Monthly Archives: January 2015

Who will define your balance?

It is a harsh reality, but in the end we are responsible for finding our own work life balance. Bad news and good news. Good news bad newsToday as I scramble to finish five urgent projects I am reminded that no company policies will find more time in my day for balance. On the other hand, a TEDtalk I heard a few years ago helped me better understand what I need to feel more in balance and steps I could take to be my own pilot.

To finish up our month of conversation on work life balance I am sharing a 10 minute TEDtalk by Nigel Marsh that is humorous, harsh and helpful. Nigel paints a realistic picture of the challenges each of us face in the world of work and then pointedly puts the responsibility for taking action on you! The points that resonate with me include:

  • Define what work life balance means to you
  • Expand your time horizon for your work life balance
  • Look for small actions that can make a big difference

I hope you find his talk as valuable as I did, here is the link – Nigel Marsh TEDtalk 

See you next month.

Todd Thorsgaard


Finding your balance

balance beam 2As we’ve discussed this month, encouraging a healthy mix of attention to work and other areas of life is a key leadership skill. While “balance” means different things to different people, paying attention to the subject is critical for personal and organizational health.  Here are a couple of articles from Harvard Business Review that provided useful tips.

First, a recent study,  Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life,  asked senior leaders how they balance work and life priorities. Tips included:

  • Define what balance looks like for you and set personal goals
  • Manage technology; decide when, where, and how you will be available for work
  • Build support networks
  • Be selective about travel and relocation opportunities
  • Collaborate with your partner

On the flip side, Help Your Overwhelmed, Stressed-Out Team provided specific strategies to help leaders support their staff.

  • Make sure everyone understands the unique contribution the team makes to the organization’s mission and goals
  • Evaluate workloads to be sure team members are able to focus on the highest priority areas
  • Encourage team members to schedule at least an hour each day of uninterrupted time to focus on strategic work
  • Carefully assess meetings and ensure they have a clear purpose and that the right people attend
  • Set boundaries about after-hours work, including responding to email
  • Lead by example

As leaders, we set the norms for ourselves and those we work with. How are you supporting balance for yourself and your staff?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Take your vacation, please

Over a decade ago, I was coordinating a work/life program for faculty and staff at the University of Minnesota and wrote an article about the importance of taking your vacation. Amazingly, not many of the statistics on overwork and vacation use have changed since then.

Jobs can be greedy things, gobbling up all the time we give them. Nearly half (46 percent) of U.S. employees feel overworked, according to the Families and Work Institute. That overwork has serious implications for safety in the workplace, job performance, retention, and health care costs. According to a recent survey conducted by research firm Harris Interactive, only 51% of employees use their eligible vacation time and paid time off. Even more concerning, their findings showed that 61% of Americans work while they’re on vacation, despite complaints from family members. And one-in-four reported being contacted by a colleague or boss about a work-related matter while taking time off.

Vacations are an important rest, recovery, and renewal strategy for creating work/life balance–especially in our fast-paced, 24/7 world. They provide an opportunity to recharge our batteries, so that we can return to work refreshed.

As leaders, it’s not only an important strategy to take your vacation, but to model that behavior for those you lead. I still recall a conversation with a former college president from early in my career. She had served as director of the Office for Women at the American Council on Education and as an executive coach to other senior leaders. When I asked her what one piece of advice she had to share with leaders about work/life balance, she said that taking time off was absolutely critical for leaders to avoid burnout. Her personal strategy to avoid burnout was taking one week off every three months. And she advocated that every leader find something outside of work that they were passionate about and that fed their soul. For her, it was playing piano that helped her to regain some sense of work/life balance.

Do you have something outside of work that re-energizes you? What rest, recovery, and renewal strategies work best for you?

Last week I discovered that my children’s spring breaks fall in the same week, which is a mini-miracle since one is in college a few hours away and the other one is in our local high school. If the stars align and my husband can get the week off, we might just be able to squeeze in a short vacation this spring to visit my sister and her family in Florida. vacationThe chance to reconnect with extended family and the prospect of even a few hours on a sandy beach sounds like rest and renewal to me. I’ll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, I encourage you to take your vacation, please.


Executive brownout in a 24/7 world

phone at the beachTechnology is both one of the best tools and one of the worst problems for managing work and life commitments. Being connected to work 24/7 means we can check in on projects whenever and wherever we want. It also means those projects follow us, even during off hours.

Consultant Michael Kibler coined the term “executive brownout” to describe this situation. Writing for Harvard Business Review, he explains that many high-performing employees are “operating in a silent state of continual overwhelm” with symptoms such as:

  • Negative health effects due to lack of sleep and self-care
  • Strained relationships with family and friends
  • Weakening of non-work personal interests
  • Diminished ability to concentrate in non-business conversations

At first these may look like personal issues, but Kibler believes that they become toxic, eventually leading to disengagement and loss of the very passion that caused people to work so hard in the first place. He cites the example of Mohamed El-Erian, who resigned from a high-profile investment officer position due to executive brownout. As El-Erian explains in this interview, his work-life balance had gotten “way out of whack” and he realized he had to do something when his daughter presented him with a 22-item list of important events he had missed in her life.

Blurring of the lines between work and home life impacts many workers, not just executives. The European Union Working Time Directive  guarantees employees the right to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours and a break of at least 24 uninterrupted hours each week. While the reality varies from place to place, it’s clear that many employees are saying “enough is enough.”

As leaders, how can we address these problems for ourselves and our staff? One key is to recognize the problem and how we might be contributing to it. Does the workplace culture encourage down time, or is it common for people to work on nights and weekends? Are people encouraged to take vacations – and disconnect during them – or do they sometimes feel guilty for missing work? The tone we set and the behavior we model will make a difference.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Breathe – there’s an app for that!

I was having lunch with a leader last week. We were discussing the chaotic environment and demands that leaders in higher education face today and we agreed that finding more hours in the day would be a great solution. Great idea but not very realistic, sad to say. 24-Hours-Is-not-Enough---short-long-infinity-T-Shirts

I shared that I had found some studies focusing on applying mindfulness in the work setting as a way to help with work-life balance. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist and writer, has stated that “meditation is an act of sanity” in today’s world. Since we can’t create more time, mindfulness can help us be more aware in the moment and find our own equilibrium. At this point my colleague started to laugh and said, “I just found an app for that.” He has started to use Headspace , a free app for android and iOS  devices that introduces mindfulness in short bursts that are easy to try and can be done anywhere. Perfect for busy leaders. The app guides you through a series of 10 minute learning events designed to help you establish a mindfulness practice that works for you.

There are many oMorningCoffee_webptions for learning more about mindfulness. Here is a link to a number of apps. I wanted to share one example that a leader I know is using to help manage the stress and demands of leading in chaotic times.

Todd Thorsgaard



A call to service

service “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Part of balancing work and life is determining how we fit in the multiple commitments we make to ourselves, our families, our workplaces, and our communities. You might know that the President has created a national call to service initiative, called: United We Serve , which calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. There are many opportunities to participate in community service on MLK day. It is a chance to start the year off right by making an impact in your community.  Here is a handy link to Toolkits to plan for the Day of Service today, during the next year, or in future years.

How do you fit community service into the many commitments you balance?

Anita Rios

Small choices to improve well being

As leaders, I think we all know intuitively that we need to pay attention to our own health and wellness in order to be at the top of our game. However, making healthy choices, whether it involves eating well, exercising, or getting adequate sleep, can take a back seat to the busy work and life demands of a leader.

eat move sleepFor leaders looking for some good ideas to improve their well being, I can recommend Tom Rath’s recent book Eat Move Sleep.  You may recognize Tom as the grandson of the founder of StrengthsFinder and a bestselling author and leadership expert in his own right. What you may not know is that Tom has been quietly managing a serious illness for more than 20 years. I was surprised to hear him speak last year at a national conference and tell about his long battle with cancer and his resulting quest to keep himself alive through nutrition, exercise, and rest. His new book is a result of wide range of information he has collected on the impact of eating, moving, and sleeping.

His main point is that small choices can lead to big changes, especially as you make good decisions automatic by building them into habits.

I’ve experienced the small choices/big changes effect first hand. Over the last year, while trying to manage the effects of chronic facial pain, I made a couple of small choices to improve my overall sense of wellbeing. I decided to exercise more in hopes of increasing endorphins to manage my pain. More specifically, I challenged myself to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes per day. To make this happen, I also committed to utilizing the workout facility in our office building over my lunch hour and I bought a used stationary bike at home for days when I can’t get outside to exercise.

Those choices meant no longer scheduling lunch meetings when I could avoid it and scheduling time on my calendar for exercise either at work or at home. It has now become automatic for me and I’m seeing some additional health benefits as a result, like stress reduction and maintaining a healthy weight.

What small choices might you consider to make big changes in your well being?

Anita Rios

Work-life balance is not a number

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is a quote often attributed to Peter Drucker that has become accepted as a truth. Think how often you have heard it cited in a meeting. Guess what? He never said it!!

Here is adogma-if-you-cant-measure-it-you-cant-manage-itn example of what Drucker actually believed, as shared by the Drucker Institute; “Your first role . . . is the personal one,” Drucker told Bob Buford, a consulting client then running a cable TV business, in 1990. “It is the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community. This is something only you can do.” Drucker went on: “It cannot be measured or easily defined. But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.” 

Finding work-life balance forces us to focus on more than how much can I get done in each day and a numerical balance point of “work” time and “life” time.

One of my favorite writers in the New York Times, the Sketch Guy, put it this way; “We can make as many lists as we want and count as many things as we like. But people aren’t widgets, and much of our leisure time is about time spent with the people who matter to us,” and with people, “doing nothing measurable is one of the most important things we do.” Doing nothing

I struggle with this paradox as I plan my week ahead. Meetings, projects, workout schedules, and parenting events all require my attention! And all can be counted, or checked, or crossed off and then tallied up, which feels good. Yet, I still end up feeling out of whack and not balanced if I ignore “doing nothing” with people for too long.

One small step I have taken over the past 5 years is to hold Sunday evenings to get together with a couple of buddies to just shoot pool and “shoot the breeze.” We have no agenda, we aren’t very good at pool, and we don’t want to join a league. No one takes attendance but most Sunday evenings two or three of us are there “doing nothing.”

What do you do to “do nothing” with people in your busy schedule?

Todd Thorsgaard

Legacy mindset and work-life success

buzz aldrinI’ve had several experiences recently that got me thinking about what work and life success actually means for me. First, I heard a book review of Buzz Aldrin’s Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon. In it, he describes the career-topping success of being the second person to walk on the moon, followed by the shattering realization that he had no remaining career goals and no idea of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Soon after, I read the most recent newsletter from Doug Stevenson, a consultant who is skilled in incorporating storytelling into effective leadership. Unlike most of his newsletters, this one wasn’t about tips and techniques. Instead, he reflected on his successful career and how his priorities changed once he became a grandfather.

At this stage of my life, having had a level of success that is very fulfilling, the questions I ask myself have changed. Instead of asking how I can get more bookings or what story I should tell in my next keynote, I’m more interested in what to do after the applause. What do I want my life to look like ten years from now? — Doug Stevenson

Glenn Llopis at Forbes described this as a “legacy-driven mindset.” He says it is important, not only at the end of one’s career, but throughout one’s professional life.  It can help us build and sustain our leadership success by:

  1. Knowing our personal identity and values
  2. Leading from a set of guiding principles
  3. Leading with courage and taking risks when needed
  4. Helping others to advance
  5. Promoting responsibility and accountability

So where do you want to be in the next 10 years with your leadership and life journey?  What will work and life success look like at the end of your career? How could a legacy-driven mindset help you to get there?

Dee Anne Bonebright




Success and well-being

huffingtonTodd and I recently had a chance to hear a keynote presentation from Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. At last year’s international meeting of the Association for Talent Development, she had an audience of several thousand training and development professionals. What topic did she choose to address?  Personal well-being.

As a very successful business professional, Huffington told us about the importance of what she called the “third metric.”  Beyond money, and power, she believes that our leadership success should be measured based on well-being, health, and our ability to unplug ourselves and re-charge our batteries.

As she describes in this TED talk, she came to that belief the hard way.  After pushing herself to exhaustion, she fell asleep at her desk and ended up in the hospital with a broken cheekbone. That started her on a journey of learning about the importance of sleep. I especially liked this quote:

If we don’t take the time to renew when we are healthy, disease will take it for us.  — Arianna Huffington

As many of you mentioned in our recent survey, there is always more to do than time to do it. Taking time to renew ourselves mentally and physically can be critical in helping us perform at our best. It can feel like a luxury, but it’s also a business necessity. 

What helps you feel refreshed? How do you make time for activities that recharge your batteries?

–Dee Anne Bonebright