A Simple Guide to Chinese New Year

History of the Chinese New Year 

This year Chinese New Year is on the 1st of February, with 2022 being the Year of the Tiger. Those born under this sign are supposedly courageous and active people who seek adventure and a challenge. Also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is the most important among the traditional Chinese festivals and its origins can be traced back to around 3,500 years ago.

Historians believe that the festival was originally celebrated during the Shang Dynasty, when it is thought that people would hold sacrificial ceremonies in honour of the gods and their ancestors. The date of the festival, which is the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, was fixed in the Han Dynasty. 

The Republic of China now follows the Gregorian calendar but the lunar calendar is still used, popularly, for festivals. This lunar calendar has a repeating twelve-year cycle that assigns an animal and its attributes to each year in the cycle. It is often known as the Chinese zodiac although it differs from the western zodiac which is associated with constellations rather than to years. 

3 Ways People Celebrate Chinese New Year 

Cleaning and decorating your house:  

It’s common for Chinese New Year celebrations to involve cleaning your house, ready for the spring, representing ‘dusting away’ the bad fortune you may have endured in the last year and leaving room for good fortune to enter your house. 

People also decorate their house with red, the main colour of the celebration, believed to be a sign of future success. Red lanterns, red couplets as well as red paintings can be seen on houses, the streets and official buildings across China. 

Enjoying a Family reunion on New Year’s Eve: 

The Chinese New Year’s meal is called the “reunion meal” and is considered by some to be the most important meal of the year, with family members from several generations eating together.  As in the West, families in China will stay up late to celebrate the New Year as it happens, in the streets or by watching the Spring Gala, a very popular TV show in China.  

Gift Giving: 

Like Christmas, it’s very common to give and receive gifts for Chinese New Year. The most common of these being the red envelopes given to children or to retired seniors which represent good luck (and money) for the following year. 

Other gifts are also given, the most common ones being items such as alcohol, candy/sweets, tea, fruits and other foods. If you are planning to give someone a gift, however, don’t give black or white presents as these are associated with funerals and can represent bad luck.  

There are Chinese New Year celebrations throughout the UK in 2022, so there should be one fairly near to you.

Fix Your Time Management Issues With These 5 Apps

Phones are constantly distracting us with their messages, notifications and updates. Sometimes the very gadgets that are meant to facilitate our productivity actually seem to stop us from working to our full potential and living our lives to the fullest. With all of the apps out there that are designed to steal your time and distract you, why not fight fire with fire and, instead, download one of the many that have been created to motivate and help us become more productive.

Here’s our list of the top 5 apps that can help you block out those distractions:  

Forest: 

Forest is an app that lets you grow your own virtual forest by staying focused on the tasks you should be doing, rather than procrastinating.  It works by getting you to set a timer, for a period of your choice, in which you will concentrate on work activities. If you don’t disturb Forest in that time more trees grow, but leaving the app before the end of your ‘promise’ means it will kill off the trees; a perfect visual reminder to keep you focused. 

Forest is designed to keep you away from your phone whilst working, as the longer your device is undisturbed the bigger your forest will be. A great feature of this app is that you can earn virtual coins by creating your forest. When you spend these, the team behind the app donate to real-life tree-planting organisations to help combat deforestation. Another great motivator, as it means you can have an real impact on the environment. 

The app is free on Android or £1.99 on iOS. It is also available as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox.

Offtime 

Offtime, does exactly what it says on the tin, giving you time off from specific apps with a feature that locks you out of social media during times you have set throughout the day. For example, if you set the app to not allow you to access Facebook between 12-2 pm then you will not be able to open the Facebook app during that time. 

You can label these set periods such as “work time” or “family time” to help you keep track of your day and focused at all times. The app can even help you identify your biggest time wasters, by showing you the apps you use the most. It can screen calls, by only allowing those that you choose to get through, but be setup to send custom replies to callers while it is active. It will also record all messages and notifications until connectivity is restored, meaning you don’t miss anything.

The caveat is that Offtime will need to know when you have incoming calls and be able to access a lot of apps to mute them, so please make sure you have carefully read terms and conditions before using the app. There is a light version for iOS devices, at a small cost, but the free Android version is more comprehensive. Overall, Offtime is a good tool for keeping your tech use in check.

Remember the Milk 

Remember the Milk is a to-do-list app that lets you share tasks and lists with others. It can work across all of the devices and platforms you use and lets you create tasks, assign due dates and add other information to the tasks. The free version will allow you connect to Gmail, Google Calendar, and Evernote, but connecting to other services such as Outlook may require you to dig into your pocket for the paid for version. . 

 

The free version of Remember the Milk  allows you to share your to-do-lists with two other people, but the paid for version allows unlimited sharing and also allows you to share a task list with someone, but restrict their access to read-only, if you don’t want them to be able to edit these tasks.

 

Remember the Milk is available for Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and browser extensions. It syncs across all devices, even when they’re offline and allows you to create an unlimited number of lists

Focus 

Focus is an easy to understand app which helps you break down the day into smaller intervals, giving yourself a set time to complete a task before a short break. The idea behind this is to prevent users from being overwhelmed with a massive task list, by breaking activities into 15/30/60 minute chunks.  

Focus lets you view your daily, weekly and monthly activity so you don’t lose sight of the big picture. It requires a subscription and can be used on Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch, but is not, at time of writing, available on Android.

 

Noisli 

Finally, we have Noisli, which is a little different to the other apps and offers a unique way of trying to keep people productive and focused by using ambient sound to create a working atmosphere. 

If you’re unable work in silence and need a noisy environment, especially when working from home, then this app can help as it offers many sounds ranging from thunderstorms, to light rain, to a busy café and more. 

For more tips and tricks on time management, check out our How You Can Reduce Stress With These Time Management Tips blog or our Time Management Courses 

Hybrid Working: The New Permanent?

Covid-19 has changed the world forever, with the way we work being one of the biggest changes. Government directives over the last two years have been designed to slow down the spread of the virus, but during the first lockdown, companies were surprised to find that employees production rates did not seem to fall when they were at home and, in fact, many studies showed that productivity increased.

The Hybrid Model

This has led to many organisations moving to a hybrid model of working, where employees will work from home for a few days a week and commute into the office for the remainder. With the development of better remote working tools, Hybrid working was something more and more organisations were moving towards anyway. The Pandemic just accelerated this already existing trend.

At this point, after two years of a massive, enforced social experiment, it seems obvious that Hybrid Working is something that all companies should adopt and offer to their employees.

But is it?

Is Hybrid the best model for our workplaces in the future and what are the benefits and downsides for Employers and Employees? And what are the wider effects on the economy as a whole?

Employees

Many employees are reporting a better work-life balance, being able to spend more time with their families, especially those with children. Without the rush of early mornings and long or stressful commutes, many people have more time to do their work and say that they are able to complete it to a higher standard. Tasks can be concentrated on, without the constant interruptions that occur in the office. Economically, many families save on childcare, fuel and travel costs and expensive lunches bought in the 15 minutes that they get for lunch at the office.

But many people have missed the daily interactions and the human connection found in an office, along with boost to wellbeing that socialising with colleagues, clients and customers can bring. There are also concerns for some about professional development, as they don’t have the same relationships to those managers who control access to opportunity. Some would argue that group projects and other collaborations work much better face to face and many miss the after-work socialising that is part and parcel of working life in many organisations.

And of course, Employees working from home have many new expenses, such as heating their houses throughout winter, at times they normally wouldn’t. With Electricity and gas prices rapidly rising, this will be a significant cost for many. (We have some Helpful Tips to Save You Money This Winter.)

Employers

From an employer’s perspective, a lot of money can be saved in office rental and the maintenance of expensive buildings and premises. For many organisations, Hybrid Working means they much smaller spaces are needed, and many offices have been downsized. And there is the much-reported spike in productivity that has been associated with more people working from home.

Changing where your organisation is based and how it works also provides an opportunity to address geographic and economic inequality, and gives access to possible untapped talent pools in different parts of the UK. Remote workers can just as well be in Liverpool as in Luton.

But Hybrid working is a much more complicated matter for companies than just focusing on how many days per week people will be in, or what technology will be required. The changes being made have knock-on effects, cost implications and possible unforeseen consequences. Organisations need to address the issue holistically. Planning for it needs to be done from the top down, involving all parts of the company and not just HR.

Wider Society

Looking at wider benefits, less people commuting means less traffic on the road and less congestion and pollution, with the obvious, concomitant environmental benefits.

That said, many businesses, as we are often reminded, are losing out badly in the great Hybrid working revolution. City centre businesses such as lunch-time sandwich shops and retail in general, as well as wider hospitality, are losing a lot of the trade they formally enjoyed. Yet while this may hasten the decline of the city centre, it may also benefit the local high street, which gains the footfall lost from Town centre businesses.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that will suit all organisations and the option of doing nothing is not an option. Covid-19 has changed people’s expectations and forced them to reprioritise what they want in life. Nobody should be forced to return to the office and if any businesses force people to do so, it may be counter-productive. But just selling all their offices and telling everyone to work permanently at home is not a solution either. Hybrid working, in one form or another is almost certainly here to stay, but what it looks like, when the dust finally settles, is still to be determined.

Helpful Tips to Save You Money This Winter

Climate change means that weather is more unpredictable than ever, but we can still be fairly certain that winter will, at some point, bring some cold spells. For many reasons, including Covid, global politics and Brexit, gas and electric prices have been rising considerably and these may increase exponentially again, in the coming months. So it’s now more important than ever to find cheap ways to keep yourself warm during winter, especially if you’ll be spending more time working from home. 

Here are our top tips on keeping yourself warm for less this winter: 

Install a Smart Meter: 

A smart meter will help to track how much you are spending on heating. Contact your gas and electricity supplier and they should come and install one for you, free of charge.

With a smart meter, there is no need to submit readings. The meter will track your exact usage and what the electricity and gas you are using is costing. There is even the potential to check what individual appliances are costing to run and keep track of the exact amount of money you are spending on each. A smart meter may even help you to spot a faulty appliance, that is wasting electricity.

Having accurate information on what you are using will allow you to budget more effectively, with hopefully no unexpected costs at the end of the month. However, it needs to be remembered that smart meters will not reduce bills by themselves. They are merely a tool to help you budget.

Also remember that there is a lot of volitivity in the energy supply market at the moment, with suppliers going out of business on a regular basis. Keep this in mind and double check before you get your smart meter installed.

Set timers to your heating. 

Most systems allow you to set specific times for your heating being turned on and off automatically. Even if you are working from home you often don’t need heating to be on all day. Careful setting of a system can help to cut down on how much you’re spending whilst still keeping the house warm when needed.

 

Good times to have the heating on would be, perhaps, half an hour before you get up, or to warm the house for when you get back from work. Even if you’re working from home, it might be useful to set the heating to start for when you finish work, ready for when you’re relaxing at night when it gets colder. 

Layer Up 

The cheapest way to stay warm is to layer up. Wear a cosy jumper in the house, or a dressing gown, or even both if it’s a particularly cold day. The basic idea is that if you are feeling cold, just add a layer.

It’s important to keep your hands and feet warm as they are places you can potentially lose a lot of body heat. Time to whip out those thick, fluffy socks from the wardrobe. You can also invest in a warm blanket for when you’re lounging around or trying to sleep; it’ll keep you nice and toasty without having the break the bank and blankets can be used as nice decoration as well. 

Helping You Keep To Your New Year’s Resolutions

The saying goes “new year new you” and to help ourselves we set up goals called New Year Resolutions, but over 25% of people quit their resolutions after just 2 weeks! We all like to think that this will be the year that will be different, but how can we make that a reality? Here are some tips on how to make your resolutions a reality. 

Keep A Diary 

Let’s say your goal is to go for a run once a week, by keeping a journal or diary you can keep track of when and what you did and after seeing that you’ve done it for a couple of weeks it will motivate you to continue. 

Try with a friend 

If you share a resolution with your friend, partner or with you family, then you can keep each other in check and motivate each other to achieve your goals. 

Make it realistic 

You can’t make miracles happen, if you don’t play the violin your goal shouldn’t be to play at the 02 arena after a few weeks. You motivation will go and you will give up. The trick is to be realistic and give yourself short term goals that lead to that cherished long-term goal. In that way you are much more likely to keep on track. 

Have fun! 

The point of resolutions is to develop yourself but also to have fun. If your resolution is about something that you enjoy doing, such as perhaps learning an instrument, then it won’t really feel like a chore and you will have the motivation to continue to learn. 

Give Your Liver a Break With The Dry January Challenge

After festive celebrations throughout December, January is perhaps when we should be giving our livers a break and time to recover. Dry January is an annual event which challenges people to go the full 31 days of January without drinking any alcohol, in an attempt to demonstrate the benefits of not drinking. 

It’s run by a charity called Alcohol Change UK which promotes Dry January as a way to spread awareness as well as raise money for the charity itself. In 2021 6.6 million people took part and reported amazing benefits; including 86% of participants saving money, which, after Christmas certainly wouldn’t be the worst idea.

 

In a year, the average household spends close to £1000 on alcohol. Imagine all the things that you could buy with that amount of money. Another benefit, reported by 70% of participants, was being able to sleep longer, without disturbance, and 66% of those involved reported feeling a lot more energised throughout the month.

The UK has a drinking culture, meaning alcohol is engrained into many of our activities and social events. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it isn’t something that needs to be the case either. Alcohol Change UK are concerned that people don’t fully understand the risks that can come with over-consumption. On Average, a man in the UK drinks nearly 10 litres of pure alcohol a year; the equivalent of 18 units per week, well above the recommended 14 units

.

Visit Alcohol Change UK for more information where you can even download an app to help you keep motivated and see how far you can go without having a drop of alcohol. Everyone has a New Year’s resolution. Why not make a Dry January one of yours as a great way to start your year?

  

Veganuary: Why Not Try Something New?

We’re always encouraged to eat healthier and think about where our food comes from, and ‘Veganuary’ gives us the perfect opportunity to do so. Whilst you may not want to become fully vegan, it is still a chance to challenge yourself and try out new and creative recipes that you may have never come across before. 

Basically Veganuary challenges you to go the full 31 days of January eating vegan, meaning no meat, dairy and any animal products such as honey. You can go even further if you wish and stop wearing leather or any other material created from animals for the whole month.

Currently around 79 million people worldwide identify as vegan and there are many reasons people decide to go vegan or try Veganuary, the most prominent one being to improve animal welfare. Concern for other species is not the only reason to adopt a vegan lifestyle however; people choose to be vegan because the diet can also boost your health and help the environment. A vegan regime can help those with some food allergies, or it could be just as simple as wanting to try new foods and recipes.

Some changes can be really easy: Oat milk over cow’s milk, eating Oreos over a chocolate digestive (yes, Oreos are vegan!), or having bean/potato burgers over meat burgers alongside so much more. 

If you are struggling don’t worry, many restaurants and food outlets now include a vegan menu including Greggs, McDonalds, KFC and Subway, so if you’re in a need for a quick lunch you can always treat yourself.

Instead of just buying vegan sausages or vegan bacon, though, you could try making whole new original vegan recipes for yourself, and use new flavours to expand your taste. There’s so much to try. To find out more on how to take part check the Veganuary website and even if you don’t end up becoming vegan or stop halfway through the month, at least you experienced something new and may have found something different that you wish to incorporate in your normal life. 

 

 

Working From Home: How To Make Sure You Have The Skills Needed

As 2022 begins and with our world having changed after the Covid-19 pandemic, it is time to look into the future and make sure we are kept up to date with our necessary skills to succeed from the comfort of our homes.

One in four firms are allowing their workers to continue working from home, whether that be full time or mixing in office work as well, meaning we need to make sure we continue to develop our skills so we don’t fall behind. 

Without the office environment and co-workers being beside you to help, it can feel like you are not ready to work alone, but don’t worry. With these helpful tips, you will be back to efficient work in no time.

“Practice makes perfect.” 

One way to keep ahead is to make sure you are using the software as much as possible allowing you to remember how to perform a task easier each time. 

Going step-by-step learning new things and trying them over and over again will help you develop your skills further and each time you try you will see a noticeable improvement, motivating you to continue practising.

Don’t give up, you can’t be perfect after your first couple of tries, you’ll get the results you want just remember to take your time learning.

Try Something New 

Trying something new on the software will also help you keep up to date. When you try something new it builds your confidence in aspects you have already mastered as they will feel easier compared to what you’re trying as well as you also gaining new skills. 

It also gives you a break from a task that may not be going so well, so by trying something new you are refreshing your brain so that when you return hopefully you won’t be stuck anymore.

Get help 

If you’re struggling and need help, remember it’s ok to ask. Whether that be enrolling on a course or asking someone you know, having someone help you get to grips with the software can make a massive difference. 

If you are looking for some professional help, check out our Adobe or Microsoft courses to keep updated on the software.  

5 Ways to Celebrate Thank You Month

“Manners Cost Nothing” is something you probably heard a lot as a child, and as we get older, we start to appreciate the simple things, such as a “thanks” after helping someone out. 

In some parts of the world, January marks ‘Thank You Month’, a time to make sure our manners are still at their very best. And at the same time that you show gratitude for what others do for you with that simple “thank you”, you can take time to acknowledge why you are thankful. More than that, you can try to do something, however small, for others and give back to the community, as a simple act of kindness can go a long way.

There are many ways you can take part in the month, and getting involved can have some real, positive effects on both you and your community.

Getting Involved

  1. You could start a thank you journal, in which each day of January you write something that you are thankful for. You may be surprised at how much there actually is to be thankful about and you can start appreciating the little things in life.
  2. Reach out to someone who is there for you and thank them for something they did, or for just being a part of your life. Reassuring and showing gratitude to the people who are there for you is important, as making them feel appreciated shows them they are doing the right thing.
  3. Make sure to thank people who provide services, whether it be a teacher, a cashier or someone serving your breakfast at a café; hearing it will make their day and it doesn’t cost you anything.
  4. Give other people a reason to be thankful by providing acts of kindness to strangers and friends alike, it will brighten their day and yours, and makes it more likely for that person to pass on the kindness to a new stranger.
  5. Did you know that being thankful can actually produce dopamine, a chemical released in your brain when you are having a pleasant experience. Thanking someone can actually lift your mood and make you feel happier!

Santa Paws: Saving Christmas One Puppy At a Time

Within the UK it is estimated that 100,000 dogs and cats are without a loving home, either in shelters or strays on the street. With Christmas around the corner, it is the perfect time to donate to charity and help the community in the spirit of togetherness. 

Many families decide a pet would be a perfect Christmas present, but a lot of cats and dogs are returned later in the year when they become “too much responsibility” as people may not understand the amount of time animals need. 

To help with the increase in animals within shelters that are already at their limit, there are charity events called Santa Paws around the country to encourage people to support a variety of causes. 

In 2019 nearly £2,000,000 was raised at the Pets at Home Santa Paws appeal, allowing for new equipment and a continuation of their work with animals. Other organisations have more specific causes, such as training hearing dogs for deaf people which support them with their disabilities. 

Hearing dogs are used to alert their owners about sounds they would usually miss, this can be from the doorbell, alarms and phone but can also help with devices that help us identify hazards, such as a fire alarm, potentially saving lives.

They encourage people to hold Santa Paws events such as a coffee morning or a bake sale, you can make the event as big or as small as you want and every little helps for this organisation. 

Christmas is a time about coming together as a community so it’s the perfect opportunity to get involved and have fun doing so. 

Get involved in helping charities and raise money for this wonderful cause, you can help change an animal’s life.