Sunday, December 30, 2007

Overwhelmed: Five Ways to Take Back Your Life

Below is a guest contribution from Amber Rosenberg,

Do you spend your energy worrying about everything you have to do instead of actually doing it? Has making dinner, picking up the dry cleaning or responding to e-mails become a monumental effort? Is your to-do list growing at unmanageable rates?

Lately, I’ve been observing what happens when I find myself in this undesirable place. I noticed that when I start to feel overwhelmed, I go to great lengths to check off ‘just one more thing’ from my to-do list. While this short burst of frenzied activity allows me to accomplish one thing, by the time I get to the second item, I’m totally exhausted.

So, I decided to try an experiment. For the last week, I tried to give into this stuck feeling; to surrender to it and to see what happens. When I slowed down, I noticed that the culprit was often unrealistic expectations of myself and my time.

When I started to have these unrealistic expectations of myself, it became easy to lose sight of why I committed to doing something in the first place. Once I became disconnected from the meaning behind my actions, it was easy to lose motivation. Losing motivation for one thing quickly snowballed into losing motivation for another thing, which contributed to an ever-growing to-do list and, eventually feeling overwhelmed.

Instead of giving into this frenzy, I decided to take some time to re-connect with what’s important to me - exercise, meditation, laughter and fun. Now I’m in the process of figuring out how to incorporate these into my everyday life.

So, when you’re overwhelmed, instead of trying to get as much done as quickly as you can, try slowing down to get re-connected with the meaning behind your actions. Try a few of these exercises to help you slow down:

1) As often as possible, stop for a moment and take several deep, relaxing breaths.

2) Do something that you used to do as a child. Run through a sprinkler, swing on a swing-set or draw a picture.

3) Go outdoors for as long as it takes get perspective. Take time to notice the details of nature – look up at the clouds, smell the grass, snow or rain and feel the fresh air on your skin.

4) Run up and down your stairs or do some jumping jacks or push-ups for 10 minutes. Explore how getting out of your mind and into your body helps you to feel both calm and energized.

5) Watch a funny movie or read a funny book. Laughter provides perspective and makes everything feel more manageable.

Spend a week trying these exercises and then look for patterns.
What do you notice? What are you learning? What is possible from here?
Write down what you learned or share it with your coach.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try letting go of your expectations and measuring your accomplishments. Instead, focus on slowing down and re-connecting with what energizes and feeds you. When you’re connected with your values and the guiding principles of your life, you’re connected to the natural fuel for getting things done.

Amber Rosenberg is a professional life coach who helps high-achieving working mothers manage their guilt and stress and re-define success on their own terms. After 12 years struggling to create her own work/life balance in the corporate and non-profit worlds, she is passionate about helping women actively choose how they want to spend their time. A popular speaker and frequently interviewed for national print, TV and radio media outlets, Amber co-authored the book Inspiration to Realization with a chapter on "How to Manage Your Love/Hate Relationship with Time". To sign-up for a complimentary coaching consultation, order a signed copy of her book or sign-up for the Working Mothers' FREE monthly e-zine, go to

Friday, December 28, 2007

Technology: Friend or Foe

Technology seems to be a catalyst to supporting the quest of many to find a more flexible work option. Technology allows us to easily work from home, or stay connected when we work part-time or an alternate schedule. I know I could not run my consulting business and spend a lot of time with my kids as I do now if I didn't have e-mail. I try to conduct as much business as possible through e-mail so that I can easily stay on top of things even on my off days by a quick check of e-mail. It would be impossible to return a client call with toddlers screaming in the background.

But that same technology that gives us the freedom to work when and where we want, also runs the risk of keeping us more connected with our work than with our family. I fortunately have not picked up Blackberry yet, so I am able to make it through an afternoon at the park with my kids without checking in. But, if my laptop is nearby, I can't resist the temptation to check-in, even if I am doing something fun with the kids. And a few days away on a vacation still includes my cell phone and related messages and necessary returned calls.

An astute MBA student makes many of these same observations (here). As the article points out, beyond risking your family time, staying plugged in can also lead to burn-out and disengagement with your work.

It is therefore important to set some boundaries on your use of technology outside of work hours. Here a few tips:
- Make sure you colleagues/clients are aware of your work schedule and availability. For example, on your off days, you may decide to check your e-mail just once in the afternoon. As long as those who need you understand that, they can plan their communications with you appropriately.
- Use your "out of office" settings on your e-mail, or keep your voicemail message up-to-date with your availability. Most people will be patient to wait to hear back from you as long as they know when you will be checking in.
- Leave your cell phone or Blackberry in your car when you are attending an event with your child. That urgent message will most likely be able to wait an hour while you watch your kid's school program, but you may miss your child's solo performance if you are distracted by a vibrating phone urging you to check your messages.

Technology has the potential to invade your family time, but only if you let it. Iknow it has allowed me to have the flexibility to work the schedule I want, but I also know I have to work hard to use technology in the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Season of Giving

Merry Christmas, or whatever winter holiday you celebrate! I think we are finally done celebrating, after nearly four full days of various parties and gatherings. I'm tired, but the kids had a blast and we have tomorrow off to recover.

As you read your local paper this week, you will most likely find a story about an organized charity or just a generous individual who made the difference for someone this holiday season. Whether it was Christmas gift for a child, or a dinner for a hungry family, our papers are filled this week with stories of holiday giving.

Interestingly, many women consider the opportunity to give back to their community an important part of their career aspirations. I am reading "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps" by Sylvia Ann Hewlett which shares data from a study conducted exploring women's work lives. The survey asked women what they really want from a career. High quality colleagues topped the list (82% desired), with the opportunity to "be my self" a close second at 79% and flexibility third at 64%. But, what I found fascinating was that the opportunity to give back to society ranked highly, desired by 56% of respondents, even more important than high income (42%).

While I am suprised to read this statistic, it does make sense. I agree that you must be satisfied with your life in general in order for your work to be satisfying. I think that your work must be integrated into your life, and if you want to give back to your community, then your work arrangement must support that pursuit. Unfortunately, in the push to find time for the basics, such as time with your kids, altruistic intentions often fall to the wayside. But, if giving to the community could be integrated into your work, then you might have an opporutunity to feel more balanced.

One way I have integrated community service into my work is through creating service learning projects for my college courses. I teach part-time at a local college and I have created projects for my business students to help out at local non-profit organizations. It is a win-win-win arrangement. My students learn valuable business skills, the non-profits receive valuable assistance, and I get to do my part to support the community.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dads and Work

As I've said before, Dads' perhaps have a bit more of a challenge in blanancing work and family. It is at this point in time unusual for a Dad to request a flexible work schedule. Those that do may actually face career suicide. Dads are much more quickly stereotyped as uncommitted to their job if they want to spend time with their families.

But more are doing so. Last week a USA Today article (here) discussed the challenge that men face in the workplace if they want time with their families.

It is unfortunate that it might come to a male request for a company to provide flexibility. But in the end, everyone benefits if companies are willing to test out flexiblity based on a Dad's request. Once they see the productivity, retention and health benefits they get from offering the flexibilty, we will be closer to it becoming the norm.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Holiday Party

Tonight we went to a Christmas party at the kids' school. This was in addition to the Christmas party they each had already in their individual classrooms. Last week we had a Holiday party with the pre-school PTA I belong to, as well as a Christmas party with the kids' playgroup. In addition to the kids' parties, we also have the work-related parties and of course the family parties. Each requires bringing some kind of food as well as a gift or two.

I'm not sure what my point is here. I guess it is just that for a supposedly joyful time of the year, we seem to do a lot of rushing around. Sometimes it seems like more stress than joy. We've tried cutting back and only attending those that we feel we need to attend, but that still keeps us busy. The kids always enjoy their parties, so we certainly wouldn't want to skip them. I also enjoy the opportunity to catch up with friends, as well as meet other parents. I can't say I'm crazy about the work-related parties, although they sometimes have good food and drink.

I do sometimes get so wrapped up in the hectic pace of the holidays, that I forget to enjoy them. But it is hard to when you need to bake cookies for the next party when you'd much rather be going to bed....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Work-at-Home Scams

In the search for family friendly work, many parents seek out opportunities to work-at-home. The opportunities seem plentiful. On a daily basis I receive or see several ads for work-at-home opportunities.

I have discussed some valid opportunities in the past, but want to caution against scams as you look for a work-at-home opportunity. You might actually find real work that does pay you, but you could also end up becoming involved in illegal activities. I just read a story (here) about a woman who took a job assisting a shipping company. What she didn't realize is that she was repackaging and shipping items that were purchased with stolen credit cards, assisting the scammer in moving stolen goods.

There are many other types of scams out there, many featured on a blog for New England Mothers (here- not kept up-to-date, but lists many examples of scams). Often times work-at-home scams are just pyramid schemes that require you to pay a fee to get started. You then make your money by getting others to pay a fee and join the process. For example, you might have to pay $50 to start a business stuffing envelopes. You are then sent ads to mail out to try to get others to pay the same fee to start an envelope stuffing business. You make money when others respond to the ad.

Generally, if a company requires a fee, be cautious. Many direct selling companies (such as Mary Kay or Creative Memories) will require you to purchase products. However, if you have to pay a fee you must know exactly what you are going to get for that fee. If you visit a website about working from home that doesn't clearly tell you what it is you will do, it is likely a scam. Before working for any company, check them out with the Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Health Benefits of Flexibility

A recent study found even more evidence that providing flexible work options is a good for business. Beyond ties to retention, productivity and even ethical behavior; researchers now believe that providing flexible work can improve workers' health.

The study, published in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (see summary here), found that employees' perceptions of workplace flexibility were associated with healthy behaviors such as frequent physical activity, healthy sleep habits and participation in stress management activities.

This is good news for organizations struggling with healthcare costs. Many companies are working on ways to promote healthy lifestyle choices in order to lower their insurance costs. Offering workplace flexibility is a relatively easy step that organizations can take to support their employees health.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Online Networking

At the Massachusetts conference earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary women doing some inspiring work. One of my fellow panelists, Cooper Munroe of discussed the nature and power of online networking. She shared several stories, including the success of her and her partner’s blogging response to Hurricane Katrina and the immense amount of relief they coordinated that likely went beyond what many governmental agencies provided (read about what they accomplished here).

I have always been an advocate for networking, and obviously attending a conference such as this provides a great networking opportunity. But, Cooper’s stories started me thinking about ways we can better use the Internet to network to help us succeed in what we want to do.

In my quest to keep my work family friendly, at the very least online networking has allowed me to reach out to others to simply commiserate. But our online friends can also help us build confidence, prepare our resumes or even identify the right contacts at a company we want to target. And networking online is certainly more family friendly than in-person networking as you can do it on your own schedule.

There are many sites out there, some for moms such as There are others targeted at parents such as I also suggest looking for local sites to network, either through your community or your profession. And finally, make sure you check out Cooper’s site as a great place to get started building your online network.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Feminine Mistake

I just returned from the Massachusetts’s Conference for Women where I spoke on a panel “Embracing the Chaos.” It was a great conference, providing resources and guidance for women with varying backgrounds and ages. More on that later.

I had the opportunity to hear from Leslie Bennett who wrote “The Feminine Mistake.” (See her website here). She was on a panel talking about “Opting Out” of the workforce, and while the rest of the panel seemed very optimistic about career re-entry after you make the decision to stay home, she was not necessarily so positive.

Leslie referred to the decision to stay home as the choice to become economically dependent. She shared several stories of women in their 50’s and 60’s who enjoyed staying at home with their children, but later found themselves near poverty following the death, disability or the divorce of their husband.

I haven’t read her book yet, but I plan to pick it up. She built some arguments that I feel were somewhat persuasive. While I sometimes feel guilty for working, Leslie argued essentially that you should feel guilty if you are not working. She also suggested we are wasting our time worrying about things we shouldn’t worry about- such as being the “perfect” mom. As she suggested, is it really so important to send homemade cupcakes to your kid’s school when you are the “snack mom?”

I’ll write further on this once I’ve read the book…..

Saturday, December 8, 2007


As I have mentioned before, being "green" and being "family friendly" truly goes hand-in-hand. Efforts that protect the earth seems to coincide with efforts to protect our family values.

As such, those interested in family friendly work may find some value in freecycling. In your efforts to minimize your financial obligations, you should attempt to procure things you need (or think you need) at the best prices. So how about free?

That is the idea with freecycling. The Freecycle Network originated in Tuscon, AZ in 2003. Since then the network has grown to over 4,000 groups around the world. Anyone can become a freecycler. Basically you join a local group, and when you have something that you are considering throwing away, you instead list it to your freecycle group.

In return, you receive messages from your group of their discarded treasures which you can pick-up if you are the first to respond. You can freecycle clothes, home items, yard supplies, equipment, etc. You can responsibly dispose of pretty much anything around your house, and in return, can often pick up things you might need.

The bottom line is that you can save money by picking up for free some things that you might otherwise spend money on. And meanwhile, you help minimize contributions to your local landfill. Check out the Freecycle Network at

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Be Proud of Your Work

I recently spoke to another working mom that seemed to not to want to admit that she was in fact a working mom. This woman made the decision to leave the corporate world and become a stay-at-home mom after her first child was born. However, she enjoyed her work as a marketing executive and ended up running a small consulting business working with companies to develop their marketing campaigns. Her business was not full-time, she only worked a couple of days each week, but it was none-the-less successful. She told me, however, that she was "just a stay-at-home mom" for several years. Only after some further discussion did I learn about her business.

I've seen this so many times. Women who are proud to be stay-at-home moms that seem to hate to admit that in addition to this role, they actually do some work that brings in some income for their families. Why is this? I know in my community, there seems to be more stay-at-home moms than working moms of the pre-schoolers I know. I am curious if to some extent it is a 'status' feeling. That is, do some feel that that it is important for others to know they don't need to work?

For me, obviously being a mom is an important part of my identity. But my work is also part of who I am. And I think that is a good thing. I think it helps me be less stressed because I feel I haven't totally lost myself in this process of becoming a parent. Am I wrong here?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday Stress

While most people look forward to the holiday season, working parents often see the season as just another source of stress in their lives. The key to surviving, or maybe even enjoying the holidays is to approach the season with a plan on minimizing the stress.

Here are a few suggestions:

- Involve your kids as much as possible in your holiday preparations. Even a toddler can put labels on greeting card envelopes or help tape the wrapping paper on gifts. While kids might slow down the process a little, involving them gives you a chance to spend some extra time with them while getting some holiday work completed.

- Consider where you can cut back. Can you do four strings of lights in your front yard instead of 20 strings? Can you cut back on your gift list? Over the last few years I've had important discussions with many family and friends to suggest that we would enjoy the holidays more if we didn't exchange gifts. Or, we participate in more gift exchanges instead of buying for everyone (i.e. all of the cousins just pick one name instead of buying for every cousin).

- Attack your holiday shopping with a plan. Have a specific list of gifts you want to get and do some online exploring before you head out to the stores so you don't waste too much time looking around for the best deals. I try to do all of my shopping in one day. It makes for a long day, but saves many other trips.

- Speaking of online, do as much shopping as you can online. You can save a lot of time, and often a lot of money by searching for gifts online. Further, you can shop at odd hours such as late night or early morning when stores aren't open, but you might have some free time.

- Don't neglect yourself in the process. Keep eating right and exercising to keep yourself healthy. There is nothing worse than trying to make it through holiday parties if you don't feel well.

Don't allow yourself to get so caught up in the "work" of the holidays so that you do not enjoy this festive time of the year. If you have a plan to attack the holiday season, you can enjoy the holidays with your family.