Taking Work-Life Balance By The Horns

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(Editor’s Note: All of us in the TalentCulture community mourn the loss of our dear friend, brilliant colleague and mindful mentor, Judy Martin, who passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. Her message and her life are a lesson for us all. We will forever fondly remember her humor, warmth and wisdom.)

A colleague recently told me she was suffering from anxiety about heading back to work, after a week off.  In gory detail, she described a nightmare in which her manager littered her office with big black hairy spiders. Pretty much how she feels at work, she effused.  “The creepy crawlies never seem to go away.”

That type of stress dominates her work life experience, and it’s not foreign to many of us. And sharing news and tips on how to reduce that work life stress is where my focus will be here at Talent Culture.

The American working pool has been thrust into what I refer to as “a work-related field of cognitive dissonance.” Stuck in a vacuum of perpetual information overload, courtesy technology and our human response to it, we’re also pressed to pay attention at work and excel or suffer potential consequences.  Survey please! The numbers tell the story:

An American Psychological Association survey on work-related stress found that sixty-two percent of Americans hold work as having a significant impact on stress levels.

A survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates found seventy-five percent of employees believing that on-the-job stress has increased compared to the previous generation.

We are under enormous pressure to perform. To deliver. To excel. We juggle our working and living experience, but often fall into a merry-go-round of stress in what I refer to at WorkLifeNation.com as the  “UPED U” Cycle which is described below.

In simple terms, “UPED U” is the chaotic cycle we enter when our work life merge gets out of control and  “ups” our stress level leading to emotional turmoil and potentially less productivity.

The solution – to find creative ways to throw a kink into that cycle.

Here’s what happens in that cycle, along with a few pointers on how to stop the insanity! I’ll be writing more about the antidotes to these cyclical monsters in future posts.

1.     Unlimited Incoming:

A barrage of information continually comes our way.

NEW RULE: Consciously limit your news intake. Aggregate your favorite news sources and blogs on line and choose one time a day to focus on them. Depending on your job, determine the best time of
day to check e-mails and stick to it. If you are addicted to web surfing –limit your time doing that.

2.    Perceived Availability:

We’re all wired to our families, work and communities and everyone else knows you’re tethered to technology so we’ve created the perception that we’re always available.

NEW RULE: Come to agreement with the most important people from work and in your family that you communicate with regularly. Speak with them and share your daily work life scenario. People will assume that you are available unless you tell them otherwise.

3.    Expectation of Instant Gratification:

That perceived availability leads to other people’s needs to be attended to. They want to be heard and answered in the moment.

NEW RULE: Unless your work requires it, do not respond to e-mails in the moment and limit your texting.  This takes a lot of discipline and you will break this rule a lot depending on the circumstances.

4.    Desire to Deliver and Excel:

Our nature is to not fall short. To nurture and want to please in what is a competitive working environment. To make our boss or clients happy, we desire to deliver and excel to keep up with the Jones’.

NEW RULE: Don’t be so caught up in how other people define success. Be confident in your work your deliverables. Only you know how productive you are andwhat might need to change to up your game. There will be times when you might have to enter into the extreme work zone, but be aware of your limitations to avoid burnout.

5. Unlimited Interruptions:

In order to please everyone at the same time, we are often taken out of the moment, are
lead astray from the initial task and surrender to multi-tasking.

NEW RULE: Stop the insanity. Find a place in the cycle to make that tiny aberration in the stream of chaos to offset the tumble effect. It’s really about you taking control a little more control. Being conscious that the choices you make can mean the difference between burnout and a productive work life merge.

The trick is to monitor your incoming, and make concrete choices somewhere in this cycle to stump the system. Where do you think is the best place to stop the cycle? Please share your solutions to avoid an “UPED U.”

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Judy Martin

Judy Martin

(Editor's Note: Judy Martin passed away unexpectedly on January 31, 2014. She was a much loved and valued contributor to the TalentCulture community and to this blog. Her wisdom and warmth were infectious. We honor her life by continuing to share her important message with the world of work.)Judy Martin was an Emmy® award-winning broadcast journalist, Forbes.com blogger and founder of WorkLifeNation.com, a site dedicated to transforming stress into positive fuel in an “always-on” world. For more than two decades, Judy tracked business, workplace culture and career trends with an emphasis on work-life balance and stress management strategies. Judy also contributed to The Huffington Post, Marketplace Report, NPR, CNBC Business Radio, World Vision Report, BBC Radio 3, and News 12 Long Island.Among her accolades: National Press Foundation Economic Fellowship, Associated Press Club, Houston International Film Festival, numerous Press Club awards and the Telly Award. Judy was also an accredited yoga teacher (RYT-200), and certified Hospice volunteer.In 2006, she released her first CD Practical Chaos: Reflections on Resilience. Judy worked with clients across all professional sectors to help them transform and channel stress toward creativity and innovation. She facilitated stress management workshops for numerous companies and organizations including: UJA-Federation, Motorola, Orange/Rockland Utilities, Right Management, American Cancer Society, National Association of Mothers’ Centers, and Daniel Gale Real Estate.


  1. Pretty useful information-but certainly in large corporate America, challenging to implement all the new rules as written-but certainly many of them can be implemented to some degree. The most important thing is to be able to prioritize, and not be afraid to ask if priorities have changed (at least that’s my perception of working in America in 2011).

    1. Ethan, you make some great points. I think one of the most important underlying issues is the concern about communicating your needs as an employee to your managers. There is often a fear to bring up discussion about implementing changes in workplace policy when it comes to prioritizing or asking for more flexible working conditions. We’ve got a long way to go in that arena. There needs to be a culture shift and I think some companies are a ways from such change.

  2. After reading the 4 hour work week I have implemented a blanket auto responder on all email along the lines of “im only checking email at 11am and 4pm, for emergencies my cell is xxx”. Works a treat at eliminating unnecessary interruptions during the working day. I then setup a scheduled task to start my Outlook at 11 and 4, and close it as soon as I’ve read my emails.

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