- Greet everyone. Taking the time to say good morning to your team and close colleagues goes a long way to fostering a sense of appreciation and respect. At the very least, it acknowledges people’s presence and contribution, and beyond that it shows you are approachable and happy to reach out to them. With so many of us working from home now, a first-thing team coffee break or walk round the office to say good morning can be replaced by regular lunches on days when people are in the office, or calls to check in and ensure everyone is well.
- Deliver praise. While we often congratulate people on a job well done in a one-to-one meeting or by email, delivering praise for team members during group meetings is a great way to boost morale and give everyone a chance to congratulate their colleagues and celebrate the team’s successes. Don’t wait for annual reviews to pat people on the back – recognition is like vitamin C. We need it in regular doses to stay motivated and feel appreciated.
- Delegate with trust. No-one likes being micro-managed. It is stressful, infantilising and disempowering. So when you choose to lighten your to-do list (see this month’s blog) by delegating a task or project, do so with trust. Make sure you brief the person taking on the task thoroughly, making it clear that you are available to help if they need, and, depending on their seniority, schedule in some check-in meetings to follow progress, then let it go. Showing you trust your team will help them trust themselves, each other, and you.
- Aim for balance. No-one wants an uninterrupted flow of criticism during an appraisal, but neither do we really want a shower of praise. One kills morale and motivation, the other is mood-boosting, but offers no opportunities for growth. When offering feedback – both professionally and personally – aim for a balance between what the person did well and what they can still improve.
- Get specific. Blanket statements like “You do great presentations” or “You don’t run meetings well” are unhelpful and sometimes confusing. Tell the person you are evaluating what makes their presentations so engaging – so that they continue to do them that way and even develop their technique! Tell the person what it is about meetings with them that doesn’t work for you – maybe they always run over time, there are no agenda or minutes, conversation is allowed to become a free-for-all. Making feedback specific makes it easier for them to turn comments into action points.
- Offer suggestions. Speaking of action, don’t leave a person dangling with a couple of “well-done” and “must try harder” lists, make concrete suggestions to help them improve. If your teen really needs to level up their algebra, make the point then suggest a few ways they could work towards this goal. If your manager (360° feedback exists!) seems distant and unapproachable, make this point gently and suggest a weekly one-to-one meeting and perhaps a monthly team lunch.
- Don’t analyse it. When you’re in a great mood, do you roll your sleeves up and get to work figuring out why you’re feeling so chirpy? No. So don’t do it when you’re feeling low! Often it’s simply inexplicable, so trying to identify all the things that are bringing you down will only pull those things front of mind and make you even more miserable. Accept that today’s an off-day and have faith that this too shall pass.
- Get up, take a walk. Make a cup of tea. Do a yoga video. Bake. Physically extract yourself from where you are and do something to – as the old-fashioned saying goes – “take you out of yourself”. Doing an activity that induces the famous state of “flow” can be helpful: art, writing, skilled manual work, like crafts, DIY. All these things require your concentration and help take your mind of your foul mood.
- Sink into it. If you can’t shake it off, revel in it. Throw yourself a full-on pity party complete with weepy film, chocolate and portable black hole to climb into. I find that giving myself permission to feel the sadness or anger or dissatisfaction helps dissipate it; what we resist, persists. I also find that after a couple of hours feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, I get fed up or annoyed with myself and end up doing something productive that changes my mood completely.
1. Make appointments to check email. Trying to keep on top of your emails all day long is a time-suck and the enemy of concentration. Choose your least productive times of day and schedule a meeting with yourself to check and deal with your email (keep high-productivity times for your most important tasks). This might mean half an hour twice a day, or maybe 10 minutes at the top of every hour. Find what works for you and, if possible, close your email window outside of these designated times so you can fully focus on other work.
2. Have a filing system. Different coaches advise different strategies, but I like to file emails away in topic-based folders as I deal with them. This means that all that’s left in my inbox are emails that are still to be handled or which require replies. This helps me keep on top of what’s still left to do as it is completely visible and uncluttered by junk. It also means that I can easily find, sort and archive past messages.
3. Delete ruthlessly. If an email does not need to be kept or handled, delete it – now. Delete unnecessary messages each time you check email, don’t leave them to be cleared out some other time as they will just build up. And if you find yourself repeatedly deleting promotional emails without any interest in their content (special offers from the supermarket you used before you moved house and changed allegiance; vouchers from a maternity-wear shop but you’re no longer pregnant), take the 30 seconds you need to scroll down and unsubscribe now.
- Do less. Overbooking yourself and cramming your schedule is a sure-fire way to become hurried and harried, someone who tap their foot when the checkout moves slowly and beeps their horn if the driver in front doesn’t zoom off the second the light goes green. Intentionally accept fewer activities than you think you can take on in one day; most of the time we over-estimate what we can realistically do in 24 hours. The aim of life is not to eliminate all the white space in your diary but to make the most of what you do include.
- Leave time. Whenever possible, leave a little more time than you think you need for activities (we usually under-estimate) and between appointments (particularly wise if you’re changing location). Leave the house five minutes earlier than necessary and accept that you might have a few “wasted” moments if you arrive early. Wouldn’t you rather twiddle your thumbs and even be bored while you wait than experience the stress of rushing through traffic or ploughing through the crowds on the underground because you’ve cut it too fine?
- Choose your gear. You control your speed. Remember the courtyard scene in Dead Poet’s Society? Just because everyone else is walking in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t get “infected” with other people’s haste if it is not what you want or need. And if a part of your day absolutely requires rushing and bustling, take a moment when that activity finishes to breathe and consciously change gear so that you don’t carry the sense of urgency required for one task into everything else you do and for which it is not necessary.
- Lower your expectations
Too often we put so much pressure on ourselves to have (and ensure others have) the perfect Christmas or New Year’s Eve that we end up stressed, frazzled and disappointed. What would it be like actively to set a lower expectation for your family this year? What if you were define a “good Christmas” as simply sharing a meal with your family (whether it’s a Nigellaesque feast, an overcooked turkey, or emergency take-away); enjoying some time off work to play with your kids (even if they squabble a bit); and finding a few hours to read a book (even if you have to get up a bit early to get that quiet time).
- Know where your responsibility stops
You are not responsible for ensuring your family has a good time. Read that again. Sure, you might be in charge of food, or you might be the one who deals with the kids’ presents, and those are definitely responsibilities with a capital R but, in the end, whether or not people enjoy the effort you make is up to them. You can lead a horse to the eggnog but you cannot make it drink…
- Get a little grateful
It’s so easy to let the season go by in a rush of wrapping up work, getting things done, paying visits, shopping, and attending events without stopping to appreciate all the gifts it offers. Over the holidays, take a moment at the end of every day to feel gratitude for all you have, even if – in fact, especially if – you currently feel like moving to a desert island at the earliest opportunity. Take a moment to, if possible, step outside, look up at the stars and genuinely count your blessings. When you go back inside, you’ll be able to see the noisy kids, grumpy father-in-law, slightly wonky tree, and rather cramped sitting room through very different eyes.