The Snitch

Just a little of everything HR

The Office Snitch is moving!

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Just giving all our loyal followers the heads up that we’ll be shifting our weekly blog posts off WordPress as of this week and onto our magazine’s website

We know change can be difficult (you HR peeps will know this more than anyone) but sometimes you just need to shake things up – so, we’re also changing our name.

We’ll now be posting our column under the new moniker of “Off the Record”, which will contain the same wit, musings, rants and HR insights as always. But perhaps with a bit more bite.

To make sure you get every fantastic post (and our FREE monthly magazine, if you don’t already), be sure to sign up to our daily online newsletter here:

Check out our first column today here.

See you on the other side!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

October 25, 2012 at 11:59 am

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The Office Snitch: Too cool for tech

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I may be a Gen Y but I’m not the biggest fan of technology.

Until I switched to my current super, super smart phone, I was using a thick planner to track my appointments and maintain a to-do list. Today, as soon as I wake up, my phone is ready to tell me who I’m supposed to be meeting with, what we’re meant to discuss and  what time my dinner reservations are.

Yes, occasionally I feel like I need my phone surgically removed from my hand, but I am of the opinion that technology, while aiding communication in ways previously unimaginable, is actually driving us further apart as people.

This epiphany hit me the other day when I was texting my sister… from the other room. I could actually see her sitting at her desk, tapping furiously into her phone, when that conversation could have easily taken place face-to-face.

In our office, we communicate primarily over Skype. It’s a great way to log conversations, have a team meeting and chat with our colleagues based in our regional offices.

But to be honest, I get upset – violently sometimes – when someone sitting two, nay, one desk away insists on having a conversation with me over Skype. Is it too much to ask for to have someone pop their head over our low desk partitions to ask me where we’re going for lunch or that there’s a package for me at the lobby?

This phenomenon of chat over talk is happening everywhere. People are on their phones at dinner tables, while on dates, in the middle of that extremely boring budget meeting and even on the toilet (“ttyl, taking a pee”).

Which all begs the question: Is our dependency on technology starting to get just a little bit overboard?

Here are my propositions.

If you, like me, use some sort on IM to chat with colleagues, you are to stop for at least three days. If the person you need to talk to is sitting a couple of feet away, just get up and talk.

I don’t know about you, but there have been so many times where the most exciting and hilarious conversation is happening on Skype amongst my team members, but when I look up, the office is quiet, all I hear is typing and their blank faces are staring intently at their screens. What happened to the “LOLs” and “(facepalm)” emoticons I was promised?

The other thing I would like you to try out is not checking your phone every three seconds – especially if you’re in a meeting. It is not only distracting; it’s disrespectful towards your peers.

And feel free to take this habit out of your personal lives as well. You’re attached to your partner/children/friends, not your phones or tablets. Work-life balance starts with ditching the phone at dinner, people. It’s as simple as that.

Lastly, try a phone call once in a while. Emailing is great – it is, after all, how Harry met Sally – and it’s done a fantastic job of getting information over to someone almost immediately, but getting five one-liner emails in a row to clarify something is highly interrupting.

Personally, I like to have a 10 minute chat over the phone, bang out the details and clarify whatever it is I need to, and follow up with an email summarising the call so everyone has an action plan or is up to date.

Technology is still something relatively new to us, but with the new generation highly adapt to life online (I’ve seen kids who are better at navigating an iPad than they are at walking), companies need boundaries and a culture that till promotes traditional interaction.

So get on this mini tech detox and help make sure we’re still very far off from me writing for a magazine called “Robot Resources” rather than Human Resources.

PS: Check out today’s Bizarre HR. That guy knows what I’m talking about.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

October 19, 2012 at 10:31 am

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The Office Snitch: Is Singapore better off without expats?

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I had drinks with a friend last week who had recently moved from London to take on a role in Singapore. Then yesterday, I had lunch with an Australian who has been living here for five years, and as I’m typing this out, I’m sorting plans to have lunch with a fellow Brit journo later.

It could be that my social and professional circles just happen to involve more foreigners, but there seems to have been an increase in the number of international talent heading into our sunny city-state.

I get why some Singaporeans are getting worked up about having more and more foreign talent in the country, but I can’t say I’m on the same train of thought.

In August, during his National Day rally, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singaporeans have to be more tolerant of expats.

“I think it’s fair enough to express concern, or to disagree with our immigration trends, or to oppose our immigration policies,” Lee said.

“But I am worried by some of the nasty views which are expressed, especially online, and especially anonymously. Such outbursts by citizens against foreigners, on the Internet and in public, reflect badly on us [and] damage our international reputation – people think that Singapore is anti-foreigner [and] xenophobic.”

I believe, hand on heart, that Singapore has so much to gain from having people from all across the globe live here.

Here’s some fun Sabrina trivia: I hate travelling. I love seeing new places and meeting new people and eating bugs off a food trolley in Bangkok, but I hate having to physically move from one place to another. Airports and I are not friends. (N.B.: Seriously, we can put a man on the moon and invent the iPhone 5, but we can’t figure out teleportation?)

So having the world come to me with tales of their small fishing hometown around the British Isles or the experience of working on the factory floor in a remote outskirt Chinese factory, is a major plus in my books.

Above and beyond that, imagine just how much richer Singapore is with this influx of culture and experience.

Yes, there is a risk that someone who isn’t local gets your promotion. Yes, there is the off chance that people might hire the Indian who has worked for five years at Hyderabad, rather than a fresh IT grad eager for experience.

But here’s my argument. It isn’t the expats we should be upset with. It’s the employers.

Companies have to push to keep locals at the core of the workforce, while there have been many commendable efforts by various parties to focus on that, more can always be done.

For our October issue, I had the chance to spend half a day with Pete Elroy, VP of HR for UPS APAC, and while he admitted UPS started its presence in Asia with Americans heading up the teams, he is happy to report many of those roles have been taken over by Asians.

“People aren’t just looking and seeing that our senior management are Asian, but they’re looking and thinking, ‘I can be in that position’,” he said.

We have to face the fact that Singapore isn’t a very big country and people are our only natural resources. Haven’t we always sold ourselves as a melting pot of colours, flavours and accents?

Sab trivia number two: I’m on a detox/get fit regime, and a friend who is supposed trying to help me stay on track (all he’s really done is confiscated my sugary snacks – I guess that’s a start) said: “Sabrina, with the exception of sugar, you can eat anything you want during this diet. Just make sure it’s in moderation.”

Not only is it great advice for a diet, but it can also be applied when dealing with this expat influx situation. The government’s measures of managing the number of expats coming in are great, but like all things yin-and-yang, a nice balance is always welcomed.

I think I might see if my Brit journo friend would like to have some sushi for lunch. Oh, isn’t that the greatest thing about having the world in one city – the food? I am such a Singaporean.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

October 12, 2012 at 10:47 am

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The Office Snitch: Maybe baby

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For a while now in Singapore, the debate about parental leave has been as hot as the weather.

But if you haven’t been keeping up with the news, or are not based in Singapore, here’s the 411: The government called for suggestions on what can be done to boost the fertility rate, so the NTUC suggested longer maternity leave and mandatory paternity leave.

As you can imagine, not everyone is on board with this. The Singapore National Employers’ Federation, for one, said providing mandatory paternity leave would create “an entitlement mentality which is an unhealthy work value” (which I don’t agree with, but we’ll get to that).

At the moment, mothers in Singapore are given 16 weeks’ leave, and NTUC is urging it be bumped up to six months. Dads, on the other hand, have no such thing as mandated child care leave, although a lot of companies offer about two days as a perk.

Now, I’m not a parent. But I was a pre-school teacher for a while, so I think I’m entitled to have my say on this.

I can see where both sides are coming from. On one hand, having employees – especially mothers – away from work for six months will be disruptive to organisations. In a team of five, if one member is gone for half a year, the additional workload the remaining staff has to take on will be significant.

But at the same time, is it such a bad thing that parents want to be there for the first few months of their kids lives? Isn’t that sort of something a tax-paying, hard-working citizen is entitled to?

Last week, TODAY ran a piece about how increasing annual leave days could boost fertility rates. The article pointed out more leave days equals more rest days, which would lead to happier and more productive employees who will then “have the time, energy and mood to start a family”.

I don’t know about you, but I find it a bit odd. What am I suppose to do? Ring up my editor and say that cute boy from circulation and I are going to Phuket for a week to find “the time, energy and mood to start a family”?

So here’s my take on this. I am all for fathers being hands-on and taking on responsibilities with child care. Go ahead and have mandatory paternity leave! Fathers should be just as involved in their kids’ upbringing and I honestly believe that companies who believe otherwise are short-changing themselves.

Six months of maternity is a bit much, and to be honest, from chats I’ve had with working mums, not a lot of them are keen on being away from the office that long either.

Companies, and perhaps Singapore as a whole, need to stop throwing benefits and perks in order to get people to seriously consider starting families (and no, that Mentos video wasn’t the way to go either – though I have to admit it was a catchy beat).

There are so many other factors to consider; the cost of childcare, education, medical, housing, cars, clothes, toys, tickets to the Barney show. I really believe it is more about creating a work environment that welcomes families.

I’m happy to say I’ve got that here. Occasionally, the boss’ toddlers pop in for a visit and type lengthy emails in a language I can’t quite grasp yet to their imaginary friends.

There have been a couple of times where I’ve had to be away from work for a few hours to watch my sister play a gig, or take my grandma for a check up. I know this isn’t close to being a parent, but I appreciate having a culture where no one’s going to frown upon me wanting to be with my family.

This isn’t a topic that’s going to die down any time soon, and it would be interesting to see how it plays out, but I honestly believe we will manage to figure out how to best provide for the parents in our workforce, while protecting our bottom line.

If you have a thought on what can or shouldn’t be done to support families in Singapore, drop us a note, or tweet us at @Mag_HR.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

October 5, 2012 at 11:01 am

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The Office Snitch: Office romance? No thanks.

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Office romance has made headlines again, thanks to new allegations at the BBC about co-workers knocking boots during and after office hours.

I can understand the lure of an office romance. There’s that whole impulsive risk-taking element to it that spices up an otherwise boring work day.

But despite having witnessed successful office romances – I am a product of office romance (my parents worked together for years before running off into the sunset) – I just don’t think it’s something I’d be up for.

Responding to the reports about BBC romances, novelist Jilly Cooper wrote in her book How to Survive the Nine to Five office romance is like “catching the measles”, The Telegraph reported.

“Once one director discovers another director is knocking off his secretary, he starts wondering why he shouldn’t have a bit on the side as well,” she said.

True. Another good point was made by romance novelist Jojo Moyers, who met her husband while working at the Independent.

“At work you see people at their worst as well as at their best – so you get the hung over mornings and the days when everything’s gone wrong, and not just the fully primped and preened person you might meet at the wine bar,” Moyers said.

It’s a bit like my theory about falling in love at the gym. If you’ve seen someone at the worst and still want to go home with them, then it has to be true love, right?

One of the reasons I would prefer to stay out of an office romance is simply because the office isn’t very big, people will talk, and a break up (should one happen) might make things awkward. I really don’t need someone in accounting feeling sorry for me because I broke up with that cute guy in circulation.

Another reason is the fact that I have to be with my significant other nine to five, and still have to deal with him at home. Yes, I know if its real love, you’d want to spend all your time together, but I like being able to come home and spill the ups and downs of my day with someone over a good dinner and some drinks.

I can’t really do that with someone who’s already seen (and probably was part of) what happened in the office that day.

But, if you’re convinced that boy or girl in marketing is the true love of your life, here are some tips courtesy of Forbes on how to come out of an office romance without a broken heart or too much gossip at the water cooler.

Don’t date up or down

Yes, there’s an extra thrill of dating someone you’re reporting to, or a subordinate, but you are just opening yourself up to a can of worms. Dating an employee who is reporting to you could lead to a sexual harassment charge if things ever go sour, and dating upwards would just spin the rumour mills faster.

Don’t keep it a secret

Some companies require dating colleagues to officially declare the romance and sign a “love contract” to confirm the relationship is consensual. It protects both employees and the company from complications if the relationship ends.

Keep it offline and out of sight

Avoid using your work email or IM services when sending those “I miss you xxx” and “Can’t wait for 6pm” messages. Just because you’re okay with the romance, doesn’t mean your colleagues are. Public displays of affection can make someone else in the office uncomfortable… or jealous.

Don’t date a team member

Can you imagine having to work with someone who broke your heart into a million pieces and did not reciprocate that love poem you wrote and published on Facebook? Awful. Just awful.

And here’s the biggest piece of advice on dating someone, and it comes from a source I trust – my editor, Rebecca Lewis. She met her partner at work (and they worked on the same team!) about five years ago, so she’s probably the best person to dish out some advice.

“Never, ever, act like a couple at work,” Rebecca said. “You want to be able to prove to your boss – who will find out about the relationship eventually – that having your beau at work does not affect your abilities to act professional and perform well in your job.”

She added another huge must do is to leave your personal relationship problems at the office front door.

“I knew I’d succeeded at this when a former colleague said to me, after she’d been with the company for six months, ‘Wait, you two are in a relationship? Since when?’ To her, we just looked like friendly colleagues,” she said.

So there you go. If you must fall in love at work, approach with caution. Like all relationships, it may or may not work, but at the end of the day, I’m still a romantic at heart, so carry on with the loving if you think you and your partner can manage it.

If you’ve ever been in an office romance, drop us a message. You know we always love a juicy story or two!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

September 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm

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Has Mayer lost her marbles?

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Marissa Mayer’s appointment as Yahoo’s latest CEO has fascinated me from the get go. Maybe it was the company’s failure over the last few years to hold on to a leader (Mayer is the company’s fifth CEO in five years) or the fact that she jumped ship from Google.

Either way, I’ve been keeping close tabs on her first few months as the captain of a struggling ship, lapping up every article or comment on her leadership attributes.

In her defence, I think she’s been doing a super job. Not only has she got Yahoo back in the limelight, but she has streamlined its organisation to run more effectively in an ever-increasing competitive market.

But the latest development to pop up on my news feed is probably one of the most interesting – and relevant one yet.

Business Insider is claiming Mayer vets every resume that comes through Yahoo’s purple doors to make sure the next hire is up to her standards. The same article reports Yahoo has 15,000 employees and is on a constant hunt for new people.

I’m a journalist so I am rubbish at math, but let’s break down the numbers. A couple of articles (here and here) suggest recruiters spend 10 seconds or less reading a resume. So, let’s assume Mayer spends 10 seconds on a resume, give or take, and perhaps an hour a day on this task (I’m sure she has other Yahoo-y things to do, like give each employee a smart phone).

That brings it’s down to six articles a minute and 360 resumes an hour. For one, that does not sound like an easy task and secondly, how time effective is that?

Yes, bringing in the right people is mission critical to the success of any organisation, regardless of how big or small. But sources Business Insider spoke to said it was a process that is costing Yahoo good candidates because let’s face it, not everyone is going to stick around waiting when the job economy is still not as its peak (especially in the States).

There is no shortage of literature on the importance of screening talent from the moment they walk in for an interview. Companies are constantly falling over themselves trying to grab on to talent who have that extra edge.

However, in an organisation as big as Yahoo, one would think Mayer has a team capable enough to screen and weed out the best possible candidate available.

As much as I like Mayer’s no holds barred approach, I can’t help but wonder if she’s micro-managing a tad too much. Do you think Mayer should let go of the reins and allow talent to stream in as the organisation – and not just the leader – sees fit? Or do you agree that the CEO should have a strong input in who’s in and who’s out?

Leave us a note here or tweet us at @Mag_HR. Have a great weekend, and enjoy the thrills and spills of the F1 if you’re in Singapore this week!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

September 21, 2012 at 10:15 am

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The Office Snitch: The fate of my professionalism seems out of my control

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As we all probably know by now, I have a love-hate relationship with my Facebook account.

On one hand, there is no doubt Facebook is one of the biggest threads tying my social life together. Even as I’m writing this article, I am (and please don’t tell my boss) catching up with an old friend who has moved back to Canada, tracking the development of a story on a company’s news feed and checking out photos of a party I missed last night.

But on the flip side of that, Facebook has opened up an entire world that I am sometimes uncomfortable sharing with those outside my close circle of friends. That said, I did panic a little bit when I came across an article last night which revealed employers place a lot of weight on the comments left under profile photos when trying to get a better understanding of a candidate they are stalking – oops I mean – doing a background check on.

The study by the University of Missouri found those comments are one of the biggest indicators of your social status, so unless you’re spending your free time moderating comments left by your peers, you’ve pretty much left everything in their hands.

The research found, unsurprisingly, those with positive comments on their profile photos were perceived to be more socially and physically attractive, The Daily Mail reported, fueling human’s tendencies to believe opinions from others more than “self-generated information when forming impressions”.

“Thus, for social networking users concerned about forming a desired impression, being aware of other-generated information about oneself is paramount in the goal of achieving a positive self-presentation,” Seoyeon Hong, one of the  doctoral students who conducted the study, said.

It’s no secret employers have taken to the online streets when researching potential employees (although some have gone slightly overboard). Hence, it once again brings up the question of how much is really too much when one goes online.

Bianca Bueno, talent management consultant for the entire WPP family here in APAC, agrees information found on Facebook profiles are valuable to people like her when sourcing candidates. “A few snippets are more telling than a rehearsed answer to my questions,” she says.

“It’s like that old saying, ‘It’s not what they say about you, it’s what they whisper’.”

Did I immediately log onto Facebook and reread every single comment that’s been left on my profile photos since 27 September 2007? Yes. Did I do a bit of housekeeping? Yes.

My easiest solution to all this is to put my Facebook page on tight security lock down, making it accessible to no one outside my direct acquaintance circle. You know, just in case something unfavourable slips out.

Michael Wright, who heads up the talent acquisition team for GroupM in the region, is quick to agree with me, adding it’s not a bad idea to set high privacy settings because a clear distinction is needed between one’s professional and personal lives.

“I don’t believe it is a sound HR practice to take Facebook as a reference point for candidate’s ability to do a job,” he adds.

Fair point. Just to be on the safe side, I’m still putting everything on extra high privacy settings, but let me know your two cents on this. How public are you online, and do you really take into account comments posted on a candidate’s profile when listing out the pros and cons of the hire?

Leave a note here, or tweet us at @Mag_HR. Enjoy the weekend, I know I will – but I’ll definitely be avoiding taking comprising photos that might make it to your refreshed news feed. Cheers!

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

September 14, 2012 at 1:44 pm

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HRTV: EB Live Asia 2012

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Singapore – HRTV is back for its first episode this year. Catch up with HR leaders from Marriott International, Facebook, Starbucks and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) at Human Resources’ recent Employee Benefits Live Asia 2012 conference.

Sabrina Zolkifi speaks to Marriott International’s CHRO Jim Pilarski as he shared trends he is witnessing in the hospitality industry. Madan Nagaldinne, head of HR for Facebook in APAC and Paul Lam, head of partner resources for Starbucks in APAC, also discussed how technology, communication and Gen Y management all come together to create a more dynamic and productive workforce.

Low Peck Kem, divisional director of national human resources at MOM, talked about the labour challenges Singapore can expect in the coming months.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

August 15, 2012 at 11:50 am

The Office Snitch: A pirate ship office, a giraffe-themed workspace and, err, Naked Fridays.

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When I started work here, we were in the heart of downtown Singapore in a quaint little shop house that used to flood during downpours. After a while, The Boss got fed up with rainwater dripping directly on his desk and moved us west last Christmas into a spanking new office with lots of natural light, clean white walls and a roof where we drink beer and have water gun fights (often at the same time).

Moving from a cramped shop house where I was working in a loft with no windows and a temperamental air conditioning unit, the new office was a breath of fresh air.

Anyone will tell you offices are starting to become cool places you can hang out at – which makes sense considering you spend a bulk of your day there. I had the privilege of chilling out at Google’s Singapore office back in May when we spoke to Sarah Robb, the head of HR. Although not as mind-blowing as the Mountain View headquarters, the local office was a great place to be. It had a games room, a meeting table fashioned out a tuk-tuk and micro-kitchens and cafeterias providing staff with an array of food choices on Larry Page’s tab.

But it seems some companies are going the extra mile to make every day at the office an experience for staff.

The head office of Davison Design & Development, an invention promotion firm, is called Inventionland, and stays true to its name. The facility houses not one, not two but 16 themed sets including a pirate ship, a cave, a giant robot, a tree house and a motor speedway. I have the highest degree of respect for people working there because I know I’d spend my days distracted and living out childhood fantasies.

Credit: & Tengri News

Other really interesting offices include one in Newcastle, which has – and I’m not kidding here – Naked Fridays, where employees comes to work, well, in the nude.

“It was brilliant. Now that we’ve seen each other naked, there are no barriers,” Sam Jackson, front-of-house manager of design and marketing company onebestway, told The Sun.

I’m not sure that’s something that will take off (pun intended) anytime soon, but I wouldn’t mind working in the offices of TWIGA in Moscow where it’s giraffe-themed. I can’t even begin imagining the immense joy of working in an office filled with 836 figures and images of my favourite animal.

Or the Paris offices of Pons and Huot, where each employee works in a Plexiglas sphere (If I did work there, I’ll probably invest in a snow machine and pretend I’m working in a snow globe).

We’ve been to some pretty cool offices in Singapore but if you know of one, or even better, if you work in one, let us know.

We will be starting a profile of innovative and creative workplaces pretty soon so here’s your chance to get involved. Drop us a comment here or email me, Sabrina Zolkifi, at We might just pop by the office for a visit and coffee soon.

To see photos of all the cool offices mentioned, click here:

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

July 27, 2012 at 11:11 am

The Office Snitch: I can’t wait to be boss

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A new report has emerged to add more proof that being the boss is one sweet gig.

Not only are they paid more and can, you know, boss people around, it turns out they get more vacation time as well.

The report released by found 81% bosses have no problem at all pencilling in a vacation, compared to 65% of full time employees. Gee whiz.

Now, I’m not saying bosses are skiving off work to play golf by the beach but it does make me wonder how they can get so much time off when they’re supposedly running a company.

I did a bit of digging and I think I’ve figured out their million dollar (or however much it costs to play golf by the beach) secret.

Two words: time management.

Every single business leader or CEO I’ve spoken to has a pretty solid plan down when it comes to managing their time. After all, as they say, time is money.

Png Kim Meng, MD of Dimension Data Singapore, said in an interview in May that setting priorities is key to better time management. “When there is too much on your plate, people tend to lose focus on the tasks at hand, so it’s good to have your priorities right from the start,” he said.

On the other hand, Scott Price, CEO of Walmart Asia, said in an older interview that he makes a conscious effort to clear out his inbox every time he hits 100 unread emails. “I find staying on top of things is a very important part of time management,” Price added.

Personally, I am a mega fan of to-do lists. I try and get the next day’s to-do list sorted before I leave the office or first thing in the morning. One thing I’ve learnt the hard way is to not list EVERYTHING you need to do, but just what’s important that day. Everything else falls under my “kinda gotta do” list, which I attack after 5.30pm.

So excuse me while I tidy up today’s list before we shoot off for the weekend, and slowly but surely work my way towards better time management and a mojito by the beach in a few years.

Written by Sabrina Zolkifi

June 29, 2012 at 10:45 am

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