5 Mandates for Change

October 5, 2017jdegrootBlog

Why Change is Imperative

The 2017-2018 season of Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars will explore the practical steps you can take on the road to integration – whether you are launching your first career, becoming a new parent, balancing work and the care of school aged children, or work and the care of an aging loved one.

Our focus will be on the “how-to” of following an integrated approach, but following this approach is also a revolutionary act that improves our lives and benefits our workplaces.

Anne-Marie Slaughter shows us just how revolutionary this approach is in her book Unfinished Business, making the case, “most of the pervasive gender inequalities in our society – for both men and women – cannot be fixed unless men have the same range of choices with respect to mixing caregiving and breadwinning that women do.”

Both men and women need to change, she argues, but so do our workplaces. “Radical as it may seem, it’s time for CEO’s, supervisors, and team leaders to assume that the experience of caregiving… helps people become more efficient, and develop knowledge, patience, adaptability to different rhythms, honesty, courage, trust, humility, and hope.” The workplace she envisions is one where “new fathers would have to opt out of taking it rather than opting in. It also means welcoming whatever arrangements allow workers who are also caregivers not only to stay on the job, but also to stay on leadership track.”

To learn more about her revolutionary vision, listen to the YouTube recording of our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar with her.

We’ve also included her original “5 mandates” for change from the article that went viral. When you read them, you’ll see why they sounded so familiar – especially after we added the words “men and women” to each mandate.

Read more …

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “5 mandates for change” – and their connection to ThirdPath’s mission

Men and Women Changing the Culture of Face Time – This is at the root of all of the work ThirdPath does as we encourage men and women to look for the unique flexibility in their jobs. Not every job can be flexed in the same way, but there is a flexible solution for every job. It also means pushing back at chronically overworked work cultures so that employees don’t just trade long hours at the office for long hours at home.

Men and Women Revaluing Family Values – ThirdPath sees this in the multitude of Shared Care families we’ve met – whether they flexed or worked reduced hours at the same time, or shared different roles at different stages in their family’s development. In each of these stories the parents learned how to maintain their involvement with work while also staying actively involved in the joys and responsibilities of caring for their children.

Men and Women Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career – This is at the core of the work we do with ThirdPath’s Pioneering Leaders. This is a truly inspirational group of male and female leaders who have all courageously followed integrated career paths. Now they are working with us to create wider change. Together we are examining the systemic issues that need to be addressed so even more leaders can follow in their footsteps.

Men and Women Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness – Whether it is the joy you gain from an amazing vacation (our August blog post), or making the most of summer (our July blog post) or pushing back at overwhelm (our September blog post), this recommendation gets right to the heart of our mission: to assist individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work and life to create time for family, community and other life priorities.

Men and Women Becoming an Innovation Nation – Right again! Lotte Bailyn discovered this concept over a decade ago when she first introduced the term “dual agenda” – solutions that are good for business and good for you. Today this is also central to our work. And just like Lotte discovered so many years ago, we’ve also seen how encouraging employees to follow this approach – from entry level to executive level – means they actually find ways to improve how they work.

Join this year’s Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars – we’ll show you how you can put these ideas into action and join the revolution.

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Take Back Your Time

Every few months we feature the pioneers who are part of the ThirdPath community.

John de Graaf – Founder, Take Back Your Time

John believes …
Using our time, not just for both productive work, but also for enjoyment in life, is pivotal if we want to improve our overall quality of life.

He joined one of our Thursday webinars to talk about the work he does and the organization he founded – Take Back Your Time. John’s organization is dedicated to redefining the cultural perceptions of how we utilize our time. Although this type of work can be done on the personal and organizational level, John has a long and impressive history of fighting for public policy change.

It’s about improving our health and the communities we live in …

John started the call by describing his work fighting for paid parental leave, sick leave, and vacation time. As he pointed out, without the opportunity for vacations, the likelihood of heart attacks and depression increases for both men and women. And when workers can’t afford to take time off, including to care for their own health, research shows they come to work sick, stay sick longer, and spread illness to coworkers.

John went on to describe some of the important work he’s done around mandatory paid vacation time. John even drafted and proposed a paid vacation act, which would offer 1 to 2 weeks of guaranteed paid vacation time depending on the size of the organization. Though the US is one of only five countries not offering paid vacation time, many were still rigorously against this proposed bill.

Read more …

What can we learn from success stories?

During our conversation, John provided a perfect example of people embodying the “whole life” mentality John believes in. In Bhutan, a small country settled into the hills of the Himalayas, instead of just prioritizing the importance of gross national product, this small progressive county has been focusing on increasing gross national happiness.

In service of this goal, Bhutan has created an index for looking at 9 dimensions of life that lead to sustainable happiness, one of which is time balance. John then provided a number of inspiring details of how he ended up working with the people of Bhutan as they drafted a proposal on a happiness index for the UN.

And what did we fail to learn …

John also shared a powerful story about the Kellogg corporation. In 1930, Kellogg allowed one location of its workers to change to 6-hours shifts, 5 days a week. Within two years of this shift, the company discovered it produced the same amount of cereal in the 6 hour shifts, as it had during the 8 hour shifts.

However, in 1985, because of the high cost of benefits, these workers were forced to return to an 8-hour workday. Around this time, John interviewed a number of the men and women who had been working the shorter schedules to better understand how it had impacted their lives. No surprise, he discovered the shorter work day brought many benefits, including extra time for divvying up housework, enjoying hobbies, and volunteering.

Clearly our conversation with John underscores how supporting people to have time and energy for their lives outside of work leads to happier and healthier individuals and communities.

Keep up the great work John! And thank you, for being such a long-term advocate for this important cause!

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Creating A Whole Life

Every few months we feature the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community.
This month we are putting a spotlight on the authors of the book, Equally Shared Parenting. Read on to learn how the Vachons created a life that supported equal investment in every aspect of their lives – work, family, and personal interest.

Marc and Amy Vachon

Marc had always pushed against societal norms that demanded long work hours and the expectation that men should be the primary breadwinner for their families. Amy – a strong advocate for gender equity – knew she wanted a partner who would share family responsibilities. Together, they knew an important ingredient for crafting this “whole life” was sharing in the work – and the joys – of caring for their family.

Marc and Amy described how they began their equally shared lifestyle, and how they continue it today with school-aged children and increasing responsibilities at work. We then asked B. Hibbs, who also participated in the call, how she would describe Marc and Amy’s lives. We think she hit the nail on the head when she said they had a true spirit of generosity and a collaborative model where everyone feels satisfied, and each has honestly and openly communicated their wants. B. should know, she is a therapist and author of Try to See It My Way: Being Fair in Love and Marriage.

Listening to Amy and Mark you can quickly see how sharing home responsibilities helps create a better way for each parent to manage their overall workloads.

However, we also learned that people who want to create a “whole life” not only need a team at home, they also need a team at work. For example, Amy and another mom both work 32 hours a week. Together they have created a one-and-one-half job share arrangement and they co-direct their department together. As Amy says, “MaryAnn is my equally sharing partner at work, and Marc is my equally sharing partner at home.”

Read more …
Marc, like Amy, had negotiated with his employer to cut back his work hours. He also described a point in time when a more collaborative approach at work made a difference. A while ago he was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work he was managing. He knew there had to be a better way – one that included more planning and less fire-fighting. Talking with his boss, Marc made a number of suggestions, ideas that would help him and his other team members step back and think smarter about their collective approach. In hindsight, Marc can see he was motivated to have this conversation with his boss because he knew that the overwhelm was negatively impacting his ability to achieve his family’s equally shared parenting goals.

Marc and Amy’s story helps illustrate how healthy boundaries are good for employees and good for employers.

Through trial and error both Marc and Amy were able to determined what needed to be prioritized at work, and think ahead more as they planned for the long term – both at work and at home.

Marc and Amy show us how it’s possible to create a family life where both parents can be supported to live whole lives. One that creates space for equal investment in work, family and personal interests. They would also argue that clear communication, boundary setting, and out of the box thinking were the keys to their success.

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The Truth About Work Life Balance

January 5, 2017jdegrootBlog

After Fifteen Months of Chronic Overwork, I Still Have One More Month to Go

broken pencil

The last 15 months have been challenging, not just because of some unexpected life events (learn more), but also because our organization is growing. Growth is a good thing. We want to reach more people with our exciting and important mission. But the trick is figuring out how to have growth happen at approximately the same rate as our capacity to manage this growth.

Luckily, at ThirdPath we very purposefully build in slower periods of work over the summers so we can make changes to address these types of issues. In fact, this past summer we put a great plan in place to manage this growth. However, hiring and training people takes time, so my chronic overwork continued through the end of the year, but I’m hoping it will be behind me by the end of the summer (if note before).

Read more …
There is a silver lining. I now have a better understanding of what it feels like – and how I start behaving – when I’m chronically overworked. I also know that too many professionals in today’s 24/7 business environment are chronically overworked. So this past year has given me greater insights into what their lives must feel like.

I like to tell people to think of their capacity for work as a glass of water.
Is your glass filled to the brim? Overflowing? Or do you have a little wiggle room at the top of the glass?

When managing my capacity for work, I’ve learned to very intentionally plan around busier and less busy periods of work – or continuing with the glass analogy – to plan for the times when my glass is filled to the brim and spilling over versus when I have a little extra room at the top. If I’ve done a good job preparing for a busy period, I have created extra support and good personal habits to handle this peak period more effectively.

During slower periods, I use the “extra room” in my glass to make changes that will improve how I work going forward. I systematize processes, re-prioritize tasks, and decide what to delegate so that I have more time for what I am uniquely qualified to do.

It turns out working this way isn’t just good for you, it’s also good for your organization. It means you are better able to manage the unexpected – both at work and outside of work. It also means I come to work more refreshed, and better able to keep my perspective about what’s really an emergency and what’s really most important. However, this Fall, I could tell living with this on-going level of stress wasn’t good for me.

When constantly in a state of overwork I began to notice how smaller things pushed me off balance very easily.
I was quick to lose my perspective. I even caught myself working less efficiently, and even making some mistakes.

In October, my husband and I planned a long weekend away to celebrate my birthday. I pride myself in my ability to turn off work while on vacation, and I was able to do this during this trip as well. But even with this break, when I got back to work, I was shocked to see how quickly I returned to the same stressed perspective I had before vacation.

Once again there was a task that needed to get done that was going to require more time than I had available. And just like before vacation, it pushed me immediately into a stressed response, instead of being able to step back and imagine a more creative solution.

The truth is with so many months of stress behind me and a few more to go, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m still behaving this way.
I didn’t do anything wrong. Growth is good. Life happens.
ThirdPath has also developed and begun to implement a plan that will end this period of overwork. But I also have to admit that during the last 15 months, sometimes I have traveled to a bit of a dark place. A place where I start losing hope, and believing things will never change.

Luckily I have developed and maintained a number of good habits to regain my normally optimistic outlook. I exercise regularly. My husband cooks amazing healthy dinners for our family. I carve out routine times during my work week without calls or meetings so I can get focused work done. And all year long I relied on my staff to help me keep focused on my top priority work.

When I get overloaded, I also try to remember to stop and take a walk, or to call a friend, or to do both. This helps remind me that it is probably the chronic overwork that is causing me to see things worse than they are. But I’m also really tired of it, and I’m looking forward to a much more balanced 2017!

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to push back at overwork and create more time for life? Let us help you.

Check out our free resources, including our “Key Integration Practices” handout.

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Courageous Conversations at Home

February 2, 2016jdegrootBlog

We Can Start the Revolution At Home

All year long our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars are exploring the “courageous conversations” we need to have – at work and home – to follow an integrated approach to work and life.

Read more …
Want ideas to help start your “courageous conversations” at home? These authors have great advice on how to jump start the process.

Let Go of the Score Sheet …

When the give and take feels unfair within a relationship, couples often start keeping score of the growing injustices.

To break the negative cycle and reconnect in a more positive way, Dr B. Hibbs, author of Try To See It My Way, guides couples through four steps.

Step one – Recognize when an injustice has been done. This can be difficult and it may even feel like you are putting your relationship at risk. It also means opening yourself up to the role you have played in the situation – although this injustice may not be 50-50, none are 0-100.

Step two – Acknowledge the harmful consequences of the situation – and do this in a way that shows true remorse, compassion and helps each of you hold yourselves personally accountable.

Step three – Identify actions that can help restore a sense of fairness – some might be small “everyday changes” (not reading email at dinner and asking about each others’ day), some might be “high-impact changes” (changing jobs or coming to couples therapy).

Step four – By following this process, couples begin to regain trust. And as Dr Hibbs points out, “As your reserves of trust rise, feelings of love and security flow. Your relationship begins an upward, hopeful spiral.”

Reignite the Flame…

Ask Esther Perel what the challenges are for couples in the bedroom, and she’d say it’s our culture’s deep ambivalence around sexuality, and in particular “eroticism in the context of family.”

Ms. Perel’s book includes lots of great advice to counter this message as well as helpful case studies couples can use to rekindle the flames.

For example, she introduces us to Stephanie and Warren, a couple where the father works full time and the mom cares for the children full time. Ms. Perel uses this case study to illustrate how some times, our ambivalence around being parents while also continuing to enjoy our sexuality, may mean the energy once channeled towards the couple, is now channeled only towards the children.

Perel observes, “There are regular playdates for Jake but only three dates a year for Stephanie and Warren: two birthday and one anniversary. There is the latest kids’ fashion for Sophia, but only college sweats for Stephanie. The couple rents twenty G-rated movies for every R-rated movie. And there are languorous hugs for the kids while the grown-ups must survive on a diet of quick pecks.”

To avoid this problem, she reminds couples, “Eroticism in the home requires active engagement and willful intent … We must unpack our ambivalence about pleasure, and challenge our pervasive discomfort with sexuality, particularly in the context of family.”

To learn more, click on the “11/14 Love” SoundCloud icon to hear B. Hibbs talk about her book, Try To See It My Way.
Or click on the “2/12 Sex and Flex” SoundCloud icon to hear two experts discuss how couples can put Esther Perel’s book, Mating In Captivity, into practice.

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Courageous Conversations at Work

January 14, 2016jdegrootBlog

This year we’ve been looking at “courageous conversations”

All year long our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars have been exploring the “courageous conversations” we need to have – at work and home – to follow an integrated approach to work and life.

Read more …

Below are some “lessons learned” from our November webinar where we looked at the courageous conversations that help create more flexibility at work.

Michelle Hickox, the CFO of Independent Bank joined our call along with two of her team members. Below are some of the highlights from our conversation with Michelle, Amy and Leslie – on the right we’ve also included some of the slides from the call.

Michelle started by talking about the flexible schedule she used when her children were young. She described the challenges she had to overcome, but also how she was able to continue with her flexible schedule even as she became a partner at her accounting firm.

Now – as the CFO of Independent Bank – Michelle is making flexibility available for her team.

Amy, one of Michelle’s team members, talked about the positive influence Michelle has had at her workplace.

For example, Amy remembers Michelle saying, “It’s ok to turn your blackberry off over the weekend.” This is something Michelle modeled herself. It also hadn’t been part of Amy’s work culture prior to this point.

Amy also explains how watching Michelle manage her team more flexibly empowered Amy to follow the same approach with the team she is now managing.


Amy and Michelle’s stories illustrate how much “integrated leaders” – professionals who have modeled an integrated approach their entire careers – are making a difference in our workplaces.

It also helps illustrate something ThirdPath learned a long time ago – in order to make change within organizations, you need to follow a 3 pronged approach:
(1) Individuals need to develop good skills.
(2) Teams need to develop solutions that work for everyone.
(3) Leaders need to be advocates for change, and some of the leaders also need to be role models.


Want to learn more?
Listen to the webinar by clicking the YouTube video on the right.

Here’s the PDF of the “courageous conversations at work” summary we created from the webinar.

Or join us next month when we take another look at the courageous conversations we are having to create more satisfying lives.

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We Can Do Work Differently!

November 6, 2015jdegrootBlog, Uncategorized

Combining work and life goals improves how we work

Yes, it’s true. When you encourage people to think about both their work and life needs at the same time, often they will find more efficient ways to approach their work.This is something Lotte Bailyn taught us even before we launched ThirdPath Institute 15 years ago. And it creates the foundation for all of the work we do.

Later, Leslie Perlow – a mentee of Lotte Bailyn – was able to build on Lotte’s work when she did her innovative research in a highly competitive consulting organization.

Leslie’s sensational book – Sleeping with Your Smart Phone – described what happened when team members were required to take predictable time off (PTO) while working to meet client needs.

Read more …

Below are some of the amazing findings from Leslie’s research.
You can also listen to our exciting Thursday with ThirdPath webinar with her by clicking the soundcloud icon below.

Here’s a list of the many benefits the teams gained from participating in the PTO process …

They addressed problems sooner

It helped teams better prioritize their work

– Maybe only 3 answers were necessary not 5
– Maybe they needed to reallocate resources
– Maybe a conversation with the client was required

They reduced travel

It reduced evening and weekend email

They made meetings more effective

– As one participant said: “I now structure case team meetings around core client
issues and can leverage the collective intelligence of the team”

It improved how they scheduled meetings

They invented new ways to share daily progress on projects

It increased flexibility around where work was done

They addressed performance problems early on

The general take away: setting limits on work time increased everyone’s creativity!

Or as Leslie explains it, they addressed the “knowing-doing gap.”  People knew there was a problem, and could also come up with ways to address the problem.

It also encouraged “collective experimentation.”  Multiple people experimented together, and by doing so they were able to challenge the status quo.  They also learned each “micro change” built on the ones before them, unleashing the ability to make changes within the team and ultimately in the organization’s culture.

Want to learn more about how Lotte’s amazing work reshaped the work-family landscape, read an excerpt from a recent article, Lotte Bailyn – Thought Leader, celebrating her important contributions.

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Fathers Day Gift

June 1, 2015jdegrootBlog

“I knew I could be replaced at work, but I could never be replaced at home”

This is a quote from one of the leaders who attended our recent Pioneering Leaders Summit – he also happened to be a father.

It was an amazing day – over 40% of the attendees were men – including the men in the photos on the right, as well as a number of wonderful “dad-vocates.”

To celebrate the difference men can make in the change process, read on for an excerpt from Scott Behson’s new book – The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home.

It describes an experience every parent will recognize between Scott and his school-aged
son Nick.

A few years ago, I was in a big, fat stinking hurry …

Nick was just old enough to get his coat, hat, gloves and shoes on by himself, and I needed him to do so quickly or else we’d be late for the thing that was soooo super-important that now I can’t even remember what it was. So, of course I see Nick presumably fooling around and taking his sweet time getting his jacket on. We’re running late. This thing is very important. We need to get going. So, I snap at him about his jacket.

Read more …
He’s a great kid and I hardly ever raise my voice to him, so he is struck by my tone, and he sheepishly says that he can’t get his sleeve on. “Of course you can,” I bark at him as I start to shove his sleeve onto his arm. But his arm won’t go through – something was blocking the sleeve. That’s when I realized I had put his hat and gloves in his sleeve earlier that day. Nick was trying to do the right thing, but couldn’t get past an obstacle.

I apologized, tried to make him feel better, and slowed down to his speed. Somehow it turned out perfectly ok that we were ten minutes late for that super-important thing.

My mistake was a powerful lesson that taught me to be a better dad. I was injecting unnecessary stress into my time with Nick. I wasn’t being present with him. Instead, I was so focused on my schedule and on a fleeting, unimportant thing that seemed so pressing at the time. My time with Nick shouldn’t have been contaminated. While I’m not always successful, I’m getting better about being in the moment.

This lesson on fatherhood also helped me in other facets of my life.

Ever since becoming a father, I’ve learned to be more patient, more tolerant, and less of a “type-A” person. I’m far happier, more relaxed, and have learned to better separate what’s worth worrying about and what isn’t. I’ve also learned to listen better, to empathize more, and to see things from other’s perspectives. I have a better understanding that what comes easily to me does not always come easily to others. I’ve learned how to be more precise when communicating and giving instructions, and, perhaps most importantly, learned how to help people handle change and other stressful situations. (Thank you, Nick, for making me a better, happier person!)

All of these fatherhood-acquired skills and perspectives also serve me well at work. My college students usually try to do the right thing, but get stuck by real and self-imposed obstacles. They are just being introduced to information and perspectives that I’ve been focusing on for almost two decades. They have different learning styles, and come to my classroom from all over the world with different experiences and perspectives. I now better understand my students, and have gotten better at reaching them. Thanks to being a father, I am a far more effective college professor.

At work, I have also had opportunities to supervise other professors as department chair, run committees, and be an informal leader on team project work. As a tenured professor, I have also been called on to mentor new faculty.

My work colleagues also usually try to do the right thing, but get stuck by real or self-imposed obstacles. They have different specializations, personalities and communication styles. Some of my colleagues have a difficult time trying new things or working in new ways. I now better understand my colleagues, and have gotten better working with them. Thanks to being a father, I am more effective as an informal leader at work.

Get a copy of Scott’s book, it will help you see how actively involved fathers can become, as Scott says, “more organized, efficient, empathetic, and better able to differentiate what is/is not truly important. These skills apply to all aspects of life, including at work.”

On June 11th, Josh Levs will be joining our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar to talk about his new book — All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses – And How We Can Fix It Together. Don’t forget, Scott’s and Josh’s books both make great Fathers Days gifts!

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The New Normal

May 2, 2015jdegrootBlog

Men face multiple obstacles when trying to create a flexible approach to work and family. We tweeted about the top 5 just before our March Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar. Take a look, you’ll notice 4 our of 5 of them look very familiar to women.

Top 5 barriers for fathers & family –
#5 Increased financial risk unless you are willing to put work first
#4 Outdated gender norms – both at work and home
#3 Outdated work norms – such as long work hours and face time
#2 Lack of progressive public policy

But fathers are fighting another barrier. For many it feels like the #1 barrier
to being involved in their families:

#1 Men’s invisibility and poor representation of fathers in the media

Thanks to a group of pioneering men (and pioneering organizations like City Dads, Dad 2.0 Summit, National at Home Dad Network, Boston College’s research on The New Dad … and of course ThirdPath Institute!) – there is growing momentum to push back at this barrier.

Below are the stories of some of the dads involved with this change. To the right are their photos.

Scott Behson – Scott and his wife have Shared Care since their son was born, each parent increasing their role at home as they flexed around the others work schedule. Scott’s fatherhood blog lead him to write a book that will be available this summer – Working Dads Survival Guide.

Kevin O’Shea – Kevin was the primary parent at home when his children were young. After separating from his wife, he returned to work, and continued his role as primary parent after school. Kevin is a ThirdPath board member, founder of Partnership for Dads and co-author of – The Fatherstyle Advantage: Surefire Techniques Every Parent Can Use to Raise Confident and Caring Kids.

Kipp Jarecke-Cheng – Kipp works full time and is the primary flexer around the care of his children. Kipp and his partner get additional support from their nanny. Kipp is a ThirdPath Institute board member.

Lester Spence – Lester and his wife are raising 5 children. Although he works full time while she stays home, he’s also actively involved in the family – from braiding hair to baking bread. As a political science professor, Lester understands, “This is a political issue. If involved fathers are stigmatized, over the generations this stigma will go away, and that’s worth fighting for.”

Read more …
Chris Bernholdt – Chris and his wife decided what made most sense for their family was to have Chris become the primary parent at home while his wife continued to advance in her career. Chris is a board member of the National at Home Dad Network and co-organizer of Philadelphia City Dads.

Christopher Persley – Christopher and his wife also decided he would put his career aside to be the primary caregiver for their daughter while she continued working. Christopher is a member of NYC Dads Group and the National at Home Dad Network.

Doug French – Doug and his ex-wife share in the care of their two school aged children, flexing work and child care responsibilities. Doug is co-founder of the Dad 2.0 Summit – celebrating 5 years of dad’s using their collective influence to create a new narrative for fatherhood.

Brad Harrington – Brad worked while his wife cared for the children when they were young. Now that they are older, both parents flex work and Share Care. Brad runs the Boston College Center for Work and Family. He has also published multiple studies on the changing role of fathers.

Want to learn more about this movement for change? Listen to the below SoundClound recording. Don’t skip the ending! You’ll hear Josh Levs talk about his book – All In: How our work-first culture fails dads, families and business. Available May 12th!

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Managing Email Overwhelm

September 1, 2014jdegrootBlog

The Email Dump

An occasional commentary on work and life efficiencies
by Jessica DeGroot, Founder and President

I spent this summer catching up on the backlog of work I couldn’t get to when things had been much busier this spring.  The last item on my list was dealing with my out of control in-box that had thousands of emails needing to be dealt with.

I’m one of those people who is actually pretty efficient with email.  We’re also a small organization with good work norms, which helps ensure that none of us are swimming in email.  Nevertheless, even with good email practices, my inbox had gotten out of control.  To figure out what to do I pulled out some of my favorite articles on email management to see if they might inspire me.

One of the funniest ones is written by Sarah Green about the “Responsiveness Trap.”  In it she reminds us how we have moved away from the benefits of email.  Email allows for asynchronous conversations – you receive a question, reflect on it, and then respond in a thoughtful way.  But today our goal is to “get through” our email, and our half responses and lack of reflection create a flurry of new emails.

Read more …

However, the dates of most of my emails were up to 9 months old, so I decided I wasn’t stuck in the responsiveness trap.

Another favorite article, Coping with Email Overload by Peter Bregman, helps readers learn about the value of reading email in focused batches to increase efficiency and effectiveness.  Interestingly, he learned this technique after returning from a technology-free vacation where he noticed “I had hundreds of email messages waiting for me. I took a deep breath and started in on them. Three hours later, my inbox — a week’s worth of messages — was empty.”

Was that the answer?  A full day (or more) spent sifting through old emails until my inbox was back in order?

I was torn.  Were these emails worth this kind of dedication?  Or was this huge pile of dated emails more likely to be the last step in a neglected email chain – the meeting that had long ago been organized, the idea mulled over and finally taken action on, the request for information that wasn’t really needed after all.

I noticed myself fantasizing about a friend who had suddenly lost all of her emails because of a technological glitch.  Suddenly she was freed from, as Sarah Green says, the “cacophony of voices all shouting for my attention, shouting so loud I can’t hear what anyone is saying and I start wanting to scream loud noises myself.”

Would it be fair to fake a technological glitch?

I pulled out ThirdPath’s trusted “Managing Emails” check list, reviewed some of the suggestions, and became increasingly curious about finding ways to make these emails disappear.  I did the math.  If every week there were 8 emails I didn’t methodically delete from my in-box, over the course of a normal year “email creep” would account for over 400 emails in my inbox.  The lesson learned, even with good email practices, it’s hard to stay on top of email.

OK – maybe I didn’t have to fake a technological meltdown, maybe I could simply adopt a new practice – the email dump.

What if I decided every few months I’d take my oldest emails and I’d put them in a folder marked for that year.  I wouldn’t review them, or angst if I was about to miss something important, instead I’d just file them away.  I made the change and felt instantaneous relief.

Suddenly my inbox looked more manageable. I also knew where to look if I needed one of those old emails in the future… but I’ll bet you a 1,000 emails I won’t ever need to!

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Assist individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for family, community and other life priorities. Develop a growing community of individuals, leaders and organizations to influence wider change - both within organizations and at the public policy level. Support a new mind-set where everyone can follow a "third path" - an integrated approach to work and life.

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