Posts in LIVE WELL
RESOLUTIONS FOR A BETTER YEAR
 

Every year, come hell or high water (or let’s be honest, hangover), I sit down at my desk on January 1st and make a list of resolutions for the year ahead. No matter how raucous the previous evening’s festivities, or alluring the thought of spending the rest of the day in bed, the half hour or so I spend properly thinking about what I want to achieve in the year ahead is a non-negotiable start to my year, and one that I’ve taken pretty seriously since I first started doing it about five years ago. For me, the symbolism of the first day of a brand new year is energising in a way few other things can match, and as someone with a lifelong passion for lists, I never feel truly ready to tackle the year ahead without first making what - to me - is the most important list of all.

There’s always something incredibly clarifying about the process – for starters, it forces me to confront all of the various goals that are floating around in my head (of which there are always quite a few!), and corral them into some semblance of a plan, retaining only the ones that I truly think will bring me fulfilment, and discarding everything else. In that way, my New Year's resolutions are something of a North Star, guiding my decisions as the year goes on. It’s also a valuable exercise, in that it encourages me to look back on the resolutions of years gone by (which is why I always use the same battered red Moleskine that I’ve now reserved exclusively for this purpose). Sometimes that means the warm glow of satisfaction at a year well spent, whilst others it’s been the burst of motivation I've needed, confronted with the reality of a whole year - or more - going by without me making so much as a dent on certain goals. Having just completed this ritual for the year ahead, I thought I'd share a few tips for making New Year's resolutions that actually stick, based on my learnings from years gone by.

 

WRITE THEM DOWN

Getting your resolutions down on paper gives you a clarity of thought that’s hard to achieve otherwise, and also gives you something to refer back to as the year progresses. If you like, go one step further and pin them up somewhere where you can see them on a regular basis, to remind you of the bigger picture when things are getting confusing.

 

SET SPECIFIC GOALS

This. Is. So. Important. Vaguely resolving to (for example) "get healthy" or "save money" isn't going to get you very far. To make resolutions that stick, you need to set easily quantifiable, measurable goals, and identify the specific actions that you’re going to take towards them.  For every resolution you make, you should ask yourself "how am I going to make this happen?". Write that down as well.

 

HAVE FUN WITH IT

I love making something of a ceremony out of making my resolutions – brewing a cup of tea, putting on some music and sitting down at my desk for an undisturbed spot of *deep thinking*. Make the process a pleasure not a chore, and your resolutions will embed themselves in your psyche for all the right reasons.

 

DON'T MAKE TOO MANY

This is a mistake I've made far too many times – setting myself an unrealistic number of targets for the year ahead. Word to the wise: don't. All that leads to is feeling overwhelmed, and not really knowing where to focus your energies. Keeping things concise is the key to success here, so pick a handful of the most important goals to focus on, and forget the rest.

 

TELL SOMEONE ABOUT THEM

Telling other people about your resolutions - be they your friends, family, or the guy who runs your local corner shop - is crucial. Having people checking in and encouraging you is important, both as a source of support and as a way of keeping you accountable.

 

…And in the spirit of said accountability – I thought I'd share my resolutions for 2017. I find it useful to think about my resolutions as falling under one of four different quadrants to make sure I'm keeping things balanced, with my 'core four' generally being Work, Money, Wellbeing, and Personal Development. Whilst not all of these resolutions are directly related to my work, I’m hoping in one way or another they’ll all have an impact on my working life and leave me feeling more inspired, relaxed and productive over the year ahead.

 

 
Otegha Uwagba Women Who

Work

GROWING WOMEN WHO

As I’ve mentioned in newsletters past my main goal for 2017 is all about making this community bigger and better, and finding new ways of connecting with creative women (particularly international members of the community – hold tight!) through more events, new resources, and more inspiration for your working life. That's as specific as I can get for now, but there's lots of great stuff in the pipeline - stay tuned.

 

IMPROVING MY DESIGN SKILLS

Whilst I have definitely have an appreciation for beautiful design, and a fairly decent eye for visuals, sadly my technical design skills are somewhat… lacking. I’ve been meaning to work on those for a while now, so late last year I signed up for a basic InDesign course that starts in a few weeks, and which I’m very excited about. (FYI, if you’re in the market for a new skill, now’s a great time to do it – most adult learning organisations have a new crop of courses starting in the next couple of weeks, so take advantage).

 

Money

GETTING MY FINANCES IN ORDER

I bang on about women and money a lot (and plan on doing that a lot more in the year to come, don't sweat it), because I truly believe economic empowerment is one of the most important things a woman can aspire to, and something that underpins pretty much every other aspect of our professional and personal lives. Transitioning to self-employment has made me think much more deeply about the need to have some kind of long-term financial game-plan, in lieu of a waiting trust fund, company pension, or even a consistent paycheck.

With that in mind, I’ve committed to taking a more long-term view of my finances - more specifically, by investing £50 a month (an amount I regularly fritter away on unnecessary lattes and wear-it-once ASOS purchases), somehow, somewhere. I’ve long been aware of the importance of investing, but listening to this episode of Gaby Dunn’s excellent Bad With Money podcast a few months ago was the push I finally needed. I'm certainly no Warren Buffet, but the idea that you need to be some kind of corporate tycoon investing big figures to make investment worthwhile is a total myth – when it comes to compound interest (which FYI, Einstein described as ‘the 8th wonder of the world’) every little counts, and for me £50 a month is an achievable but aspirational start.

  

Wellbeing

CUTTING DOWN ON SOCIAL MEDIA

In recent months I’ve read article after article about how detrimental social media can be to your emotional and mental health – which is nothing new, except I now find myself relating to said articles far more than ever before. I rarely feel happier, more relaxed or better about myself after a prolonged Instagram or Twitter lurk – instead I’m left with a creeping sense of panic at the idea that everyone I know (and let’s be honest, plenty of people I don’t know) is somehow cooler, better dressed, and more successful than me. Plus, there’s the added anxiety and guilt at having wasted so much time on something so acutely unproductive. Whilst I’m not suggesting a complete social media ban – I don’t know that there’s a more powerful tool for creatives to share their work and ideas in existence – I’ve resolved to be a little more restrained about my social media use this year, as a means of protecting my emotional wellbeing.

To be more specific I’m a) being more careful about what I’m consuming and exposing myself to on social media (which in practical terms has meant a mass unfollow of a swathe of FOMO-inducing accounts), and b) limiting my time spent online. An ingenious tip I recently read – and have already started putting into practice – is to log out of your social media accounts every time you use them. The extra couple of seconds it takes to log back in are often enough time to give you pause for thought and consider whether you really need to check Instagram/Twitter/Facebook, forcing you to break the automatic habit so many of us have of reaching for our phones and mindlessly scrolling.

 

Personal Development

READING MORE

Specifically, two books a month. This won't sound like much to most people (and once upon a time that wasn’t very much to me either), but it’s far more than I’ve managed to get through lately, and I’m pretty sure I can feel my brain atrophying as a result. I’ve vowed to make 2017 the year of my return to reading, by carrying a book in my bag/having one on my nightstand at all times, and wherever possible killing time by leafing through a book, instead of my current go-to of mindlessly checking social media.

 

Now that you've read mine - time to go make some of your own (and do feel free to share them with me)! Happy New Year.

 
STAYING CREATIVE DURING THE WINTER MONTHS
 
Pierre Cardin, Space Age

As I’ve mentioned in newsletters past (sign up here if you haven’t already!), I’m a huge believer in the ability of the seasons to affect everything from your mindset to your physical wellbeing – both of which in turn can affect your ability to do your best work. A lot of the optimism I was feeling a few months ago about the impending change in seasons was definitely down to a rose-tinted notion of cosy evenings spent in front of a fictitious roaring fire, as it's safe to say said fantasies have been cruelly slapped away by the grim reality of British winters and their trademark grey skies and constant drizzle. With the clocks going back a few weeks ago and December fast approaching, I’ve been giving some thought to how to stay creative and keep my brain ticking over during this, the season of little motivation and increased libation. When it comes to avoiding the winter blues, forewarned is forearmed – so here are a few ideas on how to get through the cold, dark months ahead, and ensure you’re as productive as possible.

 

GET OUTSIDE

Yes I know – the weather’s sh*t, which makes it extremely tempting to basically hibernate until March, but hear me out. Getting a daily dose of sunlight is crucial for keeping your mood and energy levels up, so particularly if you work from home, maintain (or introduce!) a habit of taking a walk during the day. It doesn't have to be long - 15 minutes will do. Not only is exposure to sunlight crucial for helping your body produce serotonin (a mood-boosting chemical), the cold is sure to get your blood pumping and wake you up. Win-win.

 

GET READING

Whilst I love a good think piece as much as the next person (and have discovered some of my favourite writers online), nothing beats getting stuck into an actual book for inspiration. Skimming through a mishmash of tweets, Instagram posts and clickbait headlines is the dietary equivalent of a packet of crisps – it fills you up, but it’s not exactly nourishing. The colder weather means you’ll probably be spending more time indoors anyway, so why not use that extra time at home to stimulate your mind with some literary brain food? If you’re stuck for inspiration, check out Girls At Library, an excellent online journal full of book recommendations from interesting women. Me? I’ll be getting stuck into Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, starting with a reading by her at the London Review Bookshop next week.

 

STAY SOCIAL

Don’t get me wrong, I love an evening in with nothing but a podcast for company – but humans are social animals, and we need regular social interaction to stay happy and sane. Making a concerted effort to stay social during the winter months is important for sparking fresh ideas, and stopping your brain from getting into a rut. Again, particularly if you work from home, be sure to schedule in regular socialising with friends, even if it’s just arranging to co-work together once a week.

 

LOOK AFTER YOUR BODY

As ever, looking after your physical wellbeing is crucial if you want to keep producing your best work. This winter I’m taking a two-pronged approach to keeping my health on track, paying special attention to both my diet and exercise. The run up to Christmas traditionally tends to be a time of increased indulgence, which is totally fine as long as you’re still getting your fair share of healthy foods too. Make sure you incorporate plenty of brain foods into your diet, such as oily fish (yes, smoked salmon canapés do count), eggs, and nuts. It might also be worth rounding out your diet with a few supplements too – try Vitamin D to make up for the lack of sunlight, and the B vitamins for energy.

As well as eating the right foods, staying active is more important than ever for helping boost your mood and energy levels, so try to resist the temptation to turn into a couch potato over the winter. If throwing yourself around a freezing park before or after work is your idea of hell, explore indoor classes such as HIIT (never tried it but heard it's good) or hot yoga (have tried it, and can 100% vouch for it). Whatever floats your boat, as long as it gets you moving - why not take a friend along for the ride and kill two birds with one stone? By getting some good habits in place now, you can build up slowly and avoid the usual 'feast-then-famine' mentality of bingeing on unhealthy foods in the run up to the end of the year because *Christmas*, followed by the shock of starting a punishing exercise regime in the New Year. Why wait?

 

What’s your secret to getting through the dog days of winter? Let me know in the comments box below!

 
BEAT THE MID-AFTERNOON SLUMP
 
From the poetry of  Nayyirah Waheed

From the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed

I'm not sure whether it's down to the change in the seasons, or simply because of my heavier-than-normal workload – but the past few weeks have seen my afternoon energy levels at an all-time low. I’ve even found myself succumbing to the temptation of an afternoon nap (which I'll be honest, is more like a full-blown siesta) on more than one occasion… the pleasures and the perils of working from home, right?

Whilst the freedom to nap at will is something I dreamt of on a near daily basis when I worked in an office, the reality of it leaves me feeling groggy, disrupts my night-time sleep patterns and – worst of all – means I end up having to make up the hours lost by working late into the night. Not ideal, so I've decided to take the necessary steps to counteract my postprandial desire to crawl into bed. If like me you regularly find yourself experiencing that familiar afternoon crash, read on for a few natural ways to boost your energy levels right now.

 

STAY HYDRATED

You probably already know that you should be aiming to drink 1.5 - 2 litres of water per day for clearer skin and all that other good stuff – but did you also know that drinking plenty of water is crucial for keeping your concentration levels up? Being dehydrated can make you feel sleepier than usual, so if you find yourself feeling sluggish, grab a glass of ice-cold water for an instant pick-me-up.

 

ACE YOUR WORKSPACE

A work environment creates work, a home environment creates… naps. I’ve begun eliminating the temptation of a mid-afternoon snooze by avoiding working from home in the afternoons as much as possible. If you’re a freelancer or regularly work from home, I’d highly recommend decamping to a local coffee shop or library after lunch.

 

EAT RIGHT

One of the most common factors determining your energy levels is – surprise surprise – the fuel you put into your body. It’s natural to feel sleepy mid-afternoon due to the way our internal body clocks operate, but a heavy lunch will make you feel even more lethargic, so avoid carb-heavy lunches and aim for a protein-based meal instead. Stick to low-GI sides such as leafy vegetables, chickpeas or quinoa, and opt for brown rice and bread, not white. If you’re looking for something a little more filling for the colder months ahead, try baked sweet potatoes topped with baked beans, and lentil-based soups. Low-GI foods release energy slowly over time, as opposed to giving you a quick sugar-induced burst of energy followed by a slump that leaves you feeling tired and hungry all over again!

 

SNACK RIGHT

When the mid-afternoon hunger pangs come knocking, make sure you’ve got the right kind of snacks to hand. That means out with the chocolate and sugary junk food (sorry), and in with low-GI snacks such as popcorn, nuts, and rice cakes topped with hummus or peanut butter.

 

SLEEP RIGHT

This one's a bit of a no-brainer – if you’re not sleeping properly, it’s going to seriously affect your daytime energy levels. Duh. Find out how you can improve your sleeping habits here.

 

MOVE AROUND

Take a break. Stretch your legs. A bit of fresh air can do wonders for your energy levels, so if you feel yourself flagging, take five minutes to do a lap of the office or – even better – a lap of the block.

 

SWITCH IT UP

Now’s the perfect time to address all those smaller admin tasks on your to-do list, like filing or clearing your inbox. Constantly switching tasks and doing those little jobs that have a quick payoff is a great way to keep yourself stimulated.

 

SCHEDULE SMARTER

Whether you work on your own or in an office, try organising meetings and work that involves talking to other people for this time of day. A bit of social interaction is a sure-fire way to perk you up.

 

Alright - now let's power on!

 
SLEEP BETTER

Yesterday morning I woke up with my phone lying on my chest, presumably after having fallen asleep mid-Whatsapp/Instagram scroll/Twitter session. I also felt pretty rubbish – lethargic, slow, and with zero inclination to get out of bed. I ended up oversleeping, and my whole day suffered as a result.

 

Sound familiar?

 

Sleep is one of the most important factors for human brain function, and not getting enough affects your judgement, productivity, and memory. You probably already know all of this – yet when you spend the vast majority of your day working, the temptation is to extend the precious few hours you have left to unwind in the evening, by staying up late and sleeping less instead. But falling asleep to an episode of Stranger Things is not the way to a good night’s sleep, or a productive mindset the following day.

A few months ago, Arianna Huffington published a book called The Sleep Revolution, which in part aims to dispel the glamour around the myth of the sleep-deprived #girlboss, and takes aim at a modern culture that has positioned sacrificing sleep for work as some sort of perverse badge of honour. An ‘always-on’ working culture that increasingly expects people to be available around the clock, and the constant presence of tech devices in every arena of our lives, means the quantity – and quality – of sleep we’re all getting seems to be on the decline.

In my case I realised yesterday that a serious case of jetlag about a month ago, combined with a couple of late nights with friends, has left my sleeping patterns totally wrecked, and affected my productivity accordingly. So with that in mind, I’ve made a commitment to improving my sleep hygiene (that’s what the experts call it) over the next few months – and you can too. Here’s how.

 

THIRTY MINUTE WIND-DOWN

Set aside half an hour before bed (or an hour if you can manage it) to 'wind down' into your bedtime routine, whether that’s by reading a book, meditating, or listening to some chilled music – whatever helps your brain slow down after a hectic day. This wind-down period should also be a totally screen-free zone, as exposure to blue light immediately before bed significantly affects your sleep quality, preventing your body from releasing the chemical that helps you sleep. So put your phone on silent before bed, and leave it outside your bedroom along with your laptop.

 

MAKE YOUR BEDROOM A SANCTUARY

Your bedroom should be a source of sanity not stress, which means making it a work-free zone – no answering emails or doing a quick bit of online banking in bed. Leaving your work at the door will also help your mind associate your bedroom with relaxation, and get into sleep mode more easily.

Another important route to a better quality of sleep is making your actual bed as comfortable as humanly possible. I once had a roommate whose bed was so damn luxurious I’d sometimes sneak into her bedroom when she was out (sorry Nicola), for the sole purpose of a satisfying nap. Her secret? Down-filled mattress toppers. So upgrade your mattress, get better quality pillows, make sure your duvet is the right weight for the time of year… whatever it takes. Spending money on improving your sleeping environment isn’t an indulgence, it’s an investment.

 

CUT THE BOOZE

If you’ve ever woken up at 4am after a heavy night, simultaneously exhausted and yet unable to sleep, you’ll know intuitively that drinking alcohol before bed really affects the quality of your sleep. Alcohol reduces your ability to drift into REM sleep (the deeper stage of sleep you need to feel more restored), so try cutting back, or at least avoiding it in the three hours before bed.

 

SHOWER BEFORE BED

Taking a warm bath or shower before bed is scientifically proven to help you fall asleep faster. When you soak in a hot tub, your temperature rises – and the rapid cool-down period immediately afterward relaxes you. Personally, I also get a real psychological boost from the symbolism of washing off the dirt and grime of the day before getting into bed. If I’ve had a long or stressful day and know I’m going to struggle to get to sleep that night, a shower before bed tends to sort me out.

 

WAKING UP AT NIGHT

If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to check what time it is. It’s tempting to see how many hours you’ve got left until the dreaded sound of your alarm, but you’ll drift back into sleep more quickly and easily if you don’t feel the pressure of trying to force it because you’ve “only got three hours left before work”. Someone told me this great little trick a few years ago, and it’s served me well ever since.