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3 things I wish I learned a lot earlier that help me stress less

Categories: Balancing Act, Parenting & Family, Your life

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My kiddo is eight years old (OMG, my kiddo is EIGHT YEARS OLD!!!) and you’d think by this point I’d have this working mom routine down cold, right? No such thing, as it turns out — with every stage there are new challenges, new discoveries, new awesome moments, and yes, new things I learn that I wish someone got through my stubborn head earlier.

Here are three recent discoveries which are helping make my crazy busy life a little less so:

  • Ask your kids for help. OK, so this advice is hard to take if your kiddo is still a baby, but I think it definitely applies to toddlers and older. Here is one example of what I mean: Cooking. I cook a lot and it’s one of the household chores that takes a bunch of my time. I used to do all the cooking at night, after my daughter went to sleep (a few times a week, so that there would be fresh dinner for next day or two). I tried to optimize the time with her for stuff like reading or playing or doing some art together. Recently I’ve started to get her involved in the cooking and it’s a life changer on so many levels. She actually has fun and is learning about food and cooking, which I think is really important longer term. I get a helper and a companion (she is getting pretty good at peeling carrots!) We do something together and create something together, which is awesome. And I don’t need to stay up til all hours at night cooking. Serious win-win and I highly recommend that you find something in your busy life your kids could help you with.
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Do you ever stop moving?

Categories: Balancing Act, Your life

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Earlier today we went on a picnic with some friends of ours. The sun was shining, it was finally warm like May warm should be, and we were sitting in a beautiful park with enough food, wine and conversation to keep us happy for hours. Our daughters are all similar in age which made for lots of fun giggling and running around, giving us some much needed time to catch up with our friends. It was awesome (and I’m proud to say that my phone stayed in my bag most of the time.)

When we got home my husband told me that this was the first time, in a very long time, that he saw me sitting down anywhere for more than a few minutes (long car rides excluded.) He told me that he looked over at me sitting on the grass next to my friend and it struck him that he almost never sees me sitting still.

You know what? He is absolutely right. If you exclude the times when I am working at my computer or sitting in the car, I can’t say I sit very much. Of course I sit down to eat but I wouldn’t count that as sitting still. I think what he meant is sitting still like you would if you were watching TV or reading or just chillaxing.
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Conquering my email, one step at a time

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk

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If you have total control over your email and it doesn’t stress you out, please stop reading now. For the rest of you, fellow overwhelmed-by-email readers, this will sound familiar:

I am in a constant struggle with my email.

There is too much of it. I feel overwhelmed by it most of the time, and just barely in control of it on the best days. I spend too much of my day answering and reading email and while I know it’s something that I have to do — for work and for life — it’s not something that makes me feel good or productive enough.

Over the years I’ve tried to develop email habits that will help me tame the animal. Here are a few of them:

  • Don’t check email first thing in the morning. This is my favorite one. When I manage to stick to it, I am more productive, my day goes better, and I am much more focused.
  • Check email at set times throughout the day. My worst email days are those when I leave my inbox open throughout the day. Then I can’t avoid the temptation of checking new mail when I see I have some and it just completely kills my productivity.
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Vacation question: To bring the laptop or not?

Categories: Balancing Act

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This week my family and I are going on vacation. Woohoo! (And also OMG, all of us really needed this one. A lot.) I’ve packed the bags, cleaned up the house so it’s not a total disaster when we get back, and gotten our documents and tickets ready. And now for the big important question:

Should I bring my laptop?

My initial answer was absolutely not. It’s been a crazy few months and I really need a break. My brain needs to disconnect and I need to spend time worrying about whether we all have enough sunscreen on instead of checking emails. Out of sight, out of mind.

At the same time, there is something to be said for being able to check email once a day (and I truly would only limit myself to once a day) and not having a panic attack when I’m back and there is a mountain of emails here to greet me. I’ve done this once before on vacation and thought it worked well. It also prevented me from stressing about the crises I didn’t know about because well, if they happened, I would know about them. Out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind.

My husband suggested that I don’t bring a laptop but instead go to the business center at the hotel to check email if I absolutely can’t resist the urge to do it. (We’re traveling abroad so checking it on my phone is not an option. Otherwise I think that’s what I would do.) I’m considering this idea.

But tell me, when you go on vacation, do you disconnect entirely or do you check your work or personal emails from time to time?

How to get productive when you’re stuck

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk

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Confession: My to-do list is a mile long and I’ve done nothing concretely productive in the last few hours.

There was a lot of phone calls, emails, Twitter browsing, and looking over my to-do list, but it’s not far from the truth to say I wasted a bunch of time. I hate this feeling. If you’ve had it you know what I mean. So this blog post is part of my strategy for dealing with it. Because the way I see it, I could either call this a day (which I think would be a mistake, although not always, just today) or try to get some stuff done and quick.

Starting as soon as I hit publish, here’s my plan for coming out of the productivity rut:

  • Turn off my Wi-Fi. It’s maybe the oldest trick in the book but I rarely make myself do it. Without email, Twitter, Facebook, NY Times and other distractions, I know I will get more done. Or at least something done.
  • Take a tea break. I think there needs to be a physical reset from wasting time to being productive. Since I can’t change where I am right now I am going to take a mini break and make some tea. And drink it.
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My work-life juggle casualty: Time with friends

Categories: Balancing Act, Your life

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If I think about things that make me truly happy, spending time with friends is right near the top of the list. And yet, it’s one of the things that consistently gets squeezed out of the otherwise insane work-family-stuff-I-have-to-do schedule. Every time I catch up with a friend I reminder myself to make that a priority, and yet, it’s still a challenge.

All of my friends have busy lives of their own so it’s understandable that it’s tough to align two (or more) schedules and find time to hang out together. It’s definitely not for lack of trying: I have strings of text messages and emails with friends where we’re attempting to get together only to be derailed by a work meeting, almost-forgotten playdate, a business trip, or something else. Still, this doesn’t help the fact that I love spending time with friends and I have too little of it to spend with them.

Thinking about it, I realized there were a few somewhat creative things I’ve done recently to make more time:

  • Joint errand running. OK, so this is much less fun than say getting dinner at one of our favorite places, but a friend and I recently spent a few hours running errands together. We stopped for some frozen yogurt in between and had time to catch up walking around and in the car.
  • Post-bedtime quick drink. Going out to dinner at 9pm on a weeknight is a no-go, but my friend and I recently decided to go grab a quick drink after we put our kids to bed (with both of our husbands staying home with the kiddos). It was just an hour or so but completely worth it.
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Work-life juggling tip: Make more traditions

Categories: Balancing Act, Parenting & Family

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I’m a big proponent of the quality over quantity time argument: I think the quality of time you spend with your kids and family is more important than the quantity. When I put my phone away, stop multi-tasking and really engage with my kiddo and my husband, it’s awesome. The key ingredient in quality time is being there mentally, 100% (which is hard to do when I’m endlessly being distracted with incoming work emails on my phone.)

One of the best ways I’ve found to add quality time to our crazy busy hectic life is by setting up family traditions. It really helps to have some regular times and things we do as a family that we can all look forward to and that are non-negotiable. (Well, I’m being idealistic. We’ve skipped many a tradition because of schedules or because we simply forgot or were too tired. But the intention is there.)

Here are a few of our favorite ones:

  • Family movie night. Every Friday we eat dinner together and then watch a movie. It’s my favorite part of the week and I look forward to it all day Friday. By the end of the week I’m wiped and I think my husband is too. It’s awesome to know that we have this completely relaxing family chill-out time waiting there for us.
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“My mom likes weekends because she doesn’t have to work”

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk, Parenting & Family

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The title of this post is an actual quote my 7 year-old kiddo said to someone this weekend.

Ahem.

To be honest, it kind of stopped me in my tracks. Of course I like the weekends — who doesn’t like a break from the work grind and a chance to chill with family? But what struck me is that my kiddo has this notion in her head that I don’t like to work. Or at least don’t like to work enough that the reason I like weekends is because I don’t have to work.

Without getting into yet another stay at home or work debate (which oh, I hope we are done with!), I’ll say this: I like to work and I’ve never imagined myself not working. (Well, to be honest, I have imagined myself on a prolonged vacation somewhere warm and tropical, but that’s another story.) When I read Leah’s post, about whether she’d still choose to work if she won the lottery, I was nodding my head. I work for more than money, although money is an important necessity. I work because I love the challenge, building something, creating something, working with awesome people, keeping my brain buzzing and my sanity relatively intact.
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On doing less (at least sometimes)

Categories: Balancing Act, Your life

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I had really ambitious plans for tonight:

Get home from work (around 6pm).

Do homework with kiddo.

Practice piano with kiddo.

Bedtime stuff and then read a chapter of Harry Potter with kiddo (we just started the first book).

Make dinner for tomorrow night.

Call mom.

Catch up on work stuff.

Get stuff organized for tomorrow.

Write this blog post.

Do yoga.

Read (currently making my way through the Steve Jobs biography, although very slowly).

Get to bed by 10pm.

Ha! I hope you’re laughing because seeing all my plans written out here makes me laugh with the realization that I was kidding myself thinking I can do all that and get to bed by 10pm (an epically early time for me, mind you.)

I’m terrible about making insanely unrealistic to-do lists. In fact, as I started writing this post I glanced at my to-do list sitting next to me and it’s not a list that I could have possibly accomplished in one day. Yet when I wrote it this morning that’s what I was aiming to do. And the downside is that now I feel like I failed when in fact, I wasn’t going to ever succeed in the first place.

I know we hear this advice all the time but I’m going to repeat it again and try to listen myself this time:
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How to get your kids to help more at home

Categories: Balancing Act, Parenting & Family

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I’ve had a major revelation recently about how to get my daughter to do more to help out at home.

She is seven and a half and for a while now we’ve had a chore chart going in an effort to get her to be more consistent about doing a few things to help. Nothing too crazy: Put away the dishes after dinner, make her bed in the morning, check her backpack for school, sweet the kitchen floor, feed her fish, etc. She is not terrible about remembering but I do have to reminder her, a lot.

The other day I wasn’t feeling well so I plunked down on the couch and said to my daughter, half kidding: “Could you please go and make me some tea and a snack?”. She has never done this and I wouldn’t trust her with the hot tea, but as soon as I said it she got really excited and ran to the kitchen. My husband was there and she asked him to help her get the tea ready and figure out what snack I might want. They came out and brought me some tea, cut up apples and some cheese on a tray. I kissed her and told her it was the best snack ever and she was so excited.

A few hours later I was in the kitchen finishing up making dinner and she came over and asked me: “Mama, do you want me to make you more tea?” I told her sure, so she went and got my husband, and they repeated the routine from before (she pressed the electric kettle button, he poured, she timed three minutes on the clock for the tea to steep). The next day she asked me again. And it’s now become a regular things she asks me and I don’t know which one of us likes it more.

So here is my revelation about how to get your kids to help out more:
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