Sunday, August 29, 2010

What exactly are you doing?

I was diagnosed with a touch of gestational diabetes this week, which involves taking blood-sugar readings several times and day and keeping a detailed food diary. I also had a meeting with my accountant, who wants me to 'diarise' the entire family's use of the telephone and internet for a month, plus the car usage.

While it's an inconvenience to do these tasks, I'm amazed at the wake-up call it has given me. There's no hiding those extra chocolates, or time spent face-booking, when it's written down in black-and-white.

Start today

If you're wondering where the time goes, or where the kilos are creeping up from, keep a diary for a week and the answer will present itself. It's one week of effort to create an empowering and informed starting point for making positive changes in your life.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Glass half full

So, here we are, hanging, Government-less, while a handful of men decide who should be in charge of the nation.

I took my daughters with me to vote on Saturday. Sophie, (nine), gave me advice on who to support: 'Vote for Mike Kelly, Mummy - he's tall, and when he comes to our school for a visit we get out of school work. He doesn't look like he's in labour, though - he's not that fat!'

Glad to have some sensible advice, I forged my way through the throng of party faithful as they lavished attention like a swarm of paparazzi, shook my hand and said hi to the children.

It's so easy to get annoyed by it all. The campaign, the hype, the media frenzy, the daily letterbox drops, the inconvenience of finding a car park and queuing to vote - the lack of an outcome.

One of my best friends had a different view. She wrote, 'We are so lucky to live in a country where all we have to battle through are the spruikers handing out how-to-vote cards, and not Defence personnel with guns keeping us safe, while we wonder if we'll disappear in the next day or two, just for turning up.'

Start today

We can easily get side-tracked by the minor inconveniences in our lives, losing sight of the bigger, and often more positive, picture.

This week, if you find yourself focusing on the empty half of the glass - not just as we watch our politicians battle it out to form a Government, but in any of your personal situations - flip the picture on its head and look at the positive side.

Life seems so much brighter when we learn to do this, and problems start to shrink in importance.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The 25-hour day: how to find seven extra hours each week

When you’re asked: ‘How are you?’ do you answer:
a) busy

b) flat out, or

c) frantic

There are other options, but it’s been so long since I’ve heard any of them that I can’t remember what they are.

If you’re stuck on treadmill set to ‘max’ with an ever-increasing incline, pushing yourself to keep going, hoping you won’t be flung off the end of the machine – you’re not alone!

The Australian Work and Life Index found that working mums are more harried and pressed for time than ever before. We know we need more ‘me time’, but how can we fit another thing into the twenty-four hours we’ve already crammed full of work, family, friends, study, multiplying loads of washing, supervising school projects, the taxi service we provide for our kids and crawling into bed after the day is done, thinking, ‘I just need one more hour in the day...’

It can be easier to find that extra hour than you think! Try working through this ten-minute exercise:

How will you spend your extra ‘me time’?

When you’re given a pay rise, it can be easy to expand into the added income unless you have a goal in mind – like saving for a particular holiday. It’s the same with our time. We fritter it away if we don’t have a plan in mind for how we want to spend it.

If you had an extra hour each day to spend on yourself, and you weren’t allowed to use it for work or housework, how would you fill it? Make a mini ‘bucket list’ of all the things you’d love to do, the activities you used to enjoy and the experiences you long to try.

Pick the one that excites you most and write this at the top of a fresh page, with two columns drawn underneath.

Stack on the pleasure

If you found time for this activity, what would it give you? What are the positive spin-offs? Would you feel calmer if you found time for this? More stimulated, centred, rewarded, patient, interesting or happy?

If you felt these things, how would this affect those around you? What impact would it have on your work? What would your family notice about you?

Jot these points in the right-hand column.

What’s the cost of not doing this?

On the left, write down what’s going to happen if you don’t make time for this activity. How will this affect you? How will you feel if things stay the same as they are now? What will your mood be like? How will you interact with others? What will your concentration levels be?

If you don’t give yourself time for this activity and keep plugging on at the pace you are now, what is it going to cost you in the short, medium and long term?

How have you been spending your spare time?

Draw a large outline of a human eye, with the pupil in the centre and a smaller circle to one side, representing a ‘blind spot’.

Think of the last seven days. What have you been focussing on in your spare time? Favourite TV programs? Facebook? Surfing the internet? Jot down these activities in the centre of your ‘eye’.

Now, think of the activity you ‘don’t have time for’. Is it in your focus at all, or in your blind spot?

Look at what’s been consuming your attention. Compare the benefits of these activities to those you’ve identified for the new activity. Which is a better use of your time?

Cut the cake a different way

Recognise that you can allocate your spare time in several different ways. Shift some of the less important time-wasters out of your near focus and into your blind spot, freeing up extra time.

Bring your desired activity front and centre in your focus. Take your diary and block out set times for this over the next seven days.

Tell your partner and kids about it and get them on board by encouraging them to do the same thing for an activity of their choice. Balance your individual desires as a family.

Be 100% present

When it’s time for you to enjoy your extra hour of ‘me time’, absorb yourself in it 100%

Set aside all thoughts of ‘what else I should be doing’ and truly enjoy this gift to yourself.

By learning to live ‘deep’ - not ‘fast’ – we’re setting our treadmill at a comfortable pace.

The Mummy Wars

A report released this week on the impact on children of having a working mum, tipped fresh fuel over the smouldering ‘Mummy Wars’ debate.

Working mums have ‘higher maternal sensitivity’ than their stay-at-home counterparts, according to the University of Columbia’s report: First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First Seven Years. They ‘seek higher-quality childcare and can return to work within a year of giving birth without harming their babies’ development’.

‘Queue all the screaming and bitter stay-at-home mums!’ one online poster commented in response to the story. ‘You breed them, you feed them!’ retorted another. Another described a ‘generation of disconnected kids with mental problems’ (presumably the children of mums who work), amidst a barrage of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ proponents.

Breakfast television, drive-time radio and online media were inundated with impassioned talk-back from parents who have chosen one path but feel compelled to stomp and trample on the other – not unlike the behaviour of tantruming two-year-olds (something you see, incidentally, in both private homes and childcare centres across the country).

I can’t help wondering who was looking after the children while the grown-ups slogged it out on the front line, ripping apart each other’s choices and grasping at snippets of scholarly data and anecdotal evidence that might be used for the dual purpose of piling more guilt on the other side, while building a protective fortress around their own decisions. As with the Breast versus Bottle debate that plagues new mums, it was all about Doing The Right Thing, as if a black-and-white solution exists.

I’ve been a parent for nearly twelve years and, as far as work goes, I’ve tried it all. I’ve stayed at home full time. I’ve worked full time. I’ve worked part time. I’ve job-shared. I’ve worked from home.

If my kids are ‘happy and well-adjusted’ (the Holy Grail over which Mummy-War armies fight unnecessarily, not realising that there’s plenty of this to go around), it will have little to do with my work and parenting patterns and everything to do with a much bigger picture. Parenting is not about clocking on. It’s about switching on. And then holding on for dear life.

We all have days when we’re ‘in the zone’ as parents, just as we have days that we fervently wish we could re-wind and start over. The key is to work out what puts us ‘in the zone’ as switched-on mums most often (we’ll never get it right all the time).

For some women, this means staying at home full time, without the distraction of paid employment. Others find they’re more effective as parents if they combine parenting with a career. Some stay at home and make a hash of it. Others work and make a hash of that. Good parenting is not as simple as which room you’re in.

The parents who seem to do it well are the ones who are most ‘present’ for their children when they’re together – the most ‘switched on’, engaged and focussed (which is not to be confused with smothering and spoiling). They spend time together with their kids and time apart. They hold out a hand when it’s needed and they know when to hang back and let their children work it out for themselves. They’ve nailed ‘tough love’, yet they sit in the dark, holding back tears during the school play.

They’re often fulfilled by more than just their parenting, and this fulfilment is not necessarily derived from paid work, though it can be. They value themselves. Their children have the same sense of ‘wholeness’, opportunity and possibility. They’re flexible, resilient and able to cope well with change.

Or maybe they’re not. Sometimes parents do everything ‘right’ and their kids go off the rails regardless. Parenting is about what we do, what we don’t do, our triumphs, the mistakes we make and how we learn from them. A large part of it is about who we are parenting, the choices they make - and the luck of the draw.

How we reach that Holy Grail - happy and well-adjusted kids - is not important. How the parent-next-door gets there is not important either. All we can do is have our hearts in the right place, our heads on our shoulders, take a deep breath, plunge in and learn to swim.

And if a parent in the next lane appears to be swimming a different stroke – we can resist the temptation to push them under. Our kids are watching us, after all.
Emma Grey is the Director of WorkLifeBliss and author of Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005).

Controlling your boundaries

I was involved in some job interviews last week, and watched with interest as the candidates raised the question of work-life balance in this particular organisation.

The chair of the panel explained that the provisions exist for good work-life balance, but it's up to the individual to take advantage of this.

Start today

Work-life balance might seem a little 'airy fairy' but it requires tenacity and a strong sense of purpose to pull it off. Once you've worked out your top priorities, you must erect boundaries around these, then fiercely protect them.

This includes managing your top priorities at work. How often do you reach the end of the day with a longer 'to do' list than the one you started with? You know what work you must do, but you allow your own work to be trampled upon and moved further down the list by other people's demands and interruptions.

Create fences around what must be accomplished today. Learn to say things like 'no', 'not right now', 'later', 'I'm working on a major priority today, let me get back to you tomorrow..' Buy yourself the time and space you need to complete your work and get out the door at the end of the day with a sense of achievement.

If you struggle to manage your time this way, ask yourself what you're worried might happen if you say 'no' to others. What is behind this? Is it a fear of not being liked, or taken seriously? How valid is your concern, really?

Observe those who do this well, see how much work they plough through and how well-respected they are for managing themselves well. Model their behaviour and see how much easier your day becomes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Are you sabotaging Monday mornings?

Do you have mornings where getting to work is like struggling through a medieval gauntlet? Starting with the unwelcome blast of your beside alarm, you navigate through bickering kids, unironed clothes, bad hair, no fresh bread for the sandwiches and a school project that someone forgot is due back NOW.

At every turn, it's as though something is against your smooth exit from the house, only for you to hit morning traffic, at which point your pulse rate climbs and you think it's all Monday's fault!
Start today

Monday has nothing to do with it.

What can you change about your Sunday night routine that will ensure a more peaceful and positive start to the week?

Laying out everyone's clothes and uniforms? Making lunches? Ensuring there's a full tank of petrol in the car? Checking everyone's diaries? Setting the alarm ten minutes earlier? Getting an early night?

If you expect a tough morning, you'll have one. Design your ideal start to the week and take responsibility for the aspects over which you have control. Reduce the impact of Monday-itis by removing the self-inflicted causes, replacing them with simple steps that bring you calm.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Building relationships

I've been asked to provide executive coaching for a manager who is dealing with some difficult staff. I happened to be babysitting my three-year-old niece when the email came through, so I asked her opinion.

'What do you do at pre-school when someone is being difficult or mean, Abbey?'

'Well!' she began, 'First, I take them out into the playground away from everyone else, then I give them a big hug, then I say "let's play something else", like twisting or spinning, then they're happy again!'

Start today

There's merit in Abbey's pre-school approach - in fact, it's an approach that was shared by Abraham Lincoln, who said 'I don't like that man - I must get to know him better'.

Are you dealing with someone difficult, or experiencing a 'personality clash'? Who is going to make the first move?