Tag Archives: balance

Work/Life Balance: The Elevator Energy Test

By Vahé Torossian, Corporate VP at Microsoft and Friend of Simple Intentions

[Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse]

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Throughout my career, I have been blessed to mentor some very talented people. No matter the region of the world — from France to the United States and Asia to Central and Eastern Europe — a topic that comes up with almost everyone I’ve mentored is how to find the right work/life balance.

It is a very personal question. Back when I first started at Microsoft in 1992, work/life balance was very different than it is today. If there was work to do, you stayed until it was completed (usually accompanied by a pizza). When you went home, it was easier to switch out of work mode because you didn’t have emails coming right to a mobile device in your pocket. You had to make a conscious choice to open up your briefcase or, later on, connect your modem and dial in to the Internet.

Today, finding balance can be extremely challenging, especially when our technology gives us the ability to do business from anywhere. It’s easy for work to enter our home lives unconsciously. You look at your phone, and before you know it your head is back in the office. This connectedness can really blur the lines between work and home, making it hard to focus on just one at a time.

I don’t claim to have the whole recipe for success. Rather, the right work/life balance depends on who you are as an individual and where you are in life. But I do have one trick I’ve been using for many years that helps me choose how I show up at work and how I show up at home: Every day, I commit to returning home with the same energy with which I left. The “elevator energy test” is my way of making sure I follow through on that commitment.

I developed this test for myself while living and working in Paris. I lived on the eighth floor of my building, and I’d take an elevator between my apartment and the basement garage where I parked my car. The inside of the elevator was covered in mirrors, so every morning while I descended to the basement, I’d take a good look at myself to honestly evaluate my energy level. I would actually go so far as to score my own energy level on a scale of one to 10. Then, after work, as I rode the elevator from the basement back up to my apartment, I would consciously recalibrate back to the number I had given myself in the morning so that I brought back home at least the same level of energy as I had when I left.

In my own experience, at the end of a long, hard day it was a great refresher for me to bring that vitality back to my spirit and demeanor. It felt great to leave the workday behind in the basement garage, and my family appreciated it too. When the elevator doors opened, I would enter my apartment and spend the rest of the evening with them — feeling just like the person who had said goodbye that morning. I am not saying it’s always easy, but this state of mind helped me a lot especially during tough times.

Of course, you don’t need an elevator to do this test. You can do it anytime, in all sorts of situations. For example, you can look at yourself in your rearview mirror before heading to work each morning and again before heading home each night. I do the test before and after a tough business review, receiving bad news or taking a long multi-country business trip — every situation that might take a toll on my energy.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be an energy giver and not an energy taker. And there is a certain discipline to living that way. It’s the same discipline I learned as an international rower, where I had to be fit and prepared not only to help my own performance, but also to help inspire energy in my teammates. I have found that sustaining that kind of discipline is hard, but I always try because I feel strongly that the people around me shouldn’t have to pay the price for me being off-balance — not my employees and especially not my family.

So, my advice to people who are looking for a better balance is to make it a conscious choice again. Try the elevator test. It works for me.

 

Vahé Torossian is a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Corp. For 30 years he has driven business transformation and turnarounds in high-growth and economic crisis environments.

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Choosing Equanimity

By Chelsea Elkins, Program & Marketing Manager

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I’m not normally an angry person. Really.

But I’m also no stranger to the emotion. In a world rife with inequity, bias, and realities that can make the most patient of us want to scream, anger is not uncommon. When I’m in the throes of it, I can focus on nothing else (including effective solutions to the issue) and find that my productivity and longevity suffer.

I’ve been pondering the benefits of anger lately. How it can be a wakeup call. How it can create needed boundaries. Anger can be the spark – to start a revolution, to fight injustice, to say “enough”. But it cannot be the whole flame or we will burn out. While anger can trigger productivity, anger itself is inherently not a productive emotion. And for sustainable change to occur, I’d argue that anger must evolve – into whatever is needed: passionate organizing, relentless activism, a resolute boundary – because anger alone is not enough.

So how then do we turn our anger into something useful? I believe the answer is equanimity.

I recently spent a precious Saturday attending a dharma talk titled “Fierce Equanimity” through The Lotus Institute with Dr. Larry Ward and Dr. Peggy Rowe. The talk discussed how to relentlessly, fiercely display equanimity (or a calmness and evenness of mind and emotion) regardless of life’s circumstances.

This concept states that one can address and overcome challenge and injustice with equanimity in lieu of anger. Instead of rage, determination and perseverance may better serve us. Rather than shouting, a calm but resounding “no” can be just as effective. In exchange for riots, nonviolent protests can mobilize a community. Our middle fingers can be playful instead of aggressive (kidding). This way of being suggests we can combat hate with a fierce and stubborn gratitude.

Still with me?

I heard a powerful idea at The Lotus Institute regarding the non-personalization of experience. In other words, anger is not ours to possess. It’s not a toy, cell phone, or piece of clothing that we can claim as belonging to us. It is an unfettered, volatile (and hopefully transient) response that everyone from all walks of life has experienced. This means that since we can’t actually own anger, it doesn’t own us either.

One of the many benefits of equanimity is that it encompasses inclusivity. It transcends “otherness”. It’s an encouragement to try to understand the “humanness” that is always present behind an act of hateful rhetoric. Inclusivity is one of the most effective ways to deflate an anger bubble – because it does away with the us vs. them notion. Equanimity means objectively asking yourself, “What in my life needs to be nourished? And what needs to be de-nourished?” It’s critically looking at societal systems and asking “What here needs to be legitimized? What needs to be de-legitimized?” And based on your answers, acting accordingly.

I want to go on the record and say that letting go of anger and embracing equanimity does not mean succumbing to passivity. Quite the opposite – equanimity often means being part of a slow-moving force, but one that is startling in its power and lasting in its effect. In Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, “I can’t turn back. I have reached the point of no return.” Dr. King is in my mind a model for equanimity. Though he had a lifelong dedication to nonviolence (an important component of equanimity), not one could call him a passive force. Rather, he heeded the call to remain collected and compassionate in the long fight for social change – to powerful results. If anger is the blinding flare, then equanimity is the slow burn that drives us day in and day out.

Passivity in the face of injustice is the opposite end of the spectrum. It is often the companion to apathy and ignorance, and enables the normalization of inequity. Passivity often stems from exclusivity, us vs. them. The funny thing is exclusivity (and therefore passivity) is illogical when accompanied with the awareness that most people desire the same things. We are all on a quest to find happiness, to find fulfillment, to find peace. But, as Dr. Ward asked that Saturday, find peace to do what? Find happiness to do what in the world?

I believe deep down we all know the answers (which are different for each of us). With equanimity, perhaps we can start to ask the right questions.

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The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

This is about the myths and misconceptions surrounding the many interconnected roles, relationships, and responsibilities we face each day, often referred to as this thing called “work-life balance.”

When it comes to this thing called work-life balance…

The First Truth

You can define work-life balance however you want.

There are a lot of ways to talk about this concept, but only one way that feels right for you.

And please, use your own WORDS to define the details of what it means to you.

Most people share a similar desire, which is to create easy joy and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships, and responsibilities that make up life.

That said, there are as many ways as there are people on the planet to describe what living a balanced life would feel like. When it comes to balance, everybody has their own idea of what is comfortable, tolerable, and acceptable.

There is no right or wrong way to define balance. It is what it is for you and for you alone.

The Second Truth

You will be in and out of balance your entire life.

This is just the way the world works.

Things like new jobs, new relationships, new homes, new roles, new hobbies, births, deaths, and health (yours and others’) will all impact your needs for balance.

Your needs for balance will forever be evolving.

Your secret power is in recognizing and accepting that what you need now, in this moment, is very different than what you will need 12 months from now or one, five, seven, or 10 years from now.

Once you have accepted that your needs will change, it becomes about knowing and understanding your needs, making choices that support your needs, and communicating your needs with the important people in your life.

You will be in and out of balance your entire life.

Acknowledging and accepting accountability for your needs, wants, and desires is your secret power.

The Third Truth

Work-life balance has nothing to do with work.

Not the type of work you do…

We all have responsibilities that can be considered work. Whether you get paid for what you do or not. More than that, balance has nothing to do with your gender, family structure, parental status, religion, education, income, or geographic location.

Work-life balance is not about any of these things specifically — it’s mostly about the type of conversations we have or the conversations we avoid having about these things, as well as our feelings about the impact of these things on our lives.

Most of the issues we attribute to being “out of balance” at work or at home can be traced back to (and resolved through) a conversation — to be specific, an authentic conversation. (You know, the kind where you say what you REALLY mean.)

What gets us in trouble and keeps us busy and disengaged are the conversations we are NOT having with our boss, our business partners, our customers, our friends, our significant others, our children, and — especially — ourselves.

It’s possible that 99% of the time, these conversations we are not having are about the triggers that are causing the imbalance in our life.

These triggers, most times, boil down to your values and the boundaries (or lack of boundaries) that support and honor your values in all the relationships you are in:

the relationship you have with work,

relationships you have with others (in and out of work),

and the relationship you have with yourself.

Why are so many people not having these types of conversations?

The answer is simple. In most cases, it boils down to fear: Fear of rejection. Fear of being perceived as “less than.”

Fear of failing. Fear of asking for help. Fear of being different. Fear of actually being perceived as both balanced and successful.

Sometimes these conversations that we avoid are about saying no (and our fear of saying no).

Saying no to someone at work or someone you love might let them down, and no one wants to let anyone down, especially on purpose.

Let’s be honest: It’s easier to say no to your own needs than to disappoint someone else. (Even if it means disappointing yourself.)

When you say yes to people, requests, and projects, that are in conflict with your values, or when you engage with people who do not support — or even worse, who disrespect — your values, you are actually saying “no” to yourself and creating imbalance in your life.

work-life balance has nothing to do with work. It’s about authentically owning and clearly communicating your yes’s and no’s to the people WHO share your life.

(which includes yourself)

The Fourth Truth

Creating balance is free. (Great news — because everyone loves free!)

When it comes to creating work-life balance, you don’t have to…

These are all options you can choose — but you don’t have to do any of them. The only thing you have to do is choose balance as a lifestyle.

Okay, so you make the choice — you want balance.

Then what?

Start small. Pay attention more.

Many people don’t spend much time where they are. They are either still thinking about where they have been or thinking about where they will be — which robs them of being where they are when they are there. The richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor have equal access to the currency of presence.

There is no cost whatsoever to being present.

It’s free to pay attention to your environment and see and feel as much (or as little) of the experience that you want. It’s free to pay attention to the people and the relationships in your life — to slow down, to really hear what is being said, and to notice what is not being said. It’s free to pay attention to you. Your body, your feelings, your wants, your desires, and especially, your thoughts.

We have all experienced this thing called presenteeism.

This is when you show up physically, but not mentally. The impact is that you are unable to be in the moment and contribute your best, because you are distracted about whatever might happen in the future or are reliving what has happened in the past.

(It’s okay — we’ve all done it, and will do it again, because sometimes that’s just what happens.)

Odds are you already have a pretty great life. Paying more attention might make it feel even better. Connecting to what you already have is free. It’s the disconnection that can cost you dearly.

The Fifth Truth

The choice is yours to create balance each day.

It’s your choice to define what balance means to you.

It’s your choice to accept that there will be times of greater imbalance.

It’s your choice to own and authentically express your yes’s and no’s.

It’s your…

Some days you might make choices that support your definition of balance, and other days you might make choices that sabotage the type of balance you are seeking.

The magic is that every single day, the choice is yours to make again, and again, and again.

The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance are SIMPLE:

  1. You can define work-life balance however you want.
  2. You will be in and out of balance your entire life.
  3. Balance has nothing to do with work.
  4. Creating Balance is free.
  5. The choice is yours to create balance each day.

What you choose to do with these truths is up to you. The choice is yours.

 

The Five Truths About Work Life-Balance is available on Amazon.

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On-demand Teams: The Talent Solution for High Value Results

By Lisa Hufford, Founder of Simplicity Consulting and Friend of Simple Intentions

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We tailor our lives every day in consideration of the factors around us, and the problems we face.  As the weather changes, we change what we wear. If we are feeling stressed, we might hit the gym, or indulge in a guilty pleasure. We adapt.

So why are we not incorporating this innate adaptability into the way we work?  More often than not, we are faced with problems in the workplace that arise and adapt to the change as our flow of work does. To navigate these dynamic problems, we need to build on-demand teams in order to provide adaptability.

Accessing talent on demand allows us to achieve our goals, while balancing the resources we have with the resources we need. The challenge is how to find this balance.  Using a simple methodology, called SPEED, you can incorporate these on-demand teams into your workplace. Utilizing SPEED provides you with a way to access the growing independent talent pool and potential to achieve innovative results that could not be reached with your typical assets.

SPEED means thinking about your team in a much broader sense than simply placing names on an organizational chart. It’s about asking what your business needs and goals are, both now and in the future, and focusing on securing the right talent, regardless of the form it takes.

The SPEED methodology breaks down into five steps: Success, Plan, Execute, Evaluate and Decide. Each step is essential to securing the right talent.

SUCCESS: TAKE TIME TO IDENTIFY THE MOST IMPORTANT OUTCOME. 
The importance in success is to find focus in your project and clarity in the talent you need. Look at your team’s expertise and decide if there is a talent gap that needs filling to make the project a success. Optimizing for the expertise and skills needed for the project goals will help you achieve your objectives faster.

PLAN: GAIN CLARITY ON HOW TO MEET YOUR BUSINESS OBJECTIVES AND FILL THE GAP ON YOUR TEAM.  
You need a sound project description. A project description is essential to establishing exactly what you need a consultant to deliver. You are searching for the tools you don’t already have. Build the description before talking to any candidates, you want them to be able to hit the ground running and add value from day one.

EXECUTE: SETTING AND MEETING EXPECTATIONS. 
Once you have selected your consultant, set the project up for successful execution by documenting the project deliverables in a Statement of Work (SOW), onboarding the consultant, and integrating them into your team. The SOW will keep the priorities of your project clear. Onboarding and team integration will establish a trusting working relationship between the consultant, yourself, and the team.

EVALUATE: MAKE SURE THE WORK IS GETTING DONE AS AGREED UPON IN THE SOW. 
As business needs change, so will the goals and metrics. It’s important to keep this in mind when working with your consultant. Constant evaluation of metrics ensures goals are being met and both parties have the same understanding.

DECIDE: ONCE GOALS ARE ACHIEVED DECIDE IF THERE ARE NEW OR CONTINUING PROJECT NEEDS. 
The achievement of project goals makes us feel empowered to take on the next project faster and in a more efficient way. Each application of SPEED lessens the learning curve. But before we take on our next project, we must decide whether the current project remains a priority. If it is, continue the work and bring on additional resources as needed. If not, decide if the consultant has the skillset needed to help with the next project.

Now that you know the steps, you can embrace adaptability in your workplace. Let’s stop trying to fix our problems with a half empty toolbox. Find the tools you need, in the talent pool you now know how to access. It’s as simple as S-P-E-E-D.

 

Lisa Hufford is the founder of Simplicity Consulting and author of the newly released book “Navigating the Talent Shift: How to Build On-demand Teams That Drive Innovation, Control Costs, And Get Results

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The Energy Spectrum Of Work-Life Balance

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Huffington Post]

Energy ca1007_energyn be described as a feeling you have, a charged or emotional thought you have, the way your body feels, or even the way the room feels in a meeting. You have energy. Your team has energy. The company, your family, and the world have energy. Each person’s and each team’s energy mingles and mixes together and has a resulting impact — sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and sometimes neutral.

If you are a manager, is it very important to have awareness around your own energy, to be willing to see the flow of energy of your team and, when needed, have a conversation with your team about the impact of their energy on team and individual balance.

This is where awareness as a business skill becomes important for leaders and managers. When you have awareness around your behaviors and some of the behaviors of your team, then you can see the impact these behaviors have in terms of the energy or lack of energy people might have, which directly impacts both the quality and quantity of work produced.

As a leader of people, you are in a unique position to be able to see the behavior of your team, which also means you have a choice to see where and when the energy clogs or gushes. You also have a choice to have an intentional conversation about what is happening for the benefit of both the individual and the team.

There are many signs of energy imbalance, some are easier to see and address than others. Most times at work, these imbalances show up as stress behaviors. Managers might notice lack of engagement, defensive behavior, poor collaboration, and ongoing health issues. Interestingly, both too much or too little energy can have a negative impact on teams and outcomes.

Too little energy leads to behavior in which people are either unable to engage or choose to be under-engaged, too much energy creates behaviors in which people are either over-engaged or choose to be enraged. The ideal energy state is that of sustainable energy, a scenario when individuals are able to sustain or balance times of scarce or abundant energy circumstances, resulting in a healthfully engaged state of being.

There are certain markers to each energy state that through developing the skill of awareness leaders can learn to recognize and address before individuals experience burnout or fully disengage from their current role and consider moving on.

UNABLE TO ENGAGE
This type of energy can take the appearance of “burnout” and is usually driven by inability or fatigue from managing too much change and stress. Many times this person may be struggling with multiple and/or major health issues, which results in them missing work or being distracted while at work.

UNDERENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of a “victim” and is usually driven by lack of clarity in roles/commitments or low self-confidence. Many times this person is totally lost and overwhelmed with the work and unable to ask for support or assistance.

OVERENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of a “martyr” and is usually driven by fear of not being “good enough”. Many times this is the person who takes it all on and is unable to do it all (or do any of it well).

ENRAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of “passive aggressive” and is usually driven by lack of communication skills and/or an inability to express one’s thoughts and feelings. Many times this person is unsettled or angry about changes at work, volume of work, or type of assignments, and is lacking context between action and big-picture vision.

HEALTHFULLY ENGAGED
This type of energy can take the appearance of easy joy and light heartedness, with a positive “We’re in this together” attitude. Healthfully engaged people are able to clearly prioritize commitments, have open conversations about demands, and can identify stress triggers. They might have peaks of imbalance, but are able to understand the end point and are clear about what they need to do to sustain energy and engagement in those times.

There is no right or wrong way to begin talking to your team about energy states of imbalance. If you recognize any of the markers, have a conversation — an authentic conversation about what you have noticed. Try using opened ended questions to invite conversation and use phrases like: I’ve noticed (fill in the blank), tell me what is going on and is there is anything you need?

Regardless of the actual energy state many times people just need to talk it out and feel supported by leadership.

 

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The Linchpin To Balance: Boundaries

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post]

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Setting and communicating clear boundaries is the fulcrum to creating sustainable balance in whatever way you define balance for yourself (and for your team if you are a manager). Odds are strong that when you are feeling out of balance, it has to do with values. Sometimes it’s because your values may feel threatened, or you have gotten away from them, and a lot of the time it is has to do with the boundaries you set (or don’t set) to protect and honor your values.

This is just as much true at work as it is outside of work. On a simple level, boundaries teach other people what your values are and how to treat you. Communicating your boundaries helps those in your life to be clear around how to treat you, what your limits are and how far you are willing to go (or not go) in certain situations and circumstances. At work, boundaries keep you clear on your business purpose, priorities, and time management. Regardless of whether or not they are talked about at work -boundaries exist in the workplace.

Boundaries are tricky because you cannot see, smell, taste, or touch a boundary, but you know when it has been crossed, and you know when you are in a relationship with someone at work who is crossing the line. A good indication someone has crossed the line with you is that you might find yourself pretending that you didn’t actually see what you saw or hear what you heard in order to avoid conflict or confrontation. For example, “I can’t believe he sent that as a text message!” or “I can’t believe he said that to the room of customers.” Or, “That’s not part of my job!”

Before you can set and maintain workplace boundaries it’s important to figure out what you need. For most people, not much conscious attention is paid to how, why and what boundaries we set at and about our work. Boundaries as they apply to work can be divided into team boundaries and individual boundaries.

At the team level the best example of a boundary is a job description. (We all know what happens when one is not clear — it causes confusion, frustration and the team is not very productive.) Other common boundaries include your actual work and workflow. Question to help define team boundaries include clarity around reporting structure and who generates assignments, which isn’t always the same in many offices. Also worth considering is who sets your work priorities? (Answer: it’s a trick question as often times many people play a role.)

At the individual level the best example of a boundary is when you arrive and leave “work,” which in today’s world doesn’t always mean a physical space. Other commons boundaries include accepting meetings over lunch or breakfast, blocking time out for yourself to do work, attending (or not attending) every meeting you are invited to, how often you work from home and if you take vacation (and work from vacation).

When setting and maintaining boundaries, it is helpful to become aware of the choices you make around your needs and see where your actions support what you need. Answer the questions for yourself. Share the questions with your team and your family. Be consistent about the boundaries you set and have the courage to have the conversation.

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Balance Isn’t About More Time

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

timeAs a teacher and speaker on the topic of imbalance, I often hear people express their desires to have more time. Time to do more things – work things, personal things and relaxing things. People are often disappointed when I tell them balance has very little to do with quantity of time and more to do with quality of time.

The quantity perspective is simple math. There are 168 hours in a week. If you sleep eight hours a night, you have about 130 hours each week to spend on work and personal things. Generally, that splits into about 40 hours of work and 90 hours of non-work time each week. The question then becomes: How do you spend this time you have? Or, what’s the quality of your time?

Each of us can find more time in our day if we are willing to examine quality of time. And this requires the skill of awareness, which is our ability to see the world and how we show up in it. As it relates to time, awareness means observing without judgement how we actually spend our time. Just as we might eat empty calories that offer no nutritional value, most of us spend empty time on actions that don’t support our values or move us toward desired outcomes.

Empty time is not be confused with down time, which is intentional and serves to help us unwind and just be. It’s also not flow time, when time seems to stop because we are connected to our passions. Rather, empty time is when there’s no intention or awareness around why we do what we do when we do it.

For example, if you ask me if I watch television, I will tell you I do not. In reality, I spend a couple hours each night watching shows, about 14 hours a week. I don’t identity with spending my time this way, but I do. The same might be true for you, whether it’s television, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Candy Crush, or gossip magazines. We all experience empty time, at least occasionally.

This isn’t to say don’t watch television or disengage from social media. Rather, ask yourself why you do what you do when you do it. Consider if what you do supports your values – or if it’s empty time. Most of the shows I watch are about music, which is something I value, so I understand why I do what I do. At the same, I’m aware of my desire to spend more time watching live music and less time watching it on television. With this awareness, I have more information to make a different choice.

By asking yourself why you spend time the way you do, you can begin to create awareness and seek opportunities to shift your relationship with time. When people act without awareness they tend to feel a lack of time to do things they wish to do. It is through living with awareness that people begin to gain time to spend on things that invite more joy into their lives.

If you seek more time, examine how you spend the time you have and where you can dedicate more time to doing activities that support your values and bring you more joy.

The choice is yours. You can choose how to spend your 168 hours each week.

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