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Juggling Act

Help for the Harried : Workaholic Must Cut Back, Be Creative With Family Time

August 12, 1996|KAREN KAPLAN | Special to The Times

As responsibilities pile up at work and at home, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by it all. Sometimes it seems impossible to juggle the competing obligations of a job and a personal life. If only you could find someone--your own panel of experts, perhaps--to help you get a handle on your frazzled life.

That's the opportunity three of our readers got when they volunteered to share their daily routines with us and our three specialists in organization, stress management and work-life issues. Our candidates for make-overs were:

* Phyllis Badham Alzamora, a new mother in Newport Beach trying to grow a home-based business while she raises her son

* Sharon Arkin, a self-described workaholic from Foothill Ranch who devotes so much energy to her job as an attorney that she has very little left for her family

* Allen Lissauer, a single working father in Los Angeles who is struggling to hold everything together for himself and his two daughters

Our panel of experts were Leslie Godwin, executive director of Parent Support Services, a Calabasas consulting firm that advises employers on how to help their staff balance work and personal life responsibilities; Susan Silver, an organization and time-management consultant who is president of the Los Angeles-based firm Positively Organized and author of "Organized to Be the Best: New Timesaving Ways to Simplify and Improve How You Work"; and Zora Em Speert, a Santa Monica-based psychotherapist who specializes in stress management and relationship issues.

Perhaps their advice will apply to you too.

*

Attorney Sharon Arkin is a self-described workaholic. She often gets to her office between 3 and 4:30 a.m.--6 at the latest. Each day, she must prepare a slew of court documents by 3 p.m. Even when she comes in extremely early, the pace is frantic and the deadline pressure extreme.

To make matters worse, Arkin works in Claremont and lives 54 miles away in Foothill Ranch, near Irvine. She can make the morning commute in 45 minutes. When she leaves between 5 and 6:30 p.m., it can take an hour.

Arkin leaves the house too early for anything more than goodbye kisses for her longtime companion, Rodger Talbott, and daughters Jennifer, 13, and Alexandra, 7. Talbott, a human resources director, helps the girls get ready for school.

Arkin catches up with him by phone during the day and spends much of her evening commute on the phone with Jennifer.

"That's when we really communicate," Arkin said. "We talk about what's going on in her life."

Arkin enjoys cooking, but she is usually too tired to make dinner. Instead, the family eats fast food. Afterward, Arkin and Alexandra spend about an hour together. "She wants to spend more time with me," said Arkin, who often accommodates by letting Alexandra stay up past her bedtime. "I have a real hard time being strict with the kids because I feel so guilty about never being there."

That leaves about an hour with Talbott before settling in for a few hours of sleep.

Arkin's early-morning schedule sounds impossible, but she set it up that way. "I don't think morning time is quality time," she said. "I don't want to miss that evening time. But because I get up so early, I'm so tired and weary at night, and my patience level is a lot lower."

Arkin says she knows she should delegate more at work, but she refuses to give assignments to people who might not complete them correctly.

Arkin says her supervisors acknowledge the problem, but she doesn't want to quit her job. "They are really wonderful and considerate people," she said. "But finding someone who can do what we do is very difficult. It took six months for them to find the last person" to help with her workload.

In the end, though, Arkin doesn't resent her long hours. "I love what I do so much because it's challenging and meaningful," she said.

But she says she is overwhelmed with guilt over the lack of quality time with family.

"I feel guilty because along with all the normal societal expectations, I feel like I should be devoting more time and effort and energy and concern to my family," Arkin said.

Solutions

Arkin's problems clearly stem from her outrageous work schedule and long commute, but our experts say she need not quit her job as long as she cuts back on her hours. Quitting would be traumatic because work is her main source of personal satisfaction.

"She feels in a unique position to help potential clients, that they need her help and that they have no one else to turn to," said Leslie Godwin, executive director of Parent Support Services of Calabasas. "The positive side of this is that she feels needed and that her work is very meaningful. The downside is she feels compelled to work until she physically can't"

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