What’s your plenish plan?

We are all pretty familiar with the term replenish.  It’s a word that describes the actions of refilling. We replenish empty shelves.  We replenish our energy when it is spent.  It’s all about addressing a gap or refuelling. 

A less known word is plenish.  Now, I think that is an interesting and revealing observation.  I think it reflects how we live and our tendency to spend rather than save.  Because I don’t think we do enough to positively nourish ourselves.  To plenish.  Let’s reboot that and rethink our approach.  

So what does plenish mean?  Well, to plenish is to fill up, or stock, or furnish.  I think for me, that’s about investment.  It seems like an altogether much more positive ambition than merely to replenish.  To replenish is to feed an empty stomach, or to top up or fill an empty room or tank.  To replenish suggests a deficit model, a rebalancing after things have been depleted or imbalanced. When things are empty.

I’d like us all to focus more on proactive self-input and self-investment.  We all should invest in ourselves.  This should be a proactive and not a reactive endeavour.  To plenish is to build up reserves and resilience.  To charge one’s batteries on an ongoing basis.  And I am all for that.

Today I sat at my office desk reading a book.  I felt momentarily guilty.  I was imagining colleagues were looking at me strangely.  How silly.  I don’t think they were.  It was all in my own mind.  It wouldn’t have been an issue if I was reading from a screen.  But it definitely felt like input rather than output.  I wasn’t outputting, producing or creating.  I wasn’t typing away frantically on my keyboard, firing off emails, or planning or talking on the phone – all those giving out behaviours.  Surely, I am here to deliver outputs right? 

I had to give myself a good talking to.  I was investing.  I was inputting.  I was thinking.  This inward energy will inform better outcomes. Then I relaxed.  I was plenishing. 

So I wondered, if anyone wants to plenish, what do they need to do?

First, stop what you are doing and look at what you are doing.  What is the proportion of inward and outward activity? 

Second, ask yourself (and maybe others) how is it looking?  Is there a balance, are the proportions right for you, for the role you have, or for the task in hand?  Are your energies being sapped or charged?

Third, make adjustments.  Is there meaningless depleting activity that needs to go?  This edit has the potential to reveal and release moments that you can repurpose to achieve the right balance. 

Four, then do something about it. Now you have the time and the inclination, redesign your time, plan and energies in and out.  And make sure you stick with it.  Don’t try it for a little while and then fall into old bad habits. 

To plenish gives you a golden opportunity to rest, recharge, nurture, learn and support your self-care.  Take it. 

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Midlife crisis?: Have a midlife reboot instead.

We should always take a hard look at ourselves, and the lives we are living.  This self-reflection should never be left until it is too late either.  We mustn’t lose sight of ourselves through the distractions of work, child rearing, or anything else. 

But if you do reach a point of unexpected or unplanned realisation.  Follow this three-step plan:

  1. Notice it. 
  2. Make good choices.
  3. Create your positive new direction.

Realisation can be a result of simply having time to think about our life point, an impactful self-development experience, or one of those life jolting episodes.  Things like:

  • Career or work dissatisfaction.
  • Unhappiness in marriage or relationships.
  • Health difficulties.
  • A friend, close relative, or parent dies.
  • ‘O’ birthdays.
  • Becoming a grandparent. 
  • A sense of time running out. 
  • A feeling of being trapped or tempted. 

Whatever, we need to recognise when realisation is happening.  It is common for this process to take quite some time, and to be spread across a series of small incremental steps.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking they hit you at 100 miles an hour.  They rarely do.  They gradually creep up, until that tipping point when a jigsaw puzzle picture has been formed. 

At this point, we need to make good choices.  And some of us cannot and must not be trusted to do this on our own.  Because our stress response could be triggered and we may freeze (get stuck in our lives), fight (create conflict and tension and prompt all sorts of drama) or flight (run away, leave, or avoid).  You need to talk about it.  To someone or some people who will be helpful.  There are real risks – that we will choose to take up unhealthy habits, have an affair or two, leave the family, or seek out new thrills and spills. 

A new positive direction needs to be based upon a number of sensible conditions.  Yes, we can be sensible whilst seeking out new adventures.  Trust me.  First, acknowledge these feelings are natural and normal.  You aren’t the first to feel this way.  And second, feelings are not instructions.  By that I mean, just because you feel trapped it doesn’t mean you should escape and run for the hills.  Just because you feel time is running out, it doesn’t mean it is, and you should panic.  Or just because you feel your relationship isn’t what you want, it doesn’t mean you should leave it.

Creating a new positive direction needs to be based on also identifying the things to be grateful for.  Balance out the problems and feelings that are poking at your conscience.  What are the good things that are also in your life?  And keep talking about all of it.  To friends and family, or to a professional counsellor.  Goals need to be growth based and not deficit models.  They need to be realistic too.  These new choices need to be respectful and thankful to you and all those around you:

  • Build, don’t raze your life to the ground.
  • Extend your life, don’t abandon it. 
  • Remember that change is good. 
  • Calm down.  There really is no need to be so dramatic.

There’s no need for a crisis.  Reboot yourself instead. 

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The only people who think exams are the best method of assessment are those for whom it has benefitted.

It seems every year we have the same debate about academic assessment. And as the years pass by, the pendulum of fashion and trends swings one way or the other. People start to favour more inclusive assessment techniques, such as coursework and practicals, and then as that gains momentum, it swings the other way. That other way being towards rigid and draconian exam formats. 

Over the past year, we have witnessed the discourse around how we assess pupils’ achievements when sitting exams wasn’t deemed COVID-19 safe. The centralised algorithm didn’t go that well did it?  Then we talked about teacher assessment. That was criticised as teachers couldn’t be trusted. Well was a slap in the face wasn’t it? I get that it’s a conflict to mark one’s own work, but really?  Why can we not all settle on a sensible middle way, that combines different assessment techniques recognising and valuing everyone’s preferred learning methods and working styles?  That is true inclusivity and diversity. It is one way to achieve social mobility. 

After all, passing an exam is merely a technique.  It favours one style of learning, memory recall and the ability to write. Fans of the approach are those that can do it. Therefore, by that definition, it is exclusive. And let’s face it, those skills do not reflect the modern day workplace. When I am assessing a job candidate I don’t sit them in a silent, high pressure room, having hot housed them for five years prior, then expect them to naturally demonstrate their suitability.  Interviews are a combination of evidence, writing, talking, working things out, practical tests, and communicating in different ways with different people. I look for their abilities to connect, communicate, collaborate, problem solve, listen, support others around them, change, grow, and learn. Amongst many other things, all beyond what is on paper. 

I remember supporting a client years ago.  They were in trouble. And it was costing thousands. Their new recruit drop out rate was huge after only three months. This had been going on for years. There was clearly a recruitment problem.  I was asked to help with a new approach. I found, their problem boiled down to recruitment and selection being skewed towards selfish, autonomous, competitive behaviours at the expense of team work and support. The recruitment team, had succeeded in that environment and they were out to find more of the same. We introduced a range of varied tests, designed to highlight competences and qualities. One day stood out for me. I saw them reject a strong candidate because he hadn’t finished his written test. Why?  Because he’d been supporting others in his group to do so. I fought for his job.  He got it.  Drop out rates plummeted, and he rose to become a star recruit and quickly became a supervisor and team leader. 

Still think exams are the best way? I don’t.

Exams don’t connect with everyone.

I love lists – so can you.

I cannot imagine ever living or working without a list, or if I am honest, lists.  I might maintain a few at any one time.  They help me enormously.  I use them to provide structure to my day, week, month, year, and even longer.  They help me live my life and organise my home, and they are central in the delivery of projects and business management.  I recommended them.  They aren’t without their pitfalls.  There are mistakes to be made.  Here, I’d like to share my tricks and tips so you too can use them to greatest effect.

Lists provide a framework for thinking and planning, they help me organise my thoughts and ideas.  Then they turn all of that effort into actual things to do, in an orderly fashion.  Lists also serve as a reminder of things to do – which is an unremarkable statement.  But lives are busy and memories are short (and getting shorter). It is easy to be distracted and diverted by other things and then lose the plot of the day.  And that is a key point.  You need to be in charge of your day, not anyone or anything else.  Your list is your strategy, your aim and purpose, and your action plan.  Crises happen, people need you, fires need putting out.  Don’t be afraid to adapt your list.  But use and protect it.  You and your list are a team!

A list is your best friend.  It can highlight your achievements (and those of others) and signpost causes for celebration.  This is essential in these fast-paced lives we live, when pausing to reflect and value what we have done can be overlooked. I find it immensely gratifying to review a list and see how much has been crossed off during, and at the end of, the day.  I admit to adding things that weren’t on the list, and instantly crossing them off.  So satisfying.  I enjoy that moment when tomorrow’s list starts.  I am not afraid to admit it. 

Lists also record what has been done or said – that is very useful for jogging the memory and providing a record of the past, whether that be yesterday or last month.  It helps with my wellbeing, especially when my recollections let me down, to be able to review what happened and when.  To confirm I did actually do something.  It stops me doing things twice.  Which has occurred once in a while.   

And like any good friend, a list holds me to account if things haven’t been done on my list.  They can reveal all sorts of secrets and behaviour traits.  What’s been left, avoided or ignored.  Why might that be?  What am I afraid of?  That is the pleasure and the pain of reviewing and reflecting on a list.  And something to share with one’s therapist.

What are my other top tips?

  1. I like a proper hardback notebook and a pen.  That’s what works for me.  I carry it around with me.  It is always at arm’s length.  I literally (pun intended) have hundreds of them in my archive spanning two decades. 
  2. Notebooks have the advantage of keeping things together.  I used to write things down on pieces of paper.  They would get everywhere and I would always be searching for the right scrap.  It didn’t work. 
  3. I list in chronological order.  I have a daily list, on a page in the book.  I find that easy to navigate if alongside a diary.  I can usually find anything I need, no more searching in vain for that elusive piece of paper. 
  4. A big list is also a good idea.  These are the more strategic, longer term, weekly or monthly things that need to be done.  They should not appear on a daily list, until the time is right, because they simply will not get done and that not only wastes time putting them on the list, it promotes a sense of failure and disappointment.
  5. A golden rule is if something appears on a daily list three times without being done, then it either is unnecessary or needs to be done right away, or delegated.  Then it is gone – one way or the other.
  6. Finally, a good list is one that is achievable.  One that is completed in the allotted time.  If you are constantly finding unachieved items on your list, you’re being too ambitious.  Have a shorter list, save some things for tomorrow.  Ignore that old adage about putting things off that could be done today. I am all for getting things done, but there are limits.   
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Take time to process and support yourself and others

And so, it is March again.  The earth has completed a full circuit around the sun. Memories of the start of the pandemic have returned with vivid resonance.  And what a year it has been.  A year like no other. 

It feels like a huge body of work has been completed.  Alongside all our massively diverse personal journeys.  A smaller world has been inhabited.  New societal, familial and professional routines established.  And all our attitudes and expectations rebooted. We all imagine what life and work might be like in the future. 

Today, like many days before it, has been yet another ‘working from home’ day.  All the necessary work tasks have been covered; I’ve written, sold, negotiated, and supported.  I also found time to cook, garden and tidy-up.  There’s even been some dabbling with a little artwork.  All whilst also having the latest box-set on in the background, and keeping up with the news. 

Don’t make the mistake of admiring my varied day.  This isn’t multi-tasking to be celebrated or held in awe.  It’s a lockdown condition.  One of filling the day with all sorts of activity to build a personal sense of accomplishment, achievement, distraction and anxiety-energy-spending purpose.  All with the hope of feeling tired enough at the end of the day to sleep well enough to make it through the night.  I admit however, that it was a balanced day today, one containing breaks and short bursts of work- and home-based activities.  That is encouraging.

It’s a familiar story.  Friends and colleagues tell me of the compulsion to work, filling days to the brim with productive activity, as the online laptop world extends to fill the gaps that the lack of commuting or travelling time has opened-up.  So many of us are working through the week, a week of longer days and an annual leave sheet building up of unspent days.  Book annual leave?  To do what, where and how we ask.  We can convince ourselves that our productivity has skyrocketed.  But at what cost?  It certainly and clearly has encroached upon our right to spend days doing nothing at all. 

There is a serious business to all this.  And a moral purpose.  I’m working hard to drive and steer two businesses through the change necessary to sustain them for now and through the next months and years.  The difficult, necessary and forward-thinking decisions have been made and acted upon.  The businesses are different to how they were 12 months ago.  I have observed how the pandemic has fast-forwarded developments in many businesses.  These processes require leaders to absorb much of the conscious and unconscious pressure and anxiety of staff teams – including those staying, changing their roles, and those choosing to leave or being asked to explore new pastures.  Leaders need to consider how this energy, that emotion and these feelings reverberate within themselves and in the business and staff teams moving forward.  The echoes of this incredible experience will be felt for longer than most might imagine.  Staff teams and leaders must invest in and apply as much effort in processing and understanding as they have done working to save their jobs and businesses.  That calls for lots of open communication, and access to talking and other therapies, and coaching and mentoring. 

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