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Managing Our Minds at Work

Managing Our Minds at Work

Jessica Redman

10 Oct 2021 • 6 min read

To mark #WorldMentalHealthDay, our team share how they find calm in between looming deadlines and working from home.

Innerworks is coming soon...

This blog was originally published on our previous Cogworks blog page. The Cogworks Blog is in the process of evolving into Innerworks, our new community-driven tech blog. With Innerworks, we aim to provide a space for collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and connection within the wider tech community. Watch this space for Innerworks updates, but don't worry - you'll still be able to access content from the original Cogworks Blog if you want. 

We all have mental health.

With many of us now working from home, mental health and workplace wellbeing can coincide.

Here's how a few of us at Cogworks are keeping things light:

1. Pressing play.



'With full remote working in force, we’ve inadvertently seen the arrival of a few mood-boosting activities! Fridayaftertunes is a series of 8-track playlists created by a different team member each week based on their personal theme, which is then shared on our social media.

In terms of mental well-being, music helps me to focus and keep stress levels down to a minimum. Research from McGill University suggests that listening to music releases the mood-enhancing chemical dopamine in the brain, with dopamine levels reaching up to 9% higher when listening to music you enjoy. So far Cogwork’s CEO, lead designer, and the development and project management team have all contributed to the series, keeping the dopamine going. 

2. Keeping it general.



 ‘Even the most incidental social interactions can boost our social and emotional well-being, according to researchers at the University of Chicago’ (Stylist).

Slack has long been our choice of vehicle to connect projects and people. Whilst most channels are full of in-depth technical information surrounding our projects, the Cogworks #general channel offers some light relief from HTML and CSS in the form of tomatoes.  


3. Being co-humans, not just co-workers.



'With the whole company working from home means more virtual meetings than ever before, not just with clients but our colleagues too. I think something that’s really important before diving into the agenda, is to just take a moment at the beginning of a meeting or even a call to check in with the other person or people, ask how their day is going or what they did over the weekend and actually listen, respond, have a chat for a few minutes. It creates a much more human interaction. I’m not suggesting to have a half an hour discussion on whether or not Mac should have been sent packing in the last episode of Bake Off, but if you end up having a nice chat for a few minutes then no sweat - these conversations are just as important and helpful as the “real”’ work ones when it comes to our happiness in the workplace which undoubtedly affects how we work. In a similar vein, I think it’s also important to make sure not every interaction with your colleagues is strictly work-related. In the physical office, you’d catch a few minutes at the coffee machine or when you’re preparing and even eating lunch together to chat about non-work stuff. Sometimes with colleagues, we’ve set 10 minutes aside in the day to just have a coffee together on zoom, or we lunch together (that’s the time you can really drill down into why you think it was a totally unfair result, given that Mac came third in the technical challenge and the other contestant flopped all three rounds yet still made it through!)'

- Katie Archibald - Project Team Lead.


In any sector, work isn’t just about a paycheck at the end of the month. Cogworks is a group of like-minded people, working towards the same goal, so it's really valuable for us to put time aside to share and discuss our interests and ideas outside of project work. After all, good people make work good.


4. Appreciating others. 

Appreciation has great motivational benefits that can help us feel and perform better at work.

Appreciation, or a simple “thank you”, are words of affirmation that carry value in the form of social rewards (with some evidence to suggest they can be just as rewarding to the brain as financial ones!). Cogworks has a dedicated channel, #companyapprecation, to give credit when it’s due on both the big and the smaller things. The channel is full of project-specific work which we won’t display for privacy reasons, but the sentiment of thanks remains the theme. (See below the warming exchange between Co-Founder Dan and Project Lead, Katie ;) ) 

In times of stress, comments from this feed of real-time feed could potentially be used to boost productivity and mental health when faced with a complicated task when repeated back to ourselves in the form of a self-affirmation. Self-affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging that can  ‘decrease stress, increase well being, improve academic performance and make people more open to behaviour change’ (Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci, 2016).


5. Writing some serious to-do lists.

'I find that making lists helps me clear my mind and be able to focus much better.

I used to use Wunderlist but now use TickTick. I personally find that I have to throw everything into a list that comes into my life otherwise, I simply forget. This could be client messages, proposals I need to write, questions I need to ask, meetings I need to organise (both work and personal), what time I need to pick up my kids from school or what we need from the supermarket!

If I don’t have this list to refer back to I start to become disorganised and feel I am losing control of things or not accomplishing anything during the day. I approach the list each morning when I get up at around 0500 ish when my mind is fresh and pick the top three things that I need to accomplish. If all goes well, I’ll get the first three done before 0700 before everyone in the house gets up; it’s a bonus if I can squeeze in a bit of exercise too. Once those three things are done, it’s onto the next three!

Ticking things off and seeing lists shrink, gives me a great feeling of accomplishment and it seems I’m not alone with this thought. Psychologist and author Dr David Cohen puts our love of to-do lists down to three reasons: ‘they dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us a structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month’ (Guardian, 2017)

The constant flow of adding and removing items on a list makes you feel good; and silences the thought that you’re not achieving anything in the day. Competing with yourself, or “gamifying” your own mind is great fun. I think it would help a lot of people focus and prioritise things'  - Adam Shallcross, CEO and Co-Founder of Cogworks. 

More mental health stuff.

Check out Mind for helpful tips for mental health in the workplace. There's also a great study of qualitative research on the state of mental health in the workplace from the Mental Health Foundation. 

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