Remaining Questions from Gems Talk on Self care

On the 8th of April @gemma.hill1987 did a wonderful talk on Self Care.
Gem answered 9 question during the Online Meetup.

These are the Remaining Questions, which will be answered in the coming days

  • Do you think now is a good time to plan retrospectives around mental health, since maybe more than one team member is struggling with quarantine and social distancing?

  • Should mental health and management be taught in schools right from the beginning?

  • its easy to lose yourself in a task, whether its at home, working from home, or at work. What is a good way to keep your self awareness in the routine?

  • How can we help and support others with their self-care/mental health especially right now?

  • With the commercialisation of self care (notebooks, journals, list books), do you think the industry has got it right?

  • Recently I had to follow a really strict elimination diet for health reasons, and a big part of this was substituting ingredients in recipes so I could still enjoy meals that I liked. It made it so much easier to follow a difficult process, so I really like the idea of substitutions as part of mental health. What are your favourite substitutions?

  • What are there benefits and disadvantages of managing our activities in an agile way?

  • How do you cope with the feeling of being less productive at work due to working from home?

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Missed that.
As someone who self-identifies as introvert, for most of my life seeking to just be alone, the engineering discipline is a rabbit hole when I work from home. Hence I never do it unless forced. Like now. But I still need some of the energy source extroverts draw from crowds of busy engaged people all around them. Very much aware is how I see myself at this time.

And I thus find coping with being much less productive quite a stress. Although my team is super super super. We have been taking team health seriously and this did come up more since lockdown. If your team is not spending a bit of time each week just socializing over whatever video collaboration tool you use, you are probably going to be in the minority soon. Everyone at the company did a insights day some time ago, and interesting “who is who” conversations started, but fizzled at that time. But I assume that the little bit of guidance that course gave us, is useful in identifying which staff members need most help right now.

We are sticking to our sprints, and even achieving better prediction or burndown, although velocity is possibly lower. Even though deadlines are now up in the air, we are pushing forward, which is adding a sense of purpose, or perhaps drawing from sense of purpose. If your job is not in some ways assisting people get through this lockdown, work must really be hard to focus on. But for me, it’s very focused, so that keeps us sane. I guess finding that one thing that keeps you sane, but also keeps your team sane is critical right now.

We try to inculcate being goal driven in kids at school, but we keep motivating them with the wrong carrots. Sorry, I have no words on this school level preparation. I have 2 teens one who is at this crossroads impacted by this. Nothing the teachers can teach has prepared them for, and little that they do not self learn right now, will have as much impact. Society should be teaching children, the “herd” needs to play a bigger part in young lives throughout, than what it currently does.

Books? You probably only need one or two good self-care books, more than that is an abuse of trees, unless social sciences is a career path or special/hobby interest I guess. I do advocate a good book every few years. I had a really bummer year last year mentally, and turned to an online help group, but ultimately I used a lot of energy focusing on removing the source of the stress entirely, and that made a big difference. No book needed to tell you that, but I did go on a binge of reading anyway.


This is an interesting one! It really depends on the team, and how open they’ll feel to it. My thoughts are it’s worth a try, but to tread carefully.

  • Limit it to work at first, if people want to share (or if your team is pretty psychologically safe and shares stuff to begin with) then go from there into other mental health stuff
  • It can’t be mandatory to share or take part, being (or feeling) forced to share things is gonna ruin the trust that’s there
  • Some people might not ever want to share. It might be they have strong boundaries that work for them (I’ve certainly had times where I’ve needed work to be the place where I don’t think about my mental health), or that it’s just not necessary for them. Don’t take it personally, don’t push. They might come around if they see the retros being handled well, they might not.

We use the spotify health check model in a lot of teams in my department, and it works fairly well from what I can see. See this blog post for more info:

What one team I’ve worked in did was essentially a retro/ways of working on how they wanted to handle checking in with each other on a more formal basis, which may work as a check to see what people need from these kind of retros.

We also voted on the top 6 things we wanted in the health check. The health check is then done weekly or every two weeks using an anon survey method and the overall picture looked at. If there’s a trend towards something not being great, then that can be discussed specifically.

Hope this helps! I’d be interested to hear how it works for you :slight_smile:

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Honestly, yes. Teach kids appropriate boundaries and empathy and checking in with themselves. Teach them words for their feelings and that feeling things is okay. Then go from there. I think it would go a long way, especially to avoid the stigma of needing more formalised help with things. I am a little biased due to my own background but I think we need something a bit more formalised than figuring it all out as we go along and hoping for the best, you know?

Ah man this is hard. Practice! It can feel really weird to need a strict structure and timetable in your life (especially right now when routines are completely out the window), but it might be that you need a reset and a re-look at your set up. It takes a while just to deal with the fallout of a massive shift, but when you’re feeling like you’ve got a grasp on things maybe have a little retro with yourself on your new work set up. Do you need to do th pomodoro/timer thing to make sure you have breaks regularly? Even if it’s ‘work for 50min then make sure you stand up and get a drink or look out the window’? Set alarms or slack reminders, or get a buddy who might be doing the same.

Self awareness growth/improvement for me is making it really obvious to notice until I don’t need it to be obvious anymore. It’s a really blunt tool but it works!

Plus regular reflection, maybe daily, or weekly, or monthly. Write weeknotes and reflect on your week ( I find them useful even if I don’t share them with others. Run mini retros on yourself. Make a note of your daily mood and what you did that affected it! It’s effort but it will get less so as it becomes part of your routine and hopefully you’ll find something that doesn’t feel like a chore but something you look forward to!

This is a great question!

Okay, so, this will depend on you, and the person you’re wanting to help and your relationship. So I’ll give you some kind of basic advice and you can apply from there with the specific context you have. Also change the wording to be whatever makes sense for you.

In no particular order:

  • Be deliberate about checking in, by that I mean say ‘Hello, I’m checking in, making sure you’re doing okay.’ Asking ‘how’re you?’ or ‘how was your weekend?’ can be seen as a social nicety and not an actual question that needs answering, so take the guesswork out and make sure the people you’re checking in with know you want to know how they’re actually doing.
  • Try not to soluntionise straight off the bat. Ask if they want an ear or to brainstorm solutions! Sometimes hearing someone agree that things are a bit rubbish and it all sucks can help because it makes you realise maybe you’re not overreacting or whining or whatever, but it actually sucks. It can be empowering.
  • Can you offer to help them or be social if they need? Like, do they need help practically with food or meds or stuff like that? Can you do an online coffee chat?
  • Take ‘I’m fine’ as an answer, even if you’re pretty sure they’re not fine. Being persistent in this way probably won’t be helpful. Respect their boundaries, change the topic, make a note to check in again in a couple of days if you can.
  • Make sure you’re looking after yourself! Being an emotional support can be exhausting, so don’t take on too much. You can’t check in on everyone! Set your boundaries as well, and get some you time in, that way you’ll be able to help people when needed without burning out.
  • Oh, collect resources! Find the details of helplines and websites for support in your area now before you need them, and then if you do ever need them, you’re not flailing around the internet, you’ve got them. You might never need them but it’s one thing to not worry about.

This is a hard one, because I’m not here to crap on what works for people. I worry that some of this stuff doesn’t allow for the messiness of mental health and self care. Like, my perfect bullet journal isn’t gonna do much for me when my anxiety is so bad I can barely shower, you know? And part of it will be because people may need formalised help, and to figure out coping strategies but talking about meds, and therapy, and all this stuff is still stigmatised. I’m wondering if all the instagram quotes from brands isn’t helping with that. There’s not a lot of room for 'all I’m aiming for today is ‘good enough’

So I think if it gets conversations out there, and maybe pushes people to reflect on their priorities and feelings and if they’re taking on too much then that’s great!

I hope this makes sense? I have a lot of feelings about this stuff that are still a bit confused :sweat_smile:

Okay, I’mma take a break, have a cup of tea, will finish the rest today or tomorrow. I also have a blog post in the works about mental health initiatives at work, with template emails, as promised in the webinar :smiley:

This is such a good way of looking at it! So at the moment I’m subbing in a lot of online things - my gym has a patreon and does youtube videos and some live classes, for example. I definitely need to up my reading books to counteract the fact that I don’t have a commute for me to listen to audiobooks in. I’m still finding a balance myself, and figuring things out as I go. I’m doing #ReverseCasualFridays, so I tend to dress up a bit on fridays and I’m enjoying that a lot! (Though I missed yesterday, am dressed up today to make up for it :wink: ).

The one thing I haven’t quite figured out yet is baking: baking and feeding other people is part of my self care, and I can’t do that at the moment (I already have a whole cheesecake in my freezer!), so leaning into cooking savoury food at the moment and making sure I get good food.

Ooo this is a good one! I think agile done well can mean that there’s a lot fewer hiding places for knowledge, more conversations happen in the open and knowledge is shared so people don’t get left behind or feel like they have a lot to catch up on. I also think there’s a lot of reflection built into agile, a lot of reflecting on the work and processes and how people are doing.

I think the cons for me tend to be around not having a lot of places to hide, if that makes sense. If I’m having a rough day and just need to to get my head down and work, that’s harder because agile tends to mean sharing, as I’ve said, or pairing/mobbing. That can be difficult if your brain is being noisy or a jerk and you need some quiet focus to get on with things.

There’s alnost definitely other points, especially given the many different ways to implement agile (we tend to do kanban where I work, though I’ve done scrum and scrumban). I’d love to hear other people’s thoguhts on agile and how it affects mental health!

I still have moments where I wobble! Especially now in all this. However, things that have helped me:

  • I find writing a done list is a practical way I can review how and where I’m spending my time. This is useful for many reasons. Maybe something is taking up more time than you thought! Maybe you’re in too many meetings, maybe you need to shift tasks around. Visualising it can help figure things out.

  • What is your wfh setup like? Is it as good as it can be? Do you need to change up your routine now you’re wfh? Work a different schedule or look at your team’s meetings and see if anything needs changing up there? Working with a remote team is different under normal circumstances, never mind now,

  • Practice kindness and emapthy to yourself: berating yourself for not being productive won’t magically make you more productive.
    – Getting off task or having trouble focusing? Try some different ways of working like pomodoro ( or see if you can get a buddy to help you make sure you’re staying on task: ( Forestapp is a great way of blocking websites on phone and browser:
    – Acknowledge that things are tough right now, and maybe you won’t be quite as productive as before. But this will pass. Forgive yourself.
    – Celebrate successes, big and small. Focus on the things you can and have done.

Hope some of this helps! <3

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And while I’m here:

My slides:

A blog post on wellbeing initiatives at work:

And a reminder that I have a resource pack available on my site: and the code scb2020 will get you the digital only one for free!

Hi Gemma,

You recommended a book during your talk. Can you share which book that was please.


It was How To Be Alone, by Lane Moore

Really good, tough for me personally to read in places, but excellent overall, and funny too