by Denise Berger
I recently attended my college reunion. I won’t say which one. Suffice to say, it was not my 5th or the 10th! Naturally, this event caused me to reflect on my younger days and, in particular, those where I was fresh in the workforce and life seemed…well, it was…simpler. Work-life balance wasn’t even a topic, let alone on my mind! We moved more effortlessly between work and leisure, even if the work hours were the same or longer. Was it because I was younger? Was it because I was single with no responsibilities? Was it because I didn’t have children or pets? Maybe it was because work moved at a slower pace and there were time grants given every day – for the slow mail, the slow fax machine, the slow computer, the telex, the MAIL. Back in that day, there was no email, there were no cell phones (shocking), there was no internet or online shopping or banking, and we shared - - that’s right - - shared computers for our work… graciously! We took time to hand-write faxes and send them out one-by-one on the fax machine to places all over the world. Communicating via fax with France or Japan was considered advanced!
We certainly know how quickly we have evolved and life has a new frame of reference, the age of technology, which causes us to think about how we allocate our 24 precious hours in each day and achieve that work-life balance. It is getting harder and harder to “live in the moment” with just-in-time demands around the corner, a laptop full of “fix-n-finish” work, and the pressures of the economy looming. Who can even think about work-life balance at a time like this?? In fact, nowadays it is more about work-life integration, as Rebecca Shambaugh points out. Hopefully, we learn to blur the lines between work and home gracefully so that we can achieve harmony. It simply is the modern imperative. The cell phones and the blackberries and the iphones are here to stay, but we can accept, perhaps embrace, them and learn to “live” around the demands that they naturally impose. What can we do to keep our lives in perspective? As I discussed on Martha Stewart’s Whole Living radio show recently, stress creeps into our lives if we do not consciously manage it. Here is my “Top 10” to maintaining inner balance. We might not always get it right, but by putting these in practice, we can all achieve better work-life integration and keep stress at bay.
10. Just breathe… deeply. That’s right. Research has shown that short, quick breaths that emphasize inhalation trigger the “fight or flight” response in your body, which naturally elevates stress hormones. Instead, deep breaths, particularly exhalation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which lowers heart rate and blood pressure, cleanses the lymph system to get rid of toxins, and ultimately leads to lower stress. Seem weird that it is that simple?
9. Activate the brain. You’ve heard of left-brain/right-brain, and that the left side is responsible for analytical/linear thinking while the right side processes the creative and intuitive aspects. Try to do certain tasks with the opposite hand from what you are accustomed.
8. Clear your head. Feeling overwhelmed? Take a walk around the block. Unlike a strenuous work-out that pulls oxygen to your muscles, walking increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
7. Engage in physical activity. It goes without saying that physical activity is beneficial, but what if you just don’t have the time to workout? Everything you read says that you should do something active for at least 30 minutes, 4-5 times per week. I don’t know about you but I get stressed thinking about how to accomplish that goal. Instead, try to stretch for 10 minutes every day. There are numerous exercises that you can do at your desk. Try to do something physical for 30 minutes two times per week – walk around the block, if nothing else! And get a 60-minute work-out in, even if just once a week.
6. Know and accept your personality nuances. Some of us are early birds; some of us are night owls. Many of us like to ease into our day with a cup of coffee and do solitary work (like check emails); others like to dive right in and tackle their most challenging assignment for the day. Rather than follow a hard and fast rule such as “never check your emails first,” learn what works best for you and plan you day, your work, your life according to these preferences – so long as you don’t procrastinate the tasks right out of your schedule, which brings me to the next point.
5. Have a system to control time. Whether you are a linear thinker or derive your plans in a circuitous way, everyone needs some type of calendar/scheduling system. In the process of planning work and personal to do’s, learn how long it takes you to complete projects. It may take you an hour to complete a spreadsheet that it takes someone else only 30 minutes to do. Plan accordingly. If grocery shopping takes 30 minutes but it takes another 15 minutes to drive there and back and another 15 minutes to unload, plan for an hour window for the grocery “to do”, not just the 30 minutes of shopping time. Finally, don’t schedule every hour of the day; there should be unallocated time to be able to meet the unknown challenges that naturally creep into our days.
4. Feed your soul. Ways to do this: stay connected to your passions; maintain grace under pressure by staying in the moment and taking one day at a time when the pressure of thinking ahead gets to be overwhelming; applaud others’ successes; share your knowledge; have a mentor; be a mentor; find the life lesson in everything you do; and go outside of your comfort zone.
3. Laugh. Stress can decrease your blood flow by 35%, but laughing (at least 15 minutes per day) can increase blood flow by 20%. More blood flow results in an increase in attentiveness (more oxygen to the brain), decreases the stress hormone and – a bonus, gives your mid-section a workout and burns calories.
2. Get enough sleep. Research shows that sleep deprivation is dangerous: it can impair your ability to think clearly and make sound decisions; it weakens the immune system; it adversely affects weight control; and, it reduces eye-hand coordination thereby increasing the risk of accidents.
1. Establish priorities. Accept that you can’t do it all, all the time, for your whole life. Be selective about your engagements, table some interests and re-evaluate regularly. Practice saying, “not now” and setting expectations. In so doing, you take on a more reasonable and increase the chances that you will actually deliver - and be fulfilled - by that in which you are engaged.
Work-life integration is not about perfection and it is not about always being at peace. It is about finding a rhythm that is satisfying - - most of the time.