The Morning Routine

Building on my pre-Christmas blog entitled Switching Off from Work, and achieving that objective in 2018, for 2019 I set myself a new year’s resolution to really plan my days better and more importantly develop a morning routine. We all know new year’s resolutions come and go but as we are nearly into March I can safely say that this new mindset is fully ingrained and I am more productive as a result.

Breaking old habits

morning routineOne of the first things I used to do as soon as I woke up was check my email on my phone – this was before going to the loo, brushing my teeth and making a brew. Those who know me well know I’m an early riser and stick to a rigid gym routine but by checking my emails before going out to exercise I was already in work mode before the day had even begun and it would be hours until my colleagues were getting started with work….this email check was counterproductive as instead of focusing on exercise and relaxation I was mulling over responses and ideas. That was a bad habit and one I could easily break. In the aforementioned blog I mentioned about setting up screen time on your iPhone and locking certain apps out at certain times of the day – the trick is not to select the “allow for 15 minutes” override and be disciplined.

Create a routine

In addition to the email quick win there are a series of strategies I have adopted to make my mornings more productive and overall make my day go better:

1. Set a brief plan the night before

Just before you switch off for the evening spend a few minutes identifying the quick wins and three things you wish to tick off before you open Outlook. These can be simple tasks or more lengthy activities but nothing more than half an hour per activity.  This will give you a sense of accomplishment early on which will help maintain momentum throughout the morning. Before you log off try to prioritise and clean up your inbox on the key things you need to respond to first thing, remembering to switch Outlook to “Work Offline” so when you look in the morning you are not seeing any new stuff.

2. Block time out in the diary

Whether it be for the next day or the week ahead, use Outlook to your advantage by blocking one and two hour slots for major reports or analysis that you need to get done without distractions from others. By doing this people will realise in MS Teams, Skype etc that you are not available and therefore you are not simply slotting the work in between calls and meetings (which results in the project taking longer anyway as you are constantly switching gears and focus).

3. Take a break

I learnt a great trick about productivity a few years ago from The Energy Project. Studies show on average 90 minutes is the most time we should spend on a single activity before we get distracted and productivity wanes. It highlights the importance of taking a quick break to reset and walk away from the screen – make a cup of tea, do some discrete deep breathing (without freaking out your colleagues) or a quick walk. I now do this three times in the morning where possible always at the same time. Use the stopwatch on your phone to get used to this, but over time your will go into autopilot and realise when you need to do a quick reset.

4. Keep a notepad to hand

This will enable you to quickly right down and key ideas you have that you may need to action later.  Don’t be tempted to action them straight away, focus on delivering the plan you set the night before, but by writing down you have downloaded so your brain isn’t worrying about forgetting it.

5. Get rid of notifications

Whether that be Skype, WhatsApp on your desktop, Facebook, Instagram, BBC breaking news etc – if people need something urgently, they will call you. Those constant notifications in the morning and that phone vibrating is a distraction whether you have taken a sneak peek or not….by hearing a ping or a vibrate you know something is going on and therefore it has already taken you attention and subsequent productivity.

Flexible afternoons

It is important to make time for others, and if you have boxed off your most pressing work early, then afternoons become more flexible. Personally (& somewhat selfishly) I am more focused on listening and supporting others when I know I have accomplished my own personal objectives in the morning. I admit I am not great at listening to someone at 9am if I know I have my list of things to do, from mid-morning as well as afternoons I am more attentive, and they get my undivided attention.

Not everyone is a morning person, some people love to burn the midnight oil and are most creative late at night. What is important, is to recognise and read those around you, and adapt your communication and working style to when you both operate at your best. It is easy to flip this routine to make it work for you. There will be days when this structure is not always possible but if you can achieve it more days than those days you don’t then you will find a heightened sense of accomplishment.

Photo: Viktor Hanacek

Living in a World of Digital Insanity

How many of you reach for the phone last thing at night and first thing in the morning? Don’t use the excuse of setting your alarm and switching it off! And how many of you think that a few minutes browsing news/twitter/Instagram/facebook is the best solution to curb insomnia? I have to say I am guilty of this.  Now, how many of you feel that intense panic when you lose your phone, or the phone runs out of battery?  Finally, how many of you have been out with friends at a social gathering and one person looks at their phone and triggers a domino effect of everyone else in the party checking their phone screens?

So ask yourself this – are you controlling your phone, or is your phone controlling you? Are smart phones becoming such a part of our lives that we can’t function without them?

I may be flippant in my observations but underlying this is a genuine concern about how our use of such devices is damaging to society. In this blog I have outlined a few main areas where issues can arise from excessive screen time.

Physical Issues

  • Eyesight – clearly exposure to screens can cause digital eyestrain.   This can include dry eye, eye strain, headaches and blurry vision.  It is certainly recommended to take regular breaks away from the screen.
  • Impact on fingers – Tech claw is an RSI condition that causes pain or cramping in your fingers due to excessive texting.  There can also be issues relating to excessive thumb use.
  • Impact on posture – Tech neck is caused by excessive force being put on your neck when you tilt your head down to read texts.   This can extend to the lower back caused by bad posture.   This is significant to anyone (including children) who use tablets or mobiles as they are often slouched on beds or sofas with postures that an occupational therapist would weep about.

Social Issues

  • Face to face communication is a dying art – people would much rather text than phone or meet face to face. Nothing beats that human engagement and looking in people’s eyes and seeing their expressions/body language. See previous blog “Walk the Walk and talk more” – http://redtigerconsulting.co.uk/walk-walk-talk-2/
  • False identity – If people hide behind social media are they really who they say they are? This fundamentally erodes trust in society, yes there have always been liars in a pre-digital world but online the liars can have fabrications on a whole different level.

Mental Issues

  • Focus on the job in hand – we are battling a constant bombardment of information and this is made worse by mobile technology. We have all missed important parts of tv programmes, sports events, or music concerts because we have been momentarily distracted by our phones.
  • General concentration – children especially, but adults too, can be unable to concentrate on anything for longer than the average duration of a You Tube video. Our information now comes in bite sized snippets, and we struggle to digest or pay attention to anything longer.

Less Screen Time

I have embraced the release of Screen Time with iOS 12. The irony, after spending so much time making you addicted to their technology and apps, Apple are now providing the means for consumers to monitor their usage of their devices.  Will we turn completely the other way and gamify the down-time per day?   It will probably once and for all settle the long running debate my wife and I have about who is most addicted to their smart phone!

We are each responsible for our own phone use and these are my tips to ensure that you take control of your phone:

  • Be clear about what hours of the day are suitable for phone use, and ensure you stick to it.
  •  Ensure you set (and keep) to limits on the amount of time spent on social media – if it gets out of hand delete the app for a while and see how much of your life you get back, the world doesn’t stop if social media stops).
  • Try to ensure a good posture while using you phone and avoid un-necessary strain on the neck, back, hands and eyes.
  • Use the technology to your benefit – limit the amount of app alerts and also use technology around do not disturb to ensure you are not distracted when sleeping.

You would have to be buried in your mobile device, if you don’t share my concern that this is a growing issue across society. Look anywhere in public and you will see people staring into their phones or devices. In fact, I bet you are reading this blog on a smart phone or tablet!

If you have any screen time tips, or share my concerns, please comment below.

Switching off from work

The last three months have been a revelation for me as I took the decision six months ago to consciously leave the big corporate world, at least for a while, and make some important lifestyle changes.

Despite a love and passion for my job and company it dawned on me one long-haul flight that although this is something I absolutely loved it wasn’t sustainable, I just never switched off and was constantly connected with work. I had become totally flexible and footloose, travelling across the pond and beyond every few weeks, my life in a small backpack, nothing bigger than 100ml, laptop and my gym trainers swinging from one side.

Over time I had learnt to travel lean and smart and I loved it, it was an adventure. With my laptop and iPhone, combined with the time zones and constantly being away from home meant I could work whenever I wanted to but with my exercising obsession meant I was burning the candle at both ends. On the flip side the fact I did do exercise and my strong belief in its benefits to mental wellbeing, probably kept me going for as long as I did and fortunately I didn’t burn out……but there was always the conscious voice at the back of my mind telling me it could happen.

More connected than ever

It’s not ground-breaking to say that we are more connected than ever and even with the best will in the world it’s hard to truly switch off from work, blurring our personal and professional lives. This blurring is increasing all the time. It has created this expectation of an immediate response, FOMO (fear of missing out) and that work is building up. For me it was compounded, by the fact I worked for an American company, with team members in various time zones. The weeks when I was at home in the UK the mornings were when I was at my best and most creative, I could truly focus…until the US woke up and emails kicked in…. I was hooked, they knew I would respond, and it was a big distraction from getting the work done. Notifications are a killer for productivity; by getting distracted, switching gears can be highly disruptive and it takes longer to do each task. The phenomenon of people getting distracted by mobile phones is increasing.

Does it even matter?

In this ever-connected world does it even matter if we are always switched on with work? Of course, it does, the mental and physical implications are clear…. increased tiredness, fatigue, sleep problems. You are likely to become more stressed and anxious, make poor food choices…. which snowballs into bigger health implications. The key is the frequency of processing and thinking about work and when you should be switched off. That frequency depends on the individual & when you see the signs it is getting too much.  Its about self-awareness and monitoring. Technology is great, its empowering and gives us so much flexibility but it’s how we optimise its use to make our lives better rather than being governed by it.  It’s a personal choice what you want to give your energy to, and it shouldn’t always be a screen. We must be better at self-management by creating boundaries and rules but unfortunately as humans this isn’t one of our core strengths.

Technology can save us!

Phones and haters score boardIronically technology can help, including your smart phone, which has taken the brunt of the blame for this blurring. I love mobile network Three’s latest marketing campaign, which uses #PhonesAreGood  as the tag line and shows Henry VIII swiping left on Tinder, which subsequently saves his wives. For me this isn’t about work / life balance anymore it’s about life.

screen time app

In the Andrews household we have made some conscious decisions. Apple in their latest iOS update have introduced “Screen Time” and for me it really is a blessing…it has given me that nudge that I just wasn’t strong enough to do myself. The only phone function that works after 7pm is receiving calls so I can still be contacted if something really is super urgent with all other notifications coming through after 8am the next day. All other apps you must consciously override the system and even then, access is limited to 15 minutes – the fact it prompts you to override is a great way of stopping yourself.

Despite John Lewis announcing last month they are reducing their alarm clock range by 30% as people use their phones to wake them up in the summer we went retro and purchased one, no longer having to have our phones by our bedsides. I even use Microsoft Teams and One Note to divide my day to achieve all objectives, focusing on specific tasks and not get distracted by notifications. Emails are slowly becoming redundant. Occasionally I will flick on airplane mode for 30 minutes to get something done so the project in hand has my exclusive focus.

Change is good

Building on Steve’s blog earlier this month, “don’t let life get in the way of living” don’t put off your goals and break things down into small objectives. “Switching off” was one of mine for 2018 and I have come a long way in addressing that. I didn’t need to leave a company to achieve this, it was being addressed either way, but it certainly expedited the process. Don’t put off these goals and certainly don’t wait until January each year. Make small conscious decisions which subsequently create a fundamental shift in behaviour and mindset.

If one of your goals is a change in lifestyle and career, then Red Tiger can help. If you would like careers advice or are looking for roles in any of our specialist fields, then get in touch by contacting info@redtiger.co.uk or upload your CV.

Walk on, Walk on, With Hope in Your Heart

Do you have colleagues that religiously take up to an hour out of their day to have a brisk stroll at lunch time?  Are these colleagues incessant on telling you their step goals and provide a daily update on how they well they are doing against their goals?  Do you often wonder what all the fuss is about? Well maybe it is time to walk on.

I, like many, lead a very sedentary lifestyle and have slipped into a range of excuses in order to negate achieving a paltry 10,000 steps per day (equivalent of around 5 miles per day).  My latest readings on steps for this month – an average of 6,153 steps, my best day has been 9,490, and my worst 3,015 steps – pathetic.

Taking a Walk

One day a few weeks ago I dropped my car off for a service on the outskirts of Chester. I decided to renege on the offer of unlimited coffee, free wi-fi and a change of work environment, that the dealership provided and venture out into the wild unknown.   I also made a commitment to not join the growing community that seem to think it’s a good thing to do to walk and be immersed in your phone screen at the same time (please see my previous blog on that!).

However, I did go armed with my mobile, (purely for emergency navigation and note taking I hasten to add) and set off in a random direction.  It is amazing some of the things you see when you really focus on observing.  Before long I was walking alongside the river Dee, past a collection of relatively new riverside apartments sitting amongst a mix of small space industrial units.  I noticed a cluster of empty ground floor ‘restaurant’ units, most likely vacant since construction, that would never survive in such a relatively low footfall area (highlighting the difference between planning utopia and commercial reality?).  My walk took me to Chester race course where I passed an old man on a bench reading his newspaper, young mothers with strollers ensuring their babies get a decent mid-morning nap, a returning fisherman looking rather pleased with his catch of the day.   It felt so great to remove myself from my inbox, breathe non conditioned air, and watch the world go by.

The Return Journey

I  walked back down City Walls Road, with the Queens School on my right and their playing fields/tennis courts on my left, where the regular ‘pop’ of a well struck tennis ball broke the familiar background hum of motor vehicles.  I noticed the empty running track and imagined school sports day with hundreds of kids competing for their respective house.

After that I navigated my way to the Chester canal basin, noted the origin of some of the canal barges, and meandered my way across one of the locks to the road before deciding it was now time to head back to the car dealership.  I cut through a pleasant residential road (Gladstone Avenue) that seems to be a mix of native residents and student accommodation – which was the inspiration behind my first guessing game of the walk – student or native.  It was an easy game really, the state of their limited front garden, the view inside their lounge window (if the curtains weren’t mildewed shut!), the state of the bins.  I learnt that in Chester  there are specific operators of Premium student accommodation and they, choose to label their accommodation accordingly with a fancy Perspex plaque!  I also noted that even though this road is on the outskirts of Chester parking is completely unrestricted (for now!).

Stimulate your Senses

My learnings from today are to try and make an effort to walk somewhere every day – even if it is without a specific purpose.  Switch off your mobile phone and observe as you walk – regardless of where you walk (in the city, suburbs or countryside) there are always things that will make you smile and re-engage yourself with humanity.  Stimulate your senses and distract your mind from the multitude of other things that typically fill your head.

Walk the Walk ….. and Talk More

This blog entry was inspired by a walk to a client in the glorious sunshine, one morning in London. My mind wandered to how the scene before me would have differed from Victorian London.  I imagined a scene from Oliver Twist, where there was clear disparity between the haves and the have-nots, but as everyone walked to wherever they were going they had their heads held high and greeted people along the way. A nod in one direction a tip of the hat in another.

What would someone from yesteryear observe if they looked down on us today? I would guess a certain level of bemusement.  In particular, based on my observations from the other day, at least two thirds of people were walking head down, with one arm outstretched, seemingly using a small device to navigate.  Navigation didn’t seem that great as occasionally two people would encounter a near collision, acknowledge each other, and move on.  That is just about the only level of social interaction they get on their daily routine to wherever they are going to.

There are a number of ways this observation relates to the work place:

 

1) Erosion of core communication skills

Businesses thrive on social interaction and people’s ability to communicate.  A society which places so much emphasis on digital communication will inevitably chip away at these core skills.

We are now in an age where some people deliberately avoid face to face (or phone) conversation and favour digital communication, typically via email or text.  There are usually a number of factors at play here but the main ones appear to be:

  • ensuring consistent communication to a wider audience 

    We have all received emails from colleagues which prompt us to search for reasons why they sent it to us in the first place.  Filtering and reading emails is the single biggest drain on productivity in business today. Ask yourself before you email do you need to include everyone in your to list?

 

  • delivering difficult news

People will always tend to take the shortest path of resistance when delivering bad news.  Here I imagine teenage sweethearts all over the world crying out in dismay “I can’t believe they finished with me by text”.  The advantage of text is that it avoids the need to immediately deal with a response (unless it prompts the recipient to pick up the phone!), the disadvantage is that the recipient is unable to gauge the tone of delivery and the deliverer is not able to assess the reaction of the recipient.  If you are finding yourself writing an email with some difficult news consider using what you have written as your script for a face to face or phone conversation.  Generally, those conversations are never as bad as you imagine!

 

  • saving time 

The average person types between 38 and 40 words per minute, and a professional typist 65 to 75 words per minute. The reality is that an average speaker engaged in a friendly conversation speaks at a rate of 115 to 150 words per minute, with faster conversations from 350 to 500 words per minute. Even if you are communicating to a number of people it still may be quicker face to face.  Plus for colleagues in the same office I would encourage you to get up and walk over to have a conversation as it will also burn calories in the process.

 

2) Mis-communication

Even the most carefully crafted emails are open to (mis) interpretation. Things are missed – the reader, when scanning, will be drawn to certain sections, skipping some text and emphasising other sections.  I’m not suggesting that verbal communication isn’t open to interpretation but it enables a level of interactively not possible with digital engagement.

 

3) Health and Safety

There is now and actual phrase for using your phone and walking at the same time, scientists call the phenomenon “inattentive blindness,” saying that the human brain has evolved to only be able to adequately focus attention on one task at a time. So when you’re texting or talking on the phone while trying to walk, you cannot give your full attention to both tasks. The result is an increase in minor injuries, both in and out of the workplace.

More specific to within the workplace is the risk of  longer term impacts of mobile phone use (aside from the issue of the phone/wifi signals).  If you have read the standard health and safety documents, from occupational health, the use of mobile devices contravenes these recommendations.  The main area is of concern is upper back and neck stress.  Occupational health specialists must be rubbing their hands with glee!

 

Call to Action

As a society there is no doubt that most of us are increasingly victims of the pervasive use of mobile devices and smart phones.  Particularly as they are becoming the all in one device for phone, gaming, messaging, photography, filming, monitoring our health, creating and consuming news, paying for things…the list goes on.   Ironically I would imagine the one thing they are being used less and less for is phoning – perhaps a name change for these devices is required!

We’ve probably all experienced that deep rooted panic when faced with the possibility of a lost or damaged mobile, or to a lesser degree a device that is about to lose power with no means to charge.  We wrongly treat these devices like they are our life support system.

The call to action here is for you to think about your own mobile use. If you don’t already I would encourage you to plan mobile free periods, build into your routine times when you deliberately switch off your phone and leave at home – nothing is usually that important to get in the way of uninterrupted face to face human interaction.

Next time you are walking anywhere take time to observe everyone else absorbed in their mobile device –  it really does look a little strange once you lift your head above the parapet!

Changing our behaviour a little will hopefully cause a halt to this slow erosion of our ability to communicate – something that will always be vital in key areas of every day life.

For those of you who request I will make this particular blog available in paper and audio form to encourage the very thing that I have been soapboxing about in the last few paragraphs!