Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Watch Out for this Workaholic Behavior

Dr. Greg & Steve Harrison at Quantum Leap

Dr. Greg and Steve Harrison at Quantum Leap meeting

I almost let a cool and flattering opportunity derail me from my most important deliverables. I was in Philadelphia at Steve Harrison’s Publicity and Publishing Workshop. As is generally the case at one of Steve’s events, I met amazing people. The second night, I had a chance to pitch literary agents about my new book.

New book? Yes I’m working on a new book, and this time I plan to write it quickly. The working title is Mussar: The Ancient Jewish Philosophy for Personal Ethics (A Beginners Guide). Mussar is a thousand year old spiritual practice that was almost lost in the Holocaust. Mussar teaches how to find those things inside you that always get you into trouble, and enables a series of small adjustments to bring your life into balance.

Two of the agents were excited about the book, and want to see a book proposal. I was so jazzed that I was ready to stay up all night and write the proposal. I’m really glad that I didn’t. In the morning I had a video shoot planned, and if I’d stayed up, I would have been a wreck. In fact, I left the event early to get to bed. But on the flight home, instead of sleeping, I worked on the book proposal.

Watch out for this workaholic behavior!

Sound familiar? A new exciting opportunity comes up and bam, off you go to make it happen.

I’m sorry to say this is one of my unhealthy workaholic tendencies. I tend to chase the shiny new object, especially if someone has given me a nice piece of personal validation to motivate me. “Amazing idea. I like it a lot.”

Not good Greg, you needed that rest. And didn’t you just make a plan last month to only work on your top 3 professional priorities?
You know, you’re right. Last month I did set my top three professional priorities:

1. Make sure my clients are successful
2. Write the book for a fall publication (see note below)
3. Line up speaking engagements

The agent who was most interested assured me it would only take me nine hours or so to get together a good proposal.

A small voice in the back of my head whispered I don’t see writing a book proposal on that list.
“No worries,” I told myself, feeling some anxiety. “You can squeeze it in, it may delay the book a bit…”

Thank goodness I have a writing coach (also through a Steve Harrison program). She set me straight. Mishael reminded me that the agent has a different agenda than I do. It’s no skin off his back if I delay the book. He gets paid under the old publishing model. I decided to independently publish my first book because I did not have a large enough platform to interest the traditional publishers. The same dynamic holds today. More likely than not, I would delay my efforts for months, only to go ahead and self-publish anyway. Plus, even if a publisher did buy my book, it would not be out for at least a year.
So, I’m back on track.

Sorry Mr. Agent, you’ll have to take a number and wait your turn.

Update I wrote the book proposal in December 2014, and submitted it to the agent in January 2015. He liked it, and I signed a week after sending it to him. 

If you like this post, you’ll like my book  Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self Help for the Chronically Overworked, a 5 Star Amazon Best Seller in the Work Life Balance Category. Learn more.

The Second Step Towards a Life In Balance

Choose your date wisely

Choose your date wisely

The people you choose to be with are a strong predictor of what you value and how you live.

As I wrote in the last post, a shift in identity will start you down the path towards a balanced life.

However if everyone around you is bragging about how many events they missed because of work, eventually your hours will start to creep back up. To make the changes last, you’ll need a community of people to support you.

First and foremost, if you’re in a relationship, you’ll want to get on the same page with your partner. Does he/she support people-first values? Most of the time, they’ll be thrilled to have you around more. And if you are both on email till midnight together every night, you can start to make the change together. For example, checking email during dinner can be a pernicious habit. But, it is also is a clear behavior that is easy to modify if phone free time together is the priority.

However, if getting a new BMW every year is the most important thing to your partner, they may not support your change in priorities. Mismatched values like this are a red flag for the relationship. Some people work long hours as a way to avoid an unhappy relationship. Could this be you?

And whether or not you’re in a relationship, you’ll need people outside the family to support your change. One great place to begin is by finding a weekly activity to bring you out of the office. I’ve known many people who picked up a class or joined a team just as a way to get out of the office. There, they met their future spouse.

If you are at in Tuesday night volleyball league, everyone else there has decided not to work and to spend time on volleyball too. This is a great place to get to know people who don’t talk about work all the time.

Finally, be on the lookout for a community opportunity, meaning that if someone invites you to do something, say yes! A mindful approach to develop contacts outside of the workplace will increase your flexibility, and decrease any emotional dependency on the work pseudo-community.

What has your experience been with getting out of the office?

Previous Post: The First Step To Create a Life Of Balance

Stress Keeping You Up At Night? Eleven Tips To Help You Sleep

Young Couple Sleeping by epSos.de via Flickr CC

Young Couple Sleeping by epSos.de via Flickr CC

I have been a terrible sleeper since I was a baby. (And my dad never lets me forget it.) I should say I was a terrible sleeper, until a few years ago when I learned to sleep well.

The standard sleep hygene tips?  They all help, but I resisted trying them for many years. It was a combination of pride and my work-first priorities that held me back. In fact, ever since college if I had a deadline to make, I couldn’t sleep. I was so alert that I could use the time to study. It was my secret weapon.

Unfortunately, as I got older, the sleeplessness remained but I was no longer awake enough to function.

As with many of the changes in my life, I got serious about sleeping after I realigned my values to make people and not work the most important thing in my life. The most important people first value is my own health. But how could health be the top priority if I was working till 11 at night, and getting up at 5 to work some more?

Eleven things I have learned to help me sleep.

  1. Ambien helps, but wasn’t effective if I was working right up until the second I took it. Sleep was fitful, and I was prone to waking up after a few hours because my body never had time to unwind. Therefore I instituted some firm rules and boundaries. 
  2. Lights out at 11, every night including weekends.
  3. Work stops at 9, to give me time to unwind.
  4. The computer, tablet, and phone are shut off at 9. These are stimulating, and too work-like. I can’t help but think about work if the computer is open. The temptation to look at email is too great, and I can easily get sucked into things.
  5. Lights for the kids go out at 9. My wife and I need time to be together without the kids.
  6. I look for ways to enjoy the time between 9 and 11. Ok, in my life some of the time is spent cleaning the kitchen and scooping cat litter, but usually by 9:30 we’re ready to move on to another activity. It is important that this time isn’t all chores – the object is to find some enjoyment to help you relax before bed. Reading, tv, movies, sex, exercise, and music are all good options.
  7. No work until 6 AM. Stress can make me wake up, and if I work it re-enforces the habit of waking up. If I know I can’t work no matter what, it is easier for me to get back to sleep. If necessary, I’ll jot down a few notes to clear my head, knowing I won’t forget the supposedly important thing rambling around in my head.
  8. The bedroom a sacred space: No working, no devices. Sleep, sex, relaxing only! Yes, this means you should stop reading email on your Droid before getting out of bed. Seriously. If this is a habit, put a shoe box outside your bedroom, and drop the phone in before you enter. If you really need to check something, walk out into the hall.
  9. If I wake up at 3 AM and am hungry, I have a cup of ginger tea. It settles my stomach without giving me a sugar fix. The sugar fix rewards waking up. I try to keep it boring.
  10. I have a comfort ritual to help me get back to sleep. If it is 3 or 4, I go downstairs and sleep in the lazy boy in the living room. I put on my favorite original Star Trek episode (The Doomsday Machine), cover myself with my favorite throw, turn out the lights, put on an old pair of sunglasses (to cut down on glare from the tv), close my eyes, and just listen. I am comforted by the familiarity, and am usually asleep within ten minutes. And I know the episode so well I can always tell if I have fallen asleep, because suddenly the chronicle will jump to something 30 minutes later. This totally cuts off the frustration of feeling like you haven’t slept, because I know that I was asleep. This helps me get right back to sleep.
  11. The thing that put me over the top was a guided meditation CD called “Just Relax.” It changed my life. Just Relax describes itself as “dull, boring, and effective.” It delivers big time. I tried it in desperation one night at 5 AM after a week of sleepless nights. . It was a weekend and I slept on the couch till 9:30. The kids were up, around, and I’m told very noisy. I slept through it all, and felt more refreshed than I ever had. I used Just Relax pretty regularly for a while, and now I can play the sounds in my head to help me go to sleep.

Pretty standard sleep hygene on the list. I thought these things were so hokey that I wouldn’t even look at them until a few years ago.  The hokey feeling? A rationalization to prevent me from trying something to help myself. Maybe I was too proud. Whatever the case, I’m glad I got over it.

What is your experience with sleep? Are you a natural sleeper? If not, what has worked for you?

Learn How To Say “No” To Meetings

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 13

As you shift your priorities to people and start to work fewer hours, there will come a point when someone starts pushing you to do more.  There is always more work to do, and if you don’t set firm boundaries around our work, no one else will.  As Jody Thompson, champion of ROWE pointed out in the youtube video in the last post, what is the point of getting your work done early if it only means that you will be given more work?

Even if the corporate culture is nowhere near adopting ROWE, you may be able to negotiate something with your manager to get more flexibility.

The key to ROWE are the first two words – Results Only.  The first step is to identify the three things that will have the most impact.  To figure this out, I would write out a list of everything I was working on and the put them in rank order. I went to my manager with the list, explaining why I though certain things would have a larger impact.  Usually he agreed, but occasionally we changed the order.  And when he asked me to do something that took a lot of time but wasn’t in the top three, I would say “ok I can do it, but it will mean that X deliverable will be pushed out a few days.  Is that ok, or would you prefer me to wait on the latest thing that you need?”

Next, I declined meetings for anything that wasn’t in the top three, especially last minute or “one off” requests.  They add up to a lot of time during the week, and those extra hours take away from time at home. Sometimes it was hard, because other parts of the company thought I should be helping them, especially sales.  But I held firm if taking the meeting meant working at night. (And sometimes I adjusted, to make sales support a top three.)

A priority list gave me the power to say “I’d love to help, but my manager has told me that A, B and C are higher priorities.”  I tried to by sympathetic, and whenever possible offered alternatives, like a web site to find information, a promise for time in the future, or someone else who could help.

I always made sure I delivered high quality, on time work for the top priorities.  After all, it was a contract, to trade time freedom for higher quality work.

Often a manager is on board with the theory, but has a hard time sticking with it in practice.  Next post, more on this upward management challenge.

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