Getting cosy

img_0606I’ve recently come across the Danish concept of hygge. In English it roughly translates as ‘getting cosy’ or more accurately the art of being convivial and relaxed. The Danes claim to have invented hygge (pronounced hoo-gah or maybe hue-gah) and it’s currently a very trendy thing.  There are nine new books available on the topic in the bookstores for Christmas.

Many of the books on how to do hyyge involve scented candles, open fires, chocolate, red wine and cake (all of which sound great to me) but on a more serious level, getting cosy is more about being kind and comforting to oneself. So whilst hygge is the trendy new thing and will result in many candles being purchased this Christmas, I must admit that I’m more than attracted to the idea of self care.

Self care is about being nice to yourself. Why wouldn’t you? It seems strange that we need to be reminded, but perhaps we do.

One of the nine books has been written by Charlotte Abrahams (definitely not a Dane) who writes…

“Hygge is about taking pleasure in the small things in life: having a cup of coffee; walking in the sunshine or spending time with loved ones. Hygge is about enjoying the moment and feeling content in that moment.”

It sounds very much like a rebranding of mindfulness, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Abrahams writes that hygge appeals to her because it’s not about denial, it’s about being generous with yourself as well as others. Of course being generous doesn’t mean overdoing the wine, the chocolate, or the cake, but it does mean treating yourself to a walk before work, or spending time with family and friends and generally easing up on yourself.

Hygge makes people nicer and happier. It’s about paying attention to what makes us feel open and alive and I can’t see how this could be a bad thing.

Here’s some more ideas on how to be more Danish.

It’s not about the money

After a long and difficult year I seem to have entered a deeply philosophical phase where I spend a great deal of time contemplating the circles of life, and of course, death.

I’ve just reached the place where I could find the strength to read ‘When breath becomes air”  – the story of Paul Kalanithi, a brilliant neurosurgeon whose life and career are ended prematurely by lung cancer in a cruel and wicked turn of fate.

It’s a disturbing read not only because it’s sad, but also because it makes you question why you are here, whether you’ve lived a good and meaningful life, and what you should do next, if you are lucky enough to be able to contemplate ‘next’.

In my case I’ve arrived at another turning point in my career, although in reality, that sounds too grand. It’s more like arriving at a bus station really. Just another decision point in a career that has changed direction many times but has ultimately been interesting and rewarding. I’ve been lucky to work with some very inspiring people over the years and I think I’ve made some useful contributions to various projects.

Now it’s time to contemplate a new direction. One which challenges and interests me, but doesn’t consume all of my energy and attention and doesn’t keep me awake at night worrying about what I should be doing to ensure that everyone in my team is feeling valued and engaged.

Ultimately the next step isn’t up to me, it’s up to the decision makers. People with the power to pick and choose who they want and what skills and experience they value. All I know is that for me, career choices are not about the money. They’re about what kind of contribution you can make and what you bring to the role. I like to think that I can spend the next few years doing something useful, but if I don’t get chosen for this particular role, then I’ll just create my own future.

Life is, after all, about choices. We can choose who we want to be, where we want to live, and what we want to spend time on.

when breath becomes air

Writing well

I’m currently managing a real live communications team. It’s been a great experience to work with people who care about communicating and in particular, care about writing.

For many people, writing well is not important. Most people don’t view the ability to write well as critical to their career path. They regard writing as something that everyone can do. If you can speak, you can write – right? I don’t think this is true. Good writing is required in every profession.

I come across some very poor writing every day and sometimes my own writing is less than perfect, especially if I’m tired or stressed or in a hurry. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the right words and put them in the right order. I would never claim that writing is easy, but I am grateful that for me, writing isn’t scary. I know this isn’t true for other people. For them the blank page can be terrifying and being asked to write a report can be overwhelming.

One piece of advice that I always give people is that you should write with the expectation that you will need to revise. Don’t ever expect that your first draft will be perfect. Good writers are good editors. They change, polish and review their work. They know that getting the words down on the page is the hard part, editing and revising is easy once you’ve made a start.

Another tip is to stop thinking that your ideas have to be fully formed before you put them down on paper. Writing is a process of thinking and learning and you don’t need to know exactly what you are trying to say when you write your first draft. You can be ruthless later. And make sure you are, because no-one wants to read your waffle.

The saddest part about managing a team of good writers is that their skills aren’t necessarily recognised by other people in the business. We are frequently asked to publish material that is poorly written or confusing. It’s very frustrating to go back to clients with an offer to improve what they’ve written and be told that they don’t want it changed. They think that we merely want things to be shorter, when we really want them to be clearer.

Good writing isn’t necessarily simple (or simplistic). Good writing is concise, lucid, nuanced and compelling.

 

A fresh start

There have been a lot of changes at my workplace recently. We’re having a re-structure and this means that people are being moved into new reporting lines. This can have a profound impact on their sense of wellbeing.

It’s funny how reporting to a new boss can make people feel insecure even though their livelihood isn’t necessarily at risk. They still come to work every day, they still get paid, and they might even be doing the same work, but nevertheless they feel threatened. It’s that loss of the familiar that rocks people even though they might have been complaining bitterly about their situation. The old boss understand their quirks and foibles. They don’t have to explain their complicated family arrangements or the fact that they are more productive in the morning than in the afternoon. Communication styles are established across the team and everyone knows that certain people like to receive their instructions by email, rather than in person. They know that some people are best avoided until they’ve consumed at least one cup of coffee.

It’s true that people don’t like change. I don’t like change even though I pretend that I do. Change requires more concentration and makes me feel less secure about what I’m doing. I have to think more, and that’s tiring.

The upside is that I have the chance to start over and re-invent myself. If I’ve been in a bit of a slump it’s a chance to pull up my socks and show the world what I’m capable of. It’s a fresh start for me and for everyone in my team. We all get the chance to do things a little bit differently and a little bit better, and that’s a good thing.

What is lorem ipsum?

Lorem IpsumLorem ipsum is dummy text that is used in the publishing and graphic design industry to show where the text is going to be placed in a document, advertisement, or web page. It’s used to give people a feel for the layout of a page when the actual words (also called body copy) have yet to be written.

Lorem ipsum has been used since the invention of publishing in about 1500 and as you can imagine it both looks and sounds like genuine Latin. Contrary to popular opinion, lorem ipsum is not actually meaningless babble, but is a mixture of Latin words taken from a passage by Cicero (according to Richard Mc Clintock, a Latin professor from the University of Virginia).

Where do you get it?

The best place to get dummy text is from a dummy text generator. My favourite is Blind Text Generator. Not only does it generate lorem ipsum, it can also generate dummy text in a few other varieties such as far far away, which kind of sounds a bit like a passage from the Hobbit.

Here’s an example of far far away:

Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean.

It’s nonsense, but it’s funny.

Why is it useful?

A blind text generator is useful because you can specify the number of words or characters you need, as well as the number of paragraphs. You may not know exactly what it is you are going to say, but it can help you work out how many words you actually need. If you are constrained by space (and you often are), you can pop a few of these sentences and paragraphs into your layout and it will give you a pretty good idea of what you have room for and what will look good. By looking good, I mean you will end up with text that is big enough for your audience to read and doesn’t look squashed or uncomfortable. If someone else is writing the copy, you can let them know that you only need three or four sentences, for example.

Do you always have to go online to generate dummy text?

Some software programs have built-in text generators. In PowerPoint for example, you can generate text by typing =lorem(p,s) into a text box and pressing enter. The ‘p’ stands for the number of paragraphs and the ‘s’ is for the number of sentences you want. Here are some detailed instructions.

Try it, it’s fun.

Design principles in practice

Thomas BrownIt’s rare that you see such a perfect example of clarity, simplicity and design principles all coming together to such good effect. I stumbled on this website belonging to photographer Thomas Brown and was blown away by its perfect balance, restrained colour palette, and judicious use of white space.

As well as being simple and beautiful, it sends a very powerful message about his approach and the kind of work that he’s interested in doing.