Make a Pancake (Or Eat an Elephant)

Make a PancakeI’m really impressed by my close friend Anne. She’s a hard working (and very present) mum, with a senior role in a full time job, who somehow manages to eek every inch out of life.

 

Over the years I have witnessed her take every opportunity to travel the world, giving her daughter wonderful experiences in many different cultures, maintain a beautiful walled garden, support her daughter’s developing interests in dancing and learning to ride a bike, play a musical instrument, and still have the energy to make amazing pancakes for breakfast. It was during a weekend visit, I had an insight into how she makes this possible.

 

It was a Sunday morning, and the usual early start for our girls, who, as many young children do, awoke with enviable energy and vitality ready to greet the day at 6.00 am.

 

Having taken the time to come round (sometime later I might add- such is the beauty of a friend who gives the rare gift of a lie in when visiting), I wrapped myself up in my dressing gown and traced the sound of the girls’ giggles to Anne’s bedroom, where she was sitting up in bed reading a story to the girls whilst supping a warm cup of tea and enjoying a cheeky chocolate biscuit.

 

‘Good mornings’ were exchanged and after reading a series of stories between us to the girls, it was time to head downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. I was just a few minutes behind Anne, but by the time I arrived downstairs, she was pouring pancake mixture into a pre heated pan; a bowl of chopped fresh fruits on the kitchen side, the kettle on and the table set ready for a feast; all with the grace and calmness that the Dalai Lama would be enviable of.

 

I can recall the moment so vividly……..How does she do that?

 

A series of searching questions later, I discovered that whilst waiting for the kettle to boil at 6am, Anne had made the batter, washed and chopped the fruit and laid everything out, before heading back up-stairs to enjoy the company of our daughters from the comfort of her bed.

 

These simple preparations for making breakfast, had given her a head start. With the preparation out of the way, she was able to speed up the delivery of food to hungry tummies (my own included which had been tempted by the alluring of the smell of the pancakes cooking), chat with her visitor and engage with both our daughters, whilst simultaneously removing the potential stress of working against the clock.

 

When I later reflected on her behaviour, I realised that this was the approach she took to life and was the reason why she was able to achieve so much. Her secret? ….she simply broke every task down into sizeable chunks, and completed them bit by bit, in much the same way one would approach Eating an Elephant!

 

To coin a Cadbury’s Crème Egg advertising phrase…How do YOU eat yours?

 

Let’s make life work!

 

April

 

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Half Hour Chunks

Half Hour ChunksI used to have a preference for finishing everything I started in a single block of time e.g. cleaning the house had to be done in one day, all the ironing had to be done in one go, the workshop I had started working on had to be designed in one sitting, the list goes on…

 

Then 4 ½ years ago, I became a mother and took 1 year out of work. It’s fair to say that with the arrival of this tiny bundle came chaos. My routines no longer worked. Time had changed shape. Life revolved around feeding, bathing and nappy changes. I tried in vain to keep up with the constant chores of laundry and cleaning whilst my beautiful baby girl napped, but tiredness was a huge barrier and I never managed to complete anything before she awoke. The result? A chaotic home and a tired, stressed out mum.

 

Then one day during a phone call to my mother… “I can’t do it all Mum” I cried, “It’s too much, the house is a mess, I’m exhausted, I can’t keep up with everything”, and she said “You’re going to have to let go of your old ways and start doing things in ½ hour blocks of time”.

 

Well this honestly threw me into a blind panic. “What, start something and leave it unfinished?!” Horrified, I ignored her advice….

 

I went back to work exhausted after a year of maternity leave, and unsurprisingly, I continued with the same approach. The result? – even more tired and stressed. Approximately 6 months in, came the realisation – my tiredness and stress were the product of my own habitual pattern of behaviour which was detrimental to my well- being, performance and productivity, and here’s how:

  • I didn’t progress with any other tasks until the task in hand was completed and so other important activities were temporarily put on hold, built up and became urgent

  • I ran myself ragged, didn’t allow myself time and space to re energise, or re fuel and so I ended up exhausted and under-performing on all levels

 

…. As if by magic my mother’s words rang in my ears…“You’re going to have to let go of your old ways and start doing things in ½ hour blocks of time”. Suddenly I realised this was the only way I was going to be able to keep all the plates spinning simultaneously.

 

I’m pleased to say, that since then, I’ve taken my mother’s advice and am successfully applying it both personally and professionally.  I have to admit to laughing out loud recently, when I discovered a video on YouTube about a time management tool called the Pomodorro technique offering the same advice… It was as if someone had overheard the conversation between my mother and I, and created a quick tutorial just to prove her point.

 

Try it for yourself, the technique just might help to make life work!

 

April

 

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Eat a Frog

Eat A FrogSo you know the story……You’ve got a whole list of tasks to complete by the end of the day, some of them more pleasant / enjoyable than others.

 

Amongst them, there’s this one task, the task that was perhaps on your list yesterday, and the day before, and maybe even the day/ week before that. The task that you really can’t bring yourself to do. The task that somehow gets relegated day in and day out by other tasks that are seemingly less daunting, boring, or erroneous.

 

It’s almost irrelevant what the task is, it could be personal such as clearing out the cupboard that spills its contents all over the floor whenever you open the door – usually at a critical time when you’re looking for something important and in a hurry; or it could be professionally related e.g. writing that strategy report or document.

 

Whatever it is, it sits there in your conscience hour after hour, day after day, week after week, niggling away at you like an irritating itch wanting to be scratched. You know it’s there, but try to avoid it by focussing on all the other important tasks that you know you need to do. And, as it sits there, the thought of doing the task, grows in your mind, culminating in it becoming increasingly more daunting, difficult and undesirable with the passing of time. All the while draining your energy and impacting your performance and productivity.

 

Until….. you procrastinate on the task for so long that eventually one of two things happens. You either:

A) get to a point where you cannot put it off any longer and so end up doing it (often to gain a real sense of satisfaction having completed it and realised that it wasn’t quite as awful as you had imagined it to be) or

B) put it off for so long that it becomes irrelevant.

 

But what if there was a different way? What if you could end this procrastination habit tomorrow? …You’ve heard the saying ‘Go to work on an egg’, well, how about you ‘Eat a Frog for Breakfast?… and get that erroneous task done  and off your list at the start of your day.

 

What’s the Frog you’re going to eat tomorrow morning?

 

Let’s make life work!

 

April

 

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Myrtle’s Mantra

Myrtle's MantraUntil recently, I would have described myself as a self-confessed perfectionist. I believed that if a job was worth doing, then it was worth doing to the highest standard.

 

I’d often find myself putting in extra hours to achieve this standard, and then once completed, I’d move on to the next task, putting in equal amounts of effort and time. I saw my behaviour as an expression of my commitment and my conscientiousness and I prided myself in producing top quality work.

 

Suddenly, my workload and responsibilities increased, and I began to struggle to meet deadlines. With a threatened decrease in my performance and productivity, I started working even longer hours, and as a consequence, my life work balance tipped. I began to experience feelings of overwhelm and noticed the arrival of physical symptoms of stress.

 

Something had to give…Either I take a long hard look at my life work balance and make necessary adjustments, or continue along this path of dis-ease.

 

And then it occurred to me, the mantra of a close friend (now retired) “Good Enough” – her stock response when things in life didn’t quite match her hopes, expectations or standards, but produced a good enough result nevertheless. Little did I know, that such a simple phrase held the seeds for a complete paradigm shift in my thinking.

 

And so I asked myself ‘How could I use Myrtle’s mantra “Good Enough” to temper my standards and expectations of myself?’….And this is what came back…. I realised that:

  • I was being driven by fear. Fear of failing to meet my own expectations and standards and therefore fear of my own judgement.

  • My 50% is other people’s 100%.

  • “Good Enough” is not the language of the lazy, but the pragmatic

  • Anything I did, would always have room for improvement

  • A highly polished piece of work doesn’t necessarily bring better results

  • I have the power to choose the standards I set for myself

 

These days I approach every task with a question ‘What would good enough look like?’ and I work back from there. This simple, yet profound adjustment has had a significant impact on my approach to my working style and energy. My performance and productivity have increased, I have a better life /work balance, and I no longer feel overwhelmed or stressed.

 

What simple adjustments could you make that would have a disproportionately positive impact on your life and work?

 

Let’s make life work!

 

April

 

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