Tag Archives: time

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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Time Is on Your Side (Except When It Isn’t)


decisionsThe wisest boss I ever had used to say, “Time is on your side.” No matter what the issue, he seemed to indicate, there was no reason to rush into deciding what to do.

I worked as a Human Resources Director in the division he managed. He had had a previous assignment in Human Resources, and he was very familiar with the personnel issues we handled. He was a good coach and mentor.

Many of the situations we worked on together involved deciding whether to fire an employee or not. In most of those situations, his advice to act deliberately was spot on. As time passed after the situation came to light, more information became available, tempers cooled, and the right course of action became clear. Even when there were differing opinions, the passage of a few days often revealed a path that could achieve a consensus.

  • Sometimes management reached a consensus to discipline the employee short of termination, when hotter heads might have pushed for discharge.
  • Sometimes the employee left of his or her own accord, seeing the handwriting on the wall. Then no decision was necessary.
  • Sometimes we agreed not to fire the individual, who then either shaped up and was salvaged or screwed up again and was fired with a stronger case.
  • Sometimes the termination provoked a lawsuit, but our cool deliberation made the situation more defensible in court.

I learned a lot from that boss—about taking the time to make the best decision possible. He was usually right.

Except when he wasn’t.

On some occasions, time is not on your side—a decision has to be made quickly. The trick to being a good manager and leader is knowing when you can delay to obtain better information and when you must make a call immediately.

Situations where time is not on your side typically involve potential death or injury, or significant property damage or damage to reputation that cannot be undone.

But even on these occasions, if you can take a few moments to consider your options, you are more likely to make a good decision.

Another helpful tool when forced into crisis mode is to make an incremental decision. Can you break the problem up into pieces and deal only with the most pressing issue for the moment?

Only experience will help you determine when you can wait to make a decision—when time is on your side—and when you need to make the call immediately. Just knowing that this is one of the issues you need to consider is a help to strong decision-making. Let time be on your side when you can.

When has time been on your side? When has it not?

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Meeting People Where They Are


I recently had to inform many family members and friends about the unexpected death of a close relative. It’s a difficult assignment.

I was surprised at the range of reactions from the people I contacted. Some were unbelieving. ”Are you kidding me?” one friend asked. Why would I kid about death? Some wanted all the details—details about the decedent’s health condition that really weren’t any of their business. Some were immediately compassionate toward the family. Some thought only about how the death would impact them.

Everyone had a unique perspective, based on the relationship he or she had had with the deceased. I tried to respond to each person based on how they reacted to the death.

This anecdote might not seem like it relates to the theme of this blog, “Behind the Corporate Veil.” But I found that my corporate experiences helped me with this very emotional personal duty.

As a lawyer, I learned that emotions are facts as much as dates and documents are facts. If someone is sad or angry, those emotions must be taken into account in handling a situation. And your own emotions are as important as those of the witnesses and opposing counsel you must deal with. So I knew I had to adjust my approach based on how the other person was reacting.

As a human resources manager, I learned that it’s important to hear people out, so they believe you care. And listening takes time. So I knew that offering my time to my friends and relations was the biggest indicator of whether I cared about them or not. I tried to take that time.

As a mediator, I learned that to reach an understanding, parties must have some appreciation for where the other sides is coming from—what is most important to them. It’s important to seek out what is important to each individual. Again, I tried to respond to what was important to the people I spoke to.

In each of the career roles I’ve had, I’ve had to meet people where they were in dealing with a situation. And so it was with informing friends and relatives about death. After all, we will need each other to cope with grief.

I hope that this new personal experience with emotions and listening I have had will make me a more compassionate mediator and mentor. I want the difficult time my family is facing to have some meaning, both in building our relationships and in making us better people.

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You Can’t DO It All Either: A Strategic Approach to Time Management


Last year the debate raged over whether women could “have it all,” based on an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic magazine titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” I posted my take on the issue here.

Its about Time Series III’ve been reminded recently that you can’t do it all either. We all must prioritize our time, and how we do so is critical to our success. The January 2013 issue of the McKinsey Quarterly contains two articles related to time management.

In Making time management the organization’s priority, Frankki Bevins and Aaron DeSmet describe a study of executive time management. They argue that companies should tackle time problems systematically rather than leave them to individuals.

“Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control; it has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.”

According to Bevins and DeSmet, almost 50% of corporate executives report that time management is a problem in their organization, so it is clear that changing how organizations prioritize tasks is important.

Executives are also not happy with how they spend their own time. Those that are dissatisfied with their own time management think they spend too much time

  • on online communications,
  • in meetings with other employees (as opposed to customers),
  • schmoozing with customers instead of working strategically, and/or
  • putting out fires.

By contrast, executives who are satisfied with how they spend their time focus on managing operational decisions and people and on setting the organization’s direction and strategy. They have significant blocks of time to work alone and with clients and customers, and they spend more time in face-to-face meetings than in online communications.

As a solution, Bevins & DeSmet suggest budgeting employees’ time like any other scarce resource. View time as a scarce resource, not as infinitely expandable.

In my experience, some institutions – those that bill time – are often already proficient at this. But even law, accounting and engineering firms are likely to take on more projects than their employees and partners can accomplish in a timely fashion.

And organizations often pile more work on the most competent employees, diluting the effectiveness of their best people. Instead, companies need to keep track of individual time commitments and re-allocate employees’ time where it can most benefit the organization.

Bevins and DeSmet also suggest that organizations set metrics for how much time is devoted to strategic priorities.

Time business concept.A companion article in The McKinsey Quarterly, A personal approach to organizational time management, by Peter Bregman, sets out a three step process for managing time as a strategic resource.

  1. Identify no more than five things you will focus on this year, based on your strategic goals. Spend 95% of your time on those things, with no more than 5% of your time on other things. Keep your focus on these strategic priorities.
  2. Help your staff create their list of five priorities. Their lists should be aligned with yours.
  3. These lists of priorities guide your management of your staff, so that they accomplish their priorities, which are aligned with your priorities, which are aligned with the strategic direction of the organization.

This is a process that any individual manager can adopt, although it will work best if the entire organization focuses on time management. Otherwise, a higher-up executive can foil his or her subordinates’ attempts to manage their groups with this process.

I worked for one vice-president who managed this way. He kept track of how he spent his own time every week. He set goals for the division, and worked hard to communicate those goals throughout the many-layered organization he managed.  He was the most focused manager I ever had, and I learned a lot about management and leadership from him.

How good are you at prioritizing how your time is spent? How do you help your staff members align their time with organizational priorities?

 

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