Monday, September 27, 2010

Work-Life Balance: But I Work at Home

You get to work at home. Good for you. And yes, working from home has its special challenges. From the annals of my practice these include, but are probably not limited to those that follow. The particular solutions are different for everyone but a few basic principles help.

Routines, time and scheduling. One of the joys of working from home is that you often don’t have to adhere to a strict routine. Wonderful, if that works for you. If you have trouble with the amount of time you’re spending, difficulty getting started, or trouble stopping when you need to, a routine may be in order. Some people need to get up, get dressed and eat breakfast (just want to make sure you’re paying attention; everyone should be eating breakfast) at the same time daily in order to feel ready to work. Scheduling breaks, snacks and the time you’ll end are also necessary if doing these things doesn’t come naturally.

Non-work activities. Doing housework, chores and eating are the typical things that bleed into work time at home. You wouldn’t have an opportunity to do housework at the office, so sticking to that limit when you work from home makes sense. Running out to get the dry cleaning and eating fall in the same category; if you worked from an office you’d have to do these things during breaks.

Housemates and work time/space. Kids come in while you’re working for help with homework and partners expect you to handle every emergency because you’re not in the office. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. It’s fine to handle the occasional emergency because you can, but setting the expectations that you cannot be available for every single repair person is necessary, unless this is part of your deal with your partner. If your kids are home during part of your work time, you need a Do Not Disturb sign on your door. You do have a door right?

Workspace. You’ve got to have a comfortable, private workspace. Think about what helps you feel comfortable and facilitates concentration. Windows? Fish? Family photos? Good phone and computer set-up? Lava lamp? Take the time and money to set up your space. No door? Get a screen and deem it a door.

Intellectual stimulation. You can get stuck in your thinking or feel out of touch because you work alone. Schedule lunches, coffee breaks or Skype meetings regularly with people who help you stretch and challenge your ideas. Attend conferences or other professional meetings if you don’t have an office to connect with.

Try a few things that seem workable for you and be creative. Savor your freedom.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sounds of Silence

I find the protests of people who don’t practice relaxation, meditation or any other similar activity interesting. I CAN’T JUST SIT AND BREATHE, they say. I have to be DOING something, they say. This often comes from people who complain of a lot of worry and anxiety. I’m here to say that mastering silence is something worth practicing. There are many benefits of silence, evidence of which comes (loosely) from the relaxation and meditation research. Benefits include:

Thinking. A chattering mind interferes with clear thought. Intuition speaks to us out of our silence. As a result, silence allows for creative thought.

Communicating. Silence allows us to listen to ourselves and others. In listening better we become better communicators. Discomfort with silence leads to idle chatter. Comfort with silence allows us to speak only what is important. Intimacy requires few words.

Being. Silence allows us to just be instead of always having to do. Silence allows us to let go of unfinished business. As in sleep, in silence we are able to work things out and let go. Silence is energizing in its ability to renew, while also reducing anxiety.

Experiment with a little silence. Try: silent meals (no radio, phone, tv, talk), silent work (no radio, phone, etc.), silent workouts (no…noise). See how it goes. You might find it as addictive as talk.

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. Sounds of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Work-Life Balance: Leaving Work at Work

I know there’s no simple solution to the work-life balance issue. One thing I’ve been talking with clients about a lot lately is leaving work at work.

I know, I know. You can’t, you can’t. Because:

Excuse No. 1. You own your own business. It’s 24/7. Okay. I also own my own business. It can be 24/7, but there are things I can control that make it more like 10/7. Maybe even 10/6.

Excuse No. 2. It’s dog-eat-dog out there. I have to impress my boss by being available 24/7…Okay. I’ve also worked for others. It can be 24/7, but there are ways to make it more like 10/6.

Excuse No. 3. I’m never going to achieve the fame, glory, money, [fill in the blank], unless I crank away 24/7…Okay, I want fame, glory and money too…well, maybe not so much anymore. But ask yourself: will it make you happy?

Not one to bring up problems without solutions, here are my suggestions:

Decompress before you walk in the door. In the car, on the train or even just before you walk out of the office or into the house, take a few minutes to clear you mind. Consider what you have to leave behind and give yourself permission to do so. Write down what needs to be handled first thing in the morning if necessary. Then consider what you’re walking into. Set an intention to focus on your family, yourself, your dog, or whatever it is you’re coming home to. Make your intention more specific if you have to (e.g., I will try not to yell at the kids; I will try to really listen to my partner).

Leave the crackberry, iPhone, or whatever, charging somewhere else when you’re engaged with your family, relaxing/meditating/ running, eating, watching a DVD, etc. No home phone? I bet friends and family have their own ring. You can still screen calls. On call? On call is on call, but it’s probably not 24/7. And if it is and you get a lot of calls, maybe it’s time for a screening service or time to negotiate a change with the boss.

Check your email at specific times, i.e., not constantly. How many things cannot wait a few hours? And if there’s something pending that’s important, I’m sure you’ll know about it and can apologize in advance to your significant others. But that ought to be relatively rare.

Do not text while engaged with your family, relaxing/ meditating…you get the idea.

Engage with people at home and try to focus and really connect. Leaving work at work helps us do this. If you need to vent about something at work, do it. Then shift the focus back to home.

About that fame and fortune, you’ve got to ask if it’s really going to make you happy. Will you feel fulfilled if you make more money this year? Will life have more meaning if you’re more famous next year? Will your health be better? Will you be more content? Where are you really going with all this work?

Money Changes Everything, Cyndi Lauper. Or does it?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chocoholics Unite and Get Healthy!

I am an unabashed chocoholic. That being said, chocolate, red wine, health foods? Really? I can certainly agree that most things in moderation are probably fine. Similarly, most things in excess are probably not so good. I’d also have to argue that quick fixes (think crash diets) are usually bogus. Long-term lifestyle changes are the only really credible way to go.

I’m not saying there are not health benefits to various foods that might otherwise be considered problematic. But seriously, “Leafy green vegetables, folate, and some multivitamins could serve as protective factors against lung cancer.” Who are we kidding here? Wouldn’t quitting smoking be the obvious strategy to reduce the risk of lung cancer?

There are many ways to get fit, diet and reduce stress. They take commitment, hard work and a touch of creativity. Another ingredient is to try to make it fun. You don’t have to run, eat celery or meditate. But I challenge you to figure out what you would enjoy and what might be fun (learning to tango, kickboxing, tai chi, macrobiotics?). Then give it a try. Find out what works for you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Set Intentions Mindfully

The practice of mindfulness often refers to intentions. For example, I’m working on my meditation practice, so I start the week with an intention to mediate earlier in the day. Is that different than my intention to go to the supermarket after work? Is it the same as my intention not to yell at my child? How does the intention affect my behavior? Is it even worth setting an intention?

There’s evidence that setting an intention and making it public do help with behavior change. You set your quit date (cigarettes, chocolate cake, whatever your poison) and start telling people and it improves your outcome. Intentions are good for all sorts of changes we desire. Think about what you’d like to be doing differently and consider how you might set an intention for yourself.

A few suggestions on intentions.

* Becoming aware our intentions is a start. Although I wanted to write a blog for the past week, I did not set a specific intention to do so until today. Think about it. Do you ever do anything without first intending to? If you do, I challenge you to go back and try to identify whether there was really a little bit of an intention, even if unacknowledged. If you really can’t identify your intention, that’s okay, you can set an intention to notice your intentions. No, I’m not kidding. And you can always just go on to the next step, which is setting an intention.

* Make a conscious choice about your intention. What is it you want? And how do you intend to get it? Do you want to notice every time you go into the kitchen to get something to eat and ask yourself the 3 mindful eating questions? Do you want to stop yelling at your kids and become more mindful? Do you want to get your expenses handed in on time?

* Remind yourself about the intention. How will you do it? You can write down your intention for the day or week in a lovely journal. That’s great, but if you do be sure to decide when you’ll refer to that lovely journal, lest it just gather dust on the shelf with your other new year’s resolutions. You can leave yourself little sticky notes in prominent places to remind you. You can set your phone to remind you. You get the idea.

* Continuing the work without judgment. In other words, work on your intention, notice if you’re sticking to it, but don’t start telling yourself your bad, lazy or a slacker if you don’t get it done as often as you’d like. Just notice, and remind yourself again of what the intention is. Keep at it.