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spike bullet July 2001 - Balancing Life and Work 

Life Inventory Assessing Balance
Are You in Danger of Burning Out? (assessment)
Coping with Job Burnout
Burnout Club Rules & Regulations
The DOs and DON'Ts of Helping Others
16 Tips for Tough Times
Tips for Organizing Your Desk
Resources (links, books, articles, humor)

color bulletBalancing Life and Work

Two of the topics frequently requested by people who take our survey are "Balancing Life and Work" and "Stress Management."   This month we offer some tools to assess how balanced your life is and tips for avoiding job burnout.  This material is adapted from a recent Victim Advocate training institute held by the MADD Orange County and MADD Los Angeles chapters and used with permission.  In addition, we offer a guest article with tips on organizing your desk to exert some control over office chaos that contributes to daily work overload. 

Life Inventory

There are four areas to this life inventory: healthy work, family, play and self. 

1 = Never True     2=Sometimes True     3=Often True     4=Always True 

Put the number that best fits you in the blank beside each statement. At the end of each area you will get your total score by adding the eight numbers in each area and putting the sum in the blank at the end of the area. 

Area 1: Healthy Work 

  1. _____ I have many interests outside of my work duties 
  2. _____ I spend as much time after hours with family and friends as [at] I do with co-workers. 
  3. _____ I enjoy my work today as much as ever and I am productive and effective at what I do. 
  4. _____ I work overtime only on special occasions. 
  5. _____ I am able to leave my work at the workplace. 
  6. _____ I am good at organizing and pacing my work time so that it doesn't interfere with other commitments. 
  7. _____ I work moderately, pace myself and confine my job to regular working hours. 
  8. _____ I spend an equal amount of time relaxing and socializing with friends as I do working.


Area 2: Family 

  1. _____  I communicate well with the members of my family. 
  2. _____  I take an active interest in the lives of my other family members. 
  3. _____  My family spends quality time together. 
  4. _____  My family plays together and takes family outings regularly. 
  5. _____  I participate actively in family celebrations and traditions. 
  6. _____  I have good interpersonal relationships with other family members. 
  7. _____  I enjoy spending time with my family. 
  8. _____  My family and work life are in harmony with each other.


Area 3: Play 

  1. _____  I socialize with friends who are not co-workers. 
  2. _____  I enjoy social gatherings. 
  3. _____  I like to unwind with friends. 
  4. _____  I go out socially with friends. 
  5. _____  My social life and work life are in harmony with each other., 
  6. _____  I enjoy inviting friends to my home. 
  7. _____  I like to play and have fun with others. 
  8. _____  It feels good to laugh, have a fun time and get my mind off of work.


Area 4: Self 

  1. _____  I plan time each day just for me to do whatever I want to do. 
  2. _____  For fun I have a hobby or recreation that I enjoy. 
  3. _____  I take time out each week for my spiritual development through activities such as worship, inspirational readings, meditation or a 12-step program. 
  4. _____  I eat nutritional, well-balanced meals. 
  5. _____  I make sure I get adequate rest. 
  6. _____  I engage in daily physical exercise. 
  7. _____  I send myself positive mental messages and try to look for the best in myself. 
  8. _____  I make sure I get my personal needs met. 



  1. Using the Balance Wheel of Life that follows, put an 'X' on the number in each area that corresponds with your total score. 
  2. Draw a line from that number to the center of the wheel. 
  3. Then darken the entire area of the circle from your total score back to the number "8".
  4. Repeat these steps for all four areas of the wheel. 
  5. The part of the wheel that has the biggest shaded area is the area in which you are most balanced. 
  6. The part that is less complete is the area of your life that may need attention. 

Are You in Danger of Burning Out? 

Rate each question on a scale of 1 to 5: 

1 = never,     2=rarely,    3=sometimes,    4=often,     5=always 

Your Job

  1. _____  Are you overloaded with work? 
  2. _____  Are you denied time off -breaks, lunch time, sick leave, vacations? 
  3. _____  Are you required to work long shifts or frequent overtimes? 
  4. _____  Are you provided with too little training in interpersonal skills?  
  5. _____  Do you lack clear guidelines for your job? 
  6. _____  Does your job entail so many different tasks that you feel fragmented and overwhelmed?
  7. _____  Is your pay too low? 
  8. _____  Are you lacking enough funds to accomplish agency goals? 
  9. _____  Do you lack access to a social/professional support group? 
  10. _____  Do you spend considerable time with fellow staff after hours?

Your Attitude: 

  1. _____  Does excessive paperwork seem to keep you from doing a good job? 
  2. _____  Does it seem like you have to make all the decisions around the office? 
  3. _____  Do your boss's skills seem to be totally inadequate for that position? 
  4. _____  Are you sometimes confused about whether you should be helping people or controlling them? 
  5. _____  Does it seems that people in distress are usually too upset to make important decisions? 
  6. _____  Are you emotional needs met almost entirely by your job and interactions with colleagues? 
  7. _____  Do you feel you have to do everything you are asked on the job? 
  8. _____  Do you feel there is a rule for every situation and every situation fits a rule? 
  9. _____  Does it seem hopeless to try to change the system? 
  10. _____  Do you feel you must respond to all requests of your clients and your administration? 

How You Feel: 

  1. _____  Do you feel a loss of the ability to be an effective helper or leader? 
  2. _____  Do you dread going to work? 
  3. _____  Are you exhausted even when you get enough sleep? 
  4. _____  Do you feel unappreciated and "used" by clients and co-workers? 
  5. _____  Do you get angry or irritated easily? 
  6. _____  Do you worry at night and have trouble sleeping? 
  7. _____  Do you have recurring headaches, stomachaches, or lower back pain? 
  8. _____  Do you feel overwhelmed by your job? 
  9. _____  Do you resist telling people what you do for a living? 
  10. _____  Is it difficult for you to unwind at the end of a work day? 

Your Behavior: 

  1. _____  Is it difficult for you to empathize with clients about their problems? 
  2. _____  Do you seem to categorize clients rather than listen to their individual needs? 
  3. _____  Do you consistently use labels when discussing your clients? 
  4. _____  Do you enjoy "sick" humor about clients with other staff. 
  5. _____  Do you try to avoid clients and co-workers? 
  6. _____  Do you apply the rules more rigidly than you used to? 
  7. _____  Do you generally seem to express negative attitudes? 
  8. _____  Have you been increasing your use of tobacco, drugs and/or alcohol? 
  9. _____  Do you miss work frequently? 
  10. _____  Are you always watching the clock? 


0 - 40         =     Level of stress is in good balance 
41 - 80       =     Level of stress is low,
81 - 120     =     Level of stress is moderate, need awareness of burnout indicators
121 - 160   =     Level of stress is high, experiencing burnout 
161+          =     Level of stress is excessive 

Coping with Job Burnout 

Is it happening to you?  Worn out, exhausted, tired, not wanting to get up in the morning, drained, unable to see relief in sight? If this sounds like you, you may be falling victim to burnout 

"In today's high pressure world, burnout is often referred to as 'the disease of our times', but few people are able to recognize it and even fewer understand its causes and the preventative measures that can be taken to avoid or lessen its impact," says clinical social worker Jackie Price. 

According to Price, burnout is actually a syndrome that is the end-result of stress.  It is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion accompanied by an inability to continue to struggle toward the achievements of goals and expectations.  Signs of burnout include negative thinking, avoidance of conflict, guilt, anger, resentment and the feeling that work is a burden. 

"Individuals suffering from burnout frequently tell themselves, 'I must be all things to all people,' or 'To be a worthwhile employee I must work long hours and take work home.'  Given these beliefs, they enter into a vicious cycle.  It often goes something like this: 'I am too tired to do what I should be doing so I will slack off and let some rest.'  Followed by, 'I am not doing what I expect of myself and need to work harder.'  Followed by, 'I am pushing myself too hard and need to slow down.'  On and on it goes in a downward spiral.  Because it is difficult to stop this downward spiral, prevention is the best cure," says Price. 

Several personality types that are highly susceptible to burnout include the worker who tends to take on too much, for too long, too intensely; the worker whose needs become secondary to his work, using work as a substitute for real life; and the worker who is so in need of control that he never feels anyone else can do anything, as well as he can.  These individuals are often placing themselves under high levels of stress, performing unpleasant tasks, unable to see success in their work, isolated, and unwilling, to ask for help. 

During periods of high demand they excel, but as the demand keeps up, they begin to show sips of wear. "Learning to cope with the stress associated with work and home is also beneficial.  It is also important to remember that the world has changed.  The standards and attitudes instilled by your parents may need modification in today's world.  Working in a demanding and changing environment takes energy and stamina," says Price.  If you are burned out, you won't survive long.  You will find yourself becoming disillusioned with your work and your life.  The following actions can reduce your stress level in the workplace and in many other aspects of your life: 

  • Distinguish between what you can change and what you can't; accept the givens. 
  • Establish a priority list of job tasks and learn to delegate. 
  • Mix up stress and non-stress projects. 
  • Set limits. 
  • Build a support system of co-workers and friends. 
  • View yourself as having alternatives and choices. 
  • Take things less personally. 
  • Re-examine your values - clarify what is important in the roles you play. 
  • Recognize internal (shoulds, oughts) sources of stress. 
  • Provide your own reinforcements. 
  • Acknowledge at the end of the day, each week, what you did that was good. 

Burnout Club Rules and Regulations

  1. Be a "perfectionist" - never accept anything less than perfection.
  2. Work at least ten hours each day; work as many holidays as possible.
  3. Adhere to a diet of "fast foods" and candy bars.
  4. Adhere to inflexible idealism.
  5. Assume the responsibility for solving the problems of all your friends, family and co-workers.
  6. Never delegate any responsibility.
  7. Never say "NO" - try to please all of the people all of the time.
  8. Never waste time relaxing.
  9. Never exercise.
  10. Never take any time off for yourself; if you are ever forced to do so, feel as guilty as possible about it.
  11. You must remember that everyone comes first - your needs come last.
  12. Above all, get emotionally involved in everything you do.  Learn to empathize in all aspects of your life.

The DOs and DON'Ts of Helping Others

Some of these questions are directed specifically toward counselors, those who help others or who are in support roles.  This includes most supervisors, managers and executives, who must frequently deal with the stress of co-workers or employees.  Change the words to fit your own situation. 

  • DON'T try to "fix" the situation or the other person.
  • DO attempt to comfort and assist those you work with.
  • DON'T jump to conclusions; DO get all available facts 
  • DON'T try to be the "hero".
  • DO utilize your resources and ask others for theirs.
  • DON'T offer what you cannot deliver or make promises you cannot keep.
  • DO use referrals to help accomplish the job when needed.
  • DO listen completely with as few interruptions as possible.
  • DON'T impose your values and beliefs on the other person; realize that people in stress will find comfort in their own cultures, traditions and beliefs. 
  • DON'T undermine your usefulness by draining your emotional resources.  Maintain a healthy separation between your work and your personal life. 
  • DON'T allow anyone to push you beyond your limits.
  • DO learn to say "NO" in order to maintain your boundaries to avoid burnout.
  • DON'T ignore your own emotional reactions to the suffering of others.  Have someone to whom you can talk about your feelings.
  • DO enjoy helping others. 
  • DO remember - you are not alone.  Use your own support system when needed. 

16 Tips For Tough Times 

Research and experience shows that when people with anger problems change their self-talk, their anger DE-ESCALATES and they regain control.  When you feel yourself starting to get angry, take a TIME OUT and read these statements to yourself. 

  1. I do not need to prove myself in any situation.  I can stay calm. 
  2. As long as I keep my cool, I am in control of myself. 
  3. 3. No need to doubt myself.  What other people say doesn't matter.  I am the only person who can make me mad or keep me calm. 
  4. Time to relax and slow things down.  Take TIME OUT. 
  5. I feel angry; that must mean I'm hurt or scared.  My anger is a signal.  Time to talk to myself and relax. 
  6. I don't need to feel threatened.  I can relax and stay cool: 
  7. Nothing says I have to be competent and strong all the time.  It is okay to feel unsure or confused. 
  8. It is impossible to control other people and situations.  The only thing I can control is myself and how I express my feelings. 
  9. It is okay to be uncertain or insecure sometimes. I  do not need to be in control of everything and everybody. 
  10. If people criticize me, I can survive that.  Nothing says I have to be perfect. 
  11. If people want to go off the wall, that is their thing.  I do not need to respond to their anger or feel threatened. 
  12. When I get into an argument, I can stay with my plan and know what to do.  I can take a TIME OUT.
  13.  Most things we argue about are stupid and insignificant.  My anger results from having old primary feelings restimulated. It is okay to walk away from this fight. 
  14. It is nice to have other people's love and approval, but even without it, I can still accept and like MYSELF. 
  15. People put erasers on the ends of pencils for a reason.  It is okay to make mistakes. 
  16. People will act the way they want to, not the way I want them to. 

Tips For Organizing Your Desk: Lights, Camera, ACTION FILES!

(by Monica Ricci)

Your desk is the most important part of your office. It is a work space, however many people make the mistake of using the desk as a storage space!  In order for you to be focused on the task at hand, the desk should be clear and free of distractions, such as piles of paper, books, notes, bills, etc.  How can you manage these items without losing them, find the information you need to work on, and still have a clear work space?

Action files!  Action files are merely temporary homes where papers live until they either end up filed away permanently or thrown away.  Your action files may sit on the far corner of your desktop, they might be in your file drawer, or in baskets on the credenza.  Whichever method works for you is fine.  Label them according to what actions fit best with your industry. (ex: CALL BACK, TO FILE, TO READ, TO MAIL, TO PAY, etc).  Clearly label your files so you will always know what is in them, and just as importantly, the labels will remind you what not to put in them.

An important add-on to your action files is a HOLDING file.  This will be a key player in the organization of your office space, as it will hold all the information that requires an action some time in the future, rather than immediately.  For example, if you get an invitation and map to a seminar you'd like to attend in a few months, how do you keep that information without losing it or forgetting about the event entirely?  This is precisely where the "Holding file" comes into play. 

You simply mark in your calendar the date you wish to take action and what the action will be (ex: September 5, Marketing Seminar at the Hilton) then you make an "H" next to what you've written, which is a visual indicator that the information pertaining to this event is living in your Holding file.  The key to using your Holding file effectively, is to use it in conjunction with your calendar. It's a dual system: the note in the calendar reminds you of the action you need to take, and the "H" next to the note reminds you of where the details of the information are being stored. Once the action is taken, remove the physical information from the Holding file and either file it or throw it away. 

Some examples of what to keep in a Holding file:

  • Airline tickets and itineraries
  • Party/seminar invitations
  • Directions to events
  • Letters to follow-up on
  • Auto tag registration

In short, your Holding file is a temporary home for anything with an action deadline either in the near or distant future. The system gives you a way to safely put things out of your mind until it's necessary to think of them again, thereby freeing your mind up to focus on your immediate priorities.

Using action files to get a handle on the swirling paper storm will give you control over your environment, which creates a great sense of self-confidence in business.

Monica Ricci, 2001 used with permission.  
Monica is the founder of Catalyst Organizing Solutions in Atlanta, GA. She speaks to groups and companies about the benefits of choosing a simpler life and how to cut the chaos. She is president of the GA Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Contact Monica at:
770-416-6613 or Monica [at] web: 

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