Free for 10 minutes? Don’t scroll, start a sudoku!

In the current digital world, it is virtually impossible to avoid screens. Computers, phones, tablets, iPads, all are vital for communication at work and leisure time. Indeed, we use them in both our professional and personal lives. As such, we often end the day with headaches from looking at screens and artificial light for so long. This has only intensified since we have all started working from home.

However, if there is one thing that I have discovered from working from home (no, it’s regrettably not how to make the perfect banana bread) its puzzles! Sudokus, word searches, crosswords are all brilliant mind games and a welcome distraction from emails and screens. Ironically, you can actually access these for free online, but as we are trying to avoid screens, I suggest doing these by hand. A plethora of these appear every day in newspapers, magazines and are also sold as little books in the supermarket which are cheap as chips. It’s a good investment – I have a sudoku book (bought for £2.50) that has so far lasted me three months. I do one sudoku a day, usually more than that on the weekend, and am not even halfway through my little book yet. There are usually at least 100-150 puzzles in a book, all of which have answers provided on the back pages.

I often do a sudoku during my lunch break. 10 to 15 minutes of quiet, peaceful problem-solving (yes, this does exist!) can work wonders for the brain. In fact, I often find my concentration levels are better in the afternoon, perhaps because I have exercised (or awakened!) parts of my brain that had not been exercised before. Sudokus can help you stay sharp and agile because of the amount of thinking required; each number you write in the box requires careful thought and consideration. As such, it is always handy to have an eraser nearby when completing a puzzle! When numbers are placed in boxes, you have to remember the rules of the game and how many numbers are in the box, improving your memory. If you time yourself (e.g. tell yourself I must complete this by 2pm because that’s when I must start work again) your speed will improve, which can lead to increased speed in other parts of your P.A. life. Word-searches are also a brilliant way of learning new vocabulary as well as finding inaccuracies. Crosswords can improve your overall knowledge and can come in handy the next time your colleagues randomly debate what the capital of Switzerland is!

Taking a moment to relax, softly stimulate and engage your brain is an inviting distraction when working from home. It can be relaxing, therapeutic and something to look forward to each day. A ‘me’ moment, if you like. Each puzzle you complete, the better you will become and therefore the greater the sense of achievement. It is a great way to spend time when you have a quiet moment and much better than looking at a screen. Taking a moment to activate parts of your brain instead of filling (or overfilling) it with information from scrolling on social media or emails, may also help your stress levels.

Now, I’m off to complete the sudoku I’ve been stuck on for 2 days….I WILL get there!

Rachael Griffiths

Use Lockdown to your advantage…learn a language!

With many of us now spending more and more time at home, there are lots of ways in which we can be productive. To-do lists, workout videos, cleaning and cooking are all practical, necessary tasks we complete at home, but also a way of making us feel more accomplished and productive. Well, they do say tidy desk, tidy mind!

With the inordinate amount of time ahead of us (and the uncertainty of when we will come out of lockdown) a very welcome distraction and exciting project for a P.A. can be to learn a language. This may sound terrifying, but it has never been easier to sign up for monthly courses, watch online lessons, learn new vocabulary and test yourself. There are endless videos, websites and teaching material now only a few clicks away from google.

I myself have been learning Portuguese online, thanks to a spontaneous New Year’s resolution and mapping out a plan to do so. It has been SO much fun! The lessons (all of mine are easily accessible on YouTube), the grammar and the sense of accomplishment have made me feel a million times more productive (and therefore more happy) than a few months ago. I feel like I’m back at school again and have that exciting buzz you feel when you slowly start to understand a complex topic.

P.As have many valuable transferrable skills. Now we are no longer in the office, it can be hard to stimulate our minds to the extent we once did in the office, surrounded by colleagues. But learning a language can fill that stimulation outlet as well as improve all parts of brain health. In fact, learning a language can improve your thinking skills and strengthen your brain’s natural ability to focus because of the parts of brain required to work as you learn. In using both the left and right side of the brain (a necessary phenomenon enabling the transfer of information) you are increasing brain co-ordination and simultaneously decreasing the risk of early cognitive decline. The process of language learning has an effect on the brain similar to the effect exercising has on the muscles. In making them move or stretch, you are making them stronger and improving their functions. Our brains are like plastic, and learning a second language molds it into different shapes. This neuroplasticity decreases as we get older (which is why it is easier for children to learn a language as their brain is more plastic). Having said that, it is never too late for anyone to start exercising their brain.

Multilingual individuals are also likely to be better at problem-solving and multi-tasking, two vital skills for being a great P.A. In learning another language, you are harnessing these skills as well as learning new ones. Speaking activities develop networking and social skills (important when meeting colleagues and external clients) and grammar can improve your knowledge of the nuts and bolts of your mother tongue (important for proof reading documents and sending articulate emails).

Ultimately, there is no better time to learn a language than now, both for professional and personal reasons. How impressed will your team be when you are able to come back to the office with another language under your belt? You never know, the next client you meet might speak the language you start to learn – your ability to speak their language will definitely be something they remember!

Rachael Griffiths

Working from Home as a PA – Rachael Griffiths

Working from Home as a PA – Rachael Griffiths

The world is a scary place at the moment. At the time of writing, we are in the middle of April and the government are to announce plans to extend a lockdown for at least another three weeks. Working from home has now become a normality and reality for most people (that is, those who still have jobs). Despite the initial thrill and appeal of working from home (woo, PJs all day!) the novelty may have worn off. But, as is the case with being a PA, the job is often unpredictable, even when working from home. Below are 5 top tips to ensure productivity is reached while working from home

Still treat a weekday as a working day

Routine is absolutely key to being productive in a lockdown. As easy as it is to go to the sofa and endlessly watch T.V., treat it as a 9 to 5 or your usual working hours. Set your alarm, ensure you are at your desk at 8:30/9:00 as you usually would be.

Make a list of things to do each day

One of the most valuable skills I have learned since being a PA is making lists (this is coming from a person who used to laugh at people who made lists – how people change!) Each morning, as I browse my emails (and, crucially, before replying to any) I make a list of things that need to be done for that day. Then, this is sometimes the hardest bit, prioritise. What needs to be done within the next 10 minutes? Can it wait? Does this need an urgent reply? This strategy can be used both at work and in your everyday life, particularly household tasks, shopping and exercise. In giving yourself things to do, you will end the day feeling very productive indeed.

Create a good work space

Ensure you have a ‘work space’ and a ‘non-work space

This is harder for those who lived in cramped urban flats, but try to allocate a time and place for work and a time and place for after work. For example, as tempting as it is to work from the sofa, allocate it as a place for you to relax after work. That way you won’t feel guilty when you’re on the sofa.

Take breaks outdoors

Take a break outside

Just as you would take a break for lunch at regular work, ensure you are getting out and doing some sort of exercise that is in line with government guidelines. Not only is this important for our physical health, but also our mental health. In giving yourself a break and some fresh air, you can clear your mind and come back with more motivation and fresh eyes to work.

Speak to colleagues.

This is vital not only in ensuring tasks are met, but also ensuring you communicate with people. A PA’s job is all about communication and the transition of being with people all day to not seeing colleagues can be challenging. Schedule a weekly catch up with you team. Suggest a time where you talk about things unrelated to work, such as 15 minutes late Friday afternoon. A Pub Quiz is an excellent way to maintain team contact and, this is arguably the most important, have fun!