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12 posts from December 2008

December 30, 2008

To-do list help with work life balance

    I just read a year-end wrap up on celebrities and was startled by the answer one star gave when asked what she does to relax. Her answer was make to-do lists. That wouldn't be the answer that immediately comes to my mind but I can see her point. When you're trying to balance work and family, making lists often gets the clutter off my brain and onto paper. Once I make the list, I do find myself more relaxed.

Recently, I asked some guys I work with if they make to-do lists. I was curious whether it was just a female thing. Most told me they did. If you write lists,  how many ways do you currently use to capture things to do?

  • Tasks scribbled on Post-it notes?
  • Scraps of paper with to-dos?
  • Phone numbers crammed into your wallet, purse, or pockets?
  • Ideas jotted down on meeting handouts?
  • A pile of paper in an inbox? And on the table? And in your briefcase? And … well … everywhere?

  Blogger Dave Navarro suggests figuring out a way to merge all your lists into one list and do it constantly. Dave merges his smaller lists into a master list in a moleskin notebook. I prefer writing it in a planner but I've started jotting lists in my cell phone and then moving them to my master list in my planner. Anyway, with the new year arriving, it's the perfect time to organize your list making technique.

    Do you find it relaxing to make lists? Do you find it critical to your work/life balance?


December 28, 2008

Talking to kids about finances

      My husband and I decided this year, we would have a staycation this winter break. Not only are we saving money by staying home, we're talking to the kids about the concept of spending more carefully in 2009. As the year comes to a close, I have been talking to friends about whether they are discussing the financial crisis with their kids. One of my friends who is out of work tells her son she can't afford the things he asks for but she hasn't really sat down with him and explained how job loss affects the family finances.

   Kidsandmoney                          Today, I read an article in the WSJ by the Intelligent Investor suggested having a year-end financial talk with your kids. "No matter what your circumstances -- whether you lost half your retirement savings, had your year-end bonus eliminated, seen your business shrink, gotten your hours cut back, been laid off -- the financial crisis is a threat to your family's mental and physical health," the article says.  Apparently, studies show how much money families earn doesn't affect how happy kids reported themselves to be. What did predict happiness was how forthright the families were in discussing financial problems.

     The trick, is to explain finances and problems without telling kids more than they need to know, psychologist Alison Mountford told the WSJ. So, if you're going to attempt to talk to your brood about money issues, here are some tips provided by the Intelligent Investor:

* Be consistent. Amid financial uncertainty, emphasize familiarity , continuity and the comfort of simple routines. Stable mealtimes, bedtimes and a regular time for exercise will reassure everyone that some things still remain within your control.

* Be heard, not overheard. No matter how big or small your financial problems, don't discuss the painful details unless you are certain your children are out of earshot.

* Identify what matters. Don't hide any concrete changes that might disrupt your kids' lives -- changing from private to public school, moving to a smaller house. But do assure kids you will make the most of it. 

* Challenge your children to help you find ways to save more or budget better. This also may be one of the best opportunities you will ever get to distinguish wants from needs.  Let your kids make suggestions -- a family movie night with popcorn and free videos from the local library may be even better than an expensive night out.      

     After reading these tips, my husband and I talked to our kids about our budget for the new year. We challenged them to each come up with a way for the family to save money in 2009. How involved do you think kids should be in discussions of family finances?

December 22, 2008

Set different work/life priorities in 2009

        Most of us start thinking about our resolutions this time of year. We will set our career priorities for 2009. We will vow to make ourselves recession-proof at work. We will vow to find a new job or prove why we should get a raise. We will vow to get in better shape or lose weight. But maybe you should set your work/life priorities for 2009.

    Kathie Lingle,who leads Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP),  says employees need to get into the work/life movement on their own behalf. She insists they've been too passive. Whether it's a flexible work arrangement you seek, reclaiming your lunch hour,  or just getting out of the the office at a decent time, "you have to believe fervently that you deserve a personal life, define what your personal priorities are with as much clarity of purpose as your performance objectives at work, and then be willing to fight for them."

    On the Work & Life blog, one commenter says, "employees are fearful of causing friction, or tension with their manager or peers. That can actually cause more stress, which then creates a feeling of, “Why bother?” On the other hand, as someone who has never been accused of being “passive,” I agree with you that employees should at least ask for what they need. After all, if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?" Click here for a Flexible Work Arrangement Request form.

    Yes, we all want to do our part to ensure our employers stay afloat in 2009. But does that mean our work/life balance should suffer? If you want a more fulfilling personal life, are you prepared to act like you mean it in 2009?

December 17, 2008

Holiday stress heating up this week

   I've noticed people are particularly crabby this week. Yesterday, I grew more irritable as the day went on because I interacted with so many others who were irritable. I'm going to blame it on holiday stress.

  This year, there seems to some additional stress factors: More potluck office parties. That means, an additional to-do on your list. (I'm opting to buy rather than cook my contribution this year)  And then there's the fact that kids will soon be off school and most of us feel the pressure to get a lot done this week so we can ease up or take vacation time over the next two weeks. And of course, most of us are operating on a tighter budget this year so there's the pressure to do our holiday shopping, yet find  the bargains.

   Should you add the stress of buying gifts for co-workers or bosses to your already busy life? The Holidays are always a tricky time around the office.  Things like buying presents for people, going to the holiday party, and getting time off are on everyone’s mind.  This article on MSN covers all those things and gives some really good advice.

    Then there's the office holiday party that makes some people irritable. Career and Kids  says going to the holiday party is a must politically. "If you don’t, you look like you’re not a team player. You might even miss out on some good insight by seeing your coworkers and bosses in a different light. So…. is the holiday party really just another work day? Yes, in a way. But at least it’s a work day with drinks, party dresses, and prizes!"

     Are you finding yourself super-stressed out this holiday season?  Have you taken any extra steps to avoid letting others see your stress?


December 15, 2008

Shopping on company time

     Admit it, you've shopped on company time. I have. But then again, I've worked on my own time. These days with the line between work and home becoming more blurred, it's hard to draw a distinction between the two. And so, with the holiday season in full gear and Hanukkah and Christmas creeping up on me, I'm shopping online, switching between screens as emails come announcing discounts at my favorite retailers.

    I'm in good company. Visitors to e-commerce sites spent $846 million on Cyber Monday this year, an increase of 15 percent over the same day a year ago, according to ComScore. Cyber Monday is the first working day after the year's busiest shopping weekend. This year it fell on December 1. By some estimates, the Monday online shopping spree cost employers more than $488 million in lost time. (Where are the polls showing how much of our personal time we give our employers?)

   As Websitesource.com notes, "Why waste precious gas rushing to the mall on your lunch break when you can fulfill your family’s Christmas wishes with the click of a mouse from the comfort of your office?" It also says men are more likely than women to shop from work. Who knew?

    Ease is a big factor, according to CIOnews. Company pipes are bigger, so the Internet connectivity is better, and people are time-challenged.  Some employees to do their online shopping  first thing in the morning, or lunchtime, while others tend to take their browsing break after finishing a chunk of work.

   It it ethical to shop on company time?  "The line in the sand ethically is also all over the place. Some people see their breaks are employer-sanctioned personal time. Others feel, 'Hey this place works me awfully hard, I'm going to take care of myself first.'"

    What would your employer think?  Studies show that employers’ attitudes about online shopping are evolving, generally in favor of giving more leeway to employees, according to CIOnews. “Where many companies once blocked access to high-volume shopping sites, they now use threshold software that simply limits the amount of time an employee can spend on such sites,” noted Susan Larson, VP of global threat analysis and research for SurfControl, which makes filtering software for workplaces.

      Tech departments say those of us who do this are putting our company at risk. Security expert Troy Saxton-Getty of St. Bernard Software Inc., a San Diego-based provider of security products that monitor online traffic, says in a troubled economy, shoppers are more likely to seek out bargain sites and ultimately put themselves, and their companies, at risk. (note to self, stick to reputable websites)

     Given the round-the-clock demands made on many American workers, a little holiday shopping on company time is no big deal, right? Weigh in on the topic by participating in my poll.   


December 10, 2008

Recruiters struggle with work/life balance

       Until this week, I hadn't looked unemployment from a recruiter's perspective. Today, in my Miami Herald column, I profiled Victoria Villalba, 43,  and Jason Galvao, 27. Victoria of Victoria & Associates is married and a mother of a college aged daughter. Jason of Manpower Professional is single and struggling to detach enough from work to have a social life.

  Victoria29_smallbiz_biz_jvb    The idea for the story came to me when I gave Victoria a ride from one networking program to another. While sitting in my car, her BlackBerry had constant activity, emails from people who had lost their job, desperate for work. Many of those emails ended with these three words, "I take anything!"

      I could see Villalba was exhausted. She hadn't slept much the night before, troubled by the desperation in some of the e-mails she had received. Remember, recruiters are paid by the clients, the companies looking to fill a professional position. As Victoria's lobby fills with candidates each day, the number of positions she has to fill is significantly less -- she says the ratio of qualified candidates to jobs is about 40 to 1. It quickly became apparent to me that recruiters are becoming pseudo therapists, social workers, career counselors and sometimes even targets of misplaced anger.

  Jason    Jason told me candidates often take it out on him when a hiring manager at a company takes longer than expected to make a decision or when they learn they didn't get the job. For Victoria and Jason, finding work/life balance is increasingly a daily struggle. Who wouldn't find themselves working well into the evening when day after day you're listening to the pleas of former executives who can barely pay their mortgages.

       It makes me wonder what other professionals are facing the same intense struggle to keep work from overwhelming their personal lives in this troubled business environment. Are you experiencing this complete consumption in your work life? Have you found a way to cope?

December 09, 2008

Chef struggles with family dinner

    I've admitted this before, getting dinner on the table is one of my most difficult work/life challenges. But I take comfort in the fact that it's also difficult for a professional chef. Sarah Davidoff, owner of Fare to Remember Creative Catering in Coral Gables, FL, faces the challenge each night as a working mom and wife. Imagine coming home for work after cooking all day and ....cooking some more.

        We all know the downturn in the economy is changing the way working parents cook for the family because most of us are tightening our budgets. We're cutting back on buying prepared foods or take out. Of course, dinner is certainly more time consuming and tiring, adding to the daily stress.


   Davidoff (pictured) has some ideas for how to manage the process. Here are five    tips:

      * Plan out your menu for the week/ make a calendar in advance.

    * Cook in advance. Cook on the weekends for what you'll need during the week, or at least cut things up into portions.

      * Use leftovers for lunch and dinner the following day.
       * Fresh vegetables actually can be cheaper than frozen or canned if you cut up the portions and wrap the lefteovers.
     * Use less prepared products which can be 2 or 3 times as expensive compared to when you make it yourself. Even something as simple as chicken stock can be cooked at home and be a big cost savings.
       At my office, I suggested we share recipes for quick dinners. I also suggested rewarding employees during the holiday season by raffling off dinner to go. Has your business tried anything like this to help working parents get dinner on the table?

December 08, 2008

Secrets for working from home

   Workingfromhome_2                         As layoffs spread through my office, I try to keep a positive outlook by working from home at least once a week. But it's been difficult. Sometimes my dog often barks while I'm on a business call. Not very professional. Next, my car in the driveway seems to be a sign to my neighbors to drop by and chat. Worse, I feel guilty about the unwashed dishes, dirty laundry or the clutter that needs to be put away while I force myself to sit in front of the computer. And then I feel guilty when I do get distracted and try to make up for it by working into the evening.

     So, I found the conversation sparked by Dave Navarro, a business productivity coach, on his Freelancefolder blog hit home. It's particularly timely as laid off workers consider some type of work from home arrangement. Navarro asks freelancers and entrepreneurs to share their biggest secret to work-life balance success.

    Here are some responses:

  • Lois K writes: I set a schedule and stick to it. I treat my freelancing as a regular job with regular hours. I have been known to do overtime, but at least stay with the schedule for minimums. I also let my family know my schedule.
  • Allena T writes: My secret: I refuse to multi task. Work time is work time and family time is family time, and never the two shall meet.
  • Jeff Zbar, author of TheChiefHomeOfficer blog, writes: With three grade-school kids about, it’s a moving target. But a routine (albeit flexible) helps. So does understanding from those around you (including you) that sometimes you have to punt. And sequester yourself until a deadline is met. And reward yourself for a job well done. And do it again. And again. Until you retire. In 2028…

      All those secrets for success sound good to me. But I wonder...is the discipline for working from home perfected over time or is it something you need from day one? Are some people just not cut out for working from home?   Do YOU have any secrets for work/life balance success to share with those now considering working from home?

December 04, 2008

Singles aren't supposed to have work/life balance

       I've often heard single people complain that there's an assumption they have no life outside of work. Now, here comes a politician to fuel the flame.

      In video obtained by CNN, Rendell was discussing Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano -- President-elect Barack Obama's choice to lead the Homeland Security Department -- and said she has excellent qualifications for the job since she "has no family."
      "Janet's perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it," said Rendell, whose comments were picked up by the open mike.

   Of course, Rendell tried to backpedal when he realized what happened. "What I meant is that Janet is a person who works 24/7, just like me."

    CNN's Campbell Brown caught wind of Rendell's comments and took him to task. (see video below) Brown thinks it's fascinating that Rendell highlighted Napolitano single status as her big qualification for the job. She asks, "If a man had been Obama's choice would having a family have been a issue? Brown also says, "As a woman, it's hard not to wonder if we're counted out because we have a family or we are in our child-bearing years.'' Brown also questions whether a person who is childless and single is expected to work holidays, weekends more burdensome shifts.

     Do you think that there's an assumption that if someone doesn't have a family, they have no life outside of work? Are there stereotypes that prevent working mothers from landing certain jobs or work to the advantage or disadvantage of single, childless men or women?

December 03, 2008

Surviving a spouse's layoff

        Today, in my Miami Herald column, I wrote about the stress on a relationship when one partner is laid off. It seems clear that more couples will grapple with this issue after today's news from Challenger Gray & Christmas that more than 181,000 people were victims of job cuts in November and more than 1 million people were laid off this year.

     I heard some pretty strong sentiments from men and women about the tension that arises when couples differ on how a job search should be done, how much time is enough to mourn a lost job and how money should be handled during the period of unemployment. The key to survival, marriage counselor Wendy Joffe told me, is ratchet up communication.

     Here are some issues that were brought up.

       Money: Lourdes Harrison told me it was difficult to rely on one income and ask her husband after being laid off. Bruce Moore told me he feels guilty denying his girlfriend a night out as he watches every cent he spends.

       Support: Ben Tishler worried that his girlfriend would dump him when she learned he was out of work.

      Direction: Lilliana Eastman wishes she could go into her husband's business. But he can't afford to pay her salary. Though he's supportive, she's struggling with finding a new career path, which will require patience on her husband's end.

      A close friend of mine was laid off last night. She's devastated, shocked, and can barely speak today. Yet overall, it seems like men have a more difficult time with layoffs and tension in relationships escalates more if the male loses his job. Do you agree with my assessment? Besides ratcheting up communication, have you found others ways to survive a spouse's layoff?