The Digital Nomad – Part 3 – Improve Your Productivity Kanban-Style

Last week, when you could not fall asleep because you felt overwhelmed by the increasing number of items on your to-do list, you had the brilliant idea to buy post-its and start to plan your next four weeks. Then, you also thought about writing down your 25 priorities. 

You already felt a little relieved and fell asleep. However, the question remains “did you actually do what you planned the day after?”

I bet you didn’t do it even if you thought it was a great idea.

 

The good news is that what happened to you last week happens to most of us too. The bad news is that when you do this in your personal life, you are more inclined to do the same in your professional life as well. We accept a mediocre solution or we try to put a plaster on a process instead of analyzing the root cause of the issue.

According to Schwarzt et al (2014), the great majority of companies see this phenomenon as a challenge to productivity and overall performance, but struggles to handle it. According to Deloitte, over half of the respondents to her survey  say that “their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload and today’s demanding work environment.” 57 percent believe their organizations are “weak” when it comes to helping leaders manage difficult schedules and supporting employees manage information flow.

Have we lost all of our ideals of Total Quality Management (This is a management approach to long-term process through customer satisfaction. In a Total Quality Management effort, all members of an organization participates in improving processes, products, services and the culture in which they work)  from the good old nineties? Do you know about Kanban and visualizing process flows?

We need to learn how to become more productive and we need to learn it now. If, like me, you are always eager to receive tips on how to increase productivity, check this podcast out.

Kanban 

Kanban is a lean method which originated in lean manufacturing, which was inspired by the Toyota Production System. It aims at managing work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of system-level bottlenecks. 

In knowledge work and in software development, the aim is to provide a visual process management system which facilitates decision-making about what, when, and how much to produce. 

Among the most important characteristics is that work items are visualized to provide a view of progress and process, from start to finish, usually through a Kanban board. Indeed, in Japanese, kanban means “signboard” or “billboard.”

Kanban Boards 

A colorful, tidy and good-looking kanban board is one of the most effective tools in project management. It can be used to plan and work through any project, both in your personal and professional life. 

Kanban boards visually display a certain process in its various stages using cards to represent work items and columns to represent each phase of the process. Cards are moved from left to right to show progress and to help coordinate teams performing the work. 

Simple boards have vertical columns for the “to-do”, “doing”, and “done” work.  Alternatively, they may be labelled “waiting”, “in progress” and “completed”. Complex Kanban boards can also be divided into horizontal “swim lanes” representing different types of work or different teams performing the work. Additionally, it can subdivide the “in progress” work into multiple columns to visualise the flow of work across a whole value stream map.

Example of a Kanban board:

 

Seven core practices for Kanban

 

Here I suggest six core practices that will make you optimize the efficiency of the tool and become a master of kanban boards.

  1. Visualize the flow of work. You cannot work on a Kanban board, either physical or electronic, if you cannot visualize the process steps needed to deliver your work. Depending on the complexity of your process and your work-mix, your Kanban board can be very simple or very elaborate. Once you visualize your process, then you can visualize the current work that you and your team are doing. 
  2. Use Colors. Use post-its in different colors for different types of projects. Or, if you decide to use this tool for personal life projects, consider using different colors for different kinds of activities (orange for the projects you wish to complete at home, yellow for your children’s requests, and so on).
  3. Limit WIP (Work in Progress). It’s important to reduce WIP to a minimum to encourage yourself and your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. Work currently in progress must be completed and marked done. This creates capacity in the system, so that you can focus on new tasks. Limiting WIP helps you finish what they are doing already before taking up new stuff. This practice is also useful because it communicates to the customer and other stakeholders that there is limited capacity to do work, and they need to plan carefully what work they ask you or your team to do.
  4. Manage Flow.. A Kanban system helps you manage flow by highlighting the various phases of the workflow and the status of work in every single phase. Based on how well you defined the workflow and set the limits to WIP, you will observe either a smooth flow of processes or work piling up as a bottleneck forms and starts to hold up capacity. Kanban helps you analyze the system and adjust their work accordingly to improve flow. In this way, you will manage to reduce the time it takes to complete each task. By improving flow, your delivery of work becomes smoother and more predictable, making it easier to communicate to your customer when you will manage to get any work done. You will also automatically increase your reliability to your customers’ eyes.
  5. Make Process Policies Explicit. Visualize explicitly your policies, process rules or guidelines for how you do your work. In this way, you create common ground for all those involved in the process to understand how to work in the system. The various policies can be at the board level or at a “swim lane” level or for each column. Examples of explicit policies are: what defines a task complete, what describes individual “swim lanes” or columns, who pulls when, etc. 
  6. Implement Feedback Loops. This practice is an essential part of any good system. Kanban encourages and helps you implement different types of feedback loops. If you want to deliver the right work in the shortest possible time, it’s crucial to get feedback early, especially if you ended up on the wrong track.
  7. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using the scientific method). The Kanban Method helps you implement small changes and improve gradually in a way that is sustainable for you and your team. It encourages you to form a hypothesis, test it and make changes according to the results you obtain. In a few words, it aims at tackling issues through a scientific method. As an individual or team who aims at being agile, it’s fundamental that you evaluate your process continuously and improve as much as needed.

Notable tools

This is a list of tools that implement the Kanban method. You can test some of them for free.

  • Asana, with boards.
  • Azure DevOps Server, an integrated ALM-platform for managing work in and across multiple teams.
  • CA Technologies Rally, provides teams with the option of managing pull-based, lean software development projects.
  • Unicom Focal Point, a portfolio management and product management tool.
  • Jira (software), provides kanban boards.
  • Microsoft Planner, a planning application available on the Microsoft Office 365 platform.
  • Pivotal Tracker provides kanban boards.
  • Projektron BCS, project management tool, provides kanban boards for tickets and tasks.
  • Trello, cards-based project management.
  • Tuleap, an agile open source tool for development teams: customize board columns, set WIP (Work In Progress), connect board with Issue Trackers, Git, Documents.
  • Twproject (formerly Teamwork), project and groupware management tool.
  • Wrike, an Agile Collaborative Work Management Platform.

Reflection

Think of three ways a Kanban board could facilitate your own professional and/or private life. When you come up with ideas, try to be very specific. They have to reflect what you do and how you operate on your daily routine. 

If you haven’t tried Trello yet, try navigating it and setting up your own account.

 

Resources

If you want to learn more about Kanban: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development)

If you want to learn more about Kanban implementations and Kanban boards:

https://www.digite.com/kanban/what-is-kanban/ 

If you want to know why you should use Kanban in marketing https://business901.com/blog1/why-you-should-use-kanban-in-marketing/

If you think your lack of digital competencies is affecting your productivity: https://globalpeopletransitions.com/lack-of-digital-competence-affecting-your-productivity-heres-how-you-escape-that-rut/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2014/hc-trends-2014-overwhelmed-employee.html#:~:text=The%20overwhelmed%20employee%20Simplify%20the%20work%20environment&text=Too%20much%20access%20to%20information,us%20into%20%E2%80%9Coverwhelmed%E2%80%9D%20employees.&text=Sixty%2Dfive%20percent%20of%20executives,ready%E2%80%9D%20to%20deal%20with%20it

Productivity Makeover with Graham Allcott (Podcast): https://www.sundaebean.com/2019/12/02/152-productivity-makeoverwith-graham-allcott/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. 

Zuerichhorn "Heureka"

Despite what is happening in the world I have been keeping myself really busy. Honestly, getting stuff done gives me deep satisfaction and having a lot of great client conversations raises my energy level to the max. So, I personally feel that I work on my mission to bring the Human Touch back into Global Mobility and my team is helping me along.

However, many of you work in corporations and don’t have the luxury that I have where I can choose how I spend my time and with whom I am talking. Many of you still feel the pressure of having a boss or someone to report to and their demands sometimes drive you crazy.

However, being “busy” is not the same as being “effective” so I wanted to share a method that has helped me over the last few years to feel a sense of accomplishment over the holidays. You probably will notice that this year the annual Christmas rush and madness will be different. Not only because we work from home a lot more. I think that our common anxiety level is already a lot higher this year than in the past and working towards the year end might even seem less stressful this year because your adrenaline has been high the whole year. Please let me know if you wish to talk to me. I will give priority to clients but I am also available for our readers here for calls.

I wanted to list a few topics that I am observing in projects and conversations and give you a method on how you can deal with it in a playful way. This is also an activity where you can involve your family and as Chase Eskelen and yours truly recently wrote “Family Success is a Team Sport”.

(This just reminded me of my father and how he used to organize family meetings when we were kids. A funny thing at the time, but I assume that now it is a thing.)

The Perpetual Machine

What I am observing inside corporations and what increasingly frustrates me is the lack of accountability and constant waste of resources and time. It reminds me of Jean Tingeluy’s artwork “Heureka” at my favourite spot in Zurich. Often it seems that many functions and positions are just there to maintain a well-oiled machine but the value they add to the client or company they serve is minimal. 

Bad Data Quality

We also use a lot of time correcting or searching for data because the original source does not contain the data or the data is flawed. We have to rely on our brain to remember specific scenarios so we can cover all exceptional circumstances. We hire more consultants to help us administer a workflow tool that does not deliver the data we need instead of training the data entry specialist in the Philippines or in India so that the data is entered correctly. We implement three levels of controls instead of helping the first handler of the data to deliver a zero error quality report.

Flawed and Broken Processes

Do you often chase someone because they forgot to take action on an item they were supposed to deliver so you can continue your process. You might be correcting processes and mending broken ones because the decision makers do not understand the process and just run around like a headless chicken. Sometimes you might feel like a mother at work trying to collect the toys that the children left lying around all over the floor. You pick them up so that nobody trips but you are also not really noticed as you do your work quietly in the background.

Administration to Control Digitalization

Many digital processes still are in the baby’s shoes so they often need someone to check them and make sure that they are completed. I have been in arguments with my bank because they don’t offer a draft function so that I can enter payments right when I receive the invoice and execute them later when I have enough funds in the account. My payments regularly get stuck because of cash flow issues. Then I need to build an administration around the digital process. And the funny thing is that here they always blame the customer. They hardly ever say: “This is an interesting idea and if we can help you with that we will consider it.”. 

Lack of Integration

The more digital you work the more you miss the link between systems. Be it through platforms or API’s. However, often you work with many different tools and providers and then it is your responsibility to link them all and like LEGO build a castle or a spaceship from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I like IKEA approaches too, but sometimes I wish I had more detailed understanding of programming languages so I could focus on important deep work rather than fixing the lack of integration of various tools.

Sometimes I feel we lost all of our ideals of Total Quality Management from the good old nineties. At the end of a day we often feel totally exhausted but haven’t achieved anything meaningful. 

What I have noticed is that I can live with certain flaws in my personal space. I can accept a less than perfect light in the bathroom but I cannot accept it in my work. 

One of the reasons why my apartment almost looks the same as five years ago is that my energy goes more into my profession. Now that we are spending more time at home it has become more of a priority for me so I clean up regularly and try to keep the recycling piles low. I also have a few home improvement projects to work on. However, the paid work usually takes over and that leads to me not speaking to good friends forever (SORRY!).

The 25 Priorities Kanban Board

In our team, we have developed a visualization method (The 25 Priorities Kanban Board) to help us prioritize work before we add them to Slack, Trello and the number of G-Sheets that I use for planning. I am a big fan of planning and consistency so this method basically helps me to keep track of my priorities and get stuff done.

You need 

  • A stack of colorful post-it notes.
  • A few big pens
  • A flipchart size (A1) poster or a blank wall.

Here is how it goes:

  • Five Pink Post-It Notes (Work Projects)- Here you write down your five most important work projects to complete until Mid-December.
  • Five Green Post-It Notes (Home Improvement) – Write down five projects you wish to complete at home before the holidays. 
  • Five Yellow Post-It Notes (People) – Write down five people you wish to connect with before the year-end.  
  • Five Orange Post-It Notes (Love Tasks) – Write down five requests of your partner or children that you would like to fulfil until the year-end.
  • Five White Post-It Notes (Self-Care) – Here you write down five wishes that you will grant yourself before the year-end.

Send me a photo of your Kanban Board and observe what happens.

Professional Agile Project Management Tools

If you are looking for useful agile project management tools check this page out please.

TCK

A natural consequence of the international professional, accelerated in recent years through increased globalisation and advances in Global Mobility, is the rise of Third Culture Kids, or, children who have grown up in cultures that weren’t the passport cultures of their parents. This term originated through the work of American sociologist Dr. Ruth Hill Useem in the 1960s. You can read more about her legacy here.

Given that the term has been around for so long, some of these children have now grown up and are referred to as ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). Therefore, it is important that their unique experiences and those of current TCKs are recognized and better understood, as they will be shaping the future. I’d like to do just that.

TCKs Have an Expanded Understanding of the World

Research has clearly demonstrated that TCKs are more tolerant of other people, their beliefs and cultures because of their broader world views. This allows them to build relationships with all cultural backgrounds, which makes them great international assets as professionals. However, They Can Suffer From Identity Crises

A person’s self-esteem and identity is intrinsically linked to their attachment to the social constructs of culture, the sense of belonging that comes from such an attachment can often be lacking in TCKs, given that they are uprooted from their origin culture at a young age and thus they can become culturally “homeless” if their transition into the new culture is not smooth.

Often, the reverse can happen as well, with the TCK adjusting smoothly to the new culture but becoming alien to the original one. This fear is something expat parents frequently bring up with me and I always suggest that parents try to maintain a link between their children and the culture of their homeland. A great way to do that is through books, particularly those that spark the imagination of inquisitive young children. In fact, Cukibo has a range of delightful and enchanting books geared specifically for expat children that will help them learn and remember what makes their home culture so wonderful. Do read more about this series, it is called Journey to Another Homeland.

TCK’s Identity Issues Lead to  Difficulties

These identity issues, at such a critical time of psychological development, can lead to further problems down the road for TCKs. They have trouble adjusting to adult life as the feeling of not having roots like those with cultural “stability” can lead to frustration and a further loss of self-esteem. Their values can be compromised as well, particularly if the home and expat cultures have complementary cultures.

TCKs Develop Excellent Intercultural Competence

That is solely due to how the Global Mobility has changed in recent decades. Previously, most expats moved once, overseas, and built a life there. That is no longer the case, with expats moving multiple times and bonding with more and more diverse people. It is not uncommon for TCKs now to belong to 3 or more cultures, and as part of their upbringing they develop the capacity to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures.

TCKs Also Boost Global Mobility

Surveys have shown that TCKs retain a desire to travel and move once they reach adulthood. Their professionals careers, consequently, have a focus on international travel and mobility. The influx of these ATCKs into professional spheres is pushing greater mobility and emphasis on the international aspects of their development: multilingualism, high cultural intelligence and sensitivity.

There is no denying that TCKs face the kind of challenges that non-expat children do and by overcoming those challenges, they grow up into the kind of three-dimensional and evolved professionals and human beings that are slowly ushering the world into a new era of globalism and open-mindedness.

Schools are also taking the TCK’s into account more and more. You can read more about how international recruiters can solve the family education and support internationally mobile families here.

An Expert Interview by Sara Micacchioni

Prof. Tamara Pawluk is specialized in cognitive diversity and inclusion. She has collaborated with teams designing Diversity and Inclusion campaigns and training teams to leverage diversity potential. Her professional goal is to contribute to any organization where diversity is seen as a key factor to achieve competitive advantages. Interestingly, she also works as Project Manager for Diego Romero Music to support her husband in bringing Argentinian and Latin American music into the European market. 

In early September I  met her in her apartment in Berlin to get inspired by what she does. 

Who is Tamara Pawluk in a nutshell? 

I am an interculturalist by profession and by mindset. I like working with people from different cultural

Headshot
Prof. Tamara Pawluk

backgrounds, I am a curious person and I like to listen to stories. I have the feeling that everyone has a story to tell and that even when they think it’s not interesting, I always find it fascinating. I mean, we’re all protagonists of our lives after all.
I also love learning, not only from books and manuals but especially from people. I love to be amazed by what others do in their professions and act as a connecting bridge between them. 

I’ve been teaching at college for six years. I love doing classes and helping people develop their talent and discovering their potential together. Currently I am mostly dedicated to webinars but I keep teaching within the startup I work for, Expertlead

I am  a very family-oriented person too and love spending time at home with my husband and my friends, playing cards or board games, watching Netflix…or going outside to practice roller skating (and failing miserably) 😉 

Can you tell us a bit more about Expertlead and your projects there? 


Our core business is trying to build a solid network of freelancers. However, we do this in a very human-centric way i.e. guiding them through a professional self-discovery journey and helping them plan their career development. We mostly work with IT professionals: front-end and back-end developers, mobile developers, software development engineers, architects, project managers, designers and data scientists. We try to understand what exactly each of them brings to the table and only then we do the matching. We don’t just feel responsible for ensuring that they get paid for their job, but we also worry that they are performing tasks that they really enjoy.  Besides that, we also do webinars on professional branding, CV improvement, train the trainers, stakeholder management, and soft skills training. 

As the head of freelancer management, I strive to help freelancers be the best versions of themselves.

One of the Diversity and Inclusion projects we’ve just launched is our blog series “Freelancing Women in Tech” about which I am really enthusiastic. We interview female freelancers within the network and discover together their success stories and obstacles they encounter in the IT field as women. 

You can have a look at the blog and at our recent articles where we interview a female iOS developer and a female software engineer

There is a lot of potential in IT when it comes to D&I and we’re trying to get in touch with other associations that might be connected to a wide and diverse talent pool. For example, we’d like to partner with associations for refugees that promote IT educational programs and other initiatives of this kind. If you are one of them, don’t hesitate to get in touch! 

Would you like to share with our readers the learning and career path that brought you to the position you so passionately hold now? 

Well, there are a couple of relevant episodes that really marked my professional development. The first was at the age of 15 when I got into an exchange program with people from around various parts of the world. Thanks to this, I got to spend lots of time with people from Tunisia, South Africa, Russia, you name it. Even if I was “just” a teenager, I was amazed by how much you can learn just by actually allowing yourself to be open to everything. That’s basically how I start to learn from people and about people. This marked me so much that it led me to choose my next degree, a BA in Intercultural Management. 

What other salient events happened next? 

Then I had the opportunity to work as a ghost in a haunted mansion at the famous Disney World Park in Orlando 😉 You might wonder what this has to do with what I do currently but…

There I had a conversation with a colleague of mine that really made me start reflecting about a reality I hadn’t been faced with much until then. And so I started getting curious about the topic of diversity and more in particular about gender and sexual orientation and the role that this plays in identity. This was such an eye-opener that I decided to make Diversity and Inclusion the focus of my PhD, creating a fusion with the topic of Intercultural Management.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place when I met my husband who is a musician. I want to contextualize this: my parents are doctors and when I entered the field of Social Sciences they thought this was already weird. But what they accepted even less easily was me having a musician as my boyfriend. During this phase, I realised how important the role played by professional identity is in our lives. Now they love him as well as his music.

And so I landed in cognitive diversity, i.e. valuing people for the different ideas that they bring at the table and the different experiences they had in life. This brought me to Talent Management and to Berlin, where I currently live. 

I can really say that being part of an amazing team at Expertlead really enables me to bring together all the different aspects of culture identity in which I am a specialist.

What are the major challenges that you face in your industry? 

When it comes to Talent Management, unconscious bias for me is the main obstacle. Too often, I find that  people very easily allow their own prejudices and pre-formed opinions to shape the situation they’re faced with as well as the idea of the person they have in front. The issue with unconscious bias is that in a few seconds, you’ve made up your mind and from that moment you don’t allow yourself to be wrong anymore. 

But we need to change this and learn to admit that we can be wrong about the first impression. We need to learn to get rid of our assumptions, become better listeners and let the new information come in. This is especially important when you work with diversity.

This is interesting. How do you help people raise awareness about their own issues with unconscious bias?

When I encounter new clients, I always start with the most simple biases. I avoid talking about biases linked to gender, race, sexual orientation etc from the very beginning because they might make it difficult for people to let their barriers down.

I’d like you to run this small social experiment. Next time you’re in a group, just try to draw three boxes on a paper and ask three volunteers in front of you to write three words about diversity on the sheet. What happened? 

I can bet that now all boxes contain a word. But have you actually ever asked them to write the words inside the boxes? If you followed my instructions carefully, you did not. 

Yet, if you try to ask people to explain the reasons why they wrote words inside the boxes, you’ll see that they will struggle a lot finding the answers. And this is what a bias is about: thinking/doing something automatically and without second thoughts.

I tried this each semester for six years, and not in a single group was there a volunteer who did this differently.

That’s brilliant and quite an eye-opener.

Now, what education would you recommend to somebody who would like to embark on a career similar to yours?

Well, I’d start by saying that when you deal with jobs around Intercultural and Talent Management, I think it’s really important to find a good mentor. Follow someone in the field to whom you can relate professionally and let yourself be inspired by what they do. It’s not an easy-to-answer question because we, professionals in the intercultural field, very often have a different background. 

Definitely, here in Europe there are a lot of academic courses you can decide from if you want to study this at university, and having studied in Argentina where options are really limited, I don’t know even half of them. 

I am pretty confident when I say that the field of diversity allows for different career paths and allows you as well to find your own professional identity.

Certificates might open a gate or two but they won’t drive your internal need to make a change. It’s relatively easy to obtain certifications, but the most challenging and most important is finding the inner spark inside. Only this will make you thrive. 

What’s your recipe for success? 

Be yourself and be authentic to who you are. You’re never going to be happy trying to pretend to be someone you’re not. One of my mottos, and this is borrowed from a teacher, is 

“Never stay where you don’t want to be.”

Considering that you probably spend half your existence at work. My tip is, if you have the privilege of deciding where you work, choose well where you want to spend your time.

Is there a final thought you’d like to share with our readers? 

You might not be able to change the world, but if you manage to change only one person, you’ve changed a world.

If you want to be in touch with Prof. Tamara Pawluk you can connect on LinkedIn or write to her on Facebook. You can also subscribe to her Youtube channel.

Tamara is also busy writing her book on Diversity Management which she’ll publish in 2021. Stay tuned! 

About Sara Micacchioni

Sara
Sara Micacchioni

Sara Micacchioni is currently working as Academic Intern at Global People Transitions, where she is responsible for research and quality assurance projects. At the beginning of 2020, she graduated from an international English-taught master degree in Intercultural Management at the University of Burgundy, France. In the past, she also carried out several short-term and long-term voluntary work projects in Europe and South America.

Sara lived, studied, and worked in seven European countries and speaks four foreign languages. She considers herself an interculturalist with a real passion for globetrotting. In her mission to travel the world, she has now ticked off 30 countries globally.

Connect with Sara on LinkedIn if you want to talk about Diversity and Inclusion, Intersectionality, Cultural Intelligence (CQ), Bilingualism, Digital Learning, Immigration or Low-Cost Travels.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sara-micacchioni/

Over the last twenty years in Human Resources I noticed that a lot of international talents were frustrated in the process of moving to another country for work. It was not only because their companies paid them another package than what they expected. It was also because a lot of international assignee underestimated the challenge of moving to another country.

For example expats moving to Switzerland often think it will be easier to find affordable childcare, high-quality apartments and a job for their “trailing” spouse. Most expats believe it will be easy to learn the local language (or they even think we speak English). Most expats believe that they are going to have a great career step after their repatriation.

I have seen a lot of anger when assignees went to another country and when they returned home and did not get that promotion or the role they were hoping for. Regularly, I have clients break out in tears because they feel overwhelmed by the international assignment experience. When I worked in India and when I moved to Switzerland I also shed tears. It was not all “Bollywood” or “Chocolat”.

When I started Global People Transitions GmbH in 2012 I was convinced that an international assignment does not have to be a painful experience. I believed that companies can improve their international assignments. I believed that you can have a great experience when you move to a new country. I believed that you can find work you care about – no matter where you are in the world.

So I wrote a vision statement

“We aspire peace and prosperity for all people! Through global mobility expertise, executive coaching and intercultural training our clients build sustainable relationships across the globe and act as responsible leaders.”

Angela Weinberger,
Global People Transitions – Our Vision 2012

And then I developed experience with coaching

In Global People Transitions we have three major goals.

1) We help international professionals to find work they care about.

2) We help global leaders to drive team performance.

3) We work with Global Mobility Professionals to improve their consulting and communication skills.

How do we do this?

We now have four established programs and can also customize workshops for your specific needs.

How much do we charge for these programs?

We have standard rates and are happy to send you our price list.

Who you get in touch with?

It’s time to introduce myself. In the typical German style I talk business first, then I tell you more about myself. My name is Angie Weinberger. I am the founder, owner and main contact at Global People Transitions GmbH.

What is the Global People Club Sandwich?

We write a blog post about international assignments and expat life for the Global People “Club Sandwich” once a week. You will receive a monthly summary of all posts if sign up to our “Global People Club”.

This post is inspired by sundaebean.

We often hear our fellow expats complain about a lack of sleep and work taking over their lives -it seems that expat lives involve far too much work and impact sleep significantly. So for this edition, I thought I would talk about setting certain ground rules in our lives to get out of overdrive.

Getting Out of Overdrive Mode in Life

We often hear our fellow expats complain about a lack of sleep and work taking over their lives – we ourselves may even be the originators of those complaints from time to time. So for this edition, I thought I would talk about setting certain ground rules in our lives to get out of overdrive!

Christine Hansen, sleep expert and founder of Sleep Like a Boss, has detailed and often surprising insight into how expats can improve their sleep hygiene. Let’s dive in:

  • Before any ground rules can be established, it is important to figure out why expats have such frequent complaints about their sleep. The root cause can be traced down, surprisingly, to expats themselves. We just want to do everything as international professionals. Work, explore new locales, experience the local food and culture and architecture, give time to the family back home in another time zone and engage the kids in activities. As a result, sleep is the first thing that gets sacrificed in the quest to make each day last longer.
  • Many people, expats or otherwise, still question the science behind needing to sleep a certain minimum amount. The evidence is clearly there in your daily productivity – work output is shoddier and error-prone and any time you theoretically “saved” by sleeping less is consumed in correcting those mistakes. The evidence is also there in the long-term effects of low sleep, our bodies deteriorate with age and too little sleep not only accelerates it, but it also leaves us vulnerable to a host of symptoms and illnesses. Is that really a price worth paying for “a little more time” every day?
  • Sticking to the scientific approach, a good approach for expats who want to do it all is to figure out precisely how much sleep they need. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you start by getting slightly less sleep than you need. Then, by keeping the time you wake up at unchanged for the next two weeks – maybe use an alarm, you work your way backward in increments of 30 minutes until you reach a point where you find yourself waking up just a few minutes before the alarm is supposed to go off. That point may be less than 8 hours for some people, more than that for others, but this exercise will allow you to pinpoint the right amount for yourself. That way, you can schedule the rest of your life around the optimal sleep time.
  • As with most things in life, consistency is key to establishing great sleep hygiene and getting optimal quality sleep. That can sometimes get difficult if you have kids and have to travel, jet lag is the ruin of any good sleep routine! That’s why it’s important to try and continue on that routine even during travel, it really helps! An interesting tip here, especially for children, is to make certain fragrances part of the “going to sleep” routine. Our bodies react really strongly to familiar scents, so you can take these fragrances everywhere you go and they will help maintain the same sort of sleep your children get in the comfort of their own beds. This works for adults too, our olfactory senses really are that amazing!
  • Let’s face it, most expats have busy lives. There are many however whose lives are so busy that they frequently have no time for themselves and they end up encroaching on sleep time for their hobbies. The recommendation for them, inflexible and tough as it sounds, is to schedule “me” time in advance. It’s really the only way to consistently squeeze in hobbies and relaxation time into the very busy schedules.
  • Throughout these suggestions, the recurring theme has been “add structure, plan your sleep and your life around sleep” which can seem boring, but the benefits reaped from high-quality sleep are immense! Tired people are irritable, prone to more illness and generally not nice to be around. I am sure we can all relate to that last one!
  • One thing that can really help you get into the right frame of mind to improve your sleep hygiene is to remind yourself why you are doing it: Whether it’s for better work performance, or quality time with family, reminding yourself why you want quality sleep will help you be motivated – it’s human nature to prioritize yourself last and choosing external motivators will prove more effective for this.

To wrap up, one last tip: Something you can do immediately to improve your sleep hygiene is to start a sleep journal. Just take five minutes out of your day to just jot down all the crap and rubbish and stress you face in a day. That way, you’ll take it out of your brain and see an immediate uptick in the quality of sleep you get.

I’m sure you have noticed the arrival of fall by now – the avalanche of brilliant red-golden leaves falling off trees, the shortening of precious daylight hours and the sudden briskness in the breeze.

While the beauty of a European fall is unparalleled, for some people the shorter days and cold weather heralds a period of demotivation and negative feelings. For me it is the “Zurich fog” in November that can get to me. 

Considering the current situation of Covid-19 and the consequent loss of freedom, the thought of November could be overwhelming. So I have thought about ways to make November bearable for all of us.

Dealing with feelings of loneliness is doubly tough when you are an expat who just arrived here. However, even international people who have lived here for years sometimes miss close friends in this city.

Feeling lonely, sad and unproductive can affect not just your work performance, but your everyday life too. So today, I’d like to talk about ways in which we can keep ourselves inspired and motivated through November and the impending winter months, especially if we don’t have a family here.

1 – Plan and stick to an exercise routine and meal plan

A productive routine is key to keeping your mind crisp, and exercise keeps both your mind and body in tip-top shape – combine the two and you have a recipe for staying motivated in the coming seasons! 

Exercise for most people means a trip to the gym. Don’t worry if you are one of those who cringe at the thought of indoor gyms. Instead, you can take advantage of the wonderful sights and sounds that fall affords us and take up cycling or jogging. The double endorphin release of exercise and beautiful scenery is a great way to stay positive and inspired about your daily life.

Note, though, that it is important to strike the right balance with the rest of your routine. Most people enter exercise with a lot of passion and overdo it, which kills motivation very quickly. 

Start slow, perhaps with a 25 minute walk on two or three days a week and try to follow the schedule. That is more important than straining your body too much.

You should also develop a meal plan for every day which includes a lot of fresh vegetables and greens. Make sure you include lemons, apples and other Vitamin-C deliverers.

2 – Improve your Sleep Cycle

Another critical component of improving your health is to fix and improve your sleep regimen. In today’s always-on era, we are all guilty, to a certain extent, or taking actions that poorly affect the quality of our sleep. So here is a short primer on how to get better, more refreshing sleep daily: 

Take your mobile devices to bed. Give them a place in your home outside of your bedroom where you place them by 9 pm. After you’ve put your phone to bed, don’t touch it anymore. Use the “sleep” mode to block incoming messages. Turn off the buzzers.

Stop using all electronic devices two hours before you want to sleep. Studies show that the light emitted by screens can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake rhythms. Instead, consider going to bed with a novel or other light reading (again, not on devices). 

Practice relaxation techniques such as PMR. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is especially beneficial for reducing muscle tension caused by psychological stress and has a proven rejuvenating effect if practiced regularly. 

Get up at the same time every morning. This loops back to the discussion on how routine-building is beneficial to physical and mental health. 

3 – Don’t fall into the trap of worry

Worry is a feeling or a state of being anxious and troubled over potential problems. Worry is a type of futuristic thinking about events in a way that leaves you anxious and apprehensive. The back and forth around integrating into and adapting with a new culture as an expat can be inundating. From experiencing culture shock to trying to create a new professional network and then to the thought of being cautious not to catch Coronavirus. The most appealing response to this type of situation is obviously “Worry”. 

Ironically, what we worry about most times often does not happen. Worry is just a mental clutter that incapacitates you from taking any meaningful step and doing anything worthwhile. It blocks your brain from being productive. 

Hence, try not to fall into that trap! You may want to ask how. Let’s see.

Be present. Whilst it is good to be futuristic in one’s approach, do not allow the thought of tomorrow still the joy of today away from you.

Read a book. It is proven that reading helps reduce stress and anxiety. Simply by opening a book, you allow yourself to be invited into a literary world that distracts you from your daily stressors.

Ask for help. As simply as this sounds, it is a proven means of easing tension and offloading burdens. Asking for help from the right person is not a sign of weakness. It is, in fact, a sign of how strong you have been. 

4 – Learn a Creative Skill

An unforeseen consequence of expatriation is just how much every aspect of it takes over your life – from the learning curve of the new job to the transactional tasks of integrating into a new culture (send an email to angela@globalpeopletransitions.com to get the excel version of the checklist) and country. By the end of the day you may find yourself with no time left for your own growth.

In the scenario described above, it can be tough to carve out regular time for developing creative skills that interest you, especially if you don’t have an accountability buddy or coach to keep you motivated.

How does one find inspiration? I find that duplicating, or being a part of what the creative community does every fall is an excellent way to both build new relationships and spend time on yourself. You could participate in National Novel Writing Month (NoNoWriMo) where large swathes of communities online and offline get together to create and explore their artistic sides daily for the duration of that month. We have our very own Zurich writer’s community supporting you with the Woolf.

If such creative endeavours appeal to you, definitely pursue them! Otherwise, you can utilize the same template for whatever skill you are looking to develop. Devote a fixed amount of time daily where, distraction free, you engage in a certain skill-building activity. As with the previous suggestion on exercise, routine and regularity is key! 

This is the reason why I encourage you to write those 25 minutes practices into your RockMeApp and tick them off at the end of the week. A good practice would be: “On 5 days out of 7, I’m writing my long-hand diary 25 minutes a day to develop a writing routine”.

5 – Join a Special Interest Group such as our Theatre Nights

Last year we started a special interest group for going to the theatre since the Schauspielhaus Zurich introduced English-speaking surtitles. This is an example of a group you could join. Search on Meet-Up for anything you are interested in and I am sure you will find it. 

6 – Support and Help as a Volunteer

I recommend that if you are feeling a bit low in November that you find a group where you can help out as a volunteer. Helping others for the sake of being a good human being and without an agenda behind it usually raises your energy level. You can limit it to 3 hours a week so you don’t burn out but try if this works for you. If you have no idea how to volunteer contact us. We have an overview of associations and we also can recommend contacts for you. Also, we have four requests for volunteers that we shared in our Global People Club Facebook Group.

4 C’s Calculate – Choose – Change – Create

Guest post by Val Bath

Our ability to build culture mastery doesn’t rest only on knowing about another culture, but also on our ability to appreciate what values, habits and behaviors affect that culture.

Given this challenging year and the need for cross-cultural understanding, the ability to regulate one’s emotions when working with others from diverse cultures is critical. The Culture Mastery 4C’s Process™ surfaces the “why” behind the cultural differences and responses.  In this article, we will explore the 4 steps in the process which brings together the practice of coaching and intercultural training.   The goal of the program is to teach coaches and other leaders in talent development to guide their clients on a journey from identification of cultural preferences through the establishment of real-world solutions. 

Culture consists of many things.  It encompasses tangible elements such as food, language, customs, religion, and dress as well as intangible elements such as values, beliefs and traditions.  These intangible elements are often full of emotions.  The emotional component frequently gets overlooked in most models and most informational cultural presentations – but that’s the one component that is the most critical when you get to the core of succeeding in another culture.  This emotional undertow often makes changing and working with other cultures a struggle and will define how difficult or easy it will be for anyone to adjust to the habits and behaviors of the new culture. 

Culture manifests itself in the interaction between individuals.  Our culture reflects both our values, our dreams, and our beliefs, and it reflects our talents, our skills, and the habits we learned from our surroundings. Similarly, our counterparts also exhibit their values, beliefs, skills, talents, and dreams, through their culture manifestation.  When we interact with each other (and if we are observant) we will discover our own values, behaviors, perspectives and their values, behaviors, perspectives.

Our journey to understanding another culture and to culture mastery consists of 4 phases – 4 C’s – Calculate – Choose – Change – Create.

Calculate Choose Change Create

The process starts with the first C – Calculate.  You calculate your preference on the continuum of each cultural variable and thus learn your own Cultural Blueprint. You then compare it with the Cultural Blueprints of your co-workers/staff/clients/ partners from another country/culture and calculate the gaps between your preferences and theirs.

The second C – Choose – takes you through the process of choosing your negotiable and non-negotiable variables.  Making that choice from the perspective of your values will allow you to understand which behaviors/habits you can adjust.

The third C – Change – teaches you the process of changing your cultural attitudes, habits and behaviors when dealing with negotiable variables.

The fourth C – Create – helps you create cultural alliances and agreements for those variables that are non-negotiable.

The following ICF coaching competencies are incorporated into the Culture Mastery 4C’s Process:

  •         Coaching Mindset: Remains aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others.
  •         Co-Creating the Relationship: Seeks to understand the client within their context which may include their identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs.
  •         Coaching Presence: Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.
  •         Communicating Effectively: Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance understanding of what the client is communicating.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Val Bath

Valerie Bath is a recognized authority on cultural relativism and its impact on the productivity and profitability of individuals and global organizations. She has trained consultants, coaches, and employees from multinational corporations over the past 15 years. Previously, she had a career at Accenture and for scientific technology leader Texas Instruments Semiconductor. In both organizations, Valerie designed and implemented enterprise-wide multi-continent systems solutions working with clients and colleagues in the US, Asia, and Europe.

For more information about the Cultural Mastery 4Cs Process::

https://webinars.globalcoachcenter.com/

Please watch the testimonials: www.globalcoachcenter.com/services/assessment/ 

in English, French, and German.

#crossculturaltraining #crosscultural #coaching #CultureMastery #CCE #ICF #expat #culturaltraining