Work/Life Balance… it’s kind of possible. Want to know how?

We all need more work/life balance in our lives. Between managing a heavy workload, family life, exercise and other commitments most of us feel as if we are constantly rushing from one thing to the next. In a new book on time management called Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigitte Schulte, a reporter for the Washington Post, writes about her struggles with being a good mother, a good wife and a reporter for the Washington Post. Schulte met with a Time Management Specialist to show her how to really see her busy schedule in a new light and to re-interpret her time running around with her kids as leisure time.

It’s an interesting approach, and it’s always interesting to see what happens when we think outside the box. But if you’re more of a pragmatic thinker, and you truly want to lower the stress in your life, then follow these 5 tips to lower stress and increase productivity with these 5 tips:

1. Schedule family time and make it sacred. If you are not able to spend enough time with those you love most during the week, then make it a priority by putting it on your calendar. This will give everyone something to look forward to, but most importantly, if you are committed to spending quality time with loved ones, remove distractions like cell phones and iPads so that you can all truly connect.

2. Say no! We often feel obligated to say YES to those things we really don’t want to do. When we say yes to every carpool or every meeting then we fill up our schedules with unnecessary commitments and this causes stress and resentment. So get comfortable with just saying NO.

3. Exercising will increase your energy, reduce your stress and charge up those positive endorphins. Exercising is as simple as going for a walk. A new study has shown that people who walk more are more productive. You may want to think about a walking meeting or stepping out of the office for a 30-minute break.

4. Schedule a Hard Stop – when we are at work, we often say, “I’ll leave really soon”, “I just have one more thing to do and then I’ll be done” and this can go on until 11 PM at night. A hard stop is a scheduled time that you determine to shut everything down and leave the office. If you honor your hard stop then you are giving yourself the gift of time.

5. Take breaks throughout the day. Research shows that if we don’t step away from our work and take real time away, then we risk burning out and that can also have a negative impact on our health. A recent article in the New York Times by Phyllis Korkki suggests that breaks are important to long-term health and improved productivity.

Work/Life balance is not always achievable but we can take steps to reduce our stress and improve our health with awareness and discipline.

The body’s stress-response system is usually self-regulating. It decreases hormone levels and enables your body to return to normal once a perceived threat has passed. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities.

But when the stressors of your life are present, leaving you feeling stressed, tense, nervous or on edge, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The less control you have over potentially stress-inducing events and the more uncertainty they create, the more likely you are to feel stressed. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to your body’s stress response.

The long-term activation of the stress-response system – and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones – can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Memory impairment

That’s why it’s so important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life. For ways to decrease stress, click here.

During your morning walk, a large dog barks at you. How do you respond?

Most likely you perceive that dog as some type of threat, so your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.

Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Cortisol also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear.

Understanding the Stress Response – if your mind and body are constantly on edge because of excessive stress in your life, you may face serious health problems. That’s because your body’s “fight-or-flight reaction” – its natural alarm system – is constantly on.

Most research suggests that one should never check email in the morning but let’s face it everyone does or suffers increased anxiety if they don’t. So here are some email rules that will help you increase your productivity.

1. Check your email in the morning but no longer than 5 minutes.
2. Schedule email checking and response times every 2 hours.
3. Answer easy emails right away.
4. DELETE unimportant emails.
5. Unsubscribe.
6. Create prioritized online file folder systems.
7. Create a folder for CCs.
8. Try to empty your email daily.
9. Find a place for every email you get. Create less email for others and try to never send work emails on the weekend.

5-Minute Rule: Check Your Email in the Morning
At my Time Management Workshops I’ve heard feedback from the attendees about what they do first thing in the morning. They tell me that as soon as their alarm goes off in the morning they check their email, even with blurred vision and without the benefit of coffee.

To start a more productive day and be able to focus your energy on what needs to be accomplished, establish a daily routine of checking your email first thing in the morning for about 5 minutes. Glance through each email, but don’t spend more than a few seconds on each one. Address emails that can be answered with short replies, delete junk, move emails into a cc or project folder, and try to keep your inbox as close to zero as possible. For emails that require more focused attention, send a response email that lets the recipient know that you received the email and when they can expect a reply from you.

TIP: copy and paste the same reply, it will save you type time. Here’s an example:
I received your email and will be in meetings most of the morning. I will be able to give you the information before close of business today. If that is a problem please call me on my cell phone, thank you. 

Once you have established what emails you need to dedicate more time to, prioritize them in order of importance and add them to your schedule that day. I coach my clients in this technique and they have had tremendous success because once you free yourself from email, you have more time to think strategically.

Want to stress yourself out? Stop checking your emails at night. I have spoken to many of my clients about being up until 4 AM because they felt obligated to check their email before they went to bed at night.

Checking emails at night can have a negative impact on your work/life balance. Many stress management studies have shown that operating on less than eight hours of sleep per night results in decreased productivity and could contribute negatively to your health and energy.

Quick Tips for Responding to Emails. 
Are your emails cryptic? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about email responses from managers suggests that due to the fast pace that we work and the number of emails received daily (approximately 182), that managers are more likely to reply with short, quick replies. The primary reason outside of the sheer mass of emails that we have to sift through is the fact that most of us are checking our email on our phones in between meetings or flights. What’s most interesting about the article is the level of stress a cryptic response can have on an employee. In my coaching practice, I have worked with engineering analysts who were completely stressed out by their managers reply to an email that he thought required more than a one word answer.

The blame is not just on management but also to the person writing the email.

Now let’s talk about writing powerful emails: according to email provider ExactTarget, people only take 2.7 seconds to decide if they will read, forward or delete a message. Here is what we know… we know that long emails are not always read all the way through and unless you have a compelling subject line and don’t utilize a cc chain they may not be opened either.

So here are a few tips to improve your email communication:
1. Make sure the subject line is less than 50 characters and that there is some kind of call to action or valid reason to be sending the email.
2. Make it short – if you can put it in bullet form, it makes it easier to read especially when on a hand held device.

Effective email communication can help you be more productive by getting the responses you need when you need them. They will also be appreciated by your management as it will help them manage their time better as well by not having to read chapters of email every day.

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