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Posts tagged ‘work/life integration’

All-Around Athletes

“At work we hail the person for whom science and teaching is above all else, who forgets to eat and drink while working feverously on getting the right answer, who is always there to have dinner and discussion with eager undergrads. At home we admire the parent who sacrificed everything for the sake of a better life for their children, even at great personal expense. The best scientists. The best parents. Anything less is not giving it your best.  And then I had an even more depressing epiphany. That in such a world I was destined to suck at both.”

This is an excerpt from an essay Radhika Nagpal, a Harvard Professor of Computer Science, wrote for Scientific American today.  I’m far from her situation — fighting for tenure in one of the most competitive academic fields and institutions around — but I really related to much of what she talks about.  Read more

Letting Go

A friend recently asked me what I think the toughest thing is about “having it all,” and without hesitation, my answer was “trying to have it all.”  Rather than trying to have it all, for a long time, I’ve been thinking about success as having “my all” — defining what matters most, shuffling and prioritizing time and activities to support that, and being clear and okay with whatever trade-offs need to happen because of it.  Once these priorities are set and tied up with a fancy bow (for about four seconds until they change again), they’re clarifying and guiding and empowering.  But the getting there…negotiating the trade-offs either internally or with loved ones…letting go of an idea or situation or even an identity…is messy and hard and wrought with emotion. Read more


A few years ago, I did a graduate school project focused on work/life balance, a concept I now think is much better re-framed as work/life integration.  My primary research was at a design firm, where I gave people I interviewed a stack of index cards to sort as they saw fit and then craft into a cohesive story.  The cards included words that related to the idea of work/life balance…things like: SLEEP, TIME, GROWTH, FAMILY, MONEY, CHALLENGE, CHILDCARE, SKILLS, ETC.  Everyone told a very different and equally fascinating story, but one thing really stood out in every single one: a focus on TIME.  It sounds obvious, but it’s something we don’t talk about much.  As our lives and careers evolve, the limited resource often isn’t opportunity or skill or experience or connections…it’s TIME.

The notion of time as a scarce resource comes up a lot among parents.  Actually, it comes up a lot among people.  At work, a friend recently lamented the fact that she needs to sleep for eight hours a night.  “I could get so much more done in a day if I didn’t need to sleep so much.” (WHAT?!?!) A new dad told me a few months ago, “I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to stay ahead now that I have a huge responsibility outside of work.  I used to be able to outwork people (work more/longer), and I can’t do that anymore…nor do I want to.”  Executives complain about not having enough white space to think.  And when I talk to friends about health + wellness, the response is often “I wish I had more time to cook…exercise…go on dates…etc,” but I just don’t have any TIME.

There is a lot of truth in this.  Time is a limiter (I’ve been having one of those “I HAVE NO TIME” weeks), but there are things we can do to make it feel a bit less scarce.  We can organize around impact, we can schedule in some “unmoments,” we can be proactive about spending time on the things and people that matter most to us, and we can look to others for  ideas.  I recently saw two examples of how people are scheduling their days to optimize their time, and I thought I’d share them for inspiration:

via The Daily Muse

via The Daily Muse

by amber rae, via fast company

by amber rae, via fast company

Oh yeah, and not to be underestimated…we can be easy on ourselves and simply pat ourselves on the back for what we DO get done, and not what we DON’T.

Do you feel stressed about time, or are you at peace with how much time you have to do the things you want/need to get done?  What do you do to make sure you’re spending your precious hours on things that matter to you?  

Work Friends Matter

field of rapeseed and clouds

I had lunch with a friend at work today.  Not just a co-worker…a friend.  We sat at a sushi bar and talked about our lives and batted around work ideas in a way that we could have done whether we worked together or not.  When we got up to leave, I felt better about life, I felt better about work, and I even felt better about the world.  I felt more connected, and I felt more like myself.

This brief lunch reinforced Gallup’s research — “having a best friend at work” matters (note: “best” is used here a way to differentiate, not necessarily connoting what we think of as a “best friend”).  Gallup talks about why it matters in the context of engagement + productivity at work, but from a personal perspective, I think it’s important to think about how much it matters in terms of our emotional well-being.  Spending as much time at work as we do in today’s world, having a friend — or lots of friends — at work makes it easier to be our true, authentic selves.  It makes it easier for us to show the highs and the lows…to share what’s working and what’s not…to give open and honest feedback…and to stay emotionally connected to a company and a culture.

So I end this week grateful…to live in a world where as life and work are blending, friendship connects the two.

Do you have a great friend at work, and how has it changed your work…and your life?

Trusting Our Guts

photo(18)This morning was one of those mornings when I felt like I’d run a marathon before I even left the house.  Jolted out of a dream at 6am by the sound of two sets of feet running full tilt into the bedroom, I went through the usual motions – brew coffee, give breakfast options, cook breakfast, start making lunches, set table, serve breakfast (my kids are still too little to make their own breakfast).  As soon as two steaming bowls of oatmeal were on the table, a three-alarm tantrum began.  “I don’t want oatmeal…I want eggs!  I want eggs!  I want eggs!  I know I didn’t say it, but I want eggs.  I WANT EGGGGSSSSS!”  This went on for twenty solid minutes, at which point my son finally bellied up to the table and said he’d finish his (then cold) oatmeal if I’d make him some eggs once his bowl was empty.  Impressed by his problem solving, I conceded, knowing that I had 25 minutes to shower, get dressed, get them dressed, finish the lunches, get my work stuff together, COOK EGGS, and get out the door.  Needless to say, I’m lucky my clothes matched.

The day progressed at a similar pace – albeit with rational grown-ups, not tantrum-y kids — until my meetings ended at 2pm.  My brain was tired from work and my heart was still unshakably heavy from the seemingly endless morning tantrum, and I knew I needed a re-set in order to make the rest of the day productive.  So I gave myself one.  I laced up my running shoes and headed out of the office for a 40-minute loop in the sunshine.  Transported by Pandora’s “Dance Cardio” station, my frustration quickly faded away, opening up space for new energy and fresh thinking.  After just a few minutes of running, I was able to focus on what I needed to do in the afternoon.  As my stride evened out, my perspective shifted, and I returned back to my afternoon workload in a much brighter place.

I bring this up because although I write a lot about (and wholeheartedly believe in) planning and thinking ahead and optimizing and being proactive, the reality of life is that gut feelings…reactions…instincts often trump all of those things.  Structure and guardrails and commitments are there to guide us and remind us of what matters most and how we want to live.  They’re there to push us to do things like wake up in the dark to squeeze in a workout or clean our veggies on Sunday so we don’t eat cheese and crackers for dinner every night.  But life doesn’t always go according to plan, and spontaneous decisions are sometimes the best way to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves in the moment.

Today trusting my gut meant taking a run in the middle of a busy workday when the rational side of me would have said “you don’t have time.”  Other days it means ordering take-out because I would rather spend time with my kids than cook.  And sometimes it means letting my kids play on their own because I need to talk to my best friend on the phone.  Being able to trust our guts and act on what they’re telling us takes practice and a few “wins” to show us that it paid off.  Today’s run was one of my wins.

How do you make in-the-moment trade-offs that help you take care of yourself?  When have you succeeded?  Have these trade-offs ever backfired?

Orienting (Your To-Do List and Your Life) Around Impact

photo by rebecca siegel, via flickr creative commons

photo by rebecca siegel, via flickr creative commons

I have extraordinarily clear memories of the first few months in my first job out of college.  Lots of things stick out; to name a few: eating oatmeal and drinking a cup of watery Keurig coffee every single morning because it was free at the office…my first-ever office holiday party (James Bond themed with casino tables and everything)…recording my voicemail message like 15 times until I thought it sounded even remotely professional.

But one of things I remember most was my dysfunctional relationship with my to-do list.  I was terrified to leave work without checking everything off.  I can picture the list now…three things left on it…staring at me at 6pm when all I wanted to do was go to boxing class.  Inevitably, I’d either stay to finish them or show up super early the next morning to have them done before the day started.  The feeling of being productive didn’t outweigh the constant nagging that I wasn’t getting to do the things outside of work that I wanted to do.

At some point, however, I realized that I didn’t need to finish everything on the list every day.  It was OK to start the day with a dirty slate; the real challenge was in choosing the right things to knock off the list every day.  Thank goodness I (sort of) figured out what I could leave unfinished versus what I couldn’t before life became complicated (and beautified) by hobbies and new friends and a husband and children.  Figuring this out is an art, not a science; and I’ve played around with a few different ways to manage my to-do list: doing the hardest things first thing, doing the things I love before everything else, organizing by deadline, and organizing by impact.  My most recent lens has been impact.  I think it’s something people should talk more about, and I wish it’s something I would have thought about earlier in life.


Why impact?  Here are five reasons:

  1. Impact requires us to think about the broader context in which we’re living/working.  It requires some level of connection to the people, places and things around us.  It forces us to think beyond what makes us happy and dig into what gives us meaning.
  2. Impact doesn’t need to be tied to hours.  Sometimes it is, but it’s possible to make a huge impact in a very short amount of time.  I’d love to see more companies orient around impact versus time.
  3. Impact makes trade-offs easier.  It’s easier to give something up in service of getting something done if you have a good understanding of the scope of the outcome.
  4. Impact gets noticed.  Yes, it’s critical to praise the process (especially with kids), but at the end of the day, people impact does matter.
  5. Impact feels good.  It’s bigger than just you.  It can change a mindset.  It can change a life.  It can even change the world.

So how does this work?  Well, here’s how it works for me:

  • I’m clear about the things I want to impact in my life.  For me, some of these include my family’s happiness, my children’s sense of self, people’s overall well-being, the way organizations support personal growth and work/life integration, what the future of work might look like.
  • Every week, I think about what I’m going to focus on most.  I then ask myself why each of those areas/items matters, and based on those responses, I prioritize my list and my time.
  • I then think about what I need to do to make those things happen (i.e., Do I need workouts to give me energy?  Do I have little mundane tasks that are distracting me enough that I should knock them off too?), and i add those to the list.
  • I make a list of “must do” items and keep my list of “would be great to get these things done” items.  I try hard to not touch the second list until I finish what’s on the first.

Orienting around impact isn’t easy.  It’s muddy and imperfect, and it can sometimes create meaning/fulfillment but not necessarily in-the-moment happiness.  But it’s one of the many tools we have in our toolkit as we move through life.  And it’s one that is helping me navigate the trade-offs I make every day and every week.

What works best for you?  How do you organize the things you need to get done (and are lucky enough to have any choice about) every day?

Having MY All

I read a Pando Daily blog post a few weeks ago that really resonated.  It was about one of the media’s favorite topics these days – Sheryl Sandberg’s release of Lean In and launch of (don’t worry, this isn’t about the raging debate about women in the workplace, I promise).  Among other great arguments, in a funny and direct and real way, author and entrepreneur Sarah Lacy doles out her own advice to young women trying to figure it all out: “don’t listen too much to any advice.”  She makes the refreshing point that each of us has a different life.  Our VERY OWN TOTALLY UNIQUE life.  We have different skills and different financial situations and different partners and different children and different challenges and different successes and different needs and different priorities.  “Having it all” does not mean the same thing to every woman (how could it? we’re not robots), so maybe the most important question to focus on is what it means for each of us to “have it all,” and what we need to do to make that happen. Read more

Working Workouts into Busy Lives

In response to yesterday’s post about the need for parenting resources for the grown-up/grown-up relationships, not just grown-up/kid relationships, a few people reached out to me saying “Yes, of course parents need to take care of ourselves.  But how do we actually do it?  How do we make changes in our days and our lives that help us take better care of ourselves and our relationships?”  They’re right — the preaching is the easy part and the practice is the hard part.  For parents and for anyone else with “projects” that demand a lot of time (avid surfers, musicians, artists, volunteers, elder caregivers, etc), figuring out how to keep the self-care and relationship development pieces on the burner at all when the stovetop is really full is tough and individual, requiring thinking and intention and commitment.

I’m using this blog as a formal exploration of my quest to do this, and as I’ve been “living out loud,” I’ve become more conscious of trade-offs and more creative about working the things I need most into my days and life.  For example, in my wellfesto, I committed to “exercise as much as my time and body allow…”  How beautifully vague, right?  But this simple statement has helped me frame the role of exercise in my life from “must-run-10-miles-every-morning” to “how much time do I have for exercise and how does my body feel today?”  This simple shift has helped me let go of the rigidity that brings with it self-doubt and frustration, while reminding me that this is a top priority in my life and something I need in order to feel like myself.  Yes, a 10-mile run at 8am is still my preference, but on days when my body or schedule make that difficult, I’m OK with other, “more integrated” options.  Here are some of them:

  • Having a 15-minute dance party (including jumping, handstands, etc) with my kids after breakfast and before school/work
  • Doing walking (personal and work) meetings (you can get miles in every day just doing this)
  • Biking to and from work
  • Prioritizing a quick lunchtime workout (tabata is super efficient)
  • Jumping rope (calories burned and “high” to time ratio is incredible)
  • Simple circuit of push-ups, tricep dips, sit-ups in the morning and at night

Oh yeah, and just to add fuel to the current work-from-home fire Marissa Mayer has started, working from home is a huge help in integrating workouts (headstands in conference rooms are awkward and multiple showers per day are a waste of time and water)!  For more about this and how to integrate exercise and work, check out my earlier post on this topic.

How do you work workouts into busy days?  And how do you ensure you prioritize them on not-as-busy days?  Do you like coupling workouts with other things (work, kids, etc), or do you like them to stand on their own?

Lunchtime, Not Screentime

photo by steven lilley, via flickr creative commons

photo by steven lilley, via flickr creative commons

Did you eat lunch at your desk today?  I did, and most likely, so did 62% of Americans.  And to make matters worse, I wasn’t sitting at my desk reading love poems or the styles section or a novel or anything fun and distracting…I was staring at a screen.  I was typing.  I might have even had Microsoft Excel open.  And to make matters even worse, it’s a beautiful, sunny day outside.

Believe me, I didn’t wake up this morning thinking I’d eat lunch at my desk…it just sort of happened.  I didn’t have a lunch date and I wanted to carve out some time to get a workout in later in the day, so I plunked into my chair and mindlessly shoveled curry into my mouth in front of my computer screen, half focused on work and half focused on my curry.  Twenty minutes later, I hadn’t gotten much work done and I couldn’t recollect how the curry smelled or tasted.

The same truth I experience every single time I do it was reinforced yet again — eating lunch at my desk isn’t worth it.  It never has been, and I don’t believe it ever will be.  So why do I keep doing it — especially considering I’m now spending time each day writing a wellness blog (which I’ve also admittedly written during lunch in the past) and should know better?  I think it’s driven by an old way of thinking about productivity — the one in which minutes count more than effort and killing two birds with one stone is better than focusing on just one thing.  After all, that’s the way we grew up — looking around, more/faster seemed to trump smarter/better.

But our world is different now.  People value working smarter and better, doing things differently than in the past, and measuring impact instead of time.  Productivity gurus like Tony Schwartz (The Energy Project) espouse the importance of taking breaks.  Famous people like Arianna Huffington talk about the body’s need to restore (at Wisdom 2.0 she used the metaphor of the gazelle..running…resting…running…resting…running…resting).  And companies are (slowly) learning that it’s important to think about both short-term productivity and long-term sustainability.

So the good news is that we’re in a new era of working smarter and better; but the bad news is that old habits and mental models die hard.  We still eat at our desks thinking that it will make it easier or us to leave early or squeeze more into the day.  So what’s it going to take to change this habit?  Steering clear of the broader topic of habit change (future post) and staying focused on this one little shift (eating lunch at my desk), here are a few ways I’m actively trying to avoid falling into this routine: Read more

Life Design: The Shady Ladies

photo by gollygforce via flickr creative commons

photo by gollygforce via flickr creative commons

Sean always laughs when he sees “Shady Ladies” written on the calendar, but he doesn’t dare schedule anything that conflicts.  “Shady Ladies” (long story re: the name) is code for a dinner I have with two friends every 4-6 weeks.  These meetings initially started in an attempt to create a community of practice among four of us (one has since moved to Chicago) with similar professional pursuits.  I would still call this a community of practice (work is still definitely a core topic), but it’s evolved beyond that into something even more meaningful: a time to talk (and give each other feedback) about the way we’re designing our lives. Read more

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