August 19, 2014

Working parents biggest fears

I shouldn't say I'm shocked but I am. How is it that in 2014, at a time when most mothers and fathers work, we still fear that we will be fired when our family needs interfere with work demands?

It's interesting that men almost fear bringing up child care issues with their boss more than women do. A dad I know once told me I was lucky that I had a flexible work arrangement and said his boss would get angry if he asked for one. I urged him to ask but I don't think he ever did. 

A new Bright Horizons Modern Family Index survey of 1,000 working moms and dads with at least one child under 18 still in the home shows:

  • working parents fear family responsibilities could get them fired
  • fathers are just as stressed and insecure about work and family conflicts as mothers
  • 39 percent of parents fear being denied a raise because of family responsibilities
  • 37 percent of parents fear they will never get promoted while 26 percent worry about a demotion because of family responsibilities
  • 22 percent worry that family commitments will cost them key projects at work
  • 19 percent believe they won’t be invited to important meetings because of family obligations
  • Working parents are nervous to bring up key family-related issues with their employers

That's a lot of fear, isn't it? We all know that business is about making profit or showing performance but workers are the ones who make that happen. When we have to choose between leaving a sick kid home alone or going to work, that's a tough choice we shouldn't have to make.

Here's something all employers should note: . Those working parents who do feel supported by their employer report strong loyalty.

David Liss, CEO of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, said it well:  "it is clear that working parents throughout the U.S. are still struggling to manage all of their responsibilities, and many still feel that they cannot be honest with their supervisors about needing to be available and active in their family lives."

As a working parent, showing vulnerability to the wrong boss can be career suicide. And so, out of fear, we lie. In the survey working parents -- moms and dads --  admitted to lying or bending the truth to their boss about family responsibilities that get in the way of work. Some revealed they have faked sick to meet family obligations. Others said they lied about missing a work event because of a family commitment or the reason why they didn't respond to emails.

Again, all very pathetic but shockingly understandable.

Over my years as a working parent, I found a supportive boss makes all the difference in being a successful working parent and achieviing work life balance. If I hadn't had a supportive boss when my kids were really little, I couldn't have kept my job. The survey shows 41 percent of working parents agree with me.

Have you ever been fearful that family needs will get you fired? Do you think fathers get less of a break at work and have more reason to be fearful than mothers?

August 18, 2014

Back to School: A teacher's work life balance

As we struggle with work life balance and adjusting to new school routines, we think teachers have it easier than we do because they already are at school - and/or have school hours -  and can be involved in their kid's education.

 

 

Not so, says Kerri Medina, a former teacher turned college adviser who reached out to me. Below is her perspective as the new school year kicks in. I think you will find it insightful:

 

Kerri2 (1)

 I worked for the Miami-Dade County Public School System for 11 years and have a son who is 15 years old and starting his 10th grade year. In all of my time working for the school system, I was rarely able to attend his school events, shows, be a room parent, be active in the PTA, volunteer for school events, or anything else school-related because I worked the same hours the events were taking place.

I wasn't able to even do something as simple as dropping children off the first day of school, which for most parents is an exciting time with their children. Unfortunately, educators are unable to share in this experience. For me this was especially painful his first day of kindergarten. I always thought it sad and ironic that those involved in education in many cases can't be as active as they might like in their own child's school.

This past year I left the school system and became an independent college adviser at International College Counselors. This last year, for the first time, I was able to drop my son off the first day (and any day I needed, or wanted to), attend my son's school performances (he's a musician at New World School of Arts), go on any field trip I wanted to, serve on the board of the PTSA, and really feel like an involved parent at my son's school.

I am thrilled to still remain in education, but now have a better work/life balance through my company's flexibility. I noticed the same scenario of other parents who were involved in education, that although they were making a huge impact on other students' lives, they oftentimes couldn't be involved in their own child's school.  

For most part with my son, I still take a minimalist approach. I do what I need to do to make sure he’s on track. I have never rushed a project to school for the child who forgot it,because I couldn’t do it before. Now, I'm still letting my son take the lead when comes to school work.  

As a working, single mother, I am constantly balancing work and life in many ways. But now, as the new school year arrives, I can approach it differently and strike a better balance. 

 

August 14, 2014

Do you have hurrying sickness? How to slow things down

Slow-down-and-enjoy-the-moment

 

 

For the last week I have been touring colleges with my son who is entering his senior year. We have been on the go in big cities and it's been a challenge to find time to return calls or check email. At night, instead of logging on, I fall into bed exhausted. I know I should be completely focused on him. It's one of the few times when I will have an opportunity to spend one on one time with him for this long.

But there's a part of me that's wracked with anxiety about the emails that need to be returned and calls that need to be made. Yesterday, I hurried through lunch with him to check my email before we rushed to our next campus visit. I actually told him to hurry up and eat lunch faster. Now, I feel guilty about it. What will I remember a few weeks from now - the emails I returned or the amazing conversation I would have had over a more leisurely meal?

In her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington notes: "mastering the art of slowing down doesn’t happen quickly. Learning the wisdom of slowing down, of truly living, is itself a journey. But it is also a prescription for better health.”

I admit I have hurrying sickness. Do you have it too? How many times a day do you find yourself thinking "hurry up" or saying it aloud to your kid or spouse? 

In her book, Arianna writes: “In the summer of 2013, a blog post on The Huffington Post became an unexpected overnight sensation, with more than 7 million page views and nearly 1.2 million Facebook likes. It was entitled “The Day I Stopped Saying ‘Hurry Up,’ ” and was written by Rachel Macy Stafford, a special education teacher and mother of a six-year-old girl. Rachel’s life, as she writes, was “controlled by electronic notifications, ringtones, and jam-packed agendas.” But one day she painfully realized the impact she was having on her daughter—“a laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the-roses type of child”: “I was a bully who pushed and pressured and hurried a small child who simply wanted to enjoy life.

It is painful to discover I have the hurrying sickness. I actually felt guilty about leisurely eating lunch when I thought I could squeeze in a few minutes of clearing email.

But what I have overlooked when I am rushing from one task to the next are the rewards of slowing down. Leisurely eating helps you to feel full. Leisurely walking helps you to de-stress.  Leisurely listening allows you to pick up on what your child or spouse might not actually be verbalizing

I have been warned that the art of slowing down doesn't happen quickly.  It's a journey. And, for me, it's one well worth trying to embark on, particularly when I think about the message I'm sending to my kids. 

As Arianna notes: "While hurry sickness isn't inherited, it’s clear that we’re doing a pretty good job of passing our self-destructive relationship with time on to our children.”

With this realization, I am taking the first step on my journey to slowing down my  rush through life. I am going to ask my son his thoughts on our college visits and I am going to listen patiently to his response - regardless of how many emails pile up.  If we try, we can all see the path to an improved quality of life. All we have to do is take it.

August 07, 2014

The business of work life balance

In my 12 years of writing about work life balance, I have watched it become a giant industry, and I would venture to say it is only going to get bigger. All of us are struggling to create boundaries with technology making that an increasing challenge.

I thought it was time to highlight the industry's evolution. Where do you think the industry is headed?

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN
BALANCEGAL@GMAIL.COM
At Perry Elllis corporate offices, a group of employees are gathered in the company conference room, stretching into various poses and and taking deep breaths. At the front of the room, a yoga teacher from Green Monkey gives instruction. In the increasing struggle for zen, yoga businesses like Green Monkey have discovered opportunity: a demand for restoring balance to stressed out workers.

The work/life balance industry now encompasses venders and consultants who make money selling services to employers increasingly concerned with wellness, engagement, morale and productivity. Workplace wellness alone has become a nearly $2 billion industry, projected to hit $2.9 billion by by 2016, according to a study by consultants IBIS World.

Newer to the scene are service providers who appeal to individuals — working mothers and fathers or stressed-out leaders — looking to take tasks off their plate, bring order to their lives or create easier ways to work remotely. The category includes personal shoppers and trainers, virtual assistants, meditation leaders, elder care consultants and life coaches.

What has changed most in the evolution of the industry is widespread acknowledgment that work/life balance is not a problem just for women or a concern that is going to be solved — but rather an ongoing challenge. “The recognition has made work/life balance the subject du jour,” says Jim Bird, founder of WorkLifeBalance.com. “It’s something people look at when considering a job or deciding whether to take a promotion and it’s probably the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs.”

Fueling the focus on work/life issues is research. Quantifying stress, distraction, perks, engagement and productivity has become a business in itself, with academics and consulting firms spitting out surveys on the factors behind dissatisfaction and turnover.

Inevitably the research points out one crucial finding: Employees are struggling more than ever before with the demands on their time. Though many companies remain reluctant to hire large numbers of new employees and beef up salaries, almost all large employers now survey employees on job satisfaction and work/life balance. Using results, the company typically goes on to provide some benefit to alleviate work/life friction and improve productivity.

“From an employer perspective, it’s no longer just about helping employees,” explains Rose Stanley, a work/life practice leader at WorkatWork, a nonprofit HR association for organizations focused on strategies to attract and retain a productive workforce. “It’s about tying it back into business strategy.”

Case in point: An estimated one million workers miss work each day because of stress, costing companies an estimated $602 per employee per year, according to HeathAdvocate.com.

Providers such as Bright Horizons Family Solutions are catering to employer demand. Twenty-eight years ago, when Bright Horizons CEO Dave Lissy approached a Fortune 500 company to offer on-site childcare to employees, the HR director’s first reaction was to ask why, he says. Today, “why “ is obvious and that same employer company now uses Bright Horizons Family Solutions also to provide employees with back-up elder care, elder care case management, sick-child care and other work life benefits such as college or educational advising.

“The core issue of child care remains a challenge for companies and their workers,” Lissy says. “What has changed is an acknowledgment of other key life-stage issues that cause the same friction. Companies now show more of an appetite to address those multiple issues.”

Bright Horizons, now a public company based in Watertown, Mass., has close to 1,000 corporate clients; in 2013, it grossed $1.2 billion in revenue. Lissy predicts even more growth. “Time is on our side. Those organizations who don't offer help with work/life concerns will be behind in a world where human capital is the competitive advantage.”

Emerging from the recession, employers are hiring vendors to structure flexibility programs as a tool for innovation rather than just as a benefit. They are tapping stress-reduction experts as a way to increase productivity.

Atlanta-based WorkLifeBalance.com is an 8-year-old company that sells training programs on time management, stress management and work/life balance, both online and on site. CEO Jim Bird said his company has seen an increasing interest from employers, not only of white-collar but also of blue-collar workers, who want to re-engage employees by helping them help themselves. “They are doing it for bottom line reasons,” he says.

Service providers who sell directly to individuals are finding success with a variety of approaches. In South Florida, for instance, Green Monkey has built its meditation/yoga business on the motto “Live in Balance,” targeting stress out workers of all ages and both genders. In six years, it has grown from one studio to three. It also has attracted more than 20 corporate clients with its on-site yoga programs.

Elizabeth King has found a niche in work/life conferences targeted at businesswomen. A licensed psychotherapist, King was running International Holistic Center in Fort Lauderdale when she noticed an increase in women suffering from adrenal fatigue. “They were stressed out and overwhelmed.”

Her answer: Suits, Stilettos and Lipstick, an annual conference in Fort Lauderdale addressing such concerns as making time for romance, health and spirituality. The event draws about 500 women. Her third conference, slated for Sept. 12, will focus on coping skills. “I want to help women build their careers without sacrificing their health and identities,” she says.

Of course, as the industry booms, new “consultants” are following the money. Some, such as life coaches and meditation instructors, may not have training or certification.

“Don’t fall prey to people who are not trained professionals,” King warns. “Work/life balance is a growing business, but if people are selective and ask the questions, only those vendors with experience and credentials will survive.”

August 04, 2014

Will blocking social media make you more productive?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebookvacay

 

My favorite part of summer has become looking at vacation photos on Facebook. I love seeing where my friends are traveling and how they are enjoying their summers. And, I admit, I often log onto Facebook during the work day to take a peek at who just posted a cool vacation pic? Doesn't everybody?

Social media has become a part of the world we live in, including the workplace, but the jury’s still out on whether employers should care about employee time spent on Twitter and Facebook and whether they have a real need to ban it in the workplace.

A recent survey by Proskauer Rose shows nearly 90 percent of companies use social media for business purposes. And on the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, attorney Jon Hyman examines the question posed in an article in The Next Web, “Productivity vs. Distraction: Should you block social media at work?” Hyman says trying to stop workers from tweeting or posting photos on Facebook is a losing battle.

I like to argue that using social media at work can be productive. On social media sites you can learn about trends, new laws, news events and client needs. You can learn the bits of personal information about a customer that can help you create a bond. Currently, about 94 percent of recruiters are using social media as part of their hiring toolbox. 

After a quick look at Facebook, I feel like I just got up from my desk and chatted with a friend. I'm ready to return to the prior task with more focus. A short break to scan Facebook, look up a recipe on Pinterest, or engage in a conversation on Twitter might actually be the brain break you need to refocus and get more done.

Of course, there is a downside to allowing social media in the workplace. Employees posting negative, inappropriate, or downright inflammatory content can really put their employer into hot water. And, there are always workers who take it too far. Social media abuse can be a performance problem, but odds are the employee already has performance concerns. In that case, a boss should provide counseling and discipline if too much time is being spent on it.

Hyman suggests employers embrace the fact that employees will access their accounts from work and put policies and procedures in place to minimize problems and distractions. The best way to limit issues, says Hyman, is to train your workers about the various things that may come up when using social media (professionally or personally) and ensure that they understand what the company policy says.

Blocking social media at work won't necessarily make your employee more productive. With much more marketing happening online, it may become a necessity for more of us to use social media during our work day, anyway. Now all we need is to master self control.

 

 

July 31, 2014

Women can become law firm partners - and have a life

As a young lawyer, Tiffani Lee found a partner who believed in her ability and helped push her up to the top ranks of Miami’s Holland & Knight. Most often, the opposite is true: Organizational mechanisms at firms push out women and people of color.

But in a room full of women and minority lawyers, I heard some great advice on how to change that pattern. Here’s an employer and employee guide for how to navigate the challenges that lead people to leave.


Inclusion: Don’t leave women and minorities on the fringes. Amy Furness, a shareholder with the lawfirm of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt in Miami, says having someone in a leadership role who recognizes and shows a commitment to diversity by his actions can help the message of inclusion permeate throughout the firm, which can be particularly important for those partners who may not be thinking about diversity when they choose staff to work on their cases. “Getting leadership involved in ensuring inclusion prevents [diversity] from becoming marginalized,” Furness said.

Accountability: It is easy to create company policies that promote diversity, flexibility and volunteerism and work/life control. But there are some partners who will tell young associates that if they want to be successful, they should not take advantage of those policies. That is where accountability becomes crucial.

Tiffani Lee at Holland & Knight, said partners at her firm are evaluated — and even compensated — based partly on how many opportunities they provide to women and minority associates and what they’ve done to support diversity and inclusion. “The only way to drive change is to factor it into compensation,” Lee says. At her firm, partners “are asked about who is on their team and how they are working with the client to ensure the team is diverse and and how they are supporting the firm’s broader diversity efforts.”

She says ties between a commitment to values and compensation happen at all levels. Associates perform a self evaluation, too. They are eligible for a diversity kudos bonus if they have done something extraordinary.


Flexibility: At some point, the success of the firm – and the diverse talent pool — will depend on whether it offers flexibility, Most associates want a reputation for getting things done; however, they want control over how and when.

“We need to change the mindset around flexibility,” Says Manor Morales, president and CEO of the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance. “When managers hear flexibility, they think people don’t want to work as hard. Flexibility is not just reduced hours but also control over hours. It’s a different way to approach work and people actually achieve increased efficiency."

At most firms, men are taking advantage of flexibility – although informally and quietly. Morales found at one firm, a senior male partner works from home every Monday, but few realize it. "Flexibility will be embraced when firms encourage people who have power to be open about how and when they use flexibility."

Succession: While most law firms have eliminated a mandatory retirement age, many of the boomers at the top will begin paring back in the next decade. As leaders retire, it creates opportunity for the next generation – and for more inclusion. Some firms already are planning ahead.

Nikki Lewis Simon, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig in Miami, says her firm has worked consciously to bring women and minority lawyers into leadership, onto the executive committee and onto committees that interact with senior management. This allows the firm to address issues of the next generation not just years from now, but today.

“I think the next generation of leaders will have a sense of mutual respect: With them, it isn’t us and them, it’s we. There’s an understanding that we all have stuff we want to accomplish outside the office.”

Transparency: Women who have made it to the top have this advice for others: Don’t over-explain.

Women tend to give a detailed explanation for why they need to leave early or work from home. “They give much more information than necessary,” says Yuliya Laroe, a lawyer and business coach. Laroe say that often hurts them when partners assume if they don’t see them in the office, they are with their kids. “We need to empower ourselves to believe it’s no one’s business as long as we have met our deliverables.”

Simon, a mother of five, says she advanced to partner while on maternity leave, and has been quite clear about her whereabouts to derail assumptions: “I let them know when don’t see me, it doesn’t mean I’m not working. It just means I’m not working here. I’m doing something to advance cause of the firm.”


Time management/work-life control: Getting to the top to become an equity partner and staying there is giant responsibility that requires the ability to bring in business and make a contribution to the firm’s bottom line while balancing home life and community involvement.

Morales tells lawyers to be strategic. “You could have activities that fill your plate but not all give you the same benefit,” she explains, adding that women tend to be on committees that don’t advance their careers. “When you’re asked, think, ‘Will this committee connect me with the right people? Is it valued in the firm? Or, is it just busy work?’”


Clearly, support for talented women and minorities needs to be evident at all levels. Says Laroe: “People don’t leave firms, they leave individual partners who make staying difficult.”


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Photo by The Miami Herald: Tiffani Lee with her mentees and her mentor pictured behind her.

July 29, 2014

Pursuing a dream is easier than you think

A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to her college orientation. One young woman excitedly told me that she was going to learn a few languages and work in an embassy. Of course, she also plans to do some studying abroad and do an internship at a global corporation. I remember having that same enthusiasm in college for all that was ahead.

While I love the career I chose as a writer, and I love being a mom, there are dreams I had planned to pursue by now that just haven't panned out. Has that happened to you?

For example, I wanted to learn Spanish. I have always fantasized about taking an immersion course and then traveling to Spain or conducting an interview for an article completely in Spanish. A few years ago, I bought Rosetta Stone Spanish Language Software. It is sitting unopened in a drawer. (It wasn't cheap!) 

After returning home from my daughter's college, I thought about how I might pursue my dream, despite my constant struggle for work life balance. I decided to start small. Baby steps. I put a book next to my bed with Spanish vocabulary. Each night, I'm learning one new word. Some nights I learn as many as 10. Regardless of how busy I get or how tired I am, I have been able to muster the energy for at least one new word. It might take me a while to become fluent, but at least it's a step toward my dream.

A friend of mine is a legal consultant who calls herself a hobby baker. She has told me for years that it is her dream to turn the hobby into a business. Earlier this week, she struck a deal with a local restaurant to supply it some baked goods. It's a very small order and she won't make much money on the sale, but it's a baby step in the right direction. 

Is it possible for you to pursue a dream if you take baby steps? What could you do to take that first step?

July 25, 2014

How to negotiate workplace flexibility

After having two kids a year apart, I realized at that time in my career, I could not survive motherhood and news deadlines unless I negotiated flexibility. I asked for a four day work week. For me, the key to getting that schedule and finding some work life balance was the fact that I had proved myself and I was able to tell my boss exactly what he would gain by giving me flexibility. 

Today, my guest blogger, Tonya Lain, Regional Vice President at Adecco, the world's largest staffing firm, provides great advice for anyone who want to negotiate flexibility. Although Lain targets moms who want flexible schedules, there are dads out there who want them too. Her advice is useful to all.

 

Tonya
 

It seems a day doesn’t go by without reading or hearing about whether it’s possible for working mothers to “have it all” successfully, advance and balance their careers with their responsibilities to their children. Given today’s economy and cost of living, a family with two working parents is the norm, and in many cases an absolute necessity. A Pew Research poll shows that though the gap between the number of hours moms and dads spend with their kids and doing house chores has grown smaller in recent decades, women still spend more time than their spouses tending to the kids and home. This leaves mothers often feeling as though they are expected to be in two places at once.

 

A lot of this stress can be alleviated by pursuing a flexible work schedule – something 13 million Americans are doing. Stanford University conducted a study to debunk any misconceptions associated with the productivity, revealing that those working from home “were noticeably more productive, spending 9 percent more time on calls and handling 4 percent more calls per minute.” Even so, many of us aren’t prepared to have that conversation with our supervisors. Here are some ways to best make a case for a flexible working arrangement:

 

  • Do your research. Your company may already have guidelines about flexible working arrangements in the employee handbook. You may also want to consult with other moms in the company who have successfully negotiated a more flexible work schedule. This will allow you to develop a proposal based on what’s been done and what’s possible.

 

  • Determine what works for everyone. Really think about what arrangement would produce the best results for you and your employer—whether working from home three days a week or coming in later in the morning, allowing you to send your kids off to school. Consider how your employer will benefit as well. Will you be less preoccupied with how your children are being cared for? Will you gain two extra hours a day for working that you would normally spend commuting? Emphasize how this will produce results that will please everyone.

 

  • Establish quality control. Approach your employer with your research and a clear proposal on what your ideal flexible arrangement will be. This gives your supervisor a starting point to react to.  In the proposal, include recommended check-points to ease any doubts they may have on your performance. Suggest implementing frequent performance evaluations and communications standards, such as joining meetings electronically or establishing the expectations for responsiveness while you’re working from home. Emphasize a feedback system so concerns are communicated and rectified quickly. You may also want to suggest a trial run where both parties test the flexible working schedule for a month to three-month period before committing to anything long term.

 

Women today must take pride in all they have accomplished as far as their career and in their role as Mom. Carefully planning a conversation about work flexibility with an employer can help women gain the flexibility they need to make their lives less stressful and more productive.  

July 24, 2014

Why is binge-TV watching worth your time?

I admit, I'm perplexed. I'm constantly told by people that they don't have enough time to read newspapers, exercise, keep up with friends, travel. Yet, people who struggle to find work life balance have huge chunks of time to binge TV watch. I wondered how and why they are getting the time and I set out this week in my Miami Herald column to find out....

 

Binge-watching TV: an escape zone?

 

 
 

Many workers say that on their time off, marathon viewing sessions of television shows is a pleasurable way to keep the world at bay.

 

(Above: Breaking Bad)

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN

BALANCEGAL@GMAIL.COM

On a rainy Saturday in South Florida, Gabriela Garcia lay in her bed watching another episode ofCastle. She could get some fresh air, or even read a book or two, but watching Richard Castle investigate the homicide of a reality-show contestant had her enthralled. Before the day was out, she watched five more episodes of the TV series on Netflix.

“It’s my therapy,” says Garcia, a 37-year-old compliance officer at a Miami bank. “I work hard during the week and on weekends, I want to be lazy.”

It’s now easier than ever to get lost in marathon TV viewing sessions — a refuge that is becoming increasingly popular with America’s workers in their off hours. But how does the TV time-vacuum square with complaints about increasing workloads, hectic lifestyles and struggle for work/life balance? If workers value free time so fiercely, why spend that time glued to the tube?

A new study by Harris Interactive on behalf of Netflix shows 61 percent of us binge-watch TV regularly, watching at least three episodes of a single series in one sitting. Almost three-quarters of the public view binge watching as a positive experience and nearly 80 percent say that feasting on shows actually makes them more enjoyable.

“People are looking for refuge from the constant press of business,” says Grant McCracken, a cultural anthropologist who helped conduct the Netflix research. “At the same time, the stories are getting better than they used to be.”

Dramatic series such as Breaking Bad, The Wire, Downtown Abbey, Orange is the New Black andGame of Thrones are breaking the traditional rules, making TV even more complex and binge-watching more fun. At the same time, more people have signed up for Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime to get TV content streamed right into their television, laptop, tablet or smart phone, giving them a library of shows at their fingertips. And viewers are logging on in droves; just this week, Netflix reported it increased its total of paid subscribers to 47.99 million in the second quarter, up 34.7 percent from the same period last year.

Viewers say watching multiple episodes in order makes the sometimes-complicated plot lines easier to follow. But there is more behind the trend. Some workers admit they have binged to catch up with the current season so they can participate in conversations and inside jokes in their workplace lunchrooms or staff meetings.

It was water cooler conversation at her office that led publicist Mary Sudasassi, 43, to watch The Walking Dead. Sudasassi says she quickly became addicted to watching multiple episodes in a row. “After work and dinner, I would look forward to it like a prize.”

This summer, she and her husband, a mechanical engineer, are spending entire weekends diving into series that capture their attention. One Saturday, the couple watched eight episodes in a row of Game of Thrones. “We had to stop ourselves because we knew we should be doing something more productive.” But at the same time, Sudasassi says she looks at it as a fun couples’ activity. “It’s a way for us both to escape from stress.”

McCracken found the word “binge,” typically tinged with guilt or shame, has evolved into something different when it relates to television. Instead of vegging out like couch potatoes, television viewers now are called on to pay more attention to the action — and they are rewarded for it.

“There’s an ‘Oh My God’ reflex that comes out of new TV,” says McCracken, that causes views to look beyond the surface to explore the plot and their responses do it. “It’s not really that [Americans] are binging but rather they are feasting on good TV.

Much of this new “feasting” behavior is triggered by control. With DVRs and streaming, viewers can watch shows when they want, where they want, how they want and at the pace they want – in the middle of the night on a plane on a laptop, for example. Netflix studied viewer behavior and reacted to it “when given option, people were watching at least a couple of episodes in a row,” says Jenny McCabe, a spokeswomen for Netflix.

Those findings were behind its decision to release all episodes of House of Cards out at one time. Netflix’s research showed that 25 percent of subscribers who watch its 10 most popular shows cram an entire 13-hour season into two days; another 48 percent watch the entire season in a week. McCabe said Netflix intentionally eliminated commercials and the replays before each episode to [enable] viewers to use TV time efficiently. Or, as one lifestyle blogger, wrote, content producers are basically saying “Take the weekend, watch all 13 hours of this thing. DO IT.”

A working mother of young children, McCabe admits she binge-watches, too, catching up on multiple episodes of her favorite shows when she goes on a business trip. “I don’t’ have to share the TV with my significant other and I can just power through something.”

National branding guru Jay Leopardi, co-owner of Bad Boy Branding agency in Miami, says not only has he marathoned while on business travel, but he has watched multiple episodes late at night, sacrificing sleep and giving in to the urge for ‘just one more.’ “I’m an extremely busy person, but I have stayed up and watched House of Cards for five hours straight while my wife and kids were asleep,” says Leopardi. “It hooked me. It was that good of a show.”

In our instant-gratification society, the new content-providers, like Netflix, have realized that there is something satisfying for viewers in knowing that if an episode ends in a cliffhanger, in a few minutes they can see what happened. Leopardi says this is true for him: “I have zero patience. I don’t want until wait to next week to find out what happens.”

Regardless of when or where it happens, marathoning represents a huge time commitment. Watching the entire five-season series of AMC’s Breaking Bad, the highest rated show of all time, requires the devotion of more than 46 hours.

“When you put it like that, I feel embarrassed,” says Robert Yanks, a 24-year-old Fort Lauderdale advertising executive. “When you’re watching, it never seems like a big commitment because it is at your leisure.”

Over a weekend, Yanks said he and a friend might spent up to six or seven hours on the couch in a TV marathon of provocative dramas, illustrating that binging isn’t necessarily a solitary act. Among those who streamed multiple episodes of a TV series in a row, a combined 51 percent prefer to watch with at least one other person and talk about it afterward, research shows. Many even turn to social media for discussions.

Experts say people are giving up movies, books and exercise to escape into the world of Breaking Bad’s Walter White or Scandal’s Olivia Pope. McCracken says it’s clear to him why: “There is pleasure in the ability to sit at home watching episode after episode of great TV with the world kept at bay.”



July 21, 2014

How far should you go in de-cluttering

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Yesterday, while throngs of South Floridians were at the beach or enjoying the cool indoor a/c, I was in my hot garage cleaning out the junk. It's amazing how much clutter a family can accumulate from one summer to the next. 

Our garage has become the entry to our home. So every time I come in and out of it, I feel cluttered. As much as I tried to pretend otherwise, seeing clutter around me -- in the car, garage,  desk -- affects my psyche. Having clutter around me makes work life balance seem more elusive.

Cleaning the garage was a process. Not only did I weed out what I considered junk, but I had to get my husband and kids to be part of the de-cluttering. When I tried to toss my hubby's deflated basketball, he agreed only if I agreed to toss my yellowed newspaper collection.

At the end, I felt like the process of de-cluttering was as important as the results. First, I went through the  internal struggle of what can I purge from my life. Next, I survived the external struggle of negotiation with my family members.

This morning, I walked out of my home through my garage to walk my dog. I felt lighter, happier, more in balance. Over the years, I found summer is a great time to de-clutter my life. Now, I'm looking at all the responsibilities on my plate. For the last few years, I have become involved in several organizations that I had considered of high value. If I want to de-clutter my calendar, I have to ask myself whether being involved still brings value to my life.

Last week, I was at an event where a young attorney talked excitedly about how much she enjoys being involved in the local minority bar association. Her enthusiasm was overwhelming and made me think about whether I feel as excited as she does about the things I'm involved in that consume my time. Just like I did in my garage, I'm asking myself what I need to keep and what has become clutter.

But how far do I go in purging?  I still regret throwing away a box of Nancy Drew books that has enchanted me as a young girl. I wish I had saved them for my daughter. 

When you're peering over piles, mounds and stacks of stuff, it's hard to know where to begin and what to do in order to de-clutter and with the new push toward minimalism, I'm worried I will go too far.

I recently read a blog post about the powerful difference between organizing and de-cluttering. "Decluttering—or, just getting rid of stuff, is permanent. It leaves your four walls, and immediately you have more visual and physical space." 

So, I'm carefully looking at my clean garage and my cluttered calendar and making tough choices about what stays and what goes.  As the Art of Simple blogger notes: De-cluttering leads to freedom --  Freedom to live with more clarity, freedom to pursue work and hobbies we truly love, and freedom to spend more time with people instead of taking care of our things."

Who wouldn't want that?