Category Archives: Work/Life

Time Management is YOUR Problem


Its about Time Series III’ve written before about discretionary time—the concept of having time that you control and using it for your own priorities.

That concept has hit home for me again recently. I have a new project that I am trying to squeeze in on top of all my other projects. This new endeavor takes five to ten hours a week for about eight weeks. That’s a lot of time to find. What can give? I’m cutting some activities, streamlining others, hoping a few matters have deadlines with some flexibility.

This week I also read an article on LinkedIn by Shane Atchison entitled, “Schedule for the Unexpected,” Oct. 21, 2015. Mr. Atchison recommends scheduling one hour of flex time for yourself every day. That’s time you deliberately leave free to deal with the daily crises that always seem to arise. I’ve had a few of those recently, while trying to cram in my new project.

When I worked in corporate roles, I used to ask my administrative assistants to save me two hours of “work time” every day. They could move the time around without consulting me to accommodate meetings I needed to attend. But they couldn’t cut into those two hours of unscheduled time without asking me first, unless it was my boss or the CEO who wanted my time.

This system worked pretty well. There were obviously times that I had to give up my work time, but most days if I had two hours in my office, I could keep up with phone calls, email, make dents in major projects, and still leave the office by 6:00pm feeling like the next day was manageable.

So I’m thinking now that, once I get over the hump of this current project, I need to do a better job of scheduling flexible hours each day for myself. Now that I work for myself, it is harder to make time for long-term priorities when there are so many short-term issues that arise each day. The problem is the same as when I worked in a corporate role—but I no longer have an assistant to guard my time.

I have to guard my time myself. If I don’t manage it, no one else will.

What tricks do you use to manage your time?

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Happy Labor Day! Take Time to Celebrate and to Plan


labor.day.02During the summer months, it is often difficult to move ahead on projects. People are not in the office, and even with smartphones and other technological devices that keep us in touch, communications slow down. Most employees cannot operate at a frenetic pace forever, and the opportunity to breathe and relax is healthy for everyone. Labor Day is the last gasp of summer.

But for productivity to be what it needs to be, vacations must end and work must resume. There are less than four months left in the year. In many businesses, Labor Day marks the beginning of a final push toward accomplishing objectives set for the year.

This Labor Day, the last holiday of summer, take a moment to reflect on the successes you have had so far this year—both personal and work-related. Savor them. Be thankful. Celebrate with those you care about.

Monday night, take another moment to plan your Tuesday. What are the three things you MUST accomplish on Tuesday? Write them down.

And what are three more things you MUST accomplish by the end of the week? Write them down also.

Then, on Tuesday, hit the ground running. There are less than four months left in 2015.

Happy Labor Day!

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Making Dramatic Career Changes


toughdecisionsI read an article recently entitled “Thinking about making a dramatic (and scary) career change? Here’s what to consider,” by Sylvia Lafair, (July 6, 2015), on The Business Journals website.

The article got me thinking about the three dramatic career changes I’ve made in my life:

  • taking my first job as an attorney in a corporate legal department in a strange city rather than starting at a law firm (as everyone expected)
  • leaving the legal practice to move into a series of Human Resources assignments
  • leaving the corporate world completely to turn to mediating, consulting and writing

Each of these moves set off the emotions similar to those that Ms. Lafair described. Specifically, for me, the emotions were

     1.  Fear of the unknown and leaving what seemed safe

I knew I could do well if I followed the expected path. That even seemed true of the expected path right out of law school. I didn’t really doubt that I could do what others in my law school class were intending to do—work at major law firms near our school. But setting out halfway across country, and working in a corporate law department? Would I get adequate experience to move into other legal assignments in the future? Would I have the same respect from other attorneys and judges? These were my unknowns.

When I decided to leave the legal department for a Human Resources assignment, I knew the learning curve would be steep. I was jumping into a senior HR position with no HR experience. I thought I knew about half of what I would need to know, and that turned out to be correct.

Then, when I left corporate work altogether, I left a good salary and benefits, not knowing for sure if I could earn what I needed to as a consultant and mediator. It turns out my family has done fine financially, but the worry was there for the first couple of years.

     2.  Excitement at the possibilities a move could bring

The strong camaraderie I felt with the people in the corporate legal department ultimately outweighed the doubts about the work. I made my decision based on who I wanted to work with, and that was the right decision for me. One of the law firms I could have joined right out of law school folded within five years, so it would not have been more secure than the job I took.

And I moved into HR largely because I was bored at the repetitiveness of the law practice I had. I needed something new to interest me, and I knew I needed to move to another job to find it. The choice was to leave the law or leave the company, and I chose to leave the law, because a new field of expertise would give me more opportunities to learn.

And finally, I knew I wanted to spend my time doing many things that a demanding full-time job would not permit. That’s why I switched to consulting, mediating, and writing, which has let me set my own schedule.

   3.  Indecisiveness, while I wrestled with the decision

It took weeks for me to make the first decision, months to make the second, and years to make the third.

   4.  Guilt in leaving expectations of family and friends behind and choosing my own path

Choosing the path less seldom taken is always stressful. Why should I move halfway across the country to take a risky job? Why should I leave a field where I was successful? Why should I leave a financially rewarding career?

I got many questions from family members and friends, who essentially wanted to know why I was “dropping out” as they saw it. However, over the years, I’ve seen many friends and colleagues make similar decisions. I guess I was just an early adopter.

* * * * *

In the end, at each of these periods of indecisiveness, the pain I felt at following the expected path became greater than the fear of the unknown. For others (perhaps those with a healthier mindset), excitement about the future may come to outweigh the fear.

If you are faced with a difficult career decision, take a look at Ms. Lafair’s article and see if her suggestions help.

When have you made a change in your career, and what emotions did you experience?

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Five Tips on Managing Work and Family: Here Is How She Does It


51dDweLYrsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_There’s a new book out on working mothers—I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam. Ms. Vanderkam took a data-based approach to the issue of how women manage both a career and children. She asked women in highly paid professional jobs who also have children to keep hourly records of what they did every day for about three years.

Her book makes the case that the women she studied—all of whom were mothers with children still at home who earned at least $100,000 per year—actually don’t have such rough lives. While they may not “have it all,” they have a lot. They are not stress-free, but they are pretty satisfied with their lives.

Ms. Vanderkam’s website promotes the book as follows:

“I Know How She Does It offers a framework for anyone who wants to thrive at work and life.”

So what is the framework? How do they do it? Primarily by taking control of their lives. Here are the primary take-aways I had on how they do it, and how the rest of us can, too:

1. Flexing Your Time

The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s study flex their own time, even if they don’t have formal approval for doing so. During most weeks, they do something personal during normal working hours. (And, of course, they do some work during off hours as well.)

It isn’t surprising that women in this group had the ability to flex their time. Most people earning more than $100,000/year have a support staff and technological tools that can cover for them when they are gone. They can mask their absences, both by handling email and phone calls when they aren’t in the office and by getting work done outside of normal working hours.

This isn’t new. In fact, back in the early and mid-1980s, I flexed my time when I needed to, handling personal matters during work hours and taking work home every night, so I’d have something productive to do if a child woke up sick in the morning. Maybe I was ahead of the times, but I doubt it. I just did what I needed to do to feel capable both at work and at home.

2. Managing Your Time

Moreover, the women featured in Ms. Vanderkam’s book are good planners. They take time at the end of each day to plan the next day. They take time at the end of the week to plan the next week, so they hit the ground running on Monday. Not surprisingly, time management is critical to getting a lot done. And their time management is accurate—they are honest about how long things will take.

Again, not a surprise. Every really successful manager I know is good at time management, or has a trusted assistant who manages his or her time. I think the issue of taking time to plan is something that is hard for some people, but I have always found that the work goes faster and more smoothly if I do spend time planning.

3. Taking Care of Yourself

In addition, these women take care of themselves—they exercise and get the sleep they need. They also have support—a committed partner (when available) and reliable child care providers.

At salaries of more than $100,000, Ms. Vanderkam’s surveyed group has more than many women do. But for all of us, it is a matter of getting the support we need. The one thing I have agreed with Hillary Clinton on over the years is that it takes a village to raise a child. The more support parents have, the better.

4. Making Choices

The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s book also may not spend their time on conventional activities. If they can’t get home for dinner, they have breakfast with their kids. They make time to play with their kids when they can. They don’t watch much television. At work, they skip as many meetings as they can.

And they don’t do it all. They make choices about what’s important to them and focus on getting those things done. The rest they let their partner do, or they hire someone else to do it—house cleaning, grocery and other shopping, etc. Again, money is a help. But we all do things because we think we’re expected to do them. Instead, we should focus on what is truly important to our specific family.

5. Putting in the Time

The only real surprise for me was that the working mothers in Ms. Vanderkam’s book worked an average of 44 hours/week. I would have guessed it was north of 50. Many executives—women and men alike—do have to work more than 44 hours/week. In all things, to be successful, you have to put in the time.

I think of the years when my children were small as being some of the roughest years in my life. Nevertheless, I was successful in my career, and I was available at home. I put in the time both places. The years were rewarding both financially and emotionally, even if I didn’t get to read many novels and gave up baking cakes.

What tips do you have for managing your work and personal lives?

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Finding Your True North—A Year-End Reflection


northAs I head into the end of each calendar year, I tend to spend some extra time in reflection. I recently found a list of ten things we should do to find our own true north. The list was in an old file, and I labeled it as coming from a presentation I attended by Dr. Terry Crane. However, I could not find Dr. Crane on the Internet, so I cannot provide further credentials. If anyone has links to Dr. Crane’s information, please send them to me in the comments below.

Here’s the list (it’s a good one):

1. Get an education.

2. Be an expert . . . in something.

3. Don’t take no for an answer.

4. Cultivate mentors—male and female—and never burn a bridge.

5. Build & keep your network; don’t lose a headhunter.

6. Be able to apply technology and understand how it impacts your business.

7. Become a mentor yourself—do not leave others behind.

8. Identify your support system—family and friends—know what’s important to you, and what your tolerance and flexibility are.

9. Take risks—do what’s uncomfortable, you can always go back.

10. Develop a passion for the work you do—it’s too much a part of your life not to.

Based on this list, how are you doing in finding your true north?

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Managing Time & Other Resources: When Do You Take the Easy Way Out?


yoga“The body wants to do the easiest thing possible,” my yoga instructor said to the class a couple of weeks ago. His remark reminded me of my first college class, Economics 101, when the professor began our semester with the words, “Economics is the science of getting the most output for the least input.”

We all want to take the “easy way out,” whether it be in physical endeavors like stretching and strength building, or whether it be our use of resources such as time and money. We want to expend the least physical and mental effort we can and get the greatest result.

Other adages related to resource management include

  • Anything worth doing is worth doing well, implying that we should work until we have done the best we can.
  • The perfect is the enemy of the good, meaning that we should do “enough,” but not strive for perfection.

So which philosophy is the best to adopt, whether at work or in other aspects of our life? Do we strive to overcome our instinctive quest to do things in the easiest way possible, to settle for “good enough”? Do we do enough to get by, but not worry about doing our best? Or do we put out all the effort we can, hoping that the extra effort will pay off?

The answer, of course, is that it depends.

I’ve written before that “systematic neglect” is a valid decision-making philosophy. As I learned from Robert Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, part of a leader’s responsibility is to decide what not to do, which tasks to ignore. However, we are responsible for the consequences of our neglect.

During my career, there were times when I decided that it was in my best interest to expend extra effort and put out a stellar work product. But there certainly were other times when I put a project on the back burner long enough for it to go away entirely.

And there were times when I was caught with a project undone when it bubbled into crisis mode.

I wished I could tell ahead of time which tasks would become unnecessary and which would become catastrophes. Unfortunately, making good judgments on these issues takes a lot of experience, and even then, it is an inexact science prone to failure.

Still, most of us figure out a balance between doing everything and keeping our sanity. At work, figuring out our own personal balance is part of learning who we are and where we fit in the organization.

It is critical to figure out our balance to be successful, whether we are an individual contributor, a manager, or a CEO. We learn to think about which projects have short-term impacts and which have long-term criticality.

We also learn that the balance changes constantly, as our job changes and as the organization’s needs change.

Whether to take the easy way out is ultimately a decision we make every day. In yoga class, in our careers, in our families.

Think about a time when you took the easy way out—did it work?

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Mid-Year Self-Assessment (It’s Not Just About Performance Objectives)


R&O book coverI urged you at the beginning of June to assess your performance against your objectives. But self-assessment is far broader than just looking at your work objectives. Every so often I return to books that have been influential in my life. One of those is Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women, by Marian N. Ruderman and Patricia J. Ohlott. I’ve referenced that book before on this blog. Mid-year is a good time to review the Ruderman & Ohlott analysis of what high achievement requires, along with your performance objectives. Ruderman and Ohlott discuss five themes they found when researching high-achieving women (though I don’t believe the importance of these themes are limited to women). Their themes are:

  1. Acting authentically—keeping your daily actions congruent with your values and beliefs, and not in conflict with principles you hold dear
  2. Making connections—building relationships that matter, and and getting close to people who are important in your life
  3. Controlling your own destiny—acting with agency so that you take control of your life and your success
  4. Achieving wholeness—integrating all parts of your life into your personal sense of identity
  5. Gaining self-clarity—knowing who you are and how you fit into the world; you might call it gaining wisdom

Obviously, these themes are all integrated, and you can’t achieve success in one area without moving forward on others as well. But I have found this five-facet framework to be a usual tool for reviewing my life and determining where I need to focus most immediately. I’ve been returning to this book for around fifteen years now, and whenever I open it, I find something that I can work on. (Which makes sense, since none of us is ever perfect.) This summer, as I reflect on my life in all its facets, I feel good about the following:.

  • Authenticity: I am living my life in accordance with my values.
  • Wholeness: I like how the multiple parts of my life today—family, writing, consulting, mediating—combine to give me a sense of wholeness (though from day to day one aspect or another seems to be taking too much time). I’m not entirely where I want to be in designing my life, but I’m in better shape than at many points in my past.
  • Self-clarity: And after so many years of working on self-awareness, I hope I have some clarity about myself (though some of my family might differ).

However, I do have some things I am working on:

  • Connections: As an introvert, I struggle constantly with making connections. Who do I want in my life, beyond my family and closest friends?
  • Control: Because I am too likely to comply with others’ requests of me, I also have a hard time with controlling my own destiny—I let other people take my time and define my success too easily. I do pretty well, but I must constantly reassess how I am spending my time and what to do about where I’m out of balance.

This brief post is not sufficient to fully describe the five themes that Ruderman and Ohlott offer for those seeking success. But perhaps you can get the sense of how my self-assessment exercise works. At this point in your life and your year, you might take an hour to reflect on each of these five themes. Or use another reference to define areas for self-assessment. The importance is to spend the time in reflection. Where in your life are you going strong? Where do you need to rebalance? Find Standing at the Crossroads at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And for other posts on my blog about self-awareness, click here

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