Category Archives for "Productivity"

What You Need To Do To Get Flexible Working

By amandaalexander | Business

My latest Inspiring Women Interviews Podcast has just been broadcast on iTunes and Stitcher. This episode is an interview with Tina Freed, founder of E2W and a champion of flexible working to support talent retention and attraction.

Tina has been helping highly talented women in the city to continue with their careers since 2002, when she and her husband formed E2W, a company with this objective as its primary driver.

Tina’s philosophy is:

“Flexible working is not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity – and we can prove it” 

Before setting up E2W Tina worked in the city within financial services for over 15 years. When she had a baby, she realised that the choice, then- 16 years ago – was to either have a child OR have a career – not both. But she didn’t think that was right, so she did something about it.

She saw a gap in the market –  the opportunity for people like her to continue working in the city AND to fulfil her aspirations as a mother were nonexistent, so she started her own business.  E2W was created so that Tina could be a mum without sacrificing her career.

She knew that she wasn’t alone in wanting this balance, so she set out to find a way to offer flexible working for women who wanted to develop their hard-earned careers and still be a mother.

She also felt that the city-based firms that she’d worked for could benefit from the experience of such women, and potentially it would be a much more cost-effective way of using these talented women.

Tina sought to tap into the big resource pool of mainly women who’d left the city when they were excluded from financial institutions, because those firms couldn’t offer that true work-life integration. E2W set up offices where the women lived, as opposed to where they were working. This obvious solution helped women to overcome the challenge of juggling the daily commute with childcare.

Tina understands that flexibility means different things to different people. Some want to work short days, some want to work 3 long days. For others, an ideal flexible working week might be a traditional 9-5 day, simply because they are currently working 6pm -11pm.

Whatever people’s definition of flexibility, the point is that there are may different patterns that companies can put in place to enable women to continue to work. It starts with thinking creatively.

 “Some of our employees work 9:30 to 2:30, and they do as much in five hours as they would if they went into the city and worked eight hours.”

Many women in middle management face career stagnation, not advancing because of a fearful mindset about the scarcity of opportunities for professionals that also advocate flexible working patterns.

These talented women feel that they can’t leave their current company or seek promotion, because they won’t be able to retain the same level of flexibility they’ve enjoyed.  There is a commonly held belief that flexible working patterns are only offered to those who have served their time and proven their loyalty.  This results in many talented women staying in roles that they have outgrown, simply because they see it as the lesser of two evils.

Challenging a limiting mindset is one of my favourite things to do as a Coach, and it’s also a big driver behind me launching the Inspiring Women Interviews podcast. I want women to learn from role models who have proven that it IS possible to combine a great career with having a life!

I’ve coached many such women over the years and I know that the only way around this is to challenge them to be courageous. Often easier said than done, of course, especially when well-intentioned family and friends reinforce the fearful belief.

My clients frequently tell me that their partners or parents urge them to keep their head down and make the most of it –

“You’ve got a good thing going here, it’s not that bad – don’t rock the boat”.

We need to actively support and encourage more women to challenge the status quo, perceived or otherwise. Ultimately it is up to them. This requires courage and often a suspension of disbelief, but also confidence in their abilities.

Tina agrees: She encourages women to thinks about what they can offer, how they might be able to support a new company, and to position themselves from this perspective.

“It’s about saying, ‘Look, I’m valuable. I have lots to offer. I have lots of experience that you would benefit from. For me to be able to do this, I would like to work in a flexible way. Flexibility to me means … Whatever it is’.”

I encourage the women I support to change their internal language from:

“But why would they employ me and offer me flexible working?”

to

“Why wouldn’t you employ me? Because I can do this role and make a valuable contribution.”

Attracting and retaining middle management women is crucially important to filling the leadership talent pipeline. There’s an onus on companies  to give these women explicit permission to  step up and fulfil their potential. This means that employers need to be open-minded and creative about flexible working and communicate this position loudly and clearly.

But equally as important is the onus on women themselves.  They need to take a deep breath, screw their courage to the sticking place and step up.  Try this for a career affirmation…

“Flexible working is not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity – and I can prove it”

And then… go and prove it!

Keep reading . . . now that you know what you need to do to get the career you want AND flexible working, I’ve created a fantastic, 3-part video coaching programme to help you with the confidence you’ll need.
Career Confidence 101 will help you get clarity on your strengths, focus in your career direction and the self-belief to achieve your goals.  However, the full Career Confidence 101 coaching programme is available for a VERY limited period. Within about a week, it will be shortened and you’ll get part 1 only. If you want to get all 3 coaching sessions of Career Confidence 101, sign up now!
CLICK HERE to sign up for Career Confidence 101
Career Confidence 101

This Is The One Thing Successful Women Do Consistently!

By amandaalexander | Business

I was at an event last weekend and I asked 2 female millionaires this question:

“What differentiates you – as millionaires – from others? What are the attitudes you have or the things that you do differently that have helped you to become millionaires?

They each had different answers. But there’s one thing they both said and it stood out very clearly to me:

They both said that no matter what, they keep taking action. Even when they don’t know what to do, they take the next action – any action.

After the event, another successful woman messaged me on Facebook. Her name is Jane Cassell and she runs a company called JC Independent Wills & Probate. Incidentally, she’s also the woman who is about to write my will (she is brilliant)!

This is what she said:

“You asked a great question on Saturday evening – characteristic / distinction. My answer to that question is action. Without a doubt, action. We continue to take action, even when we’re tired, and life gets too busy to take action. We still take action.”

But it’s not the millionaires or even the brilliant Jane Cassell who have inspired this week’s post. It’s a lady called Lyn, who emailed me this week after attending my “Set Backs and Stepping Up” presentation for The Global Women in Leadership Summit. She thanked me for my session telling me it had made a huge difference to her. She described herself as “the stereotypical shy person in a room full of strangers”.

Despite being a stereotypical shy person, this is what Lyn did after my presentation:

“I have genuinely spent the last few days thinking about all the things I can do in order to connect with people – I’ve accepted an invitation to an event; I’ve started my Fabulous 50 list; I’ve contacted 7 people so far, from that list; I’ve been through my Outlook contacts to see who else I should be speaking to!

I’ve also applied for a job I saw advertised online – it was one of the headline jobs in an email, I took a look and decided to send off my CV – usually I would have agonised over whether or not to send it, and whether or not I’m actually capable of doing that role. I used to spend an hour a day poring over the websites, trying to find something that I can do (without a degree!). Today, I just thought, ooh that looks good, it’s in London, it’s a better salary (and different level) to what I usually look at; I’m sending my CV! I have just proved to myself that I don’t have to spend hours overthinking these things – and that’s probably a bigger deal than the actual application!!”

Did you read that last bit? I’ll repeat it, just in case!

“I’m sending my CV..I don’t have to spend hours overthinking these things.”

Wow! How’s that for a bit of weekend inspiration, eh?!

Quite simply, Lyn took action. Even though she’s shy. And I bet you agree when I say that she’s got a big chance of getting the job she wants because of taking these actions.

We can talk ourselves to death about WHY we don’t take action – too shy, lack of self-belief, don’t have time, no energy, don’t know what to do, don’t have the support, don’t know where to start, too tired at the end of the day.

There’s some tough love coming with this week’s post. Let’s cut through the c**p and get straight to the point: In brief, you gotta take action!

How do you do that? Well let’s imagine you don’t have ANY excuses – what is one action you COULD take towards your goal?

Now do it!

And then…

Rinse and repeat.

But maybe you really DO have a valid reason for not taking action? Let’s deal with that now, shall we? 🙂

Take for example this common and understandable reason amongst busy women with multiple responsibilities:

“I’m too tired at the end of the day”.

OK – I get that. Don’t we all? 🙂

But if you have a goal and you really want to achieve success, whether it’s with your career, your money, your relationship or anything else in your life, you’re going to have to take action anyway, even if you’re too _____________ (fill in the blank with your excuse)!

If you don’t know where to start, just start anywhere. Do it EVEN IF….

Keep taking action – just like Jane, just like Lyn and just like those millionaires.

This is the best thing ever for stressed out women!

By amandaalexander | Habits for Working Mums

The “bedtime story”: An unfortunate series of time drains

My friend Chris says it’s because I have a lot of fire energy…

But for whatever reason, I seem to have been plagued with more than my fair share of technical failures recently.

In the past two months alone I have faced hard disk failure TWICE, keyboard failure and now, the latest technical misadventure is that my brand new Apple MacBook has developed a mysterious, intermittent fault with the space bar.

Always looking for ways of logistically maximising my time, yesterday I decided I could fit in an appointment to get this issue fixed after a meeting in London.

After my meeting in South East London, I headed to the West End to the nearest Apple store – Regent Street.

The underground line that should have taken me directly there broke down and a 30-minute journey turned into a one-hour journey.

I finally arrived at Piccadilly and discovered the Regent Street Store was closed for refurbishment. So I identified the next nearest store, Convent Garden, and started walking there. I got lost – because that’s how I roll – so the half mile walk became 1 mile.

I arrived at the Apple Store and booked my appointment. Despite having a business service plan for technical support, which is supposed to guarantee me an appointment within 15 minutes of requesting it, the Convent Garden store was so overwhelmed with people that the guarantee failed to deliver.

I waited as long as I could, eventually giving up as my time ran out: I had a train to catch home.

The naughty space bar magically started working on the train home – hence me writing to you now – but I’m sitting on a time bomb until the problem re-occurs. So after writing this, I will have to drive to my nearest Apple store – a two-hour round trip.

I am not holding my breath for an instant fix when I get there. The riveting saga of the dodgy space bar, will, no doubt, be continued…

Sh1t happens… for all of us

You might be thinking of a similar experience you’ve had: Something “small” goes wrong in your life and the solution never turns out to be quite as simple or as quick as you’d hoped.

This kind of “spanner in the works” inevitably happens when you’re busy, when you’ve got an important and urgent deadline; when you really cannot afford the time.

Let’s face it: Sh1t happens.

It seems that life conspires to see how much more nonsense you can take. And the less time you have, the more time the issue will take. It’s almost as if there might be an additional Newtonian Law we haven’t yet proven: For every problem, the amount of time it takes to resolve is in inverse proportion to the time available.

Not so long ago, this series of time drains would have made me into a foul, angry, bad-tempered, slightly unhinged, highly stressed harpy. My knickers would have been in a right old twist.

However, I have *mostly* kept smiling…

Amanda, are you on drugs?

I believe that there is ONE thing that has made a HUGE difference to me being a less stressed out woman. Whilst I’m certainly not sitting here with a beatific smile on my face, a halo over my head and a zen-like aura of calm, I AM taking most of this in my stride.

For example:

  • I was able to be philosophical about the train that broke down, doubling my journey length.
  • I was able to laugh at myself and appreciate the extra walk after getting lost even WITH the aid of Google Maps.
  • I refrained from taking out my annoyance on the guy in the Apple store because the service I’m paying for failed to deliver
  • Whilst the LAST place I want to be today is in a large, windowless shopping centre trying to get the problem fixed, I’m looking forward to borrowing the bloke’s car (decent acceleration) to drive there: Silver lining!
  • And I’m very aware of how LUCKY I am to have a problem like this : First world problem, innit?!

So what has made me calm and philosophical about a frustrating series of time drains?

And do *you* want some of what I’ve been taking? 🙂

Drum Roll Please…The best thing ever for stressed out women is…

No, it’s NOT drugs. Or Prossecco. It’s not even coffee.
And no, it’s not regular……………exercise.

The one thing that is the best thing ever for stressed out women is **meditation** – also known as mindfulness. I’ve been practicing meditation reasonably regularly for about 2 ½ years.

In the past couple of months, I resolved to make my meditation practice the ONE SINGLE HABIT that I do, without fail, on a daily basis.

And I’m convinced that it’s changing my brain for the better!

What if this could help YOU to cope better?

If a barmy, fiery, electrical-breaking disaster-zoned fruitcake like me is able to remain calm(er), then how might meditation help YOU?

  • What if this made you less critical of yourself and more accepting?
  • What if this helped you to shout less at your kids and feel like a better mum?
  • What if this helped you to remember more and forget less? And let’s face it, you have a lot to remember!
  • What if this helped you not to take a snide comment from a co-worker to heart and you were able to shrug it off more easily?
  • What if this helped you not to wake up at 3am worrying about your project deadline?
  • What if this simply helped you to roll with the punches more?

The Scientific Proof That This Works

The Washington Post published a fascinating article last year showing how meditation not only reduces stress, but also changes your brain. A neuroscientist from Harvard conducted brain scans demonstrating the changes that meditation makes to many areas of the human brain.

Long term meditators have increased amount of grey matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex, the frontal cortex and the prefrontal cortex.

None of which will mean much to you unless you’re a neuroscientist! However, what all this does mean is that meditation can improve your memory, your sense of equanimity, your sense of perspective and your ability to empathise, to name but a few.

And as for the impact that meditation might have on your stress levels: The area of the brain associated with stress – the amygdala, responsible for our fight or flight response – got smaller for the people in the group who went through an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction programme.

You can read the whole article here.

“But Amanda.. I don’t have time to meditate”

Wrong, rubbish, incorrect! If I have time, so do you!

We carve out time for the things we value. If you think you don’t have time to meditate, it’s because you don’t value it.

The tricky thing is, you won’t value it until you experience the benefits. And you won’t experience the benefits if you don’t carve out the time on a daily basis and do it for several months. Bit of a catch 22, isn’t it? I completely understand that, as it’s taken me years to get to the stage of committing to meditate on a daily basis.

Which is why I’m writing to you about it today. I’m hoping to convince you.

If you read the Washington Post article, you might think that you need to find a meditation teacher and carve out 40 minutes a day. This is not my experience. I meditate for 15 minutes a day. When I’m really pressed for time, I reduce that to 10 minutes.

And as this Buddhist Monk will tell you in a 90 second You Tube video, you can spend just a minute meditating and still experience benefits.

Here’s how I make time to meditate…

And the only way I can possibly keep the promise to myself to meditate on a daily basis is by doing it first thing, before I get up. Before coffee, before kids, before anything!

The difference is that I’ve set my alarm 15 minutes earlier and I committed to myself. This happens, no matter what.

I open the blinds, sit up in bed, grab my phone and open an app. The one I use is called “Get Some Headspace” and I pay a subscription for it. However, you don’t have to pay for an app. Try a few of the apps for free or type in “10 minute mindfulness” into YouTube. You’ll find plenty of free lessons.

A Baby Step Challenge to help you get started

Tomorrow is the start of a new month, the perfect time to start a challenge.
Baby steps are always the best way to create positive new habits. So here’s my simple and gentle challenge for you:

1. Set your alarm 5 minutes earlier.
2. Sit up in bed
3. Set a timer for 5 minutes
4. Close your eyes
5. Put your hands on your belly and focus on your breathing for 5 minutes.
6. Try saying “in” as you breathe in and “out” as you breathe out.
7. Do it for 7 days straight, no matter what. Commit to it.

If you find this easy, try 10 minutes for the next 7 days.

Meditation doesn’t have to be hard – don’t overthink it and don’t worry if your mind wanders. All you need to do is gently bring yourself back to focusing on your breathing.

Let me know how you get on, and please share this post with all the busy, juggling stressed out women (and men) you know. It might just inspire them to give it a try.

And now, I’ll leave you, as – guess what? My space bar has started missing a beat again!

It’s off to the Apple Store for me…with an ever so slightly beatific smile on my face. 🙂

How to talk about your achievements (without feeling boastful)

By amandaalexander | Confidence

“We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

You probably recognize the quote from Marianne Williamson. Here it is in full..

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

A few weeks ago, I interviewed one of the finalists of today’s Forward Ladies Women in Business Awards in the Midlands. The finalist is a lady I nominated for the Awards. Her name is Grace Marshall and she is also one of my extraordinarily proud-making clients.

The interview came about because, during our coaching call, Grace wanted to get to the heart of something she was uncomfortable about: Self-Promotion. All finalists of the Forward Ladies WIBA are encouraged to shout about their achievements as finalists.

And yet, it’s easier said than done, to shout about our achievements, isn’t it?  And Grace was exactly the same as the rest of us – she had “little old me” syndrome! 

In the interview, Grace and I talked about:

  • How Grace initially felt that she wasn’t “worthy” of being nominated for an award compared to other women who had overcome huge life challenges
  • The problem with comparing ourselves to other people – and how to stop!
  • What “personal branding” really means – and how it actually allows you to embrace your weaknesses as well as your strengths
  • How to “get over yourself” and tell people about things you are proud of achieving, without feeling that you are being boastful or self-indulgent.
  • And, as Marianne Williamson said, how, when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same

This was part-interview, part-coaching and when you listen to the recording, you’ll love how Grace’s wisdom pours out as we unpick her resistance to allowing herself to shine. I think you will thoroughly enoy this interview and I hope that it will give you permission to shine.

Here are 4 of the key learning points from the interview, in Grace’s own words:

  1. By  learning to acknowledge your own achievements, you give others the permission to do the same

Grace said: “If we are acknowledging our successes, if we are promoting ourselves, a way that we can feel more comfortable, more at ease is by promoting others as well, celebrating other’s success. The more that we can celebrate our own success, the more we feel competent enough to be able to celebrate others for their particular unique qualities because we are happy in our own skin… And if as a result of me being a finalist, other women decide that they can put themselves forward as well because they are more deserving, that is a good thing.”

  1. Self-acknowledgment is key to helping you to build momentum

Grace said: “I think every time I sit down and just go through the motions of acknowledging what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved or what I’ve overcome, there is a transformation that happens in me that goes from so I guess it goes from dismissing or overlooking or just kind of normalizing to just properly acknowledging. And I get a sense of satisfaction, I get a sense of completion, I get a sense of achievement, I get a renewed sense of momentum for what comes next as well.”

  1. Self-acknowledgement is a brilliant personal productivity strategy

Grace said: “There are some things that don’t feel productive, that feel self-indulgent or lazy or pointless. But actually some of those things can be the most productive thing that we do. Things like giving us all the time to think. Things like recharging. Things like getting a good night’s sleep.

Sometimes taking a break can feel unproductive. It feels like we are not doing the work but actually if that helps us to be at our best, it helps us to do our best work, therefore it’s productive. And the same thing goes with celebrating achievements. Sometimes it feels like well, I’ve got so much to do, it feels way too self-indulgent to stop and celebrate what I’ve done because I’ve got to get on with what I need to do.”

  1. You don’t have to be a star, but you can be a light

Grace said: “I think there’s a difference between being a star and being a light. So I think we would look at people and go oh wow they are like a star and they are shining brightly like they are amazing. But actually the best stars are the ones that shine their light on other people. And you know for me, if I think about being a star, look at me, you know that doesn’t sit well with me. But if I think if I had actually all I want to do is be a light, I can be a light for other people.

So I can shine a light on the pathway of other people. Also when you are a light you reflect back to people what they are doing. And where they are strong and where they are shining. So a light is always about looking back at the people that you are shining on. And so I think you know for me it’s about being a light rather than being a star. So it’s about being able to illuminate other people but in order to do any either of those you have to shine. So you have to be willing to shine in order to be a light for this.”

And that is a beautiful metaphor to conclude – shine your light so that others can be illuminated too. There’s nothing boastful or self-indulgent about that!

Listen to the Interview