Wednesday 13 December 2017

No stress yet but Christmas is right around the corner

'Start by taking care of yourself. Make sure you have given yourself the proper mental and physical capacity to get things done. How are you eating? Hydrating? Are you well-rested?' (stock photo)
'Start by taking care of yourself. Make sure you have given yourself the proper mental and physical capacity to get things done. How are you eating? Hydrating? Are you well-rested?' (stock photo)

Gina London

It's the drive to school on Wednesday and I casually mention to Lulu that "Sunday is October 1st".

"That's right," my nine-year-old daughter chirps. "It's almost Christmas."

"Thanks a lot, Lulu," I think. Now I can teeter Christmas preparations atop my ever-rising mental list of things I need to attend to.

Last July, the week before I jetted over to the US to lead a series of client training sessions and host a tech conference (oh, and visit family too), I was part of an Image Magazine networking breakfast in which I was asked to share my tips on how to create work/life balance.

I chuckled recalling that event when, on Tuesday afternoon, I found myself racing away from Fota Island Resort (well, as quickly as one can race considering the speed bumps strategically placed on the road out there). I had just finished emceeing a day-long conference there which, as conferences often do, had run a bit over-time. I had 15 minutes to get back to Cork city to pick up Lulu on time from her after-school care. I was seven minutes late. Thankfully, her minder was understanding.

Next, with Lulu in tow, I had to dash over to SuperValu to grab cupcake papers and various ingredients since tomorrow was "cake sale day" for Lulu's class. Back at home, we baked, iced and decorated (if you haven't picked up edible glitter yet, Lulu highly recommends it) and then I helped her get ready for bed.

Later that night, I spent a couple of hours putting the finishing touches on a presentation I was to give a group of potential clients the next day. They are in Shannon so I had plans to drive there, after, of course, I dropped Lulu and her cupcakes off.

This brings me back to this Wednesday morning's school-run and Lulu's Christmas comment coming on top of everything else. Man, the stress. Despite what I may have said at that Image breakfast in July, here in October, a certain beloved communications columnist is feeling there's just not enough hours in the day.

Which is why I'm delighted to introduce you to Caroline Laycock. She runs the very appropriately named company, Get More Done At Work.

Although she's based in the UK, Caroline is originally from Monaghan and her family is still here in Ireland.

In fact, we met because her extremely wise and thoughtful mother had been cutting out my columns every week and saving them in a little pile, giving them to Caroline when she came to visit in the summer.

Caroline emailed me and we've become fast friends. She emphasises to her clients in much the same way I do with my own that how we more effectively communicate to ourselves is the first step toward how we will more effectively communicate with others.

Caroline offers a three-step framework for becoming more effective and to - I simply love her language here - "give the impression of being in control":

1. Energise. Start by taking care of yourself. Make sure you have given yourself the proper mental and physical capacity to get things done. How are you eating? Hydrating? Are you well-rested?

The night before my emcee job at Fota this past week, there was a dinner for the organisers and speakers.

It was a great time to meet one another over delicious food and a glass of wine. But by 10.30pm, when the Midleton Very Rare was presented, I excused myself for bed. (Okay, I had a sip of the whiskey, but I swear only a sip.)

Our brains are our most valuable asset, so I know we have to do all that we can to protect them and nourish them.

2. Prioritise. Caroline reminds us all to take a moment before "diving in" to work. First reflect on what you need to do and in what order. How much time will each task likely take?

For instance, I know that sometimes I put unnecessary pressure on myself by creating "false deadlines". Do I really need to do all five tasks today? Or can one of them slide to tomorrow when I am freer and fresher? Understanding our priorities is crucial if we want to be clear on where to spend our precious time.

3. Focus. When Caroline says focus, she tells me she means it "like a fanatic". She adds: "We now know what needs to be done, so get on and actually DO it." So, do not let distractions get in the way.

Try one solid uninterrupted hour. Don't open your email, Facebook or Twitter tab on your laptop or tablet. Don't look at your phone unless it's an emergency. Don't even get up for a cup of tea. Eliminate distractions and create space to do your thinking and your work. As we say in the States: "Git 'er done!"

In addition, Caroline urges you to remember:

4. All units of time are not equal. Do your most brain-taxing work when you have most energy.

5. Be realistic. Do whatever you can to set yourself up for success every day.

Tell those you work with what your priorities are and do tasks with focus, not forgetting to refresh along the way.

You'll be giving others - and yourself - that all-important impression you're in control, your brain will thank you for your effort, and PS - don't forget the edible glitter for your next cupcakes.

How are you focusing your work? Your team? Yourself? Want my cupcake recipe? Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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