Work/Life Balance

5 Tips for Finishing the Work Week Strong

productive weekHave you ever had one of those weeks with a constant stream of interruptions, back-to-back meetings, and an increasing workload? Or, have you felt so hectic that when Friday rolls around, you feel so bogged down in work that the joy of the weekend is shadowed by the sheer amount of work you must do?

Regardless of the work environment you’re in, you’ve probably experienced times of overwhelming workload. So how can you cope when priorities are weighing you down? Here are some tips for using Fridays to finish the week strong and cope with work overload.

1. Kill e-mail. A recent report in USA Today highlighted a phenomenon called “Zero E-mail Fridays.” At Intel over 150 engineers at the company recently committed to forego e-mail on Fridays and to opt for a phone call or face-to-face meeting if communication is needed. Other professionals are going a step further and deleting their entire inbox each Friday in order to have a clean slate when Monday rolls around.

2. Get an e-secretary. You may not be able to take things this far, depending on the type of work you do and whether or not you’ve followed up on important e-mails, but many prominent time-management gurus advise that at the least, workers should avoid staying logged in to e-mail throughout the day. If you can’t commit to this every day, start doing it on Friday. One way to do this is to treat the out of office e-mail function as a personal e-secretary. Simply type a message saying something along the lines of: “I’m in the office right now but not checking e-mail until 4 p.m. today. If you need to get in touch with me immediately, please call…” That way, you can commit to checking your e-mail only two or three times each day and have more time to focus on the tasks at hand as the week ends.

3. Purge the paper. If you are like most workers, you have a constant inflow of information, and not all of it is digital. In fact, research shows that the Internet has increased the amount of paper we use – 1 billion trees total or 735 pounds of paper per worker are consumed each year in the U.S. alone. But, studies show that when you’ve touched paper once, you will only look at 10% of it again. So, start throwing it away (or stop printing it out!). Don’t even waste your time filing, unless it’s something that’s necessary to have a hard copy back up of. Do you really need that memo about the new software training you’re signed up for? Probably not. Into the recycle bin with it. Making a goal of tossing 90% of the paper on your desk at the end of each week will help you cut down on the clutter and keep only the most important documents within reach.

4. Make time to plan. Try to carve out a chunk of time on Friday to plan for next week’s work. An hour is a good goal. This gives you time to review and update your to-do list, to rearrange priorities, to look at your calendar and to think strategically about how to approach your work. You’ll thank yourself when Monday rolls around and you can hit the ground running without a second thought.

5. Give yourself a break. Now that you’ve done the hard work, the planning, the organizing, and are set up for a great upcoming work week, it’s time to give yourself a break. That’s what days off are for, after all. So, after you leave the office for the week, turn off the Blackberry, forget about your to-do list, and find some time to unwind. Making time to enjoy life will help you feel balanced, increasing your focus and job satisfaction once you return to work for a productive week.

Instead of finishing the week on a tired, frazzled note, try using these tips to make Fridays your week’s best asset. What are your Friday tips? Let us know in the comments below.

Call in Well – Take a Vacation Day

day offI played hooky from work yesterday. It was a planned event, weeks in the making.

Coming up with the excuse to call in with was a challenge. My favorite was “I am stuck in the blood pressure machine down at Wal-Mart and the paramedics are on the way.”

I didn’t use an excuse. After writing yesterday’s post, I opted to tell the truth. I needed a mental recovery day.

Well that, and it’s best not to lie to your boss, your coworkers or your clients because they’ll probably be the ones you’ll run into on the golf course or while you’re walking down the street in shorts and flip flops when you’re supposed to be in bed with the flu.

I told my team at work exactly what I was doing – taking a family health day. Every year before school starts my oldest (and only school-aged) daughter and I have a full day of play – Just like Ferris Bueller and his friends.

My work was covered, and the department and the company operated just fine without me for one day. This is important because taking a vacation day should not cause undue hardship on your co-workers.

Father and daughter went to breakfast, then to an amusement park, lunch and then the movies. We enjoyed every moment. I didn’t think about to-do lists, deadlines or meetings. Instead I reconnected with my childhood, when being a kid meant just having fun, hanging out and playing together. My daughter felt important (she planned the day) and by bedtime I felt rejuvenated and ready to face work on Friday.

Have you taken a vacation or personal wellness day recently? Or are you more prone to calling in sick or coming up with an elaborate excuse? Either way, I’d like to hear your story.

Where Are All the Magic Lamps?

I want to own a new H3, but I drive a five-year-old Chrysler.

My wife wants me to cook lobster tonight, but I’m picking up pizza.

My youngest daughter wants to go to the beach, but tomorrow she will see the sea lion show at the zoo.

More often than not, your ideal situation does not match up with reality. It’s certainly evident in a survey recently conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Only 21% of mothers with children under 18 say full-time work is their ideal situation, while 60% of working moms say part-time employment is their preference.

The desire of mothers with minor children to work full-time appears to be waning. In 1997, 32% desired to work full-time with 48% longing for part-time employment.

Although there’s a 12% shift in the past decade toward moms working fewer hours, 70% of mothers with kids under 18 are employed outside of the home, according to the U.S. Labor Department. And, of those moms in the workforce, 75% are employed full time and 25% work part time.

After years of giving 100% at home and 100% on the job, working moms are clearly seeking a better work-life balance.

In an interview conducted by the Associated Press, Cary Funk, a Pew researcher on the survey, said the trend reflected women’s latest thoughts on the ideal arrangement for their children. “I don’t think it means people are going to give up their jobs,” she said. “It’s more of an expression of the difficulties of combining responsibilities at work and home.”

What have been your experiences with juggling work and family responsibilities? To read more about work-life balance check out these blogs:  On Balance (Washington Post) and The Juggle (Wall Street Journal).

American Idle

Teenagers aren’t working hard for the money this summer.

Only 49% of teens age 16 to 19 were working in June – the lowest in the 70 years the U.S. Labor Department has kept records. That was down from 52% in June 2006 and below the 60% in the labor force in June 2000.

That’s a significant decline – 11% in seven years. What’s happened to today’s youth? The answer might surprise you.

Today’s teenagers are studying. Yes, studying.

Nearly 38% of teens ages 16 to 19 were enrolled in summer school or college courses instead of working, according to the Labor Department. They are investing in their future earning potential by dedicating 12-months a year to their education.

This is a change from 20 years ago when only 12% of working-age teenagers were spending their summer months studying.

My own experiences as a teenager in the late 1980s included balancing both work and school. Every summer after I graduated from high school I took two community college classes. Plus, as an 18- and 19-year old, I had a job working 30 hours a week so I could sock away as much money as possible for school in the fall.

Those were some of the best days of my life. The combination of balancing school, work and play taught me some important lessons regarding prioritization, and time management. Somehow I think today’s teens who are opting out of the summer workforce might be missing out on some of life’s important lessons.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Hours)

There’s a lot of discussion right now about work/life balance. Especially during the summer, when family vacations and relaxing getaways are most popular, the issue becomes particularly hot. People want to spend time relaxing, getting away from the grind, but that isn’t always possible.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs often find work and life colliding during vacation time. Steven Fisher at Startup Spark recently wrote a post about how its critical for entrepreneurs to find time to really get away from the pressures of work. We’ve also written about work/life balance for small business owners and tips for how to take a vacation.

But taking work with them on vacation isn’t just an issue for business owners. Eager workers often find themselves logging in to their e-mail or working on projects from home or the beach. Many others are putting time into their own projects and working on vacation.

Ryan Healy’s post “When working on vacation isn’t work” on Brazen Careerist shares his views as a twentysomething on work, personal time and vacation. He says that for him, he “works” on his own ideas while on vacation because its something he enjoys doing and wants to pursue in his personal time.

Do you feel it’s possible to truly unplug from work and enjoy your time off? Do you think how someone spends their vacation time depends more on their personality, line of work, generation or employer?

Even though you may not take vacation time on the Fourth of July since it’s a national holiday, what will you be doing with your time?

Career Overload: Making Time for Your Life

Do you have dinner with your family every night? It seems like family dinners, time with friends and actually balancing work and life have gone the way of the Beaver Cleaver. It’s so rare, in fact, that when someone actually makes family a priority, it makes national news headlines.

That’s right – a man named Cameron Stracher decided that for one year he would be at home every night for dinner with his family. He wrote a blog – – and a book, Dinner with Dad, all about the experience. His story has been featured in USA Today and other major papers. All because he chose to make time for his family – and share about it.

Do you ever feel like making time for your friends and family is so much effort, it might be a newsworthy event if it actually happened?