Tag Archives: Time management

It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t get distracted

I’m helping an entry-level Associate learn prioritization. I remember what it was like, getting asked to perform tasks by multiple superiors. Everyone wants their stuff to be priority, so much so that they employ a little trick with the line staff (some consciously, some not): they don’t even give a timeline within which something they need done should be completed. They just assume the Associate interprets the request with the directive, “Now.”

But there are multiple “nows” – multiple time horizons upon which we determine when something should be complete. And I’m sure you know, dear Reader, that many deadlines are actually artificial.

Of course I still need to prioritize. Big time. I fell a little short of my numbers this year. It was close enough that if I had really been focusing on the numbers, I think I could have nailed it. Instead, there were high-level organizational growth issues to deal with, and I worked on those happily because it is important and interesting and intellectually stimulating.

Our company has a goal to double revenue from 2013 to 2018. And you know what? We’re on pace. We’re on pace!! That’s a big deal for a small company, and I’m so proud – proud of my colleagues and all the line staff who are putting in good work every day, proud of my contributions to that pace (even if I fell a little short this year).

But let’s be clear – we’re only going to make it to Goal if we keep our eye on the ball. Whether it’s managing tasks from multiple superiors, hitting annual targets, or realizing 5-year strategic plans, we can’t get distracted.

So I told that Associate who struggled with prioritizing requests to ask for timelines for completion from the requestor, and if the Associate could accommodate it within her already established priorities, then fine. But if she couldn’t, that she should refer the requestors to me to determine whether priorities need to be shifted, they need to wait, or they need to find another solution to get it done.

I will need to continue to do the same. We love to talk about organizational development! Let’s do it within the context of existing priorities, talk about it after we review where we are on our first-tier goals, or create a new organizational development goal and rework the relative percentages of focus for all goals.

Because if we do that, we can manage well not only our business days, but our business years!

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How to be able to think at work (seriously)

Our business, like most, is bottom-line driven. But our business is also SMART goal-driven, and that might not be like most others. (SMART goals = goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed)

We spend a considerable amount of time each Fall preparing company, division, and individual employee SMART goals to improve our bottom line year over year. Then January 1 comes along, and I find people spending time working (very hard and in a very focused way) on the most random things.

What on earth happened to the SMART goals?

There are countless distractions during the day. I get it. Fires need to be put out! Emails need to be answered! We have standing meetings and calls!

But often, this is not actual work. I encourage people to block out their calendars to get actual work done. Brain work. Not busy work. I didn’t hire people to answer emails. I hired people to come up with some solutions and best practices and new protocols. I hired people to ask the right questions, and get us closer to solutions.

I hired people to think.

And there is little to no accommodation in today’s business world for people to just think.

Here’s what happens when people carve out time in their calendars to think: the actions that result are actually pretty straightforward and efficient. People don’t need an hour meeting. They need a 20 minute meeting. People don’t waste time on email going back and forth on an issue. They make an actual decision on something.

Have we forgotten how to think? How to brainstorm? How to structure our days? Has the calendar full of meetings that anyone can drop something into made us a collective Sisyphus? Yes.

So here’s how to think at work:

  1. Book it. Block out the calendar for this. And respect the time you allocated.
  2. Frame it. Ground yourself in what to think about. What is the problem or issue? What is your objective today?
  3. Start broadly. People don’t brainstorm these days! What a pity. There is value – and potentially the best answer to the question – in starting with a sky’s the limit attitude. You can narrow things down later. Don’t fear the brainstorming process! And don’t dismiss or scoff at it.
  4. Organize. Sort out what is not relevant, and put it in a parking lot. (Hey! It may be useful later for something else.) Don’t know whether an idea is relevant? See #2. With whatever is left, start grouping ideas together. Are some ideas really variations on a theme? Are some ideas steps in a singular process? Are other ideas related, but not specific to today’s objective?
  5. Land on something. Chances are, the brainstorming and organizing have resulted in a coalition of ideas that serve today’s objective. Still seeing disparate concepts? Go back and organize more. Not enough content to work with? Go all the way back to brainstorming.

And that’s how you think at work. After that, the actions come:

  1. Write it out. People usually start here. They open up a new email, or they create a new Word document and start typing. They type and type and type… and stop when they get a little stuck. Next time, don’t. Only take pen to paper (or keyboard to email) in a structured way after this exercise.
  2. Proofread. Always. Who doesn’t re-read that email before hitting Send? Change it if you need to. But only read it once. Catch your “will” that was supposed to be “won’t” but then hit Send, for goodness’ sake! The amount of time it takes to get it just right often doesn’t result in better outcomes. Move it forward.

The first 5 steps are the way people and a company can actually meet their SMART goals. The last 2 steps are not how you work; writing and sending something are only the mechanics. Actual work is often brain work, and like anything else, it requires time and space to do it.

Coming into the light

I went through a dark time a few months ago where I felt like my kid needed 50% of me, my husband needed another 50%, my job needed its 50%, my other family and friends needed 50%… so I was either doing fantastically at a few aspects of my life and failing miserably at everything else, or I was failing at everything at once.

Also, notice how there was not a percentage of demands made for myself. Every day, I made choices to sacrifice my own sleep, emotional and mental well-being, diet, exercise – forget about fun and relaxation, ha! – for someone or something else. I went days and days without a chunk of time for myself – or, if I did have a moment to myself, it was clouded with guilt and indecision.

And people from different aspects of my life were not kind. I was told how I was failing and in what ways. People disappeared from my life instead of hanging in there. More importantly, I got no offers of help. Maybe it’s because I tried to shield people from how hard it was for me.

These conditions resulted in occasional emotional blow-outs to my loved ones or having to take mental health days from work with no notice to my colleagues because I. Just. Can’t. Take. It. Anymore!

Then, something happened. I started to communicate what I needed. (I’ll be honest, I did not often do it in the most eloquent of ways – yelling and breakdowns and tears don’t often fall into the category of optimal communication in my opinion, but if I’m at least stating my needs through it all, I say: whatever works.)

I’ve read that one should push through the inconvenience, the discomfort, the conflict of communicating your needs (should I say, especially women?) in order to realize balance in life, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t… until I had no choice to do so because the alternative – the status quo – hit such a level of unacceptable that there was nothing else to do.

Was it inconvenient, uncomfortable, and conflict-generating? HELL YEAH IT WAS. And on the other side, I have the support of a loving husband, a happily dancing-tantrumming-singing-tantrumming-laughing child, more respect in the work place and among clients, and sleep.

Y’all, I said I’m getting some sleeeeeep.

Who knows how long it will last? Life will throw another curve at me, boy do I know it, but I will relish what I can for now. And if I need something from you, you’ll hear about it.

 

Forget about having it all. I would rather not have to DO it all.

Oh yeah, I have a blog. All of those good intentions to create a thoughtful space for executive moms juggling various aspects of life was put on the back burner in favor of keeping some measure of SANITY.

The past year has been hell, I’ll be honest. And not for any particular reason. On paper (read: Facebook), everything is fine. We celebrate birthdays, we see friends and family, we work, we even go on vacation. And you know what? It’s sucking the very life out of me.

Here’s the breakdown for me of what the time requirements FEEL like in a given week – maybe it looks familiar to anyone else out there?

  • Child = 30%
  • Husband = 20%
  • Work = 40%
  • Friends and extended family = 10%
  • Chores, errands = 20%
  • Sleep = 5%

You don’t have to be an executive to figure out that adding up to 100% is a complete figment of the imagination. Things haven’t felt manageable within the context of a 100% ceiling in a long time.

Instead, I have been working tirelessly to impossibly squeeze a 9 inch pie into a single, wee cupcake liner. As a result, two things have happened:

  1. The feeling of failure is my constant companion. Either I am not excelling in any area because I’m spread so goddamn thin, or I’m excelling in one area at the horrible expense of another.
  2. My sense of self is completely eclipsed by my sense of duty and responsibility to all other parties. (Ah! Maybe some of you noticed that “Me” didn’t make the bulleted list above.)

I felt like a drawing slowing being erased. My identity as a PERSON with my own interests, needs, wants, and experiences was being totally wiped out.

So I did something about it. I started taking steps to take care of myself. Here are some things I did in the last 4 months or so:

  • Became a member of a spa near my work
  • Joined a weight loss program
  • Bought art supplies for painting
  • Invested in individual therapy sessions

And you know what? I wish I could say that things have been going well. But the reality is, they haven’t at all. As a result of trying to focus on me, my marriage has suffered greatly, my child sometimes feels neglected and acts out (and I don’t feel as close to her), my numbers at work aren’t as great at last year, the art supplies are sitting there collecting dust, my therapy sessions have gone sideways because maybe the therapist is not a great match for me, and the weight loss program has been only nominally successful but significantly burdensome.

It’s not all bad. I have had a massage or two at the spa. And I have lost some weight. And I went to a couple of totally unsatisfactory, one-time painting “classes” where I produced pieces that I was going to trash if not for my friend insisting she could find someone else who would take them.

Is this progress? Is this being successful? Is this acceptable?

From here, we can pivot to discussing getting support to change and make a real and lasting difference in the life of working women and working moms – support from spouses, friends or extended family or the community, more flexible work environments, and dealing with the sometimes latent, but nevertheless lingering sexism that EXPECTS women to do it all, or that it’s just the woman’s problem to figure out and manage.

… But that’s another post.

 

Hello? Who just joined?

My 18 month old daughter puts anything and everything up to her ear and starts talking and gesturing like she’s on a phone call. TV remote controls, toy cars, music boxes, you name it: it goes up to her ear and she babbles away.

I suppose I do too many conference calls around her.

I miss the days where you could talk to one person at a time. These days, everything is a conference call.

Everyone has to be there! Everyone has to be involved! Everyone needs to know what’s going on! It saves time from explaining things to others later! IT IS SO MUCH MORE EFFICIENT!

Except that it’s not. When people are on conference calls, I can hear them tapping away on their keyboards, or I can see them scrolling through their iPads checking email. They are trying to multi-task and while I’m a BIG proponent of multi-tasking where you can, the usual conference call is not the best example of good multi-tasking. “I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?” (Cringe.)

So, I’ve been trying to limit the invitees on my calls, thinking I’m giving people a gift. I’ll send you a summary! I’ll rope you in later at our one on one meeting! I’ll let you know if I need you, but otherwise, live wild and free!

Doesn’t work. People ask me, “Why am I not on that call?” and “Don’t I need to be on that call?”

Dude, you’re already double booked for that time anyway. I don’t need you multi-tasking on my call as well.

I know one thing: my daughter does NOT like it when I multi-task around her. Her whining and mischief is directly proportional to the energy I’m expending checking a quick work email at home. She is no fool. She’s teaching me to practice what I preach.

By the skin of my teeth

On Tuesday, my daughter was 364 days old. I felt like a bad mom that morning because I decided to spend time with my husband the night before instead of doing the work I needed to do, so I was scrambling to get work done in the morning instead. I was paying more attention to my laptop than to the kiddo. I was also feeding her breakfast and preparing her lunch for later. She was content to eat her bread and bananas, didn’t fuss except when she wanted some more, but I couldn’t help thinking I was missing out on a morning of her life and now I can’t get it back. To top it off, our part-time nanny was late, causing me a lot of stress since I had a packed day at work and was going to be late, and I had done nothing to prepare for family who was coming in from out of town, much less the housewarming-plus-first-birthday party that was scheduled for the weekend. So my daughter got a stressed out mom who basically ignored her. Lucky kid.

Whatever, it’s fine. Nobody died, right?

But that was the morning. Here’s how the day actually turned out:

Got to work, was late for my 9 am call but the host pushed it back to 9:30 anyway so I had time for coffee and breakfast. Score!

Then I had a company manager meeting where I was able to report how I kicked ass in the past month and I proposed something totally off the cuff that everyone voted yes on and will be implemented. Score!

Then I had to drive to the boondocks of the East Bay to try and land a new client. I wasn’t careful about my GPS and it took me to their manufacturing facilities rather than their headquarters. %&$#!! I was a half hour late. I walked into the office and there are a dozen people staring at me from inside a glass wall conference room. I thought I was meeting with 2 people. %&$#!! I made my apologies and got introduced, and learned the CEO deigned to come to this meeting. I ordinarily love that, but I’m somewhat unprepared. %&$#!! So I had to wing it and didn’t show my slide presentation at all because it was a little weak anyway. (So much for ignoring my daughter in favor of working on slides in the morning.) Turns out the discussion was awesome, the CEO was very interested, and when I hit on something in particular, he said, “Hold on, you can do that for us?” I said, “Yes. We’re currently doing it for 5 other companies right now.” He said, “When can you start work for us?” Score!

I drove back to the city, parked the City CarShare car in its little cubby, and I quickly decided that my day needed to be topped off right. I called my husband, who reported that his sister landed safely and since they were taking care of the kiddo, they didn’t need me to come home immediately. (My poor daughter really got the short end of me today.)

And here is how the day ended:

I sat at a bar taking advantage of happy hour cosmos for a bit, then headed home to a loving husband, a delighted sister-in-law, and a happy, chirpy baby girl who would be turning 365 days old the next day, full of hugs and kisses for Mom.

Not a bad ending to a sketchy beginning.

Three practical ways to say “No”

Juggling family and work – something’s got to give. All the work-life balance blogs, books, and articles say that you should learn to say no, but rarely do people talk about how to do so well so that it doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re the bad guy or leaving people in the lurch. Here are some ideas – applicable to work AND home.

1. OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE. “No, but let’s do this other thing instead that will give us the same or similar result.” Often there is an alternative approach than my doing the specific thing I’m being asked to do. Can I do it differently than how I’m being asked that is more efficient? Or do I need to do it at all – are we just going through me because it’s always been that way? If I don’t need to do it, then what can happen instead? The trick to this is concentrating not just on the task you’re being asked to do, but stepping back and thinking about what youre collectively trying to accomplish in which your task is a part: is there a way to meet the objective that doesn’t require the task being asked, or at the level of involvement that is being asked?

2. PUT IT OFF A BIT. “No, I can’t right now. We should definitely get to this, but let’s connect tomorrow/next week/etc on this since I’m focusing on something else right this minute.” If it’s not urgent (truly urgent, which you’ll find few things actually are!) then you might find it resolves on its own or other things happen to get it to the next step if given some time.

3. HELP SOMEONE ELSE DO IT THEMSELVES. “No, I can’t do it myself, but I can definitely help you get to the finish line on this.” This one is my favorites because it’s a win-win. In order for this to work, you’ve got to have someone who doesn’t know how to do it and is willing to try. So many of my junior and mid-level staff are willing to try anything. GREAT! Let’s do it. I always give the baby a bath at night, but if my husband does it with me a few times, we can trade off and I can get some much needed down time. Is it going to happen exactly as you would do it? Probably not. Does this require up front investment in your time? Yes! But the ROI of saying no this way is typically realized fairly quickly.

Maybe there are other ways to say no in an effective way?