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alone-62253_640While many run their lives under the “work hard, play hard” banner, we all should be aware of the early signs of burnout. Working long hours with great enthusiasm can be a road to great success, but if you burn the candle at both ends for too long you might need some tools to manage the negative results.

Though everyone’s thresholds for burnout are different, the Sydney Morning Herald reported research on the matter lay blame at the feet of three key experiences – ‘exhaustion, cynicism and inefficiency’.

So it stands to reason if we can beat these three, the sky is the limit! Consider the following tips.

Include exercise – Even a brief walk at lunch time, rather than remaining sedentary for too much of the day can make the world of difference. Is there a park nearby where you could eat lunch? Can you walk or ride a bike to work once a week, or more? A change of scenery can lead to greater productivity later. For some, an exercise class between work and home is perfect for maximum efficiency.

Make personal calls – Make sure, no matter how devoted and into your job you are, that you have some non-work time, with friends or family, where something unrelated to work crosses your radar. No-one can be ‘on’ 100% of the time, so avoid burnout by staying connected to the world at large.

Let go a little and delegate – Recognise that you can not control everything, and work to remove minor headaches before they can affect operations. For instance, consider hiring someone to do the monotonous, time consuming tasks that slow you down.

Get tech-free downtime – The beauty and great problem of computer based work is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. Make sure there are times in your day, everyday, when your devices stay off.

Foster supportive relationships – Keep the humanity about your work by befriending colleagues close to you. Remember you are never in it alone, and having their perspective will help in the tough times, and make the good times that much more enjoyable.

Work hard, play hard is okay some of the time but if you want to go the distance with any great success, you need to ensure you keep it balanced.

Businessman and businesswoman using laptop in office

Put the #social back in #socialmedia

Using social media to promote an organisation, its operations and events is a primary way to get a message out these days. A quick search for almost any school, business or organisation will turn up their Twitter and Facebook pages, which can have advantages over other media as it can be immediate and brief, and is independent of journalism. Latest findings from Canterbury Christ Church University, however, indicate that while social media use is widespread in the field, up to 40% of PR workers are not truly engaging with other users.

Promoting and reposting happens a lot, with PR workers using social media platforms to connect with  loyal and potential customers alike. Tweets and Facebook posts are effective promotional tools as they arrive within a feed of personalised, invited materials, so people are generally quite receptive to their content. It is an informal seeming way to project the image and operations of a business. But if users are not engaging with the people seeing their posts, and commenting or asking questions, the true potential of the medium is being underused.

Social media is a conversation. There is a to and fro, and give and take. When effectively used, conversations had or ‘overheard’ can stick in viewers minds for years. As well as posting, responding should be an integral part of any social media plan. Showing your value them enough to engage will increase the loyalty of your followers, and help spread the word about your work. Consider asking your audience questions to encourage engagement, and remember, humorous and interesting content always as the potential to go viral.

If you are using social media, remember that people (including mainstream media) consider it a communicative channel. Ideally, you will be treating every approach to your social media page as you would any phone call to your office. Responding in a timely manner demonstrates your respect for your clients, and will help your organisation grow.

DeathtoStock_Wired1It is said that you can’t have it all. Something’s got to give.

Is that really such a bad thing?

There will always be times when work wins over home, or life in general, and at other times family comes first. Instead of fighting the work life balance battle perhaps we should just accept it and reduce our stress in a different way. Feeling like you can’t have it all and are somehow failing just makes matters worse. Accepting that there will always be a level of imbalance could be just what you need to take the pressure off.

If you have just been promoted or hope to be, begun a course of study, opened your own business or have taken on extra hours or even another job to save for something special, work is going to have a higher priority in your life. All of these events have an end point, are a means to an end and are hopefully worth the sacrifice or the imbalance they create. With appropriate communication and coping strategies the people left at home whilst work takes over will be there to keep the wheels turning and support you until the balance tips in their direction. But it is essential that the work focus doesn’t take over and becomes the new normal. When the goals are achieved, the holiday taken or the study completed those who made the bigger sacrifice need to be rewarded with your time and attention. Don’t keep working the extra hours or take on more study because it becomes a habit or an expectation.

There can also be times when family or home takes precedence. For example welcoming a new baby, moving house, enjoying the well earned holiday you took a second job to save for, or less joyful events such as illness or relationship break down. These things can be out of your control and sometimes occur at the worst possible time, if there is such a thing as a good time. But you’ll find that as important as you are it is unlikely you are indispensable and the job or task will go on without you. It may not be the same and even lack a little something but if it can’t wait then it will go on regardless of your input. Organisations and managers accept that their people have lives and other responsibilities, and like the situation when work takes over, these times don’t last forever. When the crisis or illness is over, the boxes are unpacked or the baby is home then your attention can be diverted to make your work a higher priority once again.

How about embracing ‘intentional imbalance’ instead of work life balance. When you stop feeling guilty about the time you are devoting or not devoting you have more energy and focus to the task at hand. But there still needs to be a clear plan and defined goals. Be sure to record your aims and timeframes and share them with the people around you who will be most affected. If you get carried away or steer off course they will be the ones to remind you and drag you back.

It’s ok to stop worrying about achieving work life balance. You can do anything. But not everything.

Everyone has the right to choose what to do with their time, but we can all agree about one thing – it is certainly not enough for everything. Back in 2013, an ingenious project made use of 28,835 jelly beans (one for every day in 79 years) to show how the life of an average person looks and what we use it for. Simple calculations help the guys show the following important figures:

  • 23,360 days left after the first 15 years.
  • Sleeping: 8,477 days.
  • Eating, drinking and preparing food: 1,635 days.
  • Working: 3,202 days.
  • Commuting and moving around: 1,099 days.
  • Watching TV (arguably): 2,676 days.
  • Chores and household responsibilities: 1,567 days.
  • Taking care of our loved ones: 564 days.
  • Bathing, grooming, bathroom related activities: 671 days.
  • Community activities (taking classes, charities etc.): 720 days.

When you take all that out, you are left with 2,740 days. This is your time for doing what you love, what makes you happy, what you really want to do with your time. And that’s in case you know how to say ‘no.’ 2,740 days does not sound like a lot of time, does it? What you are going to do with it – the choice is entirely yours.

When realising the importance of saying ‘no’, you need to differentiate between your personal life and your business affairs. When it comes to your own private time, making the choice to say no should be much easier. In our lives, we all have those people who would always ask for favours, sacrifices, compromises, spending time on activities we don’t like or need. There are, of course, situations when we should say ‘yes’ – when we really want to help/participate. But when spending our time is obviously not worth it and everything in us screams no – that’s when you should be hard and decided. Say ‘no.’ If they persist, say ‘no.’ again. Soon enough, you will not be the target of unwanted invitations, requests and attention – and you will have the time all for yourself, your loved ones and what really matters in life!

If you are struggling to say ‘no’ to business requests, invitations and projects, you will need to train yourself into practical thinking. Do you have enough on your plate already? Yes? Then the answer to the next thing you will only waste time and efforts on should be ‘no.’ Do you actually want to participate in the project/meeting/event? Then say ‘no’, but include the possibility to be available next time. In order to be successful and to have time for what really matters for your business, you need to know your priorities. A good idea is to have a time rule – for example, give a reply after 24 hours. That will give you what you need to count the pros and cons, to evaluate the proposition and to take the right decision. Only very rare business cases would not let you ‘sleep on it’ before deciding what to do, so take advantage of doing this – the benefits will come with time.

To cut a long story short, ‘no’ is a phrase you certainly need to use more often in both your private and business life. Learn to say it gracefully and with style, without hurting people’s feelings and with the perspective of keeping doors open – never lock them. However, no matter what way you say it, make sure you are in control of your own time. 2,740 days for activities of your own choice. How many of them do you have left? Spend them appropriately!

agent-18762_640At its heart, there are certain unavoidable truths about any business or organisation. First, it is only ‘working’ if it keeps the interests of customers a priority. And second, there is always room for improvement. Even if (or perhaps especially if) you are not wondering how you could improve your customer service, there is a strong likelihood that you can, and your whole operation will run better as a result.

Take this as a reminder that without your customers, your organisation would dwindle and eventually close its doors. The upside is, each positive interaction with a customer not only makes it easy for them to return, but makes it a pleasure for them to tell their friends about you and the wonderful work you do. So, it is really important that you and your staff always keep personal frustrations when at work in a professional setting. Support customers with a smile, no matter what. Putting their interests first, and letting them know how important they are will help ensure they continue to work with you.

Online customers deserve quality service also, and there are a few ways to make sure their experiences with your organisation are as good, if not better, than if they dealt in person. A lot of customer queries and complaints can be dealt with efficiently via a comprehensive FAQ page online. Remember, however, that just because someone can navigate to a webpage does not mean they understand all technical or industrial jargon. Keep the content clear and simple, to avoid unnecessary follow up questions. Another thing to consider when delivering customer service online is that customers will generally expect fast responses. If you are using social media, the closer to instant replies, the better.

Making each customer feel important and heard, will win their loyalty. There is no better promotion for any organisation than a personal recommendation from a satisfied customer.

instagram

Connecting with your target audience via social media used to be an afterthought for many businesses and non-profits. Now, it’s an indispensable tool that you must wield effectively in order to remain relevant. The difficulty now lies in deciding which social media networks to use, given that there are literally thousands currently in existence with new ones seemingly popping up every week.

After all, you have a life, and even if you hire a full time social media manager, they have a life too. Your budget is likely limited as well, so it pays to do your research and make certain that you invest your limited time and budget on the networks that will give you the best return.

Many individuals and businesses have already turned to well-known, established sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to connect. Instagram is less well known than these sites, but is gaining in popularity. One reason that over 200 million people use the site actively is that it makes it easy to share stories and interact with others visually.

Images have the power to stir our emotions and make it easier to make connections with those who view our content. Since Instagram is designed to emphasise visual content, it’s perfect for those businesses and non-profits that need to quickly establish an emotional, personal connection with their followers.

Some obvious benefits of creating a heartfelt connection with your followers is that it can make it easier to create trust and build your reputation. It also makes it more likely that you will be successful when presenting a call to action for donations and volunteers as well as sales.

Instagram is also easy to use once you get started, and fun. It’s especially suited to mobile users who are busy and on the go, as you can download a simple smartphone app to make taking photos and videos a snap.

10 Tips for Using Instagram for Your Business

When using Instagram, two phrases that you may wish to keep in mind are: “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression” and “a picture is worth a thousand words”. These old adages are especially true when you first create and set up your Instagram account.

  1. The mosaic that others will see when they first visit your account is made up of your top 7 most popular images. For new accounts, the mosaic will default to the first 7 images that you post to your account, so take some care when making your selections, as these images form the backbone of the impression you will make to visitors.
  2. For best results, choose clear, high resolution images, and aim to strike a balance between posting images that are humorous or insightful and content that relates directly back to your work. The site also includes filters and tools that make it easy to crop, and alter your images which can totally transform the appearance and meaning.
  3. You will attract more attention to your posts by using popular hashtags. While Instagram has a limit of 30, you don’t have to max out your limit. Many users limit themselves to a brief comment followed by 5 to 7 hashtags, so that the content remains visually appealing and easy to read. It’s also a good idea to use a combination of trending hashtags along with ones that are specific to your brand, so that you get a good mix of existing followers and new visitors to your account.
  4. You want to be careful to not overwhelm your fans with too many posts throughout the day. Studies show that the optimum times to post on Instagram are between 5 to 6 p.m. on weeknights, and 8 p.m. on Monday night. Adopt a regular posting schedule so that visitors are more likely to return to your profile looking for new content.
  5. Regardless of when, or how often that you post, ensure that you quickly follow up with any visitors and fans that like or comment on your posts. Visit their profiles and like and comment back to start conversations and help build your following.
  6. The visual nature of Instagram makes it the ideal venue to increase interest in your brand by hosting photo contests themed around your business, or special events. You can also use images to “count down” to special events, sales and grand openings for your business.
  7. In addition to posting photos and other images, Instagram makes it easy to make and share short video clips up to 15 seconds in length. Keep your audience interested in your content and tap into trends by mixing things up and re-posting clips that are popular as well as posting your own short videos that relate to your business.
  8. Be certain to link your Instagram account to your business Facebook page and Twitter account. This gives you another way to connect with existing followers and possibly tap into their personal networks. It also makes it easy to share images and captions across multiple platforms, which will solidify your branding and marketing efforts. You can even embed your short Instagram videos onto your website or company Facebook page. Just keep in mind that your Instagram posts will only appear as a link on your Twitter tweets, while remaining the same in appearance on Facebook.
  9. Just because Instagram works a bit differently than other social media networks, don’t forget to use analytics and measure your results so that you can tweak your approach and find what content, posting schedule and number of hashtags works best for you to reach your target audience and build your following.
  10. You can also gain insight into how other businesses are using Instagram to build their brand and increase their following by reading the Instagram for Business blog. This part of the site contains both helpful recommendations as well as corporate case studies where you can gain ideas for what may or may not work for your business and situation.

Instagram is not the oldest or most widely used social media network, but its influence is growing, especially among mobile users who are grabbing an increasing share of Internet traffic. It’s free and easy to use and has the ability to convey meaning and information visually. All of these features make it the perfect network for nearly all individuals, businesses and non-profits. The site’s start page invites users to “capture and share the world’s moments”. So why not get started capturing images of your world and use it to share your own unique story?

Stress - woman stressed with headacheThe pen clicker. The close talker. The over sharer. The loud eater.

Depending on the size of the company or the team you work in, most offices have one or all of the common office pests who can make your work environment just a little bit crazy and hard to maintain your sanity.

So what’s the answer? How can you stay sane in a crazy office when you have little escape from people and noise and activity for upwards of 7 hours a day?

Try one of these three strategies to try to keep your focus and remain effective in a crazy environment.

Tune in and tune out the chatter.

As long as you are not a call centre operator, front line staff or customer service professional, headphones are your new best friend. Not only will a little light listening drown out the office noise and distraction that can be so annoying, but it also sends a signal to your co-workers that you need to concentrate and blinker up to focus on the task at hand. Don’t play your music so loud your co-workers can hear it or you add to the office chaos, or at a volume you can’t be interrupted without jumping through the roof in fright. If possible, try using just one ear bud so that if your attention is needed, it is easily achieved. You might also considering clearing this strategy with your team leader or supervisor, stressing that the goal is to be more productive and focused. Once you get the go ahead, pop in some discrete ear buds at a reasonable volume and avoid the craziness that comes with office life.

Walk it out.

If you’re lucky enough to have your own office and the noise outside exceeds levels you can cope with, the most obvious solution is to close the door. Problem solved for you but not for others, however it sends a clear message that the volume has boomed above what is acceptable which might be all it takes.

If you are in an open plan environment and door closing isn’t an option, just get up and remove yourself from the noise instead. Take a trip to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, or the water cooler for something more hydrating. Hand deliver the memo you need to share with a colleague instead of emailing it or step out on the terrace or walk around the block if your presence will not be missed. Fresh air and exercise will not only resolve the noise and haze in your head, but will in fact make you more productive when you return. If your supervisor is agreeable you may in fact negotiate a different break system than the usual 3-4 hours on, 1 hour off, perhaps a 15 minute break every 2 hours instead.

Talk it over.

Sometimes people just don’t get the message and are so busy being social, or noisy, that they don’t notice your subtle and even not so subtle signs that you’d like them to pipe down and focus on their own work. If this is the case you might need to step it up and ask them to keep the craziness to themselves or at least out of your area. Be polite and engaged, show an interest in the discussion and say it with a smile, but explain that your deadline or project requires all your attention and the loud activity around you isn’t helping your cause. Noise, energy and activity can be the signs and byproduct of a collaborative and motivated team, but when the sounds around you feel more like a dentist’s drill than an inspiration, then take whatever steps necessary.

You don’t want to be the party pooper, unless in fact you’re in charge and crowd control is in your job description, nor do you want to alienate the rest of your team. But sometimes a little honesty goes a long way and stops you adding to the chaos by blowing your lid and cutting through the noise in a less than helpful way!

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