On Using Paid Time Off

Using up paid time off is one of my “soapbox” issues. The first time I wrote a non-traditional out-of-office message, I wrote that I was working to reach my goal of being in the 1/3rd of Americans using up all their vacation time. Putting that in writing felt risky – even if it was honest.

When I find out that someone – a friend, coworker, family member, stranger on the street – is leaving their time on the table, I can launch into a lecture faster than the weather changes in New England. It’s a benefit! You’re leaving money on the table!

Then I got sick last week. Flu plus strep meant I could barely get my own hot tea, much do anything else. Using PTO wasn’t a choice, it was a safety net I am privileged to be able to use. And yet, I still felt guilty. I’ve done the mental math to see how or if I’ll need to adjust future time-off plans to keep some days in the bank for when my son gets sick this year. Did I take a day away from him? Can I afford one more day to recover?

Did you know 52% of Americans don’t use all their vacation time?

https://projecttimeoff.com/reports/state-of-american-vacation-2018/

A close friend in high school – in the 90s – had a mom who let her take mental health days. I thought she just had a cool mom, and now I realize she had a mom ahead of the times.

With all the talk of unplugging and self-care, the ability to have or to use paid time off is missing from the discussion. Using all your paid time off is self-care. It benefits you and your company. They aren’t giving it to you out of the goodness of their hearts – PTO was fought and won by workers who didn’t have it. Just like weekends, if we’re honest. It’s easy to take it for granted when we didn’t have to ask for it.

You’re more likely to use your PTO if you plan ahead.

Here are ways I want to help others justify using all their PTO this year:

For the workaholic friend who can’t disconnect even when he’s supposedly away on vacation, I point out that taking breaks to recharge make you a better employee. You’re more creative, have new perspectives on old problems and are setting an example for others in your organization. Otherwise known as being a stronger leader.

For the family member who thinks being home and “doing nothing” is a waste of time, I point out that daydreaming lets your brain recover from constant problem solving. Reading fiction is more likely to help you expand your horizons and empathize with others. Learning a new skill impacts your brain chemistry in ways that make you happier.

For the coworker who comes in with a cold, thinking that showing up shows dedication and commitment…well, I stay away from them. No one wants someone else’s germs in the office. But resting and taking a sick day often means you’re sick for a shorter amount of time.

I’ve been all these people. I’m sure I’ll be them again.

I’ll also always try to get to PTO = 0.

Flow over Hustle

old plans,
memories forever

As a firm believer in the power of the pen, I encourage anyone and everyone to:

Write it down on real paper with a real pencil. And watch shit get real. ~Erykah Badu

When a friend recently asked me if she could “talk to me about my planner”, I was geeked up. I could – and do! – preach about my Passion Planner often. I’ve had one for each of the last five years. Each is part journal, part scrapbook and part life designer. I’ve gotten my system and “style” down, although it took a little practice. I have favorite pens, stickers and planning rituals. I thought we were going to talk about erasable highlighters, and instead our discussion took a more interesting turn:

What if you don’t have traditionally ‘ambitious’ goals? 

That question pulled together threads of several conversation I’ve had this month, each coming at the idea that moving with intention rather than ambition is just as worthy of effort and attention:

  1. When is it acceptable to like who you are and not want to transform yourself?
  2. Does having one day a week in pajamas mean you’re lazy or practicing self-care?
  3. How will you know if you’ve become a kinder person at the end the year?

After all, it is January, the month of full gyms and endless commercials about how to create the new and improved you. #goalgetter and #goaldigger are all over social media. And yet… goals that are typically broadcast with those tags are achievement-oriented. Running a marathon. Getting a promotion. Publishing a book. Traveling to Iceland.

Coming off 2018, exhaustion and the need to slow down is in the air. One of my 2019 goals – not tied to professional wins or external accolades, is to read Tarot. It was fortuitous when I learned that the 2019 card of the year is the Hanged Man. (2+0+1+9 = 12 | The Hanged Man is the 12th card of the Major Arcana). If you’re wondering, the 2018 card was Justice. Let’s just let that sit for a bit, no?

This card asks that we pause, take a break, look for a new perspective. To look for the flow over the hustle. To work with intention as much as ambition.

I’m much more protective of getting enough sleep this year, and not breaking appointments with myself and family to do nothing. That’s right – one of my goals for this year is to do nothing more often. Oh, and take more naps. Celebrating and elevating the mundane is powerful, and a reminder that everything we do is a choice. As long as your goals are your own, they are worthy of pursing.

If anyone knows what hashtag is the opposite of #goalgetter, let me know?

What does Dolly Parton have to do with professional development?

Knowing who you are, and being that version unapologetically, is the cornerstone to being happier version of your best self.

After all, it is the inimitable Dolly Parton who said:

purpose

Knowing who we are is a life-long journey. After many years in HR, I get asked regularly for input on personal branding, self-assessments and professional development resources.

Below are my personal top 5* go-to recommendations for anyone trying to be more of themselves this year:

 

  1. VIA Character Strengths Assessment: Focusing on your strengths is a more fun – and sustainable – approach to personal development. This quick, 15-minute assessment will give you a lot of easily digestible information framed positively. Rather than focusing on strengths-at-work, the assessment focuses on helping you “discover the good in you”.

 

  1. Carla Harris’ Expect to Win, Proven Strategies from a Wall Street Vet: Imagine you had a trusted mentor in your pocket who was willing to share her hard-won experience and life-lessons. That’s what this easy to read, well-organized book is. I’ve quoted it at least once a month to someone since I read it almost 10 year ago. Carla’s practical wisdom holds up and is actionable.

 

  1. The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin. This is a two-fer: both a book and a quiz. Understanding how you respond to both external and internal expectations can be useful in understanding why you act…and why you don’t.

 

  1. Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life: Ignore super lofty title – Chris writes about having a personal goal, big or small, can bring about a happier life. It could be finishing a quilt or traveling to every country in the world. Through interviews with questers, he’s uncovered stories about how it really is the journey that matters.

 

  1. Passion Planner: Studies have shown that writing something down – actually putting pen to paper – has an impact on our how we internalize information. I use this paper-based planner to both set goals and keep myself on track to making progress against those goals every week. I like this planner because there’s space for both work and personal goals and to-dos: it’s one place both integrate and balance the demands on my time.

 

Just for kicks, there is the Official Pottermore Hogwarts Sorting Hat quiz.

And, if Dolly doesn’t feel serious enough for you, turn to Aristotle instead, who tells us that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.

 

** These are my personal favorites. You know, the views and opinions expressed above are mine alone and do not reflect any official position … and so on.

The Power of A Word

Contemplating my word of the year is the only bit of planning for new year I do before Christmas. Full-blown reflection, intention-setting and list-making must wait until December 26th (the true beginning of the 12 Days of Christmas)! This is my way of trying to stay in the moment during the Christmas season and avoiding the post-Christmas crash by giving myself something to anticipate.

Persist was my word for 2018.

Inspired by Elizabeth Warren, my new-found commitment to political engagement and the fearless girl, I chose persist as a reminder that I would stand up for what I know is right and good, and commit myself to doing the hard work necessary to make the world better. The political is personal, for all of us, whether we’re “in to politics” or not. Persist reminded me that no matter what the year would bring – and 2018 certainly brought new lows in our country’s history – giving up or giving in would not be an option. After all,  it’s not an accident that the Oxford-English dictionary chose “toxic” as the 2018 word of the year. Merriam-Webster chose “justice” for a more optimistic approach.

My 2017 word was “activist”, inspired by my participation in the Women’s March on Washington, DC. Persist was my reminder that my activism is a privilege, and regardless of administration or current affairs, I wanted to commit myself to staying engaged. I was lucky enough to be selected to volunteer for the Americans of Conscience Checklist’s social media team, and am inspired by the small team of compassionate, thoughtful individuals across the country who see an opportunity to bring people closer together rather than continuing to further the division America is experiencing.

Here’s what I learned about what it takes to persist: It’s hard. It’s a grind. Grind could have been my 2018 word. To persist means that you continue forward in a direction in spite of obstacles, opposition or failure. You’re working against something, and no matter how aspirational, motivated or committed I am, to persist turned out to be exhausting.

As I reflect on my year, I find myself wondering if I invited in more obstacles and challenges in to my life? I did persist this year. Maybe not with the compassion, patience, or calm I would have liked, but I’m still here. And so, I want 2019 to feel lighter, to have more flow and less tension.

I haven’t decided on my word for 2019, yet I find myself being much more deliberate about what I might unintentionally focus on going forward.

If you choose a word to focus your intention for the new year,
how do you decide which word?

How I want to feel at the end of 2019.

12 Days of Working Your Happy

The 12 Days of Christmas (December 26th – January 6th) is my favorite time of year. I look forward to the post-holiday slow-down so I can reflect on closing out the current year and set intentions for the new year. And this year, I invite you to join me in planning a 2019 to make you happier.

I’ve created a mini-workbook to act as a self-guided course for anyone else interested in Working Your Happy. Designed to take less than 30 minutes a day (with one exception), my 12 Days of Working Your Happy is a personal workbook to guide your 2018 reflections and 2019 happiness.

Download the 12 Days of Christmas 2018 Workbook

Wishing you a joyful holiday season, and happiest of new years!

Turning Up the Volume

Tomorrow, I’ll sit at one of three or four tables in the warm and love-filled kitchen of my wife’s second family. The house will be filled with three generations, two turkeys,  and one amazing brie appetizer (thanks, Liz!). What started as four couples getting together for dinner in the early 80s expanded exponentially as each small family grew.

Today, this Thanksgiving “table” is a gathering of anywhere from 30 – 40 people! My wife has missed one year of celebrating Thanksgiving with this specific group in her entire life. It is her only non-negotiable during the holiday season, and after attending my first year, I understand why.

butterturkey
Doesn’t everyone have a hand-carved butter turkey at Thanksgiving?

There is just one down side of a Thanksgiving filled with this much tradition, so many pies and lot of people. It is next to impossible to get to have a deep conversation with everyone – especially now that we have a toddler that requires at least cursory supervision. On our drive home tomorrow night, my wife and I will exchange the stories of who we talked to, hoping that together, we were able to connect with everyone.

The stories we hear (How was the marathon that Liz and Tom ran? What was the best part of Taylor and Elizabeth’s trip to Hawaii? What amazing vacations did Erica and Jason go on this year?) are both never enough and also fill us up with gratitude and thankfulness. It’s the act of sharing stories which connect us.

What prompted this sentimental holiday post? Well, I came across Can blogs rebuild America? and began to think about how stressful the holidays can be when politics come to the table. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen at our Thanksgiving. Good or bad, we’re all more or less on the same page. Our personal stories bring us closer, year after year.

In a room with so many people, sometimes you have to force your way in to the conversation. Or pay attention when someone is trying to be heard and make space for them. And the same is true for the bigger conversations happening around us.

I’m thankful for the space and freedom to express myself in this tiny little space, to forge connections with others in a conversation that can feel overwhelming and encourage others to do the same. Sharing your story can feel like work, but being heard will bring a deep sense of contentment.

#netpositiveblog

Is your tech making you happier?

The Working Parents Group at my office showed a screening of Screenagers this week.  I’m so glad I saw this movie and am starting to think critically about the role of technology in my life before I have a teenager. While my son is only (almost) 3 years old, I’ve come to be both impressed and a little scared at how fast he picks up technology.

And kids are little experiments, aren’t they? I can see everything we read about play out in my son. We’ve noticed when he has more screen time, his behavior gets worse. It creeps me out that he can be in the same room with me and if he’s watching a show, he does not hear or notice anything else. And research shows that increased screen time changes brain chemistry – permanently. Social media can be socially isolating. 

What are we doing with all this screen time?

After seeing the movie, I’ve been thinking more about what example I’m setting at home and what I’m doing with the available technology.

Actions speak louder than words, and if my wife and I are on our phones all the time, we’re sending the message to our son that what’s happening on our phones is more important than what’s happening in the room. I’ve taken to telling my son what I am doing when I have my phone out in front of him. “I’m sending a note to Mum to see what time she’ll be home.” “I’m looking up what roads to take to get to the park.”…and so on. It may be a bit much, but you’d better believe I’ve never said “I’m posting a picture of my coffee for strangers to look at” even though I’ve done that, too.

In the film, what struck me the most was how the kids where sitting next to each other, but interacting with each other through their phones. Technology is changing all the time, and changing everything. I believe strong EQ and interpersonal skills are going continue to be differentiators in what makes someone successful.

What does this have to do with work?

Work is getting more digital, and technology allows us to be more connected to the office more than ever before. I believe large organizations need to examine the expectations being put on employees and understand the role company culture is playing in home life. Have you thought about your company’s digital culture and if it aligns with your values?

If staying in touch with the office is the excuse parents are using for being on their phones, the message we’re sending is that work is more important than what’s happening at home. It’s a complex issue: if we know we’re happier the less we’re on screens, and that happier people are those who feel more in control of what’s happening in their lives… well, we have to ask if our tech is making us happier?

Technology enables the happiness trap of overwork. If how our work, technology and home life are coming together isn’t making things better, it’s time to take individual accountability and change what’s not working. I’ve personally found that the boundaries I put in place with a newborn are still making me happy: no work emails while my son is awake and I’m home with him. Period.

One last thought… my wife is a high school coach, and the team hosted a baby shower  when we were expecting. As part of the party, we asked 20 high school girls for parenting advice. The two things they told us:.

1. Play with your kids as much as you can (Dads, they all loved the “monster game”: when their dads would hide and they’d find him, he’d chase them and then tickle them. Who knew?)

2. Take away my phone. They told us they might pretend it’s awful, but they liked being able to say “my parents won’t let me…” so they get a break from the pressure of being connected all the time.

Maybe to be happier we need to take away our own phones for a bit.
What do you think about screen time, being connect to work and feeling happier?