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.

Google Lost Its CFO to Poor Work Life Balance

Back from a wonderful four day weekend in Hawaii, the annual maintenance trip my wife and I take to Kona to look after our condo. We hadn’t been in over a year, and wanted to see the new tile that replaced the awful carpet. The tile looked great, and other than some missing vertical blinds, the place was in really nice shape! We shopped for art, and did a few things here and there. Oh yah, we snorkeled a lot, including a romp with dolphins. What is interesting is that because we didn’t need to work much on the condo, we had an opportunity to work on our marriage.
We have a really good marriage, yet we have very little time to just be together and talk. We covered all kinds of ground, about things big and small. We discussed whether we wanted to sell the condo too, which was a foil to discuss what is really important to us. Do we want to recover the time it takes to manage the rentals every week, and save money, or would we prefer to have this special getaway? If we didn’t have the condo, I doubt we would have as many weekends away together.
Patrick Pichette Google CFO The topic is timely: This week Patrick Pachette, CFO of Google announced that he would be retiring to spend more time with his wife. He shared that after 25 years of non-stop work that took away from his family life, it was time to stop and really live. Pachette was candid that while he loved his job, it was being an Insecure Overachiever that drove him to work so much.
I so very much applaud his decision to step back and enjoy the time with his wife. (His kids have already left home.) But it didn’t need to be this way. He could have enjoyed his job and success for so many years without sacrificing so much on the home front. He felt that Google needed him to be on all the time. Yet now Google has lost a fantastic CFO. Maybe if he was off some of the time over the last 25 years, he would be spending another ten years as CFO. For a company like Google that doesn’t give short term guidance to Wall Street so they can plan on a long time horizon, it seems like they fell short when it came to their people.
I think Google lost its CFO to poor work life balance. What do you think?
If you’d like to learn more about insecure overachievers, here is a post I wrote a few years ago.

Lessons From Overworked Teens

Overworked teens

Overworked teens

Last night in a mini-Torah study, we discussed the story of the binding of Isaac. As you may recall, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the very last minute, when the knife is in the air, God sends an Angel to tell Abraham that he passed the test, and he doesn’t need to actually harm the boy. We argued whether despite appearances, Abraham was being a good parent by following God’s commands.

So what does this have to do with overworked teens today? For me, this is a story of power relationships. Abraham felt powerless to refuse God’s commands, just as Isaac felt powerless to try to prevent his impending death. Today’s teens are unbelievably over-scheduled, which is why teen anxiety and depression are at record high levels. They are kids, and it doesn’t occur to them that they can say no to activities, especially when the activities are fun. On top of that, they are told they need to be in the hardest classes, and “stand out” to get into the top schools. And without the top schools, they will be at a significant disadvantage in the working world. The data do not support these myths. Sadly, many of these messages come directly or indirectly from parents and teachers.
My views on teen overwork are radical. I see it as a social justice issue. These kids are put in a position where their health is at risk for a perceived gain that isn’t real. As parents and citizens, we have a duty to protect our kids from our own anxiety about the future. And one way to do this is to model good behavior when it comes to the number of hours we work. The kids are aping the behavior they see in the overworked adults all around them. While they can’t choose, we can.
The next time you hear someone recognized for outstanding work because they “sacrificed family time” for a work project, think back to the story of Isaac. Is the sacrifice really needed to meet the objective, or is it a test of loyalty?
To help cut back your own hours, try the list of 5 things with an accountability partner.
Be sure to include a rock solid stop time. It will motivate you to do the important things, and not to let them slide because you can always sacrifice the home time to get everything done.

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.

How To Say No to Darth Vader in the Office

Darth vader office spaceThis is the third and concluding post in the series about how to escape the volcano of an overscheduled life, without becoming Darth Vader.

Once you’ve strengthened your people-first identity, and built a community of like-minded people, you will be ready to take on the chaos of the workplace. The initial steps of cutting back your hours are likely to go unnoticed.

At some point, however, you will be asked to go to a last minute meeting, take on another project, or to travel on short notice. And the additional work will take time away from the rest of your life. This is the time to use some Jedi Mind Tricks—also known as  political savvy—to keep your calendar from getting too full.

Saying no to the boss can be harder than asking the NSA not to obtain more phone records. But every time you say yes to the boss, you are saying no to something else. For example, a “Yes” to putting a few slides together by morning can mean a “no” to sleep.

Jedi Trick #1: Shift your orientation to focus on the yes to the people you care about, and not the “no” to the boss. In the example above, say yes to the sleep. In this case, the Jedi trick is on yourself, to help maintain your focus on what is most important to you.

Jedi Trick #2: Get your manager to agree to your top three priorities. Then, when the request comes in to attend a random last minute meeting, if it’s not in the top three, don’t go. “I’d like to help, but I have some deliverables due tomorrow and I can’t make it. How about next week?”

And if it is your manager making the request, the answer is “No problem. I’ll give so and so a call, and let them know their deliverable will be a day late.” You’ll be amazed at how many requests fizzle out when the manager has to take accountability for the consequences.

Sound scary? I understand. The first step is often the hardest. But trust me, putting people first is a virtuous cycle. When you start feeling better, and you become more effective at work, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get here.