Working from home? 3 New Habits to Stay Balanced & Healthy

During this unprecedented outbreak, like many of my colleagues, I’ve been asked to work from home. At first, it seemed ideal. No traffic, no make-up and I could work from my dining room table in my sweats. After a couple of weeks, though, I’ve realized a few things.

  • It’s harder to shut off when you’re not supposed to be working. After all, your laptop is just there. It’s easy to pull it back on to your lap when you hear an email come in.
  • I wasn’t getting my daily steps in. I’m not walking between offices anymore, or even walking to my car! I was in danger of becoming a working couch potato.
  • I wasn’t taking breaks as I should be and I was snacking constantly. At work when everyone goes to lunch at the same time, it’s easy. Just follow the crowd to the cafeteria. When you have to make that lunch and eat in on the same table that you’ve spread out your work, well, it’s a little different.

So what have I learned?

1. Set a schedule & use an alarm clock to help you keep it

Plan what you will do after work, even if it simple things like calling family or binge-watching your latest TV series. Make sure that it is something to look forward to. It will help to keep you motivated during the day as maintain a healthy balance between work and home. (I’m a self-confessed workaholic – anything that helps me maintain the balance is a good thing!)  Personally, I’ve been trying out new recipes from the internet and improving my cooking & baking skills. All I will say is that these golden Oreo toasted marshmallow cheesecake bars are to die for! At the end of the day, if you have something to look forward to and you’ve completed your plan for the day, you won’t feel guilty about putting the laptop away.

Soooo yummy!

As part of your plan, scheduling breaks is also key. You aren’t in the office, so you aren’t being interrupted when people come to your cube or walk in your office. One of the things that has helped me tremendously is guided meditation. I use the calm app on my phone and have been using their signature guided meditation during a ten-minute break from work. Quick tip! If like me you have an iWatch, check the results of your heart rate before and after! It’s astounding.

2. You don’t need to walk outside to get your steps in

I’ve been scheduling a “steps” break during my working day. It gets me away from my laptop giving my eyes a break and gets me moving. At this point, I should probably tell you that I have an upstairs apartment. My front door is on the ground level and there is one flight of stairs to my living quarters. Luckily, all of the steps are inside my apartment… So, I put some energizing music on and I literally walk up and down the steps in my apartment for about 10 minutes. The first day was brutal and actually more energetic than I expected!  There are 14 steps from my front door to the top of the stairs. I’ll let you imagine how many steps that is over a ten-minute period… A few days into the new regime, I’m actually feeling healthier and proud that I can sustain the exercise for my 10-minute break. My goal is 5,000 steps per day including just walking around the house etc. I’m proud to say, I’m achieving it easily now.

Not the most interesting set of stairs, I know, but the music makes it entertaining!

3. Your work area should be a separate area.

The first day, I worked from my dining table. I have a monitor screen on there and it just made sense. After sitting on the dining chairs for a few hours, I realized just how uncomfortable and non-ergonomic they are. I also realized I spent the day munching on food. Not surprising since the dining table is normally where I eat. My brain associates the table with food. Day 2, I dug out my desk chair from the garage and brought it up stairs. I made a mini-office for myself in the apartment. My favorite Starbucks / Starfleet mug is there, filled to the brim with Earl Grey tea and my comfy slippers are on my feet, keeping them toasty and warm. I also dug out my travel mouse, so that I wasn’t using the trackpad on the laptop. Not only did my back thank me, but it also made it easier to separate work from home and maintain a healthy balance. When on a break or getting lunch, I leave the work area. Before starting my day, I make a drink, get breakfast etc., before entering it. Having a seperate space has really helped to create some boundaries as well as help me work more efficiently. What have you included in your home work area?

Earl Grey… Mmmmm

And that’s it. There’s probably more to learn, but in the spirit of giving and positivity, I thought I’d write what I’ve learned so far and maybe learn from others when you comment!  You might also want to check out this first post in a series of 3 articles from Forbes on work life balance!  Great reading… 6 tips for better work life balance

Stay safe, protect your loved ones and best wishes to all in these difficult times.

Alesandra Blakeston


Do the words you use shape your reality?

I’m a big advocate for coaching and for developing yourself. I’m forever telling people that I am on a journey and usually very proud of that! That being said, one of the recent exercises I went through with my coach threw me for a loop. She asked me to look at my word choice and to try reframing it. When I asked why, always my favorite question, she said that my word choice could be shaping my reality and preventing me from even trying to change. It was a difficult concept for my mind to get around, so we actually spent quite a bit of time on the exercise. At first, I didn’t see how changing a word or two would make that much difference to what I was trying to say – or worse trying to do. After all, it was the truth, wasn’t it? After working on it for several weeks now, I can honestly say that I do.

I would say things like, “I’m not that person,” or “That’s just not me” or even worse “I’ve never been good at that.” Very black and white, very definitive, with no room for change. With the help of my coach, I’ve reworded what I was trying to say and said instead, “Up until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to do that,” or “Previously, I wasn’t able to do that.” Writing the two versions of the phrases, I can see quite clearly that in the first version there is no possibility, and worse a solidification of a belief system that may or may not still serve me. The second version on the other hand, is headed toward another possibility and perhaps someday in the not-so-distant future, I could be that person. It’s a small change in words, but the difference in the attitude and thinking, at least for me, is profound.

It seems very obvious now, that by asking yourself and others to think about who they could be next keeps us from falling into the trap of believing we have arrived, and that keeps us living in a world of possibilities instead of protecting and defending the current reality.

To finish, I’d like to challenge you. Do the words you use shape your reality? Are you standing still and limiting yourself with your word choice?

Hope this helps!

Alesandra Blakeston

A delegation method that actually works

When I reflect on my leadership style, many things come to mind. While I try to coach and delegate, I tend to be more on the directive side. I try to lead by example, walk the talk etc., and often go further than the extra mile. I tend to be very practical and I prefer to stay at the higher level rather than get bogged down in the detail.

All of that being said, I’ve been challenged recently to look at how I delegate and how I empower the people around me. As a trained facilitator, I know that on many occasions, I will simply step into the facilitator role when I want to coach. I’ll ask questions and be supportive, rather than telling people what to do. It comes very naturally to me having spent many years facilitating workshops. But when asked what methodology have I found to be the most effective, I had to stop and think.

Over the years, I’ve learned quite a few tools for coaching and empowering teams. Some are obviously more complicated than others; some are only effective under certain conditions. Is there even one tool that I would say was the best, the most useful, the easiest? Not an easy question to answer.

After much contemplation, I whittled my potential answers down to a shortlist of three. How did I do it? I asked myself the following questions…

  • Which tool(s) were easy to learn and implement?
  • Which tool(s) could be adapted to the different leadership styles?
  • Which tool(s) worked regardless of the person being coached?
  • Which tool(s) had the best results?
  • Which tool(s) were I most comfortable with?

Once I’d done that, how to choose from the top 3? Well, when in doubt, keep it simple. Therefore, I give to you, The GROW model by Sir John Whitmore. If you already know the method, you’ll note I’ve added to it in the picture below. It’s how I connected to it, so it’s how I deliver it… You can also find more information from the founders here:

When I think about the various people I’ve mentored over the years, I’ve noticed one very important thing. The best workers tend to love to solve problems – and they hate being micromanaged. If I gave someone a task, they would do the task and no more. If I gave them a problem, they would solve it. I think that’s why I like the GROW model. It lends itself to problem solving.

Of course, when you’re in execution mode, you naturally think in terms of critical tasks, but good delegation requires you to think in terms of outcomes. What is the GOAL? Please note, when empowering teams, your goal might not be the one your team would choose. So you have to be willing to debate the problem and what it would look like when fixed. As an example, let’s imagine that a customer needs a delivery expedited. Some would say the goal would be to expedite the delivery as much as possible. You could argue though, that the goal would be to manufacture and deliver the product to the customer without additional costs being incurred. You could also argue that as long as the customer gets what they need before the crunch date, then that is the goal. The difference between them is perspective. Exploring the different perspectives and establishing the expected goal is crucial to ensuring that everyone gets what they need and that the end result is what you are expecting.

Of course, sometimes you can’t define the goal without truly understanding the current REALITY. Depending on the person you are delegating to this can take many different forms. Some need to reflect and consider, diving in the detail of the problem before feeling comfortable discussing goals. Others might need a more social approach, debating and questioning the different aspects of the current situation together. Either way, making sure that the person you’re delegating to truly understands the issue and all of its ramifications is key!

Options, Options, OPTIONS. I’m going to be honest and say this is the part that I like. If your team member is struggling with this, then questions really do help. Remember all options are acceptable. There are no wrong ideas!

  • What else could you do?
  • What are the options?
  • What has already been tried?
  • Have you encountered something similar and how did it work out?

Finally, you need to get commitment. This is the WILL to take the problem to the finish line. You can even help them to map out the action plan, or ask them to show you the plan. Again, questions can help here.

  • What resources do you need
  • How will you know it is complete?
  • What is your first step?
  • What is the timeframe we are looking at?

So, what do you think? Sounds easy, right? Without empowered teams, you have a bunch of robots who don’t know what to do when you aren’t there. You’ll end up doing the lion’s share of the work and you will be unable to scale up or grow your business. Obviously there are other methods for delegating, and you may not agree with my favorite, but at the very lest, I hope this blog has made you stop and think on how you delegate and on how you and your teams are going to be successful.

Hope this helps!

Alesandra Blakeston

4 fun things to add to your next presentation

If you are anything like me, you probably spend a significant amount of your time stuck in meetings. You end up seeing the same boring PowerPoint presentations in the same boring format over and over again. It’s one of the reasons why I started this blog, to inspire better presentations. Sometimes however, inspiration isn’t enough; sometimes people need a more concrete approach. With that in mind, I thought as an early holiday gift, I’d give you 4 fun things to add to your next presentation!

Choose your own adventure

On the surface, PowerPoint is very linear. You create a deck and move from slide 1 to slide 2 to slide 3 etc. What if though, you gave your audience only the content they wanted to see, in the order they wanted to see it?

It’s actually very easy to accomplish. Simply add a title page with links to the different parts of your presentation. Then at the end of each section, you have a return link to the title page. During the presentation, ask your audience to vote on what they want to see. The voting will engage your audience, and the selection will ensure they want to watch what you show them.

You can of course, be as creative as you want with this format. It’s your presentation, so why not try taking your audience on an adventure? Get them to make choices and give input that changes your presentation before their eyes! Since it is the holiday season, I’ve created a mini-template to get you started. All of the images used are from and free to use for corporate / personal use. You can download the template here!

Embed a Functioning Excel Worksheet

Did you know you can have a totally functional Excel Worksheet embedded in a PowerPoint slide? This is super easy, just a couple of clicks. Click the Insert Menu, then choose Object from the menu ribbon. Then either click on Excel Worksheet under ‘Create new’ or click ‘Create from File’ and browse out to an Excel worksheet and select it. Obviously a large format worksheet isn’t going to work well here, but if you create or insert a small functional worksheet, it should be easy to navigate and use.

This can allow you to brainstorm new ideas, or to update a project or even to decide on dates etc., without ever leaving the presentation! I haven’t created a template for this one, but I think you get the idea.

Blankety Blank

Adding a quiz is another easy way to add interactivity. And a fill in the blanks quiz is even easier. To do it, simply insert a slide with words and phrases with blanks to fill.  You can either add this at the end of a section or at the end of a presentation. You’ll get some entertaining answers, and insight into what people remembered. Again, I’ve not created a template, but I think you’ll get the idea from the picture below… This one isn’t as visually stimulating as I would like, but you can make it as pretty or as visual as you want! You don’t even have to have the words on screen. You could simply have one slide with a picture saying quiz and read out the quiz questions. Then engage the audience to fill in the blanks!

Insert a live poll

Did you know you can have polls embedded in your presentation through PowerPoint add ins. My favorite is Poll Everywhere, which requires Windows 7 and office 2007 or later.

Poll Everywhere is a web-based audience response system. The audience responds on the web or via SMS texting on their phones and the chart in your presentation updates automatically with their responses. Check out the quick video below! It’s fun and easy to use and adds an element of interactivity that is unmatched!

And that’s it! 4 fun things to add to your next presentation. Hope this helps!

Alesandra Blakeston

Change in all its glory

The last couple of years I have been heavily involved in Change Management. Not just from a management point of view, but from an implementation point of view and while it hasn’t changed my mind about change (I’m one of the few people on the planet who enjoy it), my work has brought home a few interesting points that I’d like to share with you! While none of it is rocket science, these three points have made a huge difference in the project I have been working on.

Change is difficult, we all know that, but if you try to implement a change without first taking into account the culture, you are destined to fail. As a Brit, working in the US, culture is one of the first things that I see, especially when it is different to my own. That being said, seeing differences in culture is not the same as understanding them. If you can’t meet the people where they live, you’ll never be able to get buy in for a change or be able to understand the difficulties and fears facing the people you want to influence. Obviously when you are planning a change, you put together a strategy, you list the detractors and the risks, you list the benefits and the reasons for change etc. Without a true understanding of the culture though, your strategy will be missing vital elements. You’ll have blind spots and unexpected resistance because you didn’t walk a mile in the shoes of the personnel affected.

The second thing I noticed was interesting to me, because at first it didn’t make sense. I was taught that when implementing a change to start with the top management. Get their buy-in first and then work down. If the management team isn’t on board, your plan won’t get off the ground. All of this is true. And yet, while implementing this most recent change I noticed a disconnect between the different layers on site. As a result, I worked with the lower levels of the teams and got stakeholders involved at the bottom, rather than pushing the change from the top. When the lower levels don’t feel as though they have a voice, giving them one and having them involved from the beginning of a change can be really empowering.

And finally, having a strategy and a plan is obviously vital, and yet being unwilling to deviate from the plan, not being flexible enough to bend with the wind, can cause its own problems. A perfect example of this was how we segregated the teams. We planned to have four teams, each one representing a different section of the customer base. All of the analysis we’d done suggested this model would be ideal and the skills / talents of the people involved seemed to match this plan perfectly. Fast forward six months into the change and we’ve merged two of the teams into one. Why? What seemed perfect on paper never really materialized and certainly didn’t give us the results we needed. It put additional stress on the team and frankly wasn’t worth the heartache it was causing. In short, you can do all of the analysis in the world but you have to be willing to ditch your perfect plan in the face of reality. Humility goes a long way in change management!

I’m sure there are other lessons I could share, but I wanted to put down on paper a few short notes that really hit home and made the last couple of years interesting to say the least! Hope it helps!!

Alesandra Blakeston

change 2

Yamazumi charts

The Yamazumi chart – also known as the operator line balance chart – is a load chart that breaks down the individual work tasks in a process, detailing the time they take. Obviously, it’s used in lean six sigma to good effect. You can download my version of the chart here.

While there are lots of different ways to plot this data, often a stacked bar chart is used (especially in Excel), usually in combination with another chart to show the % Waste, VA and NVA. The point though, is to help you to identify Value Added activities (VA), Non-Value added Activities (NVA) and Waste activities, so that you can work on reducing NVA and Waste.

Having been asked to help a colleague with a lean dashboard I did some research on the subject and found some great examples online. One chart in particular by Adaptive Business Management Systems is particularly good having a stacked bar chart with a pie chart to show the 2 sets of data. You can download their version for your personal / commercial use.  It even comes loaded with vba to update the chart as needed.

excel yamazumi chart

There are even online versions, like this one by Lean Lab.

yamazumi chart

Personally though I’d prefer to have all my information in one chart, have it organized and show very simply where I need to concentrate. It took a bit of work, but I came up with this version, a stacked bar chart with the VA, NVA & Waste plotted on the secondary axis behind the individual tasks. Basically any task that falls within the red (Waste) or yellow (NVA) areas needs to be eliminated / reduced. I’ve put the task name and category in the data label to make it clearer, similar to the ABMS version above.

yamazumi chart new

From the chart it’s clear to see that process 3 is already streamlined, whereas processes 1, 5 and 6 need the most work.

You can download my sample workbook and chart here if you wish to use it. Let me know what you think! Obviously this is still in draft form.  I need to add vba to make it update automatically as new data is added and I’ll probably tweak the formatting further – remove the visible secondary axis for example, but overall I’m pleased with the results.

Hope it helps!

+Alesandra Blakeston

Freebie: Open Blue template in Keynote and PowerPoint

It was my birthday last week, a fact I celebrated by going out and splurging on a macbook pro with retina display and a huge amount of memory! Obviously using a mac is very different to using windows, and though I’ve had a desktop mac before I think I’d forgotten most of the shortcuts. As a result I am getting back to grips with Yosemite OS, not forgetting the amazing software available for the mac e.g. Garageband, Keynote and Pages, and loving every minute of it.

While exploring, it occurred to me that I’d never offered a template in Keynote before on my blog, which that was enough to spur me into making one. Keynote is a very different animal to PowerPoint and you can’t just import a new master and colour scheme the way you do in PowerPoint – unless you are importing one of the amazing templates offered with the software. That plus the unfamiliarity meant it took me a while to create something I felt was worthwhile. You can have a first look at what I created below.  It’s a dark theme, with a bold contrast filled with hexagons and rectangles – very clean and simple.

Open Blue

It’s also the first template I’ve done in the 16×9 format rather than the 3×4 format I am more familiar with, but I think it works.  Anyway, let me know what you think. The font used is Open Sans and the icons are from  You can download the two versions of the template here: Keynote, PowerPoint 2010.

Hope it’s useful!

+Alesandra Blakeston

Coin chart in Excel 2010

Whether you are presenting total spend, or simply analyzing spend over time, using the right chart is always key. If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you will have seen the dollar chart & total spend chart I created a while back:

Create a dollar graph using an overlay image as the fill of a series plotted on the secondary axisdollar chart 3

Both of these charts show the breakdown of expenditure over a set period. However one thing I haven’t shown you (yet) is a chart showing spend over time like the one below. This chart uses a simple coin edge graphic to show the amount spent each month.

Coin chart

I’m not going to post the how to, as I think it’s pretty simple, but it just shows you what using the right graphic can do to help present your data.  Without saying a single word you can tell immediately that this chart is about money…

Hope you like it, you can download the example worksheet here.

+Alesandra Blakeston

Animate a single series in a chart

Last week I posted a simple video showing a couple of graphs that had a single (or couple) of series animated for emphasis.  I thought this week I would post the how to!  It’s actually very simple.  You can download my PowerPoint here.

Adding an animation to a PowerPoint Chart is the same as adding an animation to any other object.  Click on the chart, then click on “Animation” on the ribbon and choose the animation you want to add.  (I chose “Wipe”).  You can then adjust the options for the animation using the “Effects Options” button.  Unfortunately when you add an animation it adds the animation to the whole chart – including the axes etc.  To see this, while the chart is selected click on the “Animation Pane” button in the animations toolbar.

animation pane

To be able to adjust the animation to the different elements of the chart, right click on the animation, and then select effect options > Chart animation.

chart animation

To be able to animate the series individually, click on the down arrow on the right hand side of the text “As one object” and select “By Element in Series” or “By Series” depending on the configuration of the chart.   I also deselected the “Start animation by drawing the chart background” check box.  Then press the OK button.

A double down arrow will now appear in the animation pane underneath the animated chart.

double down arrow

Click the double down arrow to see the individually animated series.

4 series animated

My chart has 4 series, so there are four elements that have been animated.  Since in my chart I want to emphasize series 3 and 4 only, I simply click on the ones I don’t want to see and press the delete key.  You can then adjust the options of the 2 animated series so that they start together or individually as you prefer.

I adjusted my charts so that the animation starts as soon as the viewer navigates to the page (using the start with previous option) and so that both lines start together.  You can do this using the down arrows next to each animation in the animation pane.  Click on the down arrow and then select “Start with previous”.

And that’s it – hope you find it useful.

+Alesandra Blakeston