How to survive an office job as an introvert

In England open plan offices are the norm. I’ve never known any different and nor have most people I’ve spoken to about it. The idea of open plan offices is, I guess, to get everyone working as a team. To improve camaraderie and inspire collaboration.

And yeah, it is nice not having everyone closed off in their own separate offices – but sometimes working in an open plan office is hard. I think it can be especially hard for introverts, i.e. those who get their energy from quiet, alone time.

Long meetings, colleagues popping over to ask questions, constant instant messages and an abundance of small-talk can be challenging when, really, you would rather be working at home from your bed.

I’ve worked in an office environment for about six years now and while I do love the social aspect and open plan nature of my current company, it does come with its challenges.  

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How to survive an office job as an introvert

Getting to understand my introvert tendencies has helped me figure out what I need to do at work to manage my energy levels. If you struggle sometimes, hopefully there’s something here you can take away and use.

Make friends with your headphones

I’m not sure I would get much writing done at work without my headphones – they are a little barrier between you and the outside world. As mentioned in my productivity at work post, entering hermit mode is a must for me. Come off your instant messaging platform (in our case, Slack) close your email tab, stick your headphones and enjoy a little alone time, even if you are technically still surrounded by people.

Set expectations

If I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, either by workload or by conversation, I ensure I set expectations for anyone asking me for something. I’ll often say “I can’t look at X today, but I will make it a priority tomorrow”. Only you know where your limit is – your colleagues can’t read your mind. Informing other people of what you can and can’t do right now is therefore essential.

Prepare ahead of time for meetings

Oh meetings. Long periods of time with multiple people where you have to be engaged, contribute to the conversation and be on the ball. These can be tough when you’re already low on energy.

My tip for getting through meetings is to be as prepared as possible. Ensure you know roughly what the meeting is about beforehand and write some notes so you don’t have to think on your feet. And if you’re flagging during the meeting? Take a bathroom break, go make yourself a coffee, take a breath and be alone for a few minutes.

If you struggle to speak up in meetings, or get ideas afterwards when you have had time to process everything – don’t be afraid to email your ideas/thoughts to your manager.

Recharge your batteries

Take regular breaks and get out of the office when you can. Our team often pop out for walking breaks – this gives you valuable alone time that’s also away from a screen, bliss! And while lunchtimes are usually a chance to catch up with work friends, don’t feel bad if every now and then you need to break away from the group and go for lunch solo. Sometimes you just need to sit with yourself and breathe.

(Sanka gets it)

Can you escape?

OK, escape sounds a little dramatic – what I mean here is, are you confined to working in your office? I take my team out for ‘coffee and creative’ sessions now and then, plus we recently got laptops so we can escape to a meeting room if/when we really need to knuckle down with some writing.

If your company allows it, work from home some days or a nearby cafe. Sometimes just getting out of the office environment can revitalise you.

What do you struggle with in your job? Do you think open plan offices are fine or would you prefer your own office? 

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Climbing out of the comparison trap

Have people always compared themselves to others? I suppose they must have, but it also feels like a problem that is growing in our generation.

I suppose social media and the internet in general doesn’t help. Every time we go online we’re bombarded with impossible lifestyle ideals – and not even just by magazines and beauty ads. Our peers, influencers and friends are posting stunning snippets of their lives.

I would like to think we’re all fully aware by now that social media is, for the most part, a highlight reel. Still, it isn’t just here we compare ourselves to others. It’s in real life. It’s at work, at home, in our heads.

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Comparison is the thief of joy.

We’ve all seen this quote – we pin it on Pinterest, look at it and nod, but how often do we actually… stop comparing?

How to climb out of the comparison trap

I used to compare myself a lot to others, and I still struggle with certain aspects of comparison, but I thought I would put down a few ideas that have helped me in the past and may help you ‘do you’ and stop worrying what other people are doing.

Comparing yourself… physically

I mean, come on, who hasn’t done this? Looked at a model, friend, stranger on the Internet and thought ‘my legs/arms/face/stomach/hands/hair/eyebrows don’t look like that – what’s wrong with me?’ I’ll tell you what’s wrong.

You’ve been raised in a world that hurls unrealistic beauty ideals at you. This isn’t your fault.

We are all beautifully different and therefore look beautifully different. Next time you find yourself wanting to compare yourself, try to recognise the thought leading you there and turn it into something else. Turn it into a celebration of how you are different, what makes you you. Turn it into an opportunity to show yourself some love.

We can still appreciate and celebrate other people’s beauty, just don’t worry about looking the same as them. You’re perfect, exactly as you are in this very moment.

Comparing yourself… at work

Is there someone at work who always seems to beat you to the punch? Someone who says what you were thinking in a meeting but didn’t have the confidence to say? Someone who seems to impress management with everything they do?

It’s easy to get competitive at work and compare yourself to your colleagues. If you find yourself in this situation try a different approach.

Write down the qualities you admire in your colleague. Think about how you can nurture these qualities in yourself, in your own way.

Instead of competing, why not learn from them? Grab a coffee with them and admit you admire them. And remember, there’s almost definitely someone at work who feels the same way about you.

Comparing yourself… creatively

This is the one I got stuck on recently. I talked about it briefly in my Bloom and Grow post – basically when doing an Instagram e-course I found myself in awe of everyone’s creativity and briefly tried to change my style to look more like theirs.

Thankfully, before I posted the different style of edited picture, I realised I liked my usual style and stuck with it. Here are the two pictures for comparison (ha, yes, you are allowed to compare here) the one on the left is the style some people on Instagram favour (cooler, moodier tones), the one on the right is my style.

I stayed true to my style and it ended up being one of my most popular posts.

If you find yourself comparing yourself in something creative, remind yourself why you love the creative activity in question. For most of us, it’s a way to express ourselves. So, why would we want to express someone else?

At the end of the day, authentic work will always shine above work trying to be something it’s not.

Comparing yourself… to your peers

Another one I used to struggle with big time. It’s my own fault really, I surrounded myself with a group of brilliant, talented people, it was bound to happen (love you guys ;)). We all do it, especially if we feel we’re ‘behind’. We look at where our friends are in life and wonder why we’re not there yet.

Something I’ve learnt over the years is that pretty much everyone feels like they’re not ‘there’ yet. I’ve stopped thinking about ‘there’ and started thinking about ‘here’.

We’re all on different paths. Focus on your present, be hopeful about the future and celebrate your friend’s accomplishments. No one’s life is perfect, and the more we realise this and let go of what life ‘should’ look like, the better.

Comparing yourself… to strangers on the internet

Ahh, good old internet strangers. People we follow online who we’ve never met but compare ourselves to. “They’re 10 years younger than me and own their own home, what the fuck?” is one I may have muttered from time to time…

As I mentioned at the beginning of this (now quite long) post, social media is so often a highlight reel, it’s important for us to take everything with a pinch of salt. We don’t know what these strangers struggle with day to day. We don’t know what keeps them up at night, what they wish was different about their lives.

In this instance, my tactic is to lift others up. If you admire or enjoy what someone does online, instead of comparing yourself, shout about their achievements. Share the love and embrace community over competition (oh and don’t forget to use the hashtag, #communityovercompetition, God I’m so social).

Do you struggle with comparing yourself to others? How do you cope? I know the tips above aren’t magic, they won’t stop you from comparing yourself, but I at least hope they give you some food for thought.

I hope they make you stop next time you go to compare yourself and think about why you’re doing it and I hope that, perhaps, they offer you an alternative.

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how to cope with change

Coping with change (an anxious girl’s guide)

A while ago I wrote about how new experiences shape our happiness and mentioned here that I struggle with change. Even though ultimately things pretty much always work out well, there’s this fear I have to battle with every time.

Every time I’ve moved house, I’ve cried myself to sleep the first night. I’m in a strange room, it doesn’t feel like home yet and everything’s different.

I even remember pretending I was ill at a ‘horse camp’ when I was young because I hated being away from home (I used to horse ride, this was a weekend when we did horsey things and slept at the stables). And don’t even get me started on Brownie camp…

It’s understandable really – it’s the fear of uncertainty. The fear of the unknown.

And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. From relationships ending and buying houses to changing jobs and having kids, there are some scary old life changes out there. So, how the hell are we supposed to cope?

Here are a few things that help me cope better. I still struggle, but these things make it a slightly less hell-ish struggle. Maybe they’ll help you too. 

How to cope with change

Research

If fear of change stems from a fear of the unknown – make the unknown known! Well, as much as you can anyway. Research what your next change will bring to your life, this should help you feel more on top of things and prepared.

BUT, don’t get too caught up in this, especially if it’s up to you to make the change. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a deep breath and dive into the unknown.

Have a grounding activity

Do you have an activity that calms you down and brings you back to the present moment? Come back to this when the fear gets too much. For me, meditation and listening to music helps. For you it may be running, cooking or drawing.

Seek solace in routine

Sometimes when there’s a lot of change in our lives, holding onto the routines we know and love can help ease our anxieties. If you love to hit the gym in the morning, keep up with this. If you always read before bed, read something lovely. I always feel better if I can at least meditate in the morning and do some yoga in the evening.

But don’t get stuck in it…

Recently I had a lot going on (pretty obvious when you look back at some of the topics of my blog posts!) and I had to let go of my routines to cope.

At the time, it was healthier for me to let go of any ‘obligations’ I had, even if those obligations were only to myself.

Look back

Remember when change happened in your life and it was a positive experience? You’ve probably got a few moments in your mind, right? Keep that in your mind and bring it to the front and centre whenever anxiety strikes.

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Visualise the positive

Visualise everything going perfectly. Our minds like to cling onto the negative, often bombarding us with worst case scenarios. Like a sassy lawyer, shout “I object!” to your mind and argue with some positive visualisation. Athletes do this to win races apparently, so, ya know – science.

Talk about it

You’re not the only one feeling anxious about change, I promise! Tell people how you’re feeling. Chances are they’ll totally relate and may even have some tips to help you. Suffering in silence doesn’t do anyone any good.

So there we go, a few ideas to hopefully quell fear of change. Does anyone out there actually like change? I remember an old manager from my retail days moved around the country a lot and said she felt rejuvenated every time.

If you get a kick out of life changes, get in touch, I would love to tell the other side of this story.

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Watering your creativity: What I learned through Bloom & Grow

Last month I made two, relatively big, investments – a ticket to the Blogtacular conference and an online Instagram course with a floral focus from Sara Tasker, Bloom & Grow.

I’ve talked about what I got out of Blogtacular already on the blog, so I thought now I’ve come to the end of the Bloom and Grow course I would talk about what I got out of this too.

And perhaps more importantly, what this investment has taught me about creativity.

First of all – why an Instagram course? I’ve always loved photography but always been that little bit too lazy to get myself officially ‘trained’ in it. When I came to launch Blue Jay of Happiness in January this year, I knew I wanted to make more of an effort with my photography. Over the months, this grew to me wanting to improve my Instagram.

I discovered Sara Tasker as an ‘Instagrammer’ through a podcast (Make it Happen by Jen Carrington) and discovered she had her own blog, Me & Orla and podcast (Hashtag Authentic). I spent hours swimming in her fantastic content and was intrigued after hearing she was launching a new e-course that looked at the use of florals in Instagram.

It was at a lower price point than her other well-known e-course (the Instaretreat) so I thought this would be a good taster for me to see what I could learn.

So… what did I learn?

Watering your creativity – what I learned through Bloom & Grow

My visual style and tastes

I had never really stopped to think about my visual tastes – what I’m drawn to, what my preferred ‘aesthetic’ was. Some probing journaling questions helped me identify what I like, why I like it and how to incorporate it into my own feed.

How to think outside the box

Instagram is a visual platform (obvs) so I always thought images for here needed to be ‘pretty’, I hadn’t really thought about them being unexpected. Unusual. Creative even.

Giving myself room to think creatively and actually come up with ideas for something a bit different on Instagram during this course made me feel amazing. See below my ecstatic scrawling when the right idea hit:

unexpectedThe importance of community

One of the things that has truly stuck with me through this course and through my experience at Blogtacular is the importance of community. I have met so many lovely people, both in real life and online through these experiences and feel like I’ve ‘found my tribe’.

That’s what all this malarky is about at the end of the day isn’t it? Connecting with people, sharing your experiences and lifting each other up.

To stay true to myself

I hit a point during the course where I found myself a little overwhelmed at the sheer talent of other people on the course. I began comparing my photos to theirs and felt deflated. I tried some different editing techniques to make my images look more like theirs… but then I caught myself.

I went back to my notes on my visual style, looked at my feed and realised that I didn’t want to change the tone. I like that my feed is warm, light and minimal. I like the negative space, the simplicity, the neutral tones that weave it all together. So I stopped editing and went back to my usual style – and interestingly, these were some of my best received photos.

That I weirdly like self-portraits

I’ve been on quite the journey in terms of self-love and body acceptance, and feel I’m in a really good place in that respect. So when the chance came up to be creative with floral self-portraits, I got really excited. Shooting the petal tear photos was empowering.

Did I feel a bit of a dick posing in my bathroom with glued petals on my face and my phone bluetacked to the mirror? Sure… but I also kinda loved it.

That I’m a storyteller

First and foremost, I’m a writer. I like to take pictures too, but what I learned through this course is that I need a story to give my Instagram posts life. I need conversation, the human touch.

And I don’t just mean in the captions, I mean IN the photo. The photo needs to depict something relatable, or to simply prompt an emotion. This is what I need to work on more, but I hope I’ll get there with practice.

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Dan indulging me on our first trip abroad together

The biggest takeaway…

You have to nurture your creativity and feed your curiosity.

Being inquisitive, learning new things and engaging with others is the best way to water your creativity and watch it “Bloom and Grow” (see what I did there? I know, niiiiiice.)

Terrible pun aside, I’ve come away with a thirst for more. I want to learn all the things, immediately. I want to create and learn, experiment and fail, try again and flourish.

So, I think I’ll do just that.

(P.S. I’ll be putting all my Bloom & Grow photos, including the one’s that didn’t quite make the cut for Instagram, into an album on my Facebook page so check that out if you’re interested.)

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How to make every day that little bit lovelier

Human brains are more attuned to negativity than they are positivity. It’s something called the negativity bias and it means it’s physically more difficult for us to focus on the positive.

OK, this may be a slightly dark note to start on – but stick with me here! What this means is that we need to invite and inspire more positivity into our daily lives to tip the scales back to the positive.

To do this, I believe we need to think small. Our lives are made up of everyday moments. Sure, when we look back we may only remember the landmark events, but in terms of our overall happiness – it’s the little things that count.

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I also think mindfulness has a huge part to play here. Getting our heads out of the past (hello rumination) and out of the future (oh hey anxiety) helps to connect us to the present and recognise when happiness is present.

While I certainly wouldn’t say I’m a perfect example of a ‘positive’ person, I like to think I’ve figured out a few ways to make my day to day life happier. So I thought I would share these with you, in case they do the same for you.

How to make every day that little bit lovelier

Be present

I’m not going to sit here and tell you you have to meditate to be happy – because I know it’s not for everyone, BUT it is worth trying. It’s something I’ve come to love, I use the Insight timer app for five minutes in the morning to clear my mind and be present.

But if meditation isn’t your thang, then focus on the being present aspect. Try paying more attention to your actions. Stop yourself every now and then to check in – what’s going on around you? How do you feel?

Create rituals

I like to call these happiness rituals, because I’m cool like that. For me, these look like:

  • breakfast and coffee in bed at weekends
  • yoga and a hot shower after work
  • meditation in the morning
  • walking breaks at work
  • cuddle time with Sanka
  • a glass of red on a Friday night

Nothing groundbreaking, nothing time consuming. Just a few things that genuinely bring more joy into my day. Think about what rituals you could start.

Seek beauty

When we’re away on holiday, we’re hyper aware of the beauty around us. This is because we’re in a new and different environment, and our minds are taking everything in.

In our day to day surroundings, we can become beauty blind.

Try to make it your mission to notice one beautiful thing every day. Whether that’s the way a mother speaks to her child on the train, the way the sun pours through the window during golden hour or the way your partner looks when they’re talking about something they’re passionate about.

And don’t be afraid to add some beauty into your surroundings too. Buy yourself some flowers, get some inspirational quote cards for your desk – invite beauty in.

Take your time

Slow down. Life moves far too quickly and we can forget to pause sometimes and take in the seemingly mundane moments. For one week, notice those moments of ‘boredom’. You know, those moments you would normally reach for your phone. Instead let your mind wander. Notice what’s happening around you. Embrace a little stillness.

Connect

Relationships are so important to our happiness. Try to connect with someone you care about every day – whether that’s a friend you made on Twitter, your partner, a family member or your friend who you haven’t seen in ages. Let them know you’re thinking of them.

These ideas won’t make the bad days disappear or magically make you ‘happy’, but hey – they’re a good starting point right?

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Why we can't say no

Why we can’t say ‘no’

This topic follows on somewhat from my last post about being productive at work. Part of being productive involves saying ‘no’ when we’re already stretched at work, but I know – it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

A lot of people find it difficult to say no, not only at work but also in social situations, so I wanted to explore why this is and how we can become more comfortable with this tiny, yet significant, word.

I’ve put this post in the ‘health‘ category of Blue Jay of Happiness, because I honestly believe that when we’re overloaded, overworked and overwhelmed, saying no is integral to our health.

I threw the question out there on a recent Instagram post to see what it is that stops us from saying no. Here’s what came up:

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Why we can’t say no

(and how to say no without being an asshole)

We want to please everyone

“I think I never say no because I want to fit everything in and please everyone – but you just can’t do it. So you have to say no at some point.”

Ahhhh yes, people pleasing. This is, personally, my biggest challenge when it comes to saying no. Like many of us I’m sure, the thought of someone thinking poorly of me makes me feel physically sick. Wanting to be likeable, accommodating and helpful is ingrained in many of us like a dodgy tattoo.

And, I’m sorry to bring gender into it, but it is a huge problem for women in particular. We’ve been brought up to be nice, sweet, pretty, cute, submissive even. It’s difficult to override that. But not impossible.

How to stop people pleasing: Get comfortable with the fact that, sometimes, you ARE going to annoy people. Not everyone is going to like you all the time. Let that sink in, sit with it and be OK with it.

Then realise that you saying ‘no’ to something is unlikely to impact the recipient’s life as much as you think. Explain why you can’t do the thing they’re asking and be honest. If it’s a work situation, try to think of a solution or a work-around. If there’s simply no way – just be frank about it.

(lettering by Susanna April)

Fear of missing out

“Fear of missing out and fear of judgement!”

I certainly used to worry about missing out, especially when it was a social occasion and I saw all the photos pop up of Facebook the next day. Even when the reason you want to say no is often far more important than the event itself, that fear of not being involved, not sharing in that experience can cause an internal struggle.

How to let go of FOMO: Not all events are life changing. In fact, very few are. Missing the odd night down the pub isn’t going to impact your friendship or your life experience. Attending a social event when you’re not on top form means you won’t enjoy it as much and you probably won’t be the best company.

Simply say you can’t make it, and if your friends ask why not, tell the truth. Lying about feeling ill or having to attend another social engagement will only make matters worse – if you’re simply in need of a night in, say that.

Remember that your health comes first and you will benefit more from taking it easy than pushing yourself to socialise.

Fear of judgement

“What stops me saying no…. fear of missing out used to! And fear of being judged! But time has taught me to just say no when it feels right and follow my heart!”

Worrying about other people judging us takes up far too much time and space in our lives. Can you imagine how free we would be if this wasn’t a concern?

How to stop worrying about others judging you: First of all… most people simply aren’t. Think about it, how often do you make judgements on other people? Chances are, not very often. It comes back to that fear of not being likeable. We worry someone’s going to make an assumption about us and it’ll skew their perception of us. But… would that be the worst thing to happen?

My thoughts on this are that if someone is jumping to conclusions and judging me on saying no to something – that’s their problem. Being comfortable with who you are, knowing that you’re a good person and that you’re doing what’s right for you helps hugely with this. Once you have this inner belief and inner confidence, you can let go of other people’s perceptions. Basically, you do you.

Not wanting to hurt people’s feelings

“I often do not say no to not hurt people or people’s feelings or because I don’t want them to think bad of me for saying no.”

Another biggie for me. This is less about wanting to please people and more about genuinely not liking the feeling of letting someone down / not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings. If this is something you’re worried about, it’s probably because you really care about the person you’re saying no to.

How to be a good friend and still say no: Your friend knows you. They love you and care about you. Know this when something comes up that you have to say no to. Yes, they may feel a little hurt or upset at first, but they’ll appreciate your honesty and know that you wouldn’t be saying no unless you really needed to. Again, honesty is the way to go – explain what’s going on and schedule another time to meet up so you can talk.

Sometimes we genuinely need to step back from our social circles to look after ourselves. Good friends will respect this and support you, and will be there for you when you’re feeling up to it.

I know there’s probably lots more to say on this topic, but hopefully this short(ish) piece can help some of you reframe your thinking when it comes to saying no. Let me know if there’s anything else you find you struggle with when it comes to saying no or any tips you have!

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Improving your productivity at work

Ever feel like you’re treading water at work? Like you’re doing a million things, but nothing seems to actually ever get done?

When you’re in the middle of this, it is SO easy to blame other people or your circumstance (trust me, I’ve done the *ahem* research…).

“So-and-so is giving me too much work.”

“There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

“If only so-and-so would pull their weight…”

Now, of course sometimes this blame throwing and excuse reaching is justified – BUT, it won’t help you get more done and it certainly doesn’t mean you are powerless to change things.

This was a lesson I learnt quite quickly in my job. I used to be defensive and spent more time coming up with excuses than actually just doing the work. This changed once I got promoted to a management position – I learnt that there are, actually, lots of things you can do when work piles up.

Tips to improve productivity at work

Assess the situation

First and foremost, you need to block a day out in your calendar so you can look at your situation and, if you manage a team, your team’s situation. What is being asked of you? What do you need to delegate? What can you say no to? What do you need help with? What are your timescales? What’s realistic?

Being able to delegate and say no are skills in themselves, so if you struggle with this, I would work on it as a priority. Remember, you are hired to work a certain number of hours a day – if you can’t do what’s needed in that time, something’s gotta give and you need to call in reinforcements or have an honest discussion with your manager.

Assess yourself

When do you work best? For me it’s the morning. Try and get me to write a page about attachment disorder (or something equally as heavy) after 3:00pm and I will find every procrastination tactic in the book.

Plan out your days according to your rhythms and when you do your best work. If something just isn’t happening, drop it and move on to something else. Sometimes we need to step away from a task and let it breathe before we can go back to it and give it life.  

Note your time-sucks

A coffee and catch-up with my team recently revealed what they found distracting and what was taking up their time. Asking yourself (and your team if you’re a manager) what tasks you do that take the most time for the least benefit can help you trim the fat.

Sometimes this will involve other teams, so try to think of solutions that work for everyone. For example, a time suck for one of my team members was getting last minute/ad-hoc design tasks from other teams. We didn’t want to say no to these, but needed more warning so it could be scheduled into her workload. So, we came to the decision to allocate certain days a month for design work. This would force other teams to think ahead and give my team member time to plan her workload – and we didn’t have to say no to the tasks.

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Try batch days

Batch days are where you focus on just one or two tasks in a day. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but when our team tried it I loooooved it. It means I only have a couple of big priorities to worry about for the day ahead and I get to fully immerse myself in a job.

It isn’t a perfect system, but have a go at allocating certain days to certain tasks (for example scheduling social media for the week ahead on a Monday) and see how you get on.

Limit distractions

Thanks to our open-plan office loving culture, distractions come at you thick and fast. Instant messages, colleagues on the phone, someone popping over to ask a quick favour – it can be hard to get shit done sometimes.

While sadly, you can’t build a wall around your desk (trust me, my team considered it!) you can do your best to limit distractions.

For us this means coming away from Slack (our instant messaging platform at work) and setting our status to ‘page writing’ so people know when we’re trying to get our heads down. We’re also getting laptops soon so if necessary we can move to a meeting room or a nearby cafe to get work done in peace.

Talk to your manager and think of solutions – there’s always something!

Get organised

You can’t be productive when you have to wade through a million documents to find the one you need. Spend a few hours just organising your online shiz. If you don’t have labels for your inbox already (*gasps*) get on that pronto, and yes, you can change the colours of these folders on Gmail (hover over label until little box appears, click on this and select ‘change label colour’).

And please do the same for your Google Drive documents – not having folders here gives me palpitations.

Enter hermit mode

This comes hand in hand with the ‘limiting distractions’ point. For me, this means getting a coffee on the go, sticking my headphones in and setting myself to away on Slack. For you it may mean earplugs, going to a cafe or switching your phone off.

I’m always shocked at just how much work I can get done when I really knuckle down and rid myself of any distractions.

Take breaks

Yes, getting organised, entering hermit mode and all of the above will help increase productivity – but so will taking regular breaks. I can normally trundle along quite happily in hermit mode for a certain amount of time, then – blergh, I can’t focus. We aren’t designed to work solidly for eight hours (or more!).

We’ve started taking walking breaks at work (as well as our full hour lunch which we always take AWAY from our desks) and it has certainly helped my productivity. Whenever I feel I’ve stared at my screen too long or I simple can’t ‘word good’, I get up and go outside for a lap around the building.

Just getting away from your desk into nature and getting some fresh air makes such a difference – you clear your head and come back feeling refreshed. And I hope it goes without saying that taking your lunch break away from your desk is a must, however busy you are, you’ve got to take breaks to stay productive.

Ask for help (but have solutions in mind)

There are times when we use every productivity tool in our arsenal, and we’re still drowning in work. When this happens – don’t suffer in silence, speak up and talk to your manager. If you simply need more resources, explain this and do the work to justify your request.

If you aren’t able to get more resources this way, think of other solutions. Can you outsource anything? Can another team help you out? Could an intern help lighten the load? Managers don’t want you coming to them with problems, so give them solutions and be honest.

Your health and wellbeing should always come first – if it doesn’t at your company, consider moving on. There’s so much more to life than work. Spend time with loved ones, book a holiday, have an adventure, reconnect with your non-work self and gain a little perspective.

Any productivity tips you guys use that I’ve missed?

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Monthly mindscape – June

It’s time for me to flex my creative writing muscles and take you lovely people along for the ride. Last month I started a series: ‘Monthly Mindscape‘, where I use story dice as prompts to help me come up with a short story that, hopefully, ties in with the topics I cover on Blue Jay of Happiness.

I don’t do any prep for this, no research, no story plotting. I throw the dice, see what I’ve got and just start typing. After a couple of failed starts last time I came up with something I actually really rather liked.

Let’s see if I can do it again huh? Here are the symbols I’ve got to work with:

Picture on the right is me getting arty for the Bloom & Grow photography course I’m doing, will be blogging about this soon! 

Ok, interesting… let’s give this a go shall we?

Monthly Mindscape – June

Jess was having one of those days… actually, she was having one of those weeks, months, years. Every morning, in those glorious half-awake/half-asleep seconds she forgot what it felt like. She forgot how it felt to have the weight of the world sitting on her chest.

As soon as her brain caught up with her body and realised it was awake, it started. The fear. The fear of the fear. The anxiety that followed her every move. A simple trip to the supermarket becomes an emotional assault course. Mentally jumping through hoops, scrambling over walls and always on the look out for more rope.

She used to love drawing, but since her anxiety got bad she had little room in her mind for creativity. Her counsellor had suggested mindfulness meditation, but it felt like yet another battle she was losing.

Another animal she couldn’t tame.

“An animal you say?” Her counsellor said.

“Oh, umm, yeah – it feels like it’s constantly running away from me.”

Jess was in her weekly session and forgot she was speaking out loud.

“I’ve got an idea.” Her counsellor replied with a hopeful smirk.

Next thing she knew, she was being presented with a rabbit. A big brown one with floppy ears and a confused expression. Jess mirrored the expression and turned to her counsellor who went on to explain how animals can be therapeutic.

The hope was that having company and another living thing to care about would help ease her everyday sadness and anxiety. Quickly, her confusion melted away and was replaced with a smile. The first genuine smile in weeks.

She named him Harold.

Harold loved attention and rarely left Jess’ side, always on the hunt for one more ear scratch. One particularly sunny day, Jess and Harold were in the garden.

Watching Harold explore the garden and eating everything in sight, Jess felt an urge. An urge she hadn’t felt in a long time. An urge to draw.

She reached into the back of her desk drawer and fished out an old 4b pencil and her sketchbook. Positioning herself in a shady spot, she began to draw. And as she did so, everything else disappeared from view. Her thoughts stuck to the pencil and the way it moved like bees on honey.

Afterwards she chuckled to herself. As it turned out, it took an animal to tame an animal.

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How switching off digitally helped me switch on mentally

Ever since I launched this blog and started taking it a bit more seriously I’ve been pretty attached to my devices. If I’m not on my laptop writing, I’m on my phone checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Instagram again…

I’m keen to stay involved in the blogging community and have joined Twitter chats, thrown myself into Instagram, taken e-courses – and loved every minute of it.

Then I noticed I was waking up with headaches every morning. Every frickin’ morning.

Those who know me well know I’m no stranger to headaches (we go waaay back) but this was getting ridiculous. I started Googling – what the hell was wrong with me? There were plenty of suggestions of course, from teeth grinding to crap pillows, but after trial and error I realised the answer was actually much simpler.

I wasn’t getting enough sleep.

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One evening, I had spent far too long on my laptop, my eyes were fuzzy and my head was pounding. I decided, enough was enough – I was going to shut everything down and start reading the pile of books that have been staring at me since Christmas.

I noted that it was 9:30 and thought, I should make this a thing. I instantly set myself an alarm and decided at 9:30 on weekday evenings I would stop what I was doing on my phone or laptop and read instead.

This tiny change has made such a difference to my wellbeing that I couldn’t not write about it. Here’s what I’ve gained from switching off digitally, after 9:30:

Knowledge

I am filling my brain with lovely words written on lovely paper. I’m getting through my pile of books in record time, fulfilling my 2017 goal to read more.

Inspiration

Stepping back from social media and doing something completely separate does wonders for your creativity. Reading fiction shifts my mind to a different gear and always provokes some spark of inspiration.

Music

I’ve been listening to my favourite songs while reading and as well as truly relaxing me, it just makes my soul smile. These little, seemingly insignificant things are the building blocks of a happy life.

Sleep!

Reading makes me sleepy, so naturally I’ve been hitting the hay a little earlier since I started this new habit. And come on, we ALL know by now that the blue light emissions from electronic devices mess with our ability to sleep, right? So sleep has come easier and felt more refreshing.

Pain-free mornings (mostly)

I won’t lie and say switching off my devices at 9:30 has cured me of headaches (I wish it was that simple!), but I will say my morning headaches have eased up a lot. And that alone is worth it to be honest.

Of course there have been times when my alarm’s gone off, I’ve looked at it and thought, nah mate, I neeeeeeeeed to finish this episode of Orange is the New Black. And right now, I am typing these words at 9:55PM. But hey, routines should have room to be flexible, amiright?

How do you balance your online time with your offline time?

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Stepping off the corporate ladder with yoga teacher Zoe Lavender

If you’ve read my previous interviews with Emily and Claudia, you’ll already know that I have some pretty awesome ladies in my life. Well, today I get to introduce you to yet another of my insanely talented friends – Zoe!

Zoe is one of my oldest friends and we have plenty of shared passions, from Brandon Boyd and dancing in rock clubs to yoga and travel. When she moved to Zurich for work I was obviously sad to see her go, but seeing her flourish there has given me so much joy (that and I get to go visit her in a beautiful country!).

I’ve been right there with her, watching in awe as she navigated moving to a new country, marrying the love of her life and making the incredible decision to step off the corporate ladder and into life as a yoga teacher.

In this interview she talks us through how she did it, why she did it and why the universe has big ears…

Hey Zoe! To start with, can you give us a brief description of your career up until now?

For the last 10 years I have worked in marketing and communications for two international companies, in the UK and in Zürich. I have a Masters in Strategic Communication and also spent some time working in finance. So, in summary… corporate, corporate and a bit more corporate 😉

What are your career plans for this year? 

Quite different from what I’ve been doing before! As of 2017 I started my career as a self-employed yoga teacher here in Zürich. I have been teaching part-time alongside my corporate job since doing my yoga teacher training in 2015 and decided for 2017 to focus on teaching full-time!

Why yoga teaching?

Yoga is a huge part of my life. I have been practicing on and off for over 10 years, but I really “clicked” with my practice in 2012, so around five years ago.

During my corporate career days yoga was immensely helpful for me. It calmed me down, got me out of my stress-filled head and taught me body awareness. It sounds a cliché, but when I started I really couldn’t even touch my toes, but with time I became aware of the muscles in my body, how to move mindfully and how to get to know my body and my mind.

It started off purely as a physical practice for me, but then I could see quite quickly the de-stressing and calming influence it was having. Then, once I moved to Zürich and found my teacher Shelby, I had my eyes opened to some of the philosophical and spiritual aspects of the practice. And from there my passion grew even more… workshops, books, online yoga classes, home practice, meditation, until finally I did my yoga teacher training in 2015.

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I have found such immense benefits from my yoga practice and some of those benefits can be accessed with actually quite little time investment, which is great for the many busy people out there who could really benefit from yoga.

Because of that and because there are so many aspects to yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation, yoga for elderly, for kids, therapeutic yoga etc.), I really believe anyone can benefit from it. Whether you do two sun salutations a day, sit and meditate for five minutes every morning, or practice an occasional breathing exercise (pranayama). THIS is all yoga.

It genuinely doesn’t matter what it looks like or consists of. Focusing on your breath, moving mindfully and practicing calming your mind from jumping from thought to thought. Any practice you find that helps you do this is yoga. I believe the physical aspects of yoga are the more accessible ways for busy-minded people in the western world to get out of their minds and into their bodies.

As a society, we are sometimes very unaware… we reach for our phones without thinking, we can’t go anywhere without a podcast on (I know this because I also live this!!) but on those occasions when I come back to my body and really arrive in the moment, I feel so much better and calmer and more trusting. And I know many other people would benefit from that feeling too. So I hope with teaching people I can help them find their version of yoga, no matter what it “looks” like or what it consists of.

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How did you come to the decision to step off the corporate ladder and pursue something totally different?

Making a big life change is super scary. Generally, there are so many expectations in our culture. What to study, where to study it, when it’s time to get a real job, when it’s time to settle down, when it’s time to get married, when it’s time to have a baby, etc. There are literally thousands of expectations for how to live a perceived “normal” life.

And on paper I have without doubt been following that “path”, I did the university thing (great fun), I did the graduate job thing (made some friends for life), I got married (and truly loved celebrating my love with my nearest and dearest). But as I’ve got a bit older and definitely through my yoga practice I question things more…

What makes me happy? What is the meaning of all this? What is important? What is viewed as important externally but not actually important to me?

So many questions. And these questions in time led me to think about wanting to do something different.

I love to work, I love to meet people, plan projects, achieve things. I am pretty type-A in that respective. But I realised at a certain moment that my current career path was not what I wanted anymore. It used to be. Big time. I had huge “traditionally corporate” ambitions. And then in what almost felt like an overnight change, I decided, I didn’t want that anymore.

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So I am now six months into this new chapter and it is unbelievably scary and perceived by many to be a massive risk. But I got myself sorted, I took informed decisions, I had my savings behind me, the support of my family and closest friends. And in the end, because I wasn’t anywhere near happy in my previous journey and knew I didn’t want the next step on that path, I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t have anything to lose. In summary, I took a well-informed, type-A, list-filled leap into the unknown.

Even now after writing these paragraphs I want to add a million caveats like: “but let’s see how it goes”, “it’s just an experiment”. And really, I do believe these “caveats” to be true and I don’t ever want to feel bound to my choice.

And I don’t think anyone else should. I will decide to do something and then crack-on. And then one day priorities may shift for any one of us, or we may get an urge to make a change and then for me at least, I’ll make a million lists, do a ton of research and make another informed choice. And that is also, completely OK! And all part of the journey.

How do you think moving to Zurich has shaped your choices?

Yoga has been a huge part of my life here in Zürich. Within three weeks of arriving in the city I sought out an English-speaking studio and was lucky enough to meet my teacher Shelby Mcdermott who has massively influenced my love of the practice, and more than anything she was the one who encouraged me to look past the physical asana to the philosophy, history and really to some of the bigger questions… the ones that if you think about in a philosophical moment may make you go “wooooaaaah”. Meeting her was a huge moment in my relationship with yoga.

On another level, moving to Zürich has been a massive adventure. My boyfriend (now husband!) was keen to live abroad again having already spent a year living in Germany in 2006/2007 and when the opportunity came up to move with my job we jumped at the chance.

For a while we thought we’d have some time living apart between UK and Zürich, but in the end we both moved to Zürich within 24 hours of each other and I still remember to this day standing at the window in our new apartment seeing him walk round the corner for the first time with his big back-pack on! The adventure had begun.

Diving into this life adventure of course felt like we were taking a risk by giving up our life in the UK, but at that time we didn’t have any of the responsibilities yet which would have made it a bit scarier.

I am quite a risk-averse person by nature but moving to Switzerland really did feel like it was worth the risk. I always knew that if it didn’t work out that we had enough money saved to one side to get us home quickly, and I think that was the buffer and contingency plan I needed to make it feel less risky (see me, always with my back-up plans!).

Zürich also opened my eyes a bit more to the importance of quality of life. The culture here can be very hard-working but generally society is very family orientated. Travelling is encouraged and celebrated and experiences shared. Enjoying the mountains, the lakes and exploring is part of the psyche, at least here in Zürich. And this spirit of family, enjoying life has been a bit contagious. In the end, I think this perspective has trickled down into other areas of my life, such as my career.

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What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career change?

My biggest piece of advice is listen to your inner voice. Meditate, journal, chat with friends, a therapist, mentor, whoever it may be and if needs be, give it time to settle in YOU and get to know what you want and how it makes you feel.

There is a ridiculous amount of noise around us about “living your dream”, “following your passion”, that can be very consuming. Hell, I am consumed by it too. But I think listening to yourself and combining that with some serious research, number crunching and practical experience to learn about your new possible career path will help you make the final decision.

I also believe in putting things out into the universe, tell people your plans, ask advice from people who’ve already done it, and in my experience, opportunities just start to come. My yoga teacher David always says “the universe has very big ears”. I promise you it really does.

Also, I know writing this that this yoga teaching path may not be my path forever, maybe it’ll take me in a different direction, maybe I’ll want to balance it with other work for financial reasons, or who knows what may happen. But that is my other advice to anyone considering a big change, try and find a balance between being fully focused on what you want but also, not so focused that you aren’t OK with things evolving and shifting as they are meant to.

I think this is called trust 🙂 Trust that everything will be OK and whether you believe it or not (I definitely do), things really do happen for a reason.

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