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Kindness Deserves a Seat at the Table, Whether in the Kitchen or the Boardroom

Inspired by the Harvard Business Review article, “Don’t Underestimate the Power of Kindness at Work”.

One of the unspoken challenges of working from home, working remotely, or working largely in isolation is the lack of authentic opportunities for social interactions with colleagues, management, and our professional tribe.  Many of us are seeing the lines of our home life and work life blur for the first time due to the pandemic, juggling the demands of childcare and Zoom meetings, and our working hours stretching late into the evening.  Our carefully established boundaries, routines and life as normal have been uprooted and our aptitude for kindness is essentially non-existent, all while our appetite for human connection becomes nearly insatiable.  We turn to social media to replace our face-to-face connections, which only furthers our inner turmoil and loneliness in a culture that seems to value division over unity with Keyboard Karen’s lurking in the shadows ready to add their vindictive two-cents to any, and every, post.  Is it any wonder that we have lost touch with one of the greatest attributes we can embody and the windfall of benefits therein?  It’s time to adapt to our new normal and to begin sprinkling kindness like confetti once again.

The Windfall of Benefits

With opportunities for ‘praise in passing’ limited by the pandemic, it is important to recognize the tangible benefits of kindness in the workplace.  A yearlong compilation of surveys conducted by Gallup found that recognition at work could help to, “reduce employee burnout and absenteeism, and improves employee well-being.”  Decades of research show that seemingly simplistic gestures like offering a compliment, words of recognition, and praise can help individuals to feel, “more fulfilled, boost their self-esteem, improve their self-evaluations, and trigger positive emotions.”  The affirmation offered by praise confirms our self-worth and contributes to our positive view of ourselves.

Next, the act of being kind contributes to our perceived sense of life’s meaningfulness.  When we are kind to others, it confirms our belief that there is more to life than ourselves.  These acts of kindness also change the way we see ourselves, as our reputation and esteem in the mind of others is improved.  We assess ourselves based on our behavior, so when we are kind to others we view ourselves as kind people, and therefore a good person.

Finally, giving to others makes us even happier than receiving from others.  In various studies, participants who complimented one another found that giving the compliment made them even happier than receiving one.  Compliments may seem trite, but the psychological steps taken to construe and offer a compliment are much deeper.  When we give a genuine compliment it requires us to,  “think about someone else—their mental state, behavior, personality, thoughts, and feelings.”  Thinking about others is a necessary step in feeling connected to them.  And this human connection, that we’ve all been desperately seeking throughout the pandemic, can lead to enhanced positivity in relationships ultimately driving our own happiness forward.

Bringing Kindness Back to the Workplace (Even If It’s Remote)

In order to create a culture of generosity and kindness within an organization, it is imperative that leadership leads by example. “By giving compliments and praising their employees, leaders are likely to motivate team members to copy their behavior and create norms of kindness in teams.”

Next, leaders can establish a time during Zoom meetings for a “kindness round”, close a call with an opportunity for employees to acknowledge each other’s work, or encourage a weekly “bright spot” submission in the weekly meeting notes.  Just a few moments taken out of the norm can have significant impacts on moral and social connection.  The key is consistency and an opportunity for peers to recognize one another publicly.

Finally, small spot bonuses, or tokens of appreciation, even if it’s ‘just’ a gift card for coffee or a thoughtful e-mail, can trigger the same psychological benefits of large acts of kindness without significant expense.

While we are busy switching loads of laundry, and prepping dinner between e-mails and Zoom calls, it can be easy to dismiss acts of kindness as frivolous.  But, if we can pencil in one small gesture of kindness a week, or a day for our colleagues, management and professional tribe, the overwhelming minutia of survival mode can begin to look a bit more like thriving for ourselves and others.  Our children are our best examples of unencumbered kindness, offering a hand picked dandelion, a smile to a stranger, or the last bite of their prized dessert.  Let’s become a bit more childlike and a lot less jaded; the world needs more kindness than Karen’s.

Career Children Family Household Life Hack Spotlight: Jennifer Becker Work at Home Work-Life Balance

Working From Home: 10 Tips For Success

When I started my business 7 years ago, I had no idea that it would grow to the size it is today, allowing me to walk away from a corporate career I spent 15 years building! When I tell people I work from home and replaced my corporate salary within 2 years, I usually get one of two responses – “I don’t know how you get anything done,” or “I wish could do that.”

I feel that many of my friends who are also moms like me think the flexibility of working from home sounds amazing, but they aren’t sure they have what it takes to be productive. I’ll admit that you can become easily distracted, but here are 10 tips I’ve learned along the way.

1. Establish a Schedule

I know for many moms this can seem difficult (especially if you have young children), but it’s a critical element to successfully working from home.

If you do not have a schedule and do not set your intentions for the day, you will waste more time trying to figure out what work to do versus actually getting work done. It doesn’t have to be an hour by hour schedule, but something that becomes routine.

For example, I like to use Mondays and Wednesdays as my office days to make calls, send follow-up emails, write my social media posts for the week, and set appointments with current and potential clients – anything office related. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I usually schedule an hour of office/desk time but spend the majority of those days on appointments and networking with others. I like Fridays to be my day to tie up loose ends and tackle any of the tasks that I may have pushed off. I have a daily list – I know I have had a productive day when I see all the things crossed off of my list. Even if you only work 2 or 3 hours per day on whatever it is you do from home, it is important to have that time blocked off and know what you intend to accomplish during those hours.

You can accomplish a lot in 1 hour if it’s a focused, distraction-free hour; if you try to squeeze in 5-10 minutes here and there, you’ll likely find yourself stuck in the same spot for weeks.

2. Establish Boundaries

I truly believe this is where most moms struggle. I have a designated work-space in my home. When I am in my work-space during my work hours, I do not spend any of that time answering personal emails or personal calls (unless it’s my kids’ school or my husband, which are really the only exceptions). When I started working 100% from home, my kids were 4 and 6, so we had a conversation in terms they understood; if Mommy is at her desk on the phone, it is not the time to interrupt. I was realistic when planning my work schedule, so if my kids were home (day off of school or in the summer), I typically didn’t spend more than an hour at a time at my desk. Instead, I would break up my work day explaining “it’s Mommy’s hour to work”, I would give them 2-3 choices of things they can pick to do during that hour. You may or may not agree with this method, but I believe children need to learn to entertain themselves for short periods of time, it helps them practice self-discipline. I have even caught them playing “office,” mimicking me making my calls, etc. On the flip-side, my kids knew they would have my full attention during play-time.

Now we’ve entered the preteen years as they are almost 10 and 12 so they can most definitely manage themselves while I work. 

By setting the boundaries and schedule, you won’t have to worry about the guilt of empty promises of “just give me 10 more minutes and we’ll play then…” Your family will appreciate the boundaries. They will learn to recognize when Mom is working and when she is available, rather than constantly interrupting because they’re competing for your attention.

3. Know When You Need Childcare

Sure, I started my own business to have more time with my children, but there are times when you may have to put in more hours or attend a meeting and it simply wouldn’t be appropriate to bring your children along. If your children are not yet in school and you work from home, find a reliable form of childcare for the times it is needed, even if it means swapping playdates with a friend.

4. Get Out of Your House

This might be difficult for moms with small children, which is why I mentioned #3. I understand that one of the main reasons we choose to work from home is because we want more time with our children. But working from home can be a bit lonely. While a lot of connecting begins through social media, real relationships are still developed in person. Make attending local networking groups, trainings or events a part of your regular schedule. That’s where you can meet potential clients, colleagues and mentors to support you on your journey. I recently attended a LinkedIn class and not only did I meet great people, but I also chose an activity that would benefit me professionally.

5. Evaluate Your Activities and Priorities

I was a busy corporate mom before I started my own business and either way, when you add a new responsibility, you have to let go of something. No one is going to do this for you. You have to be the one to evaluate your current activities and obligations and decide where your time is best spent. I started by clearing out my DVR; I still like to binge-watch a Netflix series every now and again, but TV can be one of the biggest time wasters.

Be clear about your priorities/life goals and focus on them. Cut down on activities and obligations that do not serve your priorities/goals. (i.e. TV watching, magazine reading, social activities, mindless social media scrolling, etc.) Make every moment of your life count. Learn how to say no without guilt. I really wanted to serve on my daughter’s school parent teacher committee this past year but when I looked at the time and commitment, I realized between running a business and have two kids in sports, I would likely spread myself too thin. I still contribute, just not by serving as a committee member.

6. Hold Family Meetings

Make sure your spouse/support person understands your business, your goals and your priorities. My husband travels 50-70% of the time for work but he still likes to understand what I am working towards with regard not only to my schedule, but how our children will be cared for on busier days. We also involve our children at times. When I first started my business, our daughters understood that Mom had to work really hard and a lot of hours so she could quit her job and be the one to take them to and from school. My husband and I explained that we needed their help, which included doing their chores without complaining, getting ready on time in the morning and understanding that Mom would have to work late sometimes during what looked to be a very busy upcoming year. Let’s just say incentives work wonders, from younger children to teenagers! To increase their willingness to be helpful, we promised them Disneyland passes if they followed through. 

7. Get Your Rest

Remember when you had your first child and everyone said “Nap when the baby naps.” I hated hearing that! I used to think “but what about the laundry? I need a shower.” I soon realized an overly tired Mommy wasn’t good for my husband or the baby, so I napped. I am not saying to take naps, but if you are up working until midnight or 1:00 am to work on your business while the kids are sleeping – stop! Lack of sleep will catch up with you and won’t be good for anyone. Go back and read #2. It is possible to work while your kids are awake. Even powerhouse mompreneurs need their beauty rest!

8. Get and Keep Your Home Organized

An organized home will demand less time for upkeep, while a cluttered home will require constant work and suck your energy. Don’t even think of starting to work from home until your house has been decluttered and organized and your household maintenance systems are in place. I hired a professional organizer for “problem areas” of our home, she created an easy system to maintain. Set up daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and yearly routines for house cleaning. For example, I throw in a load of laundry every morning, it goes in the dryer when kids come home from school and is folded and put away before dinner. I wipe down the bathrooms Monday morning and wash all the bedding on Thursdays; it doesn’t matter what you do or when, but create your system and stick to it.

9. Dress for Success

I know your PJs are comfy and one of the perks working from home should be that you don’t have to get dressed up BUT, you still have to get dressed, even to work from home. I’m not sitting here in my power suit and heels, but you do need to get out of your PJs and slippers. I wear something comfortable and casual that I can wear outside the house, invest in some cute joggers and tops. I even put on my basic makeup. My rule of thumb is – be presentable enough to meet a potential client. If you’re physically ready for anything, your mind will be as well. Believe it or not, this will make you more productive.

10. Let Go

Let go of the idea that you can do it all. Maybe this should have been #1. You can’t clean the house, do all the laundry, run the errands, pay attention to your husband, answer 100 emails per week, plan and prepare dinner every night, print pictures to mail to grandma, volunteer at school, bake cookies for the church bake sale and grow your business…all by yourself. Get over being perfect. If you have the luxury of doing so – hire someone to clean the house. It’s okay if you have to buy the cookies. Ask your spouse to help out a little bit around the house. Be “OK” with the fact you can’t do it all – remember why you started – to have more time with your family; they won’t mind if the cookies are store-bought. When you are 86, what will you look back and treasure the most? You’ll either look back and love the time you had with your family or wish you had made more time for family. Live in the moment so you can look back and actually remember these moments.

Cleaning Family Life Hack

Life Hacks: Spring Cleaning Made Easy

As the saying goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Although a spotless, meticulously organized home feels great, the process to get there isn’t usually much fun.

Spring cleaning takes effort, time, and money—three things that many working moms don’t have enough of to spare. But either way, it needs to get done. With these spring cleaning hacks, not only will you need less effort, time, and money, but it’ll be more fun than ever before. Here’s how!

Hack 1: Out With the Old

Spring cleaning often seems like a mammoth task, but that’s probably because you’ve collected a whole lot of stuff that you don’t use anymore. Purging unused items is the first step to any successful spring cleaning process.

For example, if you’re packing away your winter clothes for the season, donate what you haven’t worn this winter. Ask the kids to put toys and games they don’t use anymore into a box, and donate those too. The furniture you inherited that’s been gathering dust in the garage? Sell it.

You’ll find that removing the clutter of unnecessary stuff will make the job much easier.

Hack 2: Get Everyone Involved

Many moms (myself included!) feel that tasks get done faster when we just do them ourselves. How many times have you asked your kids to do something, but then they mess it up and you end up having to do it yourself anyways? I get it! But, it’s only fair for everyone to chip in when it comes to spring cleaning. And, if you’re smart about it, your kids can be pretty successful at certain helpful tasks!

First, assign each child a task based on their age. It can be as small as having them make a pile of clothes that are too small, or place unused/broken outdoor toys in a box to get rid of—or as big as cleaning out the basement or the car.

The key is to take the time to show them what you want to be done and give clear instructions. A little family treat afterwards might help (dinner at the kids’ favorite restaurant, maybe?).

Hack 3: Use Multi-Purpose Products

This hack is all about killing two birds with one stone. Ideally, you want a cleaning product that multi-tasks for you, both cleaning and accomplishing another task simultaneously. Whether it’s a furniture cleaner that also conditions or a stain remover and deodorizer, it will save you time and money—especially when doing the deep cleaning that’s required this time of year!

Depending on your floor, you may want to invest in a floor cleaner that washes and waxes. This will help protect your floors and keep them cleaner—or at least make cleaning easier in the long run. You could also invest in a floor cleaner that cleans and shines at the same time, cutting the time you spend on the floors in half, and saving you money since you’ll need only one product.

Hack 4: DIY It!

Sometimes you don’t need all these fancy products to get the job done—what you have in your kitchen often works just as well! Here are a few household staples that can double as cleaning supplies:

Microwave to clean sponges: If you don’t have time to run to the store to get new sponges or simply want to save some money, don’t throw out your old sponges! Soak them in a mixture of water and lemon juice and then pop them in the microwave for one minute to disinfect them.
Vinegar to clean taps: To help remove lime scale and other stains around your taps, soak cotton wool pads in vinegar and use them to clean the area. Say goodbye to lime scale and hello to shiny taps!
Coca-Cola: Perfect to get rid of those oil stains on the garage floor: simply cover the area, let it soak, and rinse off.
Baking Soda: Sprinkle some baking soda on your bed or carpet to deodorize it and eliminate musty, moldy stains and odors.

Hack 5: Scale it Down

Avoid spring cleaning overwhelm by tackling one mess at a time. Clean one room or area completely before moving on to another. Dealing with a single area at once helps you avoid that feeling of frustration and enables you to better budget your time—and as working moms, our time is precious!

Hack 6: Make it Fun!

For many of us, spring cleaning isn’t something we look forward to. So why not try to make it a little more enjoyable? Crank up your favorite music, and feel free to throw in some dance moves while you’re at it! Or, instead of allocating rooms to everyone, clean certain areas together with the family, using that time to bond and maybe even engage in a little friendly competition (who can finish their clean-up faster?!)!

There are so many other life hacks to make spring cleaning easy, but these six tips are a good place to start. The key is not to get overwhelmed—so accept some help, break it down into smaller tasks, and congratulate yourself on a job well done!

Cleaning Life Hack Working Mom

3 Simple Kitchen Time-Savers for Busy Moms

When I was younger, I remember my mom getting me to help with household chores by saying, “the maid’s off today!” (Hint: We never had a maid!). Now that I’m in charge of my own household (re: cooking, cleaning, and seemingly everything else), I can definitely relate to this sentiment! Sometimes, it really does feel like the “mom” hat is interchangeable with the “maid,” “chef,” “chauffeur,” and so on.

This is especially true when it comes to our kitchens. Even those of us with helpful spouses or little ones know that having them prepare a meal for you often comes with hours of cleaning up afterwards.

As working moms, we’ve already got a lot on our plates. That’s why I’ve put together these time-saving life hacks to keep your kitchen clean, the dishes done, and the family healthily fed without leaving you feeling like hired help.

Tip 1: Start Small

Especially if you feel like your kitchen has gotten a bit out of control (i.e., you’re not actually sure if there is a counter under all that paperwork anymore), try to start with a small cleaning project that you attend to regularly. This doesn’t need to be something big—you may even start with a task that only takes five minutes but has a huge impact, like checking for expired food in the refrigerator once a week.

The main point is to focus on cleaning up this one area regularly rather than spending hours on an overwhelming deep clean of the entire room.

Some suggestions include:
Clean the counters with a washcloth or Lysol wipe every evening before going to bed
Sweep the kitchen once a week
Wipe down the refrigerator once a week
Clean out your fridge once a week
Close all cabinet doors and drawers every morning
Wipe down the microwave at least once a week

Once you have one area down, start adding on new tasks, and you’ll be able to see those kitchen counters again in no time. You may even get the kids involved with these age-appropriate chores.

Tip 2: Make Lunch Packing Easy

While all of us end up deferring to school lunches every once in a while, it can be hard to swallow their higher costs and relative unhealthiness. We know intuitively that it makes more sense to pack lunches for our kids, but it’s sometimes difficult finding the time on busy mornings to get even a sandwich made.

That’s why I’ve started automating my lunch making. After cleaning my fridge once a week (Tip 1, check!), I decided to put together a school lunch “section” of my refrigerator. Each Sunday evening before the rush of Monday comes, I make some sandwiches, salads, soup, and other main course items to last my kids for the entire week. I put them in plastic containers with a little note to “take one.”

I then put some fruit and veggies, pre-cut and ready to eat, in a bin next to them with the note “take as many as you’d like” (after all, I can always cut more!). Similarly, juices or milks, desserts, and chips (in the cupboard) also get a “take one” note because kids can be sneaky.

This system allows my kids a sense of independence—they get to actually choose which food items they take each day, within reason. It also means that I have these ten minutes back each morning to do check the news and drink a cup of coffee. #coffeesolveseverything

You may also find that using a larger tub labelled “snacks” and filling it with healthy foods allows your kids to help themselves when they get nibbly—and saves you the whining when they can’t find something to snack on.

Tip 3: Turn Chore Time into “Me” Time

We all have those chores that we just hate doing. For me, it’s the dishes—for some reason, I absolutely loathe this task! But still, my family always seems to manage to leave the dishes in the sink without me catching them. I used to be a little bitter about always having to wash everyone’s dishes until I realized that there was no rule that said I couldn’t do something fun at the same time.

So I started listening to podcasts and some of my favorite music when doing dishes. All of a sudden, I was able to catch up on the news and stay up-to-date on my friend’s podcast while still getting credit for keeping my kitchen clean. Over time, I’ve really come to love this practice—now I actually look forward to it!

Hack Your Kitchen

While you’ll still have the occasional big mess or mid-week meal to cook, these tips will allow you to spend your average day doing fewer chores and spending less time cleaning. Plus, you’ll likely come to enjoy the time you do spend on these tasks by listening to music, catching up on the news, or tuning into your top podcasts.

Turn chore time into “me” time and recruit your children (and spouse) as clean-up helpers. You may even end up having some actual down time on your hands!