Category Archives: work/life balance

Work-Life balance in 5 easy steps

Sorry. I just added that title so you’d open this post. Actually, the more experience I have as a leader and the more I hear other people’s stories, the less I think there are any easy answers for work-life balance.

A popular post from Inside Higher Ed, titled “It’s 4:30 in the morning, do you know where your work-life balance is?” recounts the daily experiences of a wife, mother, and tenure-track faculty member. She says that her life can be crazy, and while she hasn’t found balance, she has found fulfillment in both home and career.

On the other hand, this report in the Wall Street Journal, written about a year after the death of her husband, explains how “Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg rethinks part of ‘lean in’.” Raising two teens by herself, and dealing with grief in public, have given her a new view of work and life. As she says, it’s really hard. Sometimes things change and Option A is no longer available. So what will you do with Option B?

If you are a faculty member of color, or a female in a male-dominated field, things get even more challenging. An article from Inside Higher Ed describes the stress and frustration that may result from being the only minority in a predominantly white institution. The author gives some suggestions for dealing with this stress. While they won’t promote work-life balance in a few easy steps, they are good advice for anyone:

  1. Find some mentors
  2. Work efficiently and manage time well
  3. Find and use wellness resources
  4. Separate work time and personal time
  5. Build your professional brand and credentials

As leaders, there is no single policy or procedure we can enact that will ensure work-life balance for ourselves and our team members. Maybe that’s not even the right goal. The common theme to these stories is about figuring how to thrive wherever our live and career journeys take us.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Want to increase your self awareness? Try this!

I have a confession. While I’ve read the research showing that mindfulness meditation practice has the capability of increasing self awareness and leadership effectiveness, I’m rather late to the party. Perhaps my resistance was a result of my introduction to meditation as a high school sophomore.  In gym class we were instructed to sit cross-legged on a mat, close our eyes, slowly breathe in and out, and recite a two-syllable mantra of our choosing for 15 minutes. Needless to say, it felt weird not talking or listening or moving for that long. Plus, I didn’t really understand why sitting with my eyes closed, repeating the word hel-lo was at all useful at the time. I just chalked it up to something that didn’t work for me.

So, many years later, upon the urging of my neurologist, I finally tried it.  Not as a way to improve my leadership effectiveness, mind you, but as a strategy to manage and reduce pain from a head injury. Last November, I picked a free mindfulness meditation app on my phone that promised to work for “fidgety skeptics.” I thought that was an accurate description of me. I was still pretty resistant to practicing meditation, although I fully understood the benefits.

Interestingly, I found that after a couple weeks of using the mindfulness meditation app, I was able to not only increase my awareness of my body and reduce pain by recognizing where I was tensing muscles in my face, neck, and shoulders and relaxing them, but I also increased awareness of my emotions.  I began to recognize emotional triggers faster and manage them better. Rather than reacting in the moment, I found myself stepping back and examining my emotions more often. More important, I noticed that I was choosing my responses more effectively. These were pretty huge benefits from 5-9 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day.

While I’m just at the beginning of my mindfulness practice, I’m looking forward to reaping more benefits from it. According to neuroscience research articulated by a leading mindful leadership program called Id8TE, mindfulness can help to:

  • Increase self awareness and authenticity
  • Train your attention and deepen concentration
  • Improve critical thinking, planning, and decision making
  • Increase working memory and attention span
  • Sharpen situational awareness
  • Communicate thoughtfully and strategically
  • Respond to adversity with strength and resilience
  • Establish a calm and compassionate leadership presence
  • Attract, engage, and mobilize others

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? If you’re not already practicing mindfulness or you’re a fidgety skeptic like me, I’d encourage you to give it a try. There are many mindfulness apps you can download right to your phone these days, like: The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm, Mindbody, buddhify, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Meditation Timer Pro, Sattva, Stop Breathe & Think, and 10% Happier.

At a basic level, mindfulness helps you pay attention to and recognize your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Recognizing your feelings is especially helpful.  As emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman says, “Without being able to recognize your feelings, you can’t control them. This inevitably effects your disposition–and output–at work.”

Anita Rios

At the lake…

lake michigan“If we connect with nature, we can reconstruct our soul, spirit and strength.” – Lailah Gifty Akita

This month we will be taking a brief break from our blog. August is exceptionally busy for leaders in higher education. Most are trying to squeeze in the last days of summer vacation and get ready for fall semester.

I can relate. It seems work has been non-stop since spring. So, I’m really ready for some time away to recharge my batteries. Next week, I’ll be spending some time camping on Lake Michigan with my family. I love camping because it helps me connect with nature and refuels me in a way that nothing else can.

Please look for us in September, when we will focus on our next leadership competency in Minnesota State: Demonstrates Good Stewardship.

Until then, I hope that you are able to take a little time for rest and renewal before the fall semester begins!  As for me, I’m hoping for warm sunny days and cool, star-filled nights along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Anita Rios

Don’t read this post – at least not today!

Best of 2015, first published on July 3, 2015
This holiday advice works as well in December as it did last July. I hope that you are able to rest and recharge over our winter break. And yes, I did take that vacation in August and I did disconnect. It felt great!

–Dee Anne Bonebright

Assuming WordPress works as it’s supposed to, this post will come out on July 3, which is a holiday for MnSCU. I’m writing it beforehand and setting it to automatically post, but I’m also planning to log in on Friday to make sure it worked. And while I’m there, I’ll probably check my email. And maybe do a couple of things to be sure I’m ready for the following week…

iphone at lunchDoes that sound familiar? Technology can be a great benefit for leaders, but it also means work can follow you 24/7.  Foresters, a global financial services firm, researched the impact of technology on personal lives and found that 43% of participants thought electronic devices make it impossible to truly “leave work at work” and be fully present for their families. Almost half thought that technology was ruining the family vacation.

Foresters started a Tech Time Out challenge that encourages families to take a break from technology.  Check out this short video introduction and visit their website for ideas.

Here are some other tips about how to disconnect on your next vacation, whether it’s a couple of hours, a day, or even longer:

  1. picard readingLeave the laptop at home. Don’t tempt yourself by bringing work on vacation.  If you want to read for pleasure, bring a Kindle or follow Captain Picard’s advice and try a hard-copy book.
  2. Delete work email from your phone. Set up a vacation notification and give your number to someone who can contact you if there’s a real emergency.
  3. Disable notifications from all your social media sites.
  4. Get away from it all. Consider an unplugged vacation to somewhere with no access to TV, wifi, or phone connections.

The tech site recommends figuring out what will work for you and setting up a plan in advance. Vacations are supposed to be a time to relax and re-charge, so identify what technology will support that and what won’t. Decide how you want to use tech while you’re away from the office, and then stick to it.

I’m still planning to log in on Friday, but I’m taking a real vacation in August and will follow the tips above. What can you do this summer to disconnect and refresh?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Are you losing air?

Best of 2015, first published on January, 2015
The holiday season can be exhilarating and fulfilling as we take time to connect with family and friends. On the other hand we can also end up feeling drained and overextended. This post reminds me of the importance of assessing where I am and where I want to be as we wrap up 2015. –Todd Thorsgaard

It is one of the most depressing feelings while biking. I can be riding along; happy, outdoors, feeling strong and having fun. Everything is in synch and flowing until I feel myself slowing down and I can tell I am riding on a flat tire. I may hear a loud pop and a fast “whoosh” as all the air escapes at once or a soft, almost evil, hiss as my tire gradually goes flat. Or I may hear nothing at all and just have a soft tire. Either way it means I need to stop what I am doing, assess the situation, and take the appropriate action to refill my tire so I can get back to riding.

Bike flat largeSometimes I have just gone too long without pumping up my tires and I  need to use my CO2 cartridge and add air, other times I have hit an unexpected bump in the road or run over a small sharp object and need to patch a hole before adding air. Occasionally my inner-tube has been neglected and ruptured in multiple places and I need to completely replace it with a new one before I can add air.

We go flat in our lives when we lose our work and life balance. How you refill yourself depends on the type of leak you are experiencing. Paul Blatz, founder and president of Good Leadership Enterprises, encourages leaders to utilize his 7Fs Wheel to understand where they may be leaking energy or if they have a major rupture to repair! The seven Fs that help us stay positive and moving forward as leaders are:

  • Future
  • Fun
  • Friends
  • Fitness
  • Finances
  • Family
  • Faith (spiritual)

Over time we can get distracted by the regular demands at work and lose track of our daily choices that keep us fulfilled in all seven areas. Then we may just need to take some small actions that “refill” all seven. Other times we hit a major bump and need to focus on one area that is losing air fast. When I travel for work I tend to ignore my extended family relationships and I need to remind myself to take the time to call my mom and check-in with her.

The Seven Fs Wheel (Seven Fs Tool) is an easy tool to carry with you and use to keep yourself “pumped up” and rolling along as a leader. TT and Ellie bike

Todd Thorsgaard

Small choices to improve well being

Best of 2015, first published on January 14, 2015
Given the busy holiday season, and my own tendencies to do too much (not to mention overindulge in spending and eating), I thought this blog post was a good reminder. We can all make small choices to improve our well being, whether it is through getting that extra hour of sleep, eating more veggies, or just fitting in a 10-minute walk or stretch in your schedule. 

–Anita Rios

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

Leadership is not for the faint of heart

I am very excited to share a guest post today. I heard Dr. Christina Royal, Provost/VP of Academic Affairs at Inver Hills Community College, talk about a life changing practice she has adopted. Her heartfelt story impressed me and I am confident you will also find it valuable. Thank you Christina!

zen-stone-tower_Gkt0x1PdThere is Zen proverb that states: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Leadership in today’s world is not for the faint of heart. The problems of today are more complex, we have fewer resources in which to address the challenges, and our public accountability to our students, our communities, the State, the Federal Government, and our accreditors is at an all-time high. We are all busy, but the problem is that busyness doesn’t necessarily lead to productivity; it can actually have the opposite effect.

Mindfulness and meditation are two tools that may help reduce the busyness and create an awareness that leads to increased performance.

According to a study highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, spending time on thinking and purposeful reflection, rather than solely working, led to greater productivity. Taking just 15 minutes at the end of your day to engage in mindful thought and reflection could lead to a more productive tomorrow.

Meditation may help with sustaining focus and attention to tasks. There was a study conducted in 2012 that studied how meditation training impacted the behaviors of individuals who were multi-tasking at work and found that “those trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative feedback after task performance” (Wobbrock, Kaszniak, & Ostergren, 2012).

While meditation may not solve all of your problems, there is research showing how meditation positively affects the brain. If you find that the stress of your job is overwhelming, you may want to consider experimenting with mindfulness or meditation to ease anxiety and improve focus.

Christina Royal

References and Additional Resources:

Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G, & Staats, B. (2014, April). Learning by thinking: How reflection improves performance. Retrieved from

Gina, F., & Staats, B. (2015, April). The remedy for unproductive busyness. Harvard Business Review [online]. Retrieved from

Headspace. (2015). How can mindfulness meditation improve your focus? Retrieved from

Levy, D., Wobbrock, J., Kaszniak, A. & Ostergren, M. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment. Proceedings of Graphics Interface. 45-52.

MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., Saron, C. D. (2010). Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention. Psychological Science. 21, 6. 829-839.

Walton, A. (2015, February). 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change the Brain. Retrieved from