Tag Archives: Life balance

Sometimes the best ideas for your business come when you’re out of the office

Miraval terrace 2It’s hard for entrepreneurs to take a break. For one thing, we tend to be excited about our work, so it’s not like we hate going into the office. For another, when we’re rolling ahead with some real momentum, it’s hard to even see that we could benefit from some stillness.

But some of the best ideas come when you slow down. Even if you have to force yourself to quit moving so fast.

I’m in Arizona today, where I try to come three or four times a year to get still. It takes a few days to shift gears. At first I’m a little edgy and unsettled, but after some hiking and other outdoor exercise in the desert heat, a few massages and some time by the pool, I can feel clarity begin to settle around me. 

I wake up early and sit on my terrace with coffee to watch the sky behind the Santa Catalina mountains turn from black to blue. I scribble thoughts and notes in my spiral notebook, and suddenly I find new ideas crystallizing. Often, these ideas or realizations seem obvious in retrospect, but when I was back in the office moving a mile a minute, I just couldn’t see them.

This is where I’ve experienced some of the most pivotal moments in my business. It’s where I’ve had the  ideas for a book or two; where it’s suddenly hit me that it was time for Tribe to shift direction or even reinvent;  where I realized it was time to move from a virtual office to a real one, so we could have everyone at Tribe within the same four walls.

It’s also where I’m reminded, over and over again, that sometimes the best office is the one without four walls. 

Hell Yes to work-life balance, from Judy Martin

img2judy_martin_photoI’ve just discovered Judy Martin, who seems like a kindred spirit in the area of work-life balance. She’s also an Emmy award-winning journalist with 2o years of broadcast news under her belt. You may have seen or heard her on Marketplace Report, National Public Radio, CNBC Business Radio, The World Vision Report or News 12 TV Networks. She now writes and speaks about the merging of the working and living experience. HellYesBookCoverSmall

Judy posted a great review yesterday (follows below) of my “Hell Yes” book in her blog at Work Life Nation: 

Work Life Balance: If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no

“Just say no.” The phrase is arguably one of the most sacred with regard to the eternal quest for work life balance. Now Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO and creative director of ad agency Tribe Inc., takes the phrase a tad deeper in her book, Hell Yes: Two Little Words for a Simpler, Happier Life

Hell Yes is a simple book. It’s shy of a hundred pages, but filled with richly written phrases that directly drive home the premise of the book:  cut to the chase of what truly matters in any given choice. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no. The book offers a haiku-like take on more conscious steps in the decision making process of daily life, at home and at work.

The wisdom is not necessarily anything you haven’t heard before, but it’s the delivery that catches ones eye and heart. You could pick this book up over and over again for some thought provoking contemplative exercises. I’d like to slip it onto the desk of a few news producers I know. 

Baskin asks this question throughout the book, “Is it a hell yes?” Her responses cover everything from ego, to time management, to food choices and project decisions. As she says, ” This one simple question serves as the sharpest razor, swiftly and completely cutting away anything in the gray area.”

In our changing times, every decision, especially with regard to career and work can have numerous implications down the road. We are constantly faced with change and challenges. Baskin has experience in that area. She is well versed in transition and reinvention as a branding specialist with a cache of national and global clients like UPS, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Chick-fil-A and Porsche. 

What I particularly like about the book is Baksin’s brevity.  In our sensory overloaded society,  it’s refreshing to be able to just pick up a book, hit any page – and get a shot of know-how, to make the day go a little easier. It should be required reading for anyone trying to merge ones work life journey in a more positive way.

Small Business Strategies: Creating workplace wellness programs

Guy in suit meditatingYou know that your employees will be more productive if they’re well, but how do you put that into action? If you’re not a huge corporation, you may think you can’t afford a wellness program, but there are plenty of things you can do to create an environment that supports healthy living.

Wellness programs are also great for your office culture. Not only does such a program reinforce the idea that your company is somewhere people live healthy, balanced lives, it also can be powerful for building relationships among your staff. Doing something together that’s not work related, like a yoga class or a fitness contest, takes the corporate  hierarchy out of the equation and lets employees relate to each other outside their job functions.

As the boss, it’s important for you to participate as well. Not only does that speak volumes about your commitment to wellness, it also allows your staff to interact with you in ways that don’t involve you being the top dog. So put on those running shorts and put your ego aside. And remember, it’s okay if some of your employees can run faster than you. 

Here are some ways you can promote wellness in your company, at a range of price points:

1. Keep fresh fruit in the break room. Or any sort of healthy snacks. When employees feel a little blood sugar slump, it will be easy for them to grab something that won’t make them crash again later.

2. Start a lunchtime walking group. Or an after work running group. This can be a casual employee-led group. You don’t need to hire an instructor. (Although you may want employees to sign a waiver acknowledging responsibility for any potential injuries.)

3. Give wellness hours. Allow employees to take an extended lunch once or twice a week for exercise. Or to take an hour during the day, whenever their schedules allow. At Tribe, we allow everyone to put up to 5 hours a week of wellness hours on their timesheet. This gives them the idea that it’s okay to work out during the workday, but they very rarely use more than an hour or so of wellness time a week.

4. Set aside a meditation room. This can be an empty office, or you could let the conference room be used for meditation, when it’s  not needed for meetings. At Tribe, we  have a small office containing nothing but a couch and a CD player. Two or three people will often do a short meditation after lunch. I once asked a friend to come in and lead a lunchtime meditation lesson, but Tribe folks also use a lot of guided meditations on CDs.

5. Sponsor a yoga class. We used to do Yoga Fridays at lunch, which meant anybody who had time piled in a car and drove to the nearest yoga studio. Occasionally, I’d treat everyone to a company-paid class, but most times we all paid our own way. The important thing is that they didn’t have to feel guilty about that company-sanctioned two-hour lunch.

6. Spring for a massage. This is especially appreciated in the midst of a busy season. You can offer a gift certificate for a massage to one employee who deserves it, like after pulling off a particularly challenging project, or you could have a massage therapist come in and do 10-minute chair massages for the whole group. 

7. Establish a company fitness competition. We do this every year at Tribe, and it’s created some significant changes in a few employee’s lives. Our fitness competition lasts for 12 weeks and starts in February, right about when we’ve all abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. If you’re interested in setting up a similar plan, you might find some helpful ideas in my blog titled “How to launch a workplace fitness competition.”

Small Business Strategies: How many hours should you work?

woman clockFirst things first. Don’t buy into that myth that all entrepreneurs have to work 24/7 to make a go of it. I mean, you can if you want. But I know a whole lot of successful business owners who never did.

On the other hand, Timothy Ferriss may underestimate what it takes for most people. His bestselling “4-Hour Workweek” suggests that you should be able to join what he calls the new rich with less than an hour’s effort a day.

For most of us, the right-sized workweek lies somewhere in between. I’m a fan of the high tide-low tide approach. I can handle the occasional high water mark of long days for a week or two or three at a time. But only if those stretches are broken by weeks of lighter work loads and shorter hours. The more tired I get, the longer the recovery period to get me back at the top of my game. 

You have to consider what it costs the company for you to work long hours. I’m not talking about dollars so much as what it costs in terms of your ability to lead. If you work too hard for too long, you’ll find yourself depleted and exhausted. Wouldn’t it be better for the company to have you refreshed and energized? Does your company’s success depend on the hours you work or the quality of your ideas, relationships and vision?

However, running your own business requires some effort. You can’t expect your company to flourish if you don’t give it the time it needs. Up to a certain point, working hard and being intensely engaged in my work gives me even more energy. But after a few long weeks, I find myself spending more time being reactive to situations and less time proactively planning. If a workweek includes a long day or two of business travel, I know I won’t be my sharpest the next morning. The law of diminishing returns sets in, and I eventually realize I need to back off so I can come back fresh and renewed. Like the tides, it’s a cycle, and develops its own rhythm.

The trick is to recognize that thin line between working too hard and not working hard enough. Only you can know where you hit your stride and where your performance begins to deteriorate. In most cases, it’s not about the hours you put in; it’s about the caliber of work that comes out.

What does it mean to run a life-sized business?

man porch computerA life-sized business is a company that supports the life you want. A company that requires you to make lots of compromises in the way you live your life is not.

I’ve done it both ways, and can say both have their benefits. When I started my first ad agency, I was fine with letting my life play second fiddle to my business. I was younger, and could pull those 60-hour weeks without too much wear and tear. I didn’t have kids. My parents were healthy and didn’t need any help from their daughters. My husband was very focussed on his career, too. We didn’t even have a dog. I loved those years. I enjoyed the adrenaline of building a successful company from nothing, and being consumed by work I loved.

But after my son was born, I began wanting a different sort of life. I wanted to be around for him. I wanted to see sunlight more often. I wanted to feel healthier. I wanted to be more relaxed. So when I started Tribe, it was with the very clear intent that this business would fit in around my life, instead of vice versa. 

Every entrepreneur’s definition of a life-sized business will be different. For most people, in most stages of their lives, it means a business that supports their life balance. It means giving you the sort of flexibility you wouldn’t have working for somebody else. It means having control over your time. It might mean being more involved with your kids. It might mean being able to train for an Ironman, take daily yoga classes or compete in ALTA tennis. It might mean running a sustainable company that gives back to the world. Or it might mean just being able to work with your dog at your feet, instead of leaving him home alone all day.

A life-sized business can also include financial benefits. There’s no reason a business has to be difficult for you to make a lot of money. Besides paying you a good salary, the company can also provide you with all sorts of perks, paid pre-tax dollars. You  might want to lease yourself a nice car for business. Or hold your management meetings in a beautiful resort. Or have a healthy lunch brought in every day. I’ve done all those things at Tribe. 

Other entrepreneurs care more about the pace than the perks. A public relations firm owner I know turns away some clients, just because she doesn’t want to get big enough to service them. She likes the way her company runs just fine if  she goes for coffee with her husband in the mornings instead of rushing into work, or takes Friday afternoons off to ride horses.

It also helps if your company is profitable. You can’t lounge around living a life of leisure if you’re not making the income to support it. That’s not to say you have to work long hours to be successful, although sometimes that’s what it takes. What you have to do is offer something of value to people who can pay for it, and to sell enough of it to make money.

But the best part of a life-sized businesses is loving what you do. If you wake up excited about your day, whether it’s a workday or a weekend, then you’ve got a business that works for your life.

Small Business Strategies: Simple Feng Shui for your office

Guy in suit meditatingMaybe it will increase your financial success and maybe it will just make your office a more pleasant place to work, but a little Feng Shui certainly can’t hurt. At Tribe, we hired a Feng Shui expert to help with our new office when we were in the middle of its design. She nixed a few things I’d planned, like putting the accountant in a tiny office with no windows and cool blue paint in the lobby and common areas. (We made the windowless office a meditation room instead and chose a warm adobe clay color of the lobby walls.) I can’t say if it’s had an impact on Tribe’s success, but I know that when I’m there, I generally feel both relaxed and productive.

Here a few things you can do to add a little Feng Shui to your workplace, whether you work at home or in office space:

1. Make sure your desk is positioned for power. That means you don’t want your back to the door or a hallway. You should be able to see people coming, so that symbolically, you can’t be attacked unawares. You also don’t want your back to a window, which is too exposed and doesn’t offer strong backing behind you.

2. Activate your wealth corner: The far left corner, as viewed from the entrance to your office, is considered your area of wealth, symbolically. Put something green and growing there, like a tall potted plant, or maybe wind chimes, to create movement. Same goes for the far left corner of your desk. Place something there that means financial success to you. In that corner on my desk at home, I keep a paperweight that used to sit on the desk of a friend of mine, who not only enjoyed great wealth, but also used her financial resources to benefit many people. 

3. Activate your helpful friends: The near right corner of your desk, and of your office, symbolizes helpful friends. That’s a great corner of your desk for the phone. If cords and phone jacks make that problematic, try your Rolodex or your Blackberry or a stack of business cards for key contacts. 

4. Choose the power seat in meetings: For a client presentation or any meeting where you’ll want as much power as possible, choose a seat about midway along the side of the conference table, facing the door. Many people assume the head of the table is the power spot, but trust me, the middle of the table puts you in a more powerful position. 

5. Get rid of the clutter: This one is perhaps less interesting than the preceding tips, but it’s hugely important. Do whatever you have to do to keep your surfaces clear of clutter, especially old, inactive clutter. If you’ve got stacks of paper on your credenza for a project you’re actively working on, that’s one thing. Piles of old mail or unread reports or other inactive clutter are surprisingly draining. Get rid of them, and you’ll feel a surge of new energy.

Small Business Strategies: The power of a vacation

Flip flopsWhen you own your own company, it can be very difficult to tear yourself away from the business for any stretch of days long enough to be considered a vacation. But taking a vacation is one of the most responsible things you can do for your company.

This is very tough for us Type A types to believe. We get so wrapped up in the urgency of the day-to-day workings of the company, and sometimes even in our own self-importance. It’s hard to believe the business wouldn’t immediately run adrift the second we take our hand off the tiller. 

When my first agency hit its one-year mark, my business partner and I contemplated a spa trip, both to celebrate the success of our first year and to plan for the next. We just could not imagine being out of the office for the five days the trip would take. We broached the subject with our first employee, who was by that point handling many details that neither of us were much good at anyway. When we asked if she thought that she and our skeleton crew could possibly manage without us that long, she burst out laughing. “I think we can handle it,” Rebecca said drily and turned on her heel to get back to work. 

The thing about getting away from the business for a number of days is that it pulls you out of the mire of details and deadlines. It breaks that ant trail of list making perpetually marching in your head. And eventually, not right away, but when your mind begins to calm, you will find clarity. This is where the power of the vacation lies.

With the distance of time and geography, you provide the space for big ideas to appear. The perspective you gain from stepping back from the business allows you to see both issues and opportunities you hadn’t had time to notice before.

Of course, this clarity doesn’t come right away. For me, at least, my mind churns as busily as ever for the first few days of a vacation. I sit on the beach thinking of things I need to make sure people back at the office remember to do, or hike in the desert hills with accounting numbers banging around in my head. But eventually, the salt water or the desert air do their trick. 

Most of the really smart business ideas I’ve ever had occurred to me on vacation, in a moment of stillness toward the end of the trip. I was staring out at the ocean in the early days of Tribe when I realized I could never make the income I wanted with only my own billable hours, at least not without working many more hours a week than I wanted. A few weeks after that vacation, I had six or eight freelancers working on client projects, and I was billing all their hours with a nice markup. Jennifer and I were sitting at the pool towards the end of one of our Arizona trips when we realized it was time for Tribe to get real office space, to collect all our home-office people in one location. That decision was huge to Tribe’s ability to grow, and to serve our Fortune 500 clients who were becoming increasingly less tolerant of trying to track us down in our virtual world. I was sitting on the beach on a family vacation a few months later when I realized it made a whole lot more sense to get a loan from our bank for the office build-out instead of trying to pay that out of cash flow. That decision gave us financial flexibility that made all the difference one tough slow summer. 

The hard part is trusting that it will happen. As the days of vacation trail behind me, I almost always think it’s not working. I somehow expect that my mind will immediately stop its usual racket the minute I’m out of the office. It takes time. It takes hikes in the mountains or runs on the beach, it takes long nights of good sleep and leisurely afternoon naps, it takes reading a few books, having some good meals, sitting on the porch for cocktails with people I love. 

Then suddenly, the big picture or the new idea or the instant clarity floats up out of nowhere. Often, it’s something that is so clearly the right thing, it later seems obvious. You just never saw it before. And likely would never have seen it, if you hadn’t taken the time to slow down for a few days.

Therein likes the power of vacation.