How to Make the Most of the Last Few Weeks of 2018

I really hate to sound just like everyone else but I can’t believe it’s December! It’s such a cliché to talk about ‘how quickly time is going’ but sometimes I think the reason it’s such a conversation starter (filler?) is because it’s only when we look up from what we are doing, or it’s brought to our attention because our monthly bills have come out of our bank accounts, that we realise it’s happening. So, what happens when we are hurtling towards the end of the year and we are hit with the panicked thought of ‘what did I even get done?!’.

For the last few years, I haven’t enjoyed the global fascination with checking off the days until Christmas. That’s because for me Christmas = the end of the year (no one really does anything between Christmas Eve and New Years Day, do they?), and, instead of it being a ‘wahoo! End of the year! Come at me, New Year’ moment, for me it’s a ‘oh my god, what’s happening, why am I getting old, did I get the things done’ moment.

This year, I’m trying to look at things differently. Not just because I actually want to enjoy the anticipation of Christmas (some would argue that the anticipation is the best bit. I am some) but also because I’ve realised that my business and my life don’t actually need to have expiration dates.

Of course, I’m not saying that I don’t have regular deadlines – far from it. In my business, I have daily, weekly and monthly deadlines that I need (try) to meet in order to grow and to inch closer to where I want my business to end up. But, I’ve started to realise that focusing too much on our deadlines and giving every task a specific ‘must be done by now’ date can do more harm than good. 

When you’re running your business, or a department or a project at work, you need to remember that your biggest and most important ‘deadlines’ are most likely going to be constant, running things. You can’t make a useful to-do list if you only list things that will realistically take a year or longer to complete (hint: ‘have a successful business’ is not an item to have on your list – when would you check that off as done?). Instead, you need to focus on the small things you can get done that will take you one step closer to your big goals. This is the best way to overcome the end-of-the-year panic.

So, with 3 working weeks left until Christmas Eve, how can you make the most of them and end 2018 feeling accomplished and ready to take on the New Year? It’s time to do a Santa and make a list (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

The difference between this list and, if you’re like me, every other to-do list you’ve ever made is that this one should contain only those few things that you can legitimately get done in 3 weeks that will put you in a good position come January. As an example, here’s my list:  – create 4 pieces of content for my business website’s blog – do an hour a week of the two training courses I signed up to – make a plan for the things I want to do in January.

It doesn’t seem like much but I know that I can get these 3 things done between now and December 21st (when I’ll stop for Christmas) and that, by doing them, I will feel less antsy about the end of the year and more motivated about moving into 2019.

What 3 things can you get done by the end of 2018? What 3 things can you do that in the remaining 3 working weeks of the year that will move you closer to where you want to be in 2019?

Trust me, friend, I know it’s hard to focus on the small steps. I get so overwhelmed sometimes, it’s crazy. So join me, let’s make a new tradition – let’s do what we can now and then chill out and enjoy the festivities. I really believe that you can do this; all you have to do is try.

I’d love to know your 3 things and if you have any other tips; let me know in the comments!

The Importance of Having Hobbies

Having hobbies when you are trying to adult you way through the the world can seem nigh on impossible at times. At the end of the working day, it can be hard to do anything else other than put on your pyjamas and watch Friends all evening. There are definitely some days, especially in the winter, when my first thought upon waking is “tonight I’m going to bed at 7pm”. But fitting in some ‘extra-curricular’ activities can actually be more beneficial for your state of mind, in the long run, than vegetating all night.

Hobbies can help you let off some stream (or relieve any work-induced stress, kickboxing anyone?), meet new friends, develop new skills or simply have some you-time. And it doesn’t have to get in the way of you crashing in front of Netflix – even one hour of doing something different in the evening can make you feel less like a hamster stuck in a wake-work-sleep-repeat cycle and more like a well-rounded, energetic bunny.

Struggling for ideas of what you could squeeze in to your evenings? Here are a few:

– exercise

– learn a new language

– take an art class

– go to a free talk

– go to the cinema

– go for a walk and listen to a podcast

– read a book/magazine

– have a bath

– hang out with friends/family

– have a date night

– work on a side hustle, if you have one

The possibilities are endless and don’t have to involve any money or new equipment. The idea is to do something different, change up your routine and feel more spontaneous as a result. Of course, let’s not be hasty and completely remove ‘crashing in front of the tv in your sweats’ as an option – sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to just chill out.

The One Thing You Need to Start Your Own Business

I quit my full-time, permanent job in mid-August to set up my own business. By the time I had my last day at the end of September (after working my notice period), I had been itching to leave for about 6 months. So, needless to say, when the time came that I could actually begin to tell people ‘I’m setting up my own business’, I was raring to go.

I had been sitting on something that I was so passionate about for what felt like forever; I was making plans and scribbling so many notes and ideas that I was filling up notebooks faster than I could buy them. The great part of all this is that I have a really clear vision of where I want my business to go and how I am going to get there. The downside? I have run out of patience.

I should say that I am not the most patient person by nature anyway. During my PhD studies I was constantly thinking about other things: what I wanted to do afterwards, what skills I should be developing, what else could I do to help myself along. I volunteered with a charity, attended courses for skills I don’t even use today, lectured students, published two papers, did public outreach, had my own blog (before this one), got engaged, planned my wedding, got married, moved house 3 times and got a cat, all during the 3.5 years it took me to successfully finish my PhD (my graduation is this Friday!).

This isn’t to brag; in fact, I know some people would look at all the things I devoted energy to during my PhD as a bad thing. They might think that I didn’t really give one thing my all and spread myself too thin over multiple things. What can I say? That’s just me. I overthink, I multitask, I work fast and (if I am to believe the evidence I’ve seen thus far) I work well. But the problem with being this type of person is that I have no patience. I underestimate how long things will take me; I overestimate what I can get done in a day, a week, a year. I am my own worst enemy and my best cheerleader. If this sounds familiar, keep reading.

One of the things I have realised is that when you are setting up your own business (or trying to reach any goal), patience is key. You have to realise from the outset that things take time, otherwise you will probably go insane. I’ve started to think of my business like a garden. Right now, I am planting seeds. All the things I am doing – marketing, writing blog posts, engaging with other people, networking, training – will not bear fruits immediately. But with attention and dedication, my seeds will start to sprout into shoots and my shoots will eventually grow into fruit.

You can do this, too. Try to see every day as a small step towards a bigger goal; every task you complete is you planting a seed. When you feel overwhelmed (because, if you’re anything like me, I am sure you will every now and again), try to break things down. Looking ahead and seeing the ‘big picture’ is great and really necessary, but it can be scary.

Write down what you can get done this week or this month that will go toward the big picture. Break it down into manageable steps. Plants your seeds and give your garden your whole attention: water it, feed it, weed it every now and again. But remember: the best thing you can give it is time.

Do you have any tips for staying patient when you’re trying to reach a goal? Let me know in the comments!

7 of the Cosiest Jumpers to See You Through Winter

Winter is coming…and so you definitely need at least one extremely cosy jumper to throw on when the temperature really starts to drop. Here are 7 of the cosiest jumpers available now.

[top left to right]

Gap Crewneck Pullover Sweater in Cashmere, £119.95. Available here (in lots of colours!).

H&M Conscious* Fine-knit Jumper in Burgundy, £17.99. Available here (also in beige & black).

M&S Animal Print Round Neck Jumper, £35. Available here.

Reformation* Cashmere Crew, £115. Available here.

Next Neutral Pearl Sequin Sweater, £35. Available here.

New Look Cream Button Shoulder Jumper, £24.99. Available here.

Weekday Roll Neck Jumper in Yellow, £45. Available here.

*these brands use sustainable methods/materials for producing clothing, yippee!

What Julie Andrews taught me about confidence

Recently I’ve been making full use of my Spotify daily mixes, one of which features songs from various musicals (it really is the best kind of music). A few weeks ago, I was listening to the playlist on my way to work and one song in particular, which I hadn’t heard in ages, struck a chord with me – ‘I have confidence’, sung by Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.

The reason this song was probably so spine-tinglingly appropriate for me at this particular point in my life is that I have made some pretty big changes lately. First of all,  I left my job to start my own business  – I keep having to correct myself to say I ‘left’ my job instead of I ‘quit’ my job because the latter conjures up images of a Bridget Jones-style showdown and it definitely wasn’t that dramatic and there definitely wasn’t any Aretha playing in the background as I left. This was a pretty big decision that took almost all of my guts because who leaves a permanent job? It is so difficult to land a job nowadays that when you finally get one you feel as if you should stay no matter what and that if you leave you’re jinxing yourself for all eternity and starting the countdown to the day your naysayers will smugly say ‘told you so’ (I have to admit, I haven’t had any naysayers, or, at least, none that I give two hoots about).

The second big change coming is that I’m fleeing the country: my husband and I are moving to France (where he comes from). Somedays I am so excited for this change, other days I feel like Rachel in Friends when she’s moving to Paris and she says ‘they’re really going to hate me over there’ – how can I make them see that a cup of tea is a staple drink and should not cost more than a glass of wine? Of course the other thing that makes me falter in my/our decision to leave Scotland is that I will also be leaving most of my family. Yes, FaceTime and Skype and WhatsApp all exist and are overused to the point where I probably see more of my friend who lives in Florida than my next door neighbour, but there’s just something so different about knowing that to meet up in person you’ll have to take a plane. Inevitably, the rest of my family will have get togethers when I am not there and I’ll probably have the worst FOMO known to (wo)man and just have to cry into my baguette while I bemoan the fact that nobody gets my jokes because they just don’t work in French.

The point is, I have these two big changes that are happening and while, for the most part, I am so excited and happy that they are happening, I am also, to put it mildly, shit scared. I think that about 70% of the time I function at a confident, ‘what a time to be alive’ sort of headspace; the other 30% is basically internal me screaming into a pillow. There is so much that could go wrong!! But then, there’s so much that could go right.

What does Julie Andrews have to do with all of this? Well, the song in question comes at the part of the film when Julie’s character, Maria, is leaving the convent to go work for the Von Trapp family. She sings “what will this day be like? I wonder. What will my future be? I wonder. It could be so exciting, to be out in the world, to be free….now here I am facing adventure. Then why am I so scared?”  It perfectly sums up the weird mixture of excited and nervous that you get whenever you make a big decision in your life, sort of like you want to run around joyfully laughing and be sick all at the same time.

We all go through this, whether we are deciding to leave our job, move country, change career, get a fringe, get married, have a baby, speak in public…we need to remember why we want to do something, listen to your excited self, instead of getting caught up in the reasons why not to do something. As much as I hate this term, sometimes it needs to be said: YOLO. Yes, we only live once (so, really it should be WOLO) and we need to face our fears and chase our dreams instead of being scared.

We need to listen to Julie Andrews:

“With each step I am more certain, everything will turn out fine. I have confidence the world can all be mine! They’ll have to agree, I have confidence in me”.

Listen to Julie! Go face your fears and I promise everything will be fine. (And if you haven’t watched the Sound of Music in a while, or ever, watch it! But be warned that it’s like 3 hours long. Maybe just listen to the soundtrack instead.)

The Age of Anger Should Be Cathartic – So Why Is It Destroying Us?

There is one image from the 2016 US presidential election that has stayed with me above all others. It is in the second TV debate and Hillary Clinton is answering a question. From all camera angles, viewers can see Trump looming behind her – he is unnervingly close, radiating anger and hatred in her personal space. It struck a familiar chord with me, as it no doubt did with many women who have experienced that same kind of invasive intimidation.

In her 2017 memoir, ‘What Happened?’, Clinton recalls her response at the time:

“It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching: ‘Well, what would you do?’ Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly: ‘Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me.’…I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off… Maybe I have over-learned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.”

We are told this is the age of female anger – that #MeToo, Trump, Brexit, abortion referendums and the like have brought about a reckoning. Yet female anger is still portrayed as untrustworthy, a kind of uncontrollable hysteria. Too often we respond to those accusations by, like Hillary, swallowing down our indignation in favour of benign composure.

A prize-winning University of Chicago study found, as recently as 2015, that men and women are perceived differently when they express anger. As part of a jury, participants in the study were tested by being confronted with either a male or female ‘holdout’ member (a dissenting member of the jury working against unanimity). Participants were more likely to doubt their initial judgement after hearing what an angry male jury member had to say, whereas they were more confident in their original decision when a female member of the jury expressed anger during her attempt to change their minds.

In recent years women have, rightly, been discovering and accepting their anger in response to injustice; it is a natural response to feeling as if we’re being treated unfairly. At the sight of Hillary biting back her rage, we expressed ours for her. Since then, the tide has been turning in favour of female anger: the Women’s Marches were an example of how our collective rage can be transformed to deal with injustice constructively and cathartically. Yet there are darker sides to anger, too. With the ubiquity of social media, minute-by-minute news coverage and constant cultural analysis, we are at risk of getting fired up more than is healthy.

Aside from the obvious risks it poses for blood pressure and heart problems, anger has far reaching consequences for mental health. It can be a symptom of mental health problems, particularly if it’s passive – that is, when you ruminate internally but do nothing about it. Small daily annoyances can seem all-consuming. To someone with depression or anxiety, a shopper skipping a queue, a co-worker not pulling their weight, or making a small mistake at work can build into an avalanche of internal turmoil. It’s a vicious cycle, too. This kind of anger makes us more anxious and stressed, both as individuals and as a nation. It is, contrary to belief, the opposite of catharsis.

In this age of division, we are primed for anger and outrage all the time. Dipping into social media can be an exercise in outrage, often about things that have very little impact on our daily lives, or the daily lives of others. We can get riled up about almost anything – a joke misinterpreted to be offensive, an article that clashes with our worldview, a snarky reply to a tweet. In his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson addressed this collective compulsion to use our anger to shame and yell at people on the internet. Discussing the now famous case of Justine Sacco, the PR manager who was fired and exiled from her industry for a year after a badly-worded tweet, he remarked:

“A life had been ruined. What was it for: just some social media drama? I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.”

Ten years ago, we had far fewer daily opportunities to get angry. Now, on average, people in the US and UK check their phones between 80 and 150 times a day, often using social media as a distraction from more productive past times and, in some cases, doing real damage to people’s health and livelihoods because of our outrage. The rage we direct online to women like Justine Sacco can take on a particularly nasty misogynistic character, too. We mustn’t forget that the internet can be a hostile atmosphere for women when men are allowed a cloak of anonymity.

Furthermore, our mental health suffers when we’re told our anger isn’t valid, as women so often are. Sometimes it’s a partner or a family member telling us we’re crazy, other times it’s ourselves or a follower on Twitter. It can be even worse when the gaslighting is on such a public scale – the more people tell us we’re crazy, the more we start to think we are. On a macro level, the reality that progress is always followed by counter-revolution makes the fight for justice and equality often seem futile. If Obama is to be followed by Trump, if the recognition of same-sex marriage is to be followed by a wave of anti-trans sentiment, if the #MeToo moment is to be followed by a #NotAllMen one, what’s the point? If our rage is constantly being denied by ourselves, those close to us and civic society then the repercussions on our health are immense.

So how do we deal with it?

First, remember that your anger is valid. That’s important. Yet it’s also important to remember that picking our battles will help us fight more effectively for equality in the long run. Staying angry constantly is unhealthy and burns us out faster.

Switching off, using social media more mindfully and finding ways to recognise and stop unproductive anger in its tracks are crucial if we’re to undo the effects of rage on our mental and physical health. It’s not as simple as doing yoga and tuning into the Headspace app every night, but the principles of these activities are important. They force us to take time out for ourselves by mixing up our breathing from short, angry bursts to longer and calmer ones.

Exercise, whether it’s a walk around the block, a boxing class or Pilates, takes us away from screens. If it’s vigorous enough (a term used relatively – one person’s marathon will be someone else’s dance class) it can also distract us from directing anger at ourselves or internalising. By releasing endorphins and narrowing our thought processes to the task in front of us, we are pressing the reset button on our emotions. If you can’t exercise, find another activity that directs your attention. Re-reading a favourite book, gardening or crafting all demand enough energy to keep us focused on the task at hand.

Being mindful of how we use our anger is important, too. If you find yourself getting riled up on social media, force yourself to switch off for at least five minutes. Most of the things we’re responding to aren’t life-changing. At the end of the day you won’t remember half the things that made you angry on Twitter – if you do, go back and respond assertively. Try to remember that anger defies nuance, but it’s nuance that is more important for healing divides and forging understanding, whether it’s with ourselves or other people. While our anger at injustice is perfectly valid, it’s not the most effective tool to fight it.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Written by Ellen Macpherson. 

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Winging It by Emma Isaacs

Reading about other women achieving their goals is the best source of inspiration a woman can have. Winging It by Emma Isaacs is my current love and I can’t get enough of it. In fact, when I came to the last chapter I was quite resistant to keep turning the pages. I didn’t want the journey to be over!

Author Emma Isaacs is founder and CEO of Business Chicks, a global movement of women coming together to support each other. Winging It is her first book and comes under a mix of genres including business, memoir and motivational. It was only recently released in Australia but is going to make its international debut shortly.

This book draws you in from the first page and won’t let you put it down until you’ve devoured the lot. With five children, Emma Isaacs takes you on her journey and makes you realise you are capable of absolutely anything. One of the main messages from this book is that we’re not alone in making it up as we go along. It wasn’t until I read this that I realised how true it is… Everyone is literally just winging it – whether you have a five-year plan or not!

Not believing in a work-life balance and instead preferring to just give it all she has got, Emma’s motivation bursts from the pages and will leave you filled with just as much ‘go’. All for jumping in and getting started, a big take away from this book is learning that time is never going to be just perfect for anything. You have to give it all you’ve got and get started today. The business advice in this book is like gold. Igniting the entrepreneurial spirit within. The wisdom on these pages is magical.

Having spent time with the likes of Sir Richard Branson, Girlboss’ Sophia Amoruso and even Bill Gates, the stories Emma has to share are totally awe-inspiring and truthful. Nothing is sugar coated and you can tell from Emma’s genuine words. She explains how failure is just part of the process and how you can’t wait for the confidence to kick in, you just have to do it. Split into ten, equally brilliant sections, Winging It is perfect for any woman who believes in the power of other women. Coming together to support each other is what Emma Isaacs believes in and by reading her story, you won’t only feel empowered, but you’ll be ready to empower the women around you.

I’ll leave you with the genius words of Emma Isaacs and I know for sure you’ll be wanting more:

“Instead, try new things! Make mistakes! Experiment! Laugh at yourself! Imagine ‘what if?’ Shout ‘pick me!’ Jump in. Help each other. Have a try even when you don’t know how. Be the first one on the dance floor. Smile at strangers. Fail epically. Ask dumb questions. Say no to negativity. Try again. Don’t overthink.”

If that doesn’t leave you inspired, I don’t know what will!

Happy reading + empowering!

Written by Annie Fisher

Find Annie on Instagram @thebookcube