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The Quaint Notion of Work-Life Balance: #TChat Preview

I was at a meeting the other day and this person who was carrying a laptop bumped into me — checking her email, she wasn’t looking where she was going. The part that sticks with me is that she wasn’t really phased. No, she laughed it off as a by-product of multitasking. Welcome to the weird world of work, where we’re actually getting less done — and at a lower level of quality — by trying to do everything at once, by being connected 24/7 through devices and social media.

What would happen if you slowed the pace 10 percent? Would your job be in jeopardy if you didn’t read email after 8 pm? Would your family and friends not talk to you if you didn’t answer texts, tweets and emails immediately? Probably not, in fact, hyper-connectivity may be making us less mentally and emotionally available to important people in our life.

I’m as guilty as the next person of paying more attention to my smartphone at times when people are sitting across the desk from me, so I decided we should delve into the topic of slowing down, personally and professionally, on this week’s #TChat Radio and #TChat Twitter. Maybe it’s possible to do a better job in less time if we learn how to disconnect a bit. Could it be less screen time will help us better manage our time and improve our ability to prioritize, while boosting productivity? It’s worth a spirited discussion, one in which we’ll even look at how to use technology to help us slow down — as counter-intuitive as that might sound.

Before you sign off for the day (yeah, right!), here are this week’s questions:

Q1: How do you track competing priorities in today’s social world? Is it helping or hurting your ability to prioritize tasks and build deeper relationships?

Q2: What kind of HR Tech could you not live without, and how has it changed relationship building and productivity for you?

Q3: Hyperconnectivity is expected for those communicating in the world of work. How do you separate the signal/noise?

Q4: Has a business relationship, potential recruit ever suffered because you responded too quickly/slowly, without enough data? How?

Q5: What are the steps you use to deepen, improve your relationships in today’s world of work?

Of course, #TChat takes place every week on Twitter, and this week there’s special dispensation for being online during after-work hours (a quaint concept in today’s world). So join us Tuesday, Dec. 4, at 7:30pm ET (6:30pm CT, 5:30pm MT, 4:30pm PT, or wherever you are) for #TChat Radio, and Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7 pm ET for #TChat. As a community we’ll tackle the difficult task of how to balance the world of work and personal life more effectively, and also discuss when technology helps and when it hinders.

Joining us to weigh in this subject near and dear to their hearts will be Cali Williams Yost (@caliyost), CEO of Flex + Strategy Group (parent company of Work + Life Fit Inc.), and Judy Martin (@judymartin8), founder of WorkLifeNation.com and a contributor to Forbes, NPR and other large news media outlets.  Be connected and strive for balance in all areas of your life. This ain’t easy. Chat soon!

Image credit: Erix! via Flickr

Conscious Communication in an Info-Overloaded World

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

The old adage goes, if you’re not going to say something nice than don’t say anything at all. Yes, silence speaks volumes, but so can efficient communication and it’s a stretch sometimes when having to tangle with work while keeping peace on the home front.

“Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.” ~Dalai Lama

Poor communication creates frustration and can make for inefficient interactions, inevitably leading to stress or the monkey mind of coulda, shoulda, woulda whether at work or at home.

We make up stories in our head as we anticipate what will happen during a conflict, instead of being open to the ever-changing moment that might lead to a productive conversation. Strive for the 3 C’s: Co-creation of a Conscious Conversation. There at least 2 people in the conversation. Don’t talk at people. Speak WITH them. And be fully present in the conversation – not multi-tasking with your Black Berry.

Communication covers broad territory. It comes in the form of meetings, phone calls, e-mail exchange, social media etc.  We tend to lose sight of some basic tenets of effective communication in our hi-tech global world. So keep the following in mind whether in a meeting or communication with someone via the many modes of technology:

  • Technology can filter a message and make it something it’s not. So don’t react from the gut.
  • Everyone has their individual story – but that story can change in an instant due to info-overload. Be adaptable to change in someone’s attitude.
  • Rapid fire communication via texting can quickly heat up a simple interaction.
  • Communicating with family and colleagues requires different sensibilities. Be aware of the blur and boundaries in the work-life merge. You’re probably going to speak to your mother in a different tone than a colleague.
  • Perception is everything. Be willing to be a witness to what’s happening if conflict arises. Remember that you are co-creating a conversation. 2 sides to every story.
  • When conversing, especially via technology, it’s smart to repeat – or mirror back to the person you’re communicating with – what YOU heard.
  • Be mindful of how you end conversations, and what the next step of communication or call-to-action, should be.

Being Conscious of  Your Communication

We tend to take communication for granted because there is such an ease of access to technology. The trick is to be more mindful of  your communication. Your time is valuable. The analogy of examining communication as a meal works well.  Remember that communication on any level is feeding your mind. So keep the following in mind:

Communication Guidelines

1. Don’t eat too late: Try to avoid interacting with people up to the moment you hit the sack. It’s stressful and could impact your sleep if the conversation or communication was upsetting or mind-consuming .

2. Don’t over-eat: Be sure to have an agenda for your communication and accomplish the task. Don’t keep gabbing on the phone to take up time.

3. Don’t stand while eating: Be mindful and present in your communications. If we allow ourselves to be distracted we dilute the conversation, make it longer than it has to be and risk not accomplishing the task.

In our rapidly changing business climate being mindful of how we are interacting at work and at home is increasingly important. How do you track your communications? Do you monitor and/or filter your communication at work or at home? If so, share your strategy!!

5 Steps: Staying Balanced When Career Calls on Your Off-Time

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

I had this sinking feeling of work life chaos while getting a facial this weekend. My phone was on “ring mode” instead of on “silent.” Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in C rang once, twice and finally a third time. My hands slathered in lotion and nuzzled in heated mits, I had to wait a bit before checking my phone. When I did,  it was evident that the tv newsroom – where I spend a good portion of my week, was calling me on my day off.

But no matter the profession, many of us get those urgent  (or no so urgent calls) looking for an instant response. And when we respond, giving into “instant gratification”, we play into that idea of “perceived availability” which I wrote about in a recent post: Taking Work Life Balance by the Horns.

Whether Sleet, Snow, Day or Night

I used to answer these calls no matter the time of day or night out of concern that breaking news might require me to drop everything, and run into work. (Like the time when a Chinese tanker ran aground filled with refugees off the south coast of Long Island) But that’s changed.

After putting some personal guidelines into place and openly communicating with colleagues who might need to reach me in an emergency, I created a system to navigate those sudden calls and respond to them in a timely and appropriate manner. Having a plan or system is a life saver if you frequently get such calls.

Technological Inter-ruptus!

Technological interruptions on your off-time from work can really put a dent into your downtime. And according to a new survey published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior,  they could actually be bad for your health. University of Toronto researchers asked a group of American workers  “how often they were contacted outside the workplace by phone, e-mail, or text about work-related matters by clients, managers, and supervisors.”

The study found that women, more so than men, reported higher levels of psychological distress from work-related contact outside of normal working hours. Apparently women were more distressed because they would feel guilty about dealing with work issues at home. Seems that men and women have different expectations when it comes to setting boundaries around their work and family lives.

No matter your gender, there are many variables to consider when handling those at-home interruptions from the office. The type of job you have, will determine whether those sudden interruptions are warranted. And if they are, the best way to handle them.

5 keys to staying balanced when that calls comes in from work

  1. Assess your job and responsibilities: If you’re a manager, your responsibilities might differ vastly from the workers in your company. Does your position require you be available on your off-time? If so, only you know what is within reason as far as being contacted. Decide what is appropriate for you while adhering to your job guidelines.
  2. Determine the “crisis mode” level: Things go wrong sometimes. The trick is to diffuse the situation in an optimal amount of time with the least amount of collateral damage. That’s why you should set up a “rising scale of tension.” When plans go awry a lot of finger pointing goes on. What is the tipping point where your assistance is needed? Determine what events warrant communication or a phone call on off-time hours.
  3. Communicate with your employees or employer: If you determine that you need to be available during off-hours, let your co-workers or employees know when it’s ok to reach out on a weekend. You might be ok with being contacted on Saturdays 9-5 but not on Sundays for example. Ultimately it’s up to you to gently inform those with whom you work or do business with, what your boundaries are.
  4. Set your answering boundaries: Instead of answering every call that comes in, along with every e-mail, decide what works for you. You might prefer to pickup right away if you know it’s a client. In my case of being a news reporter – if I know the newsroom is calling – I will be sure to listen to the message immediately. The nature of the message determines my response.
  5. Checks and balances system: There are certain people at work who know how to get a hold of me in the case of an emergency. I also have a list of people who can fill-in for me at the last minute if need be. Determine which people will be able to pitch hit for you if you cannot respond to work in the appropriate manner or time frame.

What are your tips for dealing with the technological interruptions at home – from the workplace?

Taking Work-Life Balance By The Horns

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

A colleague recently told me she was suffering from anxiety about heading back to work, after a week off.  In gory detail, she described a nightmare in which her manager littered her office with big black hairy spiders. Pretty much how she feels at work, she effused.  “The creepy crawlies never seem to go away.”

That type of stress dominates her work life experience, and it’s not foreign to many of us. And sharing news and tips on how to reduce that work life stress is where my focus will be here at Talent Culture.

The American working pool has been thrust into what I refer to as “a work-related field of cognitive dissonance.” Stuck in a vacuum of perpetual information overload, courtesy technology and our human response to it, we’re also pressed to pay attention at work and excel or suffer potential consequences.  Survey please! The numbers tell the story:

An American Psychological Association survey on work-related stress found that sixty-two percent of Americans hold work as having a significant impact on stress levels.

A survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates found seventy-five percent of employees believing that on-the-job stress has increased compared to the previous generation.

We are under enormous pressure to perform. To deliver. To excel. We juggle our working and living experience, but often fall into a merry-go-round of stress in what I refer to at WorkLifeNation.com as the  “UPED U” Cycle which is described below.

In simple terms, “UPED U” is the chaotic cycle we enter when our work life merge gets out of control and  “ups” our stress level leading to emotional turmoil and potentially less productivity.

The solution – to find creative ways to throw a kink into that cycle.

Here’s what happens in that cycle, along with a few pointers on how to stop the insanity! I’ll be writing more about the antidotes to these cyclical monsters in future posts.

1.     Unlimited Incoming:

A barrage of information continually comes our way.

NEW RULE: Consciously limit your news intake. Aggregate your favorite news sources and blogs on line and choose one time a day to focus on them. Depending on your job, determine the best time of
day to check e-mails and stick to it. If you are addicted to web surfing –limit your time doing that.

2.    Perceived Availability:

We’re all wired to our families, work and communities and everyone else knows you’re tethered to technology so we’ve created the perception that we’re always available.

NEW RULE: Come to agreement with the most important people from work and in your family that you communicate with regularly. Speak with them and share your daily work life scenario. People will assume that you are available unless you tell them otherwise.

3.    Expectation of Instant Gratification:

That perceived availability leads to other people’s needs to be attended to. They want to be heard and answered in the moment.

NEW RULE: Unless your work requires it, do not respond to e-mails in the moment and limit your texting.  This takes a lot of discipline and you will break this rule a lot depending on the circumstances.

4.    Desire to Deliver and Excel:

Our nature is to not fall short. To nurture and want to please in what is a competitive working environment. To make our boss or clients happy, we desire to deliver and excel to keep up with the Jones’.

NEW RULE: Don’t be so caught up in how other people define success. Be confident in your work your deliverables. Only you know how productive you are andwhat might need to change to up your game. There will be times when you might have to enter into the extreme work zone, but be aware of your limitations to avoid burnout.

5. Unlimited Interruptions:

In order to please everyone at the same time, we are often taken out of the moment, are
lead astray from the initial task and surrender to multi-tasking.

NEW RULE: Stop the insanity. Find a place in the cycle to make that tiny aberration in the stream of chaos to offset the tumble effect. It’s really about you taking control a little more control. Being conscious that the choices you make can mean the difference between burnout and a productive work life merge.

The trick is to monitor your incoming, and make concrete choices somewhere in this cycle to stump the system. Where do you think is the best place to stop the cycle? Please share your solutions to avoid an “UPED U.”

Only Human: 7 Keys to Survival…Welcome Judy Martin!

(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. Below is the first post Judy contributed to our blog. This reflects her spirit, which is captured in an extensive body of work across multiple media outlets and social channels. We will forever fondly remember Judy’s warmth, wisdom and humor.)

Hello, TalentCulture Community.  My name is Judy Martin, and I am the newest addition to the team. Below is my latest post from my blog.  I am very excited to be a contributor and look forward to what’s ahead!

I’m only human despite being a self-proclaimed work life pundit. Fess-up time. My life has been less about the work life merge, and more about life and survival lately. As an entrepreneur and freelance journalist navigating a sudden health care mishap, for a time I felt like the gal looks to your left; cloistered and wrapped in my own stuff, due to sudden partial facial paralysis. Now in the healing process, I’m hoping that this post might help others as work life flexibility was the greatest key to moving forward.

I had entered The Dark Night of the Soul, as the 16th century Mystic, Saint John of the Cross wrote about. No where to go but inside and surrender to the moment. Such a seclusion is simply the norm of human nature whilst enduring such episodes.

But even in this rapture of emotional turmoil I was reminded of the words of American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, the author of When Things Fall ApartHeart Advice for Difficult Times

If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path. Without giving up hope that there’s somewhere better to be, that there is someone better to be – we will never relax with where we are or who we are.

http://www.worklifenation.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/iStock_woman-in-bandagesJPEG2.jpg

Radical Acceptance in the Moment

This is called radical acceptance; but it’s in the moment – and that moment changes as healing emerges. As we hit the depths of the chaotic waters of our being, some aberration occurs that shifts our perspective. For me, it was the realization that despite my appearance, I had a story to share that might help others in similar circumstances whose career was on the line.  I could not appear on Tv for a while, could barely see out of one eye, suffered with headaches and exhaustion –  and had to completely change my working scenario for nearly two months. But, there was a story.

I’ll spare you the gory and painful details. What happened is less important than how I dealt with it, toward maintaining some sort of work life balance. I haven’t blogged much because the collision of side effects was daunting. It was hard to get out of bed, let alone see. My work-life social media community checked in – from time-to-time – inquiring about the lapse in posting to my Work Life Nation blog.  Soon the questions were building like a house of cards about to tumble.

“Haven’t seen you on Twitter, what’s going on?”

“Sent you that book a while back, do you still plan to review it?”

“It seems impossible to get a lunch date with you. Why do you keep rescheduling?”

“You have cancelled three major work life conferences. Fess up.”

Surrendering to the Human Condition and Fessing Up

No – I wasn’t dying. But there were no guarantees the malady would not leave me with scars of paralysis or other issues. So…after some prodding by colleagues, I felt an obligation to share how I navigated the intersection of work life and sudden illness. After all, that’s what I signed up to do here at Judy Martin’s Work Life Nation, although it’s been more like Work Sleep Nation for a while.

I knew upon the occurrence that I was dealing with what could last a few weeks – to a potentially long term, even life-altering disability or deformity. My response involved lots of crying, surrender to the situation and then my survival instincts kicked in. I’ve been a reporter for 20-plus years and I was going to systematically figure out the fastest track toward healing while mustering up enough energy to work; albeit that workload was cut by 50-75% in the first few weeks of the illness. The first lesson – my work life scenario had to change and I had to adopt an even more flexible working model for the short term.

7 Keys for the Work Life Merge when Navigating Illness

This sudden illness brought me to my knees and forced me to tap a deep inner strength that coddled my sanity along the way. I sat down and gave thought to the most important priorities, everything else was put on the back burner in stages. There was no choice but to merge the work life scenario and become even more flexible that I was before.  It meant taking only certain assignments, even if they didn’t pay as well. Planning naps every day  – twice a day. And somehow fitting in doctors visits twice a week. As an independent contractor, I govern my work in a flexible manner. But suddenly, my workload and income was contingent on how well I was healing – and healing was contingent on how much cash I could spend on extra procedures (such as acupuncture) to heal faster. Catch 22. So I made ground rules.

Key #1: At all costs, health comes first: Even if it means dipping deeper into the bank account for a short period of time or asking for outside help.

Key #2: Keep stress levels to a minimum, and get plenty of sleep. Stress deters the healing process. Plain and simple.

Key #3: Financial Stability: As an independent contractor, cash flow might slow down – but it can’t stop.I had to take on less strenuous freelance work for the short term.

Key #4: Maintain business relationships: Check in with major clients to be sure everything is up to snuff. If you can’t get it done, delegate. Do you have a cache of colleagues you can call upon to help out short term?

Key #5: Transparency and communication: Close friends need to know what’s happening and important clients or your workplace should be informed to a degree.

Key #6: Understand your health options and insurance coverage: Read the fine print in the doctors office, ask questions and get a second opinion. Getting the wrong medication, having an unnecessary procedure, or not knowing the consequences of a health care choice eats into recovery time. I ran into all three conundrums.

Key #7: Inquire about your workplace guidelines regarding illness: Every workplace is different. Read up on the Family Leave Act and ask your Human Resources department about your options. Some companies have their own policies for long-time employees. What are the consequences of taking a leave of absence or time off without pay? If your management is receptive, ask about more flexible working arrangements. Most of all be honest about what you can and can not do.

The 5 Rules for Engaging on the Grid when Navigating Illness

Due to this health issue I had to head off the grid to recover while working in spurts. My blogging stopped, my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn updates were no more than sporadic. But I tried to check in at least once a week and made an effort to read a few articles or other blogs a few times a week. But participating in “the grid” was important to fuel business, my brand and my work life content, so I had to manage my time efficiently during the little time that I was functioning with my eye open. Here were some rules that I instituted:

Rule #1: Determine how many hours a day you can work on the grid. Give yourself a limit.

Rule#2: The hours that you are able to work should be spent on goal-oriented projects not web surfing unless research is part of your responsibilities.

Rule#3: To keep my presence on-line, I scheduled a few blog posts to hit a few times a month. These were evergreen posts that could be run at any time – but I could not keep up and should have adopted the following rule sooner than I did.

Rule #4: Call on your social media community in your niche. You’ll find support in that group and they might be willing to do guest posts while you are recovering.

Rule #5: Use an aggregator like Hooter or TubeMogul to post to Twitter, LinkeIn and FaceBook simultaneously.

A Conscious Approach to Recovery and Enduring Work Life Hell

I think the most important key to recovery is to find some serenity in the healing process. Sometimes we’re brought to our knees in tragedy, but how we endure that journey can either speed up our recovery or render it more daunting. My greatest gift this lifetime is that I’ve paid attention to the chaotic episodes I’ve endured in my work life and health, and have turned them into learning experiences. As such, I cultivate resilience through meditation, contemplation and exercise daily. A regular practice to cultivate serenity gives you a bit of an edge when tragedy hits. But that’s an individual choice.

Illness can break one down. It’s very important to be kind to ourselves when we get sick. We tend to beat ourselves up. At its core, health care issues force change. Unwanted change takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us vulnerable to our own self critical thinking and the judgment of others. Such challenges may erode our patience and ego, but inevitably, conquering them leads to growth.

When faced with illness how do you manage your work life merge?  What do you do when you get so sick that working takes a backseat? Please share your wisdom!

The Art of Saying "No" for Work/Life Balance

Written by Kirsten Taggart

How many times have you said “Yes” when you really wanted to say “No?” We strive to make our friends, family, and employers happy by doing favors when asked, but sometimes its okay – necessary, even – to just say no.  This doesn’t make you selfish or rude, but the way you say it shouldn’t leave the inquirer in bad spirits. When it comes time keep these five tips in mind.

1. Be polite and respectful. A graceful rejection will leave a much better impression than a defensive one.

2. Don’t lie. Saying no is best in its simplest form. You should never feel required to state your reason, so don’t feel pressured to give an excuse.

3. If it’s a task that can be completed another day, let them know that you will be able to help at a more suitable time.

4. Offer to ask around to see if someone else is available instead.

5. Hold your ground. If they ask again, calmly apologize and reiterate that now is a bad time.

It’s important to prioritize and choose your “yes’” wisely so as not to become overwhelmed. Don’t lose sight of the importance of personal time!