August 01, 2016

Post vacation blues: Finding work life balance after your return

                                                         

 

                                                         Worker on vacation

I am boarding the plane home from summer vacation, a week of fun with my husband and kids, and I'm starting to get that familiar feeling. It's a sense of dread. On vacation, I spent every day for a week planning an adventure or enjoyable activity with my family and now I will return to laundry, email, deadlines and a daily routine that doesn't leave much quality family time.

I am fortunate I love my job as a writer. Lots of people I know hate their jobs, their bosses, their overall predicaments. I don't. Yet, I dread the post vacation blues, the reality of resuming a daily routine that imposes myriad demands on my time and a constant struggle for work life balance.

So lately, I've been reading up on how to avoid post vacation blues, or even just end-of-summer blues. I have figured out a few things to do differently this summer.

1. Know the benefit of a break. Whether you are job hunting, thinking of leaving your job or overwhelmed by your job, you need a break. Tell yourself it's okay to take a vacation and it's okay not to think about real life responsibilities for a short period of time. My new mantra: It's okay to chill out!

2. Make a game plan for the return. Spend some time coming up with a list of things that you can do after you return from vacation that will challenge you intellectually or physically. Those people who are constantly challenging themselves rarely appear to be depressed or negative, according to Andrew Griffiths and his blog on Inc.  I signed up for an online writing webinar a few days after my return from vacation this year. It gives me a learning opportunity to look forward to that I easily can fit into my work life balance.

3. Do more of the things you enjoy. Part of making that vacation high last is figuring out how to put more fun into your life. If it's spending time with your family you love, figure out how to make more time for them. If it's exercising you enjoy, get up early and go bike riding twice a week. If you enjoy working, that's a good thing, too. What aspects of your job do you like most and how can you do more of those things?  Some people have a hobby they enjoy like fishing or gardening but the last time they did it was 10 years ago.  As the summer comes to a close, plunge back into something you enjoy doing. For me, I love reading. I just created a library of books on my iPad waiting to be read on a lounge chair on the beach over the upcoming weekends after my return from vacation.

4. Ask someone "how can I help"? Commit to helping someone else either in your workplace, your business network,  your community, your children's school. If you want to feel uplifted, there is no better way.

5. Get in the right frame of mind.  Sometimes we focus on the piece of our lives that we find dull or difficult or exhausting. When you come back from vacation rested and happy, you can use that as motivation to re-examine your work life balance and your outlook. What are the things that made you happy on vacation -- sleeping in, touring museums, taking hikes, eating at new restaurants? All those things can be done wherever you live. You just have to make the effort to do them.

6. Change up your routine.  During your first week back from vacation, take a new route to work, sit in a different chair at the dinner table or eat lunch with a different crowd. Small changes often are enough to renew our zest for life and help us stay motivated.

Of course, if the post vacation blues are overwhelming, you may need more drastic measures. Vacations are fun because they offer a break from the tedium and familiarity of life, but if you're miserable being at work or at home, you may want to make big changes to feel happier. And, if it's any consolation, it's never too early to start planning your next vacation! 

April 07, 2016

Should You Hit "Send" at midnight? The unwritten rules of email

 

                                    Bed

 

It's close to midnight and I'm still awake. Not only that, but I've broken all my own rules about logging on late at night. The house is quiet, everyone but me is asleep and I'm feeling extremely productive. Maybe that coffee I drank after dinner wasn't decaf like I thought it was.

I have just composed a response to an email I was trying to get to all day. But now, I'm faced with a dilemma. Do I send it?  On one hand, if I do, I can go to sleep knowing it's off my plate. On the other hand, it may look odd to the receiver that I'm working at midnight. It may even look like I have no work life balance.

SendUgh....what to do? What are the rules, anyway?

Recently, I spoke on a panel to an audience of PR professionals (mostly women). The topic of late night email came up. Most of the audience admitted to getting back on their computers after dinner or after their kids are in bed -- at least a few nights a week. Some of them admitted, they too struggle with the etiquette of late night email.

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, one in two workers in the information technology, financial services, sales, and professional and business services sectors — industries that historically keep traditional 9 to 5 work hours — check or respond to work emails outside of work. Let's add journalist and publicist to that list. Heck, let's add teachers, lawyers, doctors, business executives and most other professions.

However, there are people who don't believe in taking work home. Some get annoyed by late-night work email and look down on the sender. These people want clear boundaries between work and home and they don't appreciate others who break those boundaries. My husband believes sending late night emails creates an impression you're disorganized. 

I noticed working mothers tend to be okay with sending emails in the evening hours. They understand that "doing it all" might mean sending an email at 10, 11 or even midnight.

In a recent column, Sue Shellenbarger at the WSJ pointed out that your boundary style and tolerance for late night email may depend on the kind of job you hold or your life stage. She noted that some people celebrate the option to log on at night as freedom, a sign of success in balancing home and work. For others, it feels like the opposite of freedom—a burdensome intrusion on their home life.

A banking executive told me she often composes late night emails but waits until the morning to hit send. I think her approach may be the way to go. I see 11 p.m. as the cutoff time to hit send. After that time, I am going to take the banker's approach and wait until the morning.

To be clear, I don't think anyone should expect a response to an email sent after 7 p.m.  But others will disagree. Some clients, co-workers and bosses expect a quick response, regardless of the time the email is sent. Unfortunately, this "always on" attitude is the direction business is going.

What are your thoughts on late night email? Do you think there's a reason or hard stop time to hold back on hitting send? Are you put off when someone sends you a late night email?

 

March 10, 2016

We have to stop stressing ourselves out

                                                 Stressed

 

Today I judged the Miami Herald Silver Knight contest for high school seniors. One of the students I interviewed had Chinese parents -- her father is a doctor and her mother has doctorate degree in psychology. The student, a high school senior, had dozens of activities on her resume, really time consuming activities such as working in a medical lab 20 hours a week, playing violin in a youth orchestra and tutoring students in math. She did this all while getting straight As in 17 AP courses.

"How do you do it all?" I asked her. "My parents raised me to be busy all the time doing the things I love to do,"  she replied. She said this matter of fact without appearing the least bit stressed, despite all the demands on her time.  

Look around and you will see that most Americans have a lot to learn. We may be accomplishing as much as this young girl, but we're completely stressed about it.  People are stressed about such things as   “deadlines,” “traffic,” “over-commitment,” “not enough time,” "difficult bosses" and “dealing with stupid people.”

Many of us are too stressed to take vacation. The latest survey commissioned by Alamo Rent A Car found that "vacation shaming" or being made to feel a sense of shame or guilt from co-workers for taking a vacation has become prevalent in the American workplace.

"We've created this kind of work martyr culture," said Cait DeBaun, spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Association's "Project: Time Off." The number of vacation days American workers take annually has fallen steadily since about the dot-com era..."

Meanwhile, we walk around completely stressed while we are at work. Only about a third of employees are happy on the job, according to a Gallup and the Families and Work Institute study. The study also showed that more than half of workers felt overworked or overwhelmed at least some of the time.

Now, let's look a little further....We aren't taking all our vacation so that's stressing us out, we're stressed when we're at work, and we're definitely stressed when we're commuting back and forth to work. So, what about at home? Are we stressed at home?

study from the Council on Contemporary Families found people are actually more stressed at home than at work. Three Penn State researchers measured people’s cortisol, which is a stress marker, while they were at work and while they were at home and found it higher home.

Ugh...we can't go on like this. We have to lower our stress levels. 

Here are my top 7 suggestions:

  1. Get moving. Every time you find your stress level on the rise, get up and move. You can stretch, run in place, dance, or walk around the office or building. Just try to get your blood and endorphins flowing.
  2. Think positive. It's inevitable that something during your day is going to go wrong, or not as planned. You can take the sting out of these negative events by focusing on what’s great in your lives.
  3. Say no. Be polite but firm: Explain to others (even your manager) that you are overcommitted and that you must say no.
  4. Gift yourself time. Plan time in your day for fun, creativity and socializing. Even if it's just five minutes.
  5. Shake it off. Life is hectic. People are busy. You can choose to let small things stress you out, or you can let the little things go and tell yourself we deserve to live a happy, contented life. Focus on what you can control and shake off what you can't.
  6. Make a list. I bet you can think of a million stress-relieving, calm-inducing activities when you don't need them. Keep a list in your car, on your phone or in your office to refer to when you need to get back in balance.
  7. Set your alarm. It's up to us to establish a clear time to go home or set times after which we don't check email. Even if you have a difficult boss or client, it's up to you to set your limits.

Do you feel like you're living your life more stressed than your parents lived theirs? Do you think job stress and the stress of trying to strike a work life balance is inevitable, or do you think we can learn to manage our stress better than we are now?

January 26, 2016

How to Copy Lena Dunham's Year of No

                                  Lena

 

Today, Lena Dunham - creator of the HBO series Girls -- made a bold announcement. She confessed that she's a people pleaser and says yes way more than she should. Her announcement made me cringe because I could relate to it.

Lena explained her situation this way: "No" is a word that could have served me well many times, but I didn't ever feel I had the right to use it......

Can I be there at noon? Sure can! Will I bring three hundred bucks in foreign currency? Absolutely! Will I also promise to help a friend move, be late meeting them because I also agreed to babysit another friend's sick rabbit, then disappoint everyone in the process? I sure will!

Lena had convinced herself that saying yes at work and in her personal life was the key to her likeability. So she sprinkled it liberally until she began to build up resentment. 

Oh, how I know that routine way too well.

She points out that work is all about taking on the challenge and typically, a place of yes. Which is exactly what she was doing until one day, she missed a work deadline and began rattling off all the reasons why. Her work partner then explained to her that life didn't have to be an endless jog to accommodate all the Yes's.

Lena says it was a slow process but a polite "no" soon entered her vernacular. People responded well to her honesty. They understood. They may have been disappointed, but they understood. 

You may not have scripts to write or actors to meet with but within the last month, it's likely you said yes to something you really didn't want to do. I know I did. Now, it's time to change that. It's time take a cue from Lena, be realistic about what we can do and save ourselves stress and resentment. 

For the sake of work life balance and sanity, try one of these responses next time you're about to say yes:

"I can't do it realistically by Friday,"

"I wish I could help you on that project but my week is insane,"

"I can't be at that event. I have  conflict. "

 I don't want to go to go out after work.  I am exhausted."

Lena tells her friends and colleagues: Don't take it personally when I tell you no this year. I am using it on everyone."

That seems like a line all of us can spit out when we need to say it.  Are you ready for your Year of No!

 

                              No

 

 

November 03, 2015

Improve work life balance and fight cancer at the same time

As October came to a close, I began to miss the month when pink was everywhere. Still, it's great that at least one month a year, there is a focus on preventing and curing breast cancer. 

But now that November is here, there is no reason we should stop talking about cancer prevention, particularly when there are some easy things we can do to reduce the risk of cancer and improve our work life balance at the same time.

Dr. Pedro Serrano-Ojeda headshotDr. Pedro Serrano-Ojeda (CEO and Chief Radiation Oncologist of Caribbean Radiation Oncology Center in Doral) offers some suggestions that seem pretty doable:

Cut the sugar and exercise Obesity has surpassed the use of tobacco as a cancer causing factor. Making exercise a part of a daily routine can help minimize stress – make sure to leave the cell phone behind – and it makes for a healthy body.  Even just a brisk walk or light jog for 20 minutes a day will all help towards reducing the risk of cancer. 

Shop smart There are many household products – including certain shampoos – that contain parabens, such as sulfate, that could increase the risk of breast cancer.  There are many online resources that can help with finding products that do not have these elements, just a little bit of research before hitting the grocery store goes a long, long way. 

Read the label Using containers that are not suitable for the microwave can be a cancer-inducing practice. Cancer is an ancient and formidable enemy, yet there are some things we need to avoid in the modern world that will assist us in preventing the disease. Looking carefully at how we are using everyday products can make a difference.

Take Vitamin D– Women with breast cancer often have low levels of vitamin D so it is important to have a regular vitamin D check

Chill out Stress has a great impact on the body and predisposes it to cancer. It’s inevitable that sometimes situations will arise that will lead to stress, but if we stop and ask, “Is this item we are stressing over worth risking cancer for?” then I really think we wouldn’t sweat the small stuff.  

Live with purpose- As Einstein used to say, “Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” And, as I say, “People do not die from old age, but people die when they stop dreaming.” So keep dreaming and keep living with purpose.

October 22, 2015

What to do when you hate your job

KatlynKatlyn Grasso loves her job as CEO of GenHERation. She talks excitedly about empowering high school girls and has the passion for what she does that all of us want to experience.

When I spoke with Katlyn for a recent Miami Herald column on pursuing your passion, she said something that stuck with me.

Grasso, 22, says she often encounters peers who hold jobs in which they are not fulfilled and offers this advice: “If you are not in a financial position where you can pursue your passion right away, find ways to incorporate it into your schedule — whether volunteering, working on a business idea on weekends, becoming an intern. You have to keep working at it.”

The reality is that fewer than half of American workers are satisfied with their jobs, according to a 2014 survey from the Conference Board, a not-for-profit economic research institute. But just because you're in a job you're not passionate about, doesn't mean you can't eventually segue into doing something you love. 
 
Let's say you're a window washer and you aren't exactly finding your job fulfilling. Instead of walking around complaining that you hate your job, think differently about the big picture. In a TEDx talk in Kansas City, branding expert Terri Trespicio said try doing something -- anything -- in your off hours and be open to where it takes you. 

"Sometimes you don’t know what going to do next and that’s okay not to know. If are waiting to find your passion to take you there, you will be waiting a long time. Instead, spend your time and attention solving your favorite problems. Be useful and people will pay you for it. Success is when your energy and effort meets someone’s needs," she said. 

At a time when people are desperate to figure out what they are passionate about and turn it into their life's work, Terri insists:  "You don’t follow your passion, your passion follows you."

She's not the only one that believes that to be true. This morning I watched an interview with legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (known best for his film The Godfather). Coppola opened his third winery this month. Okay, I realize few of us have the financial means to launch a wine company but Francis said something that makes a lot of sense: "The things you do out of trying to enjoy life are the things that make business sense."
 
 
 
The bottom line is that you may not be super thrilled in your current job. You may even be miserable, longing to quit, yet desperate to keep a paycheck coming in or hold onto your benefits. If you find yourself venting or complaining about work all the time, remember you're never stuck. Look for opportunities in and out of your workplace to parlay into your next job or career.  
 
Sometimes you don't have to look far for a solution. You might explore different departments or teams at your office where you can learn something new or find a project that excites you. Maybe you've lost interest in what you're doing, or maybe you never were interested, but it's pretty safe to bet there is something that interests you. 

My friend, a lawyer, loves jewelry. She doesn't love her job as a lawyer. On the weekends, she started helping a friend with her jewelry business. Six months later, it's almost like my friend has become completely different person. When I talk to her, she enthusiastic and -- happy! She hasn't given up practicing law, she just added something into her life that she enjoys.

You, too, can improve your work situation and find your passion, you just need to shift your mindset and take a leap! Life's too short to be miserable!

October 09, 2015

The crazy chores we find relaxing

 

                                    Dishes

 

I'm clearing the dinner table and urging my son to hurry up and get changed for Lacrosse practice. At the same time, I'm telling my husband that if he hurries he will have just enough time to shed his suit, put on shorts and get our son to the field. Meanwhile, I now have all the dishes in the kitchen sink and something happens next that takes me by surprise.

I'm pouring soap on the sponge, scraping food off the plates  and I feel  -- dare I say it -- a little more relaxed. 

When I read a recent article on Time.com that said washing dishes can significantly lower your stress level—if you do it mindfully, I was taken aback. Really, chores are relaxing???? They must be kidding!

Yet, with most of us trying to do a million things at once to achieve work life balance, I have to admit that mundane household tasks do give me a chance to slow my life down. 

In a recent study quoted by Time,  researchers found that people who washed dishes mindfully (they focused on smelling the soap, feeling the water temperature and touching the dishes) upped their feelings of inspiration by 25% and lowered their nervousness levels by 27%. “It appears that an everyday activity approached with intentionality and awareness may enhance the state of mindfulness,” the study authors conclude.

Do you know what other chore relaxes me? (Please don't think I'm insane!) Making my kids' lunches. I have a formula for packing lunch that I follow every night. I usually make lunches when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet and I put thought into kids preferences and giving them variety. I guess you could say I do the task mindfully. So, I agree there is something to the notion that doing a mundane task mindfully can be relaxing.

                        Lunches

 

But I guess the bigger issue is that we're all so stressed by doing so much at once that simple chores are the new stress relievers. Look at the other things we're latching onto to relieve our stress -- aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, mindfulness. Stress relief has become a giant business. And still, we're suffering from tension headaches, weight gain and burn out. What a sad state of affairs!

Of course, now that I'm aware of the ultimate stress reliever, I'm going to volunteer to do the dishes more often. Who needs a massage when I can scrub a plate clean and restore harmony to my life?

Be honest, do you find dishwashing relaxing? Is there another chore that relaxes you more? 

September 21, 2015

Better boss, or pay raise?

                                               Raise

 

One day, all three of my kids had the stomach flu. It was the same day I needed to turn in a article to appear in our Business Monday section. Being late would mean more work for my editor.But he didn't hesitate when I told him what was going on in my home. "Don't worry," he said. "Just do what you need to do at home." I ended up turning the story in on time. And, I think my editor knew I would. But having him say that to me made me appreciate where I worked and for whom I worked. 

We all know a boss can make or break your ability to balance work and family. He or she can also make or break whether you like your job. 

A new study produced by HR consulting firm Randstad U.S. shows that workers in the U.S. would trade salary increases for a better boss. More than a quarter of respondents (28%) to the survey said they would rather have a better boss manage them than have a $5,000 raise. 

Because most of us spend more of our valuable waking hours at work than anywhere else, having a boss who respects your life outside of work is worth more than $5,000 as far as I'm concerned.

Jim Link, chief HR officer for Randstad North America. "41% of employees don't believe their employees help them achieve work-life balance and 39% don't feel their managers encourage them to utilize vacation time. Therefore, bosses who proactively encourage workers to unplug, unwind and truly leave work behind to enjoy time off will be looked upon as workplace heroes."

Just last week a friend called me, exasperated. Her boss had called a mandatory staff meeting at 7:30 a.m. (An awful time for parents of young children) At the meeting, her boss rambled without a set agenda and no real point. "I love what I do but I can't take working for this woman anymore," my friend said. 

How do you deal with a horrible boss? How do you know when it's time to quit? For me, it's time when you absolutely dread going to work. Here are more Telltale Signs It's Time To Quit Your Job.

Yes, there are ways to handle a bad boss. As Forbes points out: "However fixed in their ways your boss may be, you can always learn ways to better manage him or her."  Of course, it is not easy and the process might not seem worth the effort.

So when you put it out there...better boss, or pay raise? I'd take the better boss. How about you?

 

September 02, 2015

Always busy? It's time to reclaim your work life balance

Last night I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned thinking about everything I needed to get done. While my husband snored, I grabbed my iPad and piled tasks on my digital to-do list. Now, I am starting my day tired and if anyone dares to ask me how life is going, I will respond: BUSY!

 Are you busy, too?  By that, I mean are you juggling, cramming, rushing and feeling exhausted?

 We are all busy because that's life today. But maybe there's something else going on. Maybe we just haven’t figured out a better way to work and live.   

I just finished reading How To Thrive In A World of Too Much Busy by Tony Crabbe and found myself thinking differently about my struggle with work life balance and our society’s addiction to being busy.

Crabbe says we are busy because we're not making the tough choices. We choose skimming email rather than grappling with a complex project because it's the easy, busy activity. We steal attention from real relationships while we keep ourselves busy on social networks. Beating busy is simple, he says. It's about focusing on the things that matter.

 Here are some suggestion Crabbe gives to gain control over our lives and find a better work life balance. 

1. Say no to a request or ask permission to delay a deadline by using the word “because.” If you use "because" in your request, your argument will be seen as more rational and acceptable.

 

2. Be deliberate when you check email. Set specific times and do it in a focused way rather than grazing.

 

3. Identify at least one meeting that you can cancel or simply not attend.

 

4. Next time you are asked to do something, assess how much spare time you have and half it. Then assess how long you think the new task will take and double it.  Now you can make a better informed judgment whether to take it on.

 

5. Get better at making good choices. If we choose to fill our calendar with more, more, more, we are choosing not to have time to think -- and that isn't effective. Resist feeling you have to fill up all your time at work or home.

 

6. Make intentional choices. The primary driver for choosing activities at work and home should be internal "what do I want to achieve?"

 

7. Over-invest your time and attention in the 15 most important people in your life.

 

Here are some great questions to ask yourself:

What could I do less of to enjoy life more?

What is the “I’m too busy” excuse stopping me from doing?

What is one small step I could take to go from being frenetically busy to being happy?

 

Making behavior changes is hard. It’s much easier to walk around thinking we have to do more and convince ourselves we need to be more productive. By being busy, we actually get to feel productive while procrastinating.

Have you ever really thought about whether you are addicted to being busy? Have you ever stopped to look at whether you're getting it wrong?

Busy

August 31, 2015

Do you check email on weekends?

                                          Email


Last weekend, my husband was about to check his email when he hesitated. He wanted to see if anything major needed his attention at work. But then again, he really didn't. Instead of checking in, he spent the next hour enjoying our bicycle ride. Had he checked, I'm sure he would have been thinking about work while we were pedaling through the park. Still, I had to convince him that he had made the right call.

I think the days are gone when we make a clean break from work on Friday and return on Monday morning. Today, there are very few people in positions of responsibility who don't check their email on the weekends. That's not exactly a recipe for a good work life balance but it's a reality of the new "always on" world we live in. 

Almost every top executive surveyed by The Miami Herald for its CEO Roundtable feature admitted to checking email on the weekends. Some said they set aside allocated time for checking, while others check in on and off all weekend long. I fear the feeling that we must check in is only going to get worse. 

Here is how some of South Florida's CEOs responded when asked if they check work email on weekends:

"I am always checking my emails and often use weekends as a time to catch up on any pending responses or issues I need to address. With a 24/7 hotel operation, I need to be available at all times." -- Julie Grimes, managing partner, Hilton Bentley Hotel


"I check email both days but not constantly. As a business owner, I believe that it is a moral obligation to be prepared for an employee or client emergency. However, if there is really an emergency, someone calls. This is clearly my own character flaw." - - Ann Machado, founder and president, Creative Staffing
 

"I do check emails over the weekend because my work and personal lives are very closely intertwined. However, I try to check it only at allocated times during the weekend so I’m not distracted during my family time." -- Nitin Motwani, managing principal, Miami Worldcenter Associates

"I like to be accessible to any business where I am an investor, operator or adviser 100 percent of the time, but my family comes first. Most things can wait, and we are not involved in life-or-death situations. I generally check emails any time my daughter is sleeping." -- Todd Oretsky, co-founder, Pipeline Brickell

Do you think it is possible to go the entire weekend without checking email? Is there a system you use to refrain from thinking about work 24/7 on the weekends?