Can you really achieve work-life balance?

pebble stackIt’s National Work Life week and it seems to me that people are divided on whether you can achieve work-life balance. Most people realise the importance of work-life balance, both for themselves and their employees. The financial argument for offering work-life balance is strong. Ample evidence highlights the link between stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and sickness absence.  Improved employee well-being increases staff engagement and  productivity. Many employers therefore offer well-being initiatives to their staff.

There seems however to be a kind of cynicism amongst people, who realise the importance of work-life balance, offer it to their staff even, but feel that for themselves it is not realistic to achieve work-life balance.

The individual arguments against the possibility of achieving true work-life balance are strong. The solopreneur worries that taking a break will result in disproportionate loss of earnings. The start-up doesn’t have money to delegate activities to outside agencies.  The employee is worried about job security and career prospects if they leave on time. The manager is either aware of the workload of their team and doesn’t want to burden them more or feels that the team’s lack of experience and skills makes it impossible to delegate.

So how can you achieve work-life balance if you are overworked and under pressure? Or is it an impossible undertaking? Here are two home truths to consider.

1. Productivity does not automatically increase in line with hours worked

Whilst productivity appears to increase in a linear manner, this is only true for the first 40 hours per week. A study published by John Pencavel of Stanford University shows that employee output falls sharply after 50 hours. Someone who works 70 hours per week produces the same that output than someone working 56 hours per week. Another study by the Business Roundtable showed that if you work 60 hours per week for an 8 week period, your output was the same as if you had worked 40 hours. If you worked 80 hours per week, this effect shows after only 3 weeks.

Unfortunately I have witnessed too many comments where managers judged their employees based on the amount of unpaid overtime they were willing to work. It might be time for you to show your boss the evidence in favour of a 40 hour week, and have a clear conversation about your availability. Admittedly that takes a lot of courage.

2. Less work doesn’t mean more balanced

No matter how much or how little time you can spend away from work, it’s what you do with this time that’s important. To live a balanced and healthy life you need to do more than switch off your computer and leave the office. How many of us come home from work, do some last minute shopping, make dinner, possibly get the kids ready for bed, check the newsfeed or social media on the smartphone, followed by a couple of hours of telly?

There are things you can and should do no matter how little time you have away from work.

  • Make sure that you get at least 7-8 hours’ sleep per night, as your productivity is likely to decline if you continuously only achieve 5-6 hours of sleep. You are also more prone to errors after insufficient sleep.
  •  Fitting in 30 minutes of exercise in the morning will improve your physical and mental energy and release endorphins, hormones that make you happy.
  • Restrict the use of your smartphone; at least don’t look at it first thing in the morning. Doing so triggers an overload of information. This in turn scatters your focus and reduces your ability to sustain attention.
  • Schedule in some me time. Reading a good book, taking a hot bath, getting a massage can all help us to de-stress. Do something that’s important to you.

Achieving a 9-5 workday is difficult if not unrealistic for the majority of us. At the very least we need to accept that there may be peaks in work demands. It is however possible to achieve work-life balance, by paying more attention to the way we spend our time outside of work.

Why you should go to the next Stonehenge solstice and write that book.

StonehengeI’m making the assumption that we’ve all got things we always wanted to do and somehow never quite got around to. I’m no exception there.

A while back I was driving past Stonehenge with my coaching supervisor. Those who know me will be aware that my specialism is in beating procrastination and enabling others to meet the challenge of change. So when I said “ I’ve always wanted to go to the Stonehenge summer solstice.” I was immediately found out. “What do you mean you’ve always wanted to… get out there and do it” was the quick response.

I immediately thought of a number of excuses ranging from practicalities such as the next day’s school run to downplaying the importance of the goal.

Of course it was true; going to Stonehenge wouldn’t get me any closer to any of my personal or professional goals. Yet I became more and more aware I would regret it if I never went. I have always been curious about it and wanted to experience the special atmosphere of the event. The practicalities were easy enough as well, after all, summer solstice falls on a weekend every few years and I live about an hour’s drive away. So, in 2020 I am going to the Stonehenge Summer solstice.

Because I think that is what it’s all about. It’s important to pursue our goals in life and business and focus on what we want to achieve. But equally, we shouldn’t lose sight of those things that we would regret not having done. Surveys of professionals about their top regrets in life identify a regret of not having pursued their passions as well as working too hard and missing out on life. There is no better time then now to address those future regrets.

What is it you have always wanted to do? And when will you do it?


How to beat procrastination in one minute

How to beat procrastination when a deadline approaches

Do you want to make changes in your life but keep putting it off? Did you have an important email to write but instead found yourself looking at your news feed yet again? Is your carpet collecting dust whilst your smartphone is not? Believe it or not, I am procrastinating right now. Instead of writing a blog I should be following up on a couple of important business leads before they turn cold. But I much prefer writing to calling strangers. And there’s always tomorrow, isn’t there?

For many of us, procrastination keeps us from completing urgent tasks, from making important changes to our lives, from becoming more productive. Yet people who manage to overcome procrastination have been shown to have lower levels of stress and higher well-being.

Have you ever wondered how to beat procrastination? Today I will concentrate on the idea of the one minute improvement. It derives from the Japanese concept of Kaizen, which simply means “change for better”. In manufacturing terms it is the practice of continuous improvements, of making deliberate, constant changes for the better.

How can you use Kaizen in everyday life?

To achieve long term change it is better to make small changes every day, so they become routine. Psychologically it is much more difficult to put off short bursts of activities. Short activities rarely meet resistance, whereas larger, more time consuming actions are more daunting and lead to procrastination. Let’s look at some practical examples:

Become fit:

It’s not very effective planning on going to the gym three times a week for a rigorous workout when in reality you only end up going once a fortnight, if that. It’s much more effective to take the stairs instead of the lift every day or getting off the bus one stop early. These are small but effective bouts of physical activity, because they add up when they become part of a routine. It is also quite tricky to procrastinate on taking the stairs.

Improve your social media presence:

If you are anything like me you hardly used social media before starting your business. Then you realise the importance of a good online presence and content marketing. You speak to the experts and are overwhelmed by the need to write regular blogs, let alone posting constantly on Twitter, Facebook and any other platform out there. So if you are anything like me you keep putting it off. It’s a big task and it’s daunting. Now consider sending one tweet a day. It could just be retweeting. Maybe build it into your routine to tweet during the evening TV commercial. That’s much better than nothing. Plus you are likely to come across awesome content on Twitter that you could quickly share on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Do you want to find out more about how to beat procrastination?  Do you need support to achieve your goals? Check out my webpage to find out how I can help.

Did you have a successful 2017? 5 reasons why leaders need to celebrate small achievements.

'Hold on’, you may say – ‘it’s only February – of course I haven’t accomplished my goals for 2017’. And yet there has been a flurry of activity over the past weeks, contributing to the bigger goals you have set for the year. On closer inspection there will be many successes that are worth mentioning. Some of these will be special accomplishments, such as the launch of a new website, signing a major client or exceeding the monthly sales target. Other achievements will be much smaller, everyday events. Some of my small successes over the past week include:

  • successfully managed a difficult conversation I had put off for a while
  • presented lively talk to an interesting audience
  • found the time to read an inspirational book
  • stuck to healthier eating plan

But why should you celebrate such apparently normal, everyday achievements? We often prefer to be modest and feel that our successes are insignificant. We also tend to be overly critical of our achievements, only seeing the areas of improvement. We don’t wish to appear arrogant. Yet there are compelling reasons why you should start to embrace and celebrate successes.

1. It changes the way you are viewed by others

We like to be around successful, positive people. Celebrating your successes will change the way others perceive you. People will see you as more competent and capable. They will want to be around you and work with you. Your team members will be proud to be part of your team.

2. It raises your profile

Since you present yourself as someone who is competent and get things done well, you will be on other people’s radar the next time someone is needed for a big project. Potential clients will be more aware of you and are more likely to contact you if they need services you provide.

3. It makes you feel successful

Business success doesn’t happen overnight. We may feel like failure if we look at other successful businesses or teams. Celebrating the small achievements will make you and your team aware that you are on the road of success and will create a positive mindset. If you concentrate on the mistakes and flaws, it will make you less attractive, and worse, it will demotivate and disengage your team.

4. You will be perceived as a leader

If you show your achievements and demonstrate what you are capable of, people are more likely to listen to your opinion. Your views will be perceived as more important. This will make it easier for you to influence others and it will help you to firmly establish yourself as a leader.

5. Small successes add up to big achievements

Every big success is made up of a number of small actions. Every little milestone you achieve brings you one step closer to accomplishing your overall goal. Celebrating these milestones will make the goal look so much more achievable.  It provides you and your team with additional motivation.

Give it a try

I invite you to take a blank piece of paper and list ten small (and big) achievements over the past few weeks. You will probably notice that this little exercise will not only make you more aware of your successes but also motivate you to continue pursuing your goals. Now repeat this exercise with your team.


So you’ve been overlooked for promotion – 5 steps to make sure it won’t happen again

You've been working hard, you thought you had the skills, you thought you'd be next in line for promotion - and now there's somebody else in the chair. Do you

a) resign

b) take out a grievance

c) hit the bottle (or your head against a wall)

d) make sure it won't happen again

For those of you who prefer to be proactive about the situation, here are four vital tips to help you progress your career after a setback.

1. Keep calm and carry on

It is only natural to be angry, hurt or resentful after all the hard work you have put into your job but nobody likes to have negative or overly emotional colleagues around them. Show your colleagues and managers that you can remain professional in all circumstances and keep your emotions under control.

Try and take your next break away from the office. Head outside for a walk at lunchtime if possible. Fresh air can do wonders to relieve stress. If you are finding it hard to hold back your emotions and can't leave the office, it's probably best to bury your head in work, even if you are proof-reading an email that's already been sent.

2. Talk to your boss

If you want to have a shot at the next promotion opportunity, you need to find out why you didn't get it this time around. Your boss is the only person who can really tell you why you weren't successful. Maybe your skills set or experience let you down, but maybe it's just a matter of which candidate performed better on the day of interview. As hard as it may be, eventually you will need to ask for honest feedback.

Your boss may be uncomfortable talking to you about the reasons why you were passed over, so it is important that you are not confrontational. A simple "I am really keen to progress my career with this company, could you tell me where I need to do to improve so I am successful next time around?" will tell your boss two important things: you have a long term interest in the company and you are willing to work hard to develop your career.

3. Work hard and be visible

It's very tempting to throw in the towel and refuse to work more than absolutely necessary, especially if you worked long hours over the months leading up to this moment. However it is even more important now to show colleagues and management that you are a force to be reckoned with.

Try and network with as many people as possible to increase visibility. This is probably not the time to be quiet about your successes either - if you have achieved something make sure people know about it (try not to gloat though). Maybe there is training that could help you bridge a skills gap or an opportunity to shadow a more senior colleague in your own time. Bosses generally look favourably upon staff that take responsibility for their own development - and it doesn't have to be an expensive training course.

4. Start thinking like a manager

If you want to be successful in a more senior position, pure technical skills usually won't be enough to convince your manager to give you an opportunity. As a senior team member you don't just need to know your products and customers, you also need to have some insight into the company's running, financial situation and short and long term priorities. You can start by asking your manager and other senior staff about this and soon you will be able to demonstrate that you really understand the business.

5. Reassess your situation

Sometimes it seems like a promotion is never going to happen, despite all efforts. Maybe there isn't a personality fit, maybe it is unlikely that a position will become available anytime soon, or your company is looking for a specific skills set that you don't have at the moment. Maybe you are simply fed up trying. Under these circumstances it is best to reassess whether looking for a promotion within your current company is still the right goal for you at this point in time.

It's important that you take some time to reassess your priorities and your interests. What do you like about your company and your current position? Why are you keen on the promotion? Is it because of money, recognition or a more interesting job role? Are there other ways in which you could achieve this? This is a time where a coach could be useful to help you gain clarity over your goals. Whatever the outcome - whether you are going to make changes or continue to seek that promotion - learn your lessons and don't give up.

Angry woman punches fist in the air