Category Archives: Work/Life

Managing Personal Crises and Work


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I had another topic planned for today’s post, but then life got in the way. A relative had a health crisis I had to deal with. This crisis made me decide to write about the ongoing struggle for balance between work and other aspects of life, a struggle that never ends, no matter what stage of our career we’re in.

This past week was certainly not the first time that personal issues have interfered with my professional plans. I raised two children while working full-time in a demanding professional job. When one of our children was ill, my husband and I often argued about who needed to to to work more and whose work responsibilities could be put on hold for a day . . . or two. Most of the time we were able to split the burden fairly equally, but it didn’t always work out that way.

Both my husband and I were fortunate because we had some control over our calendars . . . most days. But we each had some courtroom appointments and other meetings that could not be rescheduled.

We were also fortunate that, while we might get raised eyebrows from coworkers when we couldn’t be at work for family reasons, we were respected enough and we had others in our workplaces dealing with similar issues. Therefore, our careers were not seriously at risk. I think we both might have earned more over the years if we had not been viewed as professionals who did sometimes have to juggle family responsibilities, but we weren’t going to get fired over an absence or two.

For the past ten years I have been self-employed, working as a mediator and Human Resources consultant. Now I have even more control over my calendar, but I am also more dependent on the number of hours I work for income.

bulletin-board-3233653_640I was fortunate this week. I could instantly juggle my schedule to deal with the current health emergency. It meant I skipped one meeting and wrote this blog post off the top of my head instead of a post requiring some research. Some weeks I have obligations I would have difficulty rescheduling, but this week I could do it. So I did. Without any hesitation.

At this point in my life, I relish flexibility more than a higher income. And I know I am fortunate to have the resources to make that choice.

I encounter many younger professionals who haven’t yet had to make serious choices between work and other responsibilities. I also know many senior professionals who look askance at the decisions I’ve made to reduce my scheduled commitments—and therefore my professional status. There are days when my diminished income and role in the business world bother me, but most of the time I am happy with the trade-offs I’ve made.

What choices have you had to make over the years? What choices have others around you made? How do you feel about both your own choices and those of your coworkers?

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Filed under Human Resources, Management, Philosophy, Work/Life

Blog on Hiatus


Just last week I wrote how the pace in many businesses slows during the summer months. That is not proving true for me this year. In fact, a new project is consuming my time. Therefore, I am taking a break in writing this blog. I will be back around Labor Day.

In the meantime, here are links to some of my most popular posts:

And click here to see all my “Favorite Firing” posts.

Or here to find information about my novel, Playing the Game.

Hope your summer goes well.

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How to Avoid Burnout When There’s Always Too Much Work


work-2196609_640Memorial Day weekend is the traditional beginning of summer. In many workplaces the pace slows during the summer months—maybe it slows a little, maybe it slows a lot. For employees who are burned out, the more relaxed pace might help.

Still, in today’s 24/7 world, the slowdown of summer might not be enough. In fact, one of my most stressful times as an employee was one July and August when I was assigned to defend a major lawsuit. I had to take on this new work even though none of my existing work had gone away.

After a few weeks, I realized I couldn’t juggle the caseload I had. I was leaving the office completely frustrated every evening. Finally, I talked to my department head about how to reallocate the workload.

It was that or quit. I was that burned out.

A recent article in Fortune, “The Solution to Avoiding Burnout That Nobody Tells You,” by Laura Chambers, published May 10, 2017, tells of a time when the author’s supervisor told her she would have to learn to drop some balls to avoid burnout. This is counterintuitive for most high-performing employees.

Actually, author Laura Chambers describes a more nuanced approach to managing the workload than simply not doing projects. She describes two kinds of employees, the burnouts and the droppers, and says neither is ideal.

She says that when there’s too much work to accomplish, the best approach is to become a “communicating prioritizer.” She suggests identifying what you believe the top priorities to be, discussing them with your supervisor and team to be sure there is agreement on what the priorities are, then focusing on the highest priorities.

As a manager, Ms. Chambers says about her staff:

“When they communicate their priorities, it shows me that they’re on their game, they’re confident about where they’re headed, and I know I can count on them delivering with confidence. It also demonstrates that they’re managing their own work-life balance, rather than relying on someone else to manage it for them.”

Turns out, I didn’t do so badly in going to my manager to discuss what I could do and what I couldn’t. I was communicating, as Ms. Chambers recommends. However, in retrospect, I see that if I had offered more proactive suggestions myself on how to reallocate the work, I might have done better. My manager and I worked it out, but I put most of the burden of prioritizing on him.

And perhaps Ms. Chambers’s manager could have done better by helping her prioritize than by telling her to drop some balls.

How have you managed periods of burnout in your career?

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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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