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balance

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Balance Isn’t Something You Have, It’s Something You Do

768 1024 Caroline Flanagan

Balance

“Better work-life balance this year,” said my friend Hannah when I asked about her New Year’s resolutions in January. “Last year was too manic and out of control. I spent the whole year rushing from one thing to the next and it was just exhausting”.

Hannah is not the only one I know looking for better work-life balance this year. “No time to think” and “Life is flying by too quickly” were common phrases on the lips of friends, family and clients throughout last December. Does it resonate with you?

The winter months don’t help, do they? You can’t escape the darkness! Dark and foggy when you leave the house in the morning, dark and rainy when you come home in the evening, and every moment in between spent in the office. It’s hard to feel that your life is well balanced in these conditions.

So whether you’re suffering from the winter blues or still feeling hung over after an exhausting 2015, here are my top tips for getting better balance this year:

1. Treat balance as an action, not an objective
Most people I know talk about balance as something they want to attain, a state they want to reach. When you do this you are short-changing yourself. It means that anything less than a perfectly segmented life divided between equal hours spent working, sleeping, having fun, socialising, relaxing etc., will make you feel as though you are out of balance. As long as ‘work’ is the dominant activity on your list, leaving you less time to spend on your ‘life’ activities, you’ll feel a constant sense of imbalance.

All of this changes when you view balance as an action. In other words, something that you do each day to ensure your life is on the right track and to help you correct your course when it’s not. For example, if you have had a horrendous few weeks working long hours, instead of focusing on how little time you have left for your life stuff, you…

2. Get up an hour earlier
You may not like the sound of this if you feel forever sleep deprived and struggle out of bed every morning, but I assure you from past experience, and the experience of my clients, how effective this can be. The hour before your day typically starts is the one part of your day that you have control over. Every other part of the day is open season for everybody and everything else. Train yourself to get up earlier by starting slowly, and dedicating that time to you, just you and only you. No email, no work. Spend it thinking, meditating, writing a diary or just reading something of interest. In my experience this one hour of quiet time each day spent focusing on myself – what’s working well, what isn’t, what I want to change or do better and who I really care about – has had a greater impact on my work-life balance than any other work-life balance strategy I’ve tried.

3. Declutter
Not the most obvious work-life balance strategy, but it works. When you are surrounded by clutter and stuff, not only does it create a sense of overwhelm and constant busyness, it eats up your time. When your environment (your work desk, your home) is organised, you can find things more easily and focus more effectively, instead of wasting time and energy looking for things you can’t find and feeling as though everything is out of control. Both of these make you more efficient, and with efficiency comes freedom.

 

BalanceIsLife

4. Say no to friends

Yes, that’s right, friends. Now, I know this sounds like a crazy and counter-intuitive way of trying to get better balance. After all, I hear you ask, isn’t the quest for better work-life balance about having more time for friends? Yes, exactly. But most people have too many friends. By which I mean more friends than they have any hope of building or sustaining quality relationships with. But instead of admitting this to ourselves we put everyone we know and are friendly with into one box labelled “Friends” and spend our limited time spreading ourselves thinly between them. This approach will never help you to feel you have a good work life balance. What you need is to be fiercely selective about which friendships you want to nurture and dedicate to them decent chunks of your quality time. So grab a pen and write down your top 3 most important friends (your VIFs) and make them your absolute priority this year. Say no to invitations from everyone else. NB: You are not giving up on your other friendships, you are simply prioritising those which are most important this year.

5. Say no to extended family
See 4 above.

6. Make regular adjustments
It’s a subject I come back to with clients over and over again, and which I cover in my book, Baby Proof Your Career. Successful living doesn’t mean choosing a straight and narrow path and always staying on it; it means choosing a path and when (rather than if) you stray from it, using the skills and resources you have at your disposal to get yourself back on track. Getting yourself back on track can mean anything from checking you are on the right path in the first place (does it align with your values? Are you chasing the right dream?) to making minor adjustments in your schedule that improve your quality of life. When it comes to getting better balance, these minor adjustments are key. For example, when your diary is full to brimming and your work load is spiralling out of control, it may be time to cancel all non-urgent commitments and/or improve your delegation skills. When you feel it’s impossible to fit exercise into your routine, it may be time to re-evaluate how you exercise and when – if going to the gym at lunchtime doesn’t work, then perhaps it needs to be a run before work.

7. Question your assumptions
My work as a Coach is all about questions, and the question that usually brings the greatest revelation is: What are you assuming? When you feel your life is out of balance and you’re stuck for a solution, this question will bear all kinds of fruit. Are you making assumptions about how you will be judged if you leave the office early? About what others expect of you? About what is acceptable? About what it means to have work-life balance?

Which of these tips will you adopt this year, in your quest for better balance? If you’ve got any questions or would like to talk about how you can improve your balance, then please get in touch.

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Balance is a Mindset

1024 682 Caroline Flanagan

balance

If you want to achieve the right balance between your life and career, you have to know what “balance” really means to you and you have to believe that it is possible, regardless of the hours you work and the job you do.

In this extract from the book, Baby Proof Your Career: The Secret To Balancing Work and Family So You Can Enjoy It All(adapted for this blog), I talk about the importance of mindset to having it all. You could just as easily substitute the words “having it all” for the words “achieving balance”. For me they are one and the same thing.

Your Secret Weapon

Women who are successfully balancing a career and a family have a secret weapon: they believe. They believe it can be done, and they believe they are the ones who can do it. It doesn’t make them immune to guilt or overwhelm or any of the other Five Pitfalls of Working Parenthood. It simply means that when they meet a pitfall, they believe they can get past it. This belief is the most powerful resource they have.

Don’t tell yourself you can’t have it all

In the quest to achieve balance, your attitude and mindset are crucial. They are responsible for the thoughts in your head that determine how you feel and what you do. Tell yourself you can’t have it all, and guess what? Your chances of doing so are slim to nonexistent. You’ll be so busy proving yourself right you won’t even scrape the surface of the resources at your disposal to overcome challenges and seize the opportunities to get you there.

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It’s time to put your doubts to rest

Most people are resistant to the idea that they have the power to direct their lives and influence the course of events. It’s so much easier to agree with those who say it can’t be done, look around at circumstances you can’t control that seem to be preventing you from getting what you want and tell yourself it wasn’t meant to be. If you’ve picked up this book the chances are you’ll be battling with this very issue. You want to believe, but you have doubts. They may seem like reasonable doubts to have, but they are doubts that will hold you back every step of the way. It’s time to put those doubts to rest.

A lost role model

British investment fund manager and mother Nicola Horlick was the original superwoman when I was growing up. My earliest impressions of career mothers juggling and having it all revolved around her. I always considered her a great role model for those, like me, who refused to accept that you couldn’t be a successful career woman and have a family. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered last year that her message to career women was that you can’t have it all.

Not believing is a choice

If you want to make a case for the fact that women can’t have it all there’s plenty of supporting material. Organisations are still predominately governed by rules that leave no room for a woman to advance when she takes time out or requires any flexibility to her schedule as a result of having a baby. There’s the extortionate cost of childcare and the prevalent stereotypes that assume a woman’s place when she has children is in the home. Looking at these odds, you’d have every reason to choose not to believe.

A question of attitude

And yet, apparently, some people do believe. I asked the question of women I knew. Here are the words of some of the women who said yes:

“Can women have it all? Yes, as long as women recognise that having it all is different for everyone. Set your own benchmarks and be realistic about what ‘having it all’ means to you. Having it all may mean a wonderful home life and a happy family or it may mean a high flying career with a massive salary. It may mean a mixture of both, but being content with what you have is to me what having it all is all about.” Caroline Deutsch, expert recruitment consultant, Select, St. Albans.

“I think women can have it all but we have to carefully define what our own priorities are and go after those. It’s easy for others to push us to achieve what they see as success: be a size 6, make your house look like a Pinterest board, make all your food from scratch (and it better be organic!). However, you, as your own woman have to define what ‘it all’ is to you and go after it while shaking off what everyone else tells you you should be doing. Our time is limited, no matter how much we want to believe it isn’t!” Meghan Fay, Owner, Extraordinary Days Events.

“Some jobs allow women to be really flexible with their working day making it much easier to have both a successful career and children. My mother was a financial adviser and so effectively self-employed. This allowed her to work from home when me, my brother and sister were young whilst still managing a successful career. She tells us stories of how she would have client meetings at our house and had it down to a T in feeding us and putting us down for a nap just as the client was arriving, and then us waking up just as the meeting was coming to an end.” Nina Lake, Solicitor, Clyde & Co.

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Create your own expectations of the world

These testimonies show that having it all is not an objective standard, but a highly subjective set of expectations about how the world works and your place in it. There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ interpretation of what it means to have it all. One woman’s ‘all’ might just as easily be another woman’s nightmare. The only things that matter are how you feel about who you are, where your life is and how many blessings you can count at the end of the day.

I can’t tell you what your all is because it’s yours, something you need to work out for yourself. All I can do is share with you my personal vision of having it all in the hope that it will help you find yours.

• Waking up each morning feeling excited and happy about the gift of a new day, even on days when work is hard
• Sharing my life with people I love and who love me
• Feeling in control of my life and knowing that when something’s not working there is always something I can do to change it
• Falling asleep at night filled with gratitude for the blessings in my life.

This is what having it all means to me. It doesn’t have to make sense to you other than to demonstrate that, more than a fixed set of circumstances – a place on the board, two wonderful children and a perfect husband – having it all is really just a mindset and a feeling.

 

Risk-Management

9 Easy Decisions to Improve your Balance Today

1024 1005 Caroline Flanagan

Risk

Don’t forget the small stuff. When your life is out of balance, focusing on the small decisions you make each day is enough to get you out of your rut and back in control.

By the time Marta came to me she’d had enough. Her work life balance had been out of kilter for what felt like years, and she was sick of it: not seeing enough of her friends and family, not having any time to herself, not having any control over her life. She was overweight, unfit and always overtired. “It’s my job” she told me in a tone of voice that revealed just how close she was to breaking point. “I just can’t take it any more so I need to leave and I need you to help me do it”. Marta was ready to make the big decision – the one that would fix everything that was wrong in her life.

I’m not in the habit of calling my client’s melodramatic. But if you came to me with this kind of all-or-nothing thinking I’d consider it my duty to stop you in your tracks, get you to take a step back and insist that you answer the following question: What else could you do?

When your life is out of balance or you’re stuck in a rut it’s tempting to think the only solution lies in making a big decision, like changing where you work, who you work for or what you do. And it’s not only in your professional life. The notion applies just as easily when things aren’t going well at home. When your relationship is on the rocks and things have been out of whack for a while, even changing your partner can seem like the big decision you need to take.

Such big decisions are not taken lightly. But they are often taken prematurely, when there is still another very viable option on the table: changing yourself.

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” – Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor

I had a hard time helping Marta to see this. It’s difficult to feel in control when so much of your daily experience seems to depend on others. When things aren’t going well for you, it’s easy to identify your boss, the culture where you work, a demanding friend or bullying partner as the root cause. And there are times when you may just be right about that. But if you want to be in control of your life, then the single most powerful thing you can do is to strive not to change others, but to change yourself. And the way you do that is easier than you realise:

Just concentrate on the small stuff.

What’s the small stuff? Well, it’s all those little decisions you make everyday, that seem like nothing but in fact have a massive impact on the quality of your relationships, your success and your day to day experience of life. They are the hundreds of decisions you are making everyday: what to do first on your to do list and what to ignore; what to eat and drink and what to wear; what to read and what to watch; what to say yes to and how often you say no; when to sleep and when to get up. This is the small stuff, but big change comes from making these small decisions every day.

Here are nine decisions you can make right now that will change your life:

1. Get up earlier
Not enough time to yourself? Get up half an hour before you need to start your day and dedicate it to your life goals and dreams. Think about them, visualise them, and take one tiny step to action them. If you’re not a morning person, read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. It will totally transform the way you see your mornings forever.

2. Drink more water
Always tired? Drink a glass of water when you wake up in the morning – dehydration has a surprisingly negative impact on mood, concentration, performance and sleep. The habit of drinking more water will make an extraordinary difference to how you feel.

3. Read fiction
Always thinking about work? Commit to reading five minutes of fiction before you go to sleep every night, no matter how tired, drunk or stressed you are. It will help your mind shut down from work, stimulate your creative thought and give you something more interesting to talk about at dinner.

4. Do it the day before
Always rushing? Get your clothes ready, prepare your bag and write your to do list – all the day or night before. You’ll be amazed what a difference this makes. You’ll wake up feeling in control, and won’t have to use up valuable decision making energy (What shall I wear today? What shall I do first? Where are my keys?) before you’ve even left the house.

5. Be grateful
Always frustrated and feeling unfulfilled? Take ten minutes at the same time every day to identify five things in your life you are grateful for. Don’t just focus on your loved ones and the material things you feel you couldn’t live without, give thanks for blue skies (when they appear), for morning dew, for a great song you hear on the radio.

6. Say an affirmation
Always low in confidence or moral? Look in the mirror every morning and say out loud “I am wonderful and clever and in control of my life. It’s a great day to be me.” Seriously, try that or some version thereof. Every single morning. Then email and tell me what happens.

7. Smile at a stranger
Feeling fed up and angry at the world? Decide to smile at five people you don’t know on the way to work. Nothing too stalky, just a brief genuine smile to acknowledge a stranger’s existence and wish them well on their way. Not everyone will smile back, but when someone does it feels surprisingly good. You just created a moment of happiness in someone else’s busy day.

8. Listen more, listen better
Frustrated by your relationships? Whether it’s at work or at home, make the effort to listen better – “the quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking” says Nancy Kline, author of the fabulous Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind. When someone talks to you, here’s an idea: listen to every word. Shut down that voice in your head that’s thinking about what to say next or deciding what to have for dinner.

9. Move your body, even just a little
Never have time to exercise? Do 10 sit ups or press-ups everyday without fail before breakfast and watch what happens over time; or make it a rule to always walk up the same flight of stairs on your way to work. There are countless opportunities to fit small bits of exercise in your day. It’s simply not an excuse to complain you don’t have time to go to the gym.

“Life is a sum of all your choices.”
– Albert Camus

Marta is still my client and the jury is out as to whether or not leaving her job is the right decision for her. But the small decisions I challenged her to make to her daily routine have made a phenomenal difference not just to her work life balance but her whole mindset and well being. They have helped her feel in control again, and she is starting likes it.

It’s good to share. What small decisions do you consciously make each day that keep your life in balance? Why not leave a comment, or email me directly at caroline@babyproofyourlife.com

 

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Feel like an imposter? Here are 3 reasons you should celebrate!

1024 539 Caroline Flanagan

Imposter

It’s time to stop worrying because you feel like an imposter. Embrace it, own it and let it empower what you do.

 

Let me guess: you should never have got this far.

– You don’t belong where you are;
– You’re not good enough to be there;
– Your success was a fluke;
– Any day, any minute now, they’ll discover you’re a fraud.

In other words, you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Welcome to the club.

If you feel like an imposter, maybe it’s because you are one. You’re a successful career woman working in what is still essentially a man’s world. Most likely the message you received when you were young was that girls should be nice, polite and pleasing and women should look pretty, have babies, stay quiet and look after everybody. But here you are with this impressive career. You go to work in an environment that was built and is defended by men who have been brought up to lead, make a lot of noise about how brilliant they are and please only themselves. If you didn’t feel like an imposter in this kind of environment, then something would be wrong.

I’ve been an imposter all my life. When I went to boarding school at the age of six I was the only black girl in the whole school for years. I was treated well but there was always someone to remind me that I was different – whether it was my music teacher, who instead of using my name referred to me only as “Lady of the Jungle”, or my friends who, lovely though they were, never tired of telling me that I was “really nice. Not like a normal black person at all”. When I moved on to secondary school at 13 the situation was the same, though without the interesting names. I was one amongst a small scattering of non-white faces at University and the trend continued through two years at the College of Law and when I started my training contract in the City. I felt like an imposter, because I was one.

I had to confront these feelings head on when writing my upcoming book Babyproof Your Career. Every writer is vulnerable to ups and downs, and I was no exception. When you are someone who has always felt like an imposter, putting 45,000 words in print and releasing it to the world is about as daunting as it gets. Where was I supposed to find the confidence, determination and resilience it would take to succeed if I felt myself always the imposter?

Reflecting on the events of my life so far, what I find remarkable is not how much of an imposter I felt growing up, but the belief that I was the only one. I was the only odd one out, the only lucky-for-not-being-found-out one, the only one who didn’t deserve to be there. It felt like a guilty secret I’d been carrying around with me all my life, afraid to articulate or talk about for fear the bubble would burst and that luck would run out.

Fast forward several years and I find myself coaching clients and working with women in the City who, much to my surprise, are suffering from that exact same feeling. It turns out that Imposter Syndrome is a widespread phenomenon. I wasn’t nearly as unique and special as I thought!

As a mother of four I’ve watched a lot of Disney over the years. One of my favourite films is The Incredibles, about a family of superheroes with secret identities who (unsurprisingly) save the world against the forces of evil. In this case, the force of evil is a wannabe superhero called Syndrome. His evil plan: to give everybody super powers “because,” he says, with a super villainous laugh, “when everybody is Super, no one will be!”

When I watched the film again for the six hundred and eighty fifth time (four kids over twelve years – that’s a lot of Disney), I had an epiphany: if everybody is an imposter, nobody can be. Which means, being an imposter doesn’t matter any more.

If you suffer from Imposter Syndrome and feel it’s holding you back, and the usual advice isn’t working, it’s time for a different approach: instead of trying to convince yourself you’re not an imposter, celebrate it, be proud of it and use it as a source of strength. Here are three reasons why you should:

1. Where there’s imposter syndrome, there’s success
Ask around: Speak to women you see as successful and confident and ask them whether they’ve ever felt like an imposter. You’ll discover that most successful women is yes. “I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud.” Says Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg.You’ll soon discover that it’s normal and natural for a successful woman to feel like an imposter. The difference is, she doesn’t let it hold her back.

2. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness.
Feel proud of your achievements. The chances are you feel like an imposter because you had to work hard to get where you are. Perhaps you were competing against others from a cultural or economic background that gave them a head start over you. Being or feeling different to every other successful person around you is a reason to feel more, not less confident, about your ability because you achieved success in spite of that difference.

3. It reflects your authenticity
Feeling like an imposter is a sign you are being authentic at work, and not pretending to be someone you’re not. This matters hugely for work life balance because of how much of your life you’ll spend working – 90,000 hours, according to Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness At Work. That’s a lot of hours to spend pretending to be someone you are not. The part of you that feels like an imposter is the part of you that’s humble and sensitive and real, the part that brings humanity to those many hours you dedicate to your work. This is how it should be.

I’ve been an imposter all my life and I spent years thinking it was holding me back. But looking at where I am today I discovered that the opposite is true. I discovered the reasons why I am an imposter are the reasons that got me here. So now instead of feeling limited by Imposter Syndrome, I’m grateful for it.

If the feelings I’ve described in this article resonate with you then take heart. What seems like your weakness is actually your strength. Embrace it, own it and let it empower the work you do.

Its-Time-For-a-Break

Short Breaks for Health and Productivity

1024 928 Clare Evans, Personal and Business Coach

Break

I talk to people all the time about how they can get more done in their busy working day. How they can be more productive and efficient with their time. However, part of this also includes the importance of taking regular breaks during the day.

When you’re busy at work, you’ll often end up working right through lunch break or not stopping until the end of the day. Perhaps only taking a quick 5-10 minutes to grab a sandwich and eat it at your desk. Some days you don’t even have time for a coffee.

You’re simply too busy to take a break. There’s so much you’ve got to do. You can squeeze one more task into 5, 10, 30 minutes and get another thing ticked off your list? You don’t have time to stop.

Taking regular short breaks will actually increase your productivity. The longer you work on a task, the more your productivity drops. You lose focus and are more easily distracted. Some people get distracted more easily and more often than others, especially when it’s not something that totally engages their attention.

Take a break once an hour for a few minutes and then a longer break every 2-3 hours or so. Ideally a 5 minute break every 20-25 minutes is better and more productive. If you set a timer to manage your work/break activity, you’ll stay focused for longer and be less distracted when you know the clock is ticking.

Switching between a longer high intensity task to a shorter, easier task can be an effective way of taking a break between one task and the next.

Avoid skipping lunch. You need to make sure you take a lunch break and get away from your desk. Apart from the hazard of crumbs (or worse a spilt drink) in the keyboard you need to refuel and recharge. You might run on caffeine, sugary snacks and adrenalin for a short period of time but it’s not good for your health in the longer term

When you take a break – not only will you be more productive when you get back to work, you’ll have more energy (unless you’ve had a carb heavy lunch) but it’s allows your brain to switch off mentally too.

Taking a break – particularly if you’re working on a problem or something tricky allows different parts of your brain to kick in to gear. How often have you found the solution to a problem when you’re doing something completely different? Think Archimedes’Eureka’ moment, Newton’s apple and gravity.

The longer you work, the more tired you become and the less productive you are. Working late nights catching up or clearing a backlog when you’re tired becomes less and less productive and the task takes longer and longer to complete.

Recognise your more productive times of the day. Most people focus better in the morning. Do tasks that need creativity or problem solving in the morning and save tasks that need less concentration or focus for later in the day or between more high intensity tasks.

Stop before you get over-tired, take a decent break and come back refreshed. Or at least make sure you get time to recharge after periods of high intensity.

Everyone needs to put in the hours every now and then but even when you’re working long hours, take regular breaks to keep your productivity and energy up.

If you’re so busy you can’t see how you can find the time to take a break – get in touch. It might be easier than you think.