Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Do Looks Matter For Success?

Busting Your Corporate Idol - the new cover

Busting Your Corporate Idol – the new cover

Do Looks Matter for Success? When it comes to my book, I think they do.

I’m excited because for the first time, my book has hit the top ten on Amazon in the Work-Life Balance category. What has changed? The cover and the keywords.
I’m putting my money on the cover as making the big difference. At a writers workshop last year, Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, did an exercise where he showed that people were having a negative emotional reaction to my old cover. Everyone loves my author picture, so I decided to create a cover with that picture. And BOOM – I’ve sold many more books in March than I did for much of last year.
It’s just one more indication that looks matter – a lot. Jack Canfield did something called muscle testing. He had someone hold their arm out, and he pushed down on it with them resisting. Then he showed them the cover, and it became easier to push down the arm. Why? When the subconscious is disturbed, our muscles get weaker. The theory is that people saw the cover, and just didn’t feel right in some way, which made it less likely for them to buy.
This is another flavor of unconscious bias, the phenomenon where we are biased against something and we don’t realize it. Unconscious bias has been shown in attitudes towards women and minorities. For example, when auditions for symphony orchestras are conducted where the musician is behind a screen, more women are hired, showing that there was an unconscious bias against female musicians.
So what are we to do to counteract our own unconscious bias? Mussar teaches us to look for the Soul Trait that is out of balance, and then to find an action to move back towards balance. Currently, I am practicing Honor, and I suspect that could help. Honor is about how we treat other people. Some of the traditional practices for cultivating Honor include:
  • Greeting everyone you meet before they greet you.
  • Holding doors for others
  • Smiling at everyone you pass
These small steps each make an imprint on the Soul. When it comes to unconscious bias, the key is to focus on consistently executing the practice with everyone. In a diverse environment, I will be honoring people from many backgrounds. I’ll be on the lookout for any hesitation on my part with particular people that could indicate some unconscious bias. With the heightened awareness, I can act to override the hesitation, which will actually begin to eliminate the bias from the subconscious.
Whether or not you believe in unconscious bias, give one of these practices a try for a week. You’ll may be surprised at how it will make you feel.
What do you think? Do you believe in unconscious bias?
See the latest ranking of Busting Your Corporate Idol on Amazon.

Five Books For Overworked Corporate Moms

Mother’s day is almost here. Wondering what to get that career mom who is working all the time, and wishes she could have more time with the family without quitting her job? There is no reason why a woman can’t have a career she loves and at the same time a fulfilling home life. Here are five books that can make it happen.

  1. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington. Huffington’s main message: there is more to life than getting promoted and making money. She argues that our well-being is a key third metric for living a successful life. Many women are in the habit of thinking of the needs of others (at both work and at home) before taking care of themselves.
  2. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine. Teach is follow up to the Price of Privilege, in which Dr. Levine reminds parents that overworked kids from affluent parents are in trouble, with high rates of cutting, suicide, drug use, and have trouble with attachment to people. Dr. Levine’s main message is that values and coping skills are more important for a child’s long-term success than grades or a fat envelope.   In my experience, overworked parents have a tendency to put pressure on the kids to get into top schools and to overschedule their lives with activities. This is a thoughtful book full of solutions.
  3. Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self-Help for the Chronically Overworked by Dr. Greg Marcus explains the root cause of overwork, and offers a series of small actionable steps to work fewer hours and spend more time at family without consequences at work. Dr. Greg shares his personal experience of cutting his hours by a third without changing jobs, as well as many stories and anecdotes to illustrate how anyone can make a similar change.
  4. Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation–and Positive Strategies for Change by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Main message: stacks of research and personal accounts from hundreds of women show that women don’t ask for what they need at home or at work. This book teaches what to ask for, how to overcome fears and guilt, and then teaches how to negotiate without being a jerk.
  5. Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel. Nice Girls is newly revised, and has been instrumental in changing the careers of several amazing women I know. Many of the same mistakes that limit a woman’s career, like avoiding politics, also will lead her to work longer hours. The more senior you are, the more leverage you will have to set your own schedule and boundaries.

The Harvard Business Review Tip For The Overworked

Build Your Community: Part 12

The The Harvard Business Review tip of the day: People who are overloaded by work should “create rituals—highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, that become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. For example, go[ing] to bed at the same time every night [ensures that] you consistently get enough sleep.”

As a baseball fan, I’m all over rituals. This year during the SF Giants World Series run, I listened to the first two playoff games (losses) on the radio, and then I watched next three (wins) on tv.  It was a bummer, because I was afraid to turn the radio on for the rest of the playoffs, lest The Giants start losing again.  Unfortunate, because Jon Miller and the other local radio announcers are so much better than the various clowns broadcasting on tv.  But what could I do?  I didn’t want The Giants to lose on my account.

My silly-but-true example illustrates something important about human behavior: much of what we do is driven by emotion, not reason.  And while my turning on the tv was not a ritual per say, rituals serve the same function: emotional comfort from the sameness of an activity.

Rituals are one of the ways that corporate culture is perpetuated. A primary example is the quarterly company meeting, when all employees gather to hear senior management go through a scorecard of performance, talk about what is coming up, and try to inspire employees for the future.  Employees at dysfunctional companies sometimes refer to these as “cool aid sessions” while companies like Google and now Yahoo use weekly all hands meetings as a way to build a culture of transparency and trust among employees.  (For more check out this interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations on Thinkwithgoogle.com).

This tip from HBR is spot on, although I disagree with the overt suggestion to use rituals as a means to maintain a work-first mentality.

“Sebastian Tate,” who we met in Chapter 7 in this post, uses the ritual of the male-bonding camping trip to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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Merry Christmas Giorgi: Your Name Is On The List

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 9

The last post ended with the no layoff policy at Southwest Airlines. For the vast majority of companies however, layoffs are a reality.  I’ve been through multiple layoffs in my career, although only once was I let go. (As I’ve written previously, I was thrilled when it happened.)  Being of the survivors was much harder.  I felt like one of the walking dead, wandering the halls morning those who were no longer there.

The personal connections at work often feel like friendships, and sometimes they are.  But sometimes they aren’t.

“Giorgio Danza” learned that lesson the hard way.  Giorgio moved to San Francisco after college because the city was friendly to his lifestyle.  Giorgi has a hearty laugh that matches the intensity of his personality.  Think Polo, panache and perfect.  His hair is dark brown, short, and perfect.  And his sunglasses  are amazing, and never the same.

Giorgi worked for the same company eighteen years after college, ten as a laboratory technician, and then eight in product management.  I asked him if the company felt like his community.

“Oh God yes, absolutely.  I prided myself on having great relationships with people, from shipping to manufacturing.   I think people saw me as very knowledgeable, experienced, knew how company worked, how to get things done.  I stepped in [to the company] as a kid, literally as a child, and didn’t learn stuff about politics that maybe I would have learned better if I had life experience outside of the company. ”

I asked Giorgi about the layoff.  “It was devastating.  I did not see it coming.”

Giorgi’s story continues in the next post.

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The Way I Stopped Big Ticket Impulse Purchases

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 2

The changes I made in my life would have been much harder without the support of my wife.  First, I made changes in my identity to start putting people first.  And there were implications – it was possible that I could get promoted more slowly because I wouldn’t jump up and volunteer for the extra project that would require that I work over the weekend.  And then one day, on a drive home from Yosemite National Park, I announced that I just wanted to resign and stay home with the kids.

We planned my exit from the corporate world for two months, looking at the finances primarily, to see if we could pull things off with only her salary to live on.  What was key, however, was not the raw numbers per se, but our shared values.  We decided that reducing the stress in our lives was the top priority.  And we were fortunate that we’d gotten a big stock windfall earlier in the year.  Rather than make a big purchase, we used the money to buy freedom.  If our values required a new beamer every two years and expensive shoes every month, I would still be working to maximize our income.

It was amazing how much less money we spent after I became a stay at home dad.  Off the top, we saved money on childcare, gardening, lunches, eating out, and dry cleaning.  But we saved even more money on big ticket items that we didn’t really need.  We’d be in Costco, and buy something expensive on a lark.  Looking back on it, I think these purchases were a palliative for stress.

And while not everyone has a family, as we shall see in as the chapter progresses, everyone has the ability to grow a community of people who share their values.

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