If they want to lead, empower them to lead.

Leaders are the essence of small towns and rural communities. The success or failure of any housing, community or economic development efforts in the places we call home often rests upon the level of engagement and investment of local citizen leaders. Yet, in so many communities I work in across South Dakota there is an invisible divide holding back the development of a strong leadership base. I hear experienced leaders saying, “Young people just don’t want to be involved in the community!”  and I hear emerging leaders saying, “The people in charge won’t let us try anything new!”

So, I am asking you, “How can we empower more people to lead in our rural communities?”

To begin searching for a solution to this question, I want to help you understand two community leadership systems that exist:

  1. Most community leadership systems currently operate in a traditional hierarchy – meaning top-down (like a triangle) – the board’s officers propose ideas to the members based on their knowledge of what the community needs. Then, following a decision of the board, the tasks gets allocated to the members who carry out the projects with board supervision. Traditional leadership systems define levels of authority and decision-making within the organization and invite you to join the work they are currently doing.
  2. The non-traditional community leadership system being implemented by some rural communities has a core leadership team that is structured as a network – meaning connected (like a circle) – with the basic goal of allowing distributed decision-making to empower and raise up resident leaders while giving everyone in the community the opportunity to identify priorities and go to work on projects they are passionate about. The non-traditional community leadership system can be chaotic and allows community leaders to collaborate, innovate, dream, and experiment which creates increased optimism and hope for new possibilities within the community.

The two systems listed above are quite different, yet if we are going to show emerging leaders that they do have the power to innovate and have real impact on the community, then we need to begin transforming the community’s leadership structure. Experienced community leaders can initiate this process by asking good questions, listening with curiosity, and taking new ideas seriously. Below are some sample questions to help these transformational conversations begin:

  • Open Ended Questions – What needs to be done?
  • Challenge Status Quo – Why must it be done that way?
  • Learner Mindset – What is good or useful about this?
  • Forward Looking – What possibilities does this open up?
  • Optimistic – What can we learn from this?
  • Empower Others – What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Build Relationships – How solid are our connections with others?
  • Understand Self – What do I need to reflect on to move us all forward?
  • Deal with Dependency – Would you like people to solve their problems rather than coming to you for answers?
  • Serve Humbly – How can I help you?
  • Encourage Action – What will you commit to do by when?
  • Evaluate – What does our leadership team do that gets in the way?
  • Listen – Are we listening to each other with curiosity?
  • Involve All Stakeholders – What are our common areas of interest?
  • Enable Change – What will you need from us in the future?
  • Develop Vision and Values – Are we being honest with ourselves?

The responsibility of building a pool of leaders in our rural communities falls to both sides. Experienced leaders must let go a little bit, and emerging leaders must build a foundation of trust. This will allow a smooth community leadership structure transformation with minimal chaos – ultimately good for the future of our rural communities.

So, if they want to lead, empower them to lead.

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We tried that before and it didn’t work!

When was the last time you heard someone say, “We tried that before and it didn’t work!”  In my early days as a local leader those words spoken by an experienced leader often stopped me in my tracks. Their words indicated to me that they had the experience of knowing what worked and what didn’t work in the community.  Sometimes I would ask, “Why?” and rarely get a strong explanation about the failure that occurred, which left me determined to learn more.

My confidence as a leader has grown over the years and I have gained much more experience. Now when someone says, “We tried that before and it didn’t work!” my response is…”and, what did you learn from that?”

Learning about failed attempts, missed opportunities, and community history requires honest and focused conversations with local leaders. I strongly believe that as current leaders, we must know the history of things tried in our community, the work that has been accomplished and why decisions were made.  So often, the reason history repeats itself is that leaders don’t own their part in the community’s history. We must look back and own our part of history to move ahead.

Let’s begin by asking a question – How do we start an honest and focused conversation with community leaders about what has been learned in our past?

There is an art to initiating and carrying out a focused conversation that creates positive results.  Here is a 4-step method that enables your conversation to flow from surface to depth. You can lead a focused conversation to reflect with your community leaders through a series of questions at these four levels:

  • Step 1. Objective Level – Begin with the data, facts, and external reality. Ask your conversation participant(s), “What did you actually see, hear or read?” or “What surprised you?
  • Step 2. Reflective Level – Next, evoke immediate personal reactions, internal responses, sometimes emotions or feelings, hidden images, and associations with the facts you discussed in step one. Ask your conversation participant(s), “What was your gut reaction?” or “What were your biggest frustrations?” or “What has worked well?”
  • Step 3. Interpretive Level – Then, draw out meaning, values, significance, and implications. Ask your conversation participant(s), “What are your hopes and dreams?” or “What would you say were your most significant contributions?”
  • Step 4. Decisional Level – Lastly, bring the conversation to a close, eliciting resolution and enabling the participants to make decisions about the future. Ask your conversation participant(s), “What do you think we should do?” or “What steps could we take to move forward?” or “Who else should be involved in local leadership?”

The results of focused conversations can help develop awareness to accept the things that have been done in the past and follow the lessons learned from each situation to move our work forward. When a leader starts asking “How can we learn from this?”, automatically it affects the future of the community. Having focused conversations is a transformational process that starts from one person wanting to learn more and ends with moving toward a more positive future by learning from the past.

As a local leader I want to empower younger generations to take their ideas and act on them. I want to be asked about successes and failures from the past. And lastly – I, Paula Jensen, vow to never say the words, “We tried that before and it didn’t work!”

What’s the Life Expectancy of Our Community?

I remember in 1997, just following the birth of my second son, when more than one elder in my community told me, “It is so sad that your children will never graduate from Langford High School like you did!”  Those comments told me that the local leaders were questioning my decision to return to my hometown and had lost all hope in their community and themselves. Well I am pleased to say, now 20 years later, that the prediction made by those folks has not come true. I could go on and on about the growth, development, and community pride that has erupted across Marshall County in opposition to those dire comments made two decades ago.

Pretty much all my life, I’ve been told that small towns are dying, drying up, and disappearing, and that there’s nothing we can do to change it. But what if, just once, there was some good news about rural communities? Guess what, there is! Big trends are moving in our favor:

Trend #1 – brain gain (youth returning home after getting education)

Trend #2 – changing retail dynamics (entrepreneurship is on the rise)

Trend #3 – new travel motivations (people love getting away from the city to visit)

Trend #4 – declining cost of distance (people can work from anywhere)

Trend #5 – creative placemaking (adding quality of life amenities to our towns)

During most of my years in Marshall County, the population has followed typical national trends. In 1970, Marshall County had 5,885 people; we hit our lowest population mark in 2009 at 4,160, which was a 30% decline in our county-wide population. However, since 2009 our county-wide population has reached 4,801, which shows a 13% gain in population.  Our trend line is moving upward and this is uncommon in rural places from a national perspective. In my day-to-day work across rural South Dakota I have observed pockets of growth in other rural communities, much like Marshall County. The commonalities I witness is that these unique rural places have strong leadership and care about what their small town will look like in 30 years from now.

I recently sat in on a webinar where Zachary Mannheimer was a featured speaker discussing Creative Placemaking: Economic Development for the Next Generation, co-sponsored by the Orton Family Foundation and the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design.

What is creative placemaking, you ask? Zachary Mannheimer defined it like this, “Basically, it means, how you enrich a community through cultural and entrepreneurial ideas.” For the most part he explained that it’s been done in urban areas, but not a lot has been done in rural areas.  He identified the future population trends that are emerging and how he sees the future of our country moving toward rural areas because of urban population growth and they are running out of space. Places that were once out in the sticks are going to be part of urban areas. This is going to be happening in the next 30 years. Are we prepared for it in Marshall County? If we aren’t prepared for the shift, we are going to lose out on potential social and economic growth in Marshall County. Rural city and county leaders, economic development corporations, and others need to begin planning to adapt now and create amenities that people are looking for or we will struggle to remain a vibrant rural community.

Marshall County is on the right track with new development, entrepreneurship, strong philanthropy, inclining population, strong schools, recreation opportunities, and so much more. But we must all step up as local leaders to support improvements and growth. Our small towns don’t need to spend any more time in the past. Things will never go back to the way they used to be. We need to start from here and keep moving forward toward a bright future that provides opportunities for our youth to return and a place where new residents want to live and contribute. Enormous changes are coming our way in rural South Dakota and our future has never looked brighter. Let’s lead the way and extend the life expectancy of our community!

Wishing vs. Hoping

The 1964 classic song lyrics from Wishin & Hopin by Dusty Springfield say, “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’, Plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms, That won’t get you into his arms…”

So is there a distinction between wishing and hoping?

Wishing is feeling or expressing a strong desire for something that is not easily attainable. It’s like wishing to win the lottery but you don’t buy a ticket.

Hoping is to look forward with desire and reasonable confidence that something can happen. You can hope that you win the lottery because you have purchased a ticket.

Dusty Springfield continues in her song, Wishin & Hopin, “…So if you’re thinkin’ how great true love is, All you gotta do is, Hold him and kiss him and squeeze him and love him, Yeah, just do it and after you do, you will be his…” My conclusion is that the differing factors between wishing and hoping are the process of looking forward and taking action which can entirely change the course of your circumstances!

I had never considered the distinction between wishing and hoping until I attended the Helping Small Towns Succeed Conference. I attended a breakout session to explain and foster the trait of hope for community leadership. From the presenter’s research it appears that followers of community leaders want two things 1) stability in the moment; and 2) hope for the future. But unfortunately, the vast majority of community leaders do not spend enough time creating hope.

Think about it: growth is all about looking forward. A sapling becomes a mighty oak by growing slowly over time. An infant grows into a child, who eventually becomes an adult. Hope is the same way. It looks forward. When we have hope, we can create a vision and takes steps toward a better future for ourselves and our communities, not just wishing for things that could be.

Planting the seed of hope requires a change in mindset; leaders who believe community growth is possible and commit to pursuing it. The change in focus from wishing to hoping is only the first step. This movement begins a cycle of growth, increased hope, more growth, leading to contagious hope. Because when hope rises in our communities―everything changes.

Assessing Your Own Current Level of HOPE

Directions: Read each item carefully. Give yourself a score of 1-5 points based on the following: Strongly Disagree (1 point); Disagree (2 points); Neutral (3 points); Agree (4 points); Strongly Agree (5 points)

  1. My future will be better than the present. ___ points
  2. I have the power to make my future better. ___ points
  3. I am excited about at least one thing in my future. ___ points
  4. I see many paths to my goals. ___ points
  5. The paths to my important goals are free of obstacles. ___ points

Score Questions 1-5 is your HOPE score. TOTAL ____

  1. My present life circumstances are the only determinants of my future. ___ points
  2. My past accomplishments are the only determinants of my future. ___ points

Score Questions 6-7 is your READINESS to HOPE score. TOTAL ___

  1. I make others feel excited about the future. ___ points
  2. I spread hope through modeling or support of others. ___ points
  3. I spread hope through the way I live my life. ___ points

Score Question 8-10 is your HOPE CONTAGION score. TOTAL ___


Analyze your current level of HOPE

Questions 1-5 is your HOPE score (ranging from 5 -25).

  • 5-15, it will take hard work and much practice to raise your score.
  • 16-20, hope is an asset to you every day, but there are many strategies that can help you increase your hopefulness.
  • 21+, you are a high-hope person whose thinking about the future is an asset.

Questions 6-7 is your READINESS to HOPE score (ranging from 2-10). The higher your score, the more you believe that your future is dominated by your past and present circumstances, and the less room you have for hope. Learn to expand your sense of personal freedom without denying the realistic constraints we all face.

Question 8-10 is your HOPE CONTAGION score (ranging from 3-15). If you scored above 12, you are a model for others and consciously boost the hope of those around you. A low score suggests that you would benefit from seeking out the support and companionship of high-hope people in your daily life.

Pick a Promise | There are 30,000 to Choose From

Did you know that there are approximately 30,000 promises in the Bible? But, which of those promises could help strengthen your marriage?

The purpose of your wedding day is promises — vows that you will make to each other and to God. Your life will never be the same after you make those promises to each other. You are choosing to tell your future partner that you love them and would like to be with them forever, that you are promising to give yourself to them, no matter what the future holds.

You’re going to promise to stick with your partner in good times, but also in the hard times, in times of health and times of sickness, in times of plenty and in times of want. You’re going to be there with them no matter what season of life you are in — a newlywed and there is not enough money, or you want to have a baby and you can’t, or you have a baby and the child has a difficulty, or you are raising a teen, or you are fearful that your child is getting ready to marry the wrong person, or your parents’ health is declining, or you are going to have to make a serious career change — whatever is going on in your lives the promises take you through.

Some of us have had the privilege of growing up in families where marriage promises were made as life-long commitments. The generations before us worked hard to keep their promises and whether we know it or not our lives have been profoundly affected by those who made promises and then chose to keep them.

Those marriage promises made generations before us were also fully covered by all of God’s 30,000 biblical promises – encompassing one main promise to us all — God will act on our behalf, be by our side, and never leave us alone. That’s what our Christian faith is built on – God’s faithfulness to keeping all His promises to us and in return we keep our promises to others with God’s guidance.

On your wedding day, you promise to always be by your partner’s side. In the years that follow, you will have the opportunity to glorify God and reflect His character by being rock-solid faithful to your marriage promise. There will be times when that promise is hard to keep, when times are tough or mistakes are painful. What you decide to do in those challenging times will determine who you become and what your marriage will be like.

My marriage prayer for you is that your faith in God continues to grow and that your marriage is filled with joy — joy in sharing your life, joy in being loved, joy in caring for others, and the greatest joy in reflecting God’s character as you promise to love your partner unconditionally; standing with them no matter what life may bring you. 

Just a few biblical promises to keep you on track…

  • My grace is sufficient for you. 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
  • “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
  • If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5
  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
  • Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you Psalm 9:10
  • My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Why does nothing ever get done in this town!

Having a passion for rural community development and leadership is what drives my personal and professional life. My personal vision statement reads, “I will be a clear voice for rural people and places by mobilizing and empowering rural changemakers to build vibrant communities.” It has taken me a number of years, a lot of support, much personal and professional growth, and many mistakes to realize that vision.

A turning point for me as an emerging rural community leader was in 1999 at the age of 32 years old when I was sworn in as the first woman to ever serve on the city council in my hometown’s 113 year history.

Serving as a Trustee and Mayor of my community allowed me to organically develop leadership and management skills. I was empowered by the knowledge and understanding I was gaining. As a learner, I sought innovative ways to accomplish things in our community by engaging residents and seeking new resources which often created challenges with my fellow trustees, yet they permitted me to try and supported our successes as the community was developing and growing.

I am grateful for those five years of opportunity in city government because they built my foundation as an emerging leader. I was given new opportunities that allowed me to graduate from Leadership Plenty, co-found a regional economic development organization, start a community daycare, co-create a community foundation, and craft a new career for myself as a grant writer and community & economic development professional in the nonprofit sector.

Engaged, diverse, and collaborative leadership are essential components of vibrant communities, they are also the missing link in many of our small rural communities. In order to keep those small communities* vital and advance the future of South Dakota, there must be a focus on building our local leadership capacity. (*Small community definition = currently 95% of all communities in South Dakota have less than 5,000 residents.)

Statistics show that the prospect to serve as a rural leader in South Dakota is 1:27, as compared to 1:57 in our urban centers. However, the current scenario of rural leadership can be described by this familiar story:  Someone has a great idea for engaging in a community project, but no one wants to take the lead toward accomplishment and success. Too often all they get out of these great ideas are a few working group meetings and many frustrated residents that profess, “Nothing ever gets done!” When this destructive cycle is set into motion, it is difficult to get people involved and excited about the future of their communities or rural places as a whole.

The need for new rural leaders to rise up is great. According to the Center for Small Towns, South Dakota needs 357 new leaders every year. When we identify good leaders in a community they are priceless, and often depleted to the point of burnout. Therefore, we must have continuing support, tools and resources available to the existing leaders while simultaneously developing emerging leaders.

An important next step toward developing emerging leaders in our rural communities is to cultivate a leadership philosophy centered on community building and shared leadership for two major reasons: 1) the growing complexity of problems in rural communities does not lead to easy solutions. One leader cannot filter all the information available to address problems, therefore, they need to rely on the experience of other community leaders; and 2) a growing number of people in communities are no longer content to behave as followers, but want to share in the responsibilities and decisions.

We must all believe that each of our rural communities have unique flair, history & culture, economic opportunity, neighbors who care, a great quality of life, leaders that believe in strategic thinking, ideation and innovation, stimulating conversation, engaged residents, strong asset base, and understanding that leadership development begins at home.

Begin with the End in Mind

I read a book a few years back titled, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The second of the seven habits he declared in his book stated, “Begin with the end in mind.”  Covey was encouraging people to be visionary in their own lives, their work, their relationships, and their legacy.

That phrase ‘begin with the end in mind’ reminds me of how strategic and visionary my God Son was as a child when he played with Legos. As an older child, he loved to create detailed and intricate Lego structures and models.  He could see in his mind’s eye what he wanted to build before he had even put one Lego piece strategically in place. But my God Son’s ability to create these designs took years of practice, rebuilding, persevering and learning. This learning started when he was quite young. I remember giving him a Lego model for his birthday. The Lego came with step-by-step instructions to create that specific Lego design and showed a photo of what the end result would look like. My God Son opened the box, laying the pieces out in an orderly fashion, and started with step one looking at the instructions on each page taking it step-by-step working toward that end result. Occasionally, he would miss a step or a piece and things wouldn’t fit correctly. That’s when he would call someone in to help him. He didn’t want it done for him, but he did want advice, or counsel on how to get back on track. He never quit when it became too hard to create that Lego model and in the end, when he was finished, the feeling of accomplishment was obvious.

As my God Son marries the love of his life this month, I realized building Legos can be a lot like building a marriage if we begin with the end in mind. When you put that phrase in the perspective of marriage you could say, “How do you want the marriage you and your spouse are building to be remembered when you reach the part about ‘until death do us part’?”

Starting with a clear vision of the marriage model my God Son and his new wife want to build requires that they commit to being the designers of their marriage; that they commit to being life-long learners, always humbling themselves, asking for counsel when needed, and scrapping their own expectations of what they each perceive a model marriage should be.

As I was searching for the perfect wedding shower gift for my God Son and his future wife, I found a book titled, Seven Rings of Marriage. This book focuses on determining a clear vision for marriage with the end in mind by understanding that all marriages have seasons of hope and brokenness.

  1. EngagementRing– this is a time to start laying the foundational pieces of a marriage.
  2. WeddingRing– this is where the commitment is made to God and each other as they build this marriage together.
  3. DiscoverRing – this is the season where they find that their spouse is NOT perfect and discover how they will choose to relate to each other in those imperfect times.
  4. PerseveRing – this is where they choose to continue on a course of action together, even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success; when they choose to go together and move closer toward each other.
  5. RestoRing – pieces of the marriage or of individuals are sometimes broken and this is when they must chose to forgive, allowing time for that broken piece to be returned to its former condition.
  6. ProspeRing – after they have faced challenges together, perspectives are different; they chose joy through it all.
  7. MentoRing – wise couples who have chosen to be life-long learners and builders of their marriage realize that they have an obligation to give back and support other marriages while sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

God has created a detailed and intricate model for each of our marriages. His Word acts as the instruction manual to help us see the clear vision of what our unique union will become.  So just like building Legos requires vision, discovery, rebuilding, and perseverance; building a marriage is an ongoing creative process that is done together with Jesus as our foundation.

Luke 6:48  New Living Translation (NLT) 48 It is like a person building a house who lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.

3 Things You Need To Know

There are many days I wish my three sons were little boys again. Those years were such a remarkable time of laughter, learning, and liveliness. Those memories make me want to linger in the past, but we all know when you stay embedded in the past we risk missing the ‘happening now’ moments that create new extraordinary memories.

Well, last week I experienced one of those ‘happening now’ memorable moments with my now older boys. I was on a short road trip with two of my boys.  I was sitting alone in the back seat looking through some mail as the boys sat in the front seats listening to music, that was unfamiliar to my ears, and enjoying a conversation with each other that I couldn’t fully hear. But something that my middle son said to my youngest son perked my hearing. He began by saying, “There are three things you need to know in this life,  1) Do what you know is right; 2) Know you are not in control; and 3) Make peace with yourself.”  I immediately asked him to repeat what he had said.  I wanted to make sure I had heard it all right.  His words seemed to be well received by his brother and carried so much wisdom.

Our conversation in the car continued as we traveled down the road. We discussed what those words meant to each of us, and my thoughts have returned to those wise words several times over the past few days…

  • Do What You Know Is Right – Perhaps the best-known universal moral principle of doing what is right is “the golden rule” or ethics of reciprocity, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing, but when you’ve found or done something that’s right, you have absolutely no doubt. You move forward without hesitation or question. You don’t need an affirmation from others to assure that what you’ve got going is right. You just know it.
  • Know You Are Not In Control – Have you noticed that things go more smoothly when we surrender to control and allow things to just happen rather than making them happen. Unfortunately, many of us are terrible at this. Learning the art of surrender means to stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop fighting reality. Letting go of control and surrendering not only makes us feel better, but actually produces better results.
  • Make Peace With Yourself – We can create our own peace of mind by the daily choices we make and with positive self-talk. If we choose to live each day we are given with integrity, then we can feel at peace. Life is tough sometimes, but as long as we hang onto our integrity, no matter what is happening in our world, we can lay down each night with a clear conscience and wonderful sense of peace.

I have always encouraged my three sons to explore, seek, and experience their life, for there is no end to living, learning, and making memories. I hope they will be honest and fair, because the truth will bring them peace.  I hope they are true to who they are, for inside each of them is a wonderful man. I hope they do not risk their integrity and beliefs for money or stature.  I hope they continue to support each other and take time to reflect on their accomplishments. I hope they keep family a priority and continue to make more memorable moments happen. I hope above all else, they remember those three things 1) Do what you know is right; 2) Know you are not in control; and 3) Make peace with yourself.

LEAD Rural | Piktochart Infographic Editor

Source: LEAD Rural

L.E.A.D. Rural is a leadership development platform and tool box for action developed by the Leadership South Dakota Rural Initiative Team. The Tool Kit that was created provides resources and information necessary to jump start action and guide community leaders.

L.E.A.D. Rural has established the following guiding principles:

Leadership
Empower
Action
Dialog

L.E.A.D. Rural is about change leadership—for individuals, organizations, and communities. While the skills and resources introduced in L.E.A.D. Rural will help in every phase of your life—family, work, and community—they are intended primarily to help you and your fellow citizens work better together for the common good.  L.E.A.D. Rural is designed for a broad range of citizens, making leadership training available to every person in a community. It is especially valuable for emerging leaders who want to learn new skills in order to address community issues; newcomers to a community who have not yet been asked to help; young people who want to work with others to bring about change; and established leaders who want to expand community engagement and work together for common purposes.

L.E.A.D. Rural was created with the awareness that many talented and resourceful citizen leaders need the necessary support and development to build and maintain a thriving community. We hope the resources provided in this Tool Kit will assist and support you in achieving your community goals.

L.E.A.D. Rural

Jumping Off the Hamster Wheel

Serene and peaceful.

Serene and peaceful.

This week I am on a long-awaited vacation with my husband and three boys to Yellowstone! It has been a hectic few months leading up to this vacation with work deadlines, home, family, community responsibilities, the never ending errands … and, of course, last week’s high school graduation celebration for my middle son.

In honor of this week’s vacation, I thought it would be fitting that I engage you in a discussion about the aspects of finding a work/life balance. We all feel like hamsters on their wheels sometimes.  Actually, now and again I feel like someone put me inside a tractor tire and rolled me down the pasture hill…BUT in honor of the fact that I am on vacation this week and did jump off the ever-moving hamster wheel, I’m going to suggest a few methods to get some balance back into our lives:

Method #1 – Organization

First of all remember, organization does mean different things to different people. But, getting organized in your own way will not only serve you in your quest for balance, but it will also make you feel better.  Organization is a real mood-elevating method that adds a feeling of tranquility to your daily life.  Here are a few basic things to think about:

  • Get yourself organized at work so that you are more efficient and productive while you are there. Efficiency means you are able to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort. Technology really has some great tools to help us get organized, but even old fashioned methods like keeping a written planner and documenting your tasks on a calendar is a great way to stay on top of deadlines and routine activities.
  • Organizing your home life, in my opinion, is more important than being organized at work. A little planning and communication can go a long way. At our house we delegate household chores and responsibilities between every family member. I also keep a list of my family’s favorite meals inside the cupboard door for those dreaded times when I say, “What should I make for supper?”
  • Finally, if you have a job, a family, and a house to run, you may need to use your organization skills to make sure that you get some free time for yourself. Carve out time to do some of the things you like to do like sports, community work, going to the movies, kayaking, reading, or shopping.

Method #2 – Time management

You can be as organized as you like, but if you don’t figure out what happens when and in what order, you may find your desk at work littered with household bills and your at-home bathroom reading consisting of grant proposals. Time management can be compared to money management: You need to set a time budget of priorities and what’s going to give you the best return on investment. Time management also means that when you’re at work, your brain is at work. And when you’re at home, it’s at home giving full attention to your family. Become a split personality and enjoy yourselves!

Method #3 – Delegation

You’re a multi-tasking maniac, burning the midnight oil, taking the heat when the office goes up in flames, and then putting out that fire. But, then personal burnout hits! What we must learn from these experiences is 1) You do not need to do all of it all the time all by yourself; and 2) You may be stealing the thunder from your very talented coworkers by underutilizing their considerable talents. So learn the D word: Delegation.

And of course, you should delegate at home. Kids can take on some of the chores to learn skills and responsibility. Allow teenagers who drive to run errands and chauffeur younger ones to activities.  Teach your 12-year-old to cook and you will have supper on the table when you get home! It may take a village to raise a child but it takes a lot of teamwork to run a sane household.

Method #4 – Simplification

In one word – serene;  in two words – slow down. Your life and well-being is worth more than fame or fortune, so work on simplifying your daily processes and find that work-life balance.

These methods are guidelines that I refer back to often when I overdose on work and too many activities, finding myself in that spiraling cycle toward burnout. Therefore, I feel honor-bound to tell you, at the close of this column, that I am by no means an expert in the art of a work-life balance.  But, saying it out loud and talking about the craziness of life with your spouse, your friends, your family, or your readers sometimes reveals a simple solution to getting off that hamster wheel more often.  Farewell, from Paula in Yellowstone!