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?

 

August 13, 2015

How to return from vacation and stay relaxed

                                           Relaxed


You are on your way back from vacation feeling rejuvenated, but after a few days, you feel like you need another vacation. The tsunami of work comes flooding back with a vengeance. Projects and deadlines you had sidelined now are front and center, and dirty clothes still await your attention.

Is this just the inevitable evil of vacationing from work, or is there a way to return from time off without stress?

The good news is that it is possible to make a smooth transition. This week, I returned from a 10-day vacation feeling great. I followed some of these tips and my return to reality was easier than after prior summer vacations. 

Here are some suggestions for how to return from vacation and stay relaxed:
 
Start before you leave. Get into the mindset that work may pile up, but you will be going forward with a fresh outlook and a better state of mind. Executive coach Eric Rogell advises you create a “first day back” plan before you leave. “It’s easy to get sucked into emails and phone calls, but those are time and energy drains. Hold off on those and do the important things first. Stick to your plan.”
 
Delegate. While you're on vacation, if someone else can do it, make sure someone else is doing it. During her vacation this summer in Napa Valley, Kathryn Orosz, a Miami insurance broker and winery investor, designated an associate to cover for her at work. She forwarded email messages that need handling to that person: “They copied me back so I could stay in the loop on how it was being handled. I had to remind myself not to answer anything, just to move the email along.” By delegating, Orosz said she avoided a backlog of correspondence and could jump back in on transactions when she returned, without much stress: “I was just responding on the end of the continuum rather than going back in time.”
  
Decide upfront how you will handle email. Your decision will make all the difference in your level of post-vacation stress. Rogell said if you’ve created an out-of-office message for your vacation, include directions for whom to contact while you are out and keep the message on for an extra workday. An extra day gives you space to get things sorted out without new expectations piling on. “Use that day to get to the priorities you want to get done,” he said. Even with an out-of-office message, most people check their emails, even if only sporadically. If your emails have piled up, consider making a quick scan, flagging priority messages and deleting all others. Chances are, if it’s important, someone will follow up with you.

Create a buffer.  Professional organizer Diane Hatcher says giving yourself a day or two buffer between vacation and work makes the return much easier. Some people try to maximize their vacation by returning the night before they return to work. They sit on the plane or in the car dreading the next morning and the harsh return to reality it represents. Hatcher advises against that approach. Give yourself at least a day to unpack, wash clothes and open mail, she said. “Sure, unpacking signifies the end of vacation,” she concedes, “but there are consequences of not emptying your suitcase right way.” An unpacked suitcase becomes another thing piled up to tackle while readjusting back to work. “Get it over with, close the door, get dirty clothes into wash, clean clothes put away so you don’t have it hanging over your head,” she said. Instead, you can return to the office ready to take on the workweek.

Schedule properly. Rogell, who loves to take adventure vacations, plans something relaxing the last day of vacation and something fun to look forward to the first post-work evening. He also cautions against packing your work schedule your first day back. Be OK with giving only 70 percent, and don’t force yourself into a 10-hour day, he advises. The goal should be to hang on to that vacation recharge as long as possible.

 

April 16, 2015

Take a pause, Get in flow, Learn to play

                                       Trapeze

 

 

Have you ever heard of flow? Let me describe it to you....

Picture yourself on a surfboard, riding a wave. You are living in the moment, utterly absorbed in the feel of the board on the water, the sound of the wave and the splash of the ocean on your face.  Time seems to fall away. You are tired, but you barely notice. According to Steven Kotler, what you are experiencing in that moment is known as flow, a state of complete immersion in an activity. 

When you're in flow, your attention is focused and you are capable of amazing things,  every action flows effortlessly and innovation gets amplified. 

Flow experiences can occur in different ways for different people. A writer might experience this when working on a novel and the pages seem to write themselves. A basketball player might experience it when he gets into the zone, undergoes a loss of self-consciousness and focuses only on his shot from center court.

Flow states are now known to optimize performance, enhance creativity, drive innovation, accelerate learning and amplify memory.

The happiest people have flow. I don't have flow. I have stress. I am walking around with a to-do list that never gets shorter and I'm always thinking about ten things at the same time.

But I can get flow and so can you.

I bet you're thinking, "How in the world would I do that?" That's what I was thinking when I heard Steven Kotler speak about flow earlier this week at Human Capital Media's  Chief Learning Officer Symposium in Miami. Steven wrote  the book "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance and says we can tap flow at work, home, or skiing down a mountain.

Here are a few of Steven's suggestions for triggering flow: Choose your own challenges, Put yourself in an unpredictable environment, stretch yourself just slightly greater than your skill set, embrace solitude, be aware of your senses, engage in serious concentration.

After hearing Kotler speak, I wandered into a nearby room at the conference to hear Yogi Roth talk about finding your inner grit. Roth, calls himself an Aventure-preneur (don't you love that title!) From Roth, I learned that I don't pause enough to think about my personal style, my vision, my theme and my philosophy.  I want to pause more, and think about these things. I want inner grit.

To get it, Roth says I must make sure how I describe myself, how my best friend describes me and how my mentor describe me are the same. I will start working on that...

Thanks Yogi, good stuff to know.

Most important, from Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time and the final speaker at the conference, I learned that I don't take enough time to play. When is the last time you jumped on a trampoline, glided through air on a swing or climbed a tree? For me, it's been way too long ago. So, if I want work life balance and a less stressful life, I must learn to play. I like the idea of playing more, don't you? At Patagonia,  managers have their meetings while hiking mountains and people take time in the afternoons to surf with co-workers. I love that concept -- play at work.

Do you know that in some parts of the country  there are women's play groups? Yes, these women get together weekly for playdates for a fun activity -- they trapeze, rock climb and bike ride. How cool is that!

Clearly, I have a few things to work on if I want to up my game. 

What are your thoughts on flow, grit, and play? If you have tapped into flow or found a way to fit play into your day, I want to hear from you. How do you make these concepts a reality? 

January 26, 2015

Is stress contagious?

                                                Stress


Some days when I feel stressed about work deadlines, I complain to my husband about everything on my to do list. After a few minutes of listening to me vent, he tells me I'm stressing him out. 

He may not be experiencing stress to the degree I am, but it doesn't surprise me that new research has found stress is contagious. It's pitiful but there's just so much to be stressed about these days -- demanding clients,  never ending streams of incoming email, huge bills from the vet or daycare provider, a parent that's showing signs failing health. Work life balance issues are a huge source of stress.

While we may not even realize it, we experience stress and then pass it on to others through what we say, the facial expressions we make and the way we physically show tension. 

Research found when we become aware of stress of others, it sends a signal to our brain and our bodies release the stress hormone cortisol. It doesn't matter what's causing stress for our spouse, co-worker or best friend, it only matters that we observed the other person in a stressful situation. How strange is it that our bodies actually process other people's stress?

It's no wonder we're seeing shorter tempers and higher levels of impatience! 

Of course, if it isn't stressful enough that we pass along stress through personal interaction, now, there's a new way to expose others to our stress -- social media. 

Just today, I saw on Facebook that my friend's adorable dog Charley, has cancer. It worried me because I know she lives alone and has a close bond with her dog.

Pew Researchers are calling the heightened stress we're feeling from learning on social media about undesirable events affecting our friends or relatives "the cost of caring." They say this is adding to a growing pool of evidence suggesting stress is contagious.

So while we might be venting on social media to make ourselves feel better, our posts about rough patches that we've hit or disappointing life events are stressing out the people near and dear to us who read what we write. 

In other words, while increased levels of stress have us searching for ways to blow off steam, we're blowing it right on to the people we count on to prop us up. Pathetic, right?

Think about how much stress we would save from multiplying if we just learned how to manage our stress through simple activities like breathing, walking or visualizing calm.

Or am I fooling myself by thinking the solution is that simple? 

November 18, 2014

Never bring your boss a work life balance problem

This morning, a male friend called me with a management issue. He wanted my thoughts on how to handle a situation with one of his female employees who is struggling with a work and family conflict. 

The problem is that each member of his staff takes a turn with a task that requires they stay late at the office one night a week. This one employee, a mom, has a young child at daycare and finds it impossible to rely on her husband or a family member to pick the child up when it is her turn to stay late.  She approached her boss and told him she couldn't continue to stay late once a week. 

"She's a good employee," my friend explained. "I don't want her to quit. But we are making everyone else take a turn at staying late."

My immediate response was to rattle off questions. 

First, why is this just this woman's problem? If there's a father in the picture, why isn't he working to find a solution, too?

Second, if she knows in advance she needs to stay late once a week, why can't she plan for it?

Last, and most important, why did she approach her boss with a problem, rather than a solution?

The number one rule in negotiation of a work life accommodation is bring a solution to the table.

I advised my friend to tell his employee to come back with a proposed solution to this dilemma. Then, she and her boss can negotiate from there.

If I were the frustrated mom, I might have asked my boss if there's a task I could take on early in the day in order to skip my turn on the late night rotation.

Long ago, I learned that bosses respond best to proposed solutions rather than problems. Because this woman's co-workers are single or have no kids, there is a possibility of resentment. As a manager, my friend needs to make sure whatever accommodation he makes for this working mom comes off as fair to all. 

We work in an era when the needs of the 21st Century workforce must be considered. In two-job families, men and women may both confront work life balance challenges. No one wants to lose his or her job over a child care issue. And, a good boss wants to keep a good employee. 

As I hung up with my friend, he said: "Let's see what she comes up with. I really want this to work out."

I pretty sure most bosses feel that way. 

 

September 29, 2014

Must you work overtime?

Last week, I was talking to a CEO who said to me, "I am not going to hire anyone anymore who can't work overtime."

He explained that at certain times of the year, he needs to ramp up, usually for only a few weeks at a time. But when an employee can't put in longer hours ( even if paid extra) it creates a problem for all.

I responded by telling him that many people have outside responsibilities that could prevent them from coming in earlier or staying later. That's understandable," he said. "But I have a company to run so a job at my company would not be for them."

There in lies the clash of business needs with real life responsibilities of many of today's workers. This is a complicated issue: Even if someone signs on for occasional overtime, what it his life demands change? Should a worker be allowed to say, ' I don’t want to work overtime and would rather go home?' And,  when does occasional overtime become more than “occasional”?

Allison Green at Ask A Manager says this:

* Generally, you should try to be flexible and accommodating when you’re asked to take on something at work outside of your normal work schedule, particularly when it’s temporary, but there’s a point beyond which it’s reasonable to push back. Certainly sleeping at work and working 18 hours days falls well over the line of reasonable (unless you knew you were signing up for that, such as if you were working on a political campaign).

* Your employer can require you to work whatever hours they want, and can change it at any time, unless you have a contract that states otherwise.

* A reasonable manager will work with someone who isn’t able to take on additional work hours, particularly when it’s many extra work hours, and particularly if the employee is willing to be flexible to the extent they can be.

* Not every manager is reasonable. But plenty are.

The CEO I spoke with said he  is upfront about expectations. His position on it made me wonder:  If overtime is mentioned during the interview process, could it eliminate your ability to get any flexibility on this issue in the future? 

Here's what you should know: There’s no federal law on the number of hours someone can be required to work or the length of a break (or even requiring any break at all); that’s all up to individual states.

CEOs have their eye on the bottom line and the health of the business, and they may forget that employees are persons with real needs and real responsibilities. I find it unrealistic for this CEO to think he can hire loyal employees who will be willing to work overtime at any given point in time. In life, complications arise with kids, parents, friends, community commitments -- even our own health. There will be some who will jump at the job because they want the opportunity to earn overtime pay. But will they stay long term?

 

September 24, 2014

The new work life balance: We're not working more, just differently

The longer I write about work/life balance, the more I hear and see that technology challenges are universal. From CEOs to sales persons, today’s workers are trying to build balanced lives by battling the impulse to stay connected 24/7. Checking work emails on our tablets or smartphones in bed or at a bar makes us feel like we’re working all the time.

The reality, though, is more complicated.

While we are logging onto work outside of traditional work hours — from our bed or a soccer practice — we are also taking time for our personal lives during our workday. Almost everyone, from the office secretary to the store manager, makes a personal digital escape thoughtlessly throughout the day. We tell ourselves: “I’m just going to buy Beyoncé’s new single on iTunes and go right back to work.” The problem, however, is that it doesn’t end there.

While at work, we’re checking our fantasy football results, browsing our Facebook feeds, shopping on Amazon, playing Candy Crush, catching up on news, talking to friends on Twitter and texting constantly during the day.

Work and home no longer are separate spheres. Blurred lines are the new normal.

Researcher Laura Demasi says we aren’t working more, we’re working differently: “For every moment we give away to work outside of traditional work hours ... we claw back when we’re officially at work.”

Countless new apps and the roll-out of improved smartphones make the blending and blurring of our life roles increasingly challenging. Flexibility has become an integral part of daily life thanks to our devices.

We balance our personal demands by leaving early, arriving late, or slipping out of the office during the workday and then ironing out details of a business deal on our laptop once the dinner dishes are cleared.

Demasi says technology has transformed work into something we do, rather than only a place we go.

Miami Stonegate Bank executive Erin Knight feels empowered: “There are no more traditional business hours. I can keep deals moving along and take phone calls on the go, wherever I go.” At the same time, she can deal with family issues from her office. Through text messaging, she was able to get her mother an emergency doctor’s appointment with a client. “It took a few minutes to arrange, and she would have been suffering in pain.”

Of course, it has become more common than ever before to find yourself staying later at the office because you spent more time than expected on Facebook. Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether technology is to blame for overwork or our inability to set boundaries that's the problem.

Do you find that the blurring of lines has made your work life balance more stressful? Or do you think that being able to deal with work and personal issue both in the workplace and at home makes juggling life's demands easier?