Give Your Brain a Break

As we approach a holiday weekend and the rollout of summer, now is a good time to take concrete steps to give your brain a break. “A break from what?” You may ask. A break from being “on” and in hyper-alert mode for four months straight. 

I’m willing to bet that most of our brains could use a break. For weeks now, they’ve been scanning the news, scrolling through apps, ingesting forecasts, responding to texts, sifting through email, sitting on video conference calls, monitoring chat threads, reviewing to-do lists, and ruminating over what we haven’t been able to accomplish at work.

Giving your brain a break is like taking a mental vacation.  You want to let your brain rest and restore itself, rather than constantly pressuring it to react and respond to all of the information and tasks it’s been holding. Giving your brain a break is crucial because every mind needs time for reflection and regeneration. Your mind needs rest now so that it can help you do your best work and make your best decisions in the near future.

Here are a few simple (but not easy) things you can do to give your brain a break:

  • Take a vacation from the news – Much of the news we ingest is designed to get our attention – it’s sensational. Overtime, it inflames and agitates the brain’s nervous system. If you can, refrain from consuming news for an entire day or a weekend. If you can’t do that, try limiting your intake to once in the morning and once in the evening.
  • Take a break from social media – This means staying away from social media for a day or two. Some people take week-long breaks. Try taking a picture of your family and NOT posting it immediately. Or play a round of miniature golf, and don’t message anyone while you’re playing so that your brain can be present for the whole experience. 
  • Spend time in nature – Time spent in a natural setting walking, picnicking, hiking, swimming, biking or simply sitting and taking in fresh air is a balm for the brain. Listening to the sounds of nature – water rushing, birds chirping, leaves rustling – also helps the mind relax and refresh. 
  • Put your unsolved problems in a box – This technique is designed to help you let go of those problems that cannot be solved by ruminating on them. It’s an interesting exercise in letting go – if only for 24 hours. Write down an unsolved problem and put it in a physical box or container. Consider it an act of decluttering your brain. You will free up space for more creative ideas.
  • Immerse yourself in music or art – Playing music you love, taking in art or photography or film that you are passionate about can relax your mind and release emotions. It’s especially helpful to the emotional sections of the brain that benefit from soothing sounds and beautiful images. 
  • Do something that makes you laugh a lot – Is there a movie you find hysterical? A writer who cracks you up? A comedian who you find endlessly funny? Maybe there’s a friend whose humor brings you to tears (of laughter). Laughter is a great release and relaxant for the brain. Whatever tickles your funny bone, do it. 

During the last four months, our brains have been working overtime. We’ve used them to handle the pandemic, to respond to social, political and economic upheaval. We’ve used them to plan our days, take care of our loved ones, show up for work, and do the best that we can under strange and adverse conditions. I invite you to apply these ideas (or your own) to give your brain the rest it needs. It will thank you.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.

Negotiating During a Pandemic

What are you negotiating for at work? Is it a promotion? A raise? Working from home full time? A new position? Working less? Changing teams? Retirement?

Whatever aspect of your work life you are currently negotiating, the pandemic makes an already unpredictable task more stressful then usual. Negotiating is not everyone’s favorite thing to do. It can be a sweat-provoking activity that causes many people to freeze and take what they are offered. Many of us don’t negotiate often enough to feel competent at it. So here is a crash course on how to negotiate – even in a pandemic. 

1 –Prepare and Plan. 

Know what you want. Know what you want in a perfect world and what you can live with in a pandemic world. Be realistic. This may require doing research.

2 – Clarify and Justify

Be direct and clear in your ask. Practice (on friends) asking for what you want. Get comfortable saying it. More importantly, come up with solid reasons for your ask. Is your request justifiable because of your market value? Does your promotion or raise make sense based on your accomplishments? Be ready with documents (sales reports, list of accomplishments, industry standards) that clarify and justify your position. 

3 – Ask for more than you want

This can be challenging for those of you who are uncomfortable advocating for yourself. It’s important to ask for more than you want, as you will most likely not get what you initially ask for.

4 – Waiting and silence are important.

Do not speak or write again until you get a response to your initial ask. Quickly speaking or writing to fill in the blank space will show the other person that you are uncomfortable. This is when we inadvertently lower the bar for what we could get. Waiting is where the sweating comes in. If you come off too eager or desperate, you will not get what you want.  

5 – Look for a Win/Win solution.

Both sides will want to win, so it’s okay to compromise. By being accommodating, you will be seen as a collaborator. Your negotiating partner will see you in a better light and will be more likely to strike a deal. 

6 – Get closure in writing

Make sure to close the negotiation with some kind of written agreement. Whatever you are able to negotiate, get it in writing. Verbal agreements are nice but they don’t protect you from possible backsliding or misinterpretation over time.


  • Avoid. Do not use the strategy of avoidance, hoping the situation will resolve itself.  Avoiding never works to your benefit.  It may take the pain of negotiating away, but the result will be less than what you could have received if you’d stepped up and stated what you wanted.
  • Play innocent. Put on your big adult pants and ask for what you want.  No one else will do it for you.

Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.

Are Your Priorities Changing at Work?

The past few months of weathering the pandemic, and living with social, political and economic upheaval, have also acted as a time for reflection and reconsideration of what really matters to us. Where ever you are in your career, you may be re-calibrating your priorities.  

As we enter the summer months and (hopefully) take some time to restore our bodies and minds, this could be a good time to reflect on what your priorities are, and how they may have shifted. After months of sheltering in place, weeks of home-schooling, and days of working remotely or not at all, what truly matters?  

Here are some areas to consider:

Work hours 

Before the pandemic, were you a constant worker bee? Did you look at work email before getting out of bed every morning? Did you refuse to take breaks or vacations? Were you the person who closed the office at night and worked every weekend?  

Perhaps you have come to realize that such a compulsive approach to work took a toll on your body and mind, and interfered with your family life. Maybe now it’s important to incorporate breaks during the day, exercise during the week, and plan non-work activities over the weekend. 

Eating habits

I know this may sound weird, but I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they’ve changed their relationship to eating and food. Pre-pandemic were you the king or queen of take-out? Did you purchase most of your meals via take out or dining out? Was your refrigerator a place to store cold water, leftovers, and batteries? 

Perhaps, like many of the people I’ve spoken with, you’ve learned to cook and prepare meals at home. You actually like the experience of making your own food. Maybe you’ve become skilled at shopping for fresh produce and healthier snacks.  Your new priority may entail continuing along this path, transforming mealtime to a more nourishing, creative experience.

Climbing the corporate ladder

Ambition and drive are a great thing. But a number of my clients have been reflecting on the cost of always trying to get ahead.  Before the pandemic and the protests pointing to institutional racism, it was easy to simply believe that what mattered in terms of professional development was getting that next promotion, or successfully navigating company politics.

Today, you may be reconsidering the value of complying with company politics at the cost of your values.  If equity, diversity and inclusion matter to you, it may be essential for you to participate in campaigns, meetings, education, company initiatives to address this issue. There may be other aspects of your company culture that you’re no longer willing to tolerate for the sake of advancement. 

Family life

While it was easy pre-pandemic to give lip service to family life, many hardworking professionals felt a constant tension between fulfilling the demands of their careers, and tending to their families. They expressed regret for missing so many important moments at home but rationalized that the extensive travel and long hours at the office were a necessary evil in order to fund their lives. Were you one of those people?

These days, I’ve heard a number of professionals admit that while being grounded at home has been stressful in terms of juggling work, family, and personal time, they have also become better acquainted and more appreciative of every member of the family. Perhaps the new priority will be retaining and sustaining some of that family closeness by reducing time away for work. 

These are just a few areas to think about. You may have other priorities that have come to your attention in terms of what matters to you now regarding your career, and the role work plays in your life.  Whatever they are, I invite you to reflect on what matters to you this summer. Better priorities could be one of the gifts of these trying times.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.

New Social Contracts for the Workplace

social contract is an unofficial agreement shared by everyone in a society in which they give up some freedom for security. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau popularized the idea of the social contract in the 1700s, but it’s just as applicable today. A good example is when we go to the airport and go through security. We may not like it, but we understand that it’s a freedom we give up for the benefit of safety in our society. 

Social contracts in the workplace have primarily been between employees and employers where employees receive a living wage in exchange for their labor. This exchange would help employees achieve a stable life while employers would be able to produce their goods and services. As the workplace and what constitutes work have changed so has that philosophy of a social contract. Now, because of technology and the restrictions in place with COVID-19, that former social contract is being further challenged. 

When reasoning through this new challenge here are five areas that need rethinking:

1 – Working virtually most of time. So many companies resisted having staff work from home for years, but guess what? We learned through the pandemic that it works! Staff have worked harder and have not missed a beat. This experiment of working from home because of the quarantine has proven that working virtually works and people like it.

2 – Flexible work hours. Another lesson the quarantine has taught us – if we do need to commute or take an elevator or fit into the same office space close to our coworkers, then we can not all do it at the same time. In addition, having also having our children homeschooled taught us that we must be flexible as people do have full lives.

3 – Equity and diversity. This is a topic that has been talked about for way too long. Its time has come, and each organization should take some time now to agree that they will hire and promote a diverse team instead of hiring and promoting the same people who look like themselves. It is going to take real effort and a level of self-awareness to do things differently. You may want to seek help.

4– Social distancing, the handshake, and buffet lunches. Adjusting to these social rules is going to be a hard one for me. I’m a hugger. I hug most of my clients. I’m sorry to say I will not be hugging anyone until we have a vaccine. Handshakes? No way! So what is your plan? Will you bow? Greet others by touch elbow to elbow?  Wave? And forget about sharing platters of food for a while.

 5 – Wearing a face mask. Many spaces including retail stores, supermarkets, hospitals, doctors offices, office buildings, elevators, etc. require you wear a facemask, and yet some people feel it does not apply to them. The department of health in most states is giving recommended guidelines for the workplace so how will your company handle this?

Understanding that Social Contracts are mutually understood arrangements for the greater good, we know that what constitutes greater good today is significantly different from what it was four months ago. How are you going to participate? How is your organization going to participate? Let us know how it’s going at your place of work.

Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.

The Importance of Being Present

With all of the upheaval and uncertainty we are facing, it can be more challenging than ever to be in the present moment. With the threat of another wave of COVID-19, with the death and losses already endured from the virus, with the pain and outrage over police brutality and the many forms of institutional racism that plague our communities, our emotions are running at a high pitch. Our minds either race forward to predict outcomes or look back to assign blame. 

No matter how angry or sad or anxious you are, coming into the present moment can help.

Being in the present moment gives us the chance to take a break from projecting forward with catastrophic images, from obsessing about what is coming. Being present creates the space to feel our feelings, breathe into our bodies, and slow down the racing mind. 

Being present is not a solution to the many challenges that lie ahead, but it is a tool for managing our feelings and projections more effectively, so that we can take constructive actions in the short term. 

If, for example, you find yourself constantly worried about the future of your industry or concerned about losing your job, being present can give you the headspace to examine the reality of your current situation – exactly what is happening – and generate a list of small actions that you can take to protect yourself right now.  

How do we bring ourselves into the present moment?

  • Breathe – Check your breath right now. Is it shallow or deep? Is it fast or slow? Are your chest and shoulders tight or loose? Can you feel your stomach going in and out? Breathing slowly, deeply, consciously for 5 – 10 breaths will do more than anything to take you out of your head and put you into your body. Regular deep breathing will take your mind out of obsessing about tomorrow and into dealing with today. 
  • Exercise— We’ve said it before and will say it again, exercise is a great way to move the emotional and mental energy in your body, to release tension and stress, and to ground you in the present moment. The more wound up you feel, the more you will need to exercise. Run, walk, do video workouts, try yoga, play a sport – if any of these options work for you, make sure to do them.
  • Take an inventory – This tried and true technique for getting out of your head and coming into the present moment involves answering five questions that examine your current reality and clarify your options: What’s happening here (what is the story that has you emotionally wound up)? What are the facts? What is beyond my control? What is in my control? What are my options?
  • Meditate – Meditation is not about rising above what’s happening, it’s about learning to sit with whatever feelings and thoughts you have so that they aren’t just surging through your body creating discomfort. You can try meditating on your own or enlist the help of an app like Headspace, Calm, or 10% Happier. Whatever form of meditation you attempt will help usher in the present moment.

As we venture back to work, as we contend with the many public health, economic and societal challenges ahead, it is worthwhile to make a concerted effort to stay in the present moment as often as possible. By grounding ourselves in the present moment, and making short term plans, we can turn sadness into compassion, anger into activism, and anxiety into constructive planning.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.

Tough Conversations Require Executive Presence

You are probably facing some difficult conversations at work regarding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). If not, you should be. Now is the time.  

Entering these uncomfortable discussions requires the first rule of executive presence, Know Your Audience. Knowing your audience means that you are able to communicate the necessary messages without ruffling feathers. You know the audience well enough that you can speak to their fears with compassion and speak into their biases with no judgment. Not knowing your audience brings the risk of not being heard, which results in not helping yourself or others.

Listen up – before you walk in or phone or zoom into any of these conversations consider the following:

1 – Think about the receptivity of those in attendance. 

  • Are they old school and close minded?
  • Are they defensive?
  • Are they kind but very sensitive?
  • Do they think they are colorblind but they aren’t?
  • Is there someone who will back you?

2 – Check in with yourself.  

  • Are you feeling too angry to speak?
  • Are you too emotional and need time to retreat?
  • Are you feeling rushed and pressured into this?
  • Do you fear telling your truth at work?

3 – Get to a higher place  – above your initial feelings and into your wisdom.

  • You may need to exercise -take a run or engage in any form of exercise that helps to cool your system down.
  • Meditation can also help.
  • Try journaling, writing your thoughts out.
  • Talking to a professional or an experienced facilitator can help. 

4 – Communicate from a place of clear, refined messaging.

  • Think about what people can hear, not what you want them to hear.
  • Carefully choose your words to move the conversation forward, instead of using words that generate conflict.
  • Listen and watch for reactions; if your tone or words are not working, change your tactic.
  • Don’t blame, don’t accuse and don’t point fingers. 
  • Listen with compassion. 

As you embark on difficult conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, you may be experiencing all kinds of emotions like anger, fear, dread, and exhaustion. But, as long as you are willing to tackle these issues, you can bring about necessary, long-awaited change. Let us know how you are doing, and if we can help.

Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.

The Next Transition – Back to the Office

As some of the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic begin to lift, and some people cautiously begin to return to their work environments, we are tasked with the job of managing yet another period of transition. It is the transition from the safety and predictability of our quarantined home environments to the uncertainty and potential risks of the outside world. It’s the transition from the daily routines and practices that we have established while sheltering in place, to the new routines and practices that involve people and things outside of the home.

Even if you are still working from home, you are probably in transition. You and members of your family may now be interacting more with the world at large by venturing out to see friends, visit stores, go to restaurants, travel short distances, or participate in outdoor events. 

Transitions can be tricky. They can bring up a range of feelings – from fear and anxiety to impatience and irritability.  Transitions heighten our emotional reactions; they put us a little more on edge.

If, for example, you are returning to your office after several months away, just the thought of returning to your former work setting may set off both excitement and anxiety. If you see that one of your coworkers is less cautious than you are regarding social distancing, you may feel a flash of anger or fear. As you head to the office, you may experience a sense of dread – even though you know that your company is putting all of the necessary safety precautions in place. 

Are you in transition? Are aspects of your home life and work life changing? If so, here are a few suggestions for how to manage emotional ups and downs that may come with change: 

  • Appreciate that change, even positive change, is disruptive.

As difficult as the past few months have been, you managed to carve out a routine and to establish new patterns of living. Now, you have to change the mix of activities again. It may be great to expand your world, but stressful at the same time.

  • Do things to help yourself calm down and cool off.

Releasing pent up energy through exercise, walking, dancing, working out, biking, etc., remains one of the best self-care things you can do, but it’s especially valuable during times of transition. If you have an exercise routine, stick to it. If not, consider developing some kind of physical outlet to calm your nerves and lower your emotional temperature.

  • Decide which healthy routines you want to keep in place.

You may have developed some good habits over the past few months. Better eating, more family time, shorter workdays, time for hobbies. As you transition out of sheltering in place, retain the routines that you value. It will help you feel a greater sense of comfort and control.

  • Get extra rest.

As you consider re-entering your former work environment, your mind will be working double time preparing for and planning your next steps. Your body and brain will benefit if you commit to getting plenty of sleep (if possible), and finding time to unwind at the end of the day. 

Managing transitions during normal times can be challenging. During these unpredictable times, changing your working and living patterns may be both welcome and stressful. Give yourself credit for being in transition, and take care of your mind and body as you move forward.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.

Do You Have Staff Who Are Afraid to Return to the Office?

In just a matter of days, the coronavirus pushed people inside their homes, accelerating a digital transformation around the world.

Getting workers out of their homes and back into offices is going to prove harder. According to a new survey by researchers at India-based workplace services firm Ionotrics and San Diego–based Global Workplace Analytics:

77 percent of the workforce wants to continue to work from home at least part of the time once the pandemic is over. That’s up from 60 percent one month ago. That’s a 132 percent increase from before the coronavirus crisis, according to the Work-from-Home Experience Survey in which more than 2,600 employees from around the world participated.

As the country is opening up, employees are faced with a decision – do they go back to the office or not? Many of my clients are telling me that members of their staff are fearful about returning. Compassion still reigns. You may have to consider each person, and the factors that they are grappling with. If you have a staff member who fits into any of the following categories, their return will most likely be delayed:

  • They have kids at home who need home schooling
  • They have underlying health concerns
  • They are over the age of 60
  • They live in a metro city and use public transportation

In some states, employees who fit into one of these categories may qualify for unemployment – if they must return to the office and are not able to. Other employees most likely need reassurance and to be listened to. It’s important to calm nerves and listen to staff concerns. Here are some guiding principles:

  • Ask your staff what they need in order to return to the office safely.
  • Plan and communicate how you are preparing the office for their return
    • Cleaning – Describe your ongoing plan for keeping the office clean from Covid 19
    • Spacing – Follow the CDC’s guidelines for distance in the office
    • Wearing facemasks and gloves – Will you be supplying them or do they need to bring their own?
    • Rotating schedules – 2 days in, 2 days at home. Think low capacity
      commuting before or after rush hours.
    • Change in dress code – I’m going to predict that the workplace is about to get really casual
  • Take it slow. 

Coming out of the cave after a long winter, a bear needs time to acclimate. You may want to start with visiting the office ahead of opening, and encouraging your staff to do the same. Then try two days the first week and see how it goes.

  • Offer emotional support if possible. 

Professional coaches, therapists and clergy can talk to your staff about their mental health. It will pay off in the long run.

  • Be transparent about possible layoffs, furloughs or job eliminations. No surprises please, let them prepare.
  • Have real communication about diversity.  

Create guidelines for behavior in these conversations, and have a moderator who keeps the conversation constructive. Offer books and movies as resources. Have conversations that allow staff to express their fear, pain, and anger. This kind of sharing can be extremely emotional, so make sure you to have professional support around it.

  • Practice People Over Profit  

Sure, we are working to earn money, and companies must be profitable to hire people, and I know that in some industries robots will replace people. Given this reality, how can you make the workplace a desirable and safe place so that people want to work for you? 

Please let us know how the transition back to the office works for you and your company.

Kathi Elster – Executive Coach and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises.

Contact us at for any further help around this topic.