The Times of London: Perfecting Your Work-Life Balance

From The Times
January 29, 2008

Perfecting your work-life balance

You can’t succeed unless the balance is good, says US life coach Ginger
Cockerham, who gives ‘laser coaching’ to Times readers. Here she looks at how a
PR with her own company manages her time.

Anna Addison, 30, set up her own PR and copywriting business three years ago.
I work from the home that I share with my husband in Middlesbrough. I get through the day on a lot of
nervous energy. Eating well and exercising are important to me, but I have a tendency to be very highly
strung and lose my temper with my husband when I get stressed. Although I refuse to take on more than
a manageable 20 clients, my desire to please means that I often end up working seven days a week.
The computer is always on and I’m checking e-mails from the second I get up, even at weekends and on
holidays – which my husband hates.

I’m also always running late. I try to do too much. I act like there are more than 24 hours in a day and of
course there aren’t.

Anna’s typical working day
7am I mean to start the day by exercising in my home gym, but the first thing I do is check all my e-mails
at the computer in my office.
8am I then exercise for an hour. I do have a bad habit of taking my phone with me. I know I shouldn’t but I
feel I need to be there 24/7 for my clients.
9am I get ready and have breakfast and go through all the newspapers.
10am I’m officially at my desk from 10. Although I’ve been on the computer earlier, it’s often for time wasting things such as going on Facebook or internet shopping (which I do in the day too). I get
distracted easily between the computer and papers and magazines. I’m usually writing press releases
and copywriting for clients and liaising with different media, putting together PR proposals or going to
meetings – I have meetings at least three or four times a week with clients.
1.30pm Lunchtime is flexible, but I always make sure that I take an hour for it. The company that I
previously worked for was very anti-lunch break – I am much healthier for taking a break.
2.30pm I get meetings out of the way early so that in the afternoon I’m replying to e-mails and cracking
on with writing. All this is in an ideal world, though. Four days out of five add about 15 to 30 minutes to all
of those times. I am disorganised and generally panicking and always running late.
7pm My husband comes in from work and we always cook a meal and eat together. It’s our time together
but it’s also how I switch off.
8.30pm We watch TV.
10.30pm To bed. I read to unwind.
11pm Bedtime. Going to bed is the only time I’m on time.

Ginger says . . .
Anna uses nervous energy as her primary driving force and works until the last minute and leaves late for
appointments so that she experiences a high from that. By putting herself always in a rush, she’s often
short-tempered and frustrated.

Recently, when leaving for a meeting, she discovered that she was out of petrol and experienced anxiety
and even panic about meeting a client. I asked her to take a first step in reducing the dependency on
adrenaline by leaving ten minutes early for every meeting for two weeks. She was up for it, but had
difficulty seeing how it was possible. She is so accustomed to leaving late and using adrenalised energy
that she couldn’t imagine changing that.

Anna has committed to take an adrenaline test that I often use on stressed clients. My aim is to help her
to create an adrenaline-free 2008. She talked about how hard it was to do a great job with her clients
when being distracted in her office. I asked her about how she manages her time, and she explained that
she stops what she is doing and reacts to every e-mail or phone call. We talked about having a timemanagement
system where she would focus time working on important client projects and marketing,
buffer time where she took care of e-mails and admin, and then free time each day for herself. She
agreed by putting focus time on her calendar where she would not be distracted by the phone or e-mail.
She especially liked the idea of having some time to herself each day where she was free of her work
schedule. Another key to moving from her adrenalised lifestyle.

She also committed to creating a distraction-free zone in her office by removing all the personal things
and the clutter of stacks of magazines and newspapers around the edge of the room. This distraction-free
project, she said, could be completed that afternoon. She laughed about how great it would feel to see all
that clutter gone.

Summary: Anna is a wonderfully “can do” person, who quickly found value in the awareness of how her
current lifestyle was not working well for her, or in her relationships. By using a more effective and relaxed
time-management system, she can start shifting from constantly reacting to distractions and focus on the
things that are most important in her business and her life.

How are they faring . . .
Before Christmas, John Anderson, 44, who runs a property development company, asked Ginger for
advice. An analysis of his work/life balance found that he runs on adrenaline. He wakes at 5.30am every
morning with his mind racing, and arrives home more than 12 hours later exhausted – with nothing left for
family or for himself. She suggested that he commit to something that will allow him to experience what
may be missing from his life. She asked John to “dedicate one day to accomplishing nothing”.
What was the outcome?

John: “I failed completely. I woke up as normal at the crack of dawn, my brain spinning with issues to be
dealt with. The guys at the office were looking forward to a Sunday off, but were bombarded with e-mails!
“Once I had cleared my mind however, I went to the gym, took the family for some lunch, went for a walk,
rented a DVD and then spent an hour in the evening on e-mails. Having said I failed, I failed in ‘achieving
nothing’, but succeeded in having a relaxing Sunday, which I think was what I needed.

“In my view, ‘achieving nothing’ fails to respect that the problem is spending too much time ‘thinking work’
as opposed to anything else. If doing something else other than ‘thinking work’ distracts you from work
and achieves a more peaceful frame of mind, then this is an achievement.”

Ginger: “Actually, John succeeded admirably. Without his awareness and commitment to a day away,
that lovely Sunday wouldn’t have happened. As he said, it was an achievement for him not to think of
work for most of the day so that he could relax and enjoy his day. I think the term, ‘accomplishing nothing’
surprised him enough to consider doing it and putting it on his calendar held the space for that day. I
honour his achievement and encourage him to replicate it.”

© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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