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10 posts from September 2010

September 30, 2010

Boost productivity for better work life balance

Alarm-clock I find myself falling into a bad habit and I know I'm not alone. Most of us start our work day reading email.  A morning glance at my Inbox can turn into several lost hours of what could have been productive work time. 

Lately, I have taken a hard look at how I’m spending my time. I feel like I’m putting in more work hours than ever. Yet, I don’t feel like I’m getting that much more accomplished. It’s forced me to ask myself how I can be more productive.

There are lots of reasons why people want to be more productive. Some of us want to make more money, others want to have more free time to spend with family. Some, like me, want both.

I have called in the experts and asked them to share some of their strategies.

Jessica Kizorek, founder of BadassBusinessWomen.org, challenged herself to be more productive, cutting back to only four work hours a day. The rest she allocated to leisure. Instead of planning business meetings at Starbucks, she had phone conversations. “It’s amazing when you see what you can cut out, what doesn’t go directly into making you money. You only see that when you force yourself to work smarter, not longer,” she says

When Carol Greenberg Brooks, arrives at the office, she’s already read her e-mails, flagged the priorities and sent them to her assistant to print out and create a to-do list. As co-founder and president of Continental Real Estate Companies, she walks in to her Coral Gables office focused on what needs to get done. That usually includes delegating and guiding staff on how to spend their time wisely. “I’m a good communicator. I pull myself back from minutiae and give direction.”

Experts believe the secret to being productive is to track how you spend your day. One woman I know tracked her hours for a week to figure out why she was busy, but not making money. She discovered she was spending 10 hours a week driving to see clients. She hadn’t been billing them for drive time. A friend of mine started tracking her time and realized she was spending two hours a day on Facebook — a few minutes here and there add up.

After assessing how you spend your time, you should decide how you should be allocating it.  What tasks are essential to your goals or your organization’s success?

Miami productivity expert Michelle Villalobos suggests you write down each day the one thing that would make a huge difference in your career and do that task first.

Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek says “Ask yourself, if that’s the only thing I accomplish, will I be satisfied with my day?” He says what’s most important, typically, is the task you’re most uncomfortable doing — having a conversation with your boss or a challenging customer. “We need to reprogram ourselves from `more is better’ to making better decisions about how we spend our time.”

Clearly, the biggest challenge is avoiding distractions and staying focused. Productivity expert Dan Markovitz pointed out to me that when people feel overwhelmed, the turn by default to reading emails. Try sticking to set times to read email. A half hour three times a day would be a good goal.

Most of us are so crazed from our desire to be more productive, we are resorting to tricks. One CEO I spoke with felt he was wasting time watching too much TV. He told me he took the batteries out of the remote and will only allow himself to put them back in for a half hour a day. Another executive I know gives himself three chips a day -- each represent a half hour he can spend on email. Several of the book authors I contacted told me they only give interviews to media with a certain size audience to make the best use of their time.

I tackled this topic in much more detail in my Balancing Act column.

Have you resorted to tricks? Is email your biggest time waster or are you distracted by self interruptions? Do you think trying to be more productive stifles creativity?

September 29, 2010

Why employee rewards don't work

Years ago, I had an editor who gave reporters a bonus if he thought we wrote a well reported story. That was a nice perk but most of us would strive for a well reported story even without the bonus.

Would it surprise you to learn that there is not a single study that has shown an improvement in the quality of work as a result of any reward system?

In fact, according to Alfie Kohn, researcher and author of Punished by Rewards, the more employers use rewards to motivate employees, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the rewards.

So what does it take to motivate employees? Kohn says the best reward is the job itself. Pay a decent salary, assign interesting tasks, create a sense of community and give employees a  chance to participate in making decisions. He says employees that have those things rarely choose to go back to a place where employees get rewards. He says pay people fairly, then do everything possible to take money off their minds.

Of course, there are consultants who insist that rewards systems work and there are employees who say they will do just about anything to be rewarded with time off.

Today, I asked Dan Hoffman, CEO of NYC-based M5 Networks and a forward thinking leader, what he thought of motivating employees by using rewards. “I think it’s dangerous to tie people to a number and put cash next to it. I view rewards as way to communicate what’s important.”

For example, he says, his company had a contest to find example of the best way to tell someone bad news. He sent the winner to space camp for weekend. (Sounds cool!) That’s a reward he says his employees go nuts for "but it’s also a message that this is a fun place to work," Hoffman says.

That’s different than using rewards to as incentives for people to work hard, he explained to me. "We also pay a bounty to anyone that helps us recruit. It’s our way of sending the message that good people are important and we want to hire your friends."

I wonder if the recession has changed how employees view rewards. When our paychecks have been cut, will cash rewards motivate us differently than in the past?

What do you think about rewards? Do you find them motivating?

September 23, 2010

Why women are asking for pre-nups

We've come a long way, baby. Women are finally at a point in time when they have some assets to protect and some income to brag about.  

A news release issued today says an overwhelming 73% of divorce attorneys cited an increase in prenuptial agreements during the past five years in a recent poll of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer (AAML) members.  In addition, 52% have noted an increase in women initiating the requests.

That comes on the heels of this announcement from the BLS: The earnings gap between men and women has shrunk to a record low, partly because many women are prospering in the new economy and partly because men have been hit hard by the recession. Men are losing their jobs at a faster rate than women in the recession. They are staying unemployed for long periods of time and they're taking jobs that pay less than their previous salaries. I think that's been a wake up call for women.We finally realize that we increasingly are becoming the breadwinners. 

Is that what's driving this new interest from women in pre-nups. You bet it is. Pre-nups have long been a controversial topic as women debated whether or not to sign them. But now it's reversed. We are working hard for the bacon. We finally realize we want to hold on to it. The big question is: how will men react?



September 22, 2010

Your value: doing what's important, not answering email

At the beginning of the year, productivity Dan Markovitz of TimeBack Management said something to me that hit home. No one gets paid to read and respond to email. We know that's true, yet we can't help getting sucked in and spending hours in our Inbox. He suggests looking at your calendar several times a day, to figure out what you should be doing rather than reading email.

Today, Lifehacker has a great post titled: Your Value Is in Deciding What's Important, Not Answering Email

In that post is this key graph:  Asked how he achieve work/life balance, Google's Director of Research Peter Norvig offered up a pretty easy answer. He knows that his job is in making good decisions on what's important, rather than what just arrived three minutes ago.

Here's his quote: People get out of balance when they see their value as being able to respond quickly. If I see myself as a machine for answering email, then my work life would never stop because my email never stops. If instead I see my value as separating the important from the unimportant and making good decisions on the important, then I can go home at a reasonable hour, spend time with my family, ignore my email and phone messages all weekend long, and make sure that when I return to work, I am in the right mood to make the good decisions.

Knowing that, do you think you are spending your day making good decisions and accomplishing your priorities. Or is most of your day spent responding to email? If it's the later, are you willing to make a change?


September 21, 2010

Balancing work and special needs children

I always thought I had a lot to juggle with work and family and volunteering in the community. But when I did some research for a column I wrote on balancing work and children with special needs, my juggle couldn't compare with parents of special needs children. I was amazed by how difficult the balancing act can get for them.

Judy Marte made a particularly strong impact on me. Judy is super-orgaznized. She keeps a to-do list in her purse at all times and rips off the pages once everything on it is completed. Not only does Judy have a high-powered job as budget director of Miami-Dade Public Schools, she also has two children, one of them a 19-year-old son with severe Autism. Judy has spent many of her lunch hours on the phone, researching afterschool care and transportation for her son. She has a tag-team system of drop offs and pick ups with her husband that allows her to put in the 60-hour work weeks required of her job. Judy and others shared their tips with me and I want to pass them along to any other parents who may be doing a similar balancing act.

I also received an email from Lee Sanders, Medical Director of CMS in South Florida. He wants to make sure parents know about a resource Florida provides to children with special health care needs, the Children’s Medical Services (CMS) Network. To find out if a family is eligible for these free services, visit www.cms-kids.org

The Miami Herald

Caring for an ill child -- a challenge for working parents


   Gladys 'Kathy' Crisci, with sons Charley Crisci, reclining, and Erik  Aguirre, holding Peppito. At age 4, Erik, now 21, was diagnosed with cancer.
Gladys 'Kathy' Crisci, with sons Charley Crisci, reclining, and Erik Aguirre, holding Peppito. At age 4, Erik, now 21, was diagnosed with cancer.

ESPN commentator and former tennis star Mary Joe Fernandez remembers the day she learned her son had asthma. ``It was like a wake-up call that threw me into action,'' Fernandez says.

She realized she would need to become ultra-organized to keep up travel for her broadcasting job, find the best asthma treatments and manage her son's medical needs. ``I came up with an action plan that I leave behind with his school, or baby-sitter, or my parents so when I travel they know what to do.''

Fernandez just recently started to talk openly about her son's illness, even during a tennis clinic for children at the U.S. Open in New York last week to raise awareness and empower other parents.

Despite their fears about job security, more parents of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities are opening up -- even at work. What they have going for them is strength in numbers -- one in seven children under age 18, or approximately 10.2 million children in the United States, have special healthcare needs, according to Department of Health and Human Services.

Most parents say they have no choice but to open up; they need their job to support their families and more importantly, they need the health insurance. They also need flexibility and resources for what becomes a lifetime commitment.

``If you don't have employer support, it can become overwhelming,'' says Isabel C. Garcia, executive director Parent to Parent of Miami, a community resource center.

Judith Marte balances a high pressure job as chief budget officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools and her family, which includes a 19-year-old son with a severe form of autism. Raising a child with special needs magnifies your stress level at least three times, she says.

Over the years, Marte has put in place a support system that includes her husband, who picks her son up from an afterschool program, bus transportation to a program, and a boss that understands about emergencies. ``Having a supportive workplace is hugely important. I could not work at a place that was not family oriented,'' she said.


Most working parents juggle a variety of time demands. However, having a child with a disability or chronic illness requires additional time and effort to find and manage treatment, attend doctors appointments or therapies, handle conflicts at day care or school and seek the right education choices. It easily can create financial problems, marital discord, sibling issues and problems at work.


Mothers, in particular, say they see their careers affected. Researchers at Washington State University Vancouver found that more than half of the moms they surveyed said they worked fewer hours in order to care for an autistic child. Three out of five had turned down jobs because of their family responsibilities. Even more, 25 percent reported turning down promotions -- and taking leaves of absence -- in order to care for an autistic child. In two-parent households, two-thirds of the parents said the mother's work outside the home was most affected by their child's autism.


Even understanding employers may be flexible only up to a certain point.

During her 23 years with the City of Sunrise community development department, Gladys ``Kathy'' Crisci has juggled work with surgeries and treatments for her son Erik. At age 4, Erik was diagnosed with cancer. He is now 21. Chemotherapy and radiation keeps his cancer at bay but has created a lifetime of serious health complications.

Crisci says at the time of the diagnosis, her boss gave her time off and her co-workers donated vacation time. But over the years more treatments were necessary. Crisci worked for a few different supervisors, some more understanding than others. To keep her job, she put in additional effort to make up time off.

``I tried hard to make sure they knew I was going to take care of my workload, that I could handle both, even if I had to work at night or over the weekends. It was incredible pressure but I did it.''


On the other extreme, many times, parents of children with special needs refrain from talking about their kids at work, or asking for help.

Steve Rossman, chairman-designate for Easter Seals international board of directors is a single father raising his daughter with special needs and a granddaughter. Rossman also is a Miami law partner who tries to create a family-friendly workplace and concedes that some bosses are less understanding of the lifetime challenges facing these parents.

``The key is to sit down and try to work out a solution that works,'' he says.




September 20, 2010

Seductive photos on Facebook cause problems at work

Should you be able to post whatever you want on your personal Facebook page? That's turning out to be a VERY loaded question. Some employers strongly believe what you post on Facebook (or any other social network) reflects on you as an employee. I think they're right.

The latest controversy hit City Hall in Sunrise, Florida. Sarah Hannah, the assistant city manager, has attracted some attention after posting boudoir photos of herself on Facebook. A city spokeswomen had this to say in an article in the SunSentinel: "Unless someone's activities involved their position with the city, we consider it to be a personal matter. It's not something we care to comment on."

Officially, the city has no policy guidelines on what employees can post online. Of course, after the existence of the photos were made public, it appears Sarah Hannah did some damage control. The images were no longer available to the general public. Newly-elected Mayor Mike Ryan said he was not too concerned. "We have bigger issues in our city to worry about."

Most employers have huge financial and management concerns, much more pressing issues than what their workerbees are doing on Facebook. But there is some reason for their concern. I recently spoke to an advertising agency owner. Her account executive have agency clients as Facebook friends. Recently, she sat her staff down for a talk. Some of her staff were posting Facebook status updates such as "Had a blast at Joe's Bar last night. 5 for 1 beer" or "Headed to Capital Grille for steak and cocktails."  Clearly, that's not very comforting to a client waiting for his new ad campaign to be completed.

Where has common sense gone in this digital age?  Whatever you do for a living, use some discretion before putting up pictures on Facebook that might cause embarrassment. We all know by now that regardless of privacy settings, posting on line is like sharing with the world. Do you think people forget that or is it that they don't care? Should you be reprimanded at work for what you post on your personal Facebook page, or do you feel it's off limits?




September 14, 2010

Give your marriage some oomph

Have you ever written a check or racked up charge knowing that your spouse isn't going to be happy about whatever it is you are buying? Admit it, we've all done it at least once. But don't you think that being on the same page as your spouse when it comes to moneyLoveandmoney would help give your marriage some oomph?

When you get married, it's unlikely anyone will they tell you that relationships struggle when a wife out earns her husband or when you argue over who spends money and what you spend it on. I can tell you that fighting with your spouse over money is time consuming and draining -- a real impediment to work life balance. Today, Larry Tobin weighs in on the subject of balancing work, marriage and finances. Tobin, co-founder of Habit Changer, is an expert on the awareness of habits with a specialty in how to change them.

Different upbringings, work ethics and hours at the office can create habits we each bring into our relationship. These deep-rooted habits can create wedges and lead to resentment over an imbalance in earning power, control of the check book, or simply figuring out how to financially plan for the future.

Changing these old habits will help you eliminate fights over money. Here are some tips:

Make time for your spouse. Try expressing how you feel about your partner in a way that they will appreciate without spending a dime. Small things like taking the morning off to make breakfast for your partner or simply leaving a sweet note in their briefcase that says you love them go a long way.

Keep a private fund. You work hard and deserve to spend your hard-earned money on yourself from time to time. Try setting up a private fund, placing aside $50 or $100 each for you to spend on yourselves in any way you choose. Spend it as you please, no questions asked.

Be Open. In today’s economy, many of us aren’t earning the same salary we may have been used to. Commissions are down and bonus checks are low. As things scale back, putting yourself out there can feel a little risky, but as a team, couples need to have the tools in place to prepare for the long haul. Remember, financial facts are just numbers. But secrets can hold you back. When you air them, they lose their control over you.

A healthy home life promotes a healthy work life- but it takes your desire and the proper tools to help you break loose of the money habits that impact your relationships. Want to start changing your habits today? Take this fun quiz with your partner to discover how your spending habits differ and what it means to your relationship.


 Tobin_Larry0201 Larry Tobin, co-founder of Habit Changer

September 13, 2010

What Makes A Great Place to Work

In the Advertising/PR business late nights are pretty common. Jorge Plasencia and Luis Casamayor, owners of República in Miami, expect their employees to work hard. But they do their best to make sure their 45 employees are healthy and happy.

For example, República built an on-site gym for employees with showers and lockers."It promotes a healthy environment," Jorge says. "In an industry with long hours, people spend a lot of time at the office so we want them to feel as comfortable as possible."

The company also built an employee cafe and an on-site playroom with a Pac-Man machine and pool table.  "It keeps the morale positive, " Jorge says. "When they get back to their desks, they are more energized and spirited."

Jorge says most nights at 8 p.m., the office is bustling with employees brainstorming and talking to clients on the West Coast. The two men launched the firm four years ago and have been building it during the recession. Clients incude Burger King Corporation, Frito-Lay, Chivas Regal and Aetna. Jorge says he learned the key to success. "We don't take anything for granted. We are in the business of people."

I think República understands what it takes to succeed. Would you mind staying later at night if you had a chance to exercise or unwind a little during your workday?


Action shot 

September 07, 2010

Who feels stressed? Is your hand up?

Last week in my Miami Herald column, I wrote that workplace stress levels are at an all time high. Many employers could care less about their stressed out workers and it's causing people to have meltdowns in the office.

For years, experts have said a little bit of stress is good, referring to the short-term jolt that comes before making a presentation, not the extreme kind prevalent in workplaces today. ``We're way beyond the level of it being motivating,'' says Helen Darling, president of the Washington-based National Business Group on Health.

Today, I find out that I live in one of the most stressful places in the country. Miami-Fort Lauderdale ranked among the 10 most stressful metropolitan areas in America, according to a study conducted by the South Florida Business Journal. Portfolio.com and bizjournals created a 10-part formula to estimate the stress levels in the nation’s 50 biggest metro areas, using the latest data available from several government agencies and private firms on factors including unemployment, poverty, crime and traffic, and how many sunny days a city has.

Markets with high stress: Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland; California’s Riverside; St. Louis; New York City; New Orleans; Chicago; Birmingham, Ala.; and Miami-Fort Lauderdale.

Markets with low levels of stress are Salt Lake City, Minneapolis-St. Paul; Raleigh, N.C.; Austin, Texas; Oklahoma City; Denver; San Antonio; Kansas City and Phoenix.

Click here to read the complete list.

Man-doing-yoga-in-business-suit-on-beach Some people have told me the are turning to yoga for help with stress. September happens to be National Yoga Month. Many local yoga centers are offering discounts or free classes. CEO Walid Wahab, a Miami homebuilder, says it has been key to keeping him focused on the job.

There are many different opinions regarding what a stress management programs should include. Some stressed-out workers have turned to medication; others have gone the route of meditation. I pretty sure many people are doing nothing and walking around ready to snap at any given moment.

How do you keep your stress levels down? Do you feel like you are more stressed than you were a year ago?




September 02, 2010

When your co-worker quits

Today, my good friend and co-worker quit for a better job out of the state. We have worked together at several newspapers in South Florida. I'm thrilled for her and devastated that I'm losing my lunch buddy. It is because of her that I still come to the office once in a while. It made me think about how much a person's enjoyment at work is influenced by co-workers.

Many years ago, I had a group of very good girlfriends at the weekly paper where I worked. Within a few weeks, all of them quit. Before long, I felt so lonely at the office that I began to hate my job. I ended up leaving, too.

Debbrown How do you avoid moping around when your buddy at work takes off for greener pastures? I went to Deborah Brown-Volkman a career and life coach, for some suggestions.

Q. What if your friend leaving has you wondering if you should leave, too?

A. Then it's time to put a plan together. Update your résumé and start thinking about how you want to conduct your job search.

Q. What if the scenario is different and you like your job but suddenly feel lonely?

A. Then it's time to focus on the things about your job that you like. It's always hard for the person who stays behind. Many times people are cliquey. When a friend at work leaves, it could be an opportunity to reach out and build new relationships you might not have built.  Ask yourself, do I have a good network of people in place and how can I build it. 

Q. What if the scenario is altogether different and your pal or pals at work were laid off?

A. It's always worse for the person who stays behind. They have survivors guilt. The worst thing you can do is to go to work and be unhappy. It's true, people stay in jobs longer than they they like because of the people. If someone leaves for new job, they are happy and you have closure. If they were let go, you're left behind thinking, "How could you have done this to a great person?" Maybe you ask yourself whether you want to stay or go, too, and no matter which you choose, it's time to create a plan.


Have you ever been a scenario when a co-worker's exit has affected your attitude towards your job?