TIME Careers & Workplace

Think You Have Off Monday? No, You Don’t

200295029-001
Michael Kelley—Getty Images Don't waste time filing emails away

You're actually more likely to open and reply to email

This Presidents Day, most offices will be dark. But a surprising number of us will still be working, even on what’s nominally a holiday.

Yesware, an email tracking and analytics company, sifted through more than 23 million emails sent out by corporate users of its service over roughly the past year and took a look at email activity around three-day weekend holidays — Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. Its findings are kind of discouraging — and probably quite familiar to many of America’s overworked desk jockeys.

“On the weekdays leading up to and following a holiday, there is a noticeable bump in email volume,” Yesware’s report notes. We “cram” for the holidays before and afterwards by buckling down and tackling our inboxes, but our actual email usage doesn’t actually drop by all that much during the holiday itself.

“The move towards laptops, tablets, and smartphones can also make it more difficult to fully disconnect on the weekend — even when that weekend is followed by an extra day off,” says Yesware CEO Matthew Bellows.

The data shows that, while less email is sent, read and replied to on holidays, the drop isn’t nearly as steep as you might think. On a holiday Monday, people only send 40% less email than they would on a regular Monday, even though they’re technically off.

And while it takes people longer to get around to opening emails and writing replies back, the difference is only about 15 minutes — a strong indication that we’re all pretty much tethered to our smartphones all the time. Sure, you might leave your phone on the towel while you take a dip in the pool, or stick it in your back pockets while you take a hike, but we’re not really getting off the grid in any meaningful way.

The two holidays when people are most likely to take an honest-to-goodness break from the email madness are what Yesware dubs the “backyard bbq holidays,” Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Presidents Day is another story, though. “The email volume going out on President’s Day is actually much less compared to the other holidays and normal Mondays,” Bellows says. “The open and reply rates are indeed higher.”

Specifically, the number of emails people open as a percentage of the ones they receive are higher on the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and weekend before, as well as the Tuesday and Wednesday after, Presidents Day, than on any other holiday with one exception: Open rates are higher on the Sunday before Memorial Day. The rate at which people reply to the messages they get shows a similar pattern.

The holiday has a spillover effect, too, Yesware finds: The open and reply rates the entire week of Presidents Day (Wednesday through Sunday before Presidents Day as well as Tuesday and Wednesday after) are even higher than they are on regular non-holiday workweeks.

Bellows says some of the high percentages of open and reply rates on holidays and the days surrounding them can be attributed to much lower volume. Since the sheer number of emails people get is so much lower, they ones they do get are more likely to get their attention.

“On any given day, weekday or weekend… people [are] constantly fiddling on devices. It doesn’t matter if you’re out in public or home on your couch, there is always a path to reach people,” Bellows says.

TIME career

How to Fight for Your Right to Leave Work by 6 PM

businessman-walking-down-hall
Getty Images

Give yourself a break

Question: I leave work every day at 6:30 PM — because I come in at 8:30 AM, and working for 10 hours is enough for one day and one brain. I meet deadlines, and I don’t leave anything undone that can’t wait until the next day. But, sometimes it seems like there’s an unspoken competition at work over “who stayed the latest.” Every morning, other women are like, “OMG, I was here till 9!” or “I was here till 11 PM.” I always respond with something like, “I can’t believe you stayed so late! You’re crazy!” — which I guess just encourages them. How do I keep my regular work hours without feeling like I’m in last place in the who-stayed-the-latest race? I worry that everyone around me will think I’m a slacker for wanting to head out on time.

Answer: In the halcyon days of my youth, I attended a fancy-schmancy Liberal Arts College — the kind with no frats and a tuition that I’m still pimping my Etsy page to pay off. (There’s a strong market for throw pillows.) Before you roll your eyes and close this window, there’s a reason why I’m telling you this.

Each year, at finals time at said fancy school, there was a contingent of students who basically moved into the library. Now, studious and stressed-out college students wouldn’t normally draw my ire, except these Poindexters reveled in their misery. They would prominently display their piles of comically oversized tomes and Red Bull cans, shuffle around the Harry Potter-esque grandeur in slippers and clouds of anxiety, loudly bleat about how long they have gone without a shower. At first, I assumed that these students had incredibly rigorous course loads, that I was “doing college wrong.” But, as I began to recognize certain drowsy faces as people from my classes, classes I was preparing for while still showering and sleeping fairly regularly, I realized that the library was a place of performance. These students wanted to be seen: They loved to gripe about surviving on cigarettes and coffee for three days, just to see the combination of awe and pity flutter across our faces. Being busy and stressed was more than just a state of being — it was a declaration of worth.

MORE Is Cards Against Humanity Actually Racist — Or Just Joke Racist?

I have a hunch something similar is going on with your coworkers. If they are routinely staying in the office that late and their responsibilities don’t differ that much from yours, either they aren’t being productive during the work day or they’re just staying late to stay late. Whether consciously or not, we use busyness as a way to show our significance and importance: I’m needed, I’m necessary, I toil selflessly for the good of the company.

And while I’m being hard on these 11-PM-ers, it’s not exactly their fault. It’s capitalism’s fault. (Can’t you tell that I listened to punk rock in high school?) The economy is sluggish, the job market is tough, and everyone who’s managed to stay steadily employed feels lucky. And so we Assistant Assistants to the Junior Head Marketing Manager take on ever-growing amounts of responsibility, check our emails 24/7, and allow the boundaries between public and private and day and night to blur. But, by doing that, we’re inadvertently helping to perpetuate the problem: If everyone answers emails at 11 PM, people start to expect prompt replies to the emails they send at 11 PM. By remaining plugged in and accessible even after the after-shows have aired, your coworkers are creating a new, unattractive standard. It’s no surprise that you’re feeling the pressure.

MORE I Want To Support My Trans* Best Friend — But I’m Not Sure How!

So, what to do? Keep resisting! As long as your boss hasn’t said anything about your work schedule, don’t give in to the crazy. Opt out. Take a lesson from the woman who taught you to grab life by the rhinestones, Dolly Parton. As she sings in “9 to 5” (which is just a jangly, countrified version of The Communist Manifesto, if you ask me), “It’s enough to drive you crazy, if you let it…” And, she’s just talking about an eight-hour day — imagine what Comrade Dolly would say about staying past dinnertime!

And, if you’re one of the many chronic 11-PM-ers, whispering, “I wish I could quit you” to your computer: Give yourself a break. There are other ways to show your value than staying hyperconnected. In fact, unplugging and getting a good night’s rest will undoubtedly increase your productivity and present-mindedness during normal work hours. Boost your work-life balance by giving yourself a firm curfew and turning off your phone at the same time each night. Inform your boss, colleagues, and clients of this new cutoff point and, I assure you, they’ll adapt. Train yourself: Just because you see an email notification doesn’t mean you have to take care of it right away. Unless it’s time-sensitive or you truly have a ton of work to do, fight the urge to shoot off a quick reply or burn the midnight oil. Surely, the overnight janitor won’t miss your sighs and manic stare that much.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

TIME psychology

3 Steps to Minimizing Stress at Work

man-stressed-sitting-desk
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Know What Really Works

Most of the things you instinctively do to relieve stress don’t work.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

The APA’s national survey on stress found that the most commonly used strategies were also rated as highly ineffective by the same people who reported using them. For example, only 16 percent of people who eat to reduce stress report that it actually helps them. Another study found that women are most likely to eat chocolate when they are feeling anxious or depressed, but the only reliable change in mood they experience from their drug of choice is an increase in guilt.

So what does work?

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

2) It’s All About A Feeling Of Control

As is often said, stress isn’t about what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. This is true.

We’re not as stressed when we feel in control. Again, the emphasis is on feel. Even illusory feelings of control can eliminate stress. (This is the secret to why idiots and crazy people may feel far less stress than those who see a situation clearly.)

Anything that increases your perception of control over a situation — whether it actually increases your control or not — can substantially decrease your stress level.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Steve Maier at the University of Boulder, in Colorado, says that the degree of control that organisms can exert over something that creates stress determines whether the stressor alters the organism’s functioning. His findings indicate that only uncontrollable stressors cause deleterious effects. Inescapable or uncontrollable stress can be destructive, whereas the same stress that feels escapable is less destructive, significantly so… Over and over, scientists see that the perception of control over a stressor alters the stressor’s impact.

Why do people choose to become entrepreneurs when working for yourself often means more hours for less money? Control:

A number of studies show “work-life balance” as the main reason people start their own small businesses. Yet small business owners often work more hours, for less money, than in corporate life. The difference? You are able to make more of your own choices.

Do things that increase your control of a situation ahead of time. According to one study, the stress management technique that worked best was deliberately planning your day so that stress is minimized.

The best way to reduce job stress is to get a clear idea of what is expected of you.

The trick to not worrying about work stuff while at home is to make specific plans to address concerns before you leave the office.

3) You Need Some Stress To Be Your Best

Heavy time pressure stresses you out and kills creativity. On the other hand, having no deadlines is not optimal either. Low-to-moderate time pressure produces the best results.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

If managers regularly set impossibly short time-frames or impossibly high workloads, employees become stressed, unhappy, and unmotivated—burned out. Yet, people hate being bored. it was rare for any participant in our study to report a day with very low time pressure, such days—when they did occur—were also not conducive to positive inner work life. In general, then, low-to-moderate time pressure seems optimal for sustaining positive thoughts, feelings, and drives.

In his book The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin discusses one of the key elements that pro athletes like Jordan use to perform at their peak: spontaneous relaxation.

“…one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods.”

They’re not Zen masters who experience no stress. Far from it. But they’ve taught themselves to turn it on and off. The pros are able to fully relax during the briefest periods of rest. This prevents them from burning out during hours of play.

Via The Art of Learning:

The physiologists at LGE had discovered that in virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line… Remember Michael Jordan sitting on the bench, a towel on his shoulders, letting it all go for a two-minute break before coming back in the game? Jordan was completely serene on the bench even though the Bulls desperately needed him on the court. He had the fastest recovery time of any athlete I’ve ever seen.

One Last Thing:

I’m stressed RIGHT NOW!!! What’s the quickest, easiest thing to do?!?!?!

Watching a video of a cute animal can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in under a minute.

Via Richard Wiseman’s excellent book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

In an innovative study, Deborah Wells examined whether merely looking at a video of an animal can have the same type of calming and restorative effects as those created by being in its company… compared to the two control conditions, all three animal videos made the participants feel much more relaxed. To help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure in less than a minute, go online and watch a video of a cute animal.

Here you go:

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Skip the Excuses: This Is What Your Boss Wants to Hear

Boss
MoMo Productions—Getty Images

Here's what to tell your boss when they expect the impossible

We’re all doing more with less today at work. Between taking on tasks that fall in your lap after positions are eliminated to being on-call in the evenings and on weekends, American workers are stretched thin.

So when the boss dumps a beast of a project, or one with an impossible timeline, or both, into your lap, you might feel justified in saying, “Nope, I can’t do that.”

That’s the wrong answer, though. If you want to get ahead, the old adage still holds true: “No” shouldn’t be a part of your vocabulary.

But the good news is you don’t necessarily have to be a pushover and burn yourself out trying to make the higher-ups happy. There are better, more constructive replies. We asked company CEOs, presidents, owners and founders to tell us what they would rather hear — or what they have heard — out of an employee’s mouth when they hand them a difficult assignment.

Instead of “I can’t,” make one — or all — of these your new go-to.

Establish priorities. “Good answers are, ‘I am currently working on [another project], which you gave me yesterday,'” says Brad Caracciola, president and CEO of GroundForce Logistics. “Which is most important to finish first?” He suggests following up by asking if there’s a colleague who can work with you to get everything done on time.

Acknowledge the challenge. “I want them to be honest with me that this is a difficult task,” says Evan Bloom, owner of Sir Speedy Printing and Marketing Services. “Starting there allow us to make sure we are on the same page about what needs to be accomplished,” he says.

Ask for help. An employee should say something “if it’s something they feel it’s not really their tasks or they don’t know yet how to do,” says Silke Fleischer, CEO of app developer ATIV Software. You could ask, “Maybe [another department or person] would be better to do that?” she suggests. Or ask the boss if they or a colleague could show the ropes so you’ll be able to tackle that kind of task on your own the next time around.

Explain what’s so tough. “I don’t mind an initial ‘no’ if their additional information is goal-oriented,” says Cliff Mark, president of Mid-Atlantic SEO. “As long as a team member expresses legitimate concerns, initial objections can actually be positive for the project to move forward,” he says. The key, though, is to make sure that the issues you raise are technical or procedural rather than personal.

Buy some time. “Give me a day or so to figure out how to do it just right, and if I need your help I’ll let you know,” says Jahn Levin, CEO of nutritional supplement company Purity Products.

Just dive in. “Saying ‘let me try’ to your boss is one of the most pivotal sentences you can utter in your career,” says Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip, a mobile advertising company. “It opens the door for new opportunities and can be the deciding factor in a raise or promotion down the road.”

MONEY work life balance

President Obama Wants You to Get Paid, Even When You’re on Leave

closeup of pregnant woman at office desk
Damir Cudic—iStock

New proposals for paid maternity and sick leave

President Obama thinks if you’re sick, or you have a newborn at home, you should stay home from work—and you should still get paid.

In many developed countries, that’s a given. Not so in the United States. Only 12% of American workers receive paid family leave, and only 61% have paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ahead of the State of the Union on January 20, Obama is proposing big changes to the rules governing sick pay and family leave, outlined by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett on LinkedIn yesterday.

First, Obama plans to sign a memorandum giving federal employees at least six weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child. Second, he’ll ask Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act that would let workers earn up to seven days of paid sick leave. Finally, he’ll offer a plan to help states and towns start their own sick leave programs.

Even these proposals are meager compared to the paid family leave in other nations. The United Nation’s International Labor Organization surveyed family leave policies in 185 countries or territories around the world. Only two nations did not offer paid maternity leave: the United States, and Papua New Guinea.

Weeks of paid maternity leave % Pay
United Kingdom 52 weeks 90%
Canada 17 weeks 55%
France 16 weeks 100%
Netherlands 16 weeks 100%
Germany 14 weeks 100%
Japan 14 weeks 60%
China 14 weeks 100%
India 12 weeks 100%
Obama’s proposal for federal workers 6 weeks 100%
Average length of paid leave for American women who got it 3.3 weeks 31%
Paid leave required by American law 0 weeks 0%

And the other 183 countries? French mothers get 16 weeks, paid in full. Indian mothers get 12 weeks, paid in full. Mothers in the United Kingdom get six weeks paid at 90% of their usual salary, a little less for the next 33 weeks, and then they’re entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

American parents are guaranteed only 12 weeks of unpaid leave, total, provided they work for a company with more than 50 employees. That means 15% of American workers aren’t allowed even unpaid leave to care for their families, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics.

Of course, some American employers choose to give workers family leave benefits. But it’s often not much. In the United States, only 41% of new mothers receive paid maternity leave, according to study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal. The 2013 study is based on a survey of 18- to 45-year-old mothers who gave birth in American hospitals in 2005. The women who did get paid maternity leave had an average of 3.3 weeks off and were paid just 31% of their total salary, on average.

Unsurprisingly, the more women earn and the more education they have, the more generous their maternity leave benefits tend to be. Still, just three out of five women with post-bachelor degrees received paid maternity leave—5.1 weeks, on average. (By contrast, only 29% of women with high school degrees or less received paid maternity leave, of 2.3 weeks on average.)

Then there’s sick leave. (You can guess where this is going.) According to a 2009 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the United States was again the only country out of 22 industrialized nations that guarantees no paid sick leave. Americans are only protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires that employers give employees unpaid leave in the event that an employee needs to care for a family member with a “serious illness”—the flu doesn’t count.

President Obama’s family leave proposal would apply only to federal employees, and his sick leave proposal needs to get through Congress. So perhaps your best hope comes not from the federal government, but from your state legislature or city hall. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island offer paid family leave. California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have instituted paid sick leave. San Francisco, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Ore., New York City, Jersey City, Newark, Eugene, Ore., San Diego and more cities have passed paid sick day laws, too. And Massachusetts just guaranteed fathers more unpaid paternity leave.

TIME Business

8 Tips for Balancing a Job and Side Projects

clock
Getty Images

Know your circadian rhythm

Answer by Michael O. Church on Quora.

Don’t work unpaid overtime.

If you’re going to moonlight, you’re probably going to be working about 65 hours per week. Normal people can sustain 60-65 hours if they’re enjoying the work, but that’s about the limit for long-term exertion. There isn’t much slack at that point. Any unappreciated or uncompensated grunt work comes at the expense of something else. I’m not saying that you should clock out of your day job at 5 p.m. on the dot, but don’t let unreasonable deadlines or face time (management problems) cut in to your side projects. Perhaps surprisingly, you’ll get more respect from management (in many companies) that way. Saying “I have other commitments” often gets you out of the long hours grind, and the “get ‘er done” downside will be shifted to people who value their time less.

Build on your own time, learn on the clock when you can.

Don’t write production code for side projects on your work laptop or during working hours. Even if the work has nothing to do with your day job, you can very easily get screwed. Ownership disputes are costly, demoralizing, and generally best avoided. On the other hand, nothing prevents you from learning and researching at your day job during slow periods. You can even build prototype code. But anything you actually put in to production (e.g. an iOS app) has to be built on your own resources and time. You don’t want to mess this one up; most lawyers who are involved with tech have seen at least one promising project or startup get derailed by an ownership issue.

Don’t over-volunteer.

If you’re constantly available to do more work than you need to do, you’ll become a “go-to” guy. That’s good if people are “going to” you with work you enjoy and that advances your career, but it’s very common that people get loaded up with grunt work because they’ve developed a reputation for never saying “no.” That’s how you end up overcommitting at your day job and being too drained to do anything else. Instead, you should follow direct orders from your boss and do the work that directly benefits your career, but avoid any other kind of “helping out” that is orthogonal to your goals. If you don’t value your time, no one else will.

Always appear busy at work.

You can have a surprising amount of time for self-directed learning at your day job if you always look like you’re busy. Long water-cooler chats will attract grunt work. If you’re reading iOS development or machine learning (side project work) on your computer — i.e. don’t read a book at work if you can read the same material on your machine — it looks like regular work and you’ll be better off than if you’re seen flying a remote-control helicopter around the office. At work, there are fighter pilots and there’s “the pool.” If you always seem busy, you’re a fighter pilot and will be given the best “missions” and left alone when there isn’t anything interesting to do. If you goof off, you’ll be seen as part of the general “resource pool” with the others, and you’re more likely to be assigned grunt work.

Know your circadian rhythm.

If you’re a morning person, get up early and get 3 hours of work on your side projects before going to work. If you’re a night owl, then you’re best off doing the side project in the evening. Some amount of self-hacking (melatonin, caffeine) may be in order. When you’re working 65 hours a week, you need regularity. You’ll also be best to keep the same sleep schedule on weekends as weekdays, because you need for your body to cleanly separate the sleeping and wakeful states.

Exercise.

You need at least half an hour of physical activity per day. I’d recommend more: 45+ minutes of medium- or high-intensity exercise, and at least half an hour walking, since that clears the mind and helps you come up with the best ideas.

Make the side project work a habit.

Some evenings, you’re going to feel drained. You won’t want to work. Those are the times when you must get something done, because that’s when habits are made or broken. Observe the 45-minute rule. Commit to 45 minutes of focused and useful work (and quit, if you don’t feel like going further). You may catch a second wind; if you don’t, at least you accomplished some forward movement. If you don’t feel up to writing production code, then don’t. Refactor existing code, call potential clients, or do something else that won’t demand the parts of the brain that feel drained, but do something every day, at least 6 days a week. Sometimes, the times when you feel stupid are great for just looking at existing code, because if you can’t tell what it does when you’re stupid, then put a comment there reminding your future, smarter, self to refactor it.

Carry a book and a notepad at all times.

You’re going to have to become very efficient with time. If you’re waiting for 15 minutes for the barber, you should have something to do. It’s OK if that “something” is just thinking or zoning out (everyone needs to take breaks) but you always want to be prepared for the spirit to move you.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some good ways for a programmer to balance a day job and side projects?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME career

10 Thoughts That Will Make You Feel Better About Your Work-Life Balance

From left: Julia Louis Dreyfus and Stephanie Laing at TCL Chinese Theatre on August 14, 2014 in Hollywood, California.
Tibrina Hobson—Getty Images From left: Julia Louis Dreyfus and Stephanie Laing at TCL Chinese Theatre on August 14, 2014 in Hollywood, California.

I'm lucky because I have a job that I love and that allows me to support my family

Every day, I divide my time and attention between producing TV and being a mom. And, my biggest challenge is being okay with not hitting perfect notes in both of those areas of my life.

The week usually starts off great. On Monday, I’ll pat myself on the back for being a great mom but, come Thursday, I’ll be thinking of all the things I did wrong, and I’ll wonder if maybe, actually, I’m kind of a sucky one.

My family lives in NYC, but my work often takes me to other states. When I’m producing Veep, that means taking the train back and forth to D.C. every week — sometimes twice a week. Heck, sometimes I’m taking a train twice a day for five months just so I can get some precious family time in.

It wasn’t always like this. When my kids were babies, I only produced one comedy special a year; the rest of the time, I stayed at home. But, by the time my youngest was 18 months old, I went back to work full time, and we started a new journey, thereby defining our own normal.

(MORE: Got A Work Question? Ask Us)

I’m trying to get better at being content with feeling like a great mom some days and a not-so-wonderful mom other days. Being an awesome producer AND an incredible mom all in the same day takes practice, and it takes patience.

My family is learning to make it work — imperfect, hard days and all. Coming to terms with the following 10 tenets is just going to have to be enough for now.

Being a mom is exhausting.
We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week — sometimes on very little sleep. On the days I’m not feeling like a great mom, I try to look at it as my day off, give myself a break. I realize that when you’re a mom, there’s no real break, but you can’t be a great mom if you’re not giving yourself a chance to recharge. For me, that means not demanding perfection of myself every hour of every single day.

My kids still love me on days when I’m not a great mom.
I’m not Wonder Woman, and it’s okay for my kids to see that. I might not make it to every school event, but this will not cause our bond to come undone. In fact, if we make up that time by creating our own events, the closeness only gets stronger. I think it’s helpful for my kids to have witnessed a couple of failed family-time attempts, so we can all better appreciate the time we do spend together.

My bosses will still appreciate me on days when I’m not a great producer.
I’m always upfront when I have to leave work for a family event, and I always make up the hours later. Everyone knows not to expect to see me online during my kids’ bedtime, but by 9 p.m., they know I’ll be glued to my laptop.

I don’t expect perfection.
Each day and each hour has the potential to be filled with ups and downs, tears and laughter, a sense of accomplishment and a sense of failure. It’s important to recognize these ebbs and flows as a part of life. We need to accept ourselves for who we are — the good, the bad, and the ugly — because this is what will teach our children to accept themselves and their inevitable imperfections.

We pay attention to the quiet moments.
We don’t live an over-scheduled life on the weekends. Everyone stays busy enough during the week that we like to slow way down on the weekends. Cooking, baking, and sometimes simply ordering in takeout make for an awesome Saturday. I don’t put pressure on myself to have a homemade Sunday dinner each week; rather, our tradition is to not have a tradition.

(MORE: An Ode To Leslie Knope: The Working Woman’s Working Woman)

I’m lucky because I have a job that I love and that allows me to support my family.
I believe I’m a better mom because I have a career, and that works for my family. I also believe I’m setting good examples for my children, especially my daughter, who has a strong career-oriented role model in her life. I applaud stay-at-home moms everywhere — because god knows that isn’t an easy job — but it’s not for me, and my kids understand that.

I’m a mom first.
On set sometimes I break away for Skype calls with my kids. If I’m traveling during the school week, which is most of the time, this might mean doing homework with them over the phone. They think this is hilarious, and they also hate it because it means I’m watching them all the time. But, it’s a way to keep us close even when I’m geographically far away.

My kids have seen me cry.
I missed my son’s guitar recital at school by 5 minutes, and I felt gutted. I had flown home just to be there for that and missed it! I think my son felt worse than I did when he saw my gushing tears, so we decided he would put on a special concert just for me which turned into him playing with the band at a party for the Eastbound & Down cast and crew.

We have “yes” days.
When I’m not working, and my show is on hiatus, I tend to go overboard and schedule large sleepovers and trips. The kids and I love them equally!

My bottom line? It’s not like I look at my kids as competing for my time, but if there were an actual competition, they would win. Hands down and every time. Finding the perfect balance is next to impossible, but developing a system that works for you and your family isn’t.

(MORE: 15 Throw-On-&-Go Work Dresses That Get The Job Done)

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Secrets to Achieving and Maintaining Work-Life Balance

work-or-play-shoes
Getty Images

Think about, identify, and communicate your needs

In a world where more and more people find themselves working in roles that could be considered “always on” jobs, how do people achieve and maintain work-life balance and how do companies and leaders promote this way of life? It is a challenge to say the least.

Every day millions of people wrestle with these questions. At the same time, leaders wrestle with the solutions. It is a hard issue to reconcile because the answers vary.

As a manager and member of the leadership team at home-improvement network Porch.com, helping people find work-life balance is something important to me. It is something I didn’t always possess or believe in.

There were times when I was the poster child for bad-balance behavior. I once had a sign in my office that read “never leave for tomorrow what you can get done today.” I was king of the 3 a.m. emails and I wore my 20 hour days, seven days a week work ethic as a badge of honor. Then a funny thing happened. I realized that I could be a much better leader, employee, manager, husband and friend when I took the time to focus on achieving balance. I found that I was living a happier, healthier, and more productive Life. And my output wasn’t comprised.

To help entrepreneurs, managers, and employees strike the right balance, here are five ways to achieve and maintain life-work balance. There is no one size fits all approach, but hopefully, these tips will lead to productive discussions for managers and employees.

Related: Forget This Work-Life Balance Blah, Blah, Blah

1. Be open about your needs. I believe that the first thing people need to do is identify what truly matters to them and communicate it. Don’t hide it and don’t expect others to guess what makes you feel balanced and fulfilled.

Do you need to leave work at 5 p.m. so you can have dinner with your family? Do you need to step away at 12 p.m. to attend a yoga class? Whatever your sweet spot is you need to find it and be transparent about it. Employees need to have an open dialogue with their managers and managers need to understand what works and what is possible. Different jobs require different approaches, but everyone can benefit from having an open and honest conversation about what balance means.

2. Respect boundaries. You cannot achieve your balance if you don’t respect the boundaries you have put in place. It will be hard in the beginning but you need to stick with it so you develop a routine and drive a culture and lifestyle of predictability. You will find that there is also something else you can do. There is always another email to reply to or a problem to work, but you need to PERSONALLY respect your boundaries. If you don’t then you can’t expect others to respect them.

Related: Work, Eat, Sleep: How These Products Are Trying to Improve Your Daily Grind

3. Understand what really matters. Over the years I have seen too many people spend too much time working on things that don’t really matter. Time is the most valuable commodity in life: it is the one thing you cannot buy more of. So, don’t waste time. Focus on what really matters. What really moves the needle for the business? Are you working on priorities that drive the overall goals of the business or are you just making noise? Really scrutinize your day and max it out every hour, minute and second to focus on the most important outputs. For some this may require a high degree of planning and structure.

4. Embrace the off button. Pretty much every piece of technology has an off button, so use it. It is not easy and for many people this is the hardest thing to do. To get started, do it in phases. Don’t bring your cellphone to the dinner table. When you are on vacation, be on vacation. Don’t bring your tablet to the beach. Once you have done it a few times, it is easier to push the boundaries. When you unplug and step back you will start to experience one of life’s greatest treasures — perspective. You will think about problems you are wrestling with greater clarity. You allow yourself the freedom to be more analytical and less emotional when you step away and think vs. just diving in and responding in the moment.

5. Pace yourself. To have a long, healthy, productive, and happy life and career you need to understand the value of pace. There are times when you need to throttle up and there are times when you can throttle down. Self-awareness is crucial. Doing so will help you enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Related: How to Create a Healthy Startup Atmosphere

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

TIME

The Simple Calendar Strategy to Achieve Work-Life Balance in 2015

158318280
Gillian Blease—Getty Images/Ikon Images

Cali Williams Yost is the founder and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexible workplace advisory firm.

A combined priority list helps reestablish solid boundaries around what you need and want to get done

For many of us, another new year means another new calendar; however, if you’re like a majority of all U.S. full-time workers, you’ll start several new calendars or have no calendar at all. This could be one reason why your work-life balance New Year’s resolution usually fails.

As part of our most recent survey of full-time U.S. workers conducted by global research firm ORC International, we found that more than half (53%) of all respondents said they either keep separate calendars/priority lists for work and personal events/tasks (36%) or don’t use any calendar or priority list at all (17%). Forty-seven percent of respondents said they keep one, combined calendar/priority list that tracks all their work and personal events/tasks in a single view.

That simple single calendar approach may be one of the keys to work and life success. For more than a decade we’ve studied the secrets of a group we call the work+life fit “naturals,” those unique individuals who seem to intuitively understand how to fit work and life together in a way that allows them to be their best on and off the job. Almost all of them keep one combined calendar/priority list that clearly shows what they are trying to accomplish, daily and weekly, both at work and in their personal life.

By displaying both their work and personal to-dos together, the naturals shift from “reactive overwhelm” to “deliberate intention.” As the line between our jobs and our personal lives continues to blur, a combined calendar and priority list helps the naturals reestablish solid boundaries around what they need and want to get done. It also forces them to prioritize and to think about the best way to accomplish the activity or task entered.

For example, when a natural receives a request from a colleague to start a meeting at 1 p.m., but had planned to take a 30-minute lunch walk at the same time, the combined calendar forces a pause and a moment of conscious choice. The natural can either accept the meeting and walk earlier or choose not to walk at all. Or he or she can ask if the meeting could start 30 minutes later.

Setting up a combined calendar/priority list is simple. Platforms like Gmail, iCalendar, and Outlook allow you to view your work and personal calendars together, and adjust privacy settings to limit which entries can be seen by whom.

Some naturals note entries as specific as “call mother to check in,” “order groceries,” or “review 401K,” while others simply block out periods of time knowing clearly what they want to accomplish without writing it down. The point is the boundary has been established with deliberate intention, which increases the likelihood that what matters will actually happen.

When it comes to calendars and priority lists, and finally breaking the cycle of “balance” resolution failure, apply that old saying “less is more.” Just one calendar may be the key to increased professional success and personal well-being in 2015.

Cali Williams Yost is the founder and CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexible workplace advisory firm, and the author of Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day (Center Street, 2013).

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Things Women Leaders Say About Work-Life Balance

Ivanka Trump at the Valentino Sala Bianca 945 Event on Dec. 10, 2014 in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris—Getty Images Ivanka Trump at the Valentino Sala Bianca 945 Event on Dec. 10, 2014 in New York City.

Smart takeaways from Ivanka Trump, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and others

Last Thursday, Jennifer Szalai of The New York Times explored the origins of the phrase “having it all.” She traced much of it back to a 1982 book by Helen Gurley Brown titled Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money . . . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing. Since then, the phrase persistently comes up in discussions revolving around the pressures women face in their careers as well as at home.

I tend to shy away from asking female leaders what they think about “having it all,” yet I find it is brought up naturally in interviews. Perhaps this means that the phrase is not devoid of meaning as I sometimes feel, but is just evolving alongside work/life dynamics.

Here are three of my favorite takeaways from interviews with female leaders on the topic:

1. You can have it all, but not at the same time.

I heard from execs as diverse as Trump Organization EVP Ivanka Trump and Dee Dee Myers, the former White House press secretary who is now the head of corporate communication for Warner Bros, that it’s a losing battle to think that you can have it all in every moment of the day. There will be periods where work will be the top priority and other periods where children will come into sharp focus, they say. Yet women can have it all throughout the course of their lives.

2. What exactly are we ‘having’?

My favorite interview on this topic last year is when Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told TIME’s Nancy Gibbs why she hates the phrase. “I think it’s insulting,” she said “What are you ‘having?’ A party? Another slice of pie?” Gillibrand’s remark gets at one big point: Having it all means entirely different things to different women.

3. Having it all may be overrated.

And on that note, it could be entirely possible that removing yourself from the pressures of having it all could be the best thing to happen to some women. “The choice not to have it all, far from being defeatist, is extremely liberating,” Melanie Healey, Procter & Gamble’s group president for North America, told Fortune’s Jennifer Reingold after announcing that she was retiring. “Slugging through a decade of work but losing touch with your family and friends or with your community creates its own sense of failure.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser