Tag Archives: work-life balance

New Year’s Resolutions: Choose Concepts, Not Lists

new year's resolutions list

new year's resolutions listWhile home visiting my family over the holidays, my sister mentioned a few of the resolutions she’d set for herself this year. They included doing more fiction writing (and, specifically, being willing to endure 100 rejections ), upgrading to varifocals so that she doesn’t need to hold a book within an inch of her eye to read, and a handful of other standard-issue resolutions.

“What are your goals?” she asked.

I paused to think it over.

“Thanks for reminding me,” I answered. “I need to set my concept for this year.”

Goal-setting: In Defense of Vagueness

As someone with a fairly strong Type A personality, it’s tempting to use the beginning of the year as an excuse to set even more goals for myself than I normally would.

But a few years back, I resolved that I wouldn’t do that anymore. Instead, I decided to embrace the idea of setting broad, overarching “concepts” to frame the coming year.

I’m aware of all the advice out there claiming that you need to set specific, actionable objectives if you want to get anything done. I’m also aware of all the research suggesting why if you go too far down the measurable outcomes path, you might end up abandoning your goals altogether.

To that end – and, let’s be honest, what good is research if you can’t cherry-pick the stuff that suits your needs? – I have anchored my defense of conceptual resolutions in a Stanford University study entitled In Praise of Vagueness.  Because of the way the brain processes negative information, this article suggests that we are actually better off motivating ourselves through a general principle (e.g., “I’d like to be more fit”) – or through an acceptable range of desired outcomes (e.g., I’d like to lose between 5-15 pounds) – than tying ourselves to one specific number ( e.g., “I need to lose 10 pounds by June 1st.”)

The basic idea is that presenting information in a vague way allows you to sample from the information that’s in your favor and choose the part that seems  achievable or encourages you to keep your expectations upbeat. That way, you are motivated to stay on track.

Goal-setting: Choosing a Concept

But I didn’t really start embracing conceptual New Year’s resolutions because of what the research said. I did it because I thought it would help me to bring greater coherence to the many different hats I wear, both personally and professionally.

I felt that having an integrated, “catch-all” concept would make me feel more comfortable being pulled in so many different directions. I also thought having a concept would encourage me to think more creatively about the different aspects of my life and how they fit together, rather than thinking in siloes.

So, for example, one year my watch word was “authenticity.”  That was all about bringing my personality out more in social media (principally blogging and Facebook), but also about choosing to read books that illustrated other people’s journeys towards self-discovery.

Another year, my watch word was “change.” That year, I knew in advance that I’d be laid off for my job and that I needed to be open to trying out different career options while I took time off.

Yet another year, I embraced slow living.

This Year’s Resolution

This year’s resolution, you ask?

It’s about balance. Not just the professional balance yielded by a portfolio career mentioned above.  And not just work-life balance if all that means is not being a workaholic.

But work-life balance in the sense articulated by author and entrepreneur Robert Glazer, which he defines as follows: …”an understanding that each day or week might bring different combination of things to attend to at work or in your personal life, but they total a portfolio of quality experiences. It’s not about the time itself, it’s about being fully present and engaged in each of the pieces…”

I like that idea. Balance as being fully present in each of the pieces of my life, whether that’s teaching or coaching or writing or swimming.

How about you? If you could pick a concept for 2019, what would it be?

Image: New Year’s Resolutions list via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for Managing Your Workload

deadlines

deadlines“Do as I say, not as I do.”

So goes the famous saying uttered round the world by everyone who’s ever been a parent. Lately, however, I’ve also been finding its relevance to my role as a teacher.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m currently teaching a course entitled “Life Skills for Offices” to a bunch of Masters students in the statistics department at the LSE. I’m having loads of fun with the course, where we cover everything from interviewing skills and project management to teamwork and cross-cultural communication.

But after a recent workshop in which I introduced the students to assorted strategies for managing their workload, I realized that I was not practicing what I preached. I’ve had an incredibly busy month, waking at 5 am to get a jump on my day more times than I’d care to mention. I’ve also worked straight through the last three weekends.

It all came to a head yesterday, when I was meeting with one of the members of my personal board of directors and I confessed to her that I was struggling with work-life balance. She reminded me that being my own boss enables me to control the balance in my life; I do not report to anyone anymore.

It was a good wake up call. So, today, in an effort to align my message with my behaviour, I am sharing five tips for managing your workload so that you don’t get overwhelmed:

a. Use an Eisenhower matrix. One of the tools I introduced my students too for prioritizing their workloads is the so-called Eisenhower Matrix. This deceptively simply tool builds from a speech in which former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once famously said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Eisenhower apparently used these two dimensions to organise his own workload, and they have since morphed into a matrix in which all tasks can be sorted into four categories, each with its own decision rule: urgent and important (Do!); important but not urgent (Plan!); urgent but not important (Delegate or postpone!) and neither urgent nor important (Delete!) The matrix is particularly useful for calling attention to how much time you spend doing things that are urgent but not really important (e.g., email). It also forces you to see how little time you allow in your schedule for things that really matter, but aren’t pressing and thus slip off the radar until they ultimately come back to bit you in the rear end. This technique empowered me to ignore a bunch of stuff sitting in my inbox and focus instead on what really needed to get done (e.g., business development for generating new clients).

b. Deep work. But even if you recognize those super-important items on your To Do list that aren’t urgent but await execution, you still need to set aside time to tackle these “biggies.” Here, I advised the students to engage in deep work, a strategy that allegedly explains the productivity of everyone from Albert Einstein to Bill Gates to Toni Morrison. Deep work simply means setting aside large chunks of uninterrupted time to do those important but time- and labor-intensive pieces of work that require intent focus. According to productivity gurus, chunking your work day in this way enables you to allocate your energy where it’s most needed, while leaving the rest of the day for the less important tasks that need to happen but don’t require as much concentration (e.g. meetings/email.) In my last office job, I mastered this strategy to the point where I was able to dump all meetings into three days, leaving two full days for the deep work of editing. I need to remember how great it felt to be on top of my workload.

c. Work backwards from your deadline. This one is so obvious that I shouldn’t need to remind myself of it. But when I recently found myself staring at five, 2-3 hour workshops I’d somehow managed to commit myself to delivering over one week in February, I realised that I needed my own refresher course in project management 101. The basic idea here is quite simple:  as soon as you have a deadline, work backwards so that you know exactly how much time you need allocate to that project each month/week/day etc. to hit that deadline on time. As I told my students, there are two important corollaries to this old time management chestnut: 1.) First, be sure to factor all non-work obligations into your planning, such as public holidays, vacations, conferences, doctor’s appointments, etc; and 2.) Second, be sure that you actually block out your calendar to prepare for these deadlines so that you don’t commit time you don’t have to other projects (See b, above). Oh yes, and get thee to a Gantt chart.

d. Schedule virtual coffees. This was a suggestion from my fellow kitchen cabinet member during our catch-up yesterday. I was complaining that there were so many coffees I wanted to schedule – whether for networking purposes or just socially – but that I really didn’t have time right now to spend half a day schlepping up and back from central London to make them happen.  So she suggested that – as she and I had just done – I begin scheduling virtual coffees. You still get the caffeine fix, you still get the stimulation and face-time, but you don’t lose all those precious hours (and pounds/dollars/name your currency…) commuting. I’ve got my first one next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

e. Just say no. Really, just say it once in a while, both to work requests you don’t realistically have time for and to social requests you really don’t really have energy for. It will add hours to your day. And it feels great.

How about you? How do you get your workload under control? Share your secrets in the comments section!

Image: Deadline by Geralt via Pixabay

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Working Moms: Don’t Use Academic Research To Validate You

working mothers

working mothers

Like many out there, I was overjoyed to read the results of a recent study from Harvard University claiming that being a working mother  has tangible benefits to our kids. More specifically, the new research showed that working mothers are good role models for their daughters.

I was on my way to work when I read about the study and entered the office with an extra skip in my step. One of my colleagues, also a mother of two, called out to me before I even got to my desk. “Did you hear?” she said. “Work is actually good for our daughters!” She was positively beaming.

“Yup!” I replied triumphantly. “Already tweeted it!”

We high-fived each other across the cubicle, leaning in (to borrow a phrase) to the nine hour day that lay ahead, a tad less anxious than we’d been the day before and – in my own case – suddenly awash in confidence that missing my daughter’s cross country tournament the week before hadn’t permanently damaged her self-esteem. To the contrary, now she’d be even more confident and motivated because she had me as a model, holed up in an office miles away, toiling away on that final edit to the paper whose deadline took greater precedence over watching her run a race.

Continuing to ride that high, I immediately jumped on Facebook to contact a friend of mine who teaches family and child policy at a prominent American university and is up on all of this research. “Isn’t this great?” I wrote, linking to the study on her Wall. “Because didn’t most of the earlier studies say the opposite? And P.S., Yay!”

Actually,” she wrote back,”this body of research is so hard to interpret because so little of it is well-identified and there are so few plausibly causal estimates. Mostly people seem to conclude what they want from the existing literature. Thus, YAY! indeed for this latest study.

Fffffffffffffttttttttttttttt.

That’s the sound of the air coming out of my Guilt-Free-Mom balloon upon receiving her dispiriting reply.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image: Women in the Workforce via Wikipedia.com

When Freelancing Isn’t Enough

As I believe I mentioned a few weeks back, I’m currently looking for a full-time job.

This is something I’ve been slowly working up to over the past year or so, a decision borne  partly of economic necessity and partly of personal choice.

I’ve worked as a freelancer writer for the past five years. And I have absolutely loved the flexibility it has afforded me vis a vis my family as well as the various projects I’ve pursued during that time (e.g., writing a novel, starting this blog, getting super-involved in the PTA).

At  the end of the day,  however, it is incredibly hard to make a living as a freelancer, especially during a recession.

That was OK, for a while. I didn’t really mind not making a ton of money, because I was investing in growing my platform and most importantly, I was having fun. But now that we are looking to purchase a home (and p.s., London housing prices would appear to be immune to the global economy), it has become clear that if we want to put our family of four into something larger than a bread box, we need to have a serious second income.

But it’s not just about the money. I think that even if I were a gazillionaire, I’d probably be looking for a full-time job right now. For better or for worse, I was born to work. Call it an excess of energy. Call it an identity crisis. Or call it tired of doing pick-up every day after school. Whatever the cause, I’m at a point in my life where I really want to put my heart and soul into something outside of my family – and my own mind – and get paid for it.

I’ve always been a firm believer that – to the extent that one has a choice (which most women don’t) – decisions about work/life balance should come down to your gut. When I moved to London five years ago, what felt right was working part-time and investing a lot of time and energy into the kinds of things – like writing – that I simply didn’t have time for when I produced a daily talk show for public radio with two small kids at home.

But life is pendulum and now it’s swung the other way. My gut is telling me that it’s time to go back into the work force, if not full time, then very close to it. (Wednesday’s post will explain how I came to that conclusion.)

So these days, I’m busy hanging out my shingle wherever and whenever I can. The good news is that I may be one of the few people out there who actually enjoys looking for work. Part of that is my love of change. But I’m also one of those weird people who actually *likes* looking for jobs. I love the way writing a cover letter forces you to think about how your particular background and skill set make you suited to one job or another. Re-imagining yourself in this way also gives you more self-confidence going forward.

So off I go. I’m sure I’ll have loads more to say about this journey as it kicks into high gear. For now, I just try to start every day with a healthy round of that 80’s classic, Nine To Five

 

Image: Dolly Parton, Hollywood Bowl July 23, 2011 by MargaretNapier via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.