Working Smarter

How to Stop Working the Hard Way

Posted by Joe Robinson


Humans are prone to doing whatever takes the least effort—even though our brains want us to do the opposite and challenge ourselves. We are a little contradictory. The high brain wants the gratification of growth, while for the autopilot brain the default is to instant gratification and expending as little effort as possible. The TV remote may be the ultimate instrument for this impulse.

At the office, the “easy” reflex results in rote and last-minute behavior, along with the anemic productivity that comes with them. It’s why I usually hear from clients when overwhelm has peaked or work-life balance survey scores are underwater. 


It may seem like it’s easier to work on rote and avoid change, but it’s actually much harder, as clients learn in our work-life balance trainings. When we are stuck on reflex, that keeps us locked in habits that drive stress, slow us down, and make tasks more aggravating than they actually are.

Take interruptions, for example. Left unmanaged, they not only make it much harder to focus and finish the task you are on, but they also make anything you do seem more difficult than it is. They change the perception of the work to something harder. So which is easier? Managing interruptions or being managed by them?

It’s a no-brainer, as it is when it comes to letting devices call the shots or corralling them, so we are in charge. Do nothing and unbounded devices and messaging run amok, adding to workloads and disruptions that slow everyone down. Do out-of-control messaging and constant disruptions make the work easier or harder? Cut the volume of email and check it at set schedules, and you can reduce the amount of interruptions from 96 (checking every five minutes) to three or four times a day, the most productive checking schedules, report researchers at U. C. Irvine and Oklahoma State.

We can all free up hours of time to focus and get work done with a system that manages messaging. This makes changing how we work a lot easier than being bombarded by the anarchy of the status quo. But the law of least effort is seductive and most people today are also caught up in the autopilot of busy-ness, a condition that makes us think we can’t stop for a second, or it will be apocalypse now.


Work-life balance is a process of stopping for a moment to find easier ways to work, of getting tools to carve out the space to live a quality life and take care of personal responsibilities and map out a healthier road to success. In our work-life balance programs we bring your team the best strategies vetted by the research to stop doing things the hard way and start doing things the smart way.

Bad work-life balance survey scores and crazy-busy workplaces rife with overwhelm are clues that things could be done a lot easier. If your team is drowning in meetings and teleconferences, that’s doing it the hard way. If deadlines are out of whack with reality, that’s doing it the hard way. If people are working in a way that drives stress and burnout, that is really doing it the hard way. Stress undermines intellect and drives irrational decisions.

A host of research and best practices tells us that we don’t have to do it the hard way. Instead, with the right self-management, boundaries, and effective norms, any team or organization can get work done faster, communicate more clearly, de-clutter brains, and help employees activate  lives off the job too. It all comes from avoiding the temptation to keep muddling through with the same-old, same-old.

Work-life balance training is about solving problems, taking inefficient habits and turning them into effective practices that create the space to think and manage demands and devices. It’s a collaboration in which we work together to identify the bottlenecks and pressure points that drive productivity and work-life south and get solutions that make work and life easier.


I’m working with a client now on a post-work-life balance training sustainment program, two months of developing and practicing skills of sustainable performance. The managers of this global firm, with offices from Stuttgart to Hong Kong, Brazil, and the U.S, are super-enthused as we troubleshoot bottlenecks, set new norms, and make their days more effective. Each new practice they use to manage information or global time zones, or strengthen the work-family perimeter inspires more employee engagement—the very extra effort our species has an aversion to at the most basic level.

It turns out that effort isn’t a problem for people who are encouraged to participate and solve problems. In fact, we all are designed to be self-starters, to have a hand in writing our own script. Initiative and proactive behavior pay off core psychological needs, such as competence, autonomy, and connection with others as well as the quest our brain neurons have for novelty and challenge—the two key elements in long-term fulfillment 

So when it comes to working smarter with a work-life balance training, it’s a win-win-win-win. We improve work effectiveness, satisfy core needs, unleash the fulfilling powers of novelty and challenge, and inspire the discretionary effort that comes from employee engagement. And along the way, we make work, and life, a whole lot easier.

If you would like more information on our work-life balance training program, click the button below for details.

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Tags: employee engagement training, work-life balance trainings, overwhelm, information overload programs, employee development programs, work effectiveness, work life balance, work-life balance and productivity

On the Road to Work-Life Balance in Colombia

Posted by Joe Robinson

Colombians in traditional dress

I knew I was going to like Bogota when I stepped off the flight and into a cab percolating with salsa music. Though salsa comes from a mix of Cuban, Puerto Rican and New York roots, it’s the national music of Colombia, where I had come to do a keynote address at the Human Talent Summit, a conference for human resource professionals. The spicy horn charts weren’t coming from a CD but from a radio channel serving up salsa around the clock. As a salsa and Latin jazz nut, this was my kind of welcome committee.

The first thing you notice about Bogota is altitude. It’s 8660-feet high. So high that when I went to my hotel door, a staffer asked me if I was prepared to accept the responsibility of an exit row. I’d come equipped with Advil to combat the heights, and it worked well. Researchers say it’s as effective as prescription medications for controlling the inflammation that can come with altitude. 

Bogota splays out below a couple of peaks, Guadalupe and Monserrat, that pitch straight up. From the base of the mountains you can look out over a city stocked with modern high-rises and the most modern shopping malls but also a venerable old town where burros serve as the trash collection vehicle, and many poor districts, or favelas, some tumbling down slopes like those in Rio de Janeiro.

Central cathedral in Bogota

With the long guerrilla war with the FARC largely contained and more security as a result, the economy has been growing in recent years, averaging four percent a year over the last three years, better than in North America or Europe. There’s a feeling of early 1960s America, as more people move out of poverty and into the middle classes.

They may love their salsa, but Colombians also keep their noses to the grindstone. The workweek is 48 hours by law, and like folks everywhere these days, they are dogged by technological leashes and drowning in email. It’s a very small world when it comes to the stress of serving a master who never takes a day off, let alone an hour.

The conference, produced superbly by Mauricio Rodriguez of America Empresarial, a consulting and training firm in Bogota, and the Colegio de Estudios Superiores de Administracion, brought HR administrators from companies in Colombia together with work-life experts from around the world—Argentina’s Alejandro Melamed, Spain’s Roberto Fernandez, who detailed his nonprofit organization’s roadmap for work-life company certification, and from the U.S. myself and friend and resiliency expert, Eileen McDargh.

Before the event I spoke with Luz Stella Bernal, of the Colegio de Estudios Superiores de Administracion, who had selected the work-life theme for this year’s event. “We had gotten more and more feedback from people that work-life was on their minds,” she told me. “The pressures are rising, and people are looking for knowledge to help them cope with the demands of work and create a better balance in their lives.”

Work-life is a relatively new topic for Colombia. The fact that it’s on the radar is a sign of an improved economy and of this family-oriented culture’s concern that their way of life doesn’t get submerged by an unbounded world.

It was a great time to open the conversation about smarter ways to work and how to manage the devices and stressors, instead of the other way around. I talked about changes they could make in how they did their tasks that could make quantum leaps in improving work-life. Stress alone, when it’s allowed to flare unchallenged, keeps focus on perceived emergencies, shoving everything else to the side.

Joe Robinson speaks at work-life balance conference in Bogota

Though I had a brilliant translator doing a simulcast of my presentation, there was no translation needed for our group samba lesson. I knew these salsa and cumbia experts would ace that exercise, and they did. Studies show playfulness increases productivity and attention, and that's why we had 220 people dancing together. It's one big optimal experience.

They were very enthused to learn new things and had a slew of great questions after my session, including how to get their kids off 24/7 devices and social media. Boundaries are key for adults and the kids. Without them, we get sucked into a vortex of attention-shredding technology. It’s as addictive as any substance, undermining your attention span.

After the conference my wife and I checked out the salsa scene at a fabulous spot, Galleria Café Libro. A colorful club with modern art decorating the walls, Café Libro is a great night out in Bogota. The prices are reasonable, a $7 entrance fee, and the music was excellent. Every song played by the deejay and the cooking live band that followed, Charanga New York, was smack in the dance zone.

The crowd was there for the music and fun, not showboating, which isn't fun since it's about other people's approval. A nice group kicking back after a week of work and enjoying what the work's all about. I wanted to put this place and a Colombia barbecue joint in the transporter and beam them back to Los Angeles. A great adventure, and I'll be back.

If you'd like to improve work-life and engagement at your organization, feel free to click the button below for details on our work-life balance programs.

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Tags: work-life balance trainings, increase productivity, work life balance programs, work life balance, stress management, job stress

How to Get a Work-Life Balanced in 2013

Posted by Joe Robinson

Balance isn't a problem at Kings Canyon's Zumwalt Meadow

I was on the dance floor at a local restaurant when the New Year kicked in, letting the backbone slip with my wife and a bunch of friendly strangers to an old disco number like “We Are Family.” Dancing makes just about everything better, and about a thousand times more than just watching.

The crowd was thin but animated, a diverse bunch in ages and ethnicities all united in hopes for the coming year—and in shaking it no matter what their rhythm aptitude was. Several had already stepped onto the floor solo without regard to what others thought. Bravo! A great start to a year of no regrets.

Above the band there was a giant TV with ABC’s Times Square countdown. Just before the midnight hour, I caught a glimpse of a graphic showing the Top 5 New Year’s resolutions. Of course, “lose weight” was there, but also “enjoy life more” and “do more things with family and friends.”

In other words, I couldn’t help notice, two of the top five resolutions, the resolution behind the resolutions, had to do with a more balanced life (you can add "exercise more" to that category too). A lot of us know we need to do better in this department, but it can’t happen without a couple of key ingredients that the first weeks of a new year can help us with—time to think and commitment to change.  

At the beginning of the year we do something we seldom do beyond January—take a moment to self-reflect. Usually, mechanical busyness holds off the questions that need to be asked to chart a different trajectory. What is it I really need in my life, as oppose to want? What can I do to make life and work more enjoyable, meaningful, less stressful? Where am I going? Where do I want to go? 

Thinking prevents regrets later. As researchers have found, we regret the things we don’t do more than the things we do. It’s called the “the inaction effect.” That’s why resolutions like “enjoy life more” pop up on a lot of lists. There’s a nagging void when we are caught up in action to the exclusion of the thought that puts life on the calendar.

If you don't make the time and the resolutions, the world does it for you by default. Unconscious mode leads to the kinds of resolutions you don't want: 1) Do nothing about the stressors in my life, 2) Make sure devices and messages can badger me at any second, 3) Do tasks in the most inefficient way, 4) Run myself into the ground by not having any self-maintenance and recharging.

Resolutions get a bad rap, because the concept is excellent—fixing what's not working. The problem is that we aren’t taught how to use the right goals to create or achieve resolutions. Studies show that external goals, such as losing weight or getting rich, don’t stick. They’re about what others think. You don’t really buy these goals, so it’s hard to stay motivated.

Intrinsic goals—for learning, growth, excellence, challenge, fun—are much more effective at helping you commit and persist with an objective. The goal is meaningful to you in and of itself, and that keeps your self-regulation equipment sustaining the effort.

If enjoying life more or having more time for family and friends are on your resolution list, upgrading work-life balance is the intrinsic goal that gives you the best chance of success. Is that really possible? Can you get more life on the agenda and do all the work your job demands? The science says, unequivocally, yes.  

Work in the right way and you get more done in less time, and with a truckful less stress. Work-life balance means that you and your organization are using the research tools available to work more productively, have better time management and prioritizing and more control over devices and stress, deploy regular recharging and refueling, and explore the proven flex options.

Like most resolutions, it’s not easy, but unlike most vague resolutions, there are many practical tools to build a more effective work style and stop stress in its tracks. Key adjustments to how you and your colleagues do your work make all the difference.

It takes courage to change the same-old, same-old. That means speaking up, reaching out, whatever it takes to make things different in 2013. The ability to identify what’s not working and be receptive to another approach is invaluable to any organization. One Harvard study says speaking up results in improved practices and satisfaction. It called the word “No” the “voice-oriented improvement system.”

Doing things differently isn't as much of a stretch as it would seem. In fact, it's something humans were born to do. We get a burst of the brain's reward chemical, dopamine, at the mere expectation of doing something new. So change is who we are. We simply need to find the will and motivation to become who we are. 

As with all resolutions and goals in life, we achieve what we believe we can. We have more belief this time of year, so now is the time to move. Let's jump through the wormhole of change before it closes and work smarter, live better this year.

I'm happy to show you how you can make that happen. Just click on the button below for a free consultation and learn how to put a work-life balance program into action this year, for your organization, yourself, or someone you love. This is the time of your life. 

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Tags: employee engagement programs, increasing productivity, work-life balance trainings, productivity, employee engagement, work life balance programs, work life balance, job stress

What Is Work-Life Balance?

Posted by Joe Robinson

Pay attention to work-life balance

We all know that feeling after stuffing ourselves to the point we can barely move. What was I thinking? The eyes often have it when it comes to making decisions stomachs would veto if they could get a word in edgewise. It’s matter over mind, particularly delicious matter that makes mouths water ravenously.

The same default to reflex also keeps us over-estimating our capacity on the work side. We get stuck in reflex-before-thought, a habit that drives exhaustion and stress. It’s highly counter-productive to anything anyone wants to do well. Without presence of mind and energy, the default is to a retaliatory mode that drains performance and feeds presenteeism.

The remedy is a proactive work-life balance strategy that puts the emphasis back on thinking before we act. That is the home of optimal performance and the foundation of work-life balance.

What is work-life balance? It’s a process of constantly checking in with how we are working, bringing informed performance to the table, not simply reacting to things all day. It’s about how more effective work creates better performance and richer lives by eliminating time sinks and bringing more attention to everything we do. The data shows that organizations with the highest employee engagement get big-time results—almost triple the shareholder returns in report by Hewitt Assoc. I have more on the success tool of work-life balance here

Quality work-life balance programs are an insurance policy, making sure that the best practices rule, instead of autopilot commotion. They insure that what we do is effective, not knee-jerk, and that we acknowledge that excellent work comes from minds that are refreshed and engaged, which is what employee engagement programs are all about. The more we focus on how we can work more effectively, and operate consciously, not on autopilot, the more it opens up a richer experience on the job and off.

Work-life balance promotes maximum functioning of the key productivity tool, attention. Without that, we are unbalanced characters. 

Here's a tool to manage one of the biggest threats to effective work: stress

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Tags: work-life balance program, improve employee engagement, work-life balance trainings, presenteeism, optimal performance, increase productivity, work life balance programs, work life balance, stress management

Rushing Roulette Shreds Work-Life Balance

Posted by Joe Robinson

Stressed woman with time urgency

Remember when “rush hour” used to be an hour or two on the way to work and home? These days rushing is an all-day affair—and a major obstacle to productivity and health, since believing every minute of the day is an emergency drives stress.

Rushing is a habit we think is good for our work, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s a ticket to mistakes, re-do’s and attention lost in frenzy and frazzle. The fact is, there's not much engagement or attention on anything when we’re racing. All the focus is on getting done with the task, not on doing it.   

The bad habit here is called time urgency. The pattern goes like this: Impatience leads to irritability, which leads to anger, which leads to clogged arteries. This is why time urgency is a medical term. It’s a heart attack risk and a major roadblock to work-life balance.

Time urgency fuels rushing and rushing fuels stress. It’s an unconscious loop we get caught up in that shreds attention and sets up action before thought. Nonstop motion makes everything appear urgent when we haven’t taken the time to think about what is urgent and what isn’t.

Productivity takes a beating from the emotional anxiety that comes with rushing. A study by Leslie Perlow found that time pressures lead “to a crisis mentality.” The stress of time urgency activates the emotional center of the brain, and when it does, rational decision-making gets hijacked by the raw emotion and panic of our ancient caveman brain, the amygdala, which goes into fight-or-flight mode.

You can take the crisis and frenzy out of the day by opting out of the time urgent habit. Patience isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity for avoiding needless stress. 

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Tags: work-life balance trainings, time urgency, HubSpot Tips, false urgency, productivity, work life balance programs, work life balance, job stress

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