Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

It’s Not The End Of The World, Only a Delayed Launch Date

Today we are taking a break from Busting Your Corporate Idol for this announcement about the end of the world, or lack thereof.

If you are reading this, the world has not ended.   I feel bad for the Mayans  all anyone seems to know about them is that they blew it when it came to predicting the end of the world.  A sad irony really, because  they never in fact did predict the end of the world.  Mayan expert David Green explained on NPR that

The Maya never, ever, said anything about the world ending at any time — much less this year.

12/21/12.   I admit it, it’s a cool looking date, but it is totally arbitrary.

How many of you have been involved with a product launch date picked out of the air?  And yes, sometime in Q2 does count as arbitrary.    The best story I ever heard was from “Pat,” who ended up in the hospital once because he was working too much.  (Told in this post.) I’m happy to say Pat learned his lesson.  When he was a senior director at his previous company, the VP and head of product development decided that they were going to achieve something amazing – a breakthrough product in six months.  “He called everyone in in on Saturday,” and told the entire department to drop what they were doing to work on the project called “Lightsail.”  Pat did not disrupt his life to try to make it happen, and he told me with an exasperated grin “Guess what, he was off by 18 months.”   Throwing an entire department of a few dozen people at a project won’t make it happen.

Sometimes it just takes time to get things done.  It is important to work for  executives who will make allowances for reality. More people don’t necessarily help.

Which brings me to the December deadline for my book.  When I started blogging Busting Your Corporate Idol on June 11, 2012 I announced that I would complete the book by my birthday December 29th, my birthday.  Ten chapters in six months?  I had a good outline, and two chapters already written.  I knew that I have pushed myself very hard in the past, and have accomplished some amazing things.  I could do it now too. There was one thing I forgot: I was writing about people-first values. I still had responsibilities as the stay at home parent, and it seemed kind of silly to quit my job to bring better balance to my life in order to neglect my family and health to meet an arbitrary deadline for the book I am writing for free on my blog.

I have been going at a steady pace of a chapter every three weeks.  And if I project ahead, that means that I will finish the book sometime in February.

Thank you all for following along as the book has come to life.  I feel truly privileged to be able to live my dream, and am blown away that over 12,000 of you have visited the blog.

I hope you enjoy the last two chapters as much as you’ve enjoyed the first eight.

Ten Tips To Reduce Your Work-Related Stress

Ten Tips For Stress Reduction Featured Image

Cold Friendship by Hamed Saber via Flickr CC

 

Today I’m taking a break from Busting Your Corporate Idol to share some stress reduction tips that were inspired by stories I heard while researching the book.

 

Three ways to relieve stress at work by putting yourself first

  1. Put your health first.  Take time during the business day to exercise.  If you are suffering from chronic stress, you are probably working too many hours.  If you take time away from work to exercise, your stress will go down and you will become more productive, which will more than make up for the 90 minutes at the gym.
  2. Put your time first.  There are always people asking you for favors, and to do extra things.  If you are good at what you do, there are an infinite number of things you could be doing.  Make sure that you put your time first by learning to say no.  Having fewer commitments will reduce stress
  3. Become a winner at politics.  Are you the type of person who says “I don’t care about the politics, I just want to get it done.”  This is a recipe for being taken advantage of.  Politics is a fact of life, and no one is above it.  If you aren’t playing at least to defend yourself, you risk being played.

Three ways to relieve stress at home by putting people first

  1. Put your health first by stopping all work by 9 PM to give you an hour or two to decompress before bed time.  Sleep deprivation is a guaranteed way to increase stress.
  2. Put your health and family first by having a Sabbath, least one day a week with no work or email at all.  You will be amazed at how refreshed and more creative you feel.
  3. More sex at home.  The research is pretty consistent – people who have sex more often are happier.  And stress leads people to have sex less often.  Use those goal setting skills to have sex at least once during the workweek and once on the weekend.  This will lead you to stop working earlier, and will directly combat feelings of stress.

A key to preventing stress at work is to reduce your workload.  If your boss asks you to do more, here are four things to help you say no.

  1. Don’t feel guilty. There is only so much time in the day, and your health and family are more important than whatever the boss is asking you to do.
  2. Make the boss decide the business priorities.  Your time is a finite company resource.  Explain the trade off decision, and why you think another use of your time is more important.  If the boss insists, ask for his or her support in explaining the changed deadline to the stakeholder whose deliverable is being pushed back.
  3. Offer an alternative solution.  Sometimes the boss is asking for more than he or she needs.  Offer a quick and easy solution instead.
  4. Suggest someone else to do the job.  Your boss needs a solution, but it doesn’t necessarily need to come from you.

If you find at least one of these suggestions helpful, please share using the buttons below.

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You might also like Discover How I Avoided Burnout 

Want Better Work-Life Balance? Start With Understanding.

Chapter 3: The Corporation, The Real American Idol Part 4

An important step for achieving work life balance is to understand the nature of the institution you are working for.  Dictionary.com defines a corporation as follows: An association of individuals, created by law, having a continuous existence independent of its members, and powers and liabilities distinct from those of its membersLets look at the four key ideas in more depth.  Each one has a significant impact on how individuals behave.

Association of individuals:  When a group of people are together, it is natural for a culture to form.  Culture provides the norms of acceptable behavior, and is a huge influence on how we act at work, which can spill over into the rest of our life. I will return to corporate culture later in the chapter.

Created by law: Ultimately, what a corporation can and cannot do is defined by local, state, federal and international law.  How often corporations stay within the law and how often they push is a matter of debate.  A simple example is minimum wage  – depending on where someone is working, his or her minimum pay is a function of local law.  A company may choose to pay more for a variety of reasons, but it isn’t required to.

Continuous existence independent of its members: Would it surprise you to learn that one of the first corporations in the world was a copper mine in Sweden that operated from at least the year 1080 until 1992?  It did me. The business was set up to distinct from its founding members, and it certainly was successful outliving them.  Key implication: a company doesn’t need any particular individual to survive.

Powers and liabilities distinct from members: A corporation can enter contracts, be sued, and in some cases be held criminally liable in a distinct and separate way from its employees or investors.  Many corporations provided limited liability for its investors, meaning that no money beyond the initial investment was at risk.  The structure of corporate ownership has a big impact on the behavior of the people who work there.  We’ll come back to this.

Again as a simple example, I used to get my paycheck directly from a company bank account, and not from an individual’s bank account.  Of course a company cannot issue a check (or do anything else) without an actual person to do the work.  This leads to many circumstances where a person is acting or speaking in the name of the company. Not a problem in and of itself,  until we forget that the company isn’t actually alive…

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What No One Is Saying About Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s New CEO

Family by Nina Matthews Photography via Flickr CC

As is the custom on Friday, a break from Busting Your Corporate Idol.

Marissa Mayer is the new CEO of Yahoo.  She has an impressive track record at Google, and is eminently qualified to take over.  But there is a big brouhaha and a lot of hand-wringing over her pregnancy.  What really got people going was her comment to Fortune Magazine.

My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.

The debate has been blistering Melissa Hincha-Ownby at the Mother Nature Network summarized it this way.

This sent the mommyverse into a tailspin. Some mothers praised her determination and work ethic, others denounced her decision as selfish and mourned for the son who won’t spend much quality time with his mother while others think she’s going to be in for a rude awakening once her son is here and she won’t have time to work at all.

I am a big advocate of people-first values, and The Idolbuster has a number of posts about the personal cost of a 90 hour work week, which Mayer apparently worked at Google.

So what people should come first here?

Is it the new baby, and if so does that mean that women should never work with a newborn in the house?  The woman who cleans my house was pregnant one week, and back at work the next.  I was so shocked.  I assumed she would take the week off, but was back right away.  I expect she couldn’t afford to forgo a week of pay.

Is it the employees, investors, or customers of Yahoo who need Mayer’s expertise to turn the company around?  I read Yahoo news multiple times every day, and I want the company to succeed.  In my opinion Yahoo would be just fine if she truly unplugged, but I can understand why she would want to work through.

Is Marissa Mayer herself the person we should put first?  And if we want to, how would we go about it?  Should we save her from herself, and push her into taking a longer or shorter leave?  If I read another “she doesn’t know what she’s getting into” handwringing post, I’ll shoot myself.

Here is the simple truth: none of us know what is best for Mayer or her family.  But our course of action here is simple.  Mayer deserves the basic respect to make her own choices and tradeoffs without our punditry.  She is an adult, and gets to choose what is the most fulfilling path for her life.  The Golden Rule says “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” or “don’t treat others in ways you don’t like to be treated.” And I can’t imagine anyone would want a Facebook poll to be taken about their maternity leave.  It is no one else’s business what Marissa Mayer does in her family life.

And one more thing:  Am I the only one on the world who thinks maybe her husband will stay home with the newborn?  Her husband, Zachary Bogue, is a lawyer and Co-Managing Partner at Data Collective.  The very idea that he would take care of the newborn seems out of the question.

For my marketing friends: we need a phrase to describe the societal barriers that make it hard for men to take care of the family.  We need something that is analogous to The Glass Ceiling.  Somehow The Glass Remote doesn’t seem to cover it.

 

Bags Packed and Ready to Lead

Photo by Hilary The Mammal via Flickr

This week’s guest post is from a Vice President who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Great leadership is hard.  It requires a deep understanding of our own motivations so that we can inspire with the best intentions.

To lead with joy and energy, we must love what we do.  At the same time, great leaders need “packed bags”.

When we stay in a job or role because we feel we HAVE to instead of because we WANT to, we can become very dangerous.   And, we don’t do so well for our families or ourselves.

“Packed bags” is an attitude, mindset and financial scene that enables us to leave if we should.   We can give the job everything we have, take the right risks, say the right things to the right people, and still sleep well at night.  Packed bags allows me to approach my job with confidence, knowing that my moral compass is firmly in place, and I can leave if asked to cross certain boundaries.

“Packed bags” is not disloyal or disengagement.  In fact, this approach enables us to be more passionate and engaged in doing the right thing for the business and our people.  It helps to remove fear.

I have been energetically engaged at the same company for more than 12 years.  I am serious about my work and my career. I am excited about the next steps at my company… and my bags are still packed.

I worry when I see leaders feeling stuck either emotionally or financially.  This can happen when our identity is overly defined by our role at work.  Or, if we have built a lifestyle that has kept pace with the financial earnings of each promotion. It is hard to lead well from that place because we may lack the confidence to make the right bold decisions for the business and our people.

“Packed bags” enable us to…

  • Focus on results, not politics
  • Take the right risks, and do jobs that scare us
  • Be candid with our feelings
  • Provide feedback
  • Feel more in control of our own destiny

Some things that can help you keep your bags packed:

Build a sustainable financial scene

  • Resist the urge to upgrade your lifestyle each time you get a raise
  • Save bonuses and long-term incentives
  • Consider paying down long-term debt

Stay relevant

  • Diversify your knowledge and skills
  • Build a professional network
  • Never burn a bridge

Have a reflective practice

  • Find some outside activity that gives you peace (prayer, meditation, running, yoga, writing)
  • Understand what makes you most happy in your work
  • Consider reinventing your job to include what makes you most happy

Overall, keeping a bags-packed attitude will benefit the company through better decision making and more energetic leadership, and lead to a life with less stress.

If you’d like to be heard, but aren’t sure how it will be perceived at your company, publish anonymously on The Idolbuster.  Inquire here.