Monday, 8 January 2018

Personal development tips for busy people

By now most people are back at work after the holidays and we all share high hopes for what lies ahead - we may even have set resolutions that will make us better people and help us live a happier, more fulfilling life. It’s also the time of year when we look at our career and identify goals that will enable us to grow. But how attainable are these goals and resolutions that we set? Is it possible to set realistic objectives – both personal and career based - that won’t get overlooked once we’re back in the thick of our busy, day-to-day routines.

We’ve found some self and personal development areas that can be built into our daily lives. Let’s make 2018 a year of personal growth and self-development – without it being a chore!

Get online

It used to be that if you wanted to learn a new skill you had to go to night school, or take time out of your day job to attend courses. Not so now. If there’s anything you want to know or learn, the internet is your friend and what’s better is that many are free or low cost. More than that, most online courses or webinars can be done at your leisure, when it suits you. Why not schedule an hour in your diary once a week to take you closer to achieving the goals you’ve set?

Explore mentoring

Becoming a mentor or working with a mentor are both great ways of developing your skills in a less-formal fashion than traditional training courses and leadership programmes. Sharing what we know with others is a great way of appreciating the skills and experience that we have and, conversely, working with a mentor is an effective way of enriching your own personal development while exploring new ways of thinking and working. And what’s more, it can all be done at a time and place that is convenient to you. You can read more about mentoring, in this blog post.

Venture into volunteering

There are so many charities out there looking for a wide range of skills and experience to help them deliver vital work with local communities. Volunteering is a great way of either sharing the skills you have within a different sector or learning something new. Either way, volunteering can help you fulfil your personal development goals for the year. Many charities have their own training courses too, some of which lead to recognised qualifications. They do often require a regular time commitment, though this could be as little as two hours a week - well worth scheduling into your calendar. Check too with your employer, as some allow you to complete volunteering assignments within work time as part of their corporate and social responsibility programmes.

Write your goals down

As with most activities and priorities, the way to bring your personal development goals to life, is to write them down. In fact, go one step further – write them down and then schedule time in your diary to work on them. Writing things down legitimises them, giving them time and reiterating their importance. It doesn’t have to eat into your day either. Read a text book during your commute to work, or during your lunch break; or listen to a webinar or tutorial before you go to bed. Make your time work for you. If it’s important to you, you'll find the time.

If you are still struggling to find the time to work on yourself this year, this article from the Guardian outlines some handy time management tips of busy people to give you some ideas.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

How to give feedback people listen to

When we’re at school we accept that we'll be taught things, that we will learn new skills, ideas and concepts from others and that this information will enable us to grow as individuals. Once we join the workforce however, it becomes harder to accept such teachings, advice and guidance from others. As adults, we become naturally defensive and skeptical which makes it difficult for us to take a lot of the feedback we’re given constructively.

In many ways, feedback can be as tough to deliver, as it can to receive. However, if done in a clear and constructive manner – as outlined in this blog article– it’s a great way of helping people realise their true potential.

Two-way is the best way

Nobody likes to be spoken at, so if you really want people to take on board what you have to say you’ve got to at least try and involve them. If you frame the feedback more as a conversation, giving your colleague the opportunity to discuss, question and challenge what you are saying, it will make for a much more collaborative process and one from which you could both learn something. More importantly, it will create a platform from which you can work together to create a way forward.

Prepare to take action

Feedback is not a finite, one-off action, it’s a process. Once you've shared the feedback – and made your colleagues aware of any issues and problems you’ve highlighted – you can’t leave things there. The most important part of the feedback process is what happens afterwards: the steps that you take to support your colleague through any issues identified, the plans you create and the goals you set to improve performance going forward. Use two-way discussion to go over ideas and be open to the suggestions made by your colleagues, so that you can support them however you can.

Review your plans

Make sure that any action plans you create are timely and measureable. All too often, colleagues are given feedback and then left to navigate their progress by themselves. Commit to additional feedback sessions to discuss progression so far and next steps. The way you handle the feedback process will determine how your colleagues will give and receive feedback in the future, so it’s important to get it right.

And don’t forget our three golden rules for sharing feedback – they’re guaranteed to get your message heard!

Be specific

Now’s not the time for beating around the bush. When you give feedback make sure you talk about specific behaviour and specific examples that demonstrate the point you are making.

Be timely

Strike while the iron is hot is a saying that applies when sharing feedback. It’s got to be done while the issues are still front of mind. If you have feedback to give, then just get on and give it.

Be sensitive

Pick a suitable moment to share your feedback. You’ll know when colleagues are open to discussion and times when your feedback will not have the impact you are seeking.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The importance of career planning

Most of us have a dream or ambition about what we want to achieve in our working lives. It’s often a dream we hold close, sharing with few – if any – of our colleagues for fear of appearing too ambitious or not hungry enough. However, how many of us will actually achieve what we set out to? How many of us actively manage our own career paths?

Rather than meaning that our focus is not on the job we’re currently doing, a realistic career plan is an essential component of personal and professional growth. It helps build the skills and capabilities we need in a structured way that enables us to realise our true potential.

Career plans, when created and reviewed properly, keep us motivated by setting a specific timeline for accomplishing the things we want to achieve. So how exactly do we set a meaningful career plan for ourselves?

Start with the big stuff

Where do you see yourself in five years / ten years from now? You’ve got to be clear about your destination before you can plot out your journey. Yes, it seems a long way off, but we’re talking about long term goals here – rather than incremental steps.

Be clear about what you can do already – and what you have still to learn

Once you know where you are heading, you need to conduct an honest skills assessment: what skills are you looking to develop? What gaps in your knowledge and experience do you need to fill? You need to be realistic with yourself about what you can do – and for those things where your skills are lacking, you need to develop a realistic training journey to build your capabilities. The skills you need might be achievable through your current job, or a training course. Other skills may require exposure to a different sector or job role in order to build the capabilities you need.

Decide on your career goals and desired jobs

The reality is that, while some career planning and coaching may be available within your organisation, most planning and career exploration needs to be undertaken in your own time, outside of work. Deciding on your career goals sometimes means coming to the realisation that what you really need lies outside of your current employer; similarly taking advice from your current employer may make you feel obliged to find an internal role that fits part of your career plan – yet still falls short of your big dream job. A true career plan is independent and impartial – and that means making the time outside of work to do it.

Put your career path plan in writing

A plan that isn’t written down is only an idea. Once that idea has been committed to writing, it’s a plan. Writing it down makes it real. It provides something tangible to review and measure and the legitimacy that’s needed to prioritise it in our lives. Share it with others – in full or in part - as necessary but in order to realise your goals and aspirations you need to treat your career path as a living, breathing document. There are plenty of templates freely available on the internet to help you on your way.

Finally, once you have your plan in writing – own it! No-one will ever care as much about your career as you do. The power to grow and develop your own future lies firmly in your hands. Seek support and assistance from others as you wish, but ultimately it’s all up to you.

You might also find this post about goal setting helpful:

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Why introverts miss out on leadership roles

A recent study has shown that introverts often miss out on leadership roles they are more than capable of doing, simply because they overestimate how stressful these positions will be.

In the study nearly 200 undergraduate business students were asked to complete personality tests devised by NASA. Before starting, they were asked to rate whether they would find it fun and exciting, or scary and stressful. They also rated each other for signs of emergent leadership during the task, such as influencing group decisions and leading conversations. Introverts showed less emergent leadership than extraverts and expected to experience more negative emotions and feelings during the group task.

While that makes sense, it does suggest that there is a pool of talented leaders out there who will never realise their true potential, just because of how they perceive things to be. That’s a shame, given there are many reasons why introverts actually make excellent leaders who bring out the best in their teams.

Introverts think, then act

Introverts never speak without thinking things through first. They are great at reflecting on how what they say will impact on others and be perceived. They don’t speak unless they feel they can add value to the conversation and you can be sure that their responses will be measured and considered. Yes, their meetings may be quieter than those facilitated by extroverted leaders, but they are able to cut through organisational noise to distil the important data and information.

Introverts like to dig deep

There’s nothing superficial about introverted thinking. They like to investigate and research to a level of detail that extroverts wouldn’t deem necessary. They listen and they love to ask questions – probing questions that get to the crooks of the issue. As leaders this results in a greater understanding and appreciation of what’s going on in their departments and a deeper grasp of their team members and what they are capable of.

Introverts are calm

If you’re working in a busy or stressful job, you need someone who can bring a sense of calm to the operation and the higher up the chain of command that calm is, the easier it is for it to exude across the whole team. Introverts are great in times of crisis and they won’t make a mountain out of a molehill, that’s why they make such good mentors and coaches.

Introverts like to plan

You won’t catch an introvert out through a lack of planning. Being prepared and rehearsed is one of the reasons introverts make such good leaders. They plot out scenarios in their mind before they happen so are very seldom caught out, plus their tendency to air on the side of caution means they have realistic expectations of themselves and their team members.

Let’s not forget, some of the world’s most successful leaders are self-confessed introverts, like Bill Gates and Mahatma Ghandi. So be sure to share this blog with the talented introverts you know and encourage them to achieve their true leadership potential.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Hold down a career and be a successful parent

When you’re a parent, there’s a daily struggle of juggling two jobs - not to mention then spending time wondering whether you’re doing either to the best of your abilities! If you spend too much time at work, you worry that the children will suffer; too much time at home and there's the worry that our employers will notice and that our performance will suffer. In reality, being a parent and holding down a successful career need not be conflicting roles – success at one could actually help our ability to do the other.

What our concerns usually boil down to are that of time: having the time to do either role properly. To help with time management, we’ve compiled some simple organisational tips to tackle your time management and ease your daily juggling.


One of the reasons people feel guilty about being a working parent is because they fail to draw concrete boundaries between the two roles. Admittedly this usually presents itself as an inability to switch off from work when we are home – answering work calls during home time or answering emails which can easily wait for the next working day. The easiest way to do both our jobs better is to manage the divide between the two more clearly. That means telling the kids/childminder to only call if it’s an emergency and having an effective ‘clocking off’ time to enjoy family time.

Give yourself things to look forward to at home and at work

To redress the work/life balance – and ensure that we feel valued and motivated when doing both of our roles - it helps to build some small treats into every day to keep us focussed at work and make us feel as though we’re spending our time valuably when at home. This can be as simple as building in a proper lunch break at work, when we can relax and reflect or making a commitment to read to the children at bedtime.

Create a to-do list that leaves you feeling productive and fulfilled

Achievable schedules and realistic to-do lists are a working parent’s friend. Don’t try and do so much that it becomes overwhelming. Prioritise the important things and accept that you can’t do everything at once. A to-do list that can be successfully delivered – to both family and employer – helps us feel more fulfilled, rather than stressed and guilty. It will also help us to juggle without dropping any of the balls!

Be thankful

We appreciate that being a working parent can be hard but remember why you’re doing it. Being a working parent benefits everyone – ourselves included – so let’s focus on the positives and encourage our colleagues and kids to do the same!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Facing your fears

Most of us have fears or phobias that stop us from achieving our full potential – we’re only human, after all. However, sometimes these issues can become problematic, getting in the way of our performance at work, or our enjoyment out of work.

The great news is that many fears and phobias can be overcome, if you want it badly enough. And rather than avoid the things that make you anxious, often the best thing to do is to expose yourself to them until you become desensitised to the fear they induce.

We’re not talking about jumping right in – it’s more a case of taking tiny steps, and gradually increasing the frequency of time and duration you expose yourself to whatever it is you fear, until you can manage your emotional responses better.

Let’s give you an example: you have a fear of presenting to large groups - you're not alone - many people do. So start off small. Agree to sit on a question panel, for example, or develop the presentation materials, but ask a member of your team to present. Once you feel comfortable doing that, agree to present for a short period of time at a small gathering until your confidence grows. Now, while we can’t guarantee that you will grow to love taking the stage in front of your peers, we can say that it won’t ignite the same feelings of fear any more, which means it won’t hold you back.

We have four tried and tested tricks to help you build up your exposure and face your fears.

Picture your success

Picture yourself doing exactly what it is you fear. In fact, go one step further, picture yourself being completely at ease while doing it. The trick is this: if you think you can – truly believe you can – you will. Be prepared to take the first step forward and plan your actions out step by step. Use the power of your mind to realise your success.

Remember the time you did it!

Often we are our own worst critic and that stops us from doing things. Strengthen your belief in yourself by reflecting on the last time you successfully overcame your fear. Forget about the feelings of anxiety that preceded your success and, rather, concentrate on the feelings of joy and elation when you’d done it. Relive that feeling, dwell on how good it made you feel. 

Seek inspiration from people you look up to

We’re all fallible and many of the world’s most successful people have overcome adversity to propel them forward. If you’re feeling anxious or plagued with self-doubt, do a quick google search on some of the people you find most inspirational. See how they overcame their fears and used it as a power for good. Use the success stories of others as the fuel you need to face your own fears. 

Only positive thoughts

Positive thoughts attract success. Instead of fearing the worst, train yourself to expect the best. Don’t give your fears the time to dwell in your mind – they will sap all of your energy. Focus on solutions, plan to succeed – and you will get there.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Take a minute for World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day and this year's focus is on mental health in the workplace.

Most people spend a large proportion of their lives at work, so it's important to ensure that you can find ways to cope with your workload and the environment you work in if you're going to have good mental health and wellbeing.

If you find your role stressful, it's worth sitting down and thinking about which tasks create stress for you. Remember that not everyone will find the same things stressful, and what one person finds motivating another may find overwhelming and stress inducing.

And stress is not really such a bad thing when it's doing it's job of protecting you from harm - it's our inbuilt response to danger and it really works - our bodies 'power up' ready to fight or run away from danger.  However, when we are exposed to stress inducing situations in the long term, stress can affect our mental and physical health, which is why keeping on top of stress is key. Stress is cumulative - in other words it's not just your job that can cause you to experience stress at work. Family problems, relationship issues, financial problems, moving house,
and illness can all add to the stress load and are more likely to result in you feeling stressed at work.

So what can you do to reduce the load and manage the stress?

Building in time for relaxation is the key to managing stress before it becomes a problem.

We've come up with some simple one minute exercises you can do at work to help stay on top of stress. The first one is below. We'll be adding more throughout today, so come back later to check for more tips.

1 Step outside for a minute 

One of the most important things you can do to support your mental health is to take a break and do a little bit (even a very little bit!) of exercise. This helps your mind switch off, even for a moment, which allows your adrenaline levels to reduce. The exercise will loosen your muscles and release some tension, and if you can face some gentle stretching this will be even more beneficial! Regular breaks and time outs can have a huge impact, giving you the ability to find perspective and feel less overwhelmed with things that are going on – reducing stress and improving your mood.

2 List the positives

Research has shown that people who keep a list, each day, of positive things that happened to them during that day find their mood improving and their general sense of well-being increasing. When things are difficult, and we feel under pressure, we can often lose perspective and forget about the good things that might be happening around us. So, take a minute to write down three positive thing that have happened in the last 24 hours – these could be an enjoyable chat with a friend, a beautiful view of the sun setting as you make your way home, reading a good book, sharing a funny moment with your child, etc. If you do this exercise daily, research would suggest you will find yourself feeling more positive and upbeat. Try it!

3 Face a fear

Anxiety is one of the biggest mental health problems faced by many people. We worry about many things, and this can reduce quality-of-life and create a burden that often feels difficult to let go of. So take a minute to tackle one fear (pick a minor one - it's only a minute after all!). Identify something you're worried about, and ask yourself the following questions:

 a) What is the actual likelihood that what I am feeling will happen in the way I think it might – does the evidence suggest this or not? Remember, most commonly we exaggerate to ourselves the awfulness and level of catastrophe that we would face if the thing we fear comes to pass! 

b) If what I fear did actually happen, how would I cope with it?  It's often really helpful to develop a clear and concrete plan as this allows you to feel more in control and also to challenge some of your assumptions that you couldn't cope. 

c) Chat to someone else – asking someone about whether they would deal with what you fear in the same way is often very helpful – it can provide perspective and give you an alternative viewpoint that you hadn't thought about.

4 Keep others in mind

People experiencing mental health difficulties often find it hard to talk about things, or even seek help. Take a minute to look around you, or to think about friends and family who may be having a hard time. Are there any people who you see or know who may have changed in recent times, perhaps seeming under pressure, more introverted, working harder, eating less (or more), drinking more alcohol, or neglecting themselves a little bit. Use your minute to think about others, and even to ask someone who may appear not themselves if they are okay. A question like that, followed by a cup of coffee and a chat, may mean your minute makes a huge amount of difference to somebody else.