Sunday, December 27, 2009

How to set New Year Goals

As our thoughts turn towards New Year, we sometimes contemplate what we’d like to change about ourselves, and what we’d like to achieve in the year to come. When ‘resolutions’ are broken it’s usually because they haven’t been considered thoroughly, and then we feel disappointed in ourselves.

How much better would it be to come up with one really important goal, to think it though properly and to set yourself up really well to achieve it?

Try following the process if you’re in a ‘resolution’ mood...

What do I want? (Of all of the things that I could accomplish or change in my life next year, which one is most important to me?)

State the goal positively, ‘To be trim and healthy’ is better than ‘not to be overweight anymore’. Science has found that the subconscious mind doesn’t process the negative, ‘not to’ – it only hears ‘be overweight’.

Write the goal down (goals that are in writing are far more likely to be achieved) and ensure it is something that is within your power to achieve (that is, don’t rely on others to help you achieve it).

Ask, ‘if I had this, or if I achieved this, what would it give me?’ (For what purpose do I want it?)

Think not only of the obvious and straight-forward gain, but of other benefits stemming from it. Try to build a bigger picture of why this matters to you.

How will I know when I’ve achieved it?

What will I see, that tells me I have reached my goal? What will I hear? What will I feel?

For example, if you are currently a little overweight and your goal is to be trim and healthy, what you will see is yourself in the mirror, looking terrific, wearing your old jeans again comfortably, or a new outfit. You’ll see yourself running around the playground easily with your children and hear them laughing while you chase them. You’ll hear compliments from other people and you’ll feel excited, optimistic and confident... you’ll hear that old self-esteem again in your voice when you walk into a room and you’ll feel energised...

Why haven’t you got it now? Exactly what’s been stopping me?

Be honest with yourself here. What’s really been holding you back? What excuses have you been making? Do these obstacles still stand in your way? If so, what can you do about them?

Is there a price to pay for achieving my goal? Am I prepared to pay that price?

Again, using the ‘fit and healthy’ example, there IS a price to pay for achieving this goal. You’ll have to eat/drink less of certain favourites, and find time to exercise, which you may not enjoy at first. Being clear on what you’ll be giving up or going through in order to achieve your goal is crucial. You’re far more likely to stick at it if you have analysed and accepted these things in advance.

Does this goal sit comfortably with me and with the people around me?

You’re unlikely to achieve a goal if it advertently or inadvertently inconveniences or hurts someone else. Make sure there are no stumbling blocks of this nature

What resources do I have, and what resources do I need to achieve this goal?

What emotional strength do you require? Who do you need to be on your side (speak to them about this)

What information do you need and where will you obtain it?

What is the first step towards this goal, no matter how small?

When will I take it?

What is the next step/milestone?

How committed am I to achieving this, out of ten?

Spend some time imagining yourself at some stage in the future, when you have achieved your goal. Bask in this thought for a while. Tie emotions to it. Understand that there may be moments when you stumble and fall on the way, but that’s okay. Just get up, dust off your knees, and keep going!

How exciting a new year is! Anything could happen...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This is Christmas

I was in a Canberra department store on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago along with hundreds of equally desperate last-minute shoppers. We were queued half-way through the store - large trolleys groaning with toys, CDs, clothes, baubles, wrapping paper, wreaths of tinsel, tins of scorched almonds, paper tablecloths, serviettes and more. It was bedlam.

Then... HORRORS, the power in the store cut out!

You can imagine the scene. Nineteen cash registers flickered and died in concert, the lights went off and the air could have been sliced with one of the carving knives that were on special in the kitchenware aisle.

For a few awful seconds there was no reaction at all except for stunned disbelief. I braced myself for the inevitable revolt. Hot, tired, cranky, ‘over-it’ shoppers had already queued for more than twenty minutes in the inadequate air-conditioning. ‘Mass uproar, here we come’, I thought.

And then, unexpectedly, from somewhere way back in the queue, a man starting singing.

‘Dashing through the snow...’

There was a smattering of nervous giggles.

‘In a one-horse open sleigh’, he persisted.

Three or four voices tentatively added themselves for ‘o’er the hills we go’, and furtive glances were exchanged between strangers, while others tried to curb reluctant smiles. Imagine the vibe, a few seconds later, when a couple of hundred people spontaneously joined in with the Jingle Bells chorus. Just about everyone in the shop – staff and customers, old and young – was singing.

There was smiling and laughing and more than a few tears. Staff lit candles and started handing out lollies and chocolates and we all sang Silent Night and waited patiently for the power to be fixed. The registers and lights finally sprang to life and joined the festivities. Everyone broke into an enthusiastic round of applause - cheering and laughing and chatting easily with the strangers beside them.

It was one of the most beautiful, unexpected and uplifting moments that I can recall.

It’s so easy to get frustrated and fed up with a difficult situation that is outside our control. We do have free choice, though, over how we will respond.

When something goes wrong, as it inevitably will, we choose whether we will throw a tantrum or sing. We can give up and walk out, or we can dig in and look for ways to make the most of it.

What an enormous difference that choice makes. I saw how remarkably easy it was for one man to easily lift the mood of hundreds of people, within seconds, just by choosing the optimistic response to a mutually frustrating situation. As a result, something that might have remained an annoying incident that we all went home and complained about was transformed into an unforgettable Christmas highlight.

I wonder how many similar opportunities we miss in our lives, just by defaulting to a negative response...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Imagine the possibilities if you had no past

On the weekend, I watched a fascinating television program called The Man With No Past. When his life spiralled out of control, 25-year-old David Fitzpatrick suffered an extremely rare, spontaneous loss of memory called ‘psychogenic fugue’. His entire past was erased from his mind. He had no recollection of his own identity, or of those of his friends, his family or his young daughter, or of any of the events in his life preceding the fugue – good or bad.

Living with no past was incredibly frustrating in many ways, but it also brought second chances. No memory of what had gone before also meant no recollection of his own habits or patterns of behaviour, or of his perceived limits or fears. David was given the gift of a completely fresh start. Every experience for him was brand new – no expectations - and he was able to re-invent his career, his relationships and his ambitions.

Imagine having no limiting expectations of how you’ll be in any situation. There’s no, ‘I was brought up this way,’ or ‘this is how I do things’, or ‘I’m not that sort of person’. Imagine what you would try if you had no evidence for, ‘I can’t’...

David has a clean slate and a future. ‘I’m back at zero,’ he said. ‘This is where my life starts.’

We all have an opportunity for a start fresh. Our past does not equal our future.

Think of something you’ve held yourself back from experiencing because of beliefs you formed about yourself at some point in your background (often in childhood). What do you tell yourself you’re not good at? Public speaking? Art? Maths? Singing? Sport? Relationships?...

What would you do differently if you had no knowledge of your past? What would you have a go at if you didn’t assume ‘I’m not good at that...’ and you threw yourself into it with complete confidence?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Australian Women Online profile

WorkLifeBliss has been profiled in the magazine Australian Women Online.  You can read the article here:

It's nice to read that some of our easy-to-use strategies and tools are sinking in and making a difference in people's lives.  Check out the tips within the article for making 2010 more balanced and fun. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Knowing when to quit

I helped to sponsor a beautiful children’s book launch this morning (Riley and the Dancing Lion, by Canberra author, Tania McCartney - who I'd only met once at a seminar I gave recently, and who may be sorry she asked - read on).

As there were going to be clowns, goodie bags, colouring in and all kinds of fun at the launch, I thought I’d take along not only my daughters but my nearly three-year-old niece, for the experience.
All went very well until we hoved into sight of the bookshop, festooned as it was with helium balloons.

Alas, and unbeknown to me, at the local community carols event last night (where she was supporting my daughter in the school band after attending the English Ballet’s production of Angelina Ballerina with my other daughter), two-year-old Abbey had developed a phobia of balloons when a boy popped one while she was on the jumping castle.

As soon as she saw the first balloon (of about thirty) at the book launch, she burst into tears and wailed, ‘I don’t want to be here! I want to go home! I want my Mummy!!!’

‘Abigail,’ I reasoned (like the out-of-practise, early-childhood mum of a pre-teen and a nine-year-old that I am), ‘Auntie just has to do some work here, then we’ll go home, ok?’ (Auntie was supposed to stand with another local author and present our signed copy of our respective books to the lucky-door-prize winners as they were announced.)

‘Nooooooooooooo!!!!! I want to leave! I don’t want to be here!! I want Mummy!’

I stared at her in horror.

‘Here. Have a lolly!’ I suggested, (mother-of-the-child, you have to understand I was professionally-desperate by this stage.)

‘Nooooooooooooo!!!!! I don’t want a lolly! I don’t want to be in this place!!!’ Scream, screech, wail...

At this point a potential client approached me to enquire about work-life balance coaching.


Oh - that! My core business...

‘This is my niece,’ I apologised. ‘My business card is over there, on that table...’

When a four-year-old boy jumped on an empty popper-juice container right beside us, moments later, it was obvious from Abbey’s understandably hysterical response that my Plan B of seating her on the bench with her cousins while I rushed inside and did the honours was not going to work. I sent my eleven-year-old in to convey the message to the host of the celebration that, regretfully, we had to leave.


No questions asked.

So, my advice is: know when to quit.

The Christmas season can be a minefield of social events and, whether it’s your balloon-phobic niece, your kids or yourself who is crying at the party for whatever reason - anticipate when ‘enough is enough’, and leave about 15 minutes before that moment arrives.

Repeat this any time you’re at risk of hoping things will improve at a social event, when they really won’t...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pick your highlights!

I’ve just emerged from seven hours of end-of-year ballet concerts.

The kids were brilliant (including my gorgeous little Scottish Doll, Carousel Pony and Pre-intermediate Jazz participant, who graced the stage for approximately seven minutes out of four hundred and twenty - and those seven minutes were the magic that made it all worthwhile).

You know what ‘dancing mums’ can be like. (I’m not one, in the traditional sense of the word... I don’t know the steps, don’t have the dancing teacher over for dinner and don’t know how to get lumps out of the bun or apply lipstick to a nine-year-old while she’s talking).

Well, a dancing TEACHER is like a dancing mum, but even more committed to the cause. Which is why I was delighted to read the following line in the concert program, written by the head of the dancing school:

‘With my daughter’s Year Twelve formal on the Friday night of our concert, I must take off my ballet hat and put on my mother one, and watch my gorgeous girl as she takes the last few steps of her schooling, before she moves into the big wide world...'

No matter how much your career or your business might mean to you, there are certain moments in life that only happen once. Choose these over anything else, because despite how significant you think you are – even if you are the boss and the brains behind the entire performance - the show will go on, whether you’re there or not.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Working late tonight?

Today is national 'Go Home on Time' day in one of the most notorious countries in the world for indulging in long working hours and unpaid overtime.  The organisers of the initiative - The Australia Institute - found that a typical Australian full-time worker performs 70 minutes of unpaid overtime per day. 

That's nearly six hours of extra work per week - almost an extra working day - and over one month per year.  According to NSW Union secretary, Mark Lennon, this culture is taking a 'terrible toll on family relationships, health and general community wellbeing'.

Many of my clients reel in astonishment when it occurs to them during our coaching sessions that they are choosing to work long hours, despite not wanting to, and - even more remarkably - not being required to by their employer. 

They can readily see what this self-imposed habit costs their families, health and relationships, but they feel 'stuck' in a competitive culture where everyone is steeling furtive glances at their watches, wishing someone else would pack up and go home so that they don't have to be the first...

They log on from home in the evenings, 'just to check email' and three hours later they crawl into bed, having ignored their sleeping partner again, after failing to unwind or think about anything other than the work project that, this time next year (or earlier), they'll have forgotten about entirely.  They lie awake in the dark, guilt seeping in while they determine to cut back on their working hours 'as soon as things slow down'.

They fear that they're not good enough, or that nobody else can do the work as well as they can. They think they have to 'keep up with the Joneses' or they value 'activity' (looking busy) higher than 'productivity' (achieving the goals) out of a mis-guided sense of guilt. 

In exchange for their pay, they give their employer not just the reasonable execution of their job, but much more than that - physically and mentally.  In the most extreme cases, they offer up not only their time and talents, but their wellbeing, marriages, families, friendships and lives.

These are people who, 'desperately need a holiday' in one sentence, and 'can't possibly take leave' in the next.  They 'want to get off the treadmill', while frantically increasing its speed.

Some use work as an escape from other problems.  Others 'become' their work, losing any sense of identity outside of it.  There are people who stay late to avoid difficult conversations or responsibilities.  Others admit to feeling like 'failed parents' - choosing to retreat to the easy, predictable sanctuary of the office where they know they can get it right. 

Some derive all of their sense of 'significance' through their job, and none of it from their roles outside the professional sphere, becoming increasingly one-dimensional in conversation and thought.  Others are afraid of what lies on the other side of 'slowing down'.  What if they stop, look beside them, and no-one's there?

For some, it's an excuse.  For some, it's a lifeline.  For some, sadly, it's family.  Even when it's a genuine passion, the longer the focus remains on work, the harder it becomes to envisage the 'whole of life' balance that exists within reach.  The harder it is to even want that.

Which could be a life 'half lived'.   

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of those, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises from 1959-1994

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's drink-o'clock

A fellow coach related to me this week that she met an executive client who avoids drinking water at work because she ‘doesn’t have time to go to the toilet’.

What on earth? I simply do not accept that any job is too important to take precedence over basic human functioning. I’m sure that even the remarkable neurosurgeons Wirginia Maixner and Alison Wray, who worked for over 27 hours to perform the miraculous separation of conjoined twins Trishna and Krishna in Melbourne last week would have factored this into their schedule. (I can tell you now that if someone was operating on my brain, and needed to go to the toilet, I’d rather they take a break and avail themselves of the facilities in order to concentrate!)

We occasionally read stories about employers timing toilet breaks, or asking workers to clock off to use the bathroom, and thankfully such Dickensian employment practices are rare. When a policy like this is self-inflicted, though – when workers choose to deprive themselves of hydration because they ‘haven’t got time’ for the process of cleansing their system, regulating their body temperature and providing the means for nutrients to travel to their organs - there is something seriously amiss, either with their workload, their time management and productivity or their perspective.

Start today:

• Drink 6 – 8 glasses of water today – not just for what it provides your body, but as a reminder to take regular breaks. Rather than having a bottle of water on your desk, set an alarm to remind you to get up and go and refill your glass every hour. If your job is sedentary, this will get your circulation going and give you a break from screen-based work.

• Have lunch! If you’re ‘in meetings all day’, ask yourself why you accepted this schedule, knowing that it did not provide time for lunch. Be responsible for your health at work and assertive in protecting the provisions that you establish in this regard.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wits' End Flashback

I was ankle-deep in pizza boxes and seventeen squealing six-year-olds at Matilda’s ‘pyjama and pizza non-sleepover’ birthday party when the commissioning editor of Lothian Books phoned.

‘Guess what?’ she yelled (she had to – the kids were playing musical statues to Nikki Webster’s ‘Strawberry Kisses’).

‘Sorry Teresa, I can’t hear you ... hang on, I’m wading through the family room ... I’ve strung silver cardboard stars from the ceiling with fishing line – it’s like running the gauntlet...’

‘Gosh, Emma – you don’t exaggerate, do you?’

Unfortunately not, most of the time. I closed the door of the study to muffle the noise. ‘That’s better. Sorry about that! You were saying?’

‘We want to publish your book!’

The door burst open. ‘Mummy! Jasmine just spilled red creaming soda all over your brand new rug!’

‘That’s fantastic!...’ I squealed.

‘And now she’s tramping in it!’

‘Are you serious? I can’t tell you how wonderful this is!’

‘But Mummy, you love that rug! And Ashleigh just threw the fit-ball at the piano ...’

‘Ah – Emma,’ Teresa interrupted, ‘do you think you should get back to the party?’

The what?

I floated back into the family room and presided over affairs like the elated person I’d suddenly morphed into because of six simple words: We want to publish your book!

Work-at-home tips

I've been asked for some 'work from home' tips about how to draw the line between work and family.  Here's what I do:
  •  I don't have my own study or office at home, but I have established a distinct area of the house for my desk and filing cabinet, and don't use this area for 'non-work' activities. When I'm sitting at my desk, I'm working.
  • If I want to 'surf the net', get on facebook with my friends or send some personal emails, I'll unplug the laptop and sit on the lounge and do this so that it 'feels' different.
  • I use 'school hours' for work. I break for the afternoon and spend time with my daughters, then may do some more work in the evening, particularly if my husband has some papers to mark (he's an academic, so we both work from home and get to spend time together during the day, at lunch time etc).
  • I don't do any housework during 'work hours', despite the temptation of the washing baskets etc. I will go to the local gym for half an hour to break up the day instead. I figure that, when I worked in an office, I used to exercise at lunch time, so this is a great habit to keep (rather than neglect exercise in favour of housework).
  • I've educated my children that, while I'm at home, I'm working - this means that I can volunteer in their classrooms once a week and attend special assemblies, but doesn't mean I can be serving in the school canteen each day (like they thought!)
  • We have Friday 'date night' each week, and we ban ourselves from any work - whether we go out or stay in for our date.
  • I try to establish weekends as family time, so that they do feel different and we can truly wind down.
  • While I don't do this myself, I know that some people find it useful to change into 'work clothes' at home during working hours, and to establish set hours. In my case, I prefer to be comfortable at my desk and to have a flexible schedule - this is pure individual choice.
  • I don't hold meetings or conduct coaching appointments in my home - I always meet clients and colleagues somewhere else. This keeps the home as our family sanctuary.
  • I confine my work 'stuff' to the desk area, rather than spreading it all over the house/kitchen bench etc. That way, we can all enjoy these areas of the house as a family, rather than viewing the home as one giant office!
  • I'll do something, like take the dog for a walk, if I feel the need to wind down from work before the family shift begins. I'll also consciously switch off my conversation from work matters (even if my mind is still racing) and think of other things to talk about (so that my time in the house doesn't start to feel one-dimensional).
  • I'll schedule some actitivies, appointments and meetings out of the house so as not to feel 'trapped' at home.
If you have other suggestions, please add them in the comments field.  I'd love to hear them!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Take a mini-break for your mind

My husband and I went to see the newly-released disaster flick, ‘2012’ last weekend.

What an amazing epic! It was as far-fetched as they come, and packed with incredible special effects – California breaking up and sliding into the Pacific, tectonic plates and magnetic poles in uproar, quakes, floods, fires, tsunamis washing over Everest – the works. It was ridiculous. I cried at least four times, and was completely absorbed, to the point of being almost disoriented when we emerged from the theatre at the end of the movie. After a busy week, it felt terrific to shelve ‘real life’ for a couple of hours and utterly escape, mentally.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to escape into a fantasy world?

What activities work best for you in engaging your thoughts to the point of blotting other things out? Movies, books, music, dancing, meditation, exercise, time with friends or something else?

We’re heading into one of the busiest times of the year for many people, and it’s easy to allow stress to creep up on us. Protect yourself from this by building in a few ‘buffers’ between now and Christmas that will allow you to escape, unwind and give yourself a mental ‘mini-break’. Schedule them in your diary today.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What makes a real mother?

Here's a piece that I wrote pre-WorkLifeBliss, five years ago.  Things have changed a lot in my life since then (my new career is much more flexible) but the thoughts encapsulated here still mean a lot to me as a mum and as a daughter:
Mention childcare and sooner or later someone asks what makes a real mother.

My mum was a real mother. She still is. More than that, she’s a real grandmother. So much so, that she’s forgoing a funeral on Friday to cart my kids to swimming lessons, because I’ve returned to work after a month off and can’t possibly take another moment’s leave. Not even to see my five-year-old put her face under water for the first time and emerge from the experience triumphant. Looking for me – and finding Nanna.

Mum was chairman of the school board, before it was politically correct to be a chairperson. She was badge secretary of the Girl Guides. Convener of the cake stall. Stalwart of the canteen committee.

I can’t remember an afternoon when she wasn’t waiting at the school gates. She baked apple teacake and looked interested when we offloaded the mind-numbing minutiae of school-life. She helped with our assignments, pre-Google, when this involved a library.

She was never ‘too busy’, even when she was.

I, on the other hand, missed the moment my firstborn walked. I was minute-taking for a committee judging grant applications for research into the First World War – a conflict that ended precisely eighty-one years before the morning my daughter took her first steps. A missed moment for which I will never forgive myself. A moment I try to imagine sometimes, usually when red traffic lights rob me of what we’ve come to call ‘quality time’, but give me a minute to think.

I am a bad mother. Or so it seems from the window of my air-conditioned office at two o’clock in the afternoon when other mums are battling to the bitter end of school holidays, like martyrs in the Inquisition.

By the time I get home, I’m the one conducting the inquisition: ‘Why do you make such a mess? Will you ever stop squabbling?’

‘Why are you so childish?’

And that’s the point, isn’t it, when the logic falls apart? That’s the line you step over, before you remind yourself that they are, in fact, children. Little people – who, in my day, were digging Smurf houses under poplars and being catered for properly by mothers who didn’t stand in front of the freezer every night and sigh. Or maybe they did sigh, but quietly.

I want to put in more than the odd appearance in my child’s life. I work to pay school fees. I go to each assembly. I roster on for literacy groups. I Google homework. I sell Freddos. I read Enid Blyton until the words are swimming on the page.

My boss expects budget forecasts while I worry whether morning tea was meant to be in a labeled paper bag because kindergarten is going to the National Zoo and Aquarium.

Where mum will be, of course. She’s having her second motherhood, while I have my first one, once removed.

Working mums don’t need other people to make us feel guilty. We do a good job of that ourselves.

We do a good job, full stop.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I'm writing a workshop about time management at the moment. 

So, I Google something about beating procrastination and notice an interesting link.  I read that, do a self-test about internet addiction, check email, update facebook about my time-management progress, do a quiz on which 80s song describes my life (Girls' Just Wanna Have Fun) then look through 117 photos posted by a girl I went to school with, with whom I can't be sure I ever exchanged a word in real life.  I check the news and weather, take the dog for a walk as it might rain, then I read an e-newsletter my friend sent me from her work which includes the 'interesting fact of the day' that some people have the ability to read and detect colours through their hands and feet, and next thing you know I'm on a virtual goose-chase of scientific and paranormal websites about extraocular vision.

Which brings me to this blog post about procrastination...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Monday Bliss Blitz

Instead of taking up mind space, what if you kept a written log of the amount of time you spend worrying about dire circumstances, then you took a highlighter pen and coloured in all of the circumstances that didn’t eventuate. Would you have enough ink?

This week, try taking the lead from the Scarlett O’Hara School of Procrastination. Each time you started mulling over something bad that might happen, especially if it’s something over which you have no control, repeat the following mantra (silently, if you’re in an important board meeting): ‘Fiddle dee dee! I can’t think about this now! I’ll go crazy if I do! I’ll think about it tomorrow...’

In all likelihood, you’ll be saving yourself quite a lot of highlighter ink.

(You can register to receive 'Monday Bliss Blitz' by email.  Send an email to with 'Bliss Blitz' in the subject line.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Go-slow Saturday

While browsing recently in a book sale, the title 'Sex for Busy People' caught my eye (as you can imagine it would).  With my nine-year-old standing beside me, it was difficult to flick through the manual (in the interests of this blog post, of course), suffice to say the book promises to 'rescue your sex life in the time it takes to make a cup of tea'.

What if we want it rescued in the time it takes to cook a lamb roast?

Methinks this emphasis on speed and multi-tasking is getting ridiculous.  Is nothing sacred from our obsession with all things instant? 

I'd spent about three hours working on a stress-management seminar that morning and told myself I'd have a cup of green tea and sit outside in the sun for ten minutes as a reward.  After sitting there for what felt like half an hour - basking in the warmth of spring, listening to the birds singing, sipping my tea, thinking 'all's right with the world' etc, I thought it must be time to go in.  I checked my watch and it had only been a minute and a half.

As a result, I'm giving myself a remedial lesson in slowing down.  Today is declared officially 'slow', the highlights of which are:
  • Sleep in
  • Dag around in PJs (no driving - see previous post)
  • Cup of coffee and read the Saturday insert mags from the papers
  • Take dog and gripping novel for walk to playground with kids without wearing watch and read for however long it takes them to enjoy the experience without my pointing out that this is yet another 'quick play'
  • Scented bath with candles and music after they're in bed, or maybe some long phone calls with friends.
The idea is to 'achieve' precisely nothing.  The less I accomplish the better.  It's about focussing on the moment I'm in, not the string of moments that are about to hit me. 

Albert Einstein  - who, by all accounts, used his time quite well - said this: 'The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once'.

The man was a genius!

Caught speeding in your pyjamas on your day off? Take it as a hint to slow down.

Has anyone else suffered the mortifying experience of being pulled over by the police for speeding, wearing pink ugh boots, purple pyjamas with pictures of a very smug cat all over them and the slogan, ‘have to have my way’?

When the officer asked if I had any reason to be speeding, I had to think about that for a moment...

I’d just dropped my daughters at school for band practice. I had an entire day stretching out in front of me, with no firm plans until school pick-up time. A whole day to myself. Six glorious, uninterrupted, self-indulgent hours of ‘me time’...

So, yes! This was an emergency! Didn’t he have kids?

Modern parenting is about as hectic as it gets. So hectic, in fact, that our default position is to be in a hurry - even when we’re not. How many times have you heard a mum say, despairingly, ‘I just don’t know where my time goes?’

Time marches on, like ‘sands through the hour-glass’, whether we ‘manage’ it or not. American author H. Jackson Brown observed that we have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

To which my indignant response could be: ‘none of these people were mums!’

To which H. Jackson Brown might well argue: ‘True - but what about Margaret Thatcher, Marie Curie, Anita Roddick and JK Rowling?’

To which there is no comeback...

 The October issue of eBliss (our free e-zine) has an article about finding an extra hour each day.  Register for eBliss on our website:

Monday, October 19, 2009

When the honeymoon is over before it begins

We called in at a second-hand bookshop on the way home from Sydney and I overheard a customer telling the owner that ‘the wedding last weekend was beautiful – they’re so happy!’

The romantic in me thought this was gorgeous, til the woman added, ‘of course, they haven’t got time for a honeymoon because of work...’

Are workplaces really so precarious that an organisation will fall apart at the slightest sign of our absence, even for a honeymoon?

Or is it us that falls apart at the thought that the place might survive without us for a week or two?

Is time off really out of the question for this couple, or is it just not a question they're asking...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lessons with Mr Knightley

We've lived with a completely out-of-control Maltese x Cocker Spaniel puppy now for six months. 

Knightley (after Mr Knightley in Jane Austen's Emma) has reached the stage where my two-year-old niece is so terrified of him leaping up at her that they rarely visit, and one of the three nuns who live next door was heard to be shouting at him over the back fence (you know it's bad when a nun loses her patience...)  We can't take him for a walk without him straining and gagging on the lead, the door-frame needs re-painting from his scratching, most of our shoes are worn out and we are not far behind them.

The solution was obvious: train him.  We knew this, and tried, using several different approaches - none of which made the slightest difference - until we gave up.  My working from home was starting to revolve around standing at the back door yelling at him to stop barking in case the police (who live on the other side of us from the nuns - we really have to behave in our household) have one of the neighbours report us for noise pollution.

Eventually, I bit the bullet and stripped the credit card of several hundred dollars by calling Bark Busters.  Within two minutes they had him calmed down.  Within two hours he was a completely different dog and we were a different family living the kind of idyllic dog-owning lifestyle I had first envisaged when I fell in love with him in a pet shop window on the way from Sydney last time we went up for a weekend.

The moral of this story?  If you know what to do to fix a problem and nothing is actually stopping you (except yourself) - stop playing the victim and just DO IT!  

The other moral - this weekend, when we're on the way home from seeing Il Divo in Sydney - just drive straight through Mittagong and don't stop for a coffee at the pie shop beside the pet shop...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I don’t wish to alarm you, but there are only ten weeks left of 2009!

In two-and-a-half months’ time, you’ll be all dressed up and singing Auld Lang Syne.

This is the perfect time to set a '10-week goal'.

Visualise yourself on New Year’s Eve - whether you’ll be painting the town red or watching the fireworks on TV in your PJs – and write down one thing that you want to change about your life between now and then. It’s a crazy time of year, so make it easily achievable over a ten-week period. Maybe it’s to lose a dress size, to spring clean the spare room, or to overhaul your CV. Whatever it is, know that you’ll feel better going into 2010 with it done.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How to manage stress by sunbaking

This is a beautiful way at looking at a problem - I've adapted it from a story I read yesterday and I hope it strikes a chord:

A group of friends were larking about in a large pond on a late summer's afternoon when one of the young women became extremely agitated. She'd been wearing her grandmother's diamond eternity ring and it was missing.

The friends immediately rallied to help her find it - diving over and over again to the pond's bed - feeling around for the ring with their hands and stirring up mud and muck in the process. The longer they struggled to find the ring, the more murky and dark the water became.

Realising the futility of their approach, one of them suggested they try a different method. Sunbaking. They all got out of the pond and lazed on their towels for an hour, while the water stilled.

When they stood around the pond again, peering in at the clear water, someone caught sight of something glinting in the sunlight. He entered the water very slowly, edging towards the source of the sparkling until it was clearly visible in front of him, then he reached in slowly and retrieved the ring.

There's more than one way of doing things. Sometimes we must be calm before we can find the right solution. Next time you face a problem, how will you solve it? By stirring up muck or by sunbaking?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Impress: Image, balance and confidence for professional women

A woman who genuinely has her act together can be spotted a mile off.

Whether it’s at a ball, a business meeting or a barbeque she doesn’t worry about what to wear, how to stand or what to say.

It’s not just that she knows how to walk into a room and light it up - with neither neon flashing signs heralding her entrance, nor a need to slink awkwardly into a quiet corner while she gathers her wits...

It’s not just how deftly she juggles her glass with some canapés, a serviette, her organised handbag, a discreet conversation with the babysitter about her relaxed children, and some charming repartee with the CEO’s dignitaries about the company’s recovery from the Global Financial Crisis...

It’s not even that when you’re scrambling for a pen, she hands you one, or that while you’re stumbling through a too-long list of not-good-enough excuses, she’s already said ‘no’ with grace and ease...

When the straw has broken your own camel’s back, you’ll notice a camel standing nearby, in one piece, carrying exactly the right cargo for its journey – a load that is just challenging enough.

Secretly, we all want to be that woman. The one who not only looks the part and acts the part – but knows the part backwards. She has clear professional and personal direction. She has genuine confidence and firm ownership of the balance of her life. She’s fit. She’s healthy. She’s happy.

An exclusive group of participants will be let in on the secrets of how to become the kind of woman they admire at the inaugural Impress seminar for professional women on 20 November 2009.

In a first for Canberra, a diverse line-up of four niche presenters will provide participants with the specialist knowledge and skills that they need to plan their careers and personal lives, to achieve their goals, and to do this with confidence, clarity and contentment.

The unique concept brings together corporate image consultant, Carol Mitchell, from ckimage Consultancy and personal trainer, Bernie Dowling from Body to Burn, with ‘WorkLifeBliss’ specialist, Emma Grey, and executive career coach, Louise Carter, from Performance Partnership.

Professional women are adept at incorporating multiple challenges into their busy lives. The Impress seminar provides them with an opportunity to raise the bar across all of the areas that matter most – all in the one package. It’s the professional-development ‘me time’ they’ve been waiting for.

The Impress seminar will be held at the Wesley Music Centre, Forrest, ACT on 20 November 2009.  For additional information and a copy of the seminar flyer, please enquire here.

Time-management tips inspired by a fashion designer

Coco Chanel advises women to look in the mirror before they leave the house and remove one accessory. Writers adapt this advice by removing adjectives to simplify their sentences. Interior decorators advise ‘de-cluttering’ to improve the appearance of a room.

How else can we apply this? Do you have a ‘to do’ list that’s completely unrealistic? We can pile pressure on ourselves by over-committing our time - inevitably failing to reach our objectives and feeling stressed and disappointed as a result.

What if we began each day the Coco Chanel way?

Before you begin this week, take a good look in the mirror. Not the mirror that reflects your image – the diary that reflects your life.

If you could take one thing off, what would it be? How would this enhance the appearance of the week ahead? What would it do for your confidence? Try removing something and seeing what a difference it makes.

Do you ever feel like you come to work for a rest?

There are those days where getting out the front door in the morning is like a practical demonstration of Chaos Theory. The children are fractious and one of them appears to have joined the ‘Slow’ movement overnight, there are disagreements over who is having the first shower, you’ve run out of milk, the petrol tank is empty, nothing fits, you can’t drop the kids at the curb like you normally do because Harrison needs help carrying in his papier mache volcano, at which point you are waylaid by the president of the Parents & Citizens Committee about that rash promise you made to help organise the white elephant stall at the fete, which means you’re ten minutes later in the morning traffic, along with seemingly every other parent, so you have to park a mile away from work and power-walk to the office despite your unsuitable attire and shoes - heavy brief case weighing you down with the work you took home last night to make up for the hour and a half you spent at the regional cross-country carnival yesterday, only to collapse into your chair, turn on your computer and find your inbox over-flowing with changed deadlines, meeting invitations you don’t have time for and a plaintive email from your mother, asking if it’s too much trouble for you to give her a call this side of Christmas, ‘no pressure or anything’.

Arriving at work in an agitated state is bad for business and for your own wellbeing. You can’t be responsible for how the rest of your family behaves in the morning, but there are several simple things that you can do to flip this kind of situation around.

A relaxed morning starts the night before.

If you would prefer to arrive in the office on time, un-frazzled, clear-headed and having given yourself five or ten minutes to gather your thoughts before starting the working day, try making a few small changes to your morning routine, starting the night before. Give these changes a week and notice any differences to how you feel when you get to work.
  • Check the petrol gauge and basic grocery supply to ensure you have enough for the next day.
  • Make lunches.
  • Decide what to wear tomorrow.
  • Lay out school uniforms and pack school bags, ensuring notes are signed and homework is done
  • Write a short list of no more than three of tomorrow’s top work priorities, just enough to have a plan in mind, then consciously switch off your thoughts about work. If you have brought work home, ask yourself why and make a note of the reasons (more on this in a future topic).
  • Do any necessary housework before sitting down to relax.
  • Make a note of anything that you are trying to remember, to avoid waking at night thinking of it.
  • If you find yourself flicking through the channels and complaining that there is nothing on, turn off the TV.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol, caffeine and late-night fluids to promote refreshing and uninterrupted sleep.
  • Agree on who will have the first shower in the morning, and who will drop the children at school to avoid morning conflict.
  • Depending on how much of a ‘morning person’ you are, choose between going to bed 15-30 minutes earlier than usual or setting the alarm for 15-30 minutes earlier the next morning.
Do these things as early as possible in the evening, to maximise your time to relax and wind down. Most people are surprised to find how little time it takes to accomplish the tasks on this list, and how much more relaxed the evening feels knowing these things are already done in preparation for a much easier morning.

In the morning:

  • Sit down at the table and eat a good breakfast, rather than skipping breakfast or eating on the go. If you find you don’t have time for this, revise your ‘night before’ routine, or look at how you are managing your time.
  • Avoid trying to cram in extra housework, unless you are a natural early-riser. Use the ‘timer delay’ function for washing, so you can ‘set and forget’.
  • Consciously do at least one relaxing thing during your morning routine, whether this is going for a walk or meditation, reading the paper over a cup of coffee, paying attention to your pets or having a five-minute fully ‘present’ (focussed) conversation with a child (or all of these things, for those who rise early).
For those with children:
  • Get yourself ready first.
  • Enforce a ‘no TV/computers’ rule in the mornings, at least until children are fully breakfasted and ready for school. (This one change can make an enormous difference to their motivation levels for getting ready).
  • Do a check that everyone has everything they need before getting half-way down the street, to avoid the stress of turning around for forgotten items.
  • Watch how your own stress levels have an impact on your child’s behaviour. Promote a calm morning by being calm yourself. Avoid attention-seeking behaviour by giving some positive attention.
For a relaxed journey to work:
  • Make a point of noticing traffic flow at different times in the morning. Experiment with peak periods and different routes, or work these into your time frame to avoid stress.
  • At the start of the week, place enough change for the week’s parking in a hidden container in the car.
  • Select music that will relax and uplift you to listen to on the way to work.
  • Avoid listening to radio programs that are crammed with loud advertisements or talk-back on depressing subjects.
  • Keep your car tidy and well-maintained.
  • If the surroundings are conducive, consider parking 15 minutes from the office to give yourself 30 minutes of exercise each day. The walk there and back provides a good ‘buffer’ between work and home, to focus your thoughts on where you are headed next.
  • If taking public transport, spoil yourself with a good book and good music, or 'zone out' with your thoughts.
Never underestimate the power of making some small changes. Rather than arriving at work frazzled, cranky and half-defeated by the day already, set yourself up to begin your working day in the best possible light.

Work-life balance - adding white space

I read an interesting article by a coach named Molly Gordon, in which she compares the act of incorporating balance in life to creating white space on a page.

I love this idea. Graphic designers insist on lots of white space to make the words or images stand out in a document. Nobody likes reading densely-worded paragraphs that aren't broken up by white space.

As an author of novels, I've been taught about the importance of breaking narrative up with dialogue, because 'readers like to see white space on the page'.

Do you have enough 'white space' in your life, or is everything crammed in? Does one sentence run into the next, and the next, without pausing for some punctuation?

This reminds me of the Year 3 journal-writing class I was helping with on Monday. The teacher made them stop periodically, read through what they had written and ensure that it made sense.

Today, I'm going to create some white space in the form of an hour for exercise, which is something I've let slip in recent weeks. Tomorrow, the white space will be a family dinner out. On Saturday, I'm going to a book fair just with my husband. Sunday is entirely 'white space' at the moment, which is a lovely thought.

From Wits' End to WorkLifeBliss

With two children under five, I was working full-time, studying for a Masters degree and writing my first book. As far as over-committing myself goes, I was having my cake, eating it too, baking it in the first place and washing up afterwards.

Within one year, I was holding a publishing contract in one hand, divorce papers in the other and staring feverishly at my bedroom ceiling trying to ignore the acute Glandular Fever that I was bedridden with and – worse - the fact that this was preventing me from staggering to the pre-school Nativity play, like the good mum that I so desperately wanted to be.

This was not what I called ‘work-life balance’.

Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum was reviewed by OK Magazine as ‘Hilarious!’ Fellow mums ‘will sympathise and find comfort,’ the review said. ‘Those who are yet to breed will consider sterilisation!’

It was a nice review for an author to get, and a bit of a debacle personally. It wasn’t until I found myself accidentally and distractedly consuming a Lieutenant-Colonel colleague’s salad (because I was so distraught about having left a crying child to go to work that I no longer recognised my own Tupperware), that it finally occurred to me that life didn’t have to be this hard.

I began looking for different ways to do things. Better ways to be. Ways of saying ‘no’. Eventually the light dawned: life wasn’t this hard at all – I’d been making it this hard.

Bit by bit, I clawed control back over my family, my career, my identity as a woman – the works. I worked out that I could have it all, just not necessarily all at once, and certainly not at the cost of my health, sanity or most special relationships. The more I spoke about this at seminars and fund-raising lunches, the more intensely the message seemed to strike a chord with the parents I met, many of whom were plain exhausted from the struggle.

Five years on, the contrast in my life couldn’t be more pronounced. I don’t juggle any more with the things that matter most to me – it’s too precarious and I might drop something.

Instead, I carefully weave my family life, friendships and personal aspirations into a career that I adore: coaching others to make a similar transformation in their lives.

For more information about our services, including our free e-zine, Monday 'Bliss Blitz' email, workshops, seminars and private coaching, visit our website:

When we 'drop the ball' as a parent...

I observed my daughter's netball coach during the grand final. During the half-time pep talk, she focussed on all of the things that the girls were doing well. Sure, they dropped a couple of passes - it happens. But what about that great defence, the fantastic intercepts and those goals!

As I watched the girls' faces light up in self-assurance, it occurred to me that, as parents, we could learn a lesson from this. Many of us - and I think women really 'shine' in this area - have a tendency to beat ourselves up when we 'drop the ball'.

In some cases, we pre-frame this before we even have children - watching others stumble through the gauntlet of parenthood, thinking with a quiet, almost smug (and, in retrospect, laughable) certainty: 'When I'm a parent, I definitely won't let my kids do that...' (After which we proceed to prove ourselves wrong on nearly every score.)

Having set ourselves impossibly high standards, fuelled in some cases by the guilt of our split focus on family and work, sooner or later we inevitably lose our step and tumble from the super-human parenting pedestal that we've constructed. We're not able to breastfeed, we lose our temper with a tantrumming toddler, we forget an appointment with the teacher or leave the lunch boxes on the kitchen bench. We're keenly disappointed that our parenting 'reality' has failed to meet the parenting 'ideal' to which we aspire. We let our heart's sink at this point, instead of realistically adjusting our standards to allow for 'basic human error'.

What if we were to think like the netball coach? What if we acknowledged that it's normal to drop the ball occasionally, before dusting ourselves off and choosing to focus instead on all of the times that we do things well?

Next time one of the myriad things on my mind slips through the cracks, or when I'm less patient than I could be with my daughters, I'm going to make a conscious effort not to focus on the ball that I've dropped, but on the goals that I'm scoring in the rest of the game...