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Could more time be the secret to workplace happiness?

4 Oct

The beautiful weather may have prompted unseasonally sunny demeanours this week, but there’s no hiding the cloud of unhappiness that’s hanging over the UK’s workforce, according to two surveys that gauge the nation’s happiness.

The Happiness at Work Index from recruitment firm Badenoch & Clark reveals that just a third (36.5%) of workers are happy in their jobs. A quarter said they were “distinctly unhappy” – and levels of unhappiness have been falling this year. The company’s managing director Nicola Linkleter puts this down to “a lack of tangible job security, longer hours, increased financial strain at work and home, and reticence from senior management to invest in additional talent”, and says that workplace morale should be addressed as a business-critical issue.

The delicate balance between work and home is the subject of the second survey, from My Family Care. Its Working Parents & Carers Flexible Working Survey 2011 reveals that just 40% of the 40,000 respondents were happy or very happy with their work/life balance.

Interestingly, there is a correlation between flexible working and being happy with their work-life balance: two-thrids (64%) of people  who are ‘very happy’ with their working pattern say they are ‘really committed’ to their employer, compared with 23% in the ‘very unhappy’ category who feel similarly committed to their employer. Happiness links to productivity, say respondents. However, flexibility does not equal career progression, with 54% in the ‘very happy’ group concerned that that their promotion prospects may be hindered by working flexibly.

So, what’s the common denominator in all of this? There’s no magic cure to the unhappiness, but I agree with one of the conclusions reached by the My Family Care survey: that the underlying issue is the pressure caused by lack of time. Working parents have jobs, children, possibly elderly parents to take care of; so many “mandatory” elements to their lives. The survey adds: “So ways to save time and use it more productively will nearly always help; from the practical – working from home during rush hour and putting convenient childcare in place, to the developmental – training designed to help workload management and productivity for flexible working.”

Buying into the ‘supermum’ myth can make working mothers depressed

22 Aug

If you find yourself frantically juggling your home and work life – spending sparkling time with your children, as well as shining your reputation at work – then the effort of being all things to all people can leave many women exhausted and depressed.

Are you buying into the myth of the supermum? (pic credit: istockphoto)

Even if the pressures are self-imposed – and many of us do have that in-built drive to be the absolute best at absolutely everything we do – we can find it unbearable if we end up dropping any of those many balls we’re juggling.

Maybe that’s not surprising for most working mothers, but the main finding of a report from the University of Washington, by researcher Katrina Leupp, is that working mothers who buy into the ‘supermum myth’ put themselves at risk of depression.

Her analysis of 1,600 married women round that those who worked were less likely to be depressed than women who stayed at home. But for the mums who do work, seeking to be a high achiever at work and a domestic goddess at home would lead only to frustration and depression. They feel guilty for not being brilliant at everything, and uncomfortable about making tradeoffs, such as leaving work early to pick up the kids.

The key to happiness, says the report, is making some sacrifices either in the workplace or at home. So, successful career women can’t always expect to attend sports day or recorder recital at their child’s school. Or a mother who seeks a more comfortable work-life balance may not put herself forward for a promotion that requires longer hours and nights away from home.

Leupp said: “Women are sold a story that they can do it all, but most workplaces are still designed for employees without child-care responsibilities. In reality, juggling home and work lives requires some sacrifice, such as cutting back on work hours and getting husbands to help more.

“You can happily combine child rearing and a career, if you’re willing to let some things slide,” she added. “Employment is still ultimately good for women’s health. But for better mental health, working mothers should accept that they can’t do it all.”

Looks like new Dragon, Hilary Devey, might have been right all along.

Related article: Women can’t have it all, says new female dragon

Five reasons why I love a deadline

3 Feb

Deadlines can be hugely motivating. (pic credit: iStockphoto)

I had been putting off writing a particularly difficult report for some time. It’s the one thing on my to-do list that kept glaring at me, and that I kept devising strategies to avoid. Hey, even polishing my kettle or scrubbing my bathroom tiles seemed more tempting than actually tackling this much-deferred task.

Once I had run out of displacement activities, and with just a short while before the deadline was due on this report, I set about the task (which was admin-related, fiddly, but needed to be word-perfect). Stress management experts would undoubtedly tut and warn me of the dangers of allowing myself to get stressed with such a tight deadline.

But you know what? Reading it back, it was probably better than I could have done had I started it several weeks ago when I was supposed to. But that’s what deadlines are for, right? The chance to make a last-minute burst for that finishing line.

So, here are five reasons why I love a deadline:

1. The unconscious mind comes up with such clever, inspired thoughts that your conscious mind – when forced into being brilliant – just refuses to deliver.

2. The inner critic is silenced. That nagging voice stays quiet as your mind races ahead, leaving the critic stumbling and tripping behind you.

3. You no longer know the meaning of the words ‘dither’, ‘procrastinate’ or ‘fuss’.

4. You have left yourself no other choices. Lack of time means this is the only choice available. That keeps you focused and single-minded – and ruthless with your choice of words and phrases.

5. The adrenaline buzz is unrivalled: it can keep you going for days afterwards.

After all, if it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.

Can we say no to our to-do lists?

7 Dec

Colour-controlled to-do lists can be extremely satisfying.

I laughed out loud at this summary of a new book for working parents, which is from the managing editor of Realsimple.com, Kristin van Ogtrop.

Whether you’re a parent or not, a skim through the list of ‘Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom’ in Kristin’s new book Just Let Me Lie Down gives some humorous food for thought. In her alphabetical list, I plumped for K and L as the pertinent points that help me organise my  life.

K is the ‘Kingdom of No, where you can say no without feeling guilty about it. Not always easy. Before you feel you have a right to enter this kingdom, you may feel you have to stand in the passport queue for some time, debating and berating yourself about the impact of saying no might have on someone – or perhaps saying no raises fears of your own abandonment and rejection. Either way, it can be difficult so say no and mean it.

L is for the List Paradox. This one is for the Control Queens who believe they can manage life when it’s in a list in front of them – and who, overwhelmed by the inability to complete every task on their to-do list, and the feeling of inadequacy that often results, will add tasks to the list that they’ve already done.

I am unapologetically and openly guilty of L: using  brightly coloured pens to note and delete my daily tasks and priorities is, literally, a highlight of my day. I even have charts to help me prioritise what my priorities will be for the working hours ahead of  me.

However, I can’t help but wonder whether, if I did more of K, my L might be less punitive and more eager to down tools and play, colourfully, at the end of a hard day at work…?

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