“I’ve never found anyone who didn’t want to help me if I asked them” – Steve Jobs.

As children we are taught to be polite, to always say please and thank you, and to wait patiently for our turn. It’s the oil that lubricates the wheels of our society. We simply cannot function as a group if everyone acts only for themselves. As parents, we try to instil those same fundamental values of decency in our children.

The best way we can teach our children common manners is to embody them ourselves.

Kids watch everything we do and soak it up like a sponge. The other day I found myself in the unusual situation of being in my daughter’s nursery without her. It was parents evening. An opportunity to catch up for ten minutes with the teachers on her progress. I’d missed the first one last term and was looking forward to learning about another side to my daughter when I wasn’t around. This time we organised a friend to sit with our daughter in the car outside while we went in.

On arrival we waited patiently in the main area. Unfortunately, due to an error another couple were sent in ahead of us. And then the couple due after us turned up, but they were late for another meeting and somehow managed to get in ahead of us, leaving us to speak to the teaching assistant instead. We came away late feeling like we’d wasted our time.

I was cross with everyone that evening. Most of all I was cross with myself for not being assertive enough in getting what I wanted. Especially as it affected my daughter who had to wait outside in the car for nearly an hour.

The thing I realised is that I can’t control everyone else’s behaviour but I can control mine.

The big thing that I should have done differently is be more assertive. I needed to make sure the staff knew we’d arrived and highlighted that it was our turn for our appointment. Instead, I acted too politely putting other people’s needs above mine.

Parents are responsible for educating children in their image. They will learn the example that we set them. I wonder if some of us are too deferential to others that we don’t get what we want, and that we might pass that on to our children.

The most important thing we can do to be happy and get the best for our children is to be assertive, to ask for what we want with purpose and clarity.

Too many of us, especially in reserved English society, are concerned with making others happy and taking a step back. We are often taught this from an early age and are passing this attitude on to our children. The problem is we will always be at the back of the queue. Some of us are the opposite and go after what they want even if it means stepping over others. This is just as bad. It’s a fine line between assertiveness and arrogance.

All parents should learn about and practise the art of assertiveness. We should teach ourselves to have self-value and clarity of what we want. And then we should ask for those things. If people ask for what they want they are much more likely to be fulfilled. Take a look at this short video interview of Steve Jobs who talks about how he asked the Chairman of Hewlett Packard for help when he was a kid, which then got him into computers.

Sadly, there are too few of us who act with true assertiveness. This results in frustration, lack of fulfilment, and confusion from other people who can’t read our minds and don’t understand what we want. Thankfully there are a number of resources we can go to as well as courses online.

As a father of a daughter I feel this even more keenly. I know that women are traditionally more self-deprecating that men. Women don’t always speak up. They either won’t, or they can’t, or they just don’t, but we’re living in a world that raises women to feel like they don’t deserve everything they want. That has to change.

So every day I try to be more assertive, for my daughter’s sake, to get what I want. I will make sure that I am at the front of the queue when I know I deserve to be. I will ask for what I want confidently and treat others with respect.  

Assertiveness is not about trying to overcome shyness, rather it’s about learning how to be ourselves around others. And I can’t think of a better gift we can give to our children.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer and You…”

          Dr Seuss

I’ve been part of the parent blogging scene for a few months now. What I like about it is the sense of community and how helpful people are. What turns me off is when I see people who are obviously acting fake. Which leads me to the one realisation that I’ve had taking up the reins of blogging.

You can’t pretend to be anyone other than you.

It’s still taking time to find my blogging style. Do I share intimate details about my family life and pictures of my children? Do I focus on writing reviews of great products? Should I focus solely on contributing to other blogs rather than build up my own profile, as are already so many other fantastic bloggers out there?

The main reason of starting a blog was to help focus my mind on writing a book, but that book hasn’t yet come together! Instead I found so many fantastic resources amongst this parent blogging community. I started reading and writing my own material.

So what attracts me to blogs that I like? I really like to read from people who are honest about their struggles and tell us about how difficult it can be as a parent. I also like to be entertained and to read humorous reviews and updates on Twitter and YouTube. I like serious writers and I like cheeky chaps who just do it for a bit of fun.

As a consumer of a lot of parent blog posts I’ve noticed the one trait that attracts me most is authenticity.

If someone is authentic I feel a connection with them and want to read even more of their material. If someone is helpful and engages with me in a meaningful way, writing about things that matter in my day-to-day life, then I am interested. It surprises me how easily I am able to spot bullshit in blogs. I can tell who is writing purely to promote themselves as fast as possible. I can see the person who follows hundreds of people and then and then unfollows them just to boost their social media standing. I can even tell the obviously staged photographs of parents with their families, exploiting them just for promotional purposes.

To be genuine and authentic means to be yourself.

When it comes to my own writing I can try to put on a particular persona and I can try to cultivate brand-savvy images on Instagram. But at the end of the day it just doesn’t feel right and I’m sure it doesn’t work.

I’m not quite there yet with my writing style, but I know what I like to write about and I like connecting with people. I’m not entirely comfortable with sharing loads of pictures of myself or my daughter, and I can’t live up to the pressure of trying to be funny all the time. Some people do this tremendously well. I am not one of them. There are a few people out there who are versatile and can be funny, serious, entertaining and informative while also being genuine and authentic. I’m not one of them yet, so I’m going to focus on what I enjoy and see how things go.

Sometimes I can be funny and sometimes informative, but I know that everything I write is usually a true reflection of me as a person. I believe this is the main way that bloggers can connect with people. It is the one trait that all truly successful parent bloggers possess. My advice to you (and me) is to keep your head in the real world. Don’t try to be someone you are not. You will get found out.

The best way to be successful is to be you.

 

Sometimes it feels like there is so much going on in the world and we cannot do anything to keep up. Sometimes things seem to overwhelm us and there is no opportunity to do those things we most enjoy, most of all being with our children. We’ve all been there. The dreaded week from hell.

The reality is that it’s unlikely we face severe stresses all of the time, but we do at least experience these things some of the time.

It’s not healthy if you’re in a constant state of stress; you will get completely run down and eventually won’t be able to function. But every now and then the majority of us feel like we’re having a week from hell, or everything’s coming at once. It’s particularly difficult as a parent, especially millennials, as we can’t just take time out like in our pre-children days.

When times are tough but you’ve just got to keep going on, perhaps these six small tips will help.

Draw a line and say no to everything else

The first thing to do is draw a line in the sand. Just stop. However important new tasks or requests may seem, say no to them. If you’ve recognised that things are tough there’s no point for you (or others) to take on even more at this stage. Once you stop you can take stock.

Write absolutely everything down.

The best budgeting advice tells us to have a clear idea of our outgoing expenses. This should be the same in our personal lives. When it comes to commitments, we should write down everything we have done over the past two weeks. Find out how you got to this position. What exactly has been sapping your emotional and physical energy? It is only then that we build a true picture of what we need to do.

Capture every to-do.

There may seem like a tonne of things to do and it’s all overwhelming. Having lots of stuff to get done is one thing, and there may not be much we can do about it, but we can try to help our brains to cope by making it as easy as possible to sort information. Therefore, write everything that needs to be done on a piece of paper, or your computer, or your phone. You will only get a true sense of the tasks ahead of you if you can see them plainly. Trying to hold all this information in our minds just sets us up for failure. The stress of trying to hold on to all that information can overwhelm us more than the tasks themselves. Every task, no matter how big or small, should be scheduled to allow an opportunity for its completion.

Schedule everything on a calendar.

When it comes to actioning all your tasks there’s no better place than to schedule them on your calendar. We’re used to scheduling events, so why not actions? They’re events in themselves anyway. If an action is on the calendar then it will get done. For example, if you need to pick up dry cleaning, why just have that on a to-do list when it can go on the calendar for a specific time. You then have the powerful influence of a deadline to motivate you to complete that action. The human mind will always respond to a deadline!

Delegate willingly.

Don’t think you can do it all by yourself. It may seem like you’re the only person who can do something, but there are family and friends who may be better suited to the task. Think like a CEO and try to appoint people to specific roles. E.g. can your dad/father-in-law take on a DIY job to help relieve the pressure on you? Once you’ve successfully delegated some of your time-hungry tasks to the right people, then get out of their way and let them own the task. Doing this will take the pressure off you and help you realise there are people in your life who are able and willing to help.

Switch off/carve out moments of quiet.

Sometimes the shit hits the fan and everything comes at once. We may feel overwhelmed by what’s in front of us and things may seem like they will never get done. A constant state of heightened stress isn’t good for us and eventually our bodies will stop functioning, the fight or flight instinct will kick in and our minds will focus on protecting us. A little bit of stress every now and then is a good motivator. But it’s important to listen to our bodies. Amid all of the mayhem, make sure you schedule some quiet time for yourself. Be that reading a book, watching a movie, going for a run, or just a walk. Don’t feel guilty about taking some time out. And when you do it, know that there are others around who are keeping things going. A President or Prime Minister cannot be always on the go; they take regular holidays to recharge and so should you!

Stress and anxiety is part of life. We all experience it and it’s completely natural. Little techniques like the above can help us to manage these things.

They are increasingly important in a world where we are always “on” and the demands of modern millennial parenting keep getting bigger.

People are always telling us to get a proper night’s sleep. The benchmark to aim for is around eight hours. My Jawbone Up is set at achieving 10,000 steps per day and eight hours sleep. I can usually reach my steps for the day but I probably hit my sleep count less than 10 times over the past year.

I’m not particularly good at going to bed early, although I always end up regretting it the next day. I’m also not particularly great (probably because of what I just said) at getting up early. But some of the times I have gotten up early have been my most productive. On the other side, the reason I’ve gone to bed late isn’t just because I’ve been watching a cheap horror flick on Netflix, but often because I’ve been up creating, writing, producing things.

We only have 24 hours in a day. All of us.

Nobody can gain any more or less hours but it is what we do with them that helps us to become more productive. My daytimes, as I’m sure for many other parents, are filled up almost to the max. Weekday mornings consist of getting to school and then to work, doing my work, collecting from school going home and doing a bedtime routine. By the evening I find it hard to create anything meaningful. Parents everywhere will understand the stresses and strains involved, but millennials in particular are finding a big contrast between their carefree 20s and their newfound parent lives.

I read something by Tim Ferris not too long ago where he said he produces some of his best work at night time. This got me thinking. When do I do my best work? When do I feel my most productive? How can I fit that into my daily life?

I believe we do our best work between the hours of 11 PM and 7 AM.

This sounds counter-productive, counterintuitive, counter everything we’ve been told so far. But working between these hours could be our best opportunity at getting things done.

Here are five reasons why I believe the night-time could be your most productive.

  • There are fewer distractions.

I don’t think many people would consider calling or texting between the hours of 11 PM and 7 AM, unless they were out at a party (and those don’t count, right?) Emails get sent at all times across the world but mostly in your time zone someone is not going to email you between these hours.

  • You can be productive as a night owl or an early bird.

I’m not suggesting you work through all of these hours, but working late or getting up early will give you a real edge. If you work late you can work as long as it takes to get the job done, then go to sleep and (hopefully) have a lie-in. If you can get up early you get a jump on the day ahead. Whatever you do, don’t burn the candle at both ends!

  • It’s guilt-free time.

Nobody wants work to take them away from their families. We should always try to prioritise spending time with our children. But we shouldn’t feel bad if we need to work, and 11PM to 7AM may be the best time to do this. Assuming your child is settled into a rhythm of sleep you can get on with working in the night-time without feeling guilty.

  • Your brain is energised.

If you can master night time productivity then science may be behind you. Working late and sleeping in late can keep you sharper throughout the day Getting up early in the morning primes your brain for the day ahead.

  • Join a legion of other successful people.

Don’t just rely on my hazy advice, look at the examples of so many successful people who extol the virtues of night-time working. Some of them are early risers, some work late into the night, but all managed to get things done in a way the rest of us sometimes struggle.

Try experimenting with this kind of working. You already know whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, so make a plan that works for you.

In a world that demands so much of our attention, and with increasing family responsibilities, the millennial dad needs to focus on prioritising the most important work that he can do.

Sleep is absolutely vital. What I’m proposing isn’t radical. When you sleep each night your brain is perhaps at its most productive ever; it’s sorting your experiences from the day you just had, preparing your body and mind for the following day, and gaining vital rest. So whether you take advantage of working late, working early, or trying to get those elusive eight hours sleep, you’re doing yourself a favour and can’t go too far wrong!

 

 

This post has no originality in it. Everything I’m going to write about can be attributed back to a guy called Graham Allcot from Think Productive. A year or so ago I read his book “The Productivity Ninja” about organising and making the most of your life. I picked up a lot of good things, but most of all it helped me to change the way I approach email.

The aim is to be in control of email, not let email control you.

Too many of us wake up in the morning and check email first thing. We don’t need to do this! Too many of us check email constantly throughout the day and let it distract us from more important activities. I’ve got another post coming up on this. Right now, I want to tell you how I organise my email when I do check it.

My email inbox consists of four folders: Action, Waiting, Read, Library.

You should read Graham’s book for a proper explanation, but this is my explanation:

1. All email lands in my main inbox.

When I open Outlook each day I quickly go through the list of emails. If I can reply to a message straight away with a “one touch” response that takes only a couple of sentences then I’ll deal with the message there and then.

2. Action

If the message requires a longer response or is part of a wider project then it goes into the Action folder. These are things that take a bit more thought, that can still be done relatively quickly, but I will need to come back to.

3. Waiting

If I’ve responded to someone and am waiting on a response, then I will put a copy of our email exchange here. That way, I don’t have to worry about remembering things myself; I can simply come back to this folder on a daily basis to check where I am with replies. If it’s taken longer than a week for someone to respond to me, then I can easily follow up with a reminder email or call.

4. Read

If the message is of an informative nature, such as a newsletter or a longer document that needs some attention then I put it in this folder. Then, later in the day or week I can come back to it and review in more detail. The key is not to start reading messages in depth and distract myself from my priorities. Messages should only stay in this folder for a week, no more than two. If I haven’t read them by then they are not that important. Or perhaps they need to be moved into a longer term reading folder off email.

5. Library

This is my folder for storing all incoming messages that I want to keep. Usually everything gets put in here except advertising emails. I don’t need to create lots of separate email folders for different projects because things get confusing and overwhelming. Today’s email clients have great search functionality. There’s nothing I can’t find in my Library if I know a key word. Want to find an email exchange with John Smith? Just enter his name and records of conversations will come up.
And that’s it. I try not to create any other folders as that adds to clutter and confusion.

When you organise your email like this it’s very easy to get to Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero is where you don’t have any messages in your incoming inbox. It often surprises people when they see my email folder and sometimes they assume I’m not very popular!
I was sceptical about this technique at first and I didn’t want to take the plunge by deleting all my meticulously organised email folders. But once I sorted them out and put everything into my Library folder I was surprised how easy it was to keep up. I’m guilty of joining in with the odd fad and I wasn’t sure this technique would stick, but around two years later I’m still using it and it makes a big difference to how I organise my work and home life.
I recommend trying it out. Check out Graham Allcot’s book, too, which is packed full of great productivity ideas.
How do you organise your email? Does it control your life? Or are you on top of it?