, such as the gender of their current manager and the age of those surveyed, play a part in the decision, but what are the differences between male and female leaders? Is there any foundation in our preference?

Another American study found that women tended to be rated higher in achieving results, getting work done, being transparent and clear, and building rapport with others. Men scored higher in strategic planning ability, persuasion, delegation, and being more reserved in expression.

The study highlights the areas in which male and female leaderships styles differ, which would explain why people may be drawn towards stating a preference. It also suggests that the natural leadership styles of men and women are complementary. It is by creating a balance of both types of leadership, through Board-level diversity, that organisations can bring about peak performance.

Culture matters

Unsurprisingly, these differing leadership styles are more suited to the different cultures. In traditionally ‘male’ environments, such as the armed forces, male leaders – or at least their leadership style – might be favoured. While environments which employ larger numbers of women, such as education and retail, appear to favour female managers/styles.

Gender stereotypes

These gender-biased leadership skills are historical and often reinforced by stereotypes. As this article shows even after all these years, humans are surprisingly good at assessing a person’s physical formidability in terms of strength and fighting skills – tending to prefer dominant leaders when threat is greater. If women are perceived as too assertive or direct, they are often criticised; not assertive enough, they are labeled as weak leaders. The same goes that male leaders can be regarded as being weak, once they have show their nurturing and empathic sides.

Interestingly, most of the skills identified as being necessary for being a great leader – honesty, delegation, communication, confidence and positivity – are common to both male and female leaders.

Breaking free from being a stereotypical leader

We can all do our bit to break away from being the stereotypical leader we are expected to be:

  • By being conscious of your own biases about gender roles, we can first change our own thinking and behaviour, as well as that of our team members.
  • By having an appreciation of our own leadership style. This means we can purposefully learn to adapt it to fit different situations. Sometimes leaders need to be direct and firm. At other times, empathy and compassion are most needed.

Being an effective leader is about what you do, rather than what you know. Most leadership skills are learned from others, so it stands to reason that the more women leaders we have, the more they will share their skills with their teams.

Organisations are only ever successful thanks to the sum of all parts, rather than the achievements of individuals. All businesses flourish thanks to their diverse, gender balanced workforces, despite what leadership style we prefer – or display.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Encouraging male colleagues to reach out when they need extra support at work

It was back in the 1980s that The Cure sang about the fact that Boys Don’t Cry – men are conditioned from a young age not to display negative emotions. This can make it hard later in life for men to seek out the help and support they need, especially at work.

It’s a situation we’ve all been in – feeling the need to reach out for support, but not quite sure how to go about it, or how it will be viewed by colleagues, especially when we are well established in our careers and lots of other people look to us for support and guidance. However, the reluctance for male colleagues can be even more acute than for their female counterparts.

There are many reasons why this might be the case, not least the conditioning to bottle up emotions boys often face when they’re young. Male colleagues may be so out of tune with the emotional side of their make-up that they do not actually recognise that they need help. We, as colleagues, may notice changes in their behaviour and personality before they do.

The following signs are common in people who are struggling:

  • Becoming withdrawn – spending more time alone focused on their work
  • Losing interest in what’s going on around them
  • Not being as confident or outspoken as they have been previously
  • Missing deadlines or not being as productive as usual

What you can do

The mental health charity, MIND, feels here is some evidence that men are more likely to seek help if a friend or colleague encourages them to do so – especially if it’s a female partner or someone who offers advice in a professional capacity, e.g. occupational health. They theorise that the ‘interference’ of a third party helps to legitimise the issues they’re facing, which means male colleagues are more likely to then seek help.

So, the first thing we can do if we suspect a colleague may be struggling, is to let them know our concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone outright if there’s something wrong, start by showing an interest in them. Ask them for their opinions and build trust with them in the hope that they may open up to you voluntarily in the near future. At the very least, you’ll be paving the way for a more serious conversation about the support they may need later on.

Secondly, find out what support services are on offer within your organisation and share that information with your colleague. Sometimes, a well-placed flyer or telephone number could be enough to prompt your colleague into seeking the additional support they need. The thought that someone’s struggles are affecting their work – and that it has been noticed - could be enough for them to address whatever is bothering them.

For managers, or other people in a position of influence within your workplace, e.g. employee representatives, making suggestions to introduce practices that can help support the whole team not only helps the colleague you’re worried about, but also the rest of the workforce. These suggestions could include mindfulness practices, stress reduction and time management techniques; workplace counselling services; or occupational relaxation therapies, like massage and accupuncture.

If the above interventions don’t seem to help, it might be beneficial to speak to another colleague about your concerns. HR departments are trained to deal with matters that are impacting on people’s ability to do their job. You can ask to speak to someone in confidence and share your concerns.

For more information about stress reduction in the workplace, you can read our previous blog post Feel free to print it off and leave it around the office, if you think it will help others!