January 13, 2015

One theory on dealing with email overload

Over the winter break, I spend two deals cleaning out my personal and work Inboxes.  It took more two days and just to get my three Inboxes to a total of 60,000 emails. I realize I'm still doing something wrong. Email is my biggest work life balance challenge! I hate deleting because I use my Inbox for story and blog ideas. I guess there is a way to organize email better but I haven't made the time commitment to do it.

Last week, I was telling tech recruiter Alex Funkhouser, founder of Sherlock Talent, my email woes and he told me he has a completely different approach. He NEVER deletes email. He considers it a waste of time. Instead he flags important email and stores everything else on the cloud. Alex told me this approach is the key to his work life balance because it saves time he would spend in his Inbox and makes that time available for more productive tasks.

My friend Jessica Kizorek, co-founder of Two Parrot Productions, has told me that she keeps a VERY slimmed down Inbox by voraciously deleting email as it arrives. She swears staying uncluttered is the key to better work life balance.

Alex's approach is interesting to me but I haven't adopted it. I get too many junk emails to be okay with never deleting. Still, it works for him and saves him time.

What are your thoughts on Alex's approach to email overload? Are you a deleter, a saver, or do you have another approach?

Email overload

 

January 11, 2015

How to actually take vacation, time off in 2015

                                       Vacation

 

 

Close you eyes and for a moment imagine yourself relaxed, happy and at your best at work. When I do that, I envision myself about a week after I have returned from vacation, all caught up at work and in a much better mindset than before I left.

 

Being my best self at work affects how I lead, treat others, show compassion and patience, and exhibit creativity. Most of us need a break from routine, a chance to decompress, to be our best selves. But surveys show we are not taking that crucial opportunity.

 

Just less than 42% of Americans didn't take a single day of vacation in 2014, and women took fewer vacation days than men, according to Skift, a travel intelligence site. The findings show many full-time employed Americans have at least 10 days of allotted vacation. Because workplaces often have use it or lose it policies, not taking vacation is like leaving money on the table.

 

What's going on?

 

There are all kinds of reasons people gave. Some said they were reluctant to use their vacation time for fear of appearing replaceable or concern about their work piling up. Some didn't have money to go on vacation or believed there was no one who could cover for them if they took time off.

 

Right before my vacation this summer, I felt like any story ideas I came up with were stale. I felt tired and disengaged. Most of us recognize we are not at our best when we haven’t been able to disconnect from work physically and emotionally for a long stretch of time.

 

Vacations don’t have to be costly or long to be revitalizing. Now is the time to think ahead for 2015. Start by establishing expectations that you will take time off, guidelines for how you will disconnect and back up plans for when you are on vacation. Help your boss (or client) get into a routine of contacting others for some issues that he’d normally contact you about. Do this even when you are in the office to train those who will cover for you.  You want you boss to gain more confidence in them and allow you a real vacation from work.

 

Even in workplaces that don’t encourage time off, let others know that they will benefit from your post-vacation rejuvenation. I feel like taking vacation in 2015 is doable if you keep your “best self” vision in mind and plan for it now.

 

January 06, 2015

Getting What You Want in 2015

Startswithyou

 

 

For me, January feels so much less exciting than December, but it’s actually an important month for planning. It is the month to look ahead and figure out what we want from our jobs and our personal lives and how to get what we want.

Over the years, I have made some mistakes in getting what I want at work, such as more money, more flexibility, more vacation time, better assignments. I have made some mistakes getting what I want at home, too, such as more quality time with my husband or some help with the dishes at night. My biggest mistake was waiting for what I wanted to come to me, without asking for it.

With the benefit of hindsight, and advice from experts, I’m going to share ideas for asking for -- and getting -- what you want in 2015.

Come to the negotiating table prepared. Raises, promotions, even flexible work arrangements are driven by the value you bring the organization. If you have demonstrated the drive to stand out from the crowd and delivered more than expected, speak to your boss and come prepared with the data to prove it. At home, if you want more help from your spouse, come prepared with how and why giving you help will result in an improvement in household morale for all. 

Know the market. If you want a raise at work, find out what the going salary is for your position in your geographic area and what the standard raises have been for the last few years. There are lots of websites to help with research. PayScale.com is one of them. On the home front, if you want to go on weekly or monthly date nights, research the cost of babysitters and websites where to find them before you bring the idea up with your spouse. 

Rehearse. It pays to practice with a trusted friend or mentor how you will ask for what you want. Look for someone who can help you think through potential objections and take the emotion out of the negotiation. 

Don’t make it personal. A boss doesn’t care that you need more money to pay for your divorce attorney or your child’s school tuition.  Higher personal expenses are not a legitimate reason to ask for a raise or receive one. Outside the office, your close friend or gym partner doesn't care why you keep backing out on plans. He or she just wants you to stick to a commitment. If you want a closer friendship or a better physique, go get it. Convince your buddy you want another chance and this time, make it happen. 

Don’t compare. If you find out your co-worker earns more than you, make your request about your value to the company. Sell your boss on why you should earn more, or seek out an internal mentor who will advocate on your behalf. Outside the office, stop convincing yourself everyone has a more incredible life than you.   Map out one or two things that will bring you more happiness in 2015 and your plan to achieve them.

Highlight your contribution. If you have done something outstanding and believe you deserve a raise or promotion, bring it to your boss’ attention – even if it’s not time for your annual review. At home, if you've done something outstanding, bring it to your spouse's attention or your child's. Waiting around for a pat on the back only leads to disappointment. If you want more appreciation in 2015, be proactive in seeking it. 

Be strategic. If you are struggling financially or having a rought time balancing work and family, ask your employer how you can increase your value to the company in order to earn more money, or more time off.

Research shows most people who ask and make their case, get what they seek. Wishing you success in negotiating what you want in 2015!

December 31, 2014

How Work Life Balance Evolved in 2014

Would you speak up if an employee or peer were working himself close to a hospital stay — or maybe even to death?

It’s a query I raised earlier this year, and one that drew lots of reader reaction. As I look over the workplace trends I wrote about in 2014, it is apparent that struggle for balance has become an increasing challenge.

Because we live in a culture that applauds overwork, stories of bosses or peers working themselves to death or collapsing of exhaustion force us to look at what has become the new normal.

In a Sept. 30 column, I noted that many of us hesitate to speak up when we see a bleary-eyed co-worker reach for another cup of coffee, looking every bit like he has slept at his desk for the past week. We resist saying something when we hear a fellow manager has postponed his vacation, again, to cater to client demands. When multiple 15-hour workdays get met with a pat on the back rather than a look of concern, we need to figure out our role in workplace well-being. Based on reader response, I foresee more intervention from those witnessing colleagues or loved ones working themselves to the brink.

Another column that drew feedback addressed men and workplace flexibility. For the past decade, men have been an afterthought in conversations about workplace flexibility. In my Nov. 4 column, I referenced a report commissioned by Working Mother that found men are exercising flexibility in their own informal way. Unlike working mothers who push for formal flexible work arrangements, working dads are using flexibility under the radar, working at home as needed to care for a sick child or shifting their hours to coach their child’s sports team.

Of the men surveyed for the Working Mother report, most said they prefer a mix of working from home and the office. With working dads taking on more childcare responsibilities, I think we will see the conversation around flexibility become broader and more relevant in most workplaces.

BLENDING WORK, LIFE

In our struggle to do it all, it looks like many of us have figured out a key strategy: blending our worlds. While we are logging on to 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.

In a Sept. 23 column, I detailed how almost everyone, from the office secretary to the store manager, makes a personal digital escape thoughtlessly throughout the workday. We use our cellphones to text our kids from our cubicles or check Facebook from our lunchrooms. Work and home no longer are separate spheres.

Laura Demasi, a researcher at Ipsos, says technology has transformed work into something we do, rather than only a place we go: “More broadly, it has created a new kind of ‘life on demand’ culture, where we do what we want, when and where we want.”

TIME TO SLEEP

In these stressful times, sleep issues are an increasing problem. Laurie Sallarulo, CEO of the Leadership Broward Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, admits she doesn’t sleep much. After a full day’s work, she will eat dinner with her son and get back on her computer to work some more — often until 1:30 a.m. And then, it’s up early the next morning to start her day again. When exhaustion sets in at the office, Sallarulo turns to coffee for a boost.

And so it goes in America. We’re working, working some more, sleeping less and drinking coffee — or Red Bull — to keep us awake.

In an April 30 column, I noted that some high-profile business leaders want us to change our behavior because getting enough sleep can make us better thinkers and decision-makers. Donna Shalala, the high-energy president of the University of Miami, has become an outspoken advocate for a good night’s sleep, as has Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.

WORKPLACE FAIRNESS

In March, my column that tackled the topic of workplace fairness drew a big response. In an effort to be family-friendly, some workplaces may be inadvertently penalizing childless workers. Jennifer Verdeja, a massage therapist at a South Florida spa, talks excitedly about her job until the conversation turns to the unfairness of her work schedule: “Just because I don’t have children doesn’t mean I should get the Saturday night shift every week.”

As businesses make more effort to accommodate working parents, the resentment from nonparents is rising. Early results of a new study of 25,000 workers shows two-thirds of nonparents say they carry an undue burden at the office and are expected to work longer hours than workers who have children. “There has to be an objective measure in place that applies rules equitably to everyone,” says Donna Flagg, the author ofSurviving Dreaded Conversations and founder of The Krysalis Group, a management consulting firm. “Only a handful of companies have achieved it, and most are a long way off.”

ONLINE GAMES, WATCHING TV

Even with multiple demands on our time, I discovered that American workers are indulging at least two guilty pleasures: online games and binge TV-watching. After a day of negotiating legal contracts, Gail Serota sinks into her couch with her iPad and immerses herself in playing Candy Crush. The Miami real-estate attorney finds that playing the mobile game relaxes her: “It’s a good stress relief.”

On July 22, I noted that whether for relaxation or diversion, full-time workers also are making time for marathon TV-viewing sessions. 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.

“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.” With a steady stream of new series debuting on TV and online, I expect this trend to continue.

MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness in the workplace is another trend I saw unfolding in 2014. In the rush to accomplish multiple tasks or respond to job pressures, people often lose connection with the present moment. They stop being attentive to what they’re doing or feeling and react from a place of stress. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing awareness on the present moment.

Teaching and encouraging mindfulness in the workplace has become a part of corporate efforts to reduce stress and prevent burnout. Miami attorney Paul Singerman said not only is he personally working on mastering mindfulness, but his law firm, Berger Singerman, has sponsored workshops for clients, employees and colleagues: “I really believe mindfulness can make you more effective and enhance your prospects for success.”

 

NEW YEAR

As 2014 closes out, it marks more than a decade of my columns on work/life issues. What has changed most is the widespread acknowledgment that work/life balance is not a problem just for women or a concern that is going to be solved: It’s an ongoing challenge. I look forward to another year of providing you discussion and solutions around your work/life challenges.

 

 

December 30, 2014

Feeling The Workplace Malaise? You're Not Alone

This is the time of year that some of us feel workplace malaise. We feel like we should be out partying or vacationing and instead we're at work and we're not really thrilled with our workplaces. My guest blogger today is Amy Chen, communications manager for TINYpulse, a tool that offers leaders a way to keep a light, ongoing pulse on how happy, frustrated,or burnt out employees are before retention sinks. It also gives employees a way to be engaged and to give feedback to their leaders without fear of retaliation. Amy, a millennial, shares her personal experiences in the workplace and gives some insight into why employers would want to keep their workers happy.

 

 

AmyWhen I stepped away from my second startup, business was great, but I wasn’t. After founding and building two companies, I was unmotivated and burned out. I used to think that all I needed to be professionally fulfilled was to be part of growing a successful business. But personal experience showed me it just wasn’t enough.

 

It was one of the reasons I became part of TINYpulse. I wanted to give managers a way to directly measure what motivated and energized their employees, and what was frustrating and burning them out.

 

So, imagine my surprise when we started exploring the nature of sentiment in our Employee Engagement & Organizational Culture Report and I discovered those same feelings I had years ago are hitting today’s workplaces just as hard. Here are just some of the damning pieces of evidence we uncovered:

 

 64% of employees do not feel they have a strong work culture

 

 66% of employees do not feel they have opportunities for professional growth in their organizations

 

 Only 21% of employees feel strongly valued at work

 

 49% of employees are not satisfied with their direct supervisor

 

I was shocked to see such poor numbers around engagement. With so much information in the business press about the links between workplace satisfaction and retention, innovation, and bottom line growth, I expected a greater investment in organizational culture. Our report’s findings show this is simply NOT happening.

 

Luckily, there is a simple, 3-step process any organization can take to turn lackluster cultures into positive, thriving environments:

 

1. Learn what your employees are thinking: Pulsing employee engagement surveys, like the TINYpulse survey tool, are effective ways to get real-time insights into employee sentiment. With just one question sent every week, managers can see quickly and easily how employees are feeling.

 

2. Share any and all feedback: While it might be uncomfortable, sharing survey feedback with the team is critical to keeping the team invested in the process. Sharing both the positive and negative comments shows your team you are actually listening.

 

3. Create an action plan with that knowledge: It’s not enough to know the problem. You need to create a plan to tackle it. This is what ultimately changes your workplace for the better, and it shows your employees you are truly invested in their well being.

 

Sometimes, I think our clients say it best. When I asked Amy Balliet, Co-Founder and CEO of Killer Infographics, a Seattle marketing agency, why she uses surveys, she got straight to the heart of the matter. “As a creative agency, it’s paramount that our team can let their imagination run wild. Surveying our employees with TINYpulse gave us insight into process issues that, if left unattended, would have easily hampered our team’s ability to come up with some of the great ideas that have delighted our customers.”

 

Balliet also makes a great point about her company’s commitment to action. “We hold TINYpulse meetings every Friday at the same time, so that we can go over feedback as a team and discuss solutions. This allows us to unearth larger problems at times, quickly solve small problems, and keep the team working together towards the greater good."

 

If you’re ready to turn your workplace stagnation around, consider leveraging employee surveys in 2015. You might just find those employees who were considering changing jobs in the new year will be ready to stick around a bit longer.

December 26, 2014

How to return holiday gifts without wasting tons of time (and money)

Returns


I'm heading to the mall today but I must confess: I go nuts from the chaos involved in returning holiday gifts!

What seems like a simple exchange for size often becomes my biggest nightmare when I have to face crowds, encounter a grumpy sales associate or dole out reasons why I should NOT have to pay more for the same item in a different size.

I've been scanning the web for the best tips of holiday returns.

When I saw this article on the Time website it had a lot of good information to share:

Here is what Time says about returns. 

First off, if you know you don’t want the gift you’ve received—perhaps you already have one, or it’s not remotely in your taste—don’t open it. You have the best chance getting a refund or the full value in store credit for packages that are unopened and in brand-new condition. Next, check if the gift was accompanied by a gift or regular receipt. If yes, the person who bought the gift saved you some potentially big hassles, because without a receipt you may have no right whatsoever to a return or exchange. (Note to self: Always include gift receipts with presents.)

If there is no receipt, you could ask the giver—nicely, cautiously, graciously—where the gift was purchased and if he or she still had a copy of the receipt. This could be quite tricky, and if you’re going there it would be wise to mention how deeply you appreciate the thought behind the gift, but that there was a reason you wanted something slightly different; it could be as simple as needing a different size. Then again, there are reasons to steer way clear of this route. Not only could the giver wind up being offended, the situation could make an extremely awkward turn if, say, the giver didn’t want to reveal that the present was purchased at 85% off.

Assuming there is a receipt, look up the store’s return and exchange policy online, and then be sure to bring the item back to the store before the period expires. As the comprehensive holiday return report from the site Consumer World notes, around the holidays many major retailers institute policies that sensibly make it easy for recipients to bring items back after Christmas. Walmart, for instance, normally has return policies of 14, 15, or 30 days, depending on the item, but for purchases made between November 1 and December 24, the return period countdown doesn’t commence until December 26. In other words, if the item was normally subject to a 30-day return limit, the recipient would have to return it within 30 days of December 26, even if it was purchased in early November. What with the crush of crowds hitting the malls in the days right after Christmas, you might consider waiting for a bit before handling the return. 

Time says if you don’t have the receipt but you know where the item was purchased, go ahead and bring it back to the store. It’s likely the item was purchased with a credit card or was otherwise tracked by the retailer, so there will be a record of it on file, and you should be offered store credit or the right to exchange. (An outright cash refund is extremely unlikely, and pretty much impossible unless the original transaction was in cash, but it can’t hurt to ask.)

When bringing the item back, bring ID. One way retailers try to curtail abuse (and arguably, cut down on returns in general) is by requiring ID during returns and exchanges. Victoria’s Secret wound up on Consumer Reports “Naughty” list this year for its rigid requirement that customers present a government-issued ID for all returns and exchanges. Beyond having ID at the ready, be polite and patient. Store managers are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt on a return if they perceive you as a potentially good customer down the road.

Here is what Time says about Regifting


If you think that regifting is a no-no, you’re in the minority. An American Express survey revealed that 42% of Americans repurposed presents they received by passing them along as gifts to someone else, while 76% of respondents deem regifting as “acceptable.”

But as with hand-picked and purchased gifts themselves, there are thoughtful and thoughtless ways to go about regifting. For example, it’s bad form to regift an item within a circle of friends who socialize regularly because it’s easy to see how word could spread and everyone could find out where the gift originated. It’s also the opposite of generous to pass along a gift to someone else when you found it hideous. Check out our five-step guide to regifting to repurpose presents in a way that won’t offend anyone, and that (hopefully) won’t get you branded as a crass, thoughtless regifter—which is even worse than being a thoughtless giver.

The National Retail Federation offers these tips:

• Check return policies before you head to the store.  Many retailers have their return policies posted online.  Some stores charge a "restocking fee" for returns.

•Know your online store policies, too. Though millions of gift-givers are in-store shoppers, many purchase gifts online. When making an online return, it's important to know who pays for shipping (the customer or retailer) and the exact location that returned items should be sent. Some online retailers have made hassle-free returns a key part of their business model. Others are less generous.

 

CNBC published this list of six retailers have the worst return policies. It's worth a read before you head to the mall and find yourself aggravated. Those retailers who made the list are Sears, American Apparel, GameStop, Barnes & Noble, ThinkGeek.com, Rakuten.com.

Here's a 2011 article from LifeHacker.com on how to turn your unwanted gifts into cash or something better. I figured at least some of these suggestions might still be valid.

Happy Returns!

 

December 16, 2014

Parenting Do-Overs for 2015

Do over.

Two words that all of us think about at one time in our lives. If I could have a do over, I would stress a lot less when my kids were in elementary school about their homework, friends, and activities. I would approach parenting without guilt for being a working mom and realize that I'm teaching my kids responsibility rather than shirking my parental duty when I asked them to make their own lunch for school.

When I saw this guest blog post on the topic of do overs, I wanted to share it with all of you who may still have time to approach the juggle of work and family with new insight. Work life balance is a lofty goal and over our lifetime, we all have something we would have done differently.

The author of this guest blog post is Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.

 

10 Parent Do-Overs For 2015
Including "Embrace the Mess"

by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
When my first daughter was six and my youngest was two, I came to a realization that helped me parent in a much different fashion. You see, I've always been a neat freak and I prefer structure and order in my home. Beds made, no dust, and I'm happy. No one told me I couldn't have that and kids too, but it wasn't long before I realized I would stress myself into a heart attack if I continued.
 
When you have kids, you should actually think of living in a barn because kids are hoarders; they're messy; they spill anything they carry; and they are curious and forgetful. They don't close doors, clean up toys, worry about mud, clean up art supplies or Cheerios. And, unless you pacify them with electronic gadgets (which don't stimulate their creative ingenuity as well as hands on manipulating things), your home will be full of rocks, leaves, sand and bugs.
Every parent I know who has a teenager or college-bound child reminisces about what they would do differently if they had a baby or small children now. Many of the things they say are enlightening and helpful when you are sure you're losing your mind with the little ones. I have come up with a list of ten things for parents to consider for 2015 as they continue raising their children.
I've found that hindsight gives you great insight, and if you hang in there a few more months, what drives you mad now will be gone with the next thing your child finds interesting. So, stay curious and take naps.
1. Play with your child every chance you get. Instead of putting them in front of the TV or iPad, get down on the floor and play with them. Your child's brain is developing at a speed you cannot understand. Every opportunity to play is an opportunity for your child to connect with you and their environment.

2. Work on your relationship with your spouse or partner.
Your child will be far better off if you keep your marriage intimate and close. They need your marriage more than they need you 24/7. Dads give children something moms cannot, and visa versa.

3. Power nap with your child. Instead of thinking about all the things you can get done at naptime, lay down and nap. Your power nap will give you more energy and clearer thinking, and both of those will benefit your child more than cleaning.

4. Forget the electronics until your child is in kindergarten.Coloring, gluing, and cutting are much more important for your child's motor and cognitive development than an electronic alphabet game. Being able to create new ideas with art supplies and blocks is not only a way for them to develop motor skills, but it also builds confidence and cognitive skills.

5. Go to the park any and all chances you get. Being outside and running, swinging, jumping, and observing is everything to your child. You playing with them helps them grow closer to you and the wonder of all they see. Talking on the phone or distracting yourself with work is not worth it when you are at the park with your child. Take the time...and be there.

6. Make lunches and cook with your child. Yes, it will be a mess, and yes, you will have to clean it up, but children who touch food and learn to make healthy food choices are also at an advantage as they grow older and become more independent.

7. Quit stressing over what is normal for your child. Kids grow at different rates and no two children are at the same height and weight at the same time. Relax. Use your intuition and parent sense to help guide you.

8. Your child is not going to go to prison because they won't share their toys. New parents make mountains out of molehills, and if their child is more stubborn or temperamental, they make the issue worse than it is. Staying structured with rules and following through with discipline is important, but don't stress over the little stuff.

9. Hug your child EVERY chance you get. Someday you will miss when they no longer want you to carry them, and they will grow out of wanting to sit in your lap during story time.

10. Never parent with guilt. Sometimes you have to be firm and that means teaching your child there are consequences for their actions. But, yelling or screaming at your child should never be done, and they are very forgiving; so always apologize. 
No one tells us how to parent, and kids don't come with an instruction manual. So, it is wisdom of hindsight that helps new parents feel comforted during the rough times...and there will be rough times. Kids get sick, they don't sleep, they like bugs and messes and spill water, milk and anything liquid. Love them anyway. 

December 12, 2014

Why a task expands to fill the time you allow it

Calendar

 

 

Planning to write an end-of-year holiday letter? How much time will you spend on that? 

Planning to shop for a new wreath?  How much time will you spend on that?

If you haven't thought about those tasks from a time perspective, you should because if you haven't noticed, our to-dos expand to the amount of time we allot them.

In my line of work, everything is about deadlines. Sometimes, when the deadline is way in the future, an article takes me much longer to write than if I had to get it done in an hour.

Organization gurus tell us to put almost everything on our calendars and give ourselves a set amount of time to complete each task. Reading email is a great example.  If we don't set a specific amount of time aside for it, clearing email can fill many more hours of your work day than it should. One productivity expert told me that limiting the amount of time we give ourselves to complete a work project increases our productivity and quality.

But we don't just need to work smart, we need to play smart, too.

Yesterday, I looked at a friend's calendar and thought she was insane. It's color-coded and jam packed. She has allotted herself three hours on Saturday to run errands. As she explained why, I had an a-ha moment.

By allotting herself only three hours for errands, my friend has prevented chores from filling up her entire day off work. That's pretty smart because we all know that running to the grocery store and the dry cleaner and the drug stores can expand into an all day event if we allow it.

In her blog post, Jennifer Lea, The Energized Mom, asks: Does having more (free) time lead to greater fulfillment?

The answer is not necessarily.

How you use your free time is critical to work life balance. No one wants to have to follow a minute by minute schedule. But without slotting set amounts of time for certain tasks, you can easily find yourself reading email for hours instead of taking a bike ride with your spouse. Maximizing your time at work by confining tasks to time slots can mean the difference between leaving at a reasonable hour and staying late unnecessarily.

Life is so much more than spending hours doing something unfulfilling that could have taken just 15 minutes.  So, take some time on the front end to identify your high and low priority work and home tasks and decide in advance how much time and energy you want to invest in them. Nothing is too small to allot a set amount of time, even picking a restaurant for a date or browsing Facebook. 

It is so worth creating more time for those activities you most enjoy!

 

December 09, 2014

How to cut holiday stress

 

Holiday_stress_medium

 

This morning,  I woke up early thinking about what teachers I need to buy gifts and which of my business contacts I should send holiday cards. Already, the season has become stressful.

Lately, my inbox is stuffed with emails that provide practical ways to make the holidays more joyful and less stressful. I have compiled what I consider the best tips and decided to share them with you. Let's hope all of us can get through the holiday season feeling joyful, grateful and as relaxed as possible.

Here are two tips from Glass Hammer that I found helpful:

Give with Your Heart
Many people find that gift shopping is the single most problematic “chore” associated with the holidays. If gift-giving is part of your holiday tradition, here’s an easy way to make it less burdensome. Close your eyes and think about each person for a moment. What pops into your mind? Try to come up with a gift that’s personal and from your heart–something that’s thoughtful and fits the person. Non-material gifts are sometimes the best and most memorable of all. For example: a hand-drawn card with a message, or a short video of you reciting 10 reasons you appreciate this person. Gifts from the heart increase feelings of joy, in you and in the recipient.

Make a Holiday Spreadsheet
You’re organized at work, so use those same smarts to prepare for the onslaught of holiday chores and appointments. Make a list of everything that needs to be done so you minimize anxiety and the feeling that there’s just too much to do and not enough time. This could include card writing, party organizing, shopping, cooking, work deadlines, travel/lodging arrangements, and family/friend communications. Schedule your to-dos on specific days so they don’t pile up close to the holiday. Once you start ticking off tasks one by one, you won’t feel so agitated as the holidays approach.

This tip is from Working Mother and I plan to follow it:

Create Holiday Boundaries

The reality is that during this time of the year there will mostly likely be more demands on your time than what you can give. If we try to meet all these demands, or others expectations it sets us up for feeling not “good enough” or like we have failed in some way. The key is to set boundaries and be confident in saying “no.” 

 

This tip is from Julie Cole is one of the founding mompreneurs of Mabel's Labels Inc (mabel.ca). You can find her on Twitter @juliecole, as well as her company @mabelhood:

Don't be a martyr

You may say you love entertaining and doing it all yourself, but if you find that you’re barking orders at your husband and getting grumpy with the kids, I’ve got news for you – you’re not having fun anymore. There is no “Holiday Martyr Hall of Fame” so you might as well ask your relatives to each bring a veggie dish or dessert. Heck, I delegate the actual turkey out to a family member!

• Put those kids to work. There is no reason for you to do it all. Have your kids set the table, for example. I know the settings won’t be perfect, but get over it. Kids should contribute and the holidays are about being together, not perfection. The more relaxed you are, the more fun everyone will have.

• If you MUST do everything yourself, stress can be reduced by doing things in advance – have the table set the week before, prepare and freeze suitable food. Keep things simple and easy to prepare. 

 

Here's are two tips from my pal Luly B who never fails to come up with great advice for us working moms.

Accept help.

 Say "yes" to the guests that are asking if they can do anything to help. Delegate tasks like picking up ice on their way to the get-together, bringing dessert or even setting the table. Similar to the work environment, determine what ONLY you can do and delegate everything else as much as possible...you'll thank me later for that reminder!

Caution against making it all Pinterest-worthy. 

At a recent speaking engagement, a participant confessed to me that she wished she could be a "Pinterest Mom." She was feeling the pressure of making the homemade cupcakes and cute crafts for her kindergartner. The challenge is that if that's not who you are and you don't enjoy any of that, it will show...I promise. So if you're not a Pinterest-y kind of person, Thanksgiving isn't the time to try. Stick with the regular ol' selfies or family shots instead.

 

This one comes from Harlan Spiva at the San Jose Examiner

Show Gratitute

Make a short gratitude list. It doesn't have to be deep, contemplative, or profound. Perhaps start with time away from work and with those you love. Think of the resources you now have compared to years past. If others have a significant positive impact on the season, be grateful for the skills they possess and use to make it so.

Try making an effort to show genuine gratitude through conversation, notes, small gifts, and by sharing positive experiences with others. By simply recognizing the efforts of others, you have an opportunity for a significant impact. Especially celebrate those who create something for you to enjoy. They put much of themselves into it.

Lastly, this one is from the Carol Blog called Five Things To Do Less of This Holiday Season:

Let Go of Complaining.

When we lack personal boundaries and insight to what we really want, we often feel we have to make decisions to please others.This might look like agreeing to host family dinner if we don’t want to, baking six dozen cookies for your kids’ classroom celebrations or shopping with a friend at a busy mall. When we make decisions that dishonor our choices, we feel powerless. As a by-product, we start complaining about things we’re doing that we never wanted to do to in the first place!

 

I hope these tips help you. I know I'm going to try as many as possible. If you have any tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them!

December 05, 2014

Stressed out over who to tip this holiday season? Let me help

Next week I have an appointment to get my dog groomed. Already, I'm thinking about whether I need to give the groomer a larger than normal tip for the holidays. Deciding who to tip and how much is one of the most stressful parts of the holiday for me. 

I figured it was a good time to go back to a Miami Herald article I wrote several years ago where I created a guide to holiday tipping. Reading it over, I decided it was packed with such great info, I had to repost it. Keep it mind it was originally written more than five years ago but I think most of the suggested tips are still appropriate today.

Tips on tipping: A guide to holiday gratuities

You're grooving to the tunes at your holiday party and the D.J. plays the song you requested. Hand him a dollar bill.

 

You're having your hair put in an up-do for your company's holiday party. Slip your stylist 20 percent of the bill.

Your housekeeper is looking for a show of appreciation for Christmas. Give her at least a week's pay.

Yes, it's that time of year when you open your hearts -- and your wallets to shell out tips. Make an etiquette blunder and it could cost you embarrassment. Tip too much and it could cost you a fortune. But tipping for a one-time service is different from showing appreciation for those you can't live without -- such as the maid, nanny or dog groomer.

"There's nothing set in stone that says you have to give a certain amount," said Jacqueline Whitmore, owner of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "Everyone has a different budget and there are a lot of factors that go into it."

Tipping is that rare occasion when you give away money. And yet most people don't have a clue. No one wants to commit a faux pas when it comes to doling out end-of-the-year cash encouragement to the person who keeps your house bug-free, your lawn looking good or your pool sparkling.

So what's an appropriate holiday tip?

An amount equal to a one-time service -- about $15 to $20 for the exterminator, the pool cleaner and the lawn service, according to Whitmore, a protocol expert. She says sometimes a gift might be the better route -- two tickets to a sporting event just might be your ticket to a cleaner pool.

Sometimes it may seem sticking a fistful of cash in someone's hand may offend them.

Bob Hale, the security/concierge at the Biltmore II condominiums in Coral Gables, Fla., says initially he was bothered when residents gave him cash for taking luggage up to their condo. He formerly had been a grocery-store manager and had to make the adjustment to a service profession. Now, eight years later, he says he's thrilled when he gets a little something extra to pocket.

Hale says people usually slip him anywhere from $25 to $40 as a holiday bonus -- in excess of the money the building collects for a holiday fund that's divided among building personnel.

Then there's the crowd that blatantly asks for tips: the waiter who tacks gratuity onto the tab, the masseur who attaches a small envelope to the bill, the personal trainer who sends a holiday card just begging for a bonus. In those cases, tipping remains discretionary, a reflection of the service you received, say etiquette mavens.

Gary Matzner of Miami ponders how much he should stick in the white envelope that his newspaper delivery person has inserted into his paper.

"I've never seen the guy, but I don't want my newspaper to end up in the bushes every morning," Matzner says.

Mike Acosta, assistant home delivery manager for The Miami Herald, says the envelopes are sent out from the carriers, not from the company. He says subscribers should take into consideration the service they've received and tip accordingly.

"Has your paper been delivered on time? Has it been placed in a dry location? Was it stopped when you went on vacation? Anywhere from $15 to $20 is considered generous. The average is about $10," Acosta said.

Linda DeMartino remembers how guests marveled over the delectables at her dinner party and admired the silver platters they appeared on. But she wasn't sure whether the whopping food bill included extra money for the servers. She now asks the caterer ahead of time for a suggested range. DeMartino says she usually gives the lead server 5 to 8 percent more than the others.

"You don't need to tip if it's a good caterer because I pay my staff well. Gratuity is not required but graciously accepted," said Elizabeth Silverman, owner of Catering by Lovables in Coral Gables. "If you feel the server has done an exceptional job and helped make your event a grand success, you may want to tip."

Silverman said general guidelines are $10 to $25 per staff member paid directly to them.

Partygoers face awkward tipping moments as well.

Anyone who's been to a company holiday party with an open bar has wondered what to do when the bartender mixes a martini or pours a glass of wine and hands it to you. Tip or assume the company is tipping?

Etiquette gurus say it depends on whether there's a tip jar out. If there is, stuff it with a dollar or two.

And when you pick up your car from the valet, shell out $1 to $2 or more if it's a fancy establishment. However, experts say you should tip on the front end if you plan to leave early and request your car be placed where it can be retrieved quickly.

Ada Holian of Coral Gables, Fla., struggles with another holiday dilemma. She remembers when she selected a giant Christmas tree from the lot, and watched as a teenage worker lugged it out for her. She wondered whether a $3 to $5 tip was sufficient.

"Although all our employees are paid, tipping is a nice gesture," said Capt. Paul Boutin, manager of the tree lot run by the Coral Gables Firefighters Benevolent Association. "We have about 40 high school boys and some college students trying to make some extra money for the holidays. Usually people give a dollar or two, but if it's a larger tree they give anywhere from $5 to $20."

Don't forget those service providers who make you look good for your holiday party and all year round -- your hair dresser, manicurist, colorist.

Julie Hallman, a hairstylist at Salon Savvy in Plantation, Fla., said most of her clients are long-time customers who consider her a friend. She gets holiday tips of $25 in cash or gift certificates.

"It's really a personal thing," Hallman said. "It's a way for people to show their appreciation for service."

During the year, she said, people should tip 20 percent of the bill for a hair cut or color.

"It shows that you are pleased with the outcome," she said.

Is tipping the owner of a salon or any service business appropriate?

That depends on whom you ask. Whitmore says she's asked a variety of owners and has come to this conclusion: "If you go to a salon and see the prices and realize the owner charges more, don't tip because he or she has accounted for the fact that they will not get tips. But if he or she is not charging more than the others, tip that person at least 15 percent."

Having flowers, furniture or food delivered during the season?

Manny Gonzalez, creator of the Original Tipping Page at www.tipping.org, says give about $2 to the pizza delivery guy, from $5 to $10 per person to the furniture delivery people and $2 to $5 to the floral delivery person.

During the bustling season lines can get long at local restaurants, especially in South Florida as snowbirds flock to popular establishments.

Mark Brennen, author of "Tipping for Success" (Brenmark House, $12), says it's not how much you tip but how you conduct yourself that can help you get in. He applies that to getting a reservation in popular restaurants to catching a taxi on a crowded street, even to airline, hotel, or rental-car bookings and upgrades.

"To get in a situation you would normally be shut out of you can't throw money into someone's hands," Brennen said. "It could be demeaning. You give the tip afterward when there's a good-faith implied bargain between the patron and the service professional."

Brennen has strong feelings about end-of-year tips.

"I think you miss the boat when you wait once a year to give your doorman or your manicurist a tip. Take the opportunity during an off month like June or July and bring them a Starbuck coffee or a sandwich. It may be something modest but it says a lot. It sets you apart. You don't have to spend a lot of money to send the message to someone that they are important," he says.


Tipping guidelines

For those who provide a one-time service:

Bartender: 10 to 15 percent of total drink bill.

Shampoo tech: $1 to $2.

Hotel maid: $1 to $10, depending on how expensive your room is and how messy you are.

Taxi driver: 10 to 15 percent of the total fare.

Dog groomer: 15 percent of the bill, no less than $2 per dog.

For those providing an ongoing service:

Personal trainer: $50 or more.

Hairstylist: $25 or gift certificate.

Day-care worker: $15 to $25.

Custodian: $20 to $30.

Babysitter: Two nights pay or a gift.

Mail carrier: No more than $20.

Pest control, pool or lawn service: Equal to one-time service fee.