10 May 2016

Eliminate Energy Drains for Greater Work-Life Balance

Eliminate Energy Drains

Some of the most powerful ways to build more balance into your busy life are readily available to you and entirely within your control.

As a coach to high achievers since 1995, I have observed a range of strategies that make a significant difference in a person’s sense of balance. Each strategy stands on its own and can be implemented independent of any other one.

The strategy that creates the greatest impact is to eliminate energy drains. Energy drains are the challenges and issues that nag at you, drive you crazy, worry you, or in some other way steal your attention and distract you from being in the present with whatever or whoever is in front of you. Many people have a lot of energy drains. The more you have, the more out of control your life feels, and the more stress you experience.

Learning to identify and then to eliminate energy drains is a process, not an instant event. It takes time to develop the habit of recognizing when your energy is draining out of you and then to identify what is causing it to do so. It also takes time to learn to address the source of the energy drain so that it is eliminated, whenever possible, and when it’s not possible, some other adjustment is made.

In the workshops I lead in organizations, one of the energy drains that people frequently bring up is clutter in their home. The solution is EITHER to implement one of the many available clutter solutions OR to make your peace with there being some clutter in your home. Period. Either get it handled or stop stressing about it.

Another one is rush hour traffic. The choice here is EITHER implement an alternative to commuting in rush hour (change your work hours so that you’re not commuting during the rush or move your home or your job so that your commute is short or against traffic – and yes, people do this!). OR make your peace with rush hour traffic (listen to books on tape, learn Italian, dictate your first novel).

Another common energy drain is worrying. People worry about all kinds of things: what does my manager think of me, how will I ever have the money to help my kids with college, does my frequent headache mean I have a brain tumor, what about global warming, does my child have a learning disability, how will we figure out what to do with Mother? (Sound familiar?)

The solution for worry is straightforward:

  1. Ask yourself if there is some action you need to take. If so, take that action, as soon as possible. Ask your manager how you’re doing, hire a financial planner to help you plan for college, call your doctor, join the Sierra Club and act on their legislative bulletins, talk to your child’s teacher, meet with your siblings and start figuring out what needs to happen with your Mother.
  2. IF there is no action you need to take, then focus your attention elsewhere when you find yourself worrying about this issue. Say to yourself: “There is nothing I need to DO about this right now, so there’s no point in focusing on it. I will turn my attention to . . . .” And then turn your attention elsewhere. This is simple but not necessarily easy, though it becomes easier with practice.  I promise you, this is learnable and probably nowhere near as difficult as some of the other things you’ve already learned.

I don’t mean to trivialize your worries or oversimplify potential solutions. But the bottom line is you can’t afford the luxury of dwelling on the things that drain you.  They are taxing you, personally, on a daily basis. Either get them handled, period, or let them go. It’s really a mindset. You will be surprised at how many things you can get handled when you realize how much they are costing you.

When you eliminate some energy drains from your life, it creates some breathing room. Be very careful not to just let that space be claimed by new energy drains. Use that space with conscious intention. Use it to honor whatever YOUR priorities are. Play some tennis. Take your family to a Red Sox game. Get to yoga more often. Whatever serves you.

Bottom line, your overall productivity and quality of life depend on how effectively you allocate your energy and attention. Eliminating leaks can make a big difference.

Does it seem like you could use some help with this?  I would be happy to tailor a short coaching program to meet your needs.  Contact me to schedule an initial, confidential, complimentary consultation about this and find out what you might gain from working with me.


19 November 2014

Set Limits on Your Work, Guilt-Free

Guest Post By Nora Frederickson*
Our culture often tells us to “push through the pain” or “go above and beyond” when it comes to chasing our goals. As a result of this philosophy – and, let’s not forget, our shaky economy – career professionals are working harder, putting in longer hours, and putting the rest of their lives on hold to a greater degree than ever before.

Dedication and hard work are critical for career success, but in order to sustain our efforts we need to structure our work and our lives in a way that does not drain us. “Work-life balance” sounds like a realistic concept, but it is difficult to implement because it means so many things to so many people.

As a public relations professional, I deal with frequent and extended travel, oversized egos, competing priorities, and ever-looming deadlines. It can be stimulating, but also overwhelming. I have also been a practitioner of yoga and mindfulness techniques for 12 years, and I stay sane at work by applying aspects of my practice to difficult workplace situations or decisions.

Even as a practitioner, I struggled with the concept of work-life balance for years. For me, figuring out my work-life balance wasn’t just a scheduling issue. It was a mental and emotional one. I often vacillated between feelings of inadequacy and guilt — I could have always made one more phone call — or exhaustion, after working two weekends in a row or staying late to finish a project for a client.

This year I finally began to apply basic mindfulness — a mental state where we are conscious of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations – to my job. Used repeatedly, mindfulness practices provide us with tools to set mental boundaries between our stressors and us. I’ve learned over time to translate those mental blocks into the physical boundaries that most of us think about when we think of “work-life balance”.

Mindfulness helps the practitioner to keep setbacks or challenges in perspective, maintain focus, and avoid impulsive decisions. As a result one can preserve important relationships, reduce overwhelm, and survive in a fast-paced, dysfunctional or even abusive work environment. Most importantly, it increases the amount of control you feel over your work and career.

So how can this help you, when everyone has different work-life balance needs?

Mindfulness is about finding your own answers to what your mind and body need to persevere. For me, that process starts with a series of thought experiments:

  • How does your body feel right now? Why?
  • Does it hurt?
  • Is it hungry or thirsty?
  • Is it having trouble sleeping?
  • What emotions is your mind feeling right now?
  • What kinds of thoughts are you having and why?
  • How sharp is your thinking today compared to your baseline?
  • Is there a situation at work that is bothering you? How does it make you feel? How important is it?
  • Is there a way you can mentally step back or minimize the impact of that situation?

The answers you’ve gathered will tell you what boundaries you need to respect to be most effective in your work. It might involve bringing snacks to work, learning to step back when a negative boss criticizes you, recognizing when NOT to take work home with you, or building in time with your family. It might mean looking for another job.

I can’t tell you what will work, but your body will. Acknowledging discomfort and limitations (mental or physical) can be difficult. But doing this allows you to assess what common recommendations for achieving work-life balance might actually work for you. And it allows you to reconnect to the aspects of your work that you really enjoy.

This is not always easy work. It requires compassion for yourself and the ability to recognize that as talented and driven as you are, you are still human and have needs. For many high-powered professionals, that can be a difficult truth to accept. But over time, listening to your body and setting boundaries builds the resilience needed to survive — and thrive — in your career.


*Nora Frederickson is a public relations professional living in the Boston area. She has worked for the AFL-CIO in communications and training roles since 2010 and has been a yoga and mindfulness practitioner for 12 years. Learn more about her at www.linkedin.com/pub/nora-frederickson/46/943/6b6.


8 April 2014

When You Work With Workaholics and You’re Not One

Your boss drops a project on your desk on Friday afternoon, just as you were getting ready to leave for the weekend. Your co-workers send you email at home in the evening, or work through lunch when you prefer to use the time for errands.

Trying to achieve a good work-life fit can be challenging under the best of circumstances. It can be all the more so if your manager or co-workers seem to expect you to be available at any hour of day or night. How can you preserve some boundaries — while demonstrating your commitment to your job — when you work with workaholics? Try these tips adapted from a recent Work & Family column by Sue Shellenbarger in The Wall Street Journal.

Make it a top priority to show that you work hard and are good at what you do. Let your manager see how much you contribute even if you’re not available 24/7.  Update her often on your results. And try “to figure out what the boss really needs and deliver it consistently enough” that your hours in the office — or what you do outside of it — become a non-issue, Shellenbarger suggested. When your manager knows you’re a high performer, it’s easier to set limits on things like co-workers’ after-work emails. And you won’t need to show your dedication by eating a tunafish sandwich at your computer instead of leaving the office at lunchtime.

Communicate often and well about your progress and plans. Anticipate the questions and concerns of your manager and others. You may be able to pre-empt some after-work calls or email messages, for example, by sending your boss and key co-workers quick updates before you leave work on your progress that day on projects that affect them. If you manager may drop an assignment on your desk just before you go on vacation, provide reminders of your plans in varied ways — by phone, email, and face-to-face –– in case your original message about it got buried. If you’re working on projects A and B and your manager still asks you to do project C at the last minute, ask for her help setting priorities or delegating: Can project A or B wait until you return? Can you hand one off to someone else?

Check your assumptions about what’s expected. Don’t assume that you need to maintain the work habits that others in your group or department do. Your manager and co-workers may not expect you to respond right away to email that you get at home after work — they may simply want you to have the information when you arrive at work the next day. If you’re unsure, ask. You may also be able to limit after-work communication from co-workers by setting up an auto-response for email that arrives after work — not just when you’re on vacation — saying that you’re unavailable and will respond to messages the next business day.

You’ll find more tips in Shellenbarger’s “When the Boss Works Long Hours, Must We All?


25 February 2014

Are You a Juggler, a Balancer or a Navigator of Your Responsibilities?


Squeezing Orangejuice

Back in the 1980s, Redbook billed itself a magazine for “the juggler” — the woman who juggled “marriage, career, family and home.” By 1991, it had changed its tune. The publication launched a new ad campaign that said that it wasn’t for “jugglers” but for squeezers: “women who squeeze the most out of life.” More recently, Redbook changed its language again and now bills itself as a publication for someone who is “balancing family-work-love-time for you.”

These shifts in language raise an interesting question: How do you describe yourself when you’re dealing with a lot of responsibilities in more than one area of life?

Many people speak today about aiming for “work/life balance.” But some experts have reservations about the term. The phrase “work/life balance,” they say, suggests that both of those areas will always have the same importance, or that you can achieve a perfect equilibrium between them. That’s rarely, if ever, true for any of us. We’re continually making adjustments that reflect our changing needs, priorities and responsibilities. And the most carefully orchestrated “balance” may come undone if an emergency occurs at home, at work, or elsewhere, especially if a crisis lasts for weeks or months.

 That’s why some people prefer the term “navigating work and life” or “integrating work and life” to “balancing work and life.” “Navigating” suggests that you’re steering your life in a certain direction, rather than aiming to give equal attention to all parts of. And “integrating” means that you’re bringing together its different aspects. The language you prefer is a matter of personal taste and choice.

But if you keep striving for a balance that you never seem to achieve, you might want to reframe your goal as one of smooth navigation or integration of all your responsibilities. More than striving for a complete harmony that may remain forever elusive, aiming to do your best to stay on course every day may help you, as the editors of Redbook put it, to “squeeze the most out of life.”

This post was written by Sharon Teitelbaum, Master Certified Coach, www.stcoach.com.


11 February 2014

A Caregiver in Her 20s Shares Her Story


Caregiver grocery shopping

Many of us assume that we won’t have to become caregivers for our parents until at least our 30s or 40s. Often that’s true. The average age of a caregiver is 48, according to research by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

But caregivers include many younger adults like Samantha Burkett, who describes her experiences in in the November 2013 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. In her 20s, Burkett has full responsibility for overseeing the care of her widowed mother, who had a brain aneurysm in ten years ago and lives in an assisted living facility. That adjustment hasn’t always been easy. “My mom understands why I make the decisions, but she has trouble accepting the situation,” Burkett told the magazine. “It’s frustrating when she questions my choices, like when I tell her she can’t just hop in a cab without telling anyone where she’s going.” 

As challenging as such moments can be, Burkett gained perspective on them when her mother’s doctor told her: “You need to take care of yourself, so you can take care of your mom.” Burkett began working with a counselor “who taught me how to step back when my emotions get too intense and to ask for help when I need it.”

Two other women also share their caregiving experiences in the Better Homes and Gardens article “Take Care,” and although it isn’t online, you may want to look for it at your library.  The message of their stories? For all the rocky moments it can involve, caregiving can lead to personal growth and stronger relationships with the people we love.

Bottom line: taking good care of yourself is particularly important when you are taking care of other people. 

This post was written by Sharon Teitelbaum, Master Certified Coach, www.stcoach.com.



28 January 2014

Would Work-Life Balance Be Easier If You Had a Better Job?

Finance-Career-Family Balance on Finger

“Work-life balance is the thing I struggle with the most.”
— Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations


Many of us imagine that work-life balance would be easier to achieve if we had a high-powered job. At the very least, we tell ourselves, we might find it easier to pay for child care or for help with household chores. And we might have greater control over our schedules, so that we would have more freedom to attend children’s school events or to take an ailing parent to medical appointments.

The reality is often more complex – in part, because of the added pressures of high-octane jobs. The latest evidence comes from a profile of Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a former professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, in the November, 2013 issue of Vogue.

Power has a husband who supports her work and who has a hands-on role in raising their young son and daughter. But Gayle Smith, a senior director at the National Security Council, told Vogue that Power still faces vast challenges. These include the “sheer ludicrousness” of the hours she must work in a job that involves representing the U.S. on issues such as the civil war in Syria. “I mean, how do you deal with one of the most pressing issues that may be unfolding on the planet when your kid just threw up on his playmate?” Smith asked.

In her comments to Vogue, Power showed a keen awareness of her work-life trade-offs. “The work-life balance is the thing I struggle with the most,” she said. “When this job came available, it was such an incredible opportunity to work so closely with the president. But everything’s a cost-benefit, right? And the benefits of this and the influence of this job are sufficiently great that there were more costs I was willing to take on the family side.” Even so, Power is looking ahead the end of President Obama’s term, when her son will be 8 years old and her daughter, 4 — a time when, she says, “a different kind of prioritization will kick in.”

What are the lessons in this for the rest of us? First, if you’re struggling with work-life balance, you’re not alone. Second, your work-life challenges not might ease with a new job, so it’s worth looking for solutions now. Finally, plan ahead – not just for the next 12 months but for the next few years. Power knows when she’ll be able to tweak her priorities. Do you have a plan for tweaking yours?

This post was written by Sharon Teitelbaum, Master Certified Coach, www.stcoach.com.


7 January 2014

Understanding the Emotional Needs of Someone Needing Care

“It is hard to ask those around us, even those who love us, to do things for us, intimate things, over and over again”

There are many adults whose already complex life is made more complex by caring for a disabled or infirm family member. Even when hired, trained, aid-providers are in place, many kinds of assistance still fall to family members.  

Sometimes the hardest part of being a caregiver is understanding the feelings of the person who receives care. You may see clearly the physical needs of a frail parent or a partner with a disability, such as handrails on stairs or help with activities of daily living, such as bathing and getting dressed.

The emotional needs may be harder to identify, partly because older adults and people with disabilities often hesitate to talk about their fears. But insights into some of their concerns emerge in memoirs and biographies of public figures who lived with physical or mental health conditions. And few Americans have struggled with serious illness on a wider stage than Franklin D. Roosevelt.

One day the future U.S. president was a vigorous 39-year-old swimming and playing with his children at his family’s summer home on Campobello Island. Two days later, struck by polio, he couldn’t walk. For the rest of his life, FDR could move about only with the aid of a cane, crutches, or a wheelchair, and he would need help from many kinds of caregivers.

The story of how his illness affected him inspired the new book The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency (Simon & Schuster), written by the award-winning biographer James Tobin. FDR developed polio in 1921 and, Tobin says, “brushed aside every hint of condolence” or suggestion that he had suffered “so much as a bit of hard luck.” But by quoting others of the same era, his book suggests the emotional impact of a debilitating illness. Tobin writes:

“The sense of obligation can become crushing.  ‘It’s hard to ask those around us, even those who love us, to do things for us, intimate things, over and over again,’ wrote the polio activist Lorenzo Wilson Milam. Most people, Milam observed, will not grasp the psychic cost of dependence – ‘a word so meaningless to those who can move and walk and dance … (and, most sacred of all, can jump up and move away)’ – until they lie on their deathbeds. The inability to perform an act as simple as dressing oneself reminds one of being a helpless child.”

Not everyone reacts that way to needing a lot of care. But someone who depends on you may need as much emotional as physical support. Buried feelings can lead to depression, which often goes untreated in older adults, As Tobin notes, the many effects of a devastating illness can threaten not just people’s health but their entire identity: “All of these changes — the perception of body parts as alien, the altered relations with others, the damage to self-esteem – roll together in a broad assault on one’s whole sense of self.”

 If you are a caregiver to a disabled or failing loved one, always remember that you need extra support and nourishment to be able to sustain this work. Be sure you get what you need to keep your own batteries charged so that you can do this work.




30 December 2013

Taking Stock at the End of the Year

The chances are good that if you’ve ever made New Year’s resolutions — unless you’re unusually disciplined –- you’ve broken them quickly.  Changing long-ingrained habits is often much more challenging than we expect. Research has found that about 80 percent of the people who make resolutions on Jan. 1 have abandoned them by Valentine’s Day, according to Marti Hope Gonzales, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota.

So this year you might try a new way of taking stock of your life at the end of the year. Why not make a list of things you did right in 2013 instead of what you hope to achieve in 2014? Writing down what you did well will remind you of your strengths and reinforce positive behavior that you want to continue. If you save your list, it will also give you a record of your gains from one year to the next.

Your list might include your answers to one or more of these questions about the past year:

  • What risk did you take that paid off?
  • What was the wisest thing you did?
  • What fun activity or event did you try for the first time?
  • What was the best compliment you received?
  • What did you learn about yourself?

You won’t lose ten pounds or quit smoking while you’re sitting in front of a notebook or keyboard thinking about these questions. But your answers may jog your memory about helpful steps you took last year and how you could keep moving forward in 2014. Happy New Year!


25 November 2013

Tips For Keeping Your Goals in Focus During the Holidays

On the face of it, the holidays might seem to be the worst season of the year to try to make progress on your big work-life goals. Who has the time? At home you may have gifts to buy, cards to send, meals to plan, or travel to arrange. At work, you may need to cover for a co-worker who is taking time off or to put in extra hours to finish projects you need to complete by the end of the year.

Even if you have to do all of those things and more, you may have opportunities to move forward on your work-life goals that won’t come again for another 12 months. Over the Thanksgiving holiday and the holidays that follow, you may have a chance to connect with people who are — or could become —  a vital part of a support system that will help you realize your dreams. Here are some ways to tap the opportunities:

1. Renew lapsed connections with holiday greetings. It isn’t always easy to know how to re-start the conversation with someone you’ve lost touch with – maybe a former co-worker who might have a fresh perspective on a career change you hope to make, or a childhood friend who might understand, better than anyone else, the challenges you face in caring for your mother.  At this time of year, you don’t need to do more than send a greeting card (or message via Facebook) that says: “Happy Holidays! I’ve missed you. Let’s get together in 2014.”

2. Get together with former classmates or old friends.  Some of your former classmates may know you better than many friends you’ve made in recent years. And Thanksgiving — a prime time for high school reunions — may give you a chance to re-connect. If you dislike reunions, you might try to get together with few favorite classmates or old friends for a casual brunch or dinner. Those old friends may remember and admire strengths of yours that others don’t see as clearly, and you may find it easier to talk with them than with your co-workers about your work-life concerns.

3. Harvest ideas that occur to you during the holidays. Most of us have struggled to solve a problem at home or at work, only to have a solution come to us when we took a break to focus on something else.  So you may get great ideas about how to reach a goal while you’re off work for a holiday — when you’re relaxing around a fireplace, say, or up to your elbows in flour while making cranberry bread. One key to making the most of those ideas is to capture them promptly so that they don’t get lost. You can do this with a note-taking app such as Evernote, which lets you type in your ideas or voice-record them. If you prefer to put your ideas on paper, you’ll find ideas on how to capture your notes and organize them into to-do lists in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

4. Nourish deeply.  Give yourself at least one good segment of doing something that replenishes you internally at the soul level or inner-self level.  (For some people, this actually looks like not-doing.)   Some examples: a walk in the woods, going dancing, reading a novel, kayaking with friends, time alone.  And don’t underestimate the healing power of getting enough sleep.  It’s easy to underestimate the importance of nourishing deeply, or to consider it frivolous or self-indulgent, but it’s not.  When you replenish your internal stores, you return to your “ordinary life” with greater focus and capacity than you had before.  Dedicate the time to re-charge your batteries. 

 Whether or not you’ll make big changes this season, if you keep your intentions front of mind, you’ll have a head start on reaching them in 2014. Happy Thanksgiving!



12 November 2013

Let Me Get Back To You

I heard it again today from a client – what a huge difference it made for her to say “Let me get back to you about this” instead of her habitual “Sure, great, tell me more!” It gave her the space to think about whether or not she had the leeway to take on the new thing and whether she wanted to.  She didn’t have the leeway and she didn’t want to do it.  Now she had time  to form a response.  Having this sentence in your repertoire is good for stress management.  It supports you in having a boundary between you and the incoming request.  You don’t always have to respond in the moment!

For many of us, the habit of saying yes is so ingrained and automatic that it takes enormous strength of intention and vigilance to do something different.  But oh, what a difference it makes when you do. 

Even if you do want to take on the new project (or whatever is on the table), you might need the space to check in with yourself and come back with more of a conversation, not just a yes or no.  For example, you might want to say no, you won’t chair the committee, but you’ll co-chair with someone who knows what they’re doing.

You may get some pushback to the change in behavior.  My client today said  that when she said, “Let me get back to you on that.” The other person said, “Really? I thought you’d jump at this.” So be prepared.  No need to get defensive.  You might say something like, “I’m not saying I won’t run with this.  I just need to think about what else is on my plate.  I don’t want to say yes and then not be able to deliver.”  Or handle it lightly: “Yes, well, I’m learning that I have limitations.”

People choose to institute new behavior like this when the old way (saying yes immediately) isn’t working for them at the time, for any reason.  Maybe they’re completely overcommitted already and can’t possibly take on another thing.  Maybe they’re clearing space to finish a dissertation, write an article, or train for an endurance event. They could be grieving, and they just don’t have the energy to take on anything new right now.  Maybe they can’t stand working with the person they’d be partnering with and they need some time to figure out a tactful way to tell the truth or a way to clearly say no without telling the underlying reason. 

And sometimes it makes sense to use “Let me get back to you” even when it’s not a situation of being asked to take on a task.  You may be asked your opinion about something going on in the office or the family and you haven’t really thought about it so you don’t have an opinion to share yet.  Or you’ve thought about it plenty and you have a very clear opinion but you don’t want to share it because it’s too raw and negative.  Or what you’re being asked about is really, really important to you and you want to craft just the right response. 

There are many reasons for invoking the “Let me get back to you” option, and many situations in which it’s completely appropriate.  Consider it part of your stress management and boundary-setting skill set. 

Please share your comments, questions, or experience with this.