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Why Guitar is THE instrument to learn this month!

Good news for music lovers everywhere. It’s time to celebrate an instrument that is essential for most modern genres; the guitar. April is International Guitar month, which started in 1987 and has grown in scale since then, and now has an increasing emphasis on guitar instruction. So if you don’t know how to play the guitar, but have always wanted to, it’s the perfect excuse to learn! 

A Brief History 

Today, the guitar is one of the most popular instruments because it is versatile, portable and affordable. It is relatively easy to learn and is the basis of most popular rock and pop music, making it one of the most visible instruments to music fans of all kinds.

Antecedents of the guitar can be found from over three thousand years ago and the term previously referred to instruments used across Europe, beginning in the 12th century and, later, in the Americas.

The form and structure of the modern guitar was established circa 1850 in Spain by different Spanish makers with the most important, possibly, being  Antonio Torres Jurado who increased the size of the guitar body, altered its proportions, and invented the breakthrough fan-braced pattern. This improved the volume, tone, and projection of the instrument, and it has remained essentially unchanged since.

The earliest first-fully functioning solid-body electric guitar to be manufactured and sold was released in 1932 and the development of this instrument, so beloved in popular music, continued in the forties, until we had the instrument that we know today.

How to Celebrate 

Buy a Guitar: International Guitar Month is the perfect opportunity to start learning the instrument. There may be discounts from retailers in April, so keep a look out for these. 

Learn How to Play: Find a teacher, either a friend or a professional, to help you get to grips with the basics, or enrol in a guitar class. The beauty of a guitar as an instrument, however, is that it is relatively easy to grasp the basics and many guitar players are self-taught. So why not teach yourself.

Attend a Music Festival/Concert: If listening is more your thing, go see live artists and appreciate the lyricism and magic that a guitar can create in the hands of a virtuoso. The guitar is recognized as a primary instrument in nearly every popular music genre, including blues, bluegrass, country, flamenco, folk, jazz, jota, mariachi, metal, punk, reggae, rock, soul, and pop. There is something for everyone.

Delve Deeper Into Guitar History, Schedule your OWN concert and perhaps Listen To More Guitar Music, using your favourite streaming service, in the comfort of your own home.

Write a Song: Pen a love song, a protest song, a song about the times we live in, an instrumental, a prog-rock epic, or a gentle acoustic ballad – it doesn’t matter.

Fun Guitar facts: 

  • The world’s biggest functioning guitar is 13 meters long, each string plays the correct note. 
  • On the other hand, the shortest Guitar is only 10 macrons, this one is less playable. 
  • The most expensive guitar ever sold for £2.8 Million, raising funds for charity after a tsunami in India. 
  • James Rowling, in 2020, managed to balance a guitar on his chin for 1 hour and 7 seconds, setting a new world record.  

If you’d like help in managing your work-life balance, so you have time to learn guitar, check out our time management courses or read our blog on how you can Fix Your time Management with These 5 Apps!

Hope: Harness the Emotion That Keeps Us Going.

Hope is often seen as one of the most important emotions in life in life. Defined as an optimistic state of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes, hope is something that we all have to a greater or lesser extent.

hope/

1.a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

Oxford Languages

Hope is portrayed as a great motivator in films, TV shows and literature, and psychological studies have shown that hope can, indeed, be of great benefit to us, but only when the thing we hope for is based on a realistic sense of optimism, not on a naïve “false hope”.

In the USA, April is the National Month of Hope and celebrates the power of this emotion. As the days get lighter and warmer and spring really arrives, hope seems to come a little easier.

History: 

The National Month of Hope is the result of the work of the not-for-profit organisation, Mothers In Crisis, Inc. Beginning as a support group for women, the organisation expanded into community-based prevention and intervention for drug rehabilitation. Mothers in Crisis was founded by Rosalind Tompkins in 1991, herself a recovered addict.

Mothers In Crisis, Inc. supports women and families. It’s hope campaign encourages the sharing of stories of hope to help families ripped apart by addiction and this, in turn, led to the recognition of April as the month of hope in 2018.

How to Celebrate: 

Here a few ways you can help spread hope and kindness around your community: 

  • Volunteer by reading to children in schools or a library. 
  • Experience meaningful and healthy communication with loved ones, family, friends, co-workers, and colleagues. 
  • Giving of time, food, and money to help families in need. 
  • Post on social media words of hope, you never know who needs those extra words of encouragement. 
  • Sharing your story of overcoming with those who are going through hard times, can inspire them or show that times can get better. 
  • Lending a helping hand to those in need, can be as simple as carrying someone’s shopping.
  • Cleaning up areas where there is litter such as parks, beaches and any green spaces.
  • Spend a day with the homeless whether on the streets or at a homeless shelter or food bank.

There is no doubt that hope is an important thing in people’s lives and the psychologist Charles R. Snyder has argued that hope should be viewed as a cognitive skill that demonstrates an individual’s ability to maintain drive and motivation in the pursuit of a particular goal.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.

— Emily Dickinson

There have even been some studies that have shown that hope can play an important part in the recovery process from illness; it has strong psychological benefits for patients, helping them to cope more effectively with their disease.

Hope is the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson said, and a little bit of hope is good for us all.

Protecting The Animals You Love With Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Month

Across the UK it is estimated that 44% of households own some sort of pet, whether that be a dog, cat or something else. Unfortunately, it’s also estimated that around 1 million reports of animal abuse are recorded a year. That number should be zero.

Recent legislation has much improved protection for animals, but there is still much to be done. 

What’s Been Done So Far? 

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the latest animal welfare legislation in England and Wales. It superseded and consolidated more than 20 other pieces of legislation, such as the Protection of Animals Act 1934 and the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960. Prior to this Act, animal welfare law was largely reactive and action could only be taken once an animal had suffered unnecessarily.

The 2006 Act introduced the important concept of a duty of care that animal owners have, whether those animals are pets or commercial animals, to ensure they care for their animals properly. In practical terms this means that an owner must ensure that an animal has:

  • A suitable environment
  • A suitable diet
  • Is able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • Is housed with, or apart, from other animals, as the particular animal’s needs dictate.
  • Is protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

The penalties for breaking this act originally included being banned from owning pets in the future, facing a fine or a sentence of a maximum of 6 months in prison. Many critics of the law argued these penalties were not enough and, after campaigning by organisations such as the RSPCA, the law had was amended in 2021 so that those guilty of the worse offences could face an unlimited fine or a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.  

Other regulations have been put onto the stature books since the Animal Welfare Act of 2006, including the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 which set minimum welfare standards for farm animals generally, but many would argue that this is still not enough. 

There’s More to Be Done 

Animal rights in the UK have advanced in recent years, but with that estimated one million reports of animal abuse a year, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month is an opportunity to educate ourselves and others as to what we can do to help our furry companions. 

Fox Hunting 

Whilst Fox hunting is illegal in England, Scotland and Wales, it isn’t illegal in Northern Ireland meaning many foxes are still ripped apart by dogs as a sport in this part of the UK. In fact it is estimated that around 400,000 foxes are killed a year across the UK as a whole, as shooting foxes as a pest is still legal.  

Despite the ban on hunting in England, Scotland and Wales, there has been an increase in membership of the Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) which currently represents 176 active foxhound packs in England and Wales and 10 in Scotland.  Illegal hunt still continue and there are many loopholes in the law that allow the killing of foxes by hunting packs. The legislation needs to be strengthened and properly enforced to stop this barbaric an cruel ‘sport’.

Breeding 

Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with breeding pets such as dogs, the over breeding of pedigree animals can cause long term health issues and the main priority should be animals health and wellbeing rather than achieving a perfect look.  

Pugs, for example, have for years been bred to achieve flatter features, but as a consequence many individuals of the breed have issues with breathing. This affects their ability to exercise, causing knock-on effects to their health as a whole.  

What Can We do? 

Participate in Prevention to Animal Cruelty Month by: 

  • Signing petitions, whether it be to create further protections for animals or to bring in new legisalation where the law is still lacking. Write to your MP. If enough of us act, it could make a difference. 
  • Consider adopting your next pet from a shelter rather than a breeder. Perhaps you could take in an animal that has had bad treatment previously and help change an animal’s life by letting them live in a loving home. 
  • If you are going to get a pet from a breeder, try and find an one that is ethical and that prioritises the health of animals over making money. The RSPCA have a list of guidelines to help you find an ethical breeder. 
  • If you can’t adopt a new pet, perhaps you could donate some time or money to a local animal shelter, to help with to give unfortunate animals a second chance. Every little will help. 
  • We can also make small changes in the way we shop, by buying free range eggs, milk and other dairy products, and by trying to ensure that the food we buy is ethically sourced. Giving producers a financial incentive to treat animals ethically can only be a win-win.

 

Animals provide us with so much love, companionship and loyalty and make the world such a better place. They deserve a little bit of effort from us to help make their lives better.

How Thinking Optimistically Can Change Your World Perspective

In some parts of the world, March is optimism month, during which the idea is promoted that we can actively change the way we think and start to view things more optimistically. We know that some people are naturally more optimistic than others, but whoever we are and whether we are inherently positive or not, we can work to train ourselves to create a lifelong habit of optimism, for a happier, healthier life.  

How Thinking Optimistically Can Help You. 

People will often assume that those with a more positive outlook on life are that way due to the fact they may have had an easy life, or that they’ve never had something major happen to them that shook their worldview, but this is not entirely the case.

Research suggests that optimistic people are happier because they actually gain happiness from their optimistic outlook. This can have health benefits as a happy life can lead to a longer and healthier life, especially mentally. So how do we ‘train’ ourselves to be more optimistic? There are a number of ways: 

How to help optimise your optimism. 

Coincidence Journal: 

Do you remember the last time you experienced good fortune, or a coincidence that benefited you? Perhaps you moved something valuable off of a shelf moments before that same shelf fell of the wall. We all experience these happy coincidences on a regular basis, but we can fail to notice them, as we may be too stressed or busy.  

It’s important to take note of these, so create a journal that you can add to every night (or when you’re free) and you’ll soon start to appreciate how much is actually going your way. Revisiting this journal will help you focus on the positive and gain a new perspective. 

Gratitude Journal: 

Creating a gratitude journal is another way to focus on the positivity in your life. 

Challenge yourself to write three things that you’re grateful for at the end of each day. If you can, try to make what you write each day different, to help highlight as many positive events in your life as possible. It will help you promote a more optimistic outlook.  

The best thing about keeping a journal is that if you’re feeling down or stressed, it can be a great reminder of all you have to be thankful for.  

Vision Board: 

When you set yourself goals, it’s important to visualise how you can achieve them. Creating a vision board can help you do this and see your aims clearly. 

The first step is to set your goal (or goals) and place them at the top of your board. Below this, draw a ladder, with each rung being a step towards achieving your goal. Break down your thought processes and be realistic; it’s important that you maintain the right difficulty level for each step, or you may lose motivation. As you move down the steps, you can mark the fact that you have completed them in whatever way you wish and get a visual sense of your progress. Your optimism will hopefully increase as you see yourself get closer to the overall goal.  

In case you feel that you could end up being too optimistic and this might actually end up being harmful rather than helpful, this is actually quite unlikely. Studies have shown that most people are consistently wrong in being too optimistic. On average, people expect good things to happen and bad things to not happen, and these optimistic beliefs are more positive than can be justified by reality.

But for the most part, this over-optimism does no harm. In fact, we may have evolved this way, as it give us a survival advantage. Being optimistic is extremely motivating and will make us try harder (creating a self-fulfilling prophecy). It also helps us to avoid stress.

So it’s official. You can’t be too optimistic!

Spring has arrived, find out why it’s simply the BEST season!

Spring is nearly here and, for us at Infero, it can’t come soon enough. It’s the season of rebirth and rejuvenation, when animals emerge from hibernation and nature starts to regrow. Here are our top picks of why spring is the BEST season. 

Longer days 

The further from December’s midwinter solstice that we get, the longer the days become. Thankfully it is no longer pitch black outside by 4:30 pm. By the end of March, sunset won’t happen until almost 6:30 in the evening. Then, daylight saving time will come to an end and our clocks will spring forward an hour, giving us late evenings to enjoy for the whole of summer. Taking full advantage of all this natural light benefits our mood, as sunlight directly affects how much serotonin our brains release, a hormone that makes us feel both happier and healthier! 

Wildlife 

Spring sees the return of wildlife to our parks and gardens. As well as the return of hedgehogs from hibernation, the UK sees the return of many migratory birds, with birdwatchers recording the the first arrival of the first Swallow or Cuckoo of the year. And, whilst butterflies can be seen all year ’round in the UK, this is only in certain habitats. It is in spring that we will begin to see these wonderful and unique creatures once more grace our gardens; from late March and April onwards. The species most likely to be found near our homes include peacock, red admiral, small white and painted lady butterflies. All this can have an extremely positive effect on our own well-being. In fact, a UK study in 2017 directly linked the number of birds people could see in their neighbourhoods to their reported mental state. The little things really can cheer us up. 

Warmer 

We all know that the UK doesn’t get the hottest weather, except, perhaps, for two random weeks, somewhere between March and November, when the temperature climbs to the mid thirties and we all complain that it is ‘too hot’. Spring does, however mark temperatures rising to slightly more bearable levels than those of the depths of winter. This means we can go outside, enjoy the fresh air and take advantage of those longer days. March winds and April showers may mean that spring is breezier and wetter than the summer to follow, but it still feels great to be outside. And once out and about, feel free to channel your inner Pepper Pig and go jumping in those muddy puddles. 

Nature – The Great Outdoors

For those who love gardening, it’s time for you to return to your favourite hobby. Spend some time planting seeds, pruning your shrubs and vines, adding colour in your lawn, by using plants such as pansies, clean and prep your garden and rejuvenate your water features. And if gardening’s not your thing, then wander a little further from home to marvel at the splendour of nature. And there is a lot to see; consider the 15 National Parks in the UK. In England 10 National Parks cover 9.3% of the land area, in Wales 3 National Parks cover 19.9.% of the land area, and in Scotland 2 National Parks cover 7.2% of the land area. You can learn more about these spectacular national treasures in our previous post here.

So whatever you do, get out and enjoy spring. Like the song says:

Ma Nature’s lyrical, with her yearly miracle

Spring, Spring, Spring.

Women’s History Month: Discovering The Women That Shaped the World

Throughout history the achievements of women have been overlooked and under-represented, and this is no less true in the UK. March is Women’s History month, when we look back and celebrate the contributions of women and how they helped develop our nation. 

Until relatively recently women did not enjoy the same rights under the law as men; for example, they only gained the vote in 1918. Even then, they only had the right to vote if they owned a house. Women didn’t gain real equality, in voting terms, until 1928.  

 

It was groups such as the suffragettes, using both peaceful and more extreme forms of protest, with the aim of causing as much societal disorder as possible, that eventually helped force the then government to give women the vote. Their struggle wasn’t without sacrifice. Emily Davison, a key figure of the suffragette movement was killed during one protest, after throwing herself In front of the king’s horse during a race.  

For the vast majority of recorded history, women’s voices have been ignored and their contributions hidden, or perhaps worse still, the credit for them has been stolen by others, invariably men. Women’s history month focuses on the achievements of those in the past who were passed by at the time and celebrates the significance of what these women did, for both equality between the sexes and for their societal contributions. 

Here are some of the Women that helped to shape the UK and the world as we know it: 

Florence Nightingale 

Although known in popular mythology as “The Lady with the Lamp”, it is unclear whether her achievements in the Crimean War were exaggerated by the media at the time. This doesn’t really matter, however, as Florence Nightingale was, by any measure, one of the most remarkable people of her time, male or female, and is agreed to be the founder of modern nursing.   

 After rejecting the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother. Nightingale worked hard to educate herself in the art and science of nursing. During the Crimean War she served as a manager and trainer of nurses , organising care for wounded soldiers at Constantinople. Giving nursing a favourable reputation and becoming an icon of Victorian culture, she later established her nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, the first secular nursing school in the world. Her achievements in the profession are such that in some countries the ‘Nightingale Pledge’ is taken by new nurses, and the Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve.

What is much less well-known about her is that Nursing is only one part of a remarkable career. She was a social reformer whose reforms included improving healthcare for all sections of British society, and someone who expanded the acceptable forms of female participation in the workforce. A pioneer in statistics she developed a form of the pie chart now known as the polar area diagram. In addition to all of this Nightingale was a prolific writer, publishing a large number of books and tracts, many concerned with spreading of medical knowledge and written in simple English.

Mary Seacole  

Mary Seacole is the other famous nurse of the Crimean war. After hearing about the poor treatment of soldiers in Crimea, she offered herself to assist with nursing the wounded, and applied to the War Office to be included among the nursing contingent, but was refused. She later attributed this refusal to prejudice, but she travelled to Crimea independently anyway and set up her “British Hotel” behind the lines. She described the hotel as “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers”.

Displaying “compassion, skills and bravery while nursing soldiers during the Crimean War” and relying on her skill and experience as a healer and a doctress from Jamaica, many have argued that she was the first nurse-practitioner. Returning to Britain after the war, she got into increasing financial trouble and was declared bankrupt. The British press highlighted her plight and a Fund was set up to help her and there was even a festival held in her honour. After her death, she was largely forgotten for almost a century, but was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991 and in 2004 was voted the greatest black Briton, with a statue of her being erected at St Thomas’s hospital, London in 2016.  

Marie Curie 

Mare Curie was a Polish Born Chemist who had moved to Paris for a chance to study at university. She worked closely with uranium, a new and highly radioactive substance but, during her studies, noticed that some parts of the uranium were more radioactive than others, and realised that the readings couldn’t be that of the uranium alone. Despite being doubted by her peers, she continued researching and discovered a new element, polonium. She went on to find yet another element – radium.  

Marie Curie’s discoveries paved the way for much modern medicine and the treatment of cancer through radiotherapy, as it is used today.  

Ada Lovelace 

Many consider Lovelace to be the first computer programmer, long before what we would now call computer even existed. After working with Charles Babbage, who proposed an Analytical Engine (a programmable, general-purpose computer) she recognised that the machine might have applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm (programme) intended to be carried out by such a machine.

The Analytical Engine was never finished, so her work couldn’t be put to the test during her life-time, but her contributions to Mathematics and Computing cannot be underestimated and she’s now remembered through the programming language dubbed “Ada”. A hundred years ahead of her time, Ada was remarkable also because the vision she had of computers going beyond mere mathematics. She asked questions about the Analytical Engine itself and how individuals and society relate to technology.

Amelia Earhart 

Amelia Earhart was an American-born pilot who defied gender roles to pursue her passion in aviation. She set many milestones during her life, such as being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (second person ever) as well as the being the first person to fly from Hawaii to the mainland USA.  She received a ‘Distinguished Flying Cross’ for her trans-Atlantic flight. After placing third in the All Women’s Air Derby, she helped found the Ninety-Nines, an international organisation to help women into aviation, which is still around today and helps women from 44 different countries.   

Attempting to navigate the globe she was only 7000 miles away from completing her goal when she and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared after losing contact with the US Coast Guard.  Investigations and significant public interest in their disappearance still continue over 80 years later.

These women and many more like them around the globe have helped push boundaries and change the world for the better. We can celebrate how far we have come in terms of equality and look back on those that paved the way. 

Why You SHOULD Learn New Skills In Excel

Now might be the time to get the new job you’ve always wanted. The Office of National Statistics reported in January that “The number of job vacancies in October to December 2021 rose to a new record of 1,247,000”. In some areas, however, things are still very competitive and it takes that little bit extra to stand out. 

One skill employers always look for proficiency in is MS Excel, because the software is extremely versatile and able to be turned to almost any task. It is also very widely used, in all types of industries including HR, Marketing, Retail and more. This is due to the depth of functionality that Excel has, being able to do everything from calculating, to sorting, organising and evaluating data, to providing business insights through easy to understand charts and visualisations. It is the default tool in almost every organisation, used by everyone from entry-level employees to senior staff.  

Whether you’re an employee trying to stand out from the crowd or an employer trying to raise productivity in your workplace, here are our top 5 reasons Excel should be your next step in education: 

Improving efficiency in the workplace 

Since Excel allows you to manipulate large amounts of data and even automate any data processing that takes place, it is easy to save hours of repetitive work. Tasks that take hours or days can be accomplished in minutes if you know how to access the correct tool in Excel. The greater your knowledge the more work that can be done speedily and efficiently, simply by accessing the sophisticated tools that Excel puts at your disposal. 

Knowledge of Excel will also help you stand out to prospective employers, or, perhaps, increase the appreciation that your present employer has for you, and give you a helping hand towards that promotion you are after. 

Takes the strain off the IT support 

In some organisations, where the workforce does not have a good knowledge of Excel, IT support may be required to help with ordinary, day to day work-tasks. This means that the individual may be unproductive whilst waiting for help from IT and the support staff’s time is taken up in solving an issue that wouldn’t even arise if the staff member had had some elementary training. Two staff members time are wasted on something trivial and very easily solvable. For both employees and employers, just a small amount of the right training is invaluable. 

Can Save the Company Money 

It might be that the company will at some point require someone with strong Excel skills. We live in an increasing data driven society, after all. At this point it would be far more cost effective for the employer to invest in their current staff. These are the people who have knowledge of, and commitment to, the company and could use that knowledge to uncover some money-making insights, if they only had the skills. Hiring someone already proficient in Excel will be time-consuming and costly. And it will take that person literally years to gain the knowledge and understanding of the business that current employees already have. Training is an investment of a few days that provides an excellent return in terms of workflow and productivity.  

Creates Higher Satisfaction for Employees 

Performing tasks in Excel without the proper training can mean that employees have a much higher workload than they really should, because they are not able to access the functionality contained in the programme. This, in turn, can lead to a team feeling unmotivated, with lower job satisfaction, even pressured and stressed because they may feel that they aren’t fully equipped for the task. Providing advanced Excel training for your team will increase both their motivation and productivity and your turnover. And, because they are being trained and valued, employee retention will be high.

Making Yourself Necessary 

The more efficient you become as a worker and the more time you save on the normal, everyday tasks, the more you will graduate to higher levels. Continuing your training to Excel advanced level can make you almost irreplaceable. Developing new skills helps you stay on top of your game and is a win-win for both the employee and the employer. 

If you’re looking for training for yourself or your employees, we offer Excel courses at three levels, catered for your pre-existing knowledge and experience.  

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.