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?


August 31, 2015

Do you check email on weekends?


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 26, 2015

How to Survive a Mommy Tsunami

Your babysitter quits because her class schedule has changed. Your boss tells you he needs to move up the due date on an project he wants finished. Your child calls you to tell you his bus didn't show up at the stop and he needs someone to pick him up. Of course all of these things happen simultaneously and it hits you like a giant mommy tsunami. Ugh!

Mommy tsunamis are common this time of year when school and business gear up at the same time, triggering new routines and bigger workloads.

Joanna_Schwartz__Forbes_089I wish I could say I came up with the phrase mommy tsunami myself, but I can't really take credit. I heard it used when Karen Rundle interviewed Joanna Schwartz, CEO of EarlyShares, for a WLRN Segment on Women in Business in the Sunshine Economy. EarlyShares is a major player in the “real estate crowdfunding” industry. This is how Joanna, mother of two daughters, described a mommy tsunami to Karen:

"A mommy tsunami usually comes a few times a year --  usually at beginning or end of the school year when there is some transition in the troop movement of our household. When it happens you just want to say, 'This is insane, what the heck am I doing?'  But it has happened enough times and you get through it. It doesn't last that long. You recognize it and say 'Okay I am in a mommy tsunami and it will last two or three weeks and I will power through it.' I talk to a lot moms who have similar positions and we all relate to that very much."

Today, Karen, who conducted the radio interview, told me she has just been hit with a mommy tsunami. As the mother of a young daughter, she  is dealing with a series of unfortunate events that has challenged her work life balance and that she is trying to power through. Having lived through many mommy tsunami's my advice to Karen was "hang in there!"

To me, mommy tsunami's make us realize that the romanticized version of what motherhood should be existed only in some alternate universe. The reality of modern motherhood can be stressful and exhausting.

When you are hit by a mommy tsunami, little things make a big difference. For example, flexibility is one of them. As Joanna explained to Karen, the real challenge for working mothers have is when they are trying to balance the not being (able to be ) in two places at once...when kids need time at school or need to go to the doctor and they are stuck chained to their desk. She believes companies need to understand that work and family are interconnected and "to extent that you support someone's  family life you are supporting someone being a terrific employee."

Along with flexibility (or an understanding boss)  you also need is a mommy network. When the mommy tsunami engulfs you, you need to tap your network to find someone to vent to, someone to pass along resources or someone who will take your turn picking up the carpool.

Lastly, you need to turn to your spouse and scream, HELP! As I wrote in my Miami Herald column today, when both parents work together to divvy up childcare responsibilities it makes balancing work and family much easier. The new school year and adjusting to a new routine can be stressful for parents and children. Today, more than 60 percent of two-parent households with children under age 18 have two working parents, according to Pew Research Center's 2013 Modern Parenthood Study. When dads exert the flexibility in their work schedules and pitch in with monitoring homework, driving to the pediatrician's office or attending a teacher conference it can make a huge difference in family harmony. 

As I noted in my article, many couples underestimate the sheer amount of coordination involved in modern parenthood — until their child is unprepared for a test or gets to football practice without his cleats. A little collaboration between parents can go a long way.

If you feel a mommy tsunami about to hit, brace yourself. You will get through it. Like Joanna says, mommy tsunamis are inevitable. You will never be fully prepared. Balancing work and family can be overwhelming, but it also has payoffs that are well worth finding the endurance you will need to survive.

August 21, 2015

It's that time: Do you get back-to-school angst too?

Today, I'm running around like a crazy lady, trying to get my kids back to school supplies and battling the crowds of last minute shoppers. On top of that, I'm talking to parents for an upcoming article on how they tackle back to school. The whole thing has got me feeling a little nerve racked. Each year, as the first day arrives, I feel a little anxious about new routines for my children and myself. This year, my youngest starts high school, my oldest two are off to college and my whole routine will change.

I figure it is a good time to bring back a blog post I wrote in 2010 about working parents and back to school angst,and ways for working parents to avoid being over-scheduled. With a little planning, it is possible to find work life balance.

Wishing all of you a smooth and happy school year! 


(From August 2010)

This week I have a knot in my stomach. I get it every year around this time as I prepare the kids for back to school. Like most parents, I want the school year to go smoothly. I want their school schedules to blend well with my work schedule and work life balance to be possible. For parents, back to school can be just as stressful as it is for our kids.

As I scurry around, setting up carpools, buying school supplies and stocking up on lunch box snacks, I worry about what's to come and I mourn the end of summer. 

With the start of school, kids want to sign up for extracurricular activities. Then, it is up to us parents to get them where they need to go. Sometimes, we drive ourselves over the edge trying to make our work schedules mesh with their activities.

 Here are a few tips you can use when juggling your work schedule with your children's activities:

* Gage your flexibility at work. Your employer may be willing to make an arrangement with you, even if it's temporary, to allow you to get your kids to practices if you come in earlier. This usually involves a conversation in advance.

* Consider proximity. The more activities kids can do at school, the easier it is on working parents. Get a schedule of team try-ours from your child's school. Some day-care centers have started to offer dance or martial arts classes during the day.

*  Let your child choose. Children inevitably are more successful when they choose the activity rather than a parent.  "If it's something they really want to do, they are more likely to figure out on their own how to get where they need to be," says Mandee Heller Adler, a Hollywood college admissions consultant.

*  Find a carpool. This is when networking with other parents pays off. When asked, most working parents are thrilled to split driving duties.

* Do the activity with your child. Attorney Valerie Greenberg enrolled in martial arts classes with her two kids. She found it the best way to combine exercise for her with activity for them.

* Look into online activities. Your child might want to take cooking lessons by watching online videos at home.

* Enlist multiple children in the same activity. This may seem like a no-brainer but it may require some compromise.

* Ask about flexibility. If you plan to sign up for gymnastics or dance classes for your child, find out whether they have make-up opportunities for those times when your work schedules prohibits you from getting your child to their activity.

* Lose the guilt. "Parents don't have to be at every practice or show," says parenting expert Laura Gauld of Sometimes, stepping back has its advantages, she says. "Someone else steps up and can turn out to be a good mentor for your child."

*Know the expectations. While elite youth sports teams are popular, they require travel and mandatory practices. It's best to check into requirements before signing up for a major commitment.




August 18, 2015

A life-changing, must-read book

Recently while on vacation, I browsed in one of Portland's largest bookstores called Powell's. On the shelf of best sellers, I saw a title that intrigued me. The book is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I found it odd that a book with that title would be on the best sellers list. I remembered that one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, had written a post about the book. How could I resist buying it!

I spent the plane ride home devouring the book. By the time I landed, I was energized and ready to purge the clutter in my home. What's unique about this book written by Marie Kondo is that it recommends a single-shot, all out purge of anything that doesn't bring you joy to wear or inspiration to own. Kondo believes reducing the amount of stuff in our homes makes us feel more energetic and can even lead to weight loss and lifestyle change. She also believes when you clear clutter, you can find what you are truly passionate about.

Kondo gives a great example: When one of her clients de-cluttered her bookcase, the IT professional saw the remaining books on her shelf that inspired her were about x and realized what she really wanted to do. She spent a year preparing and then quit her job and started a childcare company.

Over the last few days, I have filled about a dozen garbage bags with stuff from my closet, drawers and shelves. I haven't finished. As part of the process, I rearranged the order of items in my closet to create a system that helps me get out the door faster. I already feel different.

I admit, I'm a saver. But there really is something rewarding about discarding and then organizing all at once. It is unbelievably helpful to see clearly what you need in life and what you don't, once you get into the right mindset.

For all of us, the goal in purging our clutter is less stress looking for things and more time with people who make us happy. Thanks to Kondo, I have a new recipe for work life balance: Get rid of stuff I don’t use, need or that doesn’t bring me joy and surround myself with what makes me happy such as a new project at work or an old pair of shoes.

We hang on to stuff because we have an attachment to the past or anxiety about the future, according to Kondo. She explains that by figuring out what we need now, at this moment, we will gain confidence in our decisions and be able to achieve much more at home and work. We will be closer to work life balance.

Who knew there was so much to be gained from tidying up?



 (Just the beginning of my tidying spree!)




August 14, 2015

Something more important than "fun" at work

I consider my job fun and I love that I do it from home. But at times, interacting with editors from a distance makes me feel unappreciated. I typically only hear complaints or tend to catch them on the phone when they are grumpy. I have learned over many years in the workforce that happiness at work (and what you're willing to put up with) comes not only from our job title, but also feeling like we're appreciated.

My guest blogger today is Neal McNamara, Communications Manager at TINYhr, software to increase employee engagement.  McNamara contacted me to let me know about the correlation between worker happiness and recognition at work and some surprising discoveries his company made when it surveyed employees. You can reach Neal at Below is his take on what makes us engaged at work.


NealThe other day at work, I got a very nice thank-you note from a colleague congratulating me for a relatively minor thing I had done.

What’s special about that? The colleague works in the sales department, I work in marketing. We’ve spoken to each other maybe three times. All I know about him is that he likes sports; I don’t like sports at all. We don’t know each other well. That’s why his thank-you to me was so meaningful. He took the time out of his day to pay attention to me, a gesture as shocking to me as it was pleasant.

Showing appreciation for a colleague at work (or even your boss!) is extremely powerful. A new report by the employee engagement specialists at TINYpulse has revealed that frequent recognition reduces turnover, increases the fun-ness of work, is good for branding, and even makes management look good.

TINYpulse is an app that sends one-question surveys to employees every week, which managers use to fix workplace issues. Drawing on survey results from over 500 clients, they were able to find correlations between employees who get lots of work appreciation with other positive aspects of work.

Unfortunately, the study revealed that too few employers are taking advantage of such an inexpensive way to boost morale. Only 47 percent reported getting recognition at work, which means that 53 percent of workers reported low levels of recognition.

Another knockout finding was the effect of appreciation on retention. Any employer knows that replacing an employee is expensive. Replacing an employee can cost up to 150 percent of their salary, and it can take up to eight months before a new employee becomes fully productive.

But take heart: the employees who reported getting lots of appreciation appeared eager to stay in their jobs. They were the most likely to score highly on the question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how enthusiastic would you be about reapplying for your job?”

The report also revealed a surprising fact about fun in the workplace. The stereotype of a fun workplace might include items like a ping-pong table, free beer, and beanbag chairs. However, recognition dwarfs those perks. TINYpulse found a strong correlation between recognition and workers describing work as “fun.” When asked what makes work fun, 70 percent reported that it was their peers. Only 8 percent credited fun-and-games with making work fun.

The benefits of recognition also extend to the boss. Employees whose bosses gave them frequent, consistent recognition scored high marks. Essentially, workers were more likely to rate their bosses favorably if they got a “Nice job!” when it was deserved.

To put it simply, recognition is powerful. I know because I experienced it firsthand, and it improved my day. As much of a cliché it is, I’ll definitely pay it forward.

That’s an example of how one small gesture can change a whole office.


August 13, 2015

How to return from vacation and stay 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.


August 12, 2015

The virtues of quality time

After 10 days of climbing mountains, riding bicycles and wading in tidal pools, I'm back from vacationing with my family and trying to resettle into reality. What I will miss most is the quality time I had with my three children and my husband. 

Often I hear working parents debate quality versus quantity in time spent with family. Frankly, both are hard to come by when I'm running kids to sports practices, trying to whip up something somewhat healthy for dinner and worrying about making a work deadline. My conversations with my children and husband are along the lines of "How was your day?" or "How much homework do you have tonight?" I reluctantly admit that sometimes, I don't hear their answers, preoccupied by a phone call or email that need to be returned.

There is something about being in a different environment and a vacation-state-of-mind that opens the door not just for conversation, but also for listening. On vacation in Oregon, miles away from boyfriends, video games and a wifi signal, I asked my children questions and I not only heard their answers, I responded with additional questions that encouraged them to share more.

Studies have shown links between quality parent time and positive outcomes for children. I see positive outcomes for parents, too. I feel energized by having strengthened my relationships with my family. Typically at home, my daughter is running off to her boyfriend's home or my son is playing video games. There is something uplifting about quality time together outside of the normal routine where conversation goes deeper than the daily small talk.

I realize that going on vacation is a privilege some families can't afford. However, there are ways to build stronger bonds without traveling miles. For example, a picnic in the park or a visit to the museum with no where to be afterward could set the stage for the same kind of give and take conversation. Away from my daily worries, I was reminded how much I enjoy my family's company and just how valuable quality time is in our busy world. As I return to my Inbox and unfinished assignments, I am more conscious of the benefits of making quality time with people I care about and why we should all fight hard for work life balance.

What do you do to make quality time with your loved ones? Do you find ways to fit quality time into your work life balance?


July 31, 2015

The surprising life of a childcare worker

The cost of caring for a child in America keeps rising, but childcare workers' salaries are not. What's it like to take care of someone else's kid all day while you are being paid subpar wages for your work?

I don't usually post pieces that are political, but this is a topic that affects all of us who care about the next generation of children and the people who care for them while their parents hold jobs. Today, I'm thrilled to have a guest blogger/childcare worker give us some insight into what it's like for her. Her name is LiAnne Flakes, she is 40 and has been working in child care for 22 years. She currently works at the Bible Base Fellowship Childcare Center in Tampa and makes $10.75 an hour.


LiAnne Flakes

(LiAnne at an event outside the U.S. Capitol)

Here is LiAnne's story:

After working in child care for 22 years, I’ve seen firsthand how our broken child care system is holding our communities and our families back. Working parents can’t afford quality care, and child care workers can’t cover rent, groceries and basic bills for our families.

Each day, I care for and teach eight children between 10 months and 3-years-old, making sure that they eat healthy, learn to socialize and play and learn new words and songs. But I’m paid just $10.75 an hour to take care of our country’s most precious resource – our children. That means I can’t afford a car and health insurance.

Most child care workers are among the lowest paid workers in cities around the country. To be able to go to the grocery store is a luxury for me. Right now, my fridge is pretty empty – the last time I was able to buy groceries was about a month ago. 

Sadly, though, many parents are in the same situation, as far as not getting paid enough to afford rent, food and healthcare and relying on public assistance to survive. We’re in a system that’s not working for anyone – parents, children or child care workers. 

That’s why I joined the Fight for $15, and am joining with parents and our political leaders to call for a stronger child care system a $15 an hour wage for all child care workers.

Outside the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, I stood with parents, workers and members of Congress to announce a bold plan for a stable, reliable child care system and a stronger workforce that has the pay, training and support we need to provide the best care possible. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said at the event, “Families need a reliable and affordable child care system that’s available when they need it. And importantly, the care should be provided by skilled child care workers who are paid enough to support their families,”

In DC this week, I met child care workers, parents and families who are also struggling to juggle bills and make sure their kids are happy and safe when they are at work. She’tara Brown, a mother of three who works at the Dollar Tree in Tampa, and is paid $8.05 an hour told me that affordable care would change her life. Right now, her mom takes care of her 6-year-old and 3-year-old daughters and her 4-year-old son because she can’t afford center-based care. She told me, “I work so hard. But with what I’m making, I can’t support my kids. My check is $170 every two weeks. After lights, rent and necessities for my kids – like school supplies – I have nothing.”

I want to have children someday, but sometimes I think it’s a blessing that I don’t have any right now. It’s one thing if I go hungry, but an entirely different matter if a child doesn’t have enough to eat. The fact is too many families are working hard each day but can’t pay the bills like me and She’tara.  

Starting next week, child care providers, parents and members of Congress will be holding roundtables and town halls to discuss  policies that strengthen the childcare workforce and invest in affordable quality care. In the Fight for $15 we have already been taking our recommendations to elected leaders. In May, parents and child care workers met with Hillary Clinton to talk about what we need to provide the best care without living in poverty.

It hurts our entire community when hard-working parents can’t make ends meet and child care workers live in constant stress and anxiety about where to get their next meal. It’s time we had a child care system that supported all families and working parents – those who provide and those who need child care.



July 22, 2015

Hillary Clinton shares a great work life tip

Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton was asked about the time drain of maintaining her appearance. She agreed that women have to work extra hard to get ready in the morning.

In an online question-and-answer session on Facebook, Clinton was asked about her morning routine by a female Facebook staffer who noted that she has to spend more than 30 minutes getting ready while her boyfriend “zips out the door.”

“I wonder about how the ‘hair and makeup tax’ affects other women — especially ones I admire in high-pressure, public-facing jobs,” asked Libby Brittain, who added that as a “young professional woman” she’d like to know how Clinton handles it while “staying focused on the ‘real’ work ahead.”

Clinton agreed that it’s a problem.“Amen, sister — you’re preaching to the choir,” she wrote. “It’s a daily challenge. I do the best I can — and as you may have noticed, some days are better than others!” says though Clinton jokes about her love of pantsuits (later in the Q&A she noted she “never met a pantsuit I didn’t love”), Clinton’s decision to eschew major fashion choices puts her in line with President Obama, who told Vanity Fair in 2012 that he limits his clothing options to reduce the number of decisions he has to make in the morning.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Paring down choices for faster decision making is a time management tip we can all use. Some people limit their clothing choices, others their breakfast choices. What do you think about limiting choices to get out the door faster or save time during the day? Do you think fashion is too important to sacrifice?