Unaffordable Britain

There was an article in The Guardian this week about young Brits leaving London for more affordable Berlin. The reason people gave for leaving London were high rents and long working hours:

“I was working seven days a week and paying £800 for a shared flat in Lewisham. We kept moving further and further into south-east London, until I felt the need to leave entirely.” (Dani Berg)

Consumer prices are 30% less, and rental costs are 70% lower in Berlin. The downside of this of course is that rents are now being driven up much to the resentment of Berliners.

The idea that the UK has become unaffordable has really struck a cord with me. I live in the expensive South of England (my husband has his business here) – we are back in a rented property struggling to find a house that we can afford or that we want to live in. We both run our own businesses and work hard (“hardworking people” is a phrase I have grown to dislike since its cross party adoption). I have a number of friends who in recent years have fallen off the property ladder and now acknowledge that they are unlikely to ever get back on. I have come to realise how precarious our financial lives are; and they shouldn’t be.

Work is important, I know that it is good for our physical and mental health but it is not the be-all and end-all of our lives. Having time for family and friends, for relaxation, for cultivating other interests, for exercise, for academic pursuits – are all things that we know are protective factors for keeping us physically and mentally strong – and for giving us a more fulfilling life. But life has become so expensive that for many of us we can not afford to do anything other than work extensive hours or pursue uncomfortable promotion in order to afford the mortgage of a property we don’t get to enjoy because we are working so hard.

I don’t know the answers; I know it is going to get worse for younger generations as property prices become more and more unaffordable. First time buyers are now spending 30% to 40% more on their first homes than they would have done in 1969. I feel caught between my parents’ generation who have benefited from the increase in property prices and my son’s generation for whom home ownership isn’t even a tangible dream. Something has to change, or the impact on our health of the mortgage treadmill will become even more devastating.

Permission To Make An Arse Of Myself Please

This week I have been pondering on the fate of Sir Tim Hunt, scientist, Nobel Prize winner for his work on cell division and fellow of the Royal Society. Speaking ‘off the cuff’ at a conference in South Korea, Hunt made ill advised and silly comments suggesting that the trouble with “girls” in science is that they cause men to fall in love with them and cry when criticised. Although Hunt apologised for his comments (suggesting they were meant to be ironic and jocular) they were picked up on social media and went viral resulting in the 72 year old being forced to resign from his honorary post at University College London. A number of senior female scientists have come forward to say that Hunt’s comments didn’t reflect his practice and that he had in the past shown great support to young scientists, both male and female.

What struck me about this story was how fragile our reputations are. An ill-advised word or action can quickly take a momentum of its own, impacting on both our personal lives and our careers. There are some great examples of social media holding people to account for their actions – see for example the coverage of police brutality in America – but how can years of exemplary and highly valued work be brushed aside as the result of 5 minutes of arrogant hubris on the other side of the world? Surely we are all allowed to make mistakes, to acknowledge and apologise for those mistakes and move on?

Technology and social media really do mean that the world has shrunk – that ill-advised words or actions can be captured, replayed, commented on and magnified. Reputations can be shattered, professional personas destroyed: a hurricane of comments doing their damage and then moving on to the next victim. Gossip on an international scale. How do we protect ourselves from that? I know the rubbish that comes out of my mouth sometimes – I am tired, I have miss-judged a situation, I have spoken without thinking – I would be mortified if those lapses had been captured and played out to the world. But I don’t want to lead a bland, un-opinionated, silent life, where thoughts are left un-verbalised and ideas unexplored. I want permission to make an arse of myself – to learn from that – and to move on – without leaving my reputation and my life’s work in its wake.

Self-Motivating – the art of getting things done

Many of us are lucky enough to be self-employed, in a creative role, or in a job that is self-determined. For us, the trick to being productive is self-motivation. Finding the enthusiasm, confidence, energy and creativity everyday to not only get our work done but to excel at what we do.

Here is our 10 Top Tips on self-motivation. All based on the WorkGuru team’s experience:

1. Create a great space to work in.
Wherever you work make sure it is a great space. Both practical and conducive to fabness. Research has shown the importance of views, windows and plants in the working environment. Natural light, views of nature and the presence of indoor plants are all shown to increase feelings of wellbeing and reduce stress.

Do you have the tools you need to do your job? Is your technology right? What about your physical space, does that work for you? Make sure that your workspace is ergonomic; that your chair supports you and that your computer screen is at the right height. If you use a laptop have you thought about plugging in a different keyboard and placing your laptop on a raised platform? Nothing can demotivate you faster then an uncomfortable working environment.

2. Create routines to allow the space to be productive.
We mentioned these next two in our last blog – they are so great we couldn’t miss them out. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you, create a routine to help it happen. If you have a self-determined role and your daily hours and routine is not set for you, set it for yourself. Set the times for when you are going to be at your desk, or in your workshop etc., let people know you are available at those times. Work does not get done unless you create the space for it to happen.

3. Align your tasks to your energy.
Our energy changes during the day and the week. Learn to align your work tasks with your energy levels. So for me my energy is more focused and creative in the morning. This is the time I set aside for writing or tackling complex problems. It is also the time I use for tasks I have been putting off – I am more determined and focused in the morning. My energy begins to wane after lunch so I might switch to more routine tasks at this time, answering email, completing paperwork, engaging with social media. I know that my energy picks up again in the early evening so I might take some timeout in the late afternoon to walk the dogs or take some exercise, knowing that early evening is always a good time for me to get some more work done and begin to plan for the next day.

4. Create a to-do lists
Create a to-do list. I tend to have 2, one for the week and one for the day. At the end of each working week or at the beginning of a new one write down the things you want/need to achieve for the week ahead. Prioritise them (either in order of importance or underline the ones that are most important/urgent). At the end of each day use your weekly to-do list to help you to create your to-do list for the next day. Write your daily list on a post-it note to stop it being too long. Make sure it is realistic, there is nothing more deflating then setting yourself up to fail, and give yourself the pleasure of crossing off the tasks you have completed.

5. Just start
Sometimes you have to stop thinking and just start doing. Faced with an impossible report or a new project you are struggling with? Just begin – start somewhere, anywhere, just start. By making a start you will begin to build up momentum and become more focused. In the words of American Novelist Barbara Kingsolver “I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.”

6. Keep positive
Lots and lots of research shows the links between positive thinking and people who have higher mental wellbeing, less negative stress, better immune systems and achieve better outcomes. In his book Authentic Happiness, one of the founders of positive psychology Dr Martin Seligman even argues the positive thinking can provide you with an intellectual boost.

Positive thinking begins with understanding your thought processes. In WorkGuru we talk about automatic thoughts; how thoughts can stream into your mind one after the other, often in a negative spiral, and often involving habitual unhelpful thinking styles that we are unaware of, such as a tendency to over generalise, jump to conclusions or catastrophise. Being aware of these thought processes helps us to form more realistic, positive thinking patterns.

7. Visualise success
There are good reasons for doing this one. The first one is that we can learn new skills through the power of imagination alone! Research by Alvaro Pascual-Leone has shown that mental practice (imagining a new skill or behaviour) creates the same physical changes to the brain as physical practice. So never underestimate the power of your imagination.

The other reasons are possibly more mundane but still important. Visualising success keeps you focused and motivated and it also helps you to know when you have got there.

Here is a bit of a sad example, but boringly it is true. I am trying to lose weight at the moment, the way I keep myself motivated it to visualise myself being able to comfortably fit into my jeans, and I hold onto that image. It does 2 things for me it reminds me of why I am trying to achieve the change (I hate not being able to fit into my clothes) and it tells me when I am going to be successful (when the jeans fit). You can easily change this example to a work focused one. Maybe success for you is going to be when you get 10 orders through for your product a day. Close your eyes and think about what that would look like, how it would feel and what it would mean for you. Hold on to that vision. What are the things that you need to be doing to get closer to that success? When you begin to feel despairing or lose your focus use this vision to remember what it is all about.

8. Minimise distractions
We can all find lots of reasons to not start work. I remember when I was studying. My house was always at its cleanest when deadlines were approaching. Now the distractions for me tend to be linked to technology. Becoming distracted when using the Internet – commonly known as cyberloafing. Did you know recent research has shown that 60 – 80% of our time on the Internet at work is not work related. Other distractions include checking email (listening out for the sound as emails come in and then checking them just in case it is urgent), checking facebook and twitter, and responding to text messages.

Technology can be both the distractor and the rescuer. “contemplative computing” is a move towards turning our information technology into agents of serenity. “Zenware” is designed to block distractions. Examples include www.ommwriter.com, www.justgetflux.com, www.macfreedom.com (works on Mac and PC) or for 2 minutes of total relaxation try www.donothingfor2minutes.com.

The simplest solution of all though is to turn things of, and limit your access to them. Try checking your email just 2 or 3 times a day. Limit your social networking and encourage friends to contact you when you aren’t working (whoops sorry, got distracted by an email coming in – it’s all easier said then done).

9. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Some days and weeks you will be flying. You will feel energised, motivated and enthusiastic; but other days and weeks you wont. Keep the faith; believe in yourself. Your mojo will return.

10. Do other things: learn to switch off
Have you noticed how solutions can often come to you when you are thinking about something else? I have some of my best ideas when I am walking the dog, driving my car or cooking. You might not always be able to think of a solution during work hours, but by just letting it, unconsciously tick over in your mind, a solution can appear when you least expect it. I once woke up with the whole outline of an essay in my head – I even remembered it. Take the time to do things that you enjoy, take your mind off your work and most importantly learn to SWITCH OFF. Keep yourself motivated by keeping your work and life in balance.