Walking around a beautiful resort in the Dominican Republic on a site inspection, Janet could barely keep up. At one point, she even had to stop the group to catch her breath. Perhaps it was stress, or the heat, or the extra weight she had put on. Or all of the above. All she knew was that she was on one of the most fabulous beaches she had ever seen, and all she wanted to do was take a nap.
When I met Janet, that afternoon was still on her mind. She began to describe an all-too-common situation in the meetings industry: The economy had forced her department to downsize, but her workload had remained the same. Some nights, she found herself fast asleep with her PDA next to her bed. She had barely recovered from one trip when the next round of meetings descended. All the while, her friends and co-workers thought her job was first-class tickets and spa treatments.
Janet knew what she needed to do to create a more sane, balanced life. She just didn’t know why she wasn’t doing it, or why she had not been able to stick with it. Being motivated to create more work-life balance is one thing, doing it is another.
A Day in the Life
Each morning when Janet’s alarm rings, she hits the snooze button. By the time she drags herself out of bed, there is a rush of energy behind her, so she skips breakfast.
She squeals into the parking lot, double latte in hand. As the caffeine kicks in, she becomes a productivity machine—until she crashes later in the morning and ends up in the break room with the doughnuts. On her way back to her desk, she grabs more java, pushing the needle way past reasonable caffeine intake.
Throughout the day she tries to be highly productive, but a drained feeling and mounting stress level takes over, so that at 3 p.m., instead of making that important phone call, she opens up her Web browser for a little “research.” Instead of getting through her work, she has to take it home with her. Around 10 p.m., exhausted, she collapses on the bed. But often, she wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about the coming day’s to-do list.
She’s Not Alone
When I asked Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association, what is the greatest obstacle for most meeting pros, she essentially described Janet. “Planners don’t really have an OFF button,” she said. “When you allow work-related technology to sabotage your personal time, that is a big mistake. We have to be smarter about this and schedule turn-off times for work and turn-on times for friends, family, and for ourselves. And shame on supervisors who don’t think about this and encourage their people to do it.”
There is a lot of debate around the topic of technology blurring our work-life boundaries and whether this is good or not, but I agree with Deborah. Technology is essential for a successful event, but a hard-coded turn-off time is essential for a successful meeting professional.
Deborah does this by keeping two mobile phones, one for business and one for personal use. This allows her to turn off work, but still keep a phone on for emergencies at home.
That was what I prescribed for Janet: to implement better boundaries between her work life and her home life, and to clear her mental fog and stress.
Top 10 Resolutions for Less Stress and True Balance
1. Better manage the transitions between your work and personal lives—These brief moments of transition between work and home (and the opposite) set the tone for the rest of the day. Consider getting up a bit earlier or taking an extra trip around the block before you land home to be in a better state of mind.
2. Be more grateful—Researchers suggest that reviewing the simple things that you are grateful for every day reduces stress and anxiety.
3. Choose your friends wisely—Focus on the most encouraging people in your life and stay away from the ones who drain your energy.
4. Carry around protein bars—You might say, “Don’t those have a lot of calories?” Maybe, but they have fewer calories than the hors d’oeuvres or chocolate fondue fountain you’re faced with when you travel, and will provide longer-lasting energy.
5. Take your vitamins—Unless you eat five fruits and veggies a day and two servings of cold-water fish a week, it’s a must.
6. Cut back on caffeine—Too much coffee early in the day is like taking out a high-interest loan against your afternoon productivity.
7. Relax before bedtime—Two hours before bed, shut down your fluid intake. One hour before bed, cool and darken your bedroom so your body gets prepared for deep sleep.
8. Do three interval exercise sessions a week—Interval training is the most efficient way to clear stress and crankiness—not to mention boost the fitness of your heart and lungs.
9. Schedule 30 minutes after lunch to outline the next day’s activities—It helps keep your mind from racing when you try to sleep that night.
10. Remove the snooze button from your alarm clock—Those last few interrupted minutes of sleep make you feel worse than if you just got up.