Tag Archives: work

When a Major Project Is Over, How Do You Decide What Comes Next?


2A83XPT89B.jpgI have just finished a major project and I’m at loose ends. I’ve been at this point many times in my career. When I worked for a corporation, there was usually another project waiting to take the place of the one just finished. In fact, I generally had many projects overlapping, though sometimes one took precedence. But now that I work for myself, when one big project ends, I need to motivate myself to move on to the next.

For the last couple of months, I have been bringing a huge writing project to closure. It is about to be published (not under the Sara Rickover name, so I can’t tell you what it is). I have spent countless hours on the minutiae, and I am just now able to raise my head and look around me. What work do I take on next? I ask myself.

In the corporate world, when I had a moment to think about what came next, I would assess what in my job was boring me (that I wanted to do less of), and I’d think about what interested me and how I might expand my expertise (that I wanted to do more of). That’s how I moved from defending employment cases into drafting employee benefit plan documents—it felt like it was time for me to broaden the service I could provide to my Human Resource clients, and employee benefits was a way to do it.

At other points in my career, my boss asked me to move into new areas, and I had little choice. That’s how I got into handling property tax assessment disputes for one division and specialized contract work for another division. Not glamorous stuff, but these matters did teach me more about business, and I’ve used both skills in non-profit work I’ve done in recent years.

Now I am faced with several possibilities for what comes next. The advantage is that I get to choose. So, how do I choose? Here are some of the questions I am asking myself:

  • Do I do what seems like the logical next step?
  • Do I do what will teach me the most?
  • Do I do what will make me the most money?
  • Do I do what I most want to do?

And after asking myself these questions, I asked: How can I make one project address most of these needs?

I think I’ve landed on my next project. It is an outgrowth of the project I just completed, but I want to structure my approach to this issue differently. I hope with a new approach I will learn new things. It isn’t necessarily what I most want to do, but I am getting excited about it as I plan the first steps.

What do you do when you get to choose your next project?

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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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A Leadership—and Life—Resolution


leadership sign 2Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. What is it? Who has it? How do I improve my own?

One trigger for my thoughts was a blog post by Randy Conley from October 19, 2014, entitled Do You Have the Constitution to Lead?  He recommends that we each have a leadership philosophy and that we codify our philosophy in a personal mission statement.

I scoffed at this post when I first read it. I’ve never been big on personal mission statements. Nor corporate mission statements. In my opinion, the value of these documents is not in the words on the paper but in the thought and discussion behind them. And too often, the thought gets left behind after the words are written.

In another post, Conley agrees with my first reaction:

I used to think this [crafting a mission statement] was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission, and express them succinctly and coherently.

But even though I’ve belittled the notion of personal mission statements, like Conley, I crafted one a number of years ago. Mine was (and is):

“To do right, to do good, and in so doing, to do well.”

But what does this have to do with leadership?

Everything.

If I truly believe my mission statement, then I must do right and do good BEFORE I worry about doing well. That means that as I lead—whether in paid employment, in volunteer organizations, in family, or in any other endeavor—I must first seek to do the right thing and also seek to do good for those around me and for the greater community. Only then should I worry about the impact of my actions on myself.

Sounds a lot like servant leadership.

Conley’s post goes on to recommend that you identify your core talents and values and define them in terms that others can understand. And that you communicate your values to your followers.

Most importantly, of course, is that you live your mission statement, whether you consider it a personal mission statement, a leadership constitution, or simply a philosophy of life. The words we use are far less important than our actions.

For more good posts on leadership, see

5 Hard Truths About Leadership That You Never Stop Learning, by Scott Span

Lead at your best, by Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie in McKinsey Quarterly

The 5 Critical Things That a Good Manager Never, Ever Delegates, by  Laura Stack

As we enter a new year, a year that will bring many challenges and tribulations, I resolve to do right and to do good in all aspects of my life.

What is your leadership resolution for 2015?

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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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