A Meltdown and a Retreat


It was my birthday yesterday (yay!) and I am now the grand old age of 35. Woolf Works is also turning the grand old age of 1 in a week or so, so it feels like a particularly poignant time. This year has really been the cliché entrepreneur’s rollercoaster – big highs of accomplishment with big lows of ‘what the hell have I gotten myself into’.


This last month or two particularly has been tough on me and in the interest of ‘keeping it real’ I’m going to be honest about what I have been going through – because I know behind all the happy social media photos we all go through crap times.


I had a bit of a burn-out last month, though probably no one else knew it. It’s amazing how conditioned we are at keeping up a façade isn’t it?


My burn-out was caused by a multitude of factors including:

  •  working on a bunch of different things simultaneously and without enough planning or support
  •  not packing lunches or snacks for work and so either not eating, or eating takeout
  •  no exercise
  •  not enough sleep
  • two kids who were fighting constantly
  • a husband on a on a long overseas trip
  • over-scheduling myself

It ended in a lot of tears.

But, most importantly, it also ended in a great chance to reassess how I was doing things, which was obviously unsustainable.

Once the tears had passed and I realised it was time to make some changes – some of which are short term, some are long term:


  •   Taking control of my work by extensive list making, project-based organization, deadlines and identifying what I can delegate, what is urgent and what is just going to have to wait. I’m also exploring automation and creating pathways and forms that require less input for me while getting the right information out.


  •  Seeing a nutritionalist to help with food planning, learn about healthy snacks to fuel long days at work, to learn about healthy menu choices when I am eating out, and to get some accountability and track what I am eating.


  •   Seeing a therapist. Yes. Here I am, saying it out loud. And you know what, it feels great to have an outlet and to learn skills to deal with unhelpful thought patterns and negativity.


  •    Limiting nights out to two per week and learning how to say ‘No’. There are so many great events on, so much I want to be part of and so many people I want to meet! But if I want to be healthy and effective I need to have sleep. I already have a 2 year old keeping me up – I don’t need to be out till midnight all week on top of that.


  •    Exercising when I can. Last year I went hardcore – personal trainer three times a week, running two or three times a week. I’m kind of all or nothing with exercise and the last three months it’s been nothing. Now I’m finding an in-between, something manageable and much less stressful. A swim one morning, a 3 km run the next evening, or a yoga class at lunch time.


The last, and quite possibly the best thing I’m doing: A weekend retreat.

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Singapore, tucked away from the world. I have a pile of books, some writing projects and my running shoes. I plan to sleep and read a lot and I have been looking forward to this for weeks. It was time for me to get off the frantic bullet train of life and have some time out for me.


I’m learning that one of the greatest gifts of getting older is getting to know myself better. Learning my triggers for over eating or not eating, learning to give myself structure to stop the overwhelm and learning that ‘good enough’ can be enough – I don’t need to be perfect.


Have you taken a personal retreat? How do you cope with overwhelm?


We have two retreats coming up with Woolf Works this year – the first is a Writers Retreat, dates to be announced – a long weekend close by to Singapore with lots of time to write, share, have a massage, write some more and make new friends over dinner and drinks in the evening. Interested? We’ll be limiting the numbers so email me at michaela@woolfworks.sg to be on the first invite list.

The second retreat is to Bhutan where we will be working on mindfulness and self leadership. It will be in either November or March. Lots more info available here and you can register your interest here.

Always great to know your thoughts and feedback. Drop me a line anytime (though forgive me if I don’t reply immediately, I’m taking that email pressure of myself too!)


How to Inject More Excitement Into Your Business!


(image via www.womenunlimitedworldwide.com)

We all want our businesses to be thought of as exciting, fresh and appealing. Unfortunately for small businesses, especially those with just one main person working behind the scenes, public image can become boring with repetitive marketing campaigns that lack sparkle and innovation.

Here’s a few ways to bring something new to your business:


1. Try different media

Video is the new black. If you haven’t started thinking about video content for your blog or social media, get thinking now!

Here’s a great article from The Guardian about video content for small business.

Check out the Will it Blend videos’s from Blendtec – a blender company created a viral marketing campaign starting in 2006, of very low production-cost videos in which they blend household objects. Cheap, creative and out of the box and this video has 11 million views!


2. Connect with communities out of your usual comfort zone

Ditch the networking evenings and join a dragon-boating group, an art class or a heritage walk. Connecting to new communities can not only help you reach new customers it also opens your mind to new opportunities, partnerships and ideas.


3.  Find people that excite and interest you

Mentors, influencers, inspirations: follow their blog, read their books, watch their speeches. Surrounding yourself with positivity and success stories keeps your mind open and engaged on your own journey. We need role models at all ages – this article from Psychology Today talks about the influence of role models on creating ethical leaders.


4. Go back to your WHY

Why did you start this business? Why do you love it? What’s your story?

Storytelling is a big buzz word these days, for good reason. People connect to stories and authenticity, they want to engage, hear more. They want to support someone they feel close to, especially over a cold, persona-less company.


5. Push your limits

Do something different, try new things, meet new people!. Switch up your schedule, work somewhere new, take a day off to go walking and thinking. Take a meditation class, have a massage, cook a new recipe. Invite someone you admire out for a coffee, swim in the ocean at 6am.

Check out this great article on Lifehacker about breaking out of your comfort zone:

“The point of stepping out of your comfort zone is to embrace new experiences and to get to that state of optimal anxiety in a controlled, managed way, not to stress yourself out. Take time to reflect on your experiences so you can reap the benefits and apply them to your day to day activities.”



It just takes a little bit of mixing things up, trying something new, to start changing thought patterns.

Schedule it into your week if you have to – just do it!



Shut Up and Write!

Introducing our latest initiative at Woolf Works:


The concept started in San Francisco as a meetup group and has now spread around the world. A group of writers getting together and, well, writing. After many requests, Woolf Works will open up on a Saturday to writers of any kind.

We’d like to call on

late-night writers 

would-be bloggers

full time corporates with a writing passion on the side

mums with too many kids under foot during the week

lonely writers, stuck in home office hell.

Shut Up and Write is a time and a space for women writers to come together on a Saturday and write. To use the sound of other fingers tapping on laptops to fuel your own fingers, to carve out a set time in the week to just DO IT.

To Write.

No set topics, no peer reviews.

A beautiful space, with great coffee and tea on free flow.

A spot in your schedule that is for YOU to do that blog post, short story, memoir, article, essay that you have been planning.

To meet other women who share your passion.

We kick off on March 7th, from 10am – 4pm and will start as a once a month event.



The day will be hosted by Woolf Works’ member Laura Coulter (who is obviously very friendly and may or may not be wearing ridiculous glasses) who will encourage you to stand up and stretch your fingers every hour and have chat to your neighbour. You are welcome to bring your lunch (we have a fridge and microwave) or eat out from the great places around us in Joo Chiat.


Sign up now!  (limited seating available)


Fast food judgement or whole grain positivity?


We all do it, at least occasionally, I’m sure.

On the MRT, in a taxi, walking down the street. Looking up and down at passers-by, thinking,

‘Look at those shoes. Some people have no taste.’

‘That blouse does nothing for her.’

‘What a sour look on her face, I bet she’s a real dragon lady.’

‘Look at him in his fancy suit, who does he think he is?’

‘Rich housewife.’

‘Wanker banker.’


Sometimes these thoughts swim into our heads automatically; we don’t mean to sound so awful. We don’t even realise how awful we sound.

Some days are definitely better than others. Some days we are in our own world and don’t notice anyone, let alone care what people are wearing or what they look like.

Some days, we are tired, feeling down on ourselves perhaps. It can feel good to know your taste is better than everyone else’s. To know you make better choices, have better style, a better outlook on life, right?


Do you think it feels better in the long run though?

These thoughts are like fast food for the brain: a quick fix, a cheap thrill, a quick spike in blood sugar, short term happiness.   But what about the long term effect?   Like fast food, these thoughts do nothing for us in the long term. Quite the opposite, they pollute our body, our brain and cloud our intentions.

Imagine though, if we reversed things.

Can we think good thoughts for long term happiness?

The power of positive thinking is well researched. Barbara Fredrickson’s study found that effects of positive thinking can be: increased mindfulness and purpose in life and decreased illness symptoms, which in turn can increase life satisfaction and reduce depressive symptoms.

Positivity has also been linked to a longer life span.

Sonia Lyubomirsky’s research shows that happiness leads to success, which leads to more happiness. An upward spiral of positivity! How great is that?

So how can we kick-start this spiral?

Think good thoughts.

Or, more specifically, think good things about people. About everyone.

When you are sitting on the MRT today, or waiting at a red light in your car, those strangers you see in front of you:

Appreciate their beautiful hair or their kind eyes.

Imagine the hard day they have had and silently wish them a good sleep tonight.

Imagine a tough family situation they are heading home to, and wish them strength and courage.

Think about how those hands have held their children’s hand, cradled their grandchild’s head, or stroked their wife’s cheek.

Think about how those shoes or that bag may have been a reward for six months of careful saving.

Smile when they look at you and wish them a happy weekend, or a good day ahead.


Start with stranger, and move on to those you love.

Remind them of their beauty, their value and their importance.

Think good thoughts.

See the humanity in people.

See the good.

It’s good for you.

A Day in the Life

A Day in My Life  – pre-Woolf Works

6.30am: Alarm goes off with message ’30mins early morning writing time!’. I try to extricate myself from Baby T sleeping on my arm but fail. Lie awake for fifteen minutes thinking brilliant things I could have been writing about which I will instantly forget as soon as I stand up.

6.45am: Big sister comes storming into the room, throwing the door wide with a shout of ‘IT’S MORNING’. Baby T is now definitely awake.

8.45am: Right. Big Sister is at school. Baby T is playing quietly. NOW IS MY TIME. I slink into the home office with a cup of tea and straight away notice the giant pile of random papers that need filing away. I really must have a clean desk before I can get into writing.

9.30am: Baby T is crying and I’ve been lost in a wormhole of filing / working out if I paid last months phone bill / re-labeling the folders since we changed banks AND phone companies last month.

10.45: Baby T is happily napping. My mother skypes from New Zealand and wants me to sneak in to his room so she can watch him sleep.

11.15am: Right. Lets get into this. No more mucking around. Fresh page. Nice pen. I’m free writing to find an angle for my next short story.

11.25am:Baby T is awake.

11.30am: He is well rested and fed so surely he will play nicely just there next to me and I can get some work done.

11.32am: What’s that smell?

11.33am: Nappy change

11.40am: Baby T shuts his finger in the drawer and screams like banshee.

11.45am: Time to go for a walk, I need some fresh air.

1pm: Baby is in the safe hands of our helper, Siony. Time to get to work. I write a power list of three things I need to get done. One. Reply to five emails. check. Two. Back into free writing. I’m feeling the flow.

1.45pm: Doorbells rings and the Singapore Dengue Police want to have a serious discussion about the state of my flowerpots. I’m also under strict instructions to remove a banana tree which is apparently a mosquito paradise.

2pm: Back to my desk, spend twenty minutes googling Dengue symptoms and trying to alleviate mother-guilt.

2.20pm: Start to put together a framework for a short story. Vaguely remember a brilliant twist I’d thought of this morning when a courier rings the doorbell.

3pm: Think about putting together a website for my work but feel lost about where to start. What is a domain host anyway?

3.15pm: Big sister is home from school with two grazed knees and lots of tears.

4pm: Baby T throws Big Sister’s favourite My Little Pony into the toilet. World War Three commences. I give up on getting anything else written for the day.

8pm: Kids are sleeping. I’m exhausted. Still haven’t been for a run. I go to bed with my laptop, Netflix and a glass of wine and set my alarm for 6am with the note ‘Must get up! 30mins quiet writing time!’

A day in my life – post-Woolf Works

6am: Wake up – have perfected the art of extricating myself from Toddler T’s arm so I stealthily escape, throw on running clothes and head out the door.

7.30am: Breakfast with kids, shower, dress.

8.30am: Drop Big Sister at school, Toddler T at Play School, head into Woolf Works.

9am – 11.30am: Work quietly and productively on current projects with a  coffee break and chat to a fellow member about which CRM systems are best.

12noon – Pick up Toddler T from play school, have some cuddle time.

1 – 3pm: Back into Woolf Works, have amazing Vietnamese Pho from a local restaurant while writing and editing.

4pm – 4.30pm: Meet some potential new members and show them around the space.

4.30pm: Meet a local business owner who wants to collaborate

6pm: Home for dinner, bath and bed for kids.

8pm: Glass of wine and chat with my husband

9pm: In bed with a book to read.

Woolf Works is a shared work space for women located on Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore. The concept came as a direct result of my years of of frustration, distraction  and loneliness as a stay-at-home mum / student / amateur writer / entrepreneur dreamer from 2008 to 2013. Woolf Works is a quiet, calm, distraction-free space for women to work productively and find community. Email info@woolfworks.sg for more information.

‘Tis the season

We are building up to that time of the year where for many, the pleasure of family time and no alarm clocks runs smack into the stresses of jet lag and travel, family dynamics, financial strain and mile-long to-do lists.

This is the time of year when all big plans are shelved for frantic evening Christmas shopping runs, juggling work commitments and school functions and preparing guest rooms or packing suitcases.

It’s a time of short tempers and stress.

I was reminded of this beautiful poem by Rumi recently and thought I might pin it up on my bathroom mirror, to help with the tough times.

Rumi - Guest house

We are having a great (and free!) talk at Woolf Works on December 1st at 10am. Clinical Psychologist Shrimati Swaminathan will discuss tension and stress around the holidays and family dynamics – especially dealing with your in laws!

Sign up here

We all wish for a happy and loving family holiday season – unfortunately we are also all human. Sometimes the little tips and tricks can help us in small ways to deal with the big things. Hope to see you there, meanwhile I’m off to print out a poem.