Tag Archives: work life balance

My four-day weekend

This June I’d expected to be completing a three-year contract and looking for new full-time employment (without dismissing the possibility of a part-time role). I’m lucky enough to love my work but regard my paid employment as more of a cause than a career; I describe all purposeful activity as ‘work’ – sometimes it’s paid, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes that relates to the same activity! The line between the two has become increasingly blurred and I have concluded that work-life balance between different types of work is what determines my level of health and happiness.

Back to my non-career career, and what was planned for this June didn’t happen. My previous employers cut short my contract six months early but, luckily, I was able to seamlessly take up another role which, seven months in, I find really rewarding. That reward may be partly because the role is part-time – I enjoy a four-day weekend and can recommend it!

As an aside, I can confess to having worked an unofficial four-day week many years ago. I’m a believer in the principle of getting paid for work done rather than ‘hours on the job’ – a not insignificant difference. I was in a full-time job, which wasn’t office-based and I honestly felt I could get it done in four days (and I don’t mean by working 9.5 hours on each of those days). I was thinking of trying to make it official – discussing the idea with my employers – but my brother-in-law advised I simply do it unofficially. Which is what happened – I kept my phone on and was available for the five working days, but I reduced my hours to give me more time to be a father (commuting for six years I’d missed out on my daughter’s development). I got the job done, never missed any meetings and, to the best of my knowledge, no one was any the wiser about my ‘informal arrangement’.

But now I work Wednesday to Friday by arrangement and I can confirm I don’t get that dreaded ‘Monday feeling’ on a Sunday afternoon, nor even on a Tuesday! I don’t really know whether I can afford to be paid for only three days a week (the sort of charity jobs I enjoy are never particularly well paid…) but I do know the non-monetary compensation is massive. It’s taken a little getting used to; I have to keep my head down on a Friday afternoon when full-time colleagues around me are, understandably, winding down for the weekend. But for me the prospect of the four-day ‘weekend’ ahead keeps me going, committed to making sure my three days are fully worked.

Planning becomes all the more important when you know you’ll leave on a Friday and, in theory, you’ll be unavailable until the following Wednesday. My work involves 1-2-1 meetings so, with my flexibility reduced, almost invariably some of that planning has to happen on one of my days off, but that’s a price I’m prepared to pay for my re-balanced life.

Which is not to say that my ‘days off’ are spent sitting back doing nothing; I don’t even have enough time for some serious reading for pleasure, something I promised myself when I knew I was going part-time but have not achieved… yet. I have too many other interests to sit around idly but I now have half a chance of ticking off most of the items on the same to-do lists that I previously tried to cram into a two-day weekend.

Meanwhile, I’m also following with interest a national campaign for a four-day working week – something about which I blogged some years ago. How many people on their death-bed say with regret ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’? Time for us all to focus on what really matter maybe…

The three day weekend https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/time-trials-3-the-three-day-weekend

4 Day Week Campaign https://www.4dayweek.co.uk

Regrets of the dying https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying

 

Our best friend’s best friend

Profiling a Prince’s Trust – supported entrepreneur

Lisa Sinnott has made it her job to understand man’s best friend (her service users) and their relationship with her paying customers. “Dogs and cats are members of the family, so you want someone you can trust” she says.

Lisa launched her business – Albany Pet Services – two years ago offering a solo dog walking service, reinforcement of existing training such as loose lead walking, and personal animal visits tailored to the particular needs of both the animals and their owners. But it was a blind colleague, not one of her four-legged friends, who inspired her to start her own business. As Lisa recalls…

“I got a maternity cover contract with the Guide Dogs charity and worked with this amazing lady called Sue who had been blind since she was 19. She also had cancer and had such a resilient spirit. I was with her in Chelmsford at a Scout and Guide event. My contract was coming to an end and I thought – she can do anything she wants – she’s not letting her disability stop her. It was then I realised I needed to be more confident and go for stuff I really wanted to do – which is when I decided to set up my business.”

It was at this stage that Lisa contacted The Prince’s Trust and was accepted on to the Enterprise Programme – with support that she describes as “amazing”. The business planning helped her structure the ideas whirring around in her head and, she says, “Got me thinking about things people often don’t consider, such as competitor research.”

Acknowledging that starting and running a business can be lonely, Lisa says “Meeting other people wanting to set up their own business – in the same position as me – was really good; to hear their ideas and knowing I wasn’t alone. Monthly meetings with my business mentor are really helpful – for bouncing ideas around and coming up with new ideas I hadn’t thought about.”

It’s ironic, but not so unusual, that people in caring businesses sometimes fail to take proper care of themselves. Lisa has learnt the hard way that it can be very difficult to separate home and work life. She warns against letting the heart rule your head.  “I’m terrible” she says “I can be up at 7am working in bed, then doing a full day’s work. You must have self-care – you can’t keep going all the time. It’s hard when you’re passionate about something. But you must make time for yourself – spending time with friends, doing things you enjoy. I love improvisation and have recently joined a girls Gaelic football team and played in Dublin which was fun! I’ve had to create business boundaries – there’s only one of you at the start so you have to look after yourself.”

That Lisa puts the welfare of her service users (as well as keeping their owners happy) at the heart of her business is reflected in comments she makes about the lack of regulation in the pet-care industry. There’s a problem because anyone can call themselves a dog walker. Everyone should at least be qualified in first aid.”

Lisa also acknowledges that the wellbeing of her dogs can run counter to the income-generation needed to sustain the business, “In terms of group walks, some people make £100 in an hour because they take out ten dogs at a time. But that’s irresponsible – it’s not good for the dogs’ welfare, what would happen in an emergency – if one of them needed the vet? It would take a lot of time to get all the dogs all bundled in the back of the van again. And how would you protect the dog that was unwell? These are all questions to consider when choosing a pet care provider.

What advice does Lisa have for anyone starting their own business? “Value your time – remember that your time is precious. Ask questions, get advice, and if you don’t know something read and research! Become an expert in your field.”

It would seem that providing a successful pet service is as much about disciplining yourself as guiding the four-legged friends in your care.

https://www.albanypetservices.co.uk

https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/help-for-young-people/support-starting-business 

Getting hands on

Profiling a Prince’s Trust supported entrepreneur

Hannah Stobbs knows all about the stresses and strains we inflict on our bodies – she plays rugby and cricket. It was a back injury playing cricket aged 17 that first introduced her to the magic of massage that has now become the core of her business – Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health.

Putting elite athletes and overworked employees back together again is Hannah’s passion – developed through studies at Loughborough University and ‘hands on’ experience working on the bruised bodies of fellow sports enthusiasts – including friends who would go on to be World-Cup-winning cricketers.

For a job which seems to be essentially about physical manipulation, Hannah’s description of the traits of a skilled massage therapist is perhaps surprising. “They are people who can be fairly relaxed – who know how to switch off the parts of their brains that cause anxiety. You need to have a flexible mind; to be able to do your best work even if you don’t feel at your best.”  

As the name of her business suggests, Hannah’s approach is very much about getting a 360-degree understanding of her client’s situation – to look beyond the immediate injury at the bigger picture. As Hannah explains, “I aim to get a fairly extensive client history at the start. I also ask what they would like to get from the massage session and this can raise a host of other issues – often related to stress at work.”

For Hannah, the relationship between massage therapist and client is best when there’s a shared understanding of what lies behind the problems being presented. “I aim to build a rapport – to focus attention and treatment on the most pressing issues and explain what I’m planning before I begin. Most people want to know this – it’s what they’re paying for!”

It’s clear that Hannah’s approach works – she has an impressively high return rate and has built up a solid base of regular clients, with 95% first coming to her through referrals – word-of-mouth recommendations. This is the core strength of any business and one on which Hannah is keen to build. That said, she sees part of her role as educating her clients so they don’t need to return for further treatment as regularly as other therapists might advise.

Reflecting on the first eight years of a career putting broken bodies back together, Hannah sees it as a play in three acts. The first was to gain experience – for which she was well-placed at Loughborough University, renowned for its specialism in sports science.

The next act was moving from Loughborough for post-graduate study, working on sports massage alongside other jobs, and wondering whether it could ever become a fulltime occupation. This was a testing time, as Hannah explains “I’d come away from Loughborough where it was very easy to get clients. From 60 – 70 clients, I went down to three. It felt like a big step backwards, but it taught me how to re-build my client base – through networking. I’ve made great friends through playing rugby and cricket, so I never need to massage a stranger!”

It was the third stage when, with the support of The Prince’s Trust, Hannah decided to focus on developing her business as a massage therapist. She credits that support with helping her to make better use of her time – to think more entrepreneurially. “I’m now thinking more about how to reduce time-wasting – less driving and more massaging – and generally structuring my days better. It’s also about better use of the resources I already have – working on my strengths more than weaknesses. For me, that’s my networks for developing the business through word-of-mouth.

It’s interesting how often professionals don’t practice what they preach. Hannah admits that she has had to learn to look after herself better – through mentoring and acquiring the skills to achieve a better work-life balance. For Hannah, this is a combination of playing sport, making new friends at home and abroad, and never stopping learning – three passions that should take her far, both personally and professionally.

For further information about Hannah Stobbs Holistic Health, go to  https://www.hannahstobbssportsmassage.co.uk

Leaving London – No man’s land #3

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

In the wider world, Royston is a place for arrivals, departures and intervening connections. House prices reflect good transport links via international airports (two within 45 minutes), motorways (two within 15 minutes by car on a good day) and 10 minutes by train to Stevenage for rail links to the north and Scotland, and south to London.

royston-to-london-milestoneIronically, Royston is more connected to the rest of the world than the rest of Hertfordshire, and, in fact, the rest of North Hertfordshire. I know at least two 20-somethings in Letchworth who have never travelled the 12 miles to Royston (11 minutes by train). I think Royston and District (that’s the SG8 postcode) should be declared an independent republic. Most or the one million inhabitants of Hertfordshire have never been to Royston. Even work colleagues in the other corner of the county used to ask me whether I actually returned to Royston at the end of each day; for them it was another world (‘there be dragons…’ etc)

Unlike in the trading days of old, many more people have driven past Royston without stopping – it’s on the A10, the old London to Cambridge route before the M11 was built.  Even for us, our first visit from our home in North London to Royston was for house-hunting. I had sworn I’d never commute into London but my wife convinced me that it needn’t be difficult as I was working near Kings Cross station at the time and her family lived in Norfolk – making Royston a much more accessible place to live.

I could say that we finally decided to leave Hackney when we heard someone being shot dead on their doorstep after a late-night party bust-up. But that wouldn’t be true; we heard the fatal shooting but we’d already decided to move out.

In fact the final push for me was returning to London after a weekend in Norfolk. Our two-year-old daughter was fast asleep in the back of the car, my stress levels were rising with every mile we travelled, then crawled, towards the city. I could almost smell the air as we arrived home. Like many before us, we moved out of London for the fresher air, reduced congestion, and affordable property when our toddler needed her own bedroom.

clissold-park-cafe-2I have never regretted the move although I do miss the cakes in the Clissold Park cafe (since tarted up and, no doubt, now selling… tarts).

During 16 years studying, living and working in London, I never made the most of the opportunities on my doorstep. In our first week at university, our tutor warned us we’d put off discovering London until it was too late.         She was right.

It wasn’t even about money; I just kept putting off the sightseeing to a later date that never arrived. I got to know only very small parts of the city (Willesden Green, Finchley, Islington, and then Stoke Newington) feeling most connected in the final two years there when our daughter was born and we got to know other new parents.

While working in London, my professional and personal lives were kept quite separate; a practice that has helped me, apart from some notable lapses, to sustain a sort of work/life balance throughout my career. I say ‘sort of’ because my work has been less a career path more a lifelong cause – something I’d probably do whether or not I was paid. This was illustrated by my young daughter, at a time when I often worked from home. She asked me one Saturday morning “Are you working today Dad?“No” I said, trying to be helpful, “I’m doing what I did yesterday, but today I’m not getting paid to do it”. I think that confused rather than clarified the situation for her.

In London I lived at various addresses north of the river. For a couple of years my MP was Margaret Thatcher and her signed response to my complaint about the state of the roads for cyclists (I was one then) was a treasured possession for at least a week. I spent two years in Islington living with a journalist who, I later learned, was charging me 90% of the ‘shared’ rent to pay for her drug habit. I also learned she’d chosen me as a flatmate because she’d heard I’d travelled in South America and (wrongly) assumed I’d returned with, at the very least, a handful of coca leaves.

The move to Hackney was to move in with a Bart’s nurse who was to become my wife. We lived in a terraced road off Stoke Newington High Street for several years. It was wonderfully quiet but this didn’t stop thieves stealing the bonnet from a neighbour’s car across the street on a hot summer night when everyone had their windows open – that takes skill. All we had stolen were headlight surrounds, a car radio, and a Vauxhall bonnet badge from my wife’s Chevette (much sought after for spares…)

prince-of-wales-n16The pub around the corner was good for the odd drink after a busy week; a semi-regular two pints on Friday evenings almost made it our local. The real regulars would prop up the bar night after night. I assumed they were loneIy old men (one looked just like Lord Snooty from The Dandy kid’s comic) seeking solace in a pint at the Prince of Wales, or the POW as it was known. Then one evening, after a couple of years, I heard one of the regulars saying he was off home because his missus would have his tea on the table. Maybe I was right after all – lonely old men in loveless long-term marriages, more at home in the pub than at home. (The POW has since been tarted up and re-named ‘The Prince’ – Lord Snooty must be spinning in his grave.)

Compared to Hackney, Royston was a backwater. We’d landed in what seemed like a quaint and quiet corner of little Britain, not unlike TV’s Royston Vasey made famous by The League of Gentlemen. The crime scene was more The Bill* than The Sweeney – the town’s mayor was being exposed on national TV for wrongdoing associated with his estate agent business, and the Royston Crow newspaper’s crime reports were about parked cars being ‘keyed’ – annoying, but hardly life-threatening. Then there were the quirky couples – two local councillors Deborah Duck and Ted Drake and, sometime after we’d settled in, two married couples swapped partners. This was life in the slow lane – in the unhurried-and-interesting, not traffic-jam-crawling – sense. Life in Royston was to serve us well.

*Some TV trivia – an actor from The Bill bought our house in Hackney, and Sun Hill police station in the TV series was named after Sun Hill in Royston where creator Geoff Mcqueen lived.

To be continued….

For other blogs in the ‘No man’s land’ series click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/no-mans-land