All posts by Vicki Shouksmith

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About Vicki Shouksmith

An productivity consultation specialising in helping you to regain a sense of control at work. Replace feeling stressed and overwhelmed with a calm and confident can-do attitude.

You’re lying; you’re not really that busy

You might be going through a period of ‘self-imposed busyness’ because you’re not being proactive, you’re not saying no and you’re not prioritising, but you’re not actually busy.

Being busy is a myth.

Put it this way, if you were to get a phone call in the next 10 minutes asking you to help in any of the following scenarios, would you find the time to be there today?  

Your friend has just broken up with her boyfriends of five years and she wants to go out for a drink after work.

Your Gran has fallen and she’s shaken up. A visit from you would comfort her.

A junior member of your team has made a mistake on a key account. She doesn’t know how to fix it.

We both know you would make the time to be there, so why are you pretending you’re busy?

You’ll notice that each of the scenarios I gave is asking you to stop what you’re doing and put someone else’s needs before your own. The scenarios I’ve created are deliberately provocative and ‘no-brainers’ when it comes to whether you would drop everything and be there, but I have no doubt that there will be smaller, more subtle examples of other people distracting you from your personal goals every day. 

We all think we’re busy for a multitude of reasons…

Do any of these examples sound familiar? 

My manager is always assigning more tasks to me and my workload has spiralled out of control

I said I would help a friend with a charity fundraiser she’s organising

Mum asked me if I could host Sunday lunch for the family this weekend

A client has brought forward the reporting deadline by a week

At what point in any of these examples did you prioritise someone else’s needs over your own?

At what point did you react to the things being thrown at you instead of proactively sticking to what you had planned for your time?

At what point did you say yes when you could’ve said no?

You had the option to say no when you were asked to do each and every one of these things, but you didn’t.

The thought of saying no can be scary and that’s the main reason most of us find ourselves over-committed in all areas of our lives. Something that feels easier is to start a conversation, and the way you do this is by asking questions.

Your manager delegates yet another task to you…

You say: Please can you let me know how this new task fits in with the other projects I’m working on? Would you like this to take priority? If so, what are the new deadlines for my outstanding tasks now that this is to take precedent? 

Your friend asks for your help with a charity fundraiser she’s organising…

You say: I’d love to help you with this; it’s such a good cause! I’ll be able to spend two hours on this over the next week, so please can you let me know what I can do to help in that time?

Your Mum asks you to host Sunday lunch for the family this weekend…

You say: I’m going to struggle to do a food shop and get the house ready to host Sunday lunch this week, because I’m working to a couple of tight deadlines at work and I’m helping a friend organise a charity event. Please can I host Sunday lunch in a few weeks when all that’s out of the way? (If you can’t be honest with your mum then who can you?!)

Your client has brought forward the reporting deadline by a week…

You say: Thank you for letting me know that you would like to see the results a week earlier. We will, of course, do everything we can to accommodate this, but it would be great if you could work with us to identify the sections we should prioritise. Please can you let us know what information is usually included in your Board presentations? We will work on this analysis and make sure you have it by end of play Friday. We then will send the remaining data across as per the previously agreed timeline. Please can you let me know if this works on your side?

By beginning a conversation and asking questions, you are able to share what is realistically feasible for you to accomplish in any given timeframe, and you also clearly identify what is expected of you.

It’s a great way to ease that feeling of busyness you’re experiencing!

You’ll begin to realise that you do have a choice in every situation, and by speaking to those around you, you can understand what you need to prioritise without feeling like you have to do everything all at once.

How can you employ the tactic of questioning to examples that are occurring in your life right now? If you’re stuck, email me at hello@vickishouksmith.com and I’ll get back to you with ideas on how to approach it.

Cutting your Losses

I was walking along the Quayside the other day and I saw a busker recording a music video with his friend. Granted, he could sing, but passers-by weren’t moved enough to stop and engross themselves in his performance. As I continued to watch him, I was somewhat torn. On the one hand, I was witnessing someone pursue their dreams in a way that very few of us are brave enough to do, and on the other, I couldn’t help but think that he was wasting his time because he didn’t seem talented enough to sell out arenas one day.

It got me thinking about how you know when to cut your losses. This doesn’t have to be with something as considerable as following your lifelong dream, it can be a day-to-day decision that just isn’t working. A good example of this would be a relationship that you’ve invested time and effort in, but, deep down, you know it’s not right. In the back of your mind you wonder if you can start over at your age, you wonder if you’ll ever meet anyone else, and those thoughts keep you stuck.

If we’re honest, when these situations present themselves, we know how we really feel inside, but it’s hard to acknowledge it when it clashes with another of your thought processes. The easiest way to find a resolution is to search for external validation of some kind; this can provide a more objective view that can help to break through your internal barriers. In the relationship example, you could speak to friends and family and ask them if you seem happy. For the singer, he could ask himself whether anyone other than his mother has told him he could be a famous singer…

Have you found yourself in a situation where you’ve been contemplating cutting your losses? Who in your life could you reach out to for some impartial advice? 

Respecting your Elders

There was an article on the DailyOM which talked how tribal cultures have an inherent respect for the knowledge and wisdom of their elderly population, especially compared to modern societies where there can be an tendency to disregard the older generations in favour of those who are more youthful. The article reminded me of how much I love spending the afternoon with my Nana – if she’s in the right mood, of course!

At 93, my Nana is still a force to be reckoned with and when you spend more than an hour or two in her company, the conversation evolves beyond the day-to-day and you’ll suddenly find her regaling stories of that time she went to Egypt with the WAF…

My Nana has an opinion on EVERY-thing and she rarely thinks she’s wrong. Whether it’s requested or not, she’ll share her thoughts on any situation you find yourself in, and often offers great advice which comes from a lifetime of having been there and done that. We have been known to disagree, especially when she’s lecturing me on why Alex and I share the household chores and cooking responsibilities, but you can’t knock her wisdom and insight when you find yourself at a crossroads and you’re unsure what to do.

Writing this triggered a pang of guilt because I know I don’t ask for her advice often enough and it made me realise that I need to reach out more. How can you respect your elders a little more this week? Is there someone you can reach out to and make them feel valued by asking for their advice?

When I Make a Million Dollars…

How many times have you used the phrase: ‘If only I had’ or ‘When this is in place, I’ll do X, Y or Z?’ I’ll call you out right now and say that you’re lying if you try to answer this question with ‘never’! 

When you’re put on the spot and asked to explain why you haven’t pursued something to the best of your ability, this tends to be the easiest excuse to reach for. Whether it’s a conversation at work about a side-project that would have greatly benefited your team, or it’s a conversation with a friend who asks where you’ve got to writing your book, blaming external factors is an obvious out. It helps us to make peace with the fact that we haven’t pursued it. At work, we explain that our day-to-day tasks had to take precedent and we simply didn’t have the time. To our friend, we explain that we’ve been so busy at work that we haven’t had time to explore this endeavour further. You can see where I’m going with this… The truth is that you haven’t pursued these activities because you haven’t had a good enough reason to. In your mind they’re not pressing.

Can you think of any examples where this is true in your life?

In instances like this when something hasn’t been done, I’d like to invite you to think about how you’re lying when you blame anything other than yourself. In that moment, you’re not being truthful about the fact that you have chosen not to dedicate any time to these projects – whether it’s a work, home or personal task.

Yes, some things are easier to action if other things fall into place around it, but we all know that rarely happens. We need to be honest with ourselves and look into why we haven’t been motivated to make a start. Over the next week, consider how you could begin tackling something you’ve been putting off because you don’t have the perfect external circumstances to go alongside it, and instead assign just one hour this week to doing something on it.

Did You Really Have a Bad Day?

Did you have a bad day or a bad five minutes that you milked all day?

It made me smile when I read this question on my Instagram feed the other day because I know I’m guilty of doing the latter. Something will happen in the first five minutes of my working day and it’ll throw me off for the rest of it.

For those of you who have watched the movie, The Secret, you’ll have seen this play out with someone stubbing their toe getting out of bed which puts them in a bad mood. As the day goes on, small annoyances occur and things continue to go wrong – adding more negative fuel to the fire. In the movie, it’s explained that as we focus on the negative aspects of our day, we’re drawing our attention solely to the negative and we’re not allowing any space for something positive to happen.

I love the wording of the Instagram question, particularly the reference to milking it all day, because I think it goes hand-in-hand with the teachings of The Secret.

Have you ever found yourself milking a bad situation for all it’s worth? There’s a tendency to focus on the bad things that happen so we can secure sympathy from those around us. We share the story with more and more people to get their understanding and confirmation of our point of view, but have you asked yourself whether this behaviour is really helping or hindering you?

I always say that letting things go is easier said than done, but how would your day play out differently if you were to start to let things go quicker than you do right now? Don’t get me wrong, I struggle with letting things go as much as the next person and it’s often not until I’ve had a cathartic bitching session with my husband that I truly (begin to) let things go, but I’ve read enough self-help books to know that there’s a better way…

So with this in mind, the next time your day gets off to a bad start, give yourself a few minutes to feel all the feels about what has happened and then make a pact with yourself to let it go there and then. As you go through your day, take note of whether this exercise has allowed you to approach the rest of your day with a more positive mindset than you would.

What’s in it for me?

The culture we live in often demands that we put others ahead of ourselves, especially as a woman. Helping others rightfully holds a place in this world, but we must remember that this shouldn’t be as a detriment to ourselves – which we all know it can be from time-to-time.

When we think about putting ourselves first, the word ‘selfish’ can spring to mind. This comes with a whole host of negative connotations and our concerns that centre around appearing to be self-absorbed can put us off making any changes in this area. But, as the saying goes, everything in moderation is good for us and little selfishness can definitely help us to get to where we want to be.

We make decisions every day, big and small, and if we’re thinking about everyone else ahead of ourselves, we’re not necessarily going to make the decision that’s best for us personally.

I’d like you to think now about the respect you show your nearest and dearest when you’re listening to them tell you about a problem they’re facing. When you have a problem to solve or a decision to make, do you treat yourself with this same level of respect? The answer is probably not. We’re all guilty of putting the needs of others ahead of our own, but let’s just trial putting ourselves first for once.

This week, before you make any decision that comes your way, I want you to ask yourself: what’s in it for me? Will the decision you’re about to make bring happiness into your life or will it bring undue stress? Instead of thinking solely about the needs of others, think about what you will get out of it and whether it’s really worth it for you. I promise you’ll be surprised by how much easier the decision making process is when you evaluate the pros and cons from this angle.

You Never Know!

Whether you believe in fate and destiny or not, Steve Jobs was right when he said that you can only connect the dots when you’re looking back over what has come before.

Time and time again, we go through something in our lives and we cannot fathom how we will ever look back on that particular event and feel anything other than disdain, but when we have the wisdom that time affords on our side, we realise that isn’t usually the case. Once some time has passed, we often find ourselves looking back on events with a fresh perspective.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs

Keep in mind that you never know what is coming together for you. You might not get the job, the relationship or whatever it may be that you want today, but it doesn’t mean that something even more spectacular isn’t waiting just around the corner for you.

Keep the faith.

It’s That Time of Year Again…

This always happens! My birthday is in the not too distant past and the realisation hits that we’re now closer to the start of 2020 than we are to the start of 2019.

Anyone else’s Instagram feed filled with posts highlighting the fact that we only have 4 months of the year left to complete our goals for 2019?

This time last year, in my post, Success in Inevitable, I explained that now is the perfect time to review the goals we set for ourselves back in January – not only to see where we’re at, but also to re-examine where we want to be by the end of the year.

Don’t forget, when you’re completing your goal review, it’s just as important to give yourself a pat on the back for what you’ve achieved so far as it is to identify what else you’d like to accomplish by the time you see the New Year in. And remember, now might be just the right time to stop overanalysing the things you’ve been putting off and take action, even if it’s the tiniest footstep, towards making these things happen.

When Drug Dealers Provide Blog Inspiration…

I was making the most of my lunch hour today and decided to take a seat on the Quayside Seaside. As I soaked up the sunshine, I settled in for a good half an hour of people watching. It’s always a great spot for this pastime, but it was particularly enjoyable today because I found myself sat next to a group of people who were openly talking about being drug dealers. To put this in context, the Quayside is also where the Law Courts are located here in Newcastle, and this specific group were on a break from their court proceedings and were discussing whether they were likely to be sentenced today or if it would be delayed.

As I sat, casually eavesdropping on their conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would react if I ever found myself facing the prospect of jail. For them, a bad day at the office is getting arrested by the police whereas I can get stressed when I know a deadline is approaching fast. Making this comparison, as superficial as it may seem, got me thinking about how we are all personally responsible for identifying what we perceive to be the stress in any situation and we all deal with said stress in different ways.

I felt stressed just trying to comprehend the situation that this group of people found themselves in, but, to them, it was nothing to worry about because they had faced this type of thing before – something is only stressful if we perceive it in that way.

With this in mind, how can you apply this perspective to something you’re facing at the moment? Can you take a step back and reduce the factors that you are identifying as stressful?

The Boy on the Shed

I attended an event where Paul Ferris was speaking about his book, The Boy on the Shed. He used his 45 minutes on stage to give the audience a whistle-stop tour of his life story. From growing up surrounded by the troubles in Northern Ireland, to debuting at sixteen for Newcastle United before an injury ended his career early, he talked about the ups and downs of his life to date, including his recent health issues with both heart attacks and prostate cancer. His story was peppered with mentions of famous footballers such as Alan Shearer and Kevin Keegan and he was remarkably vulnerable when he talked about how hard the death of his mother hit him.

It was an extraordinary tale and despite his life being marred by so much tragedy, his story is clearly one of reinvention, resilience and never giving up. One quote in particular has stuck with me and that’s ‘in the darkest moment, there is always a moment of light.”

I think this is something we can all be mindful of! There is always something to be grateful for, no matter how hard you have to look. For Paul, he continuously mentioned his amazing wife, Geraldine, who has been the rock by his side throughout everything. Who or what is it that creates the light during your darkest moments? Are there any specific examples that come to mind?