Emailing Do’s and Don’t’s

Emails were designed to be quick, simple and clear. Are yours?

It might be time to ask yourself if your emails are sending the wrong message.

Have you ever sent an email in the heat of the moment? Or received an email so long that you stopped reading it halfway through? Avoid unwittingly annoying your colleagues or clients by following these rules of email etiquette.


Do:

1. Pay attention to the subject line. Avoid general words like ‘Hi’, ‘FYI’ or ‘Touching Base’, and instead write a clear concise subject line that reflects the body of the email, such as ‘Meeting date changed’.

2. Limit your emails to a few short paragraphs. “If you routinely send long, wordy emails, it’s likely that some of your recipients will start tuning out,” says workplace adviser and consultant Alison Green, author of the blog Ask a Manager. “If you need to communicate a large amount of information, email probably isn’t the way to do it.”

3. Make it clear what you’d like the recipient to do. Most of us receive an enormous number of emails, so help the recipient know exactly what you want them to do, says Green. Do you need information or input? Do you want them to take a particular action? Or are you just updating them, so you don’t require any action?

Don’t:

1. Hit “Reply all”. Unless the whole group needs to read your response – such as an ongoing group discussion – avoid using ‘Reply All’ advises Green. “More than 20 years after email came into popular use, offices are still battling epic reply-all failures that flood people’s mailboxes,” she says.

2. Use lots of CAPS and exclamation marks!! Using capital letters can be intimidating to the recipient, as it sounds like you’re yelling, while lots of exclamation marks at the end of sentences can come across as overly emotional or immature.

3. Get angry or snarky in an email. Email isn’t well suited to conflict, as it’s easy for your tone to come across much more harshly than it would in person, says Green. If you sense yourself becoming frustrated, it’s best that you back away from your email and have a real conservation.

Why You Should Start Your Day with a Coffee

Do you ever wonder if your morning caffeine habit could be harming your health? Maybe it’s time to discover the truth about the popular drink.

Many of us love coffee. Its caffeine is a stimulant that helps us feel less tired and more alert, even improving mood, reaction times and general brain function.

For a long time, coffee has been the victim of mixed messages. “One day coffee is reported as being good for us, and the next day, it is harmful,” says nutrition research scientist Dr Tim Crowe on his blog Thinking Nutrition.

But in the last few years a number of large studies have reassured us that moderate coffee drinking is not only safe, but might actually be beneficial.


Coffee lowers disease risk

In 2016, a large scientific review looked at over 1200 studies on coffee and disease, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, neurological disorders and longevity. For most of the health outcomes, the benefits of three to four cups of coffee a day (moderate consumption) outweighed the risks.

For anyone at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, one of the world’s fastest growing chronic conditions, the news about coffee is good. “Regular coffee drinkers have up to a two-thirds reduced risk of developing this condition,” says Dr Crowe.

Are you concerned about coffee’s supposed links with cancer? In a June 2016 report, the World Health Organisation officially lifted coffee from the list of potentially carcinogenic foods, while the World Cancer Research Fund International concluded that coffee consumption was linked with a lower risk of several types of cancer, including liver and endometrial.

 

Coffee drinkers live longer

A 2018 study that tracked half a million UK residents, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found those who drank coffee had a lower risk of dying of any cause. Because this is a correlational study, we can’t say for certain that coffee was the cause of the lower risk of death, but other large studies have similar findings.

 

What’s the good stuff in coffee?

While some of its health effects are related to caffeine, coffee is more than simply a stimulant. Both decaf and regular coffee contain a host of antioxidants including plant compounds called phytochemicals, many of which are likely to have health benefits. In fact, one estimate has found that the typical United States diet provides more antioxidants from coffee than from fruit and vegetables combined. Coffee also contains several nutrients including riboflavin, niacin, magnesium and potassium.

These aren’t all reasons to start drinking coffee if you don’t already, but they do suggest that you can safely enjoy, and benefit from, three to four cups a day.

 

When to be cautious with coffee

  • If you’re pregnant: It is recommended by health organisations in most countries that you have no more than 200mg caffeine (a maximum of two cups of coffee) a day because of a potential higher risk of miscarriage in women who consume too much caffeine.
  • If you have high blood pressure: don’t overdo your coffee habit as caffeine can temporarily increase blood pressure, although the long-term effects are not known.
  • If you have trouble sleeping: limit coffee drinking to before lunch. The half-life of caffeine – the time it takes your body to eliminate 50 per cent of what’s consumed – can vary between people and may last anywhere from two to 10 hours. This means it can still affect you long after you’ve finished your last cup.


Gratitude Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Gratitude. It’s the secret to health and happiness, and it’s free and available any time. So why can it be so hard to do? Why aren’t we more grateful? And what can we do about it?


Research tells us that practising gratitude boosts our physical, mental and emotional health.

According to Robert Emmons, founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology, feeling grateful can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and help you sleep better. It also reduces your risk of depression and anxiety and boosts resilience.

Yet, when we try to practise gratitude in real life, it often sparks a strange rebellion, like a child told to be grateful for vegetables at dinner.

There are two reasons for this:

1. It can feel invalidating

If we try to be grateful without acknowledging the challenges we’re facing or any difficult emotions we’re feeling, it can make us feel resentful.

2. We’re wired to look for danger

As humans, we’ve evolved because of our finely attuned ability to identify and overcome threats. Our survival depended on us focusing on things that were wrong, not on those that were right.

So how do we overcome these instinctive blocks to gratitude?

 

Here are three proven ways to boost your gratitude:

1. Let yourself feel the bad and the good.

Allow yourself to acknowledge other feelings – of sadness, fear or anger, for example – even while you practise feeling grateful. You can still look for things to be grateful for while admitting that life is hard right now.

2. Make gratitude a habit. Robert Emmons, the gratitude expert mentioned above, recommends setting aside time each week to write in a gratitude journal. He also shares the tip that focusing on people has more impact than focusing on things.

3. Go deep rather than wide. Emmons says focusing in depth on one thing that you’re truly grateful for can have more benefit than trying to think of a long list of superficial things.


So grab a piece of paper, or open the notes app on your phone, and find one thing to be grateful for right now!

There are also dedicated gratitude apps that you can use. Try searching for them in the App or Play stores.

Hit Pause in your Day

Our bodies are designed to move, yet our work often means staying in a position for long periods of time. To avoid injury or fatigued muscles we’re told to take a break for at least five minutes every 45 to 60 minutes. But is there any value in taking shorter, 30 to 60-second breaks? It turns out there is.

 

We all know the benefits of the lunch break. A 30-minute pause in your working day gives your body and brain the chance to recharge. But often we need a little more than a single break in the day. Enter the microbreak – any brief activity that breaks up the monotony of a physically or mentally draining task. Although tiny, microbreaks can make a big difference to your day.

Lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, a microbreak is a brief, informal break from your computer screen or workstation. You might find you naturally take microbreaks to chat to a colleague or make a coffee. If you work from home, microbreaks like these might not be such a regular part of your day.


Why microbreaks matter

Research has shown taking microbreaks can increase comfort and reduce muscle fatigue and risk of injuries, particularly when stretches are included in the break. They can help us cope with long periods at our desks by taking the strain off certain parts of our bodies – such as the neck – that we’re using all day.

When your muscles are fatigued, they don’t do their job as well, so they need to rest occasionally to recover. Muscles recover very quickly from low levels of fatigue, but they take much longer to recover from high levels of fatigue, when they are tired and sore.

Micropauses of 30 to 60 seconds, every 10 to 20 minutes, will relax your muscles and restore blood flow. These small changes to your working activity allow you to change posture, position and eye focus. Studies show taking microbreaks may also improve concentration, productivity, stress and mood.

Combining microbreaks with viewing green space may be even better. Studies found that participants who were given a break looking at a photo of lush green roof, as compared to a concrete one, made fewer errors and were able to concentrate better. So if you can take time to look at nature through the window, on a walk outside, or even on a screen saver, your performance and attention is likely to benefit.


How to take a microbreak

Give yourself a rest from a repetitive task or position by taking a microbreak of up to 60 seconds every 20 minutes.

Try the following:

  • Eye break. Use the time to look away from your computer to help ease eye strain, symptoms of which include dry, irritated eyes, blurred vision, neck and back pain and headaches. Use the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away (six metres) for at least 20 seconds.
  • Deep breathing. Focus on your breath for a few seconds to give your mind a break. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds and out for four to five seconds. Repeat three times.
  • Shoulder shrug. Inhale deeply and gently lift your shoulders up to your ears. Hold for a few seconds, then let them slowly fall. Repeat three times.
  • Chin tuck. Sit up straight with your shoulders back. Now imagine drawing your chin back towards your spine. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
  • Back twists. Sit on the front of your seat, both feet on the floor, with a gap between your back and the back of your chair. Cross your arms lightly in front of your chest and slowly twist your upper body from side to side as far as is comfortable. Repeat a few times each way.
  • Neck stretch. Start with your head squarely over your shoulders and your back straight. Lower your chin toward your chest and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Relax and slowly lift your head back up. Then tilt your chin up to the ceiling, bringing the base of your skull toward your back. Hold for 10 seconds and return to the start position.


  • Side tilt. You can do this standing or sitting. Gently tilt your head toward your right shoulder until you feel the stretch (don’t raise your shoulder). Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds, then return to the start position and repeat on the other side.
  • Leg extensions. While you’re sitting, pull in your tummy then slowly extend each leg in turn and lower back down.
  • Tennis ball roll. Give your feet a gentle massage. With your shoes off, roll the arch of your feet over a tennis ball back and forth for about 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Take a stand. Set a timer to remind you to stand up for at least every 30 minutes. While you’re standing, place your hands on your waist and gently arch your back, going no further than is comfortable.


Need a bit of fun in your downtime?

There could be some benefits from watching those funny cat videos you love. While it’s best to take a break from the screen to move, one study found that humour can have an energising effect when you’re trying to do a complex task.

A study done on 124 students found that when they were given a boring task and then exposed to funny videos (an episode of “Mr Bean”) the students worked twice as long as those who watched videos on neutral subjects.

Can You Learn to Become an Optimist?

Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.” Martin Seligman

 

“Sure!” answers the optimist in you.

“Unlikely”, answers the pessimist.

Sorry to disappoint your inner pessimist, but you can rewire your brain to be optimistic, and the benefits are immense.


The pioneer of positive psychology and author of Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman, says “Pessimism is one of the personality traits that’s highly heritable, but also modifiable by specific exercises.”

In fact, research on twins found that optimism is only around 25 per cent inherited – the rest is up to us.

Surprisingly, the big difference between pessimists and optimists is not what they think might happen in the future. Instead, the difference is what they see as the cause of the problem.

Seligman explains:

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case.”

In another win for optimists, it turns out that you can learn to be optimistic.

“Pessimism is escapable,” says Seligman. “Pessimists can in fact learn to be optimists, and not through mindless devices like whistling a happy tune or mouthing platitudes… but by learning a new set of cognitive skills.”

Learning new cognitive skills might sound difficult, but it’s actually quite fun and not too hard. Here are two exercises you can try right now:


1.Imagine your ideal future

We spend too much time worrying about worst-case scenarios. Take a moment to playfully imagine your future success. See yourself, say ten years in the future, happy, thriving and loving life. Who is with you? What does it feel like? What dreams have come true, and in what way?

This is called the best possible selves (BPS) activity, and more than 30 studies have shown it can increase optimism, positive emotions, health and wellbeing.


The trick is to do this exercise many times over, such as once a week for eight weeks.

 

2.Argue with yourself

When you notice you’re having negative thoughts, argue with them. Seligman says, “First recognise them and then treat them as if they were uttered by an external person, a rival whose mission in life was to make you miserable.”

You’ll find that you start standing up for yourself against your own thoughts, in the same way that you’d defend a friend being unfairly accused of wrongdoing.

 

When positivity becomes negative

If you haven’t heard of the term “toxic positivity”, chances are you’ve seen it in action. It’s that friend who insists on everyone being positive all the time.

Toxic positivity demands that we deny negative feelings and pretend everything is OK, even when it’s not. It’s become more prevalent than ever this last year, as people tried to cope with the challenges that the pandemic has brought.

A tell-tale phrase is “at least.” “At least you’ve still got a roof over your head.” “At least you can work while the kids are home.”

But ignoring negative feelings is like ignoring a physical health symptom: it will fester. It’s vital that we acknowledge and address difficult emotions – in others and in ourselves.

Next time you hear a friend say “gotta stay positive!”, use it as a reminder to embrace your genuine emotions.

How to Disagree with Colleagues

Disagreements are inevitable, normal, and a sign of a healthy, successful team. Yet many of us want to escape conflict as much as possible, and will try to avoid openly disagreeing with a work colleague, even though we may feel very strongly about our viewpoint.


You may not see eye to eye with a workmate but find it difficult to speak up. Or perhaps in meetings you want to disagree but are concerned about causing offence. Most of us don’t want to disagree as it makes us feel uncomfortable. And many of us don’t really know how to do it, often fearing being seen as angry, rude or unkind.

It’s easier to agree than to confront someone. But learning to openly and respectfully disagree with a workmate can improve your working relationships and give you greater job satisfaction.

 

Getting comfortable with conflict

1. Focus on respect. It’s normal to want people to like us, but it’s not always the most important thing. Instead aim for respect – giving it and receiving it. You can give respect by acknowledging that you understand or see why your co-worker feels the way they do, even when you strongly disagree with them. That way the other person is more likely to feel listened to and understood.

2. Don’t equate disagreement with unkindness. While there are some people who genuinely don’t want to be disagreed with, most people are open to hearing a different perspective if shared thoughtfully, and it’s unlikely you will be hurting anyone’s feelings.

3. Pick your battles. If you disagree with too much, your co-workers are likely to see you as argumentative and disagreeable. It then makes it harder for you to get heard with any reasonable disagreement you have.

4. Aim for calm. If you’re angry, emotional or upset, it’s going to affect your professionalism. Get yourself ready for a disagreement with a couple of calming breaths.

5. Avoid personal attacks. Your disagreement must be based on facts, experience, or your intuition, not on the personality of the other person. Once you start using the word ‘you’ as in “You just don’t understand…” you’re moving into a more personal attack.

6. Speak for yourself. Though it might be tempting, avoid phrases such as “Everyone believes this,” or “We all feel this way.” You can only put forward your point of view. 


Communicate in-person


Try not to disagree via email, advises career coach Jill Ozovek, writing in The Muse. Talk in person, over the phone or video chat. Why?

“First and foremost, you can both read body language and hear intonations in each other’s voices this way, leading to fewer misunderstandings (how many times has something come across as snarky in an email, when you only meant it as explanatory?),” she says.

“Secondly, talking in person also helps you both remember that you’re talking to a person – presumably a person you like – not just a computer screen. This will make it easier to be sympathetic and make it more likely that you’ll do your best to work together to find a solution, rather than fight against each other.”

Be Safe Around Chemicals

Many workplaces need to use dangerous chemicals, which have the potential to harm your health. Wherever you work, don’t be complacent around hazardous substances.

Chemicals are all around us, but they are not all dangerous. The food we eat, the plants we grow, the air we breathe, and the homes we live in are all made of various chemicals.

Hazardous chemicals are those that can have harmful effects on people. The health effects depend on the type of chemical and the level of exposure, and also how you were exposed to it. Chemicals can be inhaled, splashed onto the skin or eyes, or swallowed, and can cause poisoning; nausea and vomiting; headache; skin rashes; chemical burns; lung, kidney or liver problems; nervous system disorders; and birth defects.

Hazardous chemicals can be in the form of a liquid, powder, solid or gas. Common hazardous chemicals include disinfectants, glues, acids, paints, pesticides, solvents, heavy metals (such as lead), and petroleum products.


Reducing your exposure

  • First, make sure you know what chemicals are hazardous in your workplace. Any product in your workplace that has the potential to cause harm is required by law to have a warning label and Safety Data Sheet provided.
  • Where possible, perform the task without using any hazardous chemicals, or substitute the substance with a less hazardous alternative. You could use a detergent in place of a chlorinated solvent for cleaning, for example.
  • Make sure you wear any personal protection equipment supplied, such as respirators, gloves and goggles.
  • Ensure you attend training in the safe handling of any hazardous chemicals in your workplace.

Exposure to hazardous chemicals

If you suspect you’ve been exposed to a hazardous substance:

  • If it’s an emergency, dial emergency services for an ambulance.
  • Otherwise, see your doctor immediately for treatment, information and referral.
  • Notify your employer.
  • Try not to handle the substance again.

First Aid for Christmas Loneliness

It’s not unusual to feel lonely, and there’s no time like the holiday festive season to highlight these feelings. But if you’re dreading Christmas, there are steps you can take to ease your loneliness.


There have been a number of studies across the world about loneliness. According to many of these studies, in countries and areas like the US, Japan, the EU and Australia, the number of those feeling lonely and isolated ranges from 22 per cent to 54 per cent. And the loss of social connection during this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has been reported as the most common personal stressor in a recent survey. But loneliness doesn’t strike us equally. You’re more likely to feel lonely if you’re in your early 20s, over 65, a single parent, or unemployed.

How lonely you feel may also depend on how you feel your social life should look. “In a lot of younger university age groups, loneliness is very socially constructed, and people feel lonelier on Saturday nights than on other nights of the week,” Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, told abc.net.au.

Then there’s Christmas. If anything is going to trigger feelings of loneliness, it’s the season that comes with expectations of happy families enjoying gifts and celebrations. Maybe you don’t want to spend time with your family, for a whole range of reasons. Or perhaps your family live far away, you’ve had a recent relationship break-up, lost a loved one, or you’re experiencing a mental illness that makes the holiday season particularly isolating.

If you’re facing Christmas with a sense of loneliness or dread, there are steps you can take to help alleviate those feelings.

 

Plan ahead

If you’re going to spend Christmas alone, allow plenty of time for the things you enjoy. When you’re taking good care of yourself, you’re more likely to be positive and those feelings of loneliness may have less power to get you down. What makes you feel good? It could be spending time in nature, cooking something special or pampering yourself.


Give back

Volunteering is a great way to support people who are going through a difficult time. It can also be a good thing to do if you don’t want to be on your own. Despite restrictions on gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may still be opportunities to serve a meal at a community centre, take gifts to a children’s hospital, or attend a religious service.



Get support

If you’re feeling alone or lonely, reach out and talk to someone. This can be as simple as sending a text, a message on social media, inviting someone over for a drink or cuppa, or making a phone call. You can also go online and connect with an online community for support. Depending on where you are, a quick Google search on “support for loneliness” may bring up some more locally relevant results.

Should You Put On A Happy Face?

Sometimes it’s a struggle to keep smiling at work. You may have had a particularly bad morning at home, or dreading a tough meeting ahead. How you deal those feelings at work can make all the difference to how well your day goes.

There’s a kind of unwritten rule that we shouldn’t express anger or frustration once we are at work. Of course, we should treat those around us with respect, but should we be faking optimism and positivity when underneath we’re feeling nothing of the sort?

A team of researchers set out to answer this question by surveying over 2,500 employees from a variety of industries. Their findings, published this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology, focused particularly on interactions with co-workers, and suggested that positivity has some real benefits. But they also showed that some attempts at appearing positive can backfire.

 

Surface acting versus deep acting

When we are faced with an unpleasant emotion we can choose to react in a number of ways, with two of the most common called ‘surface acting’ and ‘deep acting’.

‘Surface acting is faking what you’re displaying to other people. Inside you may be upset, but on the outside, you’re trying your best to be pleasant or positive,” said lead researcher Allison Gabriel. It’s really a kind of impression management, she explained, such as faking a smile to a co-worker after a bad morning, for instance, even though you’re not feeling particularly positive inside.

If you’re more of a surface actor, it can be emotionally drained to not be authentic, suggests Gabriel. “I think the ‘fake it until you make it’ idea suggests a survival tactic at work,’ she says.

But if faking a smile is bad, and you can’t let your true angst show, what can you do?


The alternative is what’s called ‘deep acting’ which is the process of closing that gap between how you feel and how you behave by altering your emotional state.

“When you’re deep acting, you’re actually trying to align how you feel with how you interact with other people,” explained Gabriel. The study found the benefits of ‘deep acting’ included reduced stress, higher levels of trust and more support from co-workers, and lower levels of fatigue.

 

How do you become a successful deep actor?

1. The first step is just paying attention.

Be aware when you’re surface acting, take a step back, and try to genuinely feel the positive emotions you want to express with others, advises Gabriel.

2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

You may think your workmate’s jokes are lame, but appreciate that maybe he’s trying to bring some cheer to a Monday morning.

3. Be genuine. We can all pick up social cues and know when someone isn’t being sincere. If you ask about a workmate’s weekend, for instance, then listen to what they say and don’t tune out their answer.


“Plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run,” says Gabriel, “but in the long term it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work.”

How To Make New Habits Stick

It’s nearly the end of the year, and given the year we’ve had, many of us may be thinking about new healthy habits that we want to cultivate in 2021.

Maybe 2021 will be the year when you stress less, show more gratitude, save more money, cook healthy foods, exercise daily, or spend more time with friends and family.

While we start off very enthusiastically, it’s easy for new resolutions to fall by the wayside. Positive behaviour change isn’t easy, nor is it quick. British researchers found that it took an average of 66 days for a new task to become automatic.

We tend to blame ourselves and our lack of willpower when a new healthy habit fails to stick. This is an easy mistake to make, says B J Fogg, director of Stanford’s Behaviour Design Lab, in his book Tiny Habits. “When it comes to changing our behaviours, the problem is that motivation and willpower are shape-shifters by nature, which makes them unreliable,” he says.

“For example, your motivation for self-improvement vanishes when you’re tired, and your willpower decreases from morning to evening.”

Instead of relying on willpower and motivation, here are a few tips to help cement any new habit into your daily routine.

1. Don’t be overly ambitious. Prioritise your goals and focus on one behaviour. Willpower is a finite resource and if you spread it too thin you risk not achieving any of your new healthy goals.

2. Tie your new habit to an existing one. For most of us, the morning routine is the strongest in the day and so is a great place to introduce a new habit that you can build on over time. Add a one-minute mediation practice to your morning coffee, for example, or do five squats while you wait for the kettle to boil.

3. Make change small, and doable. Making a large behaviour change needs equally large amounts of motivation that you’re unlikely to sustain, says Fogg. Starting with a tiny habit can make the new habit easier, even when you’re short on willpower. A daily short walk, for example, can be the start of your exercise habit, or putting an apple or small bag of nuts and dried fruit in your bag can be the start of better eating habits. While tiny habits can feel insignificant at first, you can gradually ramp up to bigger challenges and faster progress.


4. Make it easy. Clear the obstacles that stand in the way of your new habit. Wendy Wood, a research psychology professor at the University of South California, calls such obstacles ‘friction’. She describes how to reduce friction when she began to sleep in her running clothes, making it easier to roll out of bed in the morning, and go for a run.


Ways to start out small

Here are some examples of tiny habits from author B J Fogg:

  • After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.
  • After I walk into the kitchen, I will drink a glass of water.
  • After I pour my morning coffee, I will open my journal.
  • After I sit down on the train, I will mediate for three breaths.
  • After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day.