Sunday, August 23, 2009

WE'VE MOVED!

I've had to move my blog (long story...see below). Here is the new URL:

http://www.drworklife.com/blog/

Actually the blog is still in the process of being moved...after 3 years, there is a lot to move!

Why I moved my blog

First and foremost, I would emphasize that my decision to move was not because I was dissatisfied in any way with blogger.com. Nor did I really want to move; it's a lot of work.

The problem is that many companies are now blocking everything on blogger.com as "spam." I've had many of my readers tell me they can no longer access anything on blogger. It's disrupted the way I send out my newsletters, most of which refer to my blog entries for content. There's not much point in having a blog and newsletter if people can't read it.

And I specifically want to be able to communicate with my corporate readers. Why? Because that's where I think I can have the most impact. As you know if you've read my blog, I want to help businesses see the strategic value of work-life. I believe there is real business value in creating a balanced work-life culture at work. In fact, I believe I can prove it, and I can deliver the services to companies that will create a high-performance work-life culture. But I can't very well get this message out to companies of blogger is universally blocked.

So have patience with me as I "move house" here. The new blog location will, of course, have all my new entries, and eventually will have all the old entries as well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Balance Your Way Through the Downturn

I am so tempted to gloat. But I won't (OK, maybe just a little). Instead, I will simply quote and let you draw your own conclusions.

As anyone who has seen me talk or read my blog knows, I have been arguing for years that work and life are not opposites; rather, one must have both to achieve more of either. Being too "one sided" is dangerous, and will actually drive down one's productivity. As I preach this mantra, and look into the eyes of my audience, I can see people want to believe this, yet struggle to believe it. "Isn't work supposed to be hard?" they seem to ask. "How can it be possible for me to get more done and be having a good time?"

All of which is why (and I'm really trying not to gloat here) I was jolted awake today when I read an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today, touting the dangers of being "Addicted to Success" (see link). I don't actually like the title of the article, because it implies that success is somehow a bad thing, and I vehemently oppose that notion. I think success is a good thing, but as with any good thing (like nuclear power) there are both good and bad ways to be successful. But as anyone who tries to write about "work-life balance success" knows, our language and culture make it hard to separate success from obsession. In our culture, success is only achieved through obsession. If you're not obsessed, then you are a wimp or a loser or a quitter or whatever.

So for a completely refreshing view of success, let me offer a couple of choice quotes from today's Wall Street Journal article:

The deepening recession is exacting punishment for a psychological vice that masquerades as virtue for many working people: the unmitigated identification of self with occupation, accomplishment and professional status.

Tanslated that means if you live to work, the recession is going to kick your butt. Note, too, how they call work obsession a vice. Here's another one:

Over-identification with work is one of many culprits in the epidemic of recession-related anxiety and depression that mental-health providers are reporting. But...the identity dilemma is within the individual's power to address, requiring no lender mercy or stroke of job-hunting fortune.

Translated this means even if you are a work-a-holic, the recession doesn't have to kick your butt unless you choose to let it.

So what's the cure? This was where I started to gloat:

To disassociate identity from professional status, therapists recommend taking pride in characteristics that can't be stripped away -- virtue, integrity, honesty, generosity. They also recommend investing more time and pride in relationships with family, friends and community.

And how does all this "reduction in anxiety" psych-speak impact bottom line business success? This was where I whooped out loud:

Of course, obsessive attention to work can breed success. But therapists say that adding some balance tends to help rather than hurt performance, in part by reducing pressure.


So there you go. Direct from psychologists who do this for a living: if you want to be more successful, look to balance.

Maybe I'm not crazy after all, thinking that if I balance my "life" it will actually improve my "work." Or if I am crazy, then it's a more successful kind of crazy. I'll take that any day.



Friday, February 06, 2009

Happiness is Contagious, (and Profitable?)

After having gone a whole month without a blog entry (the reason for which, in itself, is another blog entry) I now find two items, back to back, that profoundly reinforce each other and the huge value of work-life.

I just finished writing a blog entry on the financial value of kindness (see link). The gist of that entry was content from Dr. William Baker showing how leaders who are kind to their employees obtain much higher results from those employees. The unanswerable question was whether the culture of harshness we have created over the past decade or two may have had a material contribution to the financial meltdown we are all now experiencing. My recommendation was for corporate leaders to leap at the chance to offer work-life skill training to their employees now, as a remedy for getting more productivity from employees who are facing tough times ahead.

On the heels of that entry, I was checking back through my notes and found this reference to a New York Times article on happiness (see link). This study, from the Harvard Medical School, followed people for 20 years and found that happiness is much more contagious than previously thought. Some highlights from the article:
  • "Your happiness depends not just on your choices and actions, but also on the choices and actions of people you don’t even know who are one, two and three degrees removed from you" (quote from Dr. Nicholas Christakis, author of the study). Translated, that means morale matters.

  • "If your friend’s friend’s friend becomes happy, that has a bigger impact on you being happy than putting an extra $5,000 in your pocket" (quote from James Fowler, co-author of the study). Translated, keeping employees happy can be more powerful than giving them a raise (though I can't think of too many folks who would turn down a raise these days).

  • The happiness you get from others has a shelf life. The bounce you get lasts only a limited time. Translated, it's not just about making people happy once, but creating a culture where happiness is reinforced.

  • A joyful coworker did not lift the spirits of colleagues, unless they were friends. Translated, that means if you have high turnover and nobody gets to be friends with anybody else, the effects of kindness would be nullified.

And of course, as with any good study there were detractors who say the results are suggestive at best, and cannot be taken as conclusive.

So what can we prove from all this, along with the book from Dr. Baker on the positive effects of kind treatment of employees? I don't know for sure. Buy my common sense tells me some things:

  • Treating your employees like commodities can't be good. Hiding behind "globalization" as a euphemism for throwing people on the garbage heap when you think you can make a few more bucks is going to ultimately backfire.

  • Finding inexpensive ways to provide meaningful kindness to employees has a large potential to do good.

  • Whenever you find yourself in a tough spot, you need to fight the tendency to become harsh, as that will only exacerbate your problems. A little kindness will go a long way in such times.

  • Looking for tangible methods with measurable results will be your best bet. CFOs are not going to be shelling out money these days. If you feel you need a "shot in the arm" for your employees, it better be something you can measure, something that has proven results, and something that can be tested.

At Dr. WorkLife, the only types of jobs we will take are ones which (1) are tied directly to the bottom line (2) which we can test, cheaply, with a pilot, and (3) which will have a positive projected business bottom line of overall cost reductions or new revenues. Of course, I'd love for everyone to buy from Dr. WorkLife, but no matter where you go, make sure you have a way to measure what you are doing.

Because while this new study shows that, apparently, it's good to be a nice guy after all, it's better to be a nice guy who makes a difference -- and can prove it.



Kindness, Balance, and the Financial Melt Down

It continues to amaze me how many different places I find examples of work-life balance. Now I've said this before, and you all know I tend to see the world through work-life glasses, but when I find statistics that support my view I am convinced I am not simply kidding myself.

Take, for instance, the recent conversation with William Baker (on the Feb 5 Charlie Rose show) about Dr. Baker's new book "Leading with Kindness". Bill Baker, for those who do not know him, is a long time leader in public television in America. It turns out the Dr. Baker also has a Ph.D. in industrial psychology. "So what" you ask? The "so what" is that Dr. Baker's recent book explores the link between leaders who are "kind" and leaders who are "effective". The bottom line is this: you can lead people using fear, but only for a short while. Ultimately, people respond far more to kind treatment. My favorite quote from Dr. Baker was this:

People are willing to put out more than you can imagine if they feel they are being treated fairly


And again, you might say "so what?" We've heard all this before. It sounds like a lot of fluff from someone who pines for the good ol' days when we didn't have global competition. But the world is a harsh place now, right? I recently had someone who is taking a work-life class from me ask "Paul, isn't it foolish to be focusing on work-life now?"

No! It's just the opposite; now is perhaps the most important time to be focused on work-life. Let me give you just two of Dr. Bakers profound statistics (from a large survey he conducted for his book):

  • In answer to the question "I speak openly and candidly with my boss" (meaning, I tell him or her what he or she really needs to hear), for those who said they had a bully boss, 42% responded positively. But for those who had kind bosses, the 73% responded positively.

  • In answer to the question "My boss really listens to what I say" (meaning what I tell him or her gets passed up the line), for those with a bully boss, only 23% responded positively. For those with a kind boss, 84% responded positively

Now think back to the financial melt down and the number of CEOs of financial institutions who said they had no idea what was going on. It could be they really didn't know. In fact, as the statistics above prove, if you have a hard line, uncaring environment, you will not know what is going on because your employees simply will not tell you. If you are running a company you must rely on the information of the people around you. If you don't get the straight story from them, you will run your company right over the cliff.

How does all this relate to work-life? Think about our current situation. So many companies have pared down and cut back. So many employees are feeling uncertain about their lives. The air is thick with fear. More importantly, the employees who are left are your best; they are the ones you have to keep, and you are heaping more and more work on them. They must perform at their peak if your company is to survive. And as we have just seen, kindness can drive far more productivity than fear. Kindness is essential to corporate survival.

So how do you show kindness? A simple and cheap way is through work-life. And by this I am not talking about giving up any business goals. I mean just the opposite. Keep your business goals, drive your people as hard as you must, but recognize they are, in fact, people, and do something tangible to teach them specific skills to handle high demands on their time. That is a kindness that will add to the bottom line, not subtract.

Don't believe me? I dare you to try it. After all, only your entire company is at stake. And if you are driving your people with fear, how long do you think they will stay after the recovery kicks in?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

This New Year, Stay on Vacation

Some of you will think I've lost my mind when you read this. But before you commit me to the asylum, do me a favor. Give it a quick read now...and then read it again on the weekend. After that, if you still think I'm nuts you can write me off.

Everyone is, I am assuming, by now officially "back from holiday." And I'm guessing you have been back for a few days. Have you noticed the contrast? How different it feels to be back "in the work groove" versus how you felt when you were on holiday?

Sure, we all do. It's this sort of "dred" feeling. Almost like a heavy pack has been placed back on our shoulders. Vacation seemed so relaxing (a dim memory by now) whereas work doesn't feel that way.

Why? And why do we live that way?

Let me suggest that you don't. Let me suggest that you say "on vacation" every day. Wouldn't it be great? To be relaxed every day? Really enjoying yourself your whole life? Wow,
wouldn't that be amazing? To see how this is possible, let me illustrate with a story.

Before the holidays, I was running one of my work-life classes (group training). I asked the people in the class what their plans were. This happened to be a class of women, and all basically replied that their plans were to (1) clean, then (2) cook, then (3) collapse. The holidays, it seemed, were not a break, just a different kind of work. Sound familiar?

So I asked "well, what do you WANT to do on your vacation?" with the emphasis on "want." The curious thing was they had no answer. They had not really thought about that. I pressed them. I said "OK, let's think about it right now. Who wants to go first?" Silence. I the nominated someone to go first and her reply was, laughingly, "oh, please don't put me on the spot."

Isn't that interesting? I mean, here we are talking about V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N and not only were there no plans for what was "wanted", it was also hard to even think about "want to do" versus "need to do". It's as if we are not even taught how to think about what we want; everyone else always comes first.

The great thing about conversations like this is that they expose the things we all want to talk about, but don't. In this case, it's about expectations. We all have expectations for our holidays, but unless we talk about them the often remain hidden and, unfortunately, unattained. Have you ever have something you have been "meaning to do" for a while but "never get around to doing?" See what I mean?

The good news is if you do talk about your expectations -- the things you want -- it's a kind of wonderful release. Once you state them, it's like the "elephant in the room" that nobody talks about. Once stated, they are out and then can be talked about, planned for, etc.

To continue our story, once I did get everyone talking about what they wanted to do, it was a great conversation. We all came up with a few items we'd like to work in to the holiday. When I got back from holiday myself, one of the women from the class pinged me to tell me it was her best holiday ever.

What does all this have to do with staying on vacation? Well, look at it this way:
  1. Vacations should be about...well...vacation. This past holiday, how many of you planned for, and did, something you really wanted to do? I hope you did. Certainly, you have had vacations in the past where you did just that -- where the whole point was to do what you wanted.

  2. Next, how many of you realize we all get vacation every week? It's called the "week end" and even if you work on the weekends (retail) you still get days off, so don't split hairs with me on this. Every week we all get some time off. Do you use this time to actively think, and plan, for something you want to do?

  3. And if you take the analogy to its logical limit, we all have some time each day for ourselves. It may be only an hour or two, but it is there if we look for it. You can't, or shouldn't, work literally all day every day. You would quickly burn out. Even if you work a 14 hour day, you still have 2 hours of awake time (if you get 8 hours of sleep). Do you plan ahead each day for using those 2 hours for something you want to do?
In short, every day can -- and I think, should -- be a vacation day. Think about what you want to do and plan to spend some time each day pursuing it. It's called pursuing your passions (see blog entry) and as I've written about before, this kind of activity is not only fun, it has an amazingly positive impact on your work-life. Your productivity will skyrocket if you do this.

"But Paul" you say "this is nuts. Say I want to cook a gourmet meal. Are you suggesting I call in sick, take the day off to cook, and tell my boss I don't care that we are in a recession? Are you suggesting that I ignore reality for some rose-colored-glasses view of the world were everybody does whatever they feel and ignores the pressures of the real world? Who are you kidding?"

No, I am not saying that. I'm not asking you to ignore real life or thumb your nose at your boss.

But I am asking you to accept that getting what you want out of life is your responsibility. And I am also asking you to be creative. So, for example, if you want to cook a gourmet meal, then Monday you could spend an hour looking for a recipe on line, and Tuesday you could build an ingredients list in 20 minutes, and Wednesday and Thursday you could spend 30 minutes on your drive home buying the ingredients, Friday you could spend 15 minutes with your family planning when you'll take time to cook on the weekend, and by Sunday night you can be eating a fantastic meal. And none of that is disruptive. But all of it would be exciting, and would change your entire outlook -- and your productivity -- for the week.

The bottom line, folks, is that you have a choice between two options:
  • You can spend your life focused on the stuff you hate to do, where what you want to do gets worked into the remaining time, or

  • You can spend your life focused on what you want to do, and what you have to do gets worked into the remaining time.
It's all a question of focus. Where is yours? Whose life is it anyway?

I challenge you to try this. Before so much time has slipped away that you can't remember what it felt like to be "on vacation." Try staying "on vacation" every day, and see if you don't also see a spike in your productivity.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

How To Avoid Getting Your Buttons Pushed Over The Holidays

Ho, ho, ho! It's that time of year again. The time to gather with family; you know, those people who know you so well they can get under your skin quicker than nails scratching on a chalk board. These are the times, and the people, who can push your buttons, as the saying goes, and make you blow your top.

Wouldn't it be great to be able to look forward to a family gathering and know -- beyond all doubt -- that you could avoid "button pushing" entirely?

It turns out you can. The trick, ironically enough, is to look forward to the button pushing. Let me show you how it works.

It all comes down to judgment. Think about it; when someone "pushes your buttons" it's because you are feeling like you are being judged unfairly. You feel like they "don't love you," or that you're "not good enough," or that they "don't understand you." And when you are "pushing their buttons" it's because you are judging them out of a sense of frustration. They are making "that same dumb mistake they always make" or they are "being as narrow-minded as they always are" or they are "not listening to you." In every case, it comes down to judgment.

And of course, we are taught to avoid judging when at all possible. Don't judge on the basis of race. Don't judge a book by its cover. Judgment is for the Lord in his (her?) own time.

But I think it's a good idea to judge, so long as you learn the right way to judge. I call it the Rule of Judgment, and I use it to my advantage every holiday season.

I've written other blog entries on this idea before (see this one which, in fact, I wrote it last holiday season). It's worth a re-read to bone up on the details. But let me give you a simple image here that might make it easy to remember: think "The Game of Clue."

Remember that game Clue? For those who don't know the game, it is a simple detective game, where the object is to guess the value of three cards hidden in the center of the board (one is a "person", another a "room" and the last a "weapon"). Remember how you get to the end of the game and say something like "I think it was Mr. Green, in the Ballroom, with the Revolver?" If you were wrong, someone might same something like "Ha, ha! You lose! I have the Mr. Green card in my hand you dork!" This would, of course, be exactly the WRONG way to interact. It would amount to "breaking the Rule of Judgment" by putting the person on the defensive, criticizing their solution, and it might get you a tiny metal revolver chucked at you to boot.

But remember what happened if you were correct? The reaction, and the subsequent conversation, were both totally different. The game was over, because you had guessed correctly, and so now everybody was free to share all their deductions which they had been keeping to themselves during the game. People would say things like "I KNEW it was Mr. Green, because I had eliminated everybody else when Bob dropped his cards and I got a peek, but I still had two rooms to go" or they might say "how did you figure out the Revolver? I thought it had to be the Rope." In short, instead of talking about the SOLUTION, everyone talked about the DECISION PROCESS. Do you hear that difference?

That difference is THE KEY to the Rule of Judgment, and to avoiding getting your buttons pushed or, for that matter, pushing anyone else's buttons. If you can stay away from engaging in conversations about conclusions, and instead talk about the decision process, you will find every holiday conversation is much more pleasant.

Let me give you an example. Say you're talking to your 16-year-old niece, and you say "how's it going?" to which she replies "I want to get a tattoo but my parents won't let me". Now, you think tattoos are about the ugliest thing on the planet, and your immediate reaction might be to say something like "oh yeah, that will look really good on you when you are in the nursing home." And we all know how well that would go over; she'd just give you that teenager look and it would end the conversation really fast.

But even if you are adamantly opposed to tattooing in all forms, here's a better way to proceed. Think "Clue" and focus on the decision PROCESS. Say "wow, that's interesting. How did you decide you wanted to do that?" She might say "I think it's cool." And you could then say "you know, I've thought about tattoos but I always figure I might some day want to change my mind, have you ever thought about that?" And she might say "yeah, well, that's no big deal because you can get them removed if you want." And then you could say "I've heard that, but I've never actually seen anyone who had one removed. I'd be scared my skin would look terrible. Have you ever seen anyone with a tattoo removed?" And on, and on it would go, all without any "you are stupid for thinking that" entering in to the conversation.

Notice the essential quality of the conversation is completely different. Instead of judging her conclusion, you are instead engaged in a conversation about her decision process. You can remain completely opposed to tattoos, and still have an open and engaging conversation where you are seeking to understand her thinking, instead of negatively judging her as "stupid" or "immature" because she might draw a different conclusion. And who knows? By getting her to walk through her thinking, you might have far more impact on her than you would imagine. Certainly she'd remember that you respected her enough to actually consider her thought process worthy of discussion.

It also works the other way. When Uncle Bob says to you "dude, when are you going to have kids so your mom can be a grandma? She's counting on you, you know" you can resist the urge to throw your drink at him. Instead of getting defensive, you can invite him into a conversation about your decision process and diffuse all the negative judgment. You can say "well let me share my thinking with you, because I'm not sure I'm ready yet." You can then run your thoughts by him -- just like the tattoo example above -- and see how he thinks. Sure, he's going to give you the hard sell, but you can steer the conversation away from that. Instead you can continue to focus the conversation around the big questions that matter to you, things like "I've only been married for 6 months, don't I need some time to work on my marriage first?" or "everyone I know with kids is getting divorced...how do you stay focused on keeping the marriage strong after the kids come?" or "it seems impossible to be able to save enough money for college these days, how would you do it?" or whatever. Either way, you control the conversation by "playing Clue" and keeping it focused on your decision process instead of his conclusions.

Give that a try. "Play Clue" through the holidays. Have some fun respecting the differences among family members. You don't have to agree about anything to have fun enjoying the differences in how everyone thinks. We are all on the same difficult journey and nobody has all the answers. If we respect each other enough to value different ways of thinking, it smooths out the ride.

Besides, who cares if it was Mr. Green in the Ballroom with the Revolver? It's not the ultimate answer that makes Clue one of the most successful games ever. It's the fun of figuring out the answer that keeps us coming back for more.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How to Dodge the Doom and Gloom

I've been meaning to write a blog entry about a WSJ article from a month ago, by Sue Shellenbarger. It was entitled "Another Casualty from the Crisis: Family Time."

The gist of the article is, as you might expect, that the coming recession, now "officially here" (why it took a year to make it official is another whole blog entry), will put a strain on workers. That strain will come in the form of more work to go around for fewer workers which, of course, translates into longer hours. Here's a quote from the article, where Sue is quoting Jennifer Mathis:

She (Jennifer) expects instead to work harder and longer as co-workers, hard-pressed by staff cuts, look for "more from me, rather than less.

Sounds reasonable, right? Of course we are all going to have to produce more with less, right? And of course that means we are all going to have to work longer hours, right?

WRONG!

It's that last conclusion, the automatic "working harder means working longer" assumption, that makes me want to scream. It's absolutely false. You do NOT have to work longer to increase your productivity. In fact, the OPPOSITE is true. The key to sustained productivity is working SMARTER. In fact, in times of high stress you must focus MORE on your work-life balancing so you can sustain yourself -- your passion, your energy, and your enthusiasm -- over the long run.

Put it this way. Does anyone think this recession is going to be a short one? Are you already working 50-60 hour weeks now? Is anyone expecting more funding next year? Or more hiring to help with workload? No, of course not. Put those together and we are looking at the equivalent of running a marathon, folks. And would you run a marathon by starting out at a sprint?

To me, the logic is inescapable. The current conditions imply we must master work-life balancing. It's the only way to increase productivity in an environment where you know there is no more time to squeeze out of your calendar.

So how do you do that? Well, now would be a good time to review the basic principles of work-life that I've written about in this blog (see here). If you've been considering it but haven't tried it yet, now mght be a time to consider getting a copy of my book and giving it a go as your New Year's resolution (see here).

But let me emphasize one tip that you can start using right away that will guaranty "family time," whether "family" for you means time with your spouse, your kids, or your friends. It echoes what Sue points out at the end of her article about taking the time to "calendar 'family' time" to relieve stress. It's a simple formula which, if you are consistent, will really work wonders to counteract the feeling of "working all the time". I've written about it before. I call it "date nights" and it works like this:
  • First, decide whom you want to have a "date" with. Your kids, your spouse, your friends. List the "important people" to you.

  • Second, decide on having some short but regular sessions with them. Don't pick the dates quite yet, just get it into your head that what you're after here is not a "let's plan a 3-week cruise" but rather a "how can I get say an hour into my calendar a couple of times a week" with the people that matter to me.

  • Third, pick the first available time on the calendar for a "date". Don't make it a big, has-to-be-a-perfect-date thing either. Keep it easy. Just some time together doing something you like.

  • Fourth and MOST IMPORTANT -- at the end of the date ALWAYS calendar the "next date". This is critical. Always, always, always make sure that the date ritual has a "closing ceremony" of pulling out the calendar and getting the next date set. You've heard the saying "it's not over 'til the fat lady sings?" Think "it's not over 'til the next date is on the calendar." I can't emphasize this enough -- if you skip this step, it wrecks the whole thing, because you will get busy and 6 weeks will go by before you look up from your blackberry and think "wow...I haven't had a date in 6 weeks. Where did the time go?"
If you follow this simple formula, particularly step 4, and if you are consistent, you will find it has a huge de-stressing effect. Why? Because you, and the people who matter to you, will know they are always "on the calendar" no matter what, and that creates a kind of "comfort" to look forward to. It's like anything else: when you have a hard job ahead of you, like cutting the grass on a hot day where it's 95 in the shade (40 centigrade), knowing that you have a nice cold glass of lemonade to look forward to makes the job a lot easier.

Try it and see. What have you got to lose?