Staying Home? How to stay sane

With most countries going into the restricted movement order or lockdown, more of us are getting familiar with the concept of working from home (WFH). For me, I have not had any problem working from home, but I do see that it can get challenging from some of us who are not used to it (just yet.)

There have been many tips written on WFH productivity (e.g: set routine, designate a separate work place etc), and I don’t intend to repeat most of them. However, I wanted to share some tips on staying sane as a working mother.

(Disclaimer: My children are all grown up, so I will not even pretend that it will be easy for mothers with young children. For those in this category, you have to set your expectation lower that you are likely not going to be able to sit more than 2 straight hours working and that you will require extra support.)

First: Pre-planning is key!

A day before the effective movement control order, the kids and I had a fun family breakfast meeting on the agreed schedule. Since they are used to the self-monitoring concept and also have been empowered to make their own choice, it was quite natural for them.

Here is the summary of their proposal (from my teenage boys and tween daughter):

  • Morning prayer
  • Family breakfast time
  • Independent study / work: 8.30 – 3.30pm
  • Family / Fun time: 5- 7pm
  • Dinner and prayer
  • Free time

We decided to not worry about specifics but be guided by these block schedule and our own commitments. Each child needs to reflect what commitment he/she has (mostly academic work or their passion project).

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Using the same principle, I have also asked my team at the office to get their preferred time and frequency for group check-ins. This would be much harder if we did not have a strong work culture, trust in the team and also a way to monitor and report out the work progress: hence, I would say that these pre-requisites must take place way before the implementation. We had the opportunity to start doing this more naturally beginning of this year – so the transition was not particularly hard for most of us.

On top of pre-planning, we need to take into account other enablers to make this successful. For me, the food preparation was key for the children and the IT infrastructure (including cloud storage) was important for the team at work.

Second: Flexible is equally critical

Quickly, midway on Day 1, I found our plan is not 100% foolproof 🙂

What do I mean by that? As a human, we all need interaction and I am very sure that even all of us in the office would not like to be glued in front of our computer for 4 straight hours (save for some other critical roles like surgeons that require laser focus in long extended hours.)

What we learned is to cut some slack without losing its intention for the specified time block. We ended up taking 10-minute breaks, checking on each other, making jokes — and happily resumed our work/ study after that. (Also, sometimes they kids will mock me during my teleconference. 🙂 )

I also found that I work better if I don’t cram all the virtual zoom meetings back-to-back. Spacing out 10 – 15 minutes in between or moving around help to keep my sanity (and also keep my step counts!) It sounds common-sense but it was not as common when I was engrossed in work.

Above all, be human

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”

This is my biggest lesson learnt for the last 2 weeks. I have learnt to insert and entertain some ideas of fun and love in our daily schedule and do more of those. Even during work breaks, I decided to entertain jokes from our residence court jester (i.e our second boy) and also to make sure I incorporate exercise, and time to do things that I enjoy such as swimming, yoga, reading books during our free time at night.

For those who want to feel accomplished, I highly recommend learning new skill (I am reading a book on Ultralearning which is super fun) or carve out your own side project (cooking, baking, painting). For others, the night time is an ideal time for quiet reflection, and connect with God. I am not a subscriber to Netflix binging and have not done that yet (because it is just not my habit), but if you are into something that you like, feel free to do so (but remember, be balanced!).

I also found that this is also the time to really connect with myself and the people that matter. Share your care, ask friends how they are, send encouraging words – I was surprised how touched I was when some friends as far as in the US reach out to me with well wishes.

In summary, be prepared, be flexible and be human. It is a challenging time, but it is also an opportunity to reset - just the way Nature resets itself now.

God bless and stay safe!

Parenting and leadership – Different context, similar lessons?

Having to balance parenting and career (and many other aspects of life), I must admit that I am obsessed with efficiency. One of my approach to efficiency is to connect and cross-implement the lessons I learnt between these two seemingly disparate worlds. Of course, these are two completely different context, you may say. But there is a common parameter in these two – humans. When it comes to humans and emotions, the dynamics that accompany these interactions can get rather unpredictable (recall a time when you ask your son to clean his bed, and he still does not do it despite the ‘friendly reminder’? Or to motivate your team to stretch their capability, only to find he/ she is chasing the wrong initiative, very efficiently?)

I thought about some of these key lessons and quickly eliminated the hard, technical aspects of it. This is also because primarily, there are so many classes and experts out there to help us on “strategic leadership” or “parenting” (ala tiger mom). Let’s talk about ‘heart matters’ (some of my friends jokingly call this fluff, but I have to say that this soft/fluffy thing is the hardest to do!)

Lesson 1: Start with a good intention and clear purpose

As a first-time mother, I used to lament on why babies did not come with manuals. I freaked out a lot during the first 3 years of our eldest son (sorry son, you are our guinea pig and you know that!), trying really hard to read every parenting books and talking to other parents.

However, like magic, when our second son came, it changed my perspective on the purpose and our role as parents. I quickly realized, it is more important to be joyful and to be supportive in this parenting journey, rather than be perfect.

How does that tie to good intention and clear purpose?

This realization that I am here to support (as a parent, and as a leader) to the people that matter, helped me to set my intention to help my kids and my team to uncover their potential and to support the things that will make them better.

For example, if one child has inclination on dinosaurs, or animals, we will consciously plan our activities and program to help grow their interest. If he/she is introvert and needs some nudging on working with people, then we will use any teachable moments to build their confidence and chip away anxiety.

The same principle applies to leading the team. Knowing the intention of supporting the team, it is much more joyful experience, rather than strictly chasing the KPIs (of which some are undeniably still very important!).

Lesson 2: Useful feedback and clear expectations

Not all feedback are created equal – there is such a thing as useful feedback.

What is useful feedback? It is a feedback, when given, will actually enhance the person’s performance and/or increase confidence level that made them interested to improve.

I admit that I made many mistakes on providing useful feedback (and still do!).

But let’s dissect the key elements of useful feedback:

⁃ They are specific, and targeted on behavior (and not personal)

⁃ They invite reflections and create sense of ownership and accountability. For our kids, I usually tie back to our ‘agreed family values’. At work, it can be tied to the mission and goals.

⁃ They have some sense of hope and motivate the recipient to actually improve the situation. For example, yes, we acknowledge the situation but therein the opportunity to improve.

When in doubt, I find that the pre-requisite of giving useful feedback is making sure my intention is to help the recipient to grow (see Lesson 1).

Lesson 3: Communicate, communicate, communicate

How many times could we have avoided conflict if we communicate? I can recall many occasion that I could have prevented if I had been more purposeful in communicating.

What I have also learnt about communication is there is no such thing as over-communicate. I am constantly surprised at the feedback I get from my children or my team, when I actually ask their opinion about certain things. (And I know, I don’t do enough…)

Most importantly, I have learnt that communication is not only during good times, but also during bad times. My husband has this fascinating approach with our children that we will take every opportunity of “teachable moments” to communicate our family values and lessons learnt at the most (sometimes I feel) difficult moments. The”teachable moments” are the moments of breakdown or disappointment – those that allow us to process our feelings, and also to use these to build stronger connections. At work, it could be when your team member did not deliver, or did not pre-empt you sufficiently. Or it could well be something out of hunch that somethings is amiss.

In summary, these three lessons are applicable, whether it is for parenting or leading a team. Above all, the overarching foundation for all these three lessons is genuine care.

On a final note, I must admit that it is very much work in progress for me at work – let’s say that it is easier to love your children as a mother!

Thriving in Workplace and Home

My spouse and I recently had the opportunity to share a few lessons and tools on enabling us to thrive in workplace and home as a dual-career family. The most popular question from the participants is that while they want to thrive in both environments, they wanted to know how to prioritize and juggle the conflicting priorities.

Since this seems to be quite a popular question, I thought it’d be good to share some of the key takeaways here for the benefit of the larger group.

The most foundational step when it comes to thriving in workplace and home is to have the belief that we can thrive in both. The semantic of “work-life balance” somehow gives the impression that something has to go. The reality is that our life is dynamic and that “see-saw” balancing act always oscillate from time to time. As a family, we made a conscious decision very early in our partnership that it will be “work-life integration”. By using the word integration, we are conscious of the choices and priorities that we make and we are committed to stand by our principles at all times.

With this foundation laid, as a dual-career family, we see thriving in workplace and home as running a “Life Enterprise”. This means that we approach everything as running an enterprise, we integrate both with the other life aspects, using the tools and processes to run as a unit. This includes setting the family guiding principles based on values, systems, support, and decision-making matrix. In a simpler form, it means we are mindful and intentional over the things we do, be it at work or at home.

We believe in preserving the core while being flexible in executing.

To run the “Life Enterprise”, we have observed that these “pillars” have significantly helped us set it up effectively:

1. Build your support, processes and systems: For our family, we have set-up many systems to automate, delegate and prompt our important tasks. Of course, just like any enterprise, we need to start somewhere and further refine the systems as we go along. Some examples of the systems include the morning breakfast system, laundry management system, house-cleaning support system, homework support (which is minimal except if it was Bahasa), monthly bills payment system, kids’ annual stipend system and our property management system. We even have a travel checklist and toiletries & travel essentials ready to-go whenever we decide to travel (near or far).

2. Plan and prioritize: We cannot stress enough the importance of planning and prioritization. Given that our time is finite, we have to be mindful of what gets done and what gets dropped. As a life enterprise, rather than prioritizing in silos and in isolation, we would rather look at the bigger picture and that means balancing our family, our life and our career. I can expand this topic on its own – so I will deliberate more in a different entry on time management. 🙂 Hint: Things get done when scheduled in your calendar

3. Habits and rituals: We admit that we are creatures of habits and our willpower can bring us only so far. Hence, we believe in creating daily habits and family rituals to increase the chance of success in integrating both worlds. We believe in being role model to our children, hence setting up core values and use those as our compass has helped us tremendously. We also believe in consciously creating our family identity: the family rituals will help us through this journey and bind us in a more meaningful way.

4. Create open and honest communication: This is the most interesting journey so far for us, as we build this life enterprise. We joked at the learning session that we observed that the number of “silent treatments” and “unnecessary fights” have exponentially decreased over years, as we learn how to fight well. We learnt how to be transparent and communicate our needs openly. We need to understand where the other person comes from, what is his/her motivation when expressing their stand and how we can work together in co-creating the solutions. As we learn to fight better, we created deeper bond and mutual respect for each other, as partner in this life enterprise.

In summary, a slight shift in perspective will yield completely different strategies. And above all, this fits nicely with our persona – my spouse and I find meaning in the partnership and we get the joy in growing together.

The quest for work-life balance

In various conversations with the young professionals and female professionals, there seems to be one common topic that almost always get to the center of the conversation: How do you balance your life as a mother and as a leader?

That got me thinking a little deeper since I was also curious on how I can share and sprinkle some ideas to this important question. After much musing, I thought of distilling it into 2 parts: Definition & Systems

DEFINITION – Work-life balance redefined

Firstly, I would reframe the question slightly differently as “how do we (as a family) integrate and prioritize our family life and career”?

There are a few important aspects why the reframing is important:

  1. We (my husband and I) see the importance of running our family as an enterprise, as a form of partnership. That way, it is not a one-person’s job, but rather, it is our collective responsibilities to keep the family dynamic in harmony and at optimum-level. Also, any decision on career is holistic since it is interdependent.
  2. We recognize the importance of integration to ensure our values remain consistent for both worlds and we understand how one affects the other.
  3. We see the act of prioritization as a way to manage conflicting demands, given the dynamic nature of both worlds.

SYSTEMS – How does everything fit as a whole

When we see running the family as an enterprise, just like running a business, naturally we see the need to set-up effective systems so that most aspects can run concurrently to meet certain objectives, with clear roles & responsibilities and feedback mechanism.

Before I lost you with all these technical terms, let me simplify the definition further:

  1. System is a way how we plan and organize different components to meet certain objectives.
  2. Examples of different systems that we implement in our house:
  • Housework: do we delegate some, who does the chores and when
  • Logistics: how do we set up the logistics for our kids and ourselves; if we have to travel overseas, how do we set up the support system (keyword here is support)
  • Learning: what are the principles about learning (i.e we learn because we are curious and we love learning, not because of the pressure); how does each member be empowered to learn at their own pace, with others’ support
  • Family cultures: We have an annual family plan to review our values and goals for the year (see Family Business Plans), quarterly reflections, weekly family meeting and daily bedtime routine
  • Family values: How do we model our 8 family values on a daily basis; how do we make decision based on sets of guiding principles

As in any system set-up, the starting point will require a little bit more thought and momentum. However, that early investment generally pays off later, once it is stabilized. Sometimes, we even get prompted to further simplify our life further, after many years of practice (simple examples can be simplifying my closet, or the kids’ reading material. Or, can be as big as simplifying our asset management and financial loans). I also have accepted the fact that I won’t play such an active role in the parents group, but will continue to support where I can – that made my life much simpler.

Yes, systems may sound boring (they are!), but they work. Once we get these to work without much thinking, that gives a lot more freedom for others.

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

Have you been disappointed lately? I have. A lot. Especially this past week.

The streaks of disappointments prompted me to reflect a little bit more on what were the triggers and effectively learn how to get out of my disappointed mode. That curiosity led me to this equation that I discovered a while back through a book by Chip Conlay: Emotional Equations.

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

As an analytical person, I love the wisdom in this equation (and it is a linear equation!) yet it speaks to my sensitive soul, as well. Why is that? I love it because it has only 1 degree of freedom and we have a direct control over that variable – it is our expectations.

The key in this one variable is that we know that we can tweak our expectations to minimize the disappointment. Here are the 3 examples of the scenarios that might demonstrate the simple, yet powerful variable.

1. At work: In several occasions, I was disappointed with my team member(s), so it is important that I step back and ask myself if my expectation for this person is reasonable. Did I question his / her intent, or his / her competency? Did I expect reciprocity when I extended help to someone? What did I expect for someone in a senior position to do – is that my own projection of a high (sometimes unreasonable) standard that I impose to myself? What would be a reasonable expectation, taking into account all context and the background?

2. Relationship: I have to admit that I stopped expecting my spouse to read my mind on the day I decided I would get married to him. So, I will be very upfront about expressing my needs or my dissatisfaction. It has removed most frictions that would have occurred otherwise.

3. Parenting: I might expect that our children to ‘behave’ all the time. If we, as a family, spend a little bit more time to define on what really matter to us (i.e for me, they are safety and our core values), can I then choose and prioritize those that are in the highest priorities and let go of the lower ones?

Also, since this is an equation, I love the way that I can “measure” the disappointment and mentally “rank” the disappointment based on a matrix. Those that have larger magnitude will probably need more attention and the smaller ones will be quickly acknowledged.

[Disclaimer: This disappointment equation analysis is post-facto, and I have to admit that while I was stuck in the web of disappointments, I did have an amygdala hi-jack and was not able to quantify appropriately. :)] But hey, it is fun to make it light and fun!

Family “Business” Plans. Have you thought of having one?

Some friends think we are taking the corporate culture back in our family life a little too far. We’d say, we are taking the best of both worlds (and having fun at the same time) 🙂

Why did we decide to create a family plan? For us, we just wanted to be conscious of the values we instil in our children and decide proactively on activities / programs to reinforce these agreed values. In my husband’s simple words: “If we do not decide on the children’s values, someone else will”.

How does one create a family plan and making it work? More importantly, how can one make it such a joyful exercise – something that everyone especially our kids will remember and embody the values? Some tips that have worked for us:

1. Decide which values you want to be as a family

  • Do you want your children to be an independent-thinker? Would you be proud if he/she demonstrate his/her highest integrity? How about entrepreneurial mindset? We love the traditional ones: respect, gratitude, honesty, balancing now vs future. The options are endless, as long as both you and your partner feel strongly about the values that resonate with you as a family. (Hint: What would be the values that made you feel good 20 years from now.)

2. Make it age-appropriate and fun.

  • When our kids were really small (ranging from 3 – 11 years old), we just had a simple 15-minute ‘family meeting’ by the playground (yes, they cannot sit still)! Put some pictures, tell stories, and examples on how each child can model these values (for example: Honesty: “I know mommy and daddy will not be angry at me when I tell the truth, so I will tell them the truth no matter what”). These had kept us honest, too.
  • This year, after 6 years of this annual ritual, we had a ‘longer’ meeting. I purposely planned a weekend getaway, spent time playing and we held our family plan over supper. We even added a little bit more reflections as part of our gratitude exercise to prime the session. Everyone had a ‘template’ of the values and they can scribble on what they think they will want to do / be to embody these values. Each child (and parent) did his /her own style of expressing the vision. What came out of that is a revelation that our children find this exercise a good family-bonding activity – that’s a bonus.

3. Follow up and schedule the activities.

  • I cannot stress enough that “a plan is a plan until we do something about it.” One habit that I found has been super-helpful in executing any plan is to put them in a calendar and schedule it. Or, any trigger that can help us in getting the habit programmed, after all, we are all humans and we regress. (Read Charles Duhigg book on building habit, it helps). We put an A3 printed Family Plan in our kitchen (at the smallest kid’s eye level) so we see it everyday.

Is it a difficult thing to do? No.

Is it difficult to start? Yes.

So, let’s start, and let’s not wait for it to be perfect.

P/s: Our ritual changes every year, even though we have been doing it since 2011. For me, I took this family plan as part of my “Create Memory” project of 2018.

New Year Resolution in ONE Word.

F25DE1A5-665C-46F9-81B4-6F45146B326BImagine. Just one word on how you want to live and experience the year.

Do not be fooled by its simplicity. In its simplicity, therein lies the power – the power of clarity.

So, I thought this is an interesting experiment – choosing one word to represent the year. Over Roti Canai and Teh Tarik with my family, we brainstormed what would our word be and what it would mean to each and everyone of us.

Mine was Discover. My husband’s was Support. Our kids chose their own word that resonated with them. Our family came up with our theme for the year – Together.

Fast-forward a year and it’s January 2018. Little did I realize the power of clarity and intention. My year of Discovery has been truly eye-opening and full of discovery – of course, nothing short of bumps and surprises.

What did I discover in 2017 – Year of Discovery?

  1. I discovered the ability to love myself – This is by far the biggest discovery. Ever. I am still a novice but continuing to strengthen this heart and compassion muscle every day. Thanks to the Feminine Power (FP) Mastery Program by Claire Zammit, I have been able to learn a system on accessing that old ability and very grateful for the experience and for the supportive community. I can go on and on with this experience – which I will probably outline in a different section later. In short, the key principles are to be able to reconnect with my child Self and to forgive myself. Through the practices, I learnt to accept myself in totality – the good, the bad and the ugly. Only then, I can accept others in the same light. Warning: This took lots of courage (and heartaches!). But the outcome is well worth it.
  2. I discovered that I don’t have to go and do it all alone – This is the second AHA for me. Being conditioned in a competitive environment (I am an A-type and an athlete), I used to believe that the ‘race’ is all a solo sport. Only when I questioned this belief, do I see that I had mirrored this false belief in so many different facets of my life. With that shift, I am continued to be amazed at how I found help in seemingly hopeless situations. This is work-in-progress. I regress from time to time 🙂 I do want to acknowledge that it helps so much to start cultivating the deep relationship with people who have the same mindset and shared goals. For this, I am so grateful to have wonderful friends and family who are in the same wavelength and supporting each other in this journey. In short, find your tribe.
  3. I discovered that I can bounce back – This is the most satisfying skill I discovered. However, I would not be able to achieve this without cultivating the self-love (see #1). When I faced adversity (especially at work these days), I would catch myself now, questioning “What can I learn from this experience?”. This has kept me focused on the solutions – and I feel that this is the most loving act I could do to myself.
  4. I discovered that if I amplify others, I naturally will amplify my Self – This is a completely new concept as I journeyed through the FP Mastery program. This just takes away the habit of dimming my light or dimming others’ light – it is not a zero-sum game. We are all unique and we all can amplify each others’ light by standing up tall together.

So what is your word for 2018?

Mine is to Create, hence the creation of this blog. Enjoy!