I’ve started so let me finish

I’ve started so let me finish

I’m a stickler for good table manners. I can’t bear it when people don’t pick up their feet. And finger drumming really gets my goat. I have, I am aware, multiple bêtes noires; but by far the most unpleasant “bad habit” in my book is interrupting. As bad behaviour goes, it’s one of the most common and also the most damaging to interpersonal relationships, but luckily, it’s also one that’s relatively easy to correct.

Interrupting during a conversation takes two main forms: cutting someone off to make one’s own point and finishing someone’s sentence for them. Both drive me mad. The former simply shows a lack of respect for the other person, their right to express themselves, and what they have to communicate. It says, “What I want to say is more important and/or interesting than what you are already in the middle of saying, and frankly, I don’t much care about what you’re trying to tell me”. The latter annoys me because I want to be allowed to express my opinions in my own specifically chosen words. When someone cuts me off and finishes my sentence for me, they almost never say exactly what I was going to say, so I feel like my point is misrepresented and I’m not being fully “heard”. I regularly want to shout “I’m not running out of steam and I don’t need help to make my point; am I just not speaking quickly enough for your liking?” but of course, I’m British, so I just seethe silently instead…

Being regularly interrupted makes the “victim” feel unheard, frustrated, disrespected – none of which helps build a relationship with another person, which, ironically, is often the point of having a conversation in the first place. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being interrupted… which is odd since we are almost all both victims and perpetrators of this destructive conversational habit.

So, what happens when you’re the interrupter? In addition to the message you’re sending the person you’re talking to, you’re not doing yourself any favours either. How stressful is it to be responsible for both sides of a conversation – both your own and the end of every sentence your partner tries to get out? How tense do you get when, instead of listening and then responding, you’re formulating your reply to your friend as they’re talking so that you can start making it even before they’ve finished? How often do you finish someone’s sentence only for them to say, “Well, no, that’s not where I was going with that”?

Curbing the urge to interrupt – to butt in with my idea or push people to make their point quicker – is something I’ve been working on for a while now, and I have to say the benefits are both powerful and immediate. When I’m not thinking ahead to my turn to speak, I can fully listen to friends, right to the end of their sentence or story – which lets me relax and makes them feel unrushed and heard – which makes them relax too. Since I’ve heard their full point in their own words, my replies are more pertinent and structured; which makes for a richer conversation.

It’s no fun being interrupted, but short of actually calling someone out on their bad habit, there’s not much you can do about it. But in a spirit of being the change you want to see in the world, you can work on your own tendency to interrupt, and it really is win-win. The less you do it, the better your conversations and, as everyone relaxes and gets used to being fully heard, the less likely it is that you yourself will be interrupted. So, next time you’re chatting to friends, mentally note how often you start talking before others have really finished. The first step in changing a habit is to acknowledge it – and when you do start noticing, I bet you’ll shock yourself. And when you start to stop yourself and force yourself to listen patiently, you’ll be amazed at the effect it has on both the people around you and on your own stress levels and enjoyment of the conversation!

GAGging the voice of overwhelm

GAGging the voice of overwhelm

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth. Well, not quite; I’m certainly nowhere near Hamlet’s level of sadness and introspection, but I have found myself somewhat on the grumpy side recently. You know, that state where everything seems like a big deal, nothing strikes you as terribly funny, and life just feels like hard work.

The makings of such a mood can come from any quarter – professional setbacks, disappointments in friendships, money problems. For me, it’s been due to feelings of bog-standard overwhelm. I am coming up to the sixth month of my first pregnancy, and my husband and I are currently looking to buy a house and move just outside of Paris. Not bad when it comes to life-changing decisions, huh? Add to that our full-time jobs, families, friends, my writing and coaching, and it all seems like a mountain from which even the fearless Bear Grylls would run screaming.

The inconvenient truth

And the thing is, there’s not really much to be done about overwhelm. You can roll your sleeves up, make a plan, start a list, make a plan B, and discuss options with your partner ad nauseam, and those actions are practical and wise. But they’re not always enough to quiet the nagging little voice that pipes up at 2am and whispers some variant on, “It won’t all be ok; you shan’t get through this; you cannot manage”.

GAG thyself

It is my firm belief that the only thing to do in those situations is to GAG oneself. No, we’re not getting into 50 Shades territory here; GAG stands for “Get A Grip”. It’s an old expression that sounds rather shocking nowadays, doesn’t it? In an age that favours self-examination even to the point of self-torture over the old “buck up” attitude, exhorting someone to simply get a grip seems callous. But I maintain that sometimes it’s the only way.

It’s like a mental self-slap. A reminder that we really are dealing with first-world issues, here. My husband is fond of asking me to imagine how I would feel if the things overwhelming me weren’t happening – if I weren’t able to have children, if we couldn’t envisage getting a bigger home, if I didn’t have employment, friends that want my time, family who need me… The simple answer is: I’d feel pretty rubbish (he can be infuriatingly right at times)!

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes a problem really is a problem and needs talking through and solving, but it’s often just a proliferation of activity, obligations and, well, life that puts us in a tail spin. That’s when a self-shake and a firm “For God’s sake, Jo, Get. A. Grip.” works wonders for me.

Do try this at home

GAGging works best when performed using a specific accent. I occasionally hear a plummy-voiced Malory Towers- type Sports Mistress barking at me. You may prefer an American drill sergeant or even an exasperated version of yourself. Sometimes I like to hear my Scottish grandmother’s voice softly burring, “Now, now, dear, you know I love you, but do try to get a grip for goodness sake”. She never said anything of the kind to me, but somehow the vision of this strong, no-nonsense yet kind and loving woman works every time.

GAGging is also best achieved when used entirely on its own. No extra pep talk, no list of “examples of times when it has all been ok in the past as so will be this time too”, no reasoning or cajoling. Just a mental “No Entry” sign that brooks no argument.

It’s not easy at first, but if you GAG each time you head back down the road of ovewhelm, it eventually comes more quickly and more naturally. Give it a try. I’m interested to know how it works for you!

Finding time

Finding time

We all get just 24 hours in our day, so how come some people seem to manage to find time for everything and others are permanently rushing? When it comes to time management, some are definitely more equal than others.

The most common complaint I hear from friends, colleagues and coaching clients is some variant of “I would like to, but I don’t have time”. I don’t have time to exercise, take up a hobby, read more, write my novel, go to the theatre… We live in an age of endless time-saving devices; we have more holiday allowance than ever before; and the Internet makes accessing information from around the globe the work of seconds. Yet some of us still struggle to fit everything into the same 24 hours that everyone else is getting. Here are a few simple strategies to reclaim the clock and slow down the race.

1. Saying yes means saying no

And saying no means saying yes. When you say yes to dinner with friends, you are saying no to an evening on the sofa watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother. And when you say no to drinks with a colleague after work, perhaps you’re saying yes to a bath, a book and early to bed. When you are conscious of what you’re accepting and what you’re rejecting, you can start to make more conscious choices based on what your body, mind and soul need right now. And that’s a first step to using time on purpose.

2. You can achieve a lot in 5 minutes

You can make the bed, do a short breathing exercise, send a text to reach out to a friend, or write a list of prospects to contact for your business. Every minute is useful for something. Don’t get sucked into to thinking that if you don’t have a whole hour to spend on a project there’s no way you can make any progress today.

3. Christmas is on 25th December, every single year

And this year will be no exception. So why do so many people find themselves queuing up to buy a soap selection basket in The Body Shop at 4pm on Christmas Eve? Why not buy gifts throughout the year (when you happen upon the perfect present or the sales are in full swing) and put them away until Christmas? Why not set aside a weekend at the end of October for some internet purchases and another mid November to head to the shops? It’s all about planning. The same is true of birthdays, anniversaries and tax returns. Don’t let events that you can so easily anticipate sneak up on you!

4. Remember who’s the slave and who’s the master

Is Facebook a fun way of keeping up with distant friends or a time suck that distracts you from writing your thesis? Does Twitter help you keep up with the latest news while you’re in between meetings, or do you find yourself emerging from a session of tweet-surfing to find that an hour has passed and your friend’s surprise birthday party hasn’t planned itself? Social media and the Internet can be forces for organisation and time-efficiency when used well. Make sure you’re staying in control.

We all get the same 24 hours every day. And what you choose to do with them is your business. Just make sure you’re doing just that: choosing.

Make it easy on yourself

Make it easy on yourself

Acquiring just a few good organisational habits will help your day go with a swing rather than a bang – because life doesn’t have to be so hard.

It’s a commonly held misconception that life is hard. That it’s a struggle, a war, and that, even in the comfort of relatively peaceful first-world countries, we still have to do daily battle – with a never-ending to-do list, demands from family, friend and bosses, the pressure to keep up with fashion, the news, the Joneses…

But I don’t buy all that. Sure, life has its challenges. They range from the everyday, like finding and keeping a job and maintain good relationships, to the exceptionally hard times when we encounter death, heartbreak, serious illness, depression… Luckily, these kinds of major problems are infrequent for most of us. What’s more, when the serious problems do come along, we have a tendency to rise to the challenge – we activate our support network, we shore ourselves up, and become acutely aware of the need to be kind to ourselves and stay strong.

Nice and easy does it every time

In my experience, it’s not the “big stuff” that floors people, but the accumulation of lots of “small stuff”. When people talk about what regularly exhausts them and causes them stress, more often that not it’s the regular hassles, the daily grind, a lack of time, the constant feeling of frazzled and overstretched. Yet, most of these sources of stress are self-induced. Household clutter is an issue for many people – yet what’s to stop them clearing it away? The pre-work rush gets lots of us off to a bad start but the quality of our morning routine is entirely in our own hands.

Acquiring a few simple and healthy organisational habits can make such a difference and help you live a more easeful life. After all, when you rush from place to place, lurching from crisis to crisis, are you running your life or is your life running you – into the ground? I get frazzled at times, just like everyone, but I do try to stick to a few great strategies for making life just a little easier and therefore more pleasant for myself and everyone around me.

If it will only take two minutes, do it straight away

You get home from work and change your clothes, remove your jewelry, etc. It takes almost as long to throw everything on your dressing table as it does to put them in the wash basket, hang them up and put your earrings into your jewelry box. The difference: a clear bedroom, your favourite gold hoops don’t eventually get lost, and, when you have friends for dinner that week, the pre-visit clearing up is reduced, which in turn means you don’t have to rush home from work, frantically stuffing piles of cloths under the bed and swearing as you step barefoot on the aforementioned lost earrings!

Leave more than enough time between meetings and appointments

You need to make a doctor’s appointment. The receptionist suggests 6pm on Tuesday. You’ve got a meeting until 5.30pm and you want to get to your tango class at 8pm. The doctor’s office and the dance school are about 45 minutes apart. Sounds doable, but before accepting the appointment, think about the possibilities for that day. Your meeting ends at 5.45pm instead of 5.30pm. You don’t even have time to tidy your desk before rushing out the door to the doctor. She’s running late and you don’t get to see her before 6.45pm. The doctor has a test she wants you to undergo, she calls the clinic to make the appointment while you’re there…the clock is ticking. You leave her at 7.15pm, run to the station, catch a train in the nick of time and arrive at your class just as the warm-up is beginning. You’re already hot and frazzled, you haven’t had time to change your shoes, and you go straight into the class without even having time to say hi to a few of the other regulars (which was the reason you joined in the first place – to make new friends). What part of all of that did you actually enjoy, let along savour? And, seriously – why on earth would you do that to yourself?

Pack your bag the night before

It takes three minutes to make sure your handbag is ready for the next day before turning in for the night (even better – do it as soon as you get home, before you sit down to relax). Run through your day in your mind and imagine what you’ll need as you leave the house, see a client, walk to the tube, call a taxi, stop by the shops. Keys, purse, phone (does it need charging? plug it in now!), train pass, lip balm, period is due – shove a couple of tampons in the side pocket, meeting first thing – do I have a few business cards in my wallet?, take that letter to post, grab a reusable shopping bag… It’s one thing you won’t have to do the next day before the coffee has truly kicked in and you’re firing on all cylinders.

Delete or file emails as you read and reply

My email inbox is basically my online to-do list. Everyday, I go through the new emails, read and file things that are just for information, delete the junk and am left with, say ten, that actually require action. I fire off responses to the ones I can (glorious quick wins) and then file them. The inbox is now halved. As long as an email remains in my inbox I know I haven’t finished dealing with it, and the fact that it’s not lost among 50 emails that I have dealt with means that I won’t forget to do so.

Let the phone go to voicemail

Ok. Minor rant now. Why, oh why, do people answer the phone only to say, “Sorry, I’m in a meeting / having lunch with a friend / in a museum. Can I call you back?” Firstly, it’s rude to the person they’re actually with. Secondly, it ruins their concentration and ability to be in the here and now. Thirdly, they almost always forget to call that person back because how often do you immediately write “Call Sandra back” on your to-do list? What is so wrong with letting calls go to voicemail when it’s an inconvenient time to talk? The voicemail reminders ensure you won’t forget to return the call, and you’re etiquette karma is intact.