Why I’m Celebrating Somerset Day

Today is Somerset Day.  For most of you, this may be insignificant – but for me, since I was born in Somerset and have chosen to reside here most of my life, it’s a pretty important occasion.

Somerset Day is a pretty new thing: it was created just a couple of years ago to celebrate all that is great in the county and of course, to promote the wonderful county.

I for one love the county.  I was brought up in a small village where our house was surrounded by fields.  I spent most evenings playing in the garden and fields after school; and exploring the woods on weekends.   It is the exact childhood I wanted for my own children and so when the time came, my husband and I moved to a similarly small village.   We spend much time with the children exploring nature or mores as they are growing up, playing cricket.

Somerset is clearly a great place for business too, with lots of businesses thriving.  Being in Somerset has been a real asset for my own coaching business: I love that the countryside offers space to help clients free their mind of the clutter which prevents them from seeing the wood from the trees (excuse the pun).  I love how when clients visit they instantly relax and can leave the pressures of city life behind – and I am sure this also helps clients to make real breakthroughs, enabling them to move their own business forward.  I also love driving to see clients in the county and seeing the contrast between the Levels and the various hills, and the different wildlife that brings – it brings a real appreciation of life.

I am sure that Somerset Day will promote and bring about the best of what is Somerset, and I will certainly be celebrating these successes; but it is also a really useful reminder to me of just how the county has helped shape my life and my growing business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why a mastermind is good for you and your business

Running Mastermind sessions is a passion of mine.  I love watching a group of people who may not previously know each other form a strong group: challenging each other to get things done, bouncing business ideas around, supporting each other when work feels tough, and celebrating in each others success.

But still a lot of the people I meet in business do not know what a Mastermind is, or how it can help them and their business.

So what is a mastermind?

A Mastermind is a group of people who meet monthly (some meet more regularly or less frequently, but my groups meet monthly) to discuss areas of their business they want to work on.  The aim of the sessions is that everyone gets an opportunity to discuss an area they wish to develop and they are then supported by the rest of the group to create a clear plan on how to deliver.  This is usually achieved through good questioning by the rest of the group and also by the group offering their knowledge and expertise (it’s good to have a group with different skill-sets for this reason).  But of course, having a plan is not enough – the group is also there to hold each other accountable; ensuring that if someone has made a commitment to do something, they do it.

Why is a Mastermind good for you and your business?

1. You will be part of an exclusive community

As part of a mastermind you will become part of an exclusive group. You will meet monthly and you will form strong bonds with the group you are in.  Not only that, mastermind groups are usually formed for their complementing skills.  This means that the group as a whole will be able to problem solve easily, ideas will flow and you will develop amazing action plans that really deliver.

2.  You will have peer support

It can be pretty lonely being a business owner – particularly if you are part of a small business, or work from home.  Having people who in your mastermind who you know are in a similar position and who you can bounce ideas off is great for giving you further sense of purpose and making you feel that you are not alone.

3. You will achieve results – FAST

A huge benefit from having a group of people listening to your work issues, is that you have a range of experience to draw on.  This means that when it comes to finding solutions you will come up with them quickly.  Also you will develop great plans for delivery and have a whole group of people asking about how the work is going.  Therefore, you have accountability – there is no hiding from getting the work done.  Consequently, unless you want to be the one to admit to the rest of the group that you haven’t done what you said you would; you will get your plan delivered – and of course, that means you will get results and much faster than when working on it alone.

4. You will gain confidence

There is nothing like feeling part of a successful community and delivering in your job.  When you feel successful, guess what? Your confidence soars! Who wouldn’t want this?

5. You will grow your network

The mastermind may be small (usually less than 8 people) but you will get to know those people really well and they will become your best supporters.  Therefore, you will be introduced to / recommended to, each of the members networks over time.  Consequently, by being part of the mastermind you will grow your network not just by the number in your group, but you will typically also gain the network of those in your group.  And the best bit is, that a a group you will genuinely want to support and help each other – and that means promoting each others business, which of course, leads to more business.

6. You will meet new people to collaborate with

As a close group who want to support you (and with complementary skills), it is highly likely that members in your group might find ways of collaborating.  You might find someone in the group who is a perfect fit for a project you are working on or you might have the skill that they need.  This will allow you to achieve far more.

 

If you would like to find out more about Mastermind groups or are interested in joining a mastermind in the Somerset / Devon / Dorset area, then contact:               Yvonne@astara-coaching.co.uk for more details.

 

 

 

Why We All Need Heroes

This weekend I took my cricketing-mad son to the Somerset Ground to watch Somerset play Essex, and Charlie’s cricket-hero, Alastair Cook.  Charlie has loved cricket since he was around 18months old, when we used to throw tennis balls gently towards him, while he smashed them with his foam bat.  Over the years, he has progressed to being  a keen member of our local cricket club and avid watcher of any cricket match available.  Inevitably, this has led to him having a cricket hero, Alastair Cook: a left-handed batsman, like himself.

Charlie loved the match and was keen to watch how his idol played.  Knowing that my son would love nothing more than to be a cricketer himself, I asked him whether he thought he could do the same.  He thought for a moment and said, “Yes”.  This then led to me asking him what he would need to do to get there and we had a long conversation about the steps he would need to take, sacrifices he may need to make and how he would feel when he achieved his dream.  He was inspired – and not just inspired by what he saw, he was inspired to take action: the action to jump out of bed early this morning and go for a run (he hates running, but it was part of his plan!).

It made me think how important it is for us to all have heroes in our life.  Our heroes inspire us, give us something to strive for, someone whose behaviour we can model and give us a vision of success.  This helps us to plan what we need to do and most importantly, give us motivation for taking the all-important action.

Looking back, I have had many heroes in my life, ranging from my Mum (whose belief in equality and determination has been my inspiration), to Teachers, work colleagues and well-known Coaches.  All of these heroes have enabled me to form my own vision for my business (and life) and helped me to draw on what’s needed to get there.

Having a hero should not be limited to when you are a child; we all need at least one in our life as they really can make our life better.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to unplug

I was brought up to believe that I could achieve anything I wanted if I worked hard enough.  It was a belief I strongly held and yes, I have achieved lots in my life: good exam results, great career…but that did come at a cost – I did have to work really hard at it.

Not only that, when my career involved being an employed Director (employed by someone else, not my own business), it seemed that everyone was conditioned to work really hard: putting in as many hours as they could, skipping lunch, and running round the building like headless chickens whilst they demonstrated just how busy and important they were.  And yes, everyone was important, they were doing a great job – but the stress was so visible and a number of colleagues burnt out, including myself.

For me it was a wake-up call.  My burn out manifested itself in lots of illness that wouldn’t go away – my body was literally telling me to stop.  I knew that if I continued at the pace I was, my body might stop for good.  As a mother of two young children, it scared the hell out of me.

It taught me a lot – about the power of stress (and how at it’s worst it reduced me to feeling useless and helpless) but most importantly, about resilience.  I thought I was highly resilient – and I was.  That meant that I was seen as a good worker who delivered, which meant more and more work landed on my desk.  But what I learnt about resilience is that it’s all a balancing act – if our stressors exceed our resilience, then we will break (and everybody has a breaking point, no matter how resilient you think you are).

In order to become more resilient, we need self-care: we need to do things that top up our cup and make us feel good and happy. It really made me evaluate just how much I did for myself: very little.  I thought about all the things I love doing such as running, walking, reading, spending quality time with my boys, spending time with friends, taking a long soak in the bath and actually, I got to do those things infrequently.

Since then I have changed my life enormously.  I now have my own business which I have grown over the past four years – I spend my days coaching and training others in how to develop their business and make it successful.  One of the biggest messages I give, is that in order for us to be successful we cannot work at a hundred miles per hour all the time – if we try to operate like a machine, we will burn out (and actually who leaves their machines and gadgets on 24 hours a day? We all know they will burn out and go up in smoke!).  If we are to be successful we need to be clear on our strategy, focus on the important and we need to make time for ourselves; we need to unplug from the daily treadmill and do things that make us happy.  It is then we have the energy and focus to live enriched lives, to deliver what’s important and to be truly successful.

You cannot separate the task & individual

In coaching I meet people all the time who want to make improvements to their lives.  They might come to me because they want a promotion at work, want to make more profit in their business or because they are struggling with workload or their work in general.

In fact, there could be and often are, lots of reasons why someone decides that coaching might be for them. But there is usually a common element to how coaching goes.  There is usually a problem the person wants to solve, we take time to discuss this and the client comes up with possible solutions – but it doesn’t end there: in fact, it’s usually at this point, that other issues emerge.  These issues have nothing to do with the person not being able to see what they need to do, or even having the ability to do what they need to do – it is usually that the person doesn’t feel that they can do it.

An example of this is a client who knows that in order to grow her business she needs to make at least 10 cold calls to potential clients per week – but does she do this? No.

In this case, the reason why the client can’t move forward is due to lack of confidence, but it can equally be past trauma, things going on at home, or concern that achieving their goal might give them a negative consequence (think of people who don’t want to achieve their income goals because they’re concerned that others will think differently of them; or it doesn’t sit comfortably with their beliefs – but negative unintended consequences could be anything).

This means that coaching is not as simple as helping a client find solutions for them to meet their goal.  I have to work with, and consider the person as a whole: working with beliefs, personal objections and confidence in order to truly make a breakthrough.  And that is why you cannot separate the task from the individual.

And employers – if you have a member of staff that is not performing, don’t just jump to the conclusion that it is a capability issue, consider your valued employee as a whole person!

My reason why

For everyone who starts a business, there is a reason why.  For those who start a business where you really need to make a living from it, there is a compelling why.  This reason why is the thing that gets you up in the morning and gets you working towards your goals.  It’s a huge motivator for success – and without a clear why, many businesses fail (or plod along as a hobby, with no real income).

So here I am going to share my story and how I reached my reason why:

Seven years ago I had just returned to work following maternity leave, having had my second child (I have two boys, if you are wondering – Charlie and Jack).  The job was ok, I was working for the NHS as a Director which was great for challenging the brain but required so many hours – and it wasn’t a job I had planned to do, just something I fell into after university and found I was good at, but wasn’t entirely fulfilling.

I used to drop my children to the childminder and then go to work, feeling guilty about not spending time with my children (it was the childminder who first saw my youngest son crawl), about missing out on nursery and school events.  Equally, when I was at home, my head was so full of things that I hadn’t got time to complete at work: I was in a vicious cycle of having Mum guilt at work and work guilt at home – and because of that I never felt fully present, or being able to enjoy the moment (hideous when you have two young gorgeous children who more than deserve that).  That was my first reason why – and still is.

I knew things had to change and so spend loads of time thinking about how I could change my career which would allow me to spend more time with the children (becoming full time care-giver was not an option as I was the main breadwinner). After much thought I knew I wanted to become a Coach, helping others: years before I did a Psychology degree and knew I wanted to help people in the workplace, but didn’t know what that looked like; I had received coaching just a few years before, so really understood the power of it; I loved helping colleagues at work to fulfil their potential and helping others, really felt like the missing piece of the jigsaw for me.  So I trained as a Coach (qualification in coaching, shortly followed by becoming an NLP Practitioner and Hypnotherapy Practitioner) alongside a full-time job and being Mum – it was so hard, but felt like a worthwhile sacrifice.  I loved every minute of it, and I knew for sure, that it was the path I was meant to follow.

I continued in my job because as the main earner, I couldn’t just throw it in – I was also stuck in the job because due to my seniority it was argued that I couldn’t be part-time either.  So taking on my new career, even part-time was difficult.   Living my life in a highly demanding job and then coming home to look after the children, clean the house and be the family organiser was exhausting beyond belief.  I was tired all the time and constantly felt ill.  I felt so lucky to have my children, but I felt that I didn’t have any quality of life.

However, I was good at hiding how I felt and was able to project a very ‘in control’ version of me at work.  I used this to my advantage and spoke to HR about supporting others through coaching within the workplace – and that is what I did for several years: coaching people from young, aspiring leaders, to people feeling overwhelmed with workload, to Managing Directors and GP’s taking on new responsibilities.  This gave me the experience and continued enthusiasm to know that this was what I wanted to do.

I then had a breakthrough, which was a restructuring at work – which enabled me to take a redundancy option; giving me money to support my family whilst I set up my coaching business.

So now, I have my amazing business – but I always use my reason ‘why’ as my vision.  For me, my ‘why’ stemmed from what I didn’t want, and by knowing what I didn’t want, it allowed me to describe how I wanted my life to be.

So now my why describes exactly what is important to me: the reason I keep going.  So I have a vision board which includes pictures of my children in a happy home which represents me spending time with them and having work-life balance.  It includes pictures of holidays which represents real quality time away from all work.  It includes me helping others through coaching and providing online programmes – because I know that helping others is important for me and is what makes my job fulfilling.  I have pictures of money because I am still the main earner and it’s important that if I am to have a lifestyle where I get to have holidays with the children and still pay the mortgage that money needs to come freely to me. It also has pictures of me giving back – charity is important to me, so being able to give back (either financially or through my time) is something that I like to do, and aspire to do more of.

This reason why and my compelling vision of what I want my life to be is a great motivator for me – and on days when things don’t go right (yes, I still get them) – all I need to do is remind myself of my end goal (my vision board) and it is enough to me to keep going.  Equally reflecting on how my life used to be, is a great reminder that I never want to be in that situation again.

I am sure my story resonates with many of you – but the good news is, that you are in control of your life and if you set out a compelling vision for yourself, YOU CAN DO IT! Start with your vision and allow the small steps to follow – and no matter, how small those steps are they will move you towards your new life.

Change your thinking and change your life!

I truly believe the power of the mind is a wonderful thing.  Our minds really can take us to success –or it can hold us back, just by what it is telling us.  And what I mean here is, our own internal dialogue (or mind monkeys, as I also like to call them).

For years (through school, university and the first part of my career), I wasn’t confident at all.  I really wanted to be the person who gave their opinion freely, who spoke out at meetings and got credit for the ideas which were going on in my mind.  However, my inner dialogue was completely holding me back.  When I was in meetings, my mind monkeys would be saying, “You can’t say that, they won’t take you seriously”, or “That’s just stating the obvious”.

So I would sit and listen to everyone else come up with ideas.  And sometimes someone else would come up with my idea – and guess, what?  The congratulations would pour in for that person, and I would be left feeling frustrated.

So I knew that I had to change my thinking – because there was nothing wrong with my views or solutions to problems; what was wrong was that I didn’t have the confidence to voice them.  What’s worse is that I knew that this was holding back my career and my future earnings potential.

So I learnt to overcome those mind monkeys – when my inner dialogue said something negative, I challenged it and replaced it with positive thoughts, to drive me forward.  I started making contributions in meetings – and I got recognition, I got respect and I got promoted – a lot!

So are you holding yourself back?  Are you avoiding situations because of your inner dialogue?  If so, change your thinking.  Think of positive thoughts that you can say to yourself – and when those negative thoughts creep in, replace them with your positive thoughts.

Also, just take a couple minutes each day to repeat those positive thoughts to yourself – because the more you say those things, the more your mind will believe it – and if your mind believes it, your actions and success will follow!

How I stay motivated when working from home

I consider myself very fortunate to work from home.  I love the fact that my daily commute is just 30 seconds from bed to desk, and that I can take the children to school, get the washing done and occasionally go for a run whilst still putting in a days work.

But of course, this is partly why ‘working from home’ gets a bad name.  When people hear that I work from home, they really think that I spend my days watching Homes Under the Hammer and Jeremy Kyle.  And that is of course the reason why many employers still feel unhappy about letting staff have working from home days as they believe that productivity will suffer.  However, in my experience working from home can be extremely beneficial – by staying motivated and being able to put in a full days work (and of course, that doesn’t have to be 9-5pm), it means I have greater work-life balance – particularly given that I am not wasting precious hours of my day travelling.  So here are my top tips for staying motivated and getting the best out of your days when working from home.

Get Dressed

As tempting as it is to spend all day in your pyjamas, just because you can – it really doesn’t help with getting work done and it all goes back to that saying we learned at school, “Dress smart, think smart”.  When we make the effort to shower and get dressed in the morning, then we feel better about ourselves and are in a better frame of mind to get work done.

Set A Routine

Being clear about when you are working and when you are not adds structure and routine to your day.  This really helps you to identify exactly when you should be working and when you can have down time.  If you blur these lines, then it is so easy to take time off when you should be getting your important tasks done.  Of course, the benefit of working from home means that this routine need not be a 9-5.  You can set a routine that works with your home life.  For me I like to spend half an hour before breakfast planning my day.  I then ensure the children are ready for school and ensure the washing is done before sitting down and doing a good 3-4 hours work.  I then take a planned break where I go for a walk or take some exercise and then complete another chunk of work in the afternoon (length depending on what time I have to pick the children up).  If it was a short day I also add an extra hour of work when they go to bed.  For me that works as I manage to get a significant amount of work done, get some household chores done, spend quality time with the children and have some ‘me’ time.  It’s a challenging routine – but it’s a routine that enables me to get things done and have more balance in my life.

Plan Your Day

Planning your day is critical as otherwise you will find yourself fleeting from one thing to another and not getting anything achieved.  If you have a clear plan of what you need to do, broken down into tasks then it is easy to undertake each task in turn and tick off that list.  However, do bear in mind how much time it will actually take to deliver each task – most people underestimate how much time tasks take.  Also build in extra contingency time to ensure that you have time for those task which take longer than you think but also so you can deal with those unexpected things that come along (and often they do!).

Break Down Those Tasks Into Manageable Chunks

We’ve all seen task on our list that makes our heart sink because we just don’t know where to start!  So if you have something big on your list – break it down into much, much smaller tasks.  That way you can spend as little as 15minutes on something that will still contribute to your goal – and if you have enough of those 15minutes you will get there!

Do The Worst Job First

Yes, you heard right.  How many times does that dreaded phone-call slip to the bottom of the list and somehow never manage to get done?  And how many times during the day have you thought about that task with that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach?  Well that all wastes time.  If you get it done first thing, you can relax and enjoy the rest of the day by doing the tasks you love.

Add A Sense Of Urgency

For some this may be the urgency to get a sell to ensure the mortgage can be paid but when you can a list of tasks that are working towards a big goal it is sometimes difficult to get a sense of urgency about those individual things.   My trick is to set an alarm clock, giving myself 15minutes to get a task done.  That sense of competition gives me the focus that I need to achieve and it’s amazing just how much I can get done in a morning.

Remove Distractions

It’s so easy to get distracted – particularly if you are completed a mundane task.  So make sure any likely distractions are removed.  Keep your workspace clear and when you are focusing on a task in hand, switch off email and don’t give into the temptation to open up your internet browser.  From experience I can tell you that Facebook, twitter, BBC News online and google rarely help you to get your job done!

Reward Yourself

Having a reward lined up is a great motivator to achieve.  Personally I have a daily reward – if I get all my planned tasks completed in a morning then I’ll go for a run (not a reward to everyone, granted).  I also have bigger rewards – such as going out to dinner for when I get a much bigger goal completed.  So launching my new website was a big goal for me and when times were getting tough, knowing I could enjoy a night out when it was all finished gave me something to look forward to and got me through those times.

Take Breaks

Sometimes people feel that if they are seen outside on a work from home day, they will be seen as skiving.  Actually going outside and getting some fresh air at some point will help you.  Take a break, get some fresh air and when you get back to your workload you will actually be more focused.

 

 

 

Multi-Tasking: good use of time, or a waste of time?

Ok, so what are you doing right now apart from reading this article?  Having a cup of coffee?  Skimming your emails to check for anything important?  Thinking about how you are going to tackle a customer or employee issue?  Wondering what to cook for dinner this evening?

The chances are you are doing more than one thing right now so is this good use of your time or is this actually ineffective use of your time?

Whilst many of us were brought up to believe that multi-tasking was a good thing and something that women are much better at than men; growing research is actually telling us that multi-tasking on the whole is not a good thing. In fact, multi-tasking can reduce productivity by up to 40% according to some researchers.

People tend to multi-task in two ways: either by completing more than one task at one time (for example, having a telephone conversation whilst sending an email) or by switching between lots of different tasks.  However, studies which have looked at people both switching between tasks and completing a number of tasks in quick succession, have demonstrated that more time is lost by doing so (Rogers and Monsell).  This decrease in productivity is lost further when completing complex tasks (Rubenstein, Evans and Meyer).

So if you are a multi-tasker and want to increase your productivity take one task at a time and focus on them until they are complete.  Also analyse what interrupts your working day most e.g., emails or staff asking to see you; and develop ways that ensure that these can be incorporated into the day without distracting you from the task on hand.

7 Tips for being super productive!

Top Tip 1: Vision

In order for you to be efficient with your time, you need to know what your vision is. What do you want from your business in 1 year, 3 years or 5 years?  What does success look like to you?  Then create a vision board so that every day you know exactly what you are striving towards.

Top Tip 2: Bite Sized Chunks

Now that you have your vision, you need to make it manageable.  Make a ‘To-Do’ list of what needs to be done to get where you are going – and then make those tasks smaller.  If you approach the day with a task to ‘develop the website’ it will make your brain scream.  If you break that task down into small components such a ‘register domain name’, ‘decide on type of software’ (and with a timeline attached) it will not only feel more manageable but is much more likely to get done.

Top Tip 3: Stop Multi-Tasking

There I’ve said it, “Stop multi-tasking!” Trying to do 3 tasks at once means getting 3 tasks done badly!  Equally if you are switching between tasks you lose productivity as your brain has to re-focus on the new task in hand.  Stick to one task only and until it’s complete!

Top Tip 4: Work in Short Intervals

There is nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, so a great technique for getting work done is by setting your own mini deadlines.  My favourite is setting my alarm for every 30 minutes and giving myself a task to do for every interval for example, writing an article or developing a proposal for a client (think ‘manageable bite-sized chunks’).  It’s surprising what can be achieved this way.  If the task is likely to take more than 30 minutes I will often be so involved in the task the first time the alarm goes off, that I set it again – and guess what?  One whole hour of focused attention on the task in hand!  Additionally, take short breaks or switch tasks every 1 – 1 ½ hours.  Your brain will need this to re-energise – so either take a quick walk or find something completely different to do (personally I like to schedule my phonecalls after writing a business case as this requires a different skill set and refreshes me).

Top Tip 5: Eliminate Distractions

We cannot work in a productive way if we are continually distracted.  What is the biggest distraction in the workplace?  Emails!  We are in the middle of a task and ‘ping’ up pops an email and then we find ourselves opening it up and dealing with what is now in front of us, abandoning the task which was important 5 minutes ago.  Find ways of eliminating your distractions in a way which works for you.  I find that for emails, it helps to have points in the day where I open and prioritise them: once in the morning, after lunch and late afternoon.  This means I am always on top of my communications but I am not allowing them to get in the way of my tasks.

Top Tip 6: Use the Phone

We seem to have an over-reliance on using email for communication and then when we are looking for a prompt reply we find ourselves staring at the screen waiting for the reply email to pop up, and getting frustrated.  Actually this is one of the times, it’s better to pick up the phone as you will either get an instant reply, or an indication of when our query can be dealt with.  Equally, if you think your query will take more than one email to get sorted (how many times do you find yourself having an email conversation with someone), then it’s actually more productive to pick up the phone.

Top Tip 7: Work Smarter – Not Harder

Ok, we’ve all heard this phrase, but how many of us actually work as SMART as we can?  When you’re presented with your list of tasks, think to yourself:  What can I delegate?  What can I outsource?  If there is someone else who can do the job better or quicker than you then these are very real options.  There is no point in juggling your main job along with the finances, the marketing and the admin, it will just lead to some of the tasks being completed badly and to you working extremely long hours and for not much money.  If you outsource the admin that takes you 4 hours a day, the likelihood is that an experienced administrator can complete the task in a lot less time, leaving you time to focus on your real job!