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Wellness & Office Morale: Put the “Me” Back in “Time”

May 8, 2012

Colleen Reilly, Nelnet Director of Wellness & President of Total Well-Being

I had a moment on Sunday. I was just about to start teaching a spinning class when a class participant and friend gave me some great news. She was going to give me tickets to the Colorado Rockies Opening Game! Instead of being happy about it, I felt very overwhelmed and overscheduled. Basically, I felt like I had too much work on my plate, too many demands from my family and friends, and no time in which to do it all— let alone do it all well. It seemed impossible for me to steal even an hour of “me time.”

Interestingly enough, during the same spinning class, a different class member was texting and getting caught up on work e-mail while spinning. I thought this was so rude; however, perhaps she was just as overwhelmed as me and was just finding a way to get everything done.

As I started my week, Monday was filled with back-to-back meetings from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., a hectic commute to my parent-teacher conference at 5:30 p.m., dinner, bath and bed for the kiddo, and another round of work for a few hours. It was a good thing most of my meetings were on the phone, so I could multi-task. I have to admit that one of the in-person meetings took place in a room that had a large conference table. So I could check email on my phone without anybody noticing…um, right.

It was not surprising that the next day a co-worker sent me the latest Harvard Business Review Blog by Tony Schwartz asking me to take a moment to read the blog during my self-imposed 15-minute lunch break at my desk. Wow! This post resonated with me so much that I had to share it with you, as I know I am not alone in the work/life struggle. Here are some of the adapted highlights:

It’s not just the number of hours we’re working, but also the fact that we spend too many continuous hours juggling too many things at the same time.

What we’ve lost, above all, is stopping points, finish lines, and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.

Tell the truth: Do you answer e-mail during conference calls (and sometimes even during calls with one other person)? Do you bring your laptop to meetings and then pretend you’re taking notes while you surf the net? Do you eat lunch at your desk? Do you make calls while you’re driving, and even send the occasional text, even though you know you shouldn’t?

The biggest cost—assuming you don’t crash—is to your productivity. In part, that’s a simple consequence of splitting your attention, so that you’re partially engaged in multiple activities but rarely fully engaged in any one. In part, it’s because when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25%.

If you’re a manager or an influencer, here are three policies worth promoting:

1. Maintain meeting discipline. Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, rather than an hour, giving people 15 extra minutes to transition and prepare for the next meeting or project. Start all meetings at a precise time, end at a precise time, and insist that all digital devices be turned off throughout the meeting.

2. Stop expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. This puts people into reactive mode, fractures their attention, and makes it difficult for them to sustain attention on their priorities. Let them turn off their email at certain times. If it’s urgent, you can call them—I bet you will reconsider the urgency of the matter.

3. Encourage renewal. Create an environment that supports people to rest and recover. Encourage your people to stop working and take a break. Encourage them to go outside, take a walk, stretch, or even meditate.

It’s also up to individuals to set their own boundaries. There is a person with whom you spend more time than any other, a person who has more influence over you, and more ability to interfere with or support your growth than anyone else. This ever-present companion is your own self.

Consider these three behaviors for yourself:

1. Put the “me” back in ”time”. Eat something you like right away in the morning to fuel your body—something healthy, not  Fruit Loops®, since that is what is in the cupboard for the kids. We all have 24 hours in the day; take 30 minutes of that time and move your body. Exercise is the best thing for stress relief, clear thinking, weight management, and overall health. If you don’t prioritize yourself, no one else will. You matter. 

2.  Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. Resist every impulse to be distracted, knowing that you have a designated stopping point.

3. Take real vacations regularly. “Real” means that when you’re off work, you’re truly disconnecting from work. “Regularly” means several times a year, if possible, even if that includes just taking a day or two off to make a long weekend. Research strongly suggests that you’ll be far healthier and more productive overall if you use all of your vacation time. Even Nelnet CEO Mike Dunlap encourages all 2200 of his employees to do this. It matters!

As you know, my passion is helping organizations create happy, healthy, and productive cultures. However, even if a company offers the right resources, tools, and strategies for employees, each individual has to decide he or she wants a good work/life balance. Yes, the everyday real life issues that are responsible for 75% of healthcare costs do exist. They include seemingly impossible time constraints leading to cheeseburger-scarfing, long commutes, and stressful situations that make people want to pull their hair out. But, you can start putting a stop to it, and take control of your life. Start today.

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