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Work-life balance consultant Cali Williams Yost was meeting recently with three senior leaders in different industries, talking about their use of technology. One admitted to sending e-mails at 4 a.m. and on weekends to get a jump on the day and week. Another's cell phone, on the other hand, went into the individual's briefcase on arrival at home and stayed there, turned off, until the next day.

When Ms. Yost asked if they had sat down with their staff and explained how they prefer to connect with the outside world during those off hours, all shook their heads. On her Worklifefit blog, she notes they all responded with some variation of: "My staff all know that I don't expect them to do what I do." She doubts that's true, and told them that when leaders fail to clarify their personal preferences for staying connected and their expectations of responsiveness with their staff, it leads to misguided assumptions that can wreak havoc on the work/life balance of their employees.

She remembers one of her bosses who caught the 5 a.m. bus to the office and sent a flurry of e-mails during the trip. He was delighted that his team were morning people as well, getting right back to him, and was shocked when she told him they were setting their clock for 5 a.m. out of necessity, not wanting to look like slouches.

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She suggests that you decide what you really expect and then state those parameters clearly in a meeting. That early morning bus e-mailer told everyone that if he really needed them he would call them, or indicate directly on an e-mail; otherwise they could feel free to respond when they wanted.

"Assumptions people make about their manager's expectations are rarely accurate, especially when it comes to connection and access to work via technology. Set the record straight. It's an easy way to offer your people more control and consistency over the way work fits into their lives – something we all need," she concludes.

The need for speed

Famed organizational behaviour expert Margaret Wheatley believes "our road to hell is being paved with hasty intentions" as we equate productivity with speed. On, she notes that as a species humans are unique because they can stand apart from what's going on, think about it, and imagine things being different. But that's being lost in our effort to speed up and eliminate pauses.

"To think about whether you're losing anything of value in your life, here are some questions to ask yourself: Are my relationships with those I love improving or deteriorating? Is my curiosity about the world increasing or decreasing? What things anger me today, as compared to a few years ago? Which of my behaviours do I value and which do I dislike? Generally, am I feeling more peaceful or more stressed? Am I becoming someone I admire?" she writes.

If answering those questions sparks thought about what needs to change in your life, you'll need time to think about how to make such changes. But she warns: Don't expect anybody to give you this time to think. You need to claim it for yourself.

Rush hour roulette

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Clint Cora's house faces a Mississauga intersection that can get busy during rush hours and lately there have been four or five traffic accidents in the morning or evening rush hour. Usually it's somebody trying to outrun the yellow or even red lights, in a rush to get somewhere and frustrated by the light ordering them to slow down or stop. "The need to rush somewhere especially during rush hours is a symptom of poor time management. These folks just did not factor in adequate extra time needed either in the morning or right after work when traffic is the heaviest," the motivational speaker writes on

He suggests you factor in additional travel time in the morning, especially on snow days. That may mean waking up earlier in the morning and going to bed earlier at night, not just to give you the added time but to ensure alertness. Relax when you're driving – listening to music can help – keeping in mind it's better to arrive late but safe and in one piece.

Kindness is contagious

Patricia Katz has also been paying attention to traffic, in her case a road under construction where the cars have to thread the needle through a single lane. What she notices is that when one person slows down, creates a space, and motions for someone else to take advantage of that space, that gesture of kindness gets picked up by others. In her Pause blog, she calls it "civil obeisance," a little-noticed phenomenon compared to "civil disobedience."

The amazing part, she believes, is that it only takes one person to change the flavour of the morning for others. And she argues there are countless other times in our busy lives where showing similar grace – urging others to go first, lending someone else a hand – can create an epidemic of civil obeisance and better balance.

I just called to say...

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Dream a little dream with Nathan Zeldes. On his Challenge Information Overload blog, the IT engineer asks the cell phone manufacturing trade to give us a feature that is sorely needed: The opportunity to designate which callers the phone will ring (or vibrate for), so you'll know when close family calls but not be bothered by others.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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