June 28, 2016

Fitting Fitness into your Summer Schedule

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(Micaela Stavrinos works out on June 20. She is taking advantage of the longer daylight hours over the summer to attend an outdoor bootcamp. PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com)

 

 


All around me in sunny South Florida, I see people in shorts, bathing suits and tank tops. Summer is here and that means more of our bodies are exposed. For me, that's enough incentive to make an extra effort to exercise. Besides, summer brings more daylight hours to get out there and move our bodies. 

So where to begin? How do you motivate yourself and squeeze fitness into your busy life?

Fit it in your work day. Almost every day, Sergio Perez walks to the supermarket from his Miami office to grab lunch, trekking about a mile each way. While the heat can be intense in summer months, Perez, who works 50 to 60 hours a week in financial services, says the routine is the easiest way to squeeze fitness into his work life balance.

Do something you enjoy. Do you like bike riding? How about swimming? Find something you like to do and you will find yourself more motivated. It doesn't need to be grueling.  “It’s not about who works out the hardest or longest. It’s just about do something, most days of the week,” says Chira Cassel, co-founder and director of The Sacred Space Miami, a wellness center in Wynwood.

Do something small every day.  “A lot of women have life responsibilities and run into scheduling problems that make exercising more difficult,” says Tony Musto, director of fitness programs at the UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “But all it really takes is moderate activity five days a week.
 
Make it convenient. The more convenient your exercise plan, the better chance your routine will stick. Micaela Stavrinos, an administrative assistant at the executive office of University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, used to go to a gym that took an hour to get to with traffic. Because of the hassle, she stopped exercising. Now, instead of heading home from work, Stavrinos uses the longer daylight hours of summer to go to a boot camp at a gym less than a mile from her downtown Miami office and home. Within a half-hour after leaving her office, she has shed work clothes for gym clothes and is running to the nearby stop sign with others in her fitness class. “There are days when I don’t want to go, but it’s close by and I push myself,” Stavrinos says.
 

Be consistent.  Consistency is key to reaching health and fitness goals. Countless studies show that having someone or something keep you accountable for completing a workout will increase your adherence, and your results. Even during summer, life or work easily can get in the way of our quest for the perfect beach body. Using a wearable fitness tracker like a Fitbit, a fitness app or personal trainer, or even meeting a buddy to exercise can increase your chance of sticking to a fitness plan. It’s really about whatever motivates you and keeps you consistent.

Make it social. I love meeting my friends at exercise class. It motivates me to first show up and then to give it my best. You can combine fitness with family time, too. Talk a walk or a swim with your kids at night. Another idea is to use summer to make your get-togethers active, says Chira Cassel of The Sacred Space Miami. Instead of a business lunch, have a walking or workout meeting. Instead of joining a friend dinner, take a yoga class together in the park: “It’s a nice change of pace to get people out of their comfort zone, and less sitting is better for the body.”

Do it in your workplace or with work buddies.  Some workplaces make exercise convenient and a bonding activity, particularly during summer when the work pace slows. At Kip Hunter Marketing in Fort Lauderdale, the account executives engage in friendly exercise competition using Fitbits and compare their steps weekly. At MBAF, an accounting firm, employees in the Coral Gables office go from their desks to bootcamp in the conference room on Monday nights. Attendance is up in summer. “We all encourage each other to go. It’s fun and easy,” says MBAF Marketing Director Wolfgang Pinther.

Mix it up. Varying your workout routine, and scheduling exercise on your calendar gives you a better chance of follow-through, says Raeah Braunschweiger, a health fitness specialist with the UHealth Fitness and Wellness Center in downtown Miami. She suggests trying new trends like barre fitness or belly-dancing: “Find something you find fun. People get stuck in a rut and then start to question why they are doing this.”
 
If you want to read more about Fitness After 40 or Fitting Fitness into Your Work Life Balance, I wrote two additional articles in the last week. 
 
Have a fit summer!

June 21, 2016

Tragic death shows why work life balance is important

As a beer lover, my attention was immediately drawn to the recent headline in The Miami Herald:

Founding brewer for MIA Beer Company killed in car crash

I continued on to read the article:

A well-known brewer in Miami’s craft beer scene was killed in a car crash over the weekend.

Piero Rodriguez, one of MIA Beer Company’s founding brewers, was killed in an accident early Sunday, owner Eddie Leon confirmed. He was 34.

“We are completely devastated,” Leon said.

And then, there it was, the paragraph that stood out to me as a warning for anyone who thinks excessive work can't kill you:
 
Rodriguez had been working double shifts, Leon said, brewing in the morning and often tending bar at the brewery at night to make extra money. Friends feared it might have been exhaustion that forced him to lose control of his late-model Acura on Northwest 33rd Street at the tight curve in the 8900 block, just minutes down the street from the brewery. He struck a light pole, wasn’t wearing his seat belt and was ejected, according to police. He was pronounced dead at Kendall Regional Medical Center at 2 a.m. Sunday.
 

Clearly, the ironic part is that Piero was doing a job he loved -- he was just doing it too much.

His friends and peers told The Miami Herald It was common to find him at the brewery doing the laborious, scrubbing tanks with punk rock blaring in the background while his son tagged along.

He was living the life he always wanted, his brother Ruy said, albeit cut far too short.

“People should be more positive,” Ruy said, “and pursue their dreams like he did.”


And there, right there, lies the fine line. While it is admirable to pursue your dream and do a job you love, everyone needs balance. Death by overwork is real and it can take your life in different ways. There are health reasons why work life balance is important and repercussions for thinking you can work a little longer or harder before taking time off. Over the years, I've written about people who have dropped dead of exhaustion right at their desks.

According to the Herald, the last thing Piero Rodriguez said as he left work late Saturday night was how much he was looking forward to spending Father’s Day with his young son.

He would never make it home.

That's a cautionary lesson for all of us. Sending my prayers to Piero's family....
 
 
 
Piero 1

June 17, 2016

Father's Day: A working dad's perspective on work life balance

For Father's Day, I wanted to hear a dad's perspective on work life balance. I know firsthand that work life balance is a struggle for working mothers. But what about for working fathers? Are their challenges the same?

A friend calls Mason Williams a "super dad."  So, I asked Williams to share his thoughts on being a father and finding work life balance.  IMG_0161

What exactly does being a super dad mean these days? Williams explains:

Although he is the Chief Investment Officer/Managing Director for Coral Gables Trust Company, the 38-year-old Williams takes his parenting job equally as seriously. He says his children are his life – two sons, a 6-year-old named Jake and a 3-year-old named Luke. Williams, has been married for nine years to his wife, Ana Lucia, who is a stay at home mom. Ana Lucia makes most of the household decisions, but Williams says he's equally involved in the decisions regarding their children, so much so that he recently listed his son getting into a magnet program at the elementary school as a personal accomplishment on a recent awards nomination. 

While Williams' job is set up to be 9 to 5, it extends well beyond those hours. Often, he works 10-hour days. "We're small and entrepreneurial so it comes with the territory," Williams explains. "You have to make an impact all the time for the business to grow. It can wear on you at times, trying to find balance between work and being there for your kids. I struggle but I think it's important to find ways to be with them."

Like most professionals, Williams can't help but check email on the weekends. It's the best time to trade ideas with his colleagues, he says. "With the iphone, email is at your at fingertips and it's hard to put it down."

As the sole provider for his family, Williams says he puts expectations on himself that fathers of prior generations may not have experienced. Professionally, there is pressure on him to "do what I need to do at the office." At the same time, he also feels pressure to help at home. "When I'm not at the office I feel like I have an obligation to help with the children so my wife can take a break."

Williams realizes his generation of fathers are raising children in an era when technology has made parenting easier and more challenging. On one hand, parenting advice is at their fingertips. On the other, work is always in your pocket.  "I think it's far more stressful," he says. "My parents did not have a Blackberry or iPhone. They could shut down. It's harder for us to concentrate on our home lives when we're home, so that's added stress."

Of course, that's not Williams' only stressor. He says like any parent, his challenge is learning to stop, take a breath and spend time with his family. "I have to tell myself that project at work, or that email can wait. Prioritizing is huge challenge and I have had to learn when to put family ahead of work. I know if I help out at home, I have a happy wife and I have learned happy wife equals happy life."

Williams says as a parent, he gets involved with the time management of his children and the activities they take on. "I'm teaching my son why he should do homework first, so he has free time afterward."  Both the Williams boys are involved in sports, something Williams encourages. "We want them to be active. Our oldest is doing swimming and golf. Our youngest is doing soccer and swimming." One day, Williams even envisions an athletic scholarship for college for his sons like the one their mother, an avid golfer, received years ago.

With all the challenges dads take on today, Williams admits their children's accomplishments become that much more of their own personal achievements. Williams proudly tells me his son Jake has just been accepted to the Sunset Elementary magnet program for Spanish. 

Yes, fathers today are pulling the double duty that mothers did for decades -- and while it's a tough, they are reaping the rewards in the close relationships they are forming with their children.

Keep up the good work fathers, and enjoy your special day. Happy Father's Day to all the super dads out there!

 

 

June 16, 2016

Working mom takes on a challenge

 

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Like most working mothers, I try to juggle work and family as best as I can. Recently, I decided I want to finish my master's degree that I started many years ago, before I had children. To do so, I learned I would have to take my Graduate Record Exam (GRE) again. 

When I saw the GRE practice tests, my first reaction was HOLY MOLY! That was followed by, "No way can I pass this test!" The math problems involved formulas I haven't seen for 30 years such as the circumference of a circle and the area of a rectangle. The test has algebra, word problems, geometry. I was completely intimidated. I worried how I would ever find the time and energy to re-learn math concepts. 

When I sat down to study, I felt overwhelmed. When I took practice tests, my first time around I got almost every problem wrong. But I was committed. I started to look at the exam differently. I know I will never need to know the circumference of a circle or the volume of a cube after the test is over, but I was proving to myself that I had the ability to learn new things. For the last month, I have spend every spare moment learning how to do math problems and memorizing difficult vocabulary words. 

Today I took the actual exam.  As I began, I realized there were questions on it I hadn't studied. During the first section, I ran out of time without finishing. It was a test taker's nightmare, especially when there is no penalty for guessing. I was upset with myself. But as I went on, things got better.

At the end of the exam, I learned that my score was one point off what I need to get into the program I'm interested in. There's a chance it will be considered  "close enough". But if it isn't, I'm okay with that. I know I can study and improve on my score. Learning difficult material at 50 years old is one of the biggest challenges I have taken on. Yet, I'm so glad I did because I proved to myself I can handle a challenge. 

If you're thinking of taking on a challenge -- academically, professionally, personally --  go for it. It's a great sense of satisfaction knowing that personal development and work life balance are compatible.   

What challenge will you take on before 2016 runs out?

 

 

June 15, 2016

A working mom's transition to summer

Recitals, class parties, teachers' gifts...the end of the school year is such a crazy time. And then...boom it's all over.

As a working mother, I always feel strange on the last day of school. I feel like I was just buying back to school supplies and signing emergency contact forms. For a while, it feels like the year is dragging on as I manage the daily logistics of getting kids to school and to sports practice. And then suddenly, I’m going to end of the year awards ceremonies and getting everyone ready for summer camp.

To me, the end of the school year signifies the passage of time even more than ringing in the New Year. All of a sudden we realize that while we were juggling work and life, our children were growing another year older and wiser and maturing in a way we love and hate at the same time.

Now, we get a few months to slow things down and enjoy our children, our work and our home lives at a slower pace. We get to add more leisure into our schedules and worry less about logistics.

What I love most about the month of June is what lies ahead. The summer stretches before us and days last longer. I’m not ready yet to reflect on the last school year or plan ahead for the next one. I’m in a state of chill, ready to enjoy a let up in traffic, and see vacation photos on my Facebook feed. There is something so satisfying about knowing I can take a bike ride after dinner or dress a little more casual for the office.

Summer is a great time to reclaim work life balance.  To fully embrace summer, here are some suggestions for making the transition:

  • Get in the habit of spending time with your family while unplugging and staying in the present. Is there a new walking trail nearby to discover? Get out there and explore, but don’t dare bring your cell along.
  • Plan a weekend escape. Getting away doesn’t need to be stressful or heavy on the budget. Is there a nearby tourist attraction you would love to visit? I'm headed to Epcot this weekend.
  • Set a rule to always leave your workplace by 5 p.m. on Fridays. In the summer, Friday nights can be a great time to wrap up the week and leave work behind. Is there a Friday night ritual you can establish? Maybe a Friday night pizza picnic in a nearby park?
  • Consider some self care. Is there a spa you’ve been itching to try? In the summer, spas offer promotional packages and gyms are less crowded than usual. You may be able to stretch your lunch break a bit to get in a good workout. This is a great time of year to focus on your wellbeing.
  • Reconnect with a friend. Is there a friend you've been meaning to get together with but have been too busy? The slower pace of summer is a great time to make plans. Getting together with a friend is like a vitamin boost. Pick up that phone and make a date.

 We have so much to look forward to in the next few months. Enjoy!

June 02, 2016

Letter to Mom at Graduation

Just last year, I was one of the thousands of parents of a child who was graduating from high school and moving on to the next phase. Having worked so hard for so many years to maintain work life balance, the transition felt strange -- and difficult. If you're experiencing that right now, know that you are not alone.

Today, my guest blogger is Raffi Bilek, a former teenager and current parent of school-age children.  He is a family counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, where he offers parenting workshops and counseling to parents, teens, and families. He loves his mom and wrote a letter to her from a teenage perspective. I enjoyed reading it and thought you would too.

 

Me & Mom

(Raffi and his mom, 15 years ago)

 

Hi Mom,

Thanks for coming to this meeting.  I know you’re really busy with other projects but I’m glad we were able to take time out for this.

I figure the best way to do this is just be direct.  Mom, I’m downsizing.  Now that my corporation, Me, Inc., has been around nearly a decade and a half, it’s really become clear that we don’t need the complex management system we’ve had all this time.  You and Dad have been great managers, no doubt, but at this point, it’s really overkill.  In the past you’ve taken on a lot of different assignments around here, which have obviously shifted with the company’s needs over time, and just aren’t so relevant anymore.

Feeding and changing was a big one when we were just a tiny startup. Remember those days? Novice mistakes and setbacks, long hours, few days off if any… you sure put in a lot of time and effort, and I definitely want to appreciate what you did for the company back then, Mom.

Then there was scheduling and logistics for many years around playdates, school, baseball practice, dentist appointments.  You’ve certainly survived a lot of conflicts between the staff of Me, Inc., and your upper management team. And let’s not forget your expert direction of Me, Inc.’s Food Services Unit, your leadership in running the infirmary, and your clever efficiency improvements in areas ranging from Tantrum Weatherization to Homework Completion to Household Budgeting.

Yep, you’ve worn many hats around here.  But the point is, it’s just becoming less and less necessary.  As the founder and president of Me, Inc., I see the need for your skills dropping off as we move ahead into the bright future of adolescence.  So, like I said, I’m downsizing. I’m afraid that, effective immediately, you and Dad are no longer managers at Me, Inc.

I know this comes as kind of a shock to you, but in truth, the signs have been all over the place for some time now.  You’ve gotten a bit behind the times and have failed to notice the shifting winds that started in the pre-teen years.  You sometimes treat me like a startup instead of the burgeoning corporation that I am, and it has kind of gotten in the way of progress.

Look, it’s not as bad as it seems.  After all, this is really what you’ve always wanted – an independent, growing business that isn’t tied to your every move, that can function and even expand even when you’re not at the office.  I’m sure you’ve had retirement in the back of your mind all along (even if you thought it was in the distant future).

And, just as importantly, please note that I said we no longer need your skills.  But the truth is – and the guys in the back room will kill me if they ever heard me saying this - Me., Inc. really still needs you.  We need what you have to offer – your knowledge, your years of experience, and not least your moral support.

So, think of this as a door opening, not a door closing.  Take some time off to come to terms with being laid off.  I know it isn’t easy.  But when you’re ready to shift roles, I’ll tell you what – Me, Inc. really needs a good consultant or two.  We need someone who can help guide the company from the sidelines while taking a much more hands-off approach.  Someone who knows the company inside and out.  Someone who really cares about the company’s growth and success. 

I think you’ll be great for the job.

Raffi

 

 

May 23, 2016

Where to find flexible childcare

When my children were younger, I worked four days a week and had Fridays off. It was not easy to find childcare for four days. But times have changed and daycare appears to be getting a little more flexible. I'm not saying it's completely flexible, but we're moving in the right direction. 

In my column in today's Miami Herald, I address the new direction of child care. Below is an abbreviated version but you can click here to see the full article. 

 

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(Pamela Guilarte, left, and her mother, Maria Sayreat the Fun Club in South Miami. Photo by 
Roberto Koltun) 

 

 

 

 

From nannies on demand to daycare or after-school care on demand, alternatives to full-time childcare are providing parents options to fit their new ways of working.

Drop in care: One of the most-popular options is drop-in care, where childcare is available by reservation, or at the last minute as a service offered by full-time day care and early-learning centers. Parents can pre-buy preschool hours and use them as needed. Costs vary but start at about $10 an hour, plus a one-time registration fee.

Earlier this month, Suzanne Santos, a mother of three, found herself using this alternative. Santos, a real estate agent in South Miami, had a photo shoot set up for one of her new property listings and needed childcare for her 2-year-old daughter for the afternoon when the nanny called in sick. So, Santos bought a package of drop-in childcare hours at The Fun Club in South Miami that she will use as needed over the next month.

Pamela Guilarte began drop-in care as the owner of Fun Club in South Miami and just sold the preschool to Orange Blossom Learning Center. Now, she plans to license the format she used locally to preschools around the country. She and her mother, Maria Sayre, have developed software that allows parents to log onto a website, purchase a package of hours and sign up for preschool/childcare as needed, or several days a week. Preschool owners are able to use the software to track parent usage and send out renewal notices.

Guilarte says drop-in care has gained traction in the past few years, particularly with young parents. “Millennial parents are savvy and because of the way they are working, they don’t want to pay a monthly fee,” she says. “They are hand-selecting the top preschools in their area where they can pay by the hour or the day.”

While it would seem challenging for owners to staff for drop-in care, Guilarte says it serves as supplemental income for childcare centers that already offer full-time care. Parents still need to ensure that a drop-in center is licensed and operates under the same regulations that apply to day-care facilities. “When I opened the Fun Club seven years ago, if I said we offer drop-in care, people had no idea what that was. Now, people know what it is and have started to use it,” she says.

Drop-in childcare has a sizable potential market: People working nontraditional shifts or flexible hours make up 35 percent of the workforce.

While convenient, most drop-in care centers want some prior notice. Tiniciti Early Childhood Center requires 24 hours notice for drop-in care at its two Miami locations. It also offers parents flexibility in how they use day care during regular hours. Michael Taylor, who operates his iPrint company from Pipeline Brickell’s shared workspace, works a loose schedule and typically starts his workday around 11 a.m. after he drops his daughter Ella off at Tiniciti Brickell. Because the center offers alternatives to full-time care, Taylor uses it mostly in the afternoons but has the option of picking Ella up as late as 8 p.m. if needed. “There are so many young business people on Brickell that certain schools have no choice but to offer flexibility and adjust with times,” Taylor says.

Existing daycare centers: Even the large national providers are catering to parents’ working habits. KinderCare Learning Centers has 1,600 locations across the country, including some on-site corporate centers. At some locations, it has extended hours, offered drop-in care or catered to parents with unpredictable schedules. In South Florida, KinderCare and its Cambridge Preschools has 22 locations, some that offer a daily rate or a monthly half-day fee, says Yvonne Wolliston, KinderCare regional director for the South. “We’re sensitive to moms who want flexibility and are working with them,” Wolliston says.

Family childcare centers: Some family childcare centers have adapted, too. Maricarmen Macias has operated a childcare center from her Chicago home for more than a decade. By welcoming children as early as 5 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m., she has attracted parents who put in nontraditional hours, some of them single mothers. For example, Macias says she accommodates a single mother who works a different schedule each week at a dollar store: “By being flexible, we are giving a mom the chance to have a job and be the main provider for her family.”

Websites: Another flexible option parents are using are websites like Care.com that offer a version of childcare on demand and nanny-sharing. Katie Bugbee, senior managing editor at Care.com, says parents use her website to build a bank of babysitters to hire as needed. “If you have five quality babysitters in your contacts, you can say, ‘I am picking up a gig this week and need someone for 20 hours, who can help me?’ ” Bugbee says.

Afterschool programs: For parents with older children, after-school programs also are evolving to accommodate a change in the communities’ needs. Jodi Grant, executive director of Afterschool Alliance — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization to ensure quality after-school programs — says she has seen more alternative programs for parents who don’t need five-days-a-week after-care for their elementary, middle or high school children. From enrichment activities to onsite after-school care, “the need for flexibility is great and the programs are getting better.” Check your local YMCA or Community Centers for flexible after-school programs. 
 

What are your experiences with childcare and flexibility? Do you find it challenging to find child care to fit your needs?

May 18, 2016

How to make your own work life balance rules

Lifework
A few nights ago, I reached on my nightstand for my iPad to shoot off an email before I went to sleep. By doing that, I completely broke my own rule about using mobile devices into my bedroom. I made the rule because I want my bedroom to be a sanctuary, a place I go to wind down, de-stress and restore my strength. When I think about work in my bedroom, I feel like I have nowhere to escape, no sense of work life balance.

Have you ever made a work life balance rule for yourself? Was it something like.... I'm not going to stay at the office past 6 p.m.! I'm not going to work on Saturdays! I'm not going to talk about work during dinner!

If you haven't, maybe it's time. What change big or small would make a difference in your life?

What do you feel you need more of in your life -- time with your family, a good night sleep, weekend down time?

Now, make a rule that will improve that aspect of your life. Put it in positive terms such as....I am going to leave my office by 6 to enjoy more evening time with my kids.

Enforcing your rule is the crucial piece. So, how are you going to go about making work life balance changes that stick?

First, you need to have your rule visible. Put a reminder somewhere where you are going to see it at the time you most need it.  In my example, I should have a sticky note on the cover of my iPad that reminds me not to bring it into my bedroom. For you, that reminder may be an alarm on your phone that alerts you to leave the office at 6, or maybe a sticky note near the dinner table reminding you to discuss uplifting, non-work topics during your meal.

Next, enlist help. Encourage a co-worker or your spouse to remind you of your new rule. I told my husband to remind me of my no tech use in the bedroom rule in case I slip up.

Use technology to your advantage. There are ways to turn off your alerts outside of work hours or auto-responders that say "I may not respond to this email prior to Monday."

Lastly, don't give up. Things happen that could cause you to break your rule every now and then. If you break your rule, like I did, tell yourself it's a temporary setback and you are going to do better. You want to aim for big-picture, long-term improvement to your work life balance.

Having some set rules for balancing your life can help you prioritize and prepare for curveballs that come your way. Try your best to limit the exceptions and follow the work-life balance rules you have set for yourself. Once you find this happy balance of work and personal time you will be more fulfilled in your career and a much more happier friend and family member.

 

May 12, 2016

How to Spring Clean Your Life

Spring clean your life


Exciting news! I was interviewed by Nicole Blades on BlogHer for a piece on How to Spring Clean Your Life (For Real)

Below is the piece that ran as a Blog Her Original Post:

Even if the weather in your region isn't acting like it, this is legit spring! One of the things that goes along with the season is cleaning, like, major, deep-rooted cleaning. But that clean-up plan extends beyond the kitchen cabinets and your underwear drawer.

That's why Cindy Goodman is here to help you spring clean your life.

Cindy’s nationally syndicated column, "Work Life Balancing Act" helps her readers with the daily work life balance struggle to find career and personal fulfillment — from tips on productivity to flexibility in the workplace. The column appears weekly in the Miami Herald, Star-Telegram, The Charlotte Observer and dozens of McClatchy newspapers. She is also a member of Hilton Garden Inn’s Bright Minds team, a group of influential women who offer time-saving tips and inspiration to empower the on-the-go business woman.

As a mother of three and also a veteran journalist, Cindy brings her personal experience to the work/life balancing act. She's here to help, folks. Take notes!

BlogHer: When we talk about "spring cleaning" our lives, it may seem a little daunting. Where do we start? What’s the best way to approach de-cluttering one's life? Is it about breaking things down into categories? Do we approach it similar to how we clean our closets: Keep, Donate, Discard?

Cindy Goodman: When it's time for spring cleaning a good place to start is your calendar. What is on your calendar that zaps your time and energy and creates stress? Is it too many networking events, too many kids’ activities, too many late nights at the office? What can you do to make your calendar look different? What can you delegate or where can you scale back to create more time for travel, or a new hobby, or hanging out with friends, those things that will put a smile on your face? De-cluttering your calendar and your to-do list will make a big difference in your stress level.

BlogHer: How might we go about "spring cleaning" our relationships? Is that even a thing? Can we detox our friendships/relationships?

CG: Look at the people in your life who are innovative, creative, inspiring, talented, supportive, and spend more time with them. When you give them more of your time, you will have less time for people who dwell on the negative. This might be one of the most important things we do to better balance our lives.

BlogHer: If we only have time and mind energy to tackle one thing in a Life De-Clutter Project, what should it be?

CG: Declutter the one thing you encounter every day that makes you feel disorganized. For example, every day I would park in my driveway and walk through my cluttered garage. It puts me in a bad mood walking into my home. Last spring, I decided to focus on straightening it out and tossing what I hadn’t used in a long time. By decluttering that one place, it changed my entire outlook every single day.

Most of us have one messy place we encounter daily and it makes us feel guilty and disorganized — it may be our underwear drawer, the backseat of our car, our desk drawer, our utensils drawer. Find your "one place" and tackle it. It will change your outlook!

BlogHer: Specifically talking to mothers, who are already juggling far too many things, what are some practical, actionable tips they can use to de-clutter their busy lives and move closer toward guilt-free work-life balance?

CG: There are three tips I try to follow:

1) Find your workplace soulmate, a superwoman you can count on to help you prioritize or rescue you in a pinch. One thing that I found interesting was on a recent survey Hilton Garden Inn put out that revealed 85 percent of employed women would be more likely to ask a fellow woman for help to get something done quickly at work. We need to continue to support each other!

2) Toss the gadgets that you never use and consider those that would be helpful. I have an electric rice cooker I will NEVER use. For a busy mom like me, it just doesn’t make my life any easier. We all have those kinds of things in our homes. But there are simple, inexpensive gadgets that would make our lives easier (most of them are invented by other moms). The Hilton Garden Inn survey I referenced earlier said that self-cleaning carpets (34 percent), self-folding laundry (34 percent ) and 3-D printers for meals (18 percent) are the top three gadgets busy women wish they would have. Someone should get on that!

3) Lastly, refuse to feel guilty. Clear out those things in your home that make you feel bad about what you haven’t gotten around to doing. I just tossed an unused photo album. I will never take the time to print photos and fill the album. If I really want to make an album I can create a digital one online. If you will never make muffins, toss the muffin pan. It’s okay. I give you permission to do it.

BlogHer: Once we’re done with the "life spring clean,” how can we keep it all organized and maintain the progress? How do we avoid slipping back into the life clutter all over again?

CG: Focus on that "one place" you want to keep organized and how great it feels to see it decluttered. That should be motivation to avoid slipping back into disorganization!

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Nicole Blades is a novelist and freelance journalist who writes about family, identity and culture. 

May 10, 2016

When your spouse travels for work

My husband is traveling for business a few days. 

A couple of years ago, I would have dreaded that he would be away from home. It would have meant I would have had to put the kids to bed, wake them up, get them ready, pack lunches and do all the cooking and cleaning -- by myself. 

But now, things are different. I have only one child left at home, a teenager who is pretty self sufficient. Now, my husband's business travel means I don't have to make dinner. Last night, my son and I had leftovers. And, because my husband is away, we didn't even bother doing the dishes. They're still sitting in the sink. My son isn't about to complain.

What's more, I stayed up last night until way past midnight enjoying all the television shows I love to watch and he doesn't. I watched almost the entire season of HBO Girls. Again. 

Of course, I miss my husband and look forward to his return, but sometimes, alone time is just what a busy working parent needs. A recent Hilton Garden Inn survey found that 67 percent of women whom they surveyed confessed to wanting their significant others to go away on business trips so they could have time to themselves. 

Sometimes, my night to myself may include plowing through the stack of unread magazines I have on my nightstand or devouring a good book. I have had women who travel for work confess to me that they sometimes look forward to the night in the hotel room alone for the same reasons as I do -- to get some alone time. I find complete, uninterrupted immersion in entertainment of my choice extremely relaxing.

So how do you spend time to yourself when either you or your significant other travels? Do you have a go-to routine that you look forward to?

(Share your answer on my Facebook page for a chance to win a weekend getaway!)