By Elizabeth Aylott Pope.
Long before the Internet, Doctor Seuss said it best: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. / The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Online learning is a wonderful, flexible way to broaden your horizons, improve your skills, work towards a degree or simply enrich your mind. But starting and sticking with an online course can be challenging and seem overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. You can make it happen for yourself, with a little planning and support.
The first part of the process is choosing the right course for you (read more about that here). There are loads out there, offering the flexibility a mum needs – we’ve got a whole website section devoted to them!
Think about why you want to take the course, and what you want to get out of it. Like most things - if we do them with purpose and a sense of direction then we get more out of them and feel more fulfilled.
Understanding the issues for online learning will help. In the Journal of Interactive Online Learning, scholars argue that online students need to be more intrinsically motivated than traditional students, as they are responsible for their own learning to a greater degree. However, the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning found through a series of case studies that “the perceived importance, relevance, and utility value of the activity (associated with identified regulation) were just as important as the interest or enjoyment of the task associated with intrinsic motivation).”
What this means for you is that it’s important to provide yourself motivation both from the pleasure of the activity, but also from consciously employing strategies to reinforce that this is something that is important. Here are four ways to keep yourself hitting the books (or the online lessons!):
1. Be realistic.
Choose attainable goals from the start. You can begin small, simply audit a course without being required to do all the homework, and still get a great deal out of the experience. Then, develop a realistic schedule that incorporates your study times into your other daily activities and responsibilities. Make appointments with yourself to study, and try to set aside a space that is just for you to do your work.
2. Take time to be you
As you make your schedule, leave time for yourself in there too. Give yourself a breather, a date night, a chance to read a non-class related book or see a movie. It’ll keep you happier and more balanced in the long run, and keep you safe from burn out.
3. Get involved
Online classes can feel isolating. You can break those walls down! Connect with your classmates and teachers online or via video chat. Talk about what you’re learning, whether with someone you already know who has similar interests, or with your online friends. Find study buddies you can interact with in person in your community, through an independent study group, or by encouraging a friend to take the class with you. All these tricks will help reinforce what you’re learning, build a support network, and stay motivated.
4. Celebrate your achievements
List your goals and why you want to learn, and review this list often. Visualise yourself accomplishing your goals – whether it’s getting a degree, or speaking French on a trip to Paris. Then, with each little step towards your goal, acknowledge your hard work and reward yourself for your progress. Give yourself a little treat, whether it’s watching a favourite TV show or getting a pedicure. When it feels tough to keep going, look at how far you’ve already come!.
© Take time to BE YOU – September 2015.
What works best?
By Elizabeth Aylott Pope.
When was the last time you did ONE thing? Can you even remember? Most of us – especially mums – are constantly doing everything simultaneously, simply because there is So. Much. To. Do. We feel that to be productive we have to be answering emails, cooking dinner, talking to the kids and cleaning the house at the same time or it simply won’t all get done.
But current research shows that there are definite costs to multi-tasking. First off, it’s not really multi-tasking. You may feel that you are doing it all at once, but in reality you’re “switch tasking” or “serial tasking.” That means that you are shifting gears between tasks and actually losing time and focus each time you do. You waste energy because you have to remember what you were doing and what you wanted to do next, incurring “switching costs.” The American Psychological Association’s research says this can add up to a task taking 40% longer.
It’s also more stressful. And you never really get in the zone for any activity! Plus, multi-tasking requires a lot of working memory – think of it as temporary brain storage – which takes away from our ability to think creatively because essentially there’s no more room to work.
Good news: there ARE areas where you can background task. This isn’t the same as serial/multi-tasking. Background tasking means you do two activities, but only one requires mental engagement. The other is entirely automatic and routine, and/or uses completely different brain processing - like listening to music and folding laundry.
This means that you can divide and conquer, combining background tasking with single tasking to get everything done more efficiently, while also maintaining your sanity and the quality of your relationships. If, for example, your me-time today is going to be reading a book, then don’t try and multi-task with something else. You simply won’t get much out of your down time because it won’t truly be your time. And ask yourself: can you really listen to your kids or spouse while writing an email? No. You can put the washing on, boil the kettle and listen to the news, though! Place the line between the things that you do that make you feel fulfilled or require true concentration, and simple household tasks.
Here are a few simple ideas to help you get there:
1. Make a list of your top priorities for the day. Try to keep the big ones down to a top three that you choose to focus on exclusively while doing them.
2. Use routine to your advantage. If the household runs on a particular schedule that doesn’t require constant thought, it frees up whole sections of your brain!
3. Ask for and accept help from others. Find ways for your spouse and kids to pitch in, even in simple tasks. Everything that comes off your plate is a win.
4. Separate out activities best done while kids are asleep. This might be tasks that require concentration, or give you the most pleasure when you can focus on them.
5. Practise mindfulness. Especially with things that delight you. You’ll get more out of every moment of me-time if you’re truly present for it.
By Elizabeth Pope.
If you’re a mum looking to return to work after taking time out of the formal workforce to care for your children, it can be daunting. You might be feeling a distinct lack of confidence that makes the task fraught with emotional challenges. Plus, there’s the stress that comes from the practical task of job hunting.
But you are not alone. Mums (and increasingly, dads!) all over the world take a few weeks, months, years or decades off in order to focus on their families. We know how hard this can be and that’s why we’ve put together 4 practical tips to help you get started:
1. Acknowledge and articulate your skills: emphasise your transferable skills.
Every past experience, skill, strength and preference matters. Seek out feedback from others and look at your background to assess all the skills you developed by being at home with kids. Your people skills, multi-tasking, organisational skills and financial savvy have been honed in a valuable way!
The key will be articulating these skills in a way that resonates with an employer. Think about them from that perspective. Get help writing your CV, and/or hire a career advisor or coach to help with practise interviews. Brainstorm likely questions and great responses.
2. Update your skills.
Scan loads of job sites and look at jobs you’re interested in, and then dig into the position descriptions for skills you’ll need to add or brush up on. If your certifications or computer knowledge are out-dated, there are plenty of online and adult continuing education courses at community centres, libraries and universities to help you get up to speed.
3. Volunteer work.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to refresh your skills, gain confidence and it can even serve as a stepping stone to paid employment. Consider all the volunteer work you’ve likely already done, whether with a community service organisation, a parents’ association or your children’s school. Whether you’re looking to return to the field you once worked in, or start a brand new chapter, seek out a relevant organisation and offer your services and time. It will freshen up your resume and help you make contacts.
Speaking of contacts… reach out to them! Whether your circle is mostly other mums, or includes a wide range of people from all professions, let them know you’re looking for work. Set up a casual coffee, or make a call, and ask them for ideas, their experiences, and at least two other people you could talk to.
Sign up for online webinars, attend job fairs, join online and in-person networking groups. Reach out to people through social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter also. Keep your communication style professional and express your gratitude when people reach back to you. As an added bonus, sharing your experiences with others and hearing their stories will help with your confidence as well.
Finally, remember your worth. Approach every job opportunity with your head held high: you have a lot to offer. You’re a mum, yes. But also a whole lot more.
© Take time to BE YOU – September 2015.
Take control of how your a.m. plays out in order to have a better day.
By Skye Wellington
You get woken with a hammer to the head. A toy hammer to be fair, and the blow is delivered by a toddler, but it’s still a rude awakening. You curse yourself once again that you gave in to pleas for a big bed and wonder where that stair gate is – is it wrong to lock kids up, even for just a short time?
You stumble trip down the stairs but it’s not nearly as literary as it is in Going on a Bear Hunt. Before you manage to imbibe your hot tea, you are taking breakfast orders while collecting already scattered toys and hoping you’ll make it out the door on time. Meanwhile, you give up all hope that you’ll ever drink a cup of tea before it goes cold within the next 5 years.
After several tantrums and some negotiation, the kids are fed, dressed and brushed but you realise you haven’t been through the time consuming routine of encouraging your toddler to use the toilet before getting dressed. You consider whether or not to chance the car ride and drop-off or go through the pain now to avoid an accident en route.
You now have 5 minutes left in which to get yourself clean and respectable before you’re out the door. You decided to forgo daily attractiveness a while ago and reserve the groomed you for special occasions. You congratulate yourself on discovering your current strategy of slipping into exercise gear in order to make a speedy getaway. You can justify not having had time to shower, hide your hair under a hat and no one has to know that you don’t actually manage to do any exercise. You make a mental note not to stand too close to anyone though lest your scent gives you away.
If this sounds a bit like what you experience each morning then, hello, you’re among friends. Much like having fought for fair and equal rights to the remote control with your other half, it’s time to rest control of your morning. Why? Because starting your daily mother/wife/employer/employee shift in a proactive rather a reactive way will set you up with a chance for a more fulfilling and happier day. How? Well, it’s not rocket science and they’re probably things you’ve heard before but if you can start doing them all together you should get some results. Read on for a mini domestic revolution…
1. Wake up early
Rise and shine sunshine, it’s time to get out of bed before everyone else does. There’s no use hoping that today might be the day for a sleep in. It ain’t gonna happen unless you’re happily ensconced in a staycation, and that’s an expensive slice of sleeping. Better that you accept that there are small people in the house that are never leaving and your slumber is an obstacle to their needs. Getting up earlier than everyone else is the key to being able to deal with the morning onslaught.
Use the time to meditate, do yoga, go for a walk, journal or just shower and dress. Highly recommended is the opportunity to simply make a cup of tea and return to bed to drink it while you wake up slowly reading the news on your iPad. Whatever you choose to do with your time between 5am and 6am or 6am and 7am, the upshot is that you will be in a much better frame of mind to handle the questions, quarrels, complaints, demands and -more often than not- amusing interactions that are a feature of the early hours in every household with young kids. Better yet, you will probably start to enjoy those amusing interactions and see them for what they really are – the moments of gold that make parenting so worth it.
The flipside of this is that you MUST go to bed earlier in the evenings. You’ve been told. To help get you out of bed in a smart way, check out the Sleep Cycle app. You can set it like a normal alarm clock, but in addition to this you place it next to while you sleep so it can analyse the quality of your slumber and wake you when you’re in your lightest sleep cycle at the time closest to when you’ve set your alarm for. To help you stay out of bed, try the Step Out of Bed app. After the alarm goes off, it won’t shut off until you’ve walked at least 30 steps.
2. Access your mind
For those on the outside of meditation, it seems like this big club and you don’t know where the front door is. You know everyone feels good in there but you just don’t know how to get in and get a piece of the bliss. For those already trying to get a daily practice going, it can be a bit stop start. If only all those damn thoughts would stop coming by to visit and distracting you.
The more you resent your wandering mind, the harder it is to access the stillness within. If only you could just add alcohol and be done with it. Resist this fleeting solution (it’s still early morning after all) and try a much better one instead: Headspace is an online meditation trainer that will guide you to focus. You can download the basic Take 10 programme for free and thereafter, you can subscribe to access hundreds of hours of guided meditations with various themes to unlock your mind.
3. Set your intention
This might sound a bit new age affirmation-ish, but writing a realistic sentence each morning about what your goal is for the day, or what you hope to get out of it, gets you focused and on the front foot. Whether you want to run 5 km, write a chapter of a book, properly live in the moment with your child for 1 hour (not to be sniffed at when you consider this could include upending furniture for an obstacle course or spilling glitter everywhere during an enthusiastic craft session), start a global movement or perfect a poached egg, you’ve got an exceedingly better chance of achieving it (ok, maybe not the poached egg – they’re damn hard) if you clearly state to yourself what it is that you want.
Some people call this manifesting, some call it visualisation, some call it programming. Whatever floats your boat. The bottom line is, you won’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want, so assert yourself. Once you’ve landed on a goal and brought it front and centre to your mind eye, your creativity tends to kick in and the conscious starts to notice opportunities that will take you in the direction you need and dull the distractions that could see you heading down other paths away from your goal. Easy? Well, for a lot of people the problem might not be in working out what they want but that there are so many things they want that it’s hard to pick just one. If this is you, you could experiment with writing down all that you want to achieve each day for a period of time and see which goals keep making an appearance. Once you’ve narrowed down the most important or desirable goals you can prioritise and set them. Another option is to divide them into daily, weekly, monthly, biannual and yearly goals. Up to you.
To be successful, it’s vital to believe that you will be, have patient, recognise the chance for action, and be realistic. You can also call on a couple of apps to give you a swift kick up the bum like Strides or Habit List. Or take a gentler approach and reach for inspiration instead by reading the essay of the day from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. How does all this help your morning routine? Knowing that you have provided yourself with a moment to set clear intentions for the day, means you have a mental plan to subscribe to and you can get on with the business of dealing with the kids in a calmer and more proactive way.
4. Help kids own their routine
Four observations: kids seem to like to know what’s coming next and what’s expected of them; kids seem to like doing things for themselves; kids respond well to visual cues, kids like to feel accomplished. While all these things may not be true all of the time, it could be fair to say they’re universally consistent. It’s ironic then that we seem to find it easier to keep doing things for them rather than taking the time to show them how to be partially independent.
Creating a visual morning routine chart is a simple and effective way to get their buy-in and accountability. A lot of children enjoy seeing and understanding exactly what they have to do and the sense of achievement that comes with completing their tasks. OK, it doesn’t work everyday but it does help to minimise arguing and time-wasting overall. There are hundreds of routine charts to find online but here are 2 versions that you can combine to create an advent calendar style chart – kids seem to love the novelty factor of closing the window once they’ve completed the task. Printable Daily Routine Chart and DIY Daily Routine Chart
And it’s that simple. No, really. Allowing yourself some time and helping your kids own their place in the family does mean sacrificing a bit of sleep and making an effort, but there are a lot of tools available to help you. Like anything worth having it requires a bit of hard work but it will give you back a bit of you. Remember her?
• Today, I give myself permission to...
• Finding calm and building resilience.
The SANITY kit
• What's underneath your mask.
• Putting mum guilt in its place.
• Strategies for sticking with online learning.
• Multitasking vs. Single tasking.
• How to find your way back to work.
• 4 top tips for reclaiming your morning routine.
• How to become successful in 8 steps.