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...