Work-Life Sanity Blog

Career

12 June 2013

Delegation and Success

One of the most common patterns of overwork I see with clients stems from advancement.  Here’s an example.  Ellen worked for a startup that was doing well and growing like crazy.  A natural systems-thinker, Ellen could anticipate potentials glitches down the road and know how to resolve them ahead of time. She got lots of thumbs-up from her manager to run with her solutions. 

The only catch was that as a result, her workload kept growing and growing.  Each new solution she came up with added to what was already on her plate.  Eventually, her workload became untenable and overwhelming. That’s when she sought me out.  She hired me to help her become successful at work again.  She thought she was failing. 

As people advance into more complex work, many jump into the new work without letting go of enough of their old work to make it possible to succeed.  The solution is to offload some of what’s on their plate, either to someone already in the organization, or to a person who would be hired to do this work. There are at least two pieces to this process of offloading.  One is to bring your manager on board — you’ll need his or her buy-in.  The second piece is actually handing off — or delegating — parts of what is now your job.

Learning to delegate is a process — it’s not a trivial thing to learn how to do well.  There are courses, books, and articles about how to become a good delegator.  I sometimes lead workshops on delegating, and may write a blog post about it soon.

Ellen was suffering from what I call the “If it’s on my plate I should be able to do it” syndrome.  The solution for Ellen was to catalog all that she was doing and to quantify approximately how much time each of these items required of her weekly.  When it was all down on paper, it became visible to her that the job as it was currently defined was impossible.  No wonder she felt like she was failing! 

I had her select the pieces she most wanted to keep, and draft a job description for the remaining responsibilities.  Then she made the business case to her boss — that much of what was on her plate could be done by someone at a lower salary, which would free her up to do more of the work she currently found most engaging, which happened to be high-value work for the company’s long term strategy.  Her boss hired someone to work for her. 

When I raise the subject of delegating, many people immediately slam the door shut by saying, “Well there’s nobody at work I can hand work off to, and that’s not going to change.  My boss will never let me delegate any of this off to a colleague or a more junior person.” I’m sure that some people reading this will identify with this position, and here is a suggestion for you.  Delegate something on the home front.  You will get some relief from that which will help you at work.  Relief anywhere in the system helps

 By delegating, I mean have someone else do the task, using any means that will work.  Hire, barter, trade, call in owed favors, indenture your children, whatever it takes.  There is always something more you can delegate. 

Have you had an experience like Ellen’s?  Do you have an anecdote about a time when you used delegation to move things off your plate and expand your bandwidth?  If so please share in the comments!

 

14 May 2013

About Leaning In

If you missed the flurry of public conversation that took place right after Lean In was published, this post gives you a taste of it.  [Background: the book was written by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Facebook.]  You can get the gist of the book’s overall message in Sandberg’s Ted Talk.

She essentially looks at why there are so few women leaders (CEO’s & heads of state, for example) and what can be done about it. 

She’s largely speaking to young, ambitious professional women about what she’s learned about women’s career advancement and leadership.  Her strongest recommendation to women is to “lean in,” meaning to be fully, 100% committed to working hard and getting ahead, and to assume their “place at the table” whether or not they feel they belong there.  To the women who shy away from the fast track because at some point in the future they want to cut back to raise their children, Sandberg says, “Don’t leave before you leave.” 

Here are some of  the best posts from right after the book came out:

Why Sheryl Sandberg is Beside the Point, by Amy Gutman.
Start here because Gutman lays out beautifully just how and why the book elicits such strong, polarized responses.

The Retro-Lean-Back Snow Day, by KJ Dell”Antonia (in the Motherlode column of the NY Times).
Dell’antonia, from deep inside a snow day at home with her kids, makes the case for a modified career plan that allows for snow days and sick kids.  The strategy is imperfect, it requires flexibility, and it’s the right answer for many professionals with young children.  This piece links to several other juicy posts/columns on the subject. 

Why Lean In Makes Me Depressed, by Morra Arons-Mele.
She writes, “Sandberg asks women to lean in, but social and cultural institutions haven’t caught up with her, so we feel confused and perhaps disappointed.”  Aarons-Mele writes about the challenges that 20- and 30-somethings grapple with.

Why I’d Rather Stand Straight Than Lean In, by Kristin van Ogtrop, editor of Real Simple magazine.
Van Ogtrop makes the case for a more balanced approach: “Here’s the thing: I don’t want to be striving for bigger/better/higher/more every minute of every day. I don’t always want to have a larger goal.”  Sometimes she stops to enjoy a clementine.               

Enough With The ‘Leaning In,‘  by Tiziana Dearing.
This is more of a response to the buzz than to the book. A CEO herself, Dearing writes, “Who died and made the top of the ladder God?” She makes the case for each individual navigating her professional path in her own way.

 I Had to Take a Xanax to Read Time Magazine This Week, by Penelope Trunk.
She writes, “The high performers in corporate life are so much more focused than everyone else in the workforce that it’s time we stopped selling a false bill of goods; almost no one can be so singularly focused to get to the top of anything. Including corporate America. Yet we keep talking to kids and each other like anyone can do it.”  Trunk often says things no one else is saying. I don’t always agree with her, but boy, she is one interesting blogger. And smart. 

He Hasn’t Had it All Either, by Michael Winerip in the Booming section of the NY Times.
Winerip opens with this: “I have had a lot. I feel lucky to have had a successful career as a journalist and author while being the primary caregiver of our four children for a decade.  But I definitely did not have it all.  And unlike most people written about in the media who don’t have it all, I’m a male who didn’t have it all.”  This is a very sane, grounded piece, and an interesting look at an egalitarian marriage.

You Can’t ‘Have It All’ & More of Feminism’s Outdated Phrases, by Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute.
Galinsky “loathe[s] the terms of the debates . . . [because] these seemingly innocuous words invariably hamper, not foster, change.” She takes 5 of these terms and suggests more appropriate ones, such as “fit” instead of “balance,” “thriving through it all” instead of “having it all.”

And now it’s your turn.  Did you read the book, and if so, what did you think?  And, whether or not you read the book, what do you think about its message?  Please leave a comment.

25 March 2013

Your Work Experience: So Much More Than the Resume

A client sent me a link to terrific little article  by Lou Adler.

What I particularly value in the article is a list of questions.  Although Adler offers these questions to hiring managers to use at an interview, I think they are an extraordinary sequence of questions for any job-seeker with 10+ years of experience to ask herself. 

AND really, I think any professional — job-seeker or not — would benefit greatly from asking herself these questions and giving herself some thoughtful answers. 

When looking back at your work experience, you may suffer from what I call resume-brain: you essentially think your work WAS the list of job responsibilities and accomplishments that are (or will be) listed on your resume.  While your work history includes what’s in your resume, it also includes SO MUCH MORE.  Adler’s questions get you thinking about the so much more.  And that’s where the gold mine is. 

Take this bundle of question from the article, for example:

  • What were the 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
  • Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
  • Walk me through the plan, how you managed to it, and if it was successful.

To this sequence, I would add these questions: What did you learn?  In subsequent jobs or projects, how have you been able to apply this learning? 

It’s typical for professionals with high standards to fault themselves for not having known certain things earlier in their career.  For example, the first time you had to work closely with an extremely difficult person, you might not have done very well in the situation — you might have suffered some injuries, the work might not have gone smoothly, and so forth. 

In retrospect perhaps you blame yourself for not having known better how to handle it.  But it’s extremely important to credit yourself with whatever you learned from that experience.  Perhaps the next time, or the 10th time you had to work closely with a person like that, you were able to manage yourself and the situation more effectively in terms of less pain, and/or more efficient work outcomes.  That ability to learn in the realm of relational or emotional intelligence is an extremely valuable asset!  Don’t discount it.

Similarly, it’s important for you to own when and how you’ve taken initiative, when and how you’ve championed one project or pulled the trigger on another, what it’s like to work with you, what brings out the best in you, what kinds of situations do you find the most challenging.   And so forth.  Know your history as the complex web that it is. 

Questions like these allow you to dig deep into your experience and mine some of the subtler aspects of your own work style and history. Not to mention all you have learned.  Whether or not you ever share your answers with anyone, whether or not you are ever asked any of these types of questions, it is extremely valuable for you to take yourself through them and have answers for yourself.  Because the process will give you a much deeper and broader sense of your own experience. 

Please leave a comment or ask a question.

 

© 2013, Sharon Teitelbaum. All rights reserved.

19 March 2013

Keep Your Self-Confidence Intact During a Job Search

The key to job hunting in the current environment is to view it as an endurance event which requires that you stay nourished and hydrated for the long haul.  One of the key ways for you to stay nourished and hydrated is to pay attention to and take very good care of your self-confidence.  The resume process, which forces you to revisit the professional work you’ve done and allows you to take more detailed and robust ownership of all of it, should help a lot.   

I recommend spending time with a voice recorder, a trusted friend, or a coach or career counselor where one job at a time, you explain ALL the ways you made a difference, all that you brought to the table and DID in the jobs you’ve had, how it made a difference for the clients you’ve served,the companies where you worked, and so forth. A coach or career counselor or perhaps a trusted friend will prompt you for details, and ask questions that will help you go deeper.  It’s extremely confidence-building and useful to have that fuller sense of yourself and your effectiveness with you every day as you do the humble endurance work of looking for work, which provides almost no validation, encouragement, or acknowledgement of your value.  

If you’re unemployed and looking for a job, it can be extremely helpful to find SOME way to be engaged in the work you want to do, on a part-time or short-term basis, whether it’s pro-bono or otherwise.  Why?  It will remind you, every time you do it, that you are good at it, HOW you are good at it, that you work well with others, that you are effective, personable, reliable, collegial, that you communicate well and really have some affinity for the work.  It might remind you that you have a good sense of humor, that people like you, that you have high standards, and that you can work quickly. 

All of this validation happens in real time as you do the work, and you absorb it, which keeps your self-confidence healthy. It’s hard to sustain self-confidence in a vacuum.   It might look like you don’t have time to be  job-hunting AND doing some kind of volunteer work, but for many people the benefits that come from the volunteer (or project) work actually give them energy and actually expand their bandwidth.    

Have you been able to sustain your self-confidence during a job search or other potentially draining process?  What worked (or is working) for you?  Please share your thoughts, strategies, and tools in a comment. 

21 December 2012

Stress Management: Have That Difficult Conversation with Your Boss

Imagine this. You’re utterly flat out at work, painfully aware of how close you’ve come lately to dropping balls (or maybe you’ve dropped a few). You’re stressed from what seems like working all the time, but you don’t know any other way to address all that’s on your plate. Then you get another big assignment that puts you over the edge: now this really is impossible, even for you (with your hard core work ethic and ability to muscle through whatever-it-takes). Sound plausible? Familiar?

Here’s what productivity guru David Allen writes about this in a recent newsletter:

The good news about this overwhelm is that it’s forcing people to make executive decisions that they never felt like they had to make before. “I need to do everything that comes my way.” No, you can’t anymore, sorry. You are going to have to do triage. That means you are going to have to have a conversation with your boss. You are going to have to show up with a list of everything he or she has given you and have a conversation. “Gee, thanks for these new things, can we talk? Because I am not going to be able to do them all.” It’s forcing those kinds of conversations.     Read more. . . .        

For years I’ve helped clients have conversations like these with their bosses (and with their own direct reports when they initiate it). Most find it helpful to talk through how to position the conversation, how to language what they need to say, and how to sustain a constructive dialog without complicating it by getting defensive, lashing out, or feeling bad about themselves.

Here are my top 5 recommendations:

  1. If this is your first time having a conversation like this, don’t wing it.You stand to benefit hugely from doing some preparation.
  2. Keep the conversation about the work.  It’s not about you, and it’s not about your boss. Assume the mindset that you and your boss are on the same team whose mission is to get the work done. 
  3. Keep the language neutral. Don’t paint yourself as wrong, bad, or ineffective. Don’t paint your boss as wrong, unreasonable, or mean (even if you think she or he is).
  4. Ask for clarification about priorities. “I thought you wanted me to keep A as my absolute top priority because it has such a tight schedule and so much is riding on it. Now you’re asking me to also work on B. Please help me understand — has the priority changed? Do you want me to let some of the A deadlines slide?” “Would you help me re-prioritize what’s on my plate, given the new assignment?”
  5. Go into the conversation with a written bullet list of what’s on your plate. This can be a strategic visual to have with you, particularly if you’re going to ask for help in re-prioritizing. It takes the pressure off you (and your boss) to remember everything that’s on your list.
  6. Anticipate the emotions (defensiveness, low self-esteem, anger, frustration) you might experience, and have a plan for how to deal with them so that they don’t sabotage your conversation. For example, if you’re likely to feel defensive about not being able to do everything, be prepared to recognize it in real time and deploy a tactic to restore your levelheadedness, such as anchoring or a silent affirmation.  

On a related note, if you suspect that your work habits are truly inefficient, address this issue.  For example, consider taking one of David Allen’s seminars. Many highly effective people swear by them.  

In short, if your to-do list has really become an impossible list, either get some help in optimizing your performance, or get some help from your boss. Or both. Either one is likely to reduce your work stress in the short term and lead to an all-around better situation for you in the long term. 

13 December 2012

Take a Break

“If you think working overtime, skipping your lunch hour and staying chained to your desk will make you more productive, you need to cut yourself some slack and take a break.  Working non-stop without taking a break can increase your chances of weight gain, heart disease and worse.”   So begins a powerful infographic the creative folks at Learnstuff.com developed.   Check it out here: http://www.learnstuff.com/take-a-break/.  In fine print at the bottom, they include the data sources for their bold statements and strong suggestions

They offer disturbing statistics about how many hours most of us SIT at work (guilty as charged), how bad it is for us, AND how easily we could turn it around.  For example, getting away from sitting at the computer even for 5 minutes at a time can make a difference.  Standing for 1/2 hour burns 50% more calories than sitting

I recently had a pinched nerve in my neck that produced numbness, tingling, and pain in my right arm.  It didn’t get better on its own and started keeping me up at night. I consulted my chiropractor who did some work on me that helped, but he said the main cause of the problem was that my posture was terrible: I didn’t sit or stand straight.  He said my poor posture was causing premature wear and tear on my cervical vertebrae, and I would continue to see pinched nerves and the like unless I improved my posture.  Who knew? 

So I started paying attention and was appalled at the collapsed, crumpled-up way I frequently found myself sitting in front of my computer.  But when I noticed it, I could pretty easily straighten up.  After 2 weeks of my noticing and straightening, the chiropractor actually saw changes in my neck from better posture.  That was so encouraging and motivating!  Small changes can have big impact, I thought.  How lucky is that?

Between the chiropractor and the information from Learnstuff.com, I also find myself making other changes.  This was my week to send out holiday gifts and cards to my clients and colleagues.  I usually do this sitting at a desk with everything I need in front of me.  But this year I did it while taking a break from sitting.  I walked around my office to assemble each person’s card and/or gift and wrote out the card and label while standing.  As I finished up each one and stamped it, I walked it to the growing stack of items outside my office door.  I actually felt energized by it.   

My big challenge going forward is to remember these things.  I printed out the graphic (it’s long but looks great) and hung it where I’ll see it daily. 

So what about you?  I encourage you to find ways to take breaks from sitting, and to find other ways to heed the warnings about being chained to the computer.  Make some changes.  Apparently a little can go a long way.     

 

28 November 2012

Coaching at the Massachusetts Conference for Women

Next week, on December 6, 2012, I’ll be coaching at the 8th annual Massachusetts Conference for Women, in Boston.  In partnership with the Conference, The New England Chapter of the International Coach Federation (ICF) selected 40 credentialed coaches to provide individual coaching sessions with Conference participants who want to schedule one.  I’m thrilled to be one of the chosen coaches, and I’m very much looking forward to the event.

Do you live in the Boston area?  Or can you get to the Boston area on 12/6?  If so, consider going to the Conference.  It promises to be an exciting day.  The expected 7000 participants will have the opportunity to hear from a wide-ranging and huge list of speakers.

If you get to the Conference, sign up for one of my coaching sessions, or come over to the location of the “Mentor Match” (what the coaching program is called) and say hello.

If you’ve been to other conferences, conventions, or seminars of this size, you probably know what to expect.  If you’re an extrovert, chances are you’ll have a great day, and you’ll come away energized, inspired, and happy.  If you’re an introvert, you too may come away energized, inspired, and happy, but you might also come away drained and exhausted in a way that your extrovert colleagues are not.

For many introverts, participating in a conference of this size and scope can be personally taxing.  Here are some suggestions for how to get the most from the day with the least amount of damage to your sanity or well-being — try one of two of them:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.  Seriously.  It will keep you grounded.  (And yes, it will also keep you running to the ladies’ room, but hey, each time, it’s a couple of moments to yourself, right?)
  • Take a break from the Conference sometime during the day — just go off for 15 minutes and collect yourself.  Breathe, acknowledge yourself for getting to the Conference and for stretching out of your comfort zone.   You might call a friend or colleague and just check in.  Or you might call your work phone and check in with yourself (leave a message).
  • If (when?) you start to feel overwhelmed by all the high-energy input, know that in the days that follow, you will decompress.  Even more important, know that all that you are learning will unpack itself in the days ahead, and consciously or not, you will integrate what you need to integrate from this, and your next steps will emerge.
  • If you think of any next action steps you might want to take, write them down!  These ideas have a way of disappearing over the course of a high-stimulus day, so harvest them as soon as you’re conscious of them.  You can always discard later.
  • When you meet someone you think you might want to follow up with, ask their permission to contact them later.  In the cold light of the next couple of mornings, go through the names (or cards) of people you met and decide whether and how to follow up.  You don’t have to do everything on the fly.
  • Remember that you’re not the only introvert there.  We’re everywhere!

If you identify as an introvert and read this far, you might enjoy reading this post from earlier this year.

I hope to see you at the Conference!

19 November 2012

Productivity Tips

Here’s an interesting blog post that offers 6 excellent productivity tips.  While I think all of these tips are great ideas, the one that seems the most elusive to people is the one about setting boundaries.

Many of us have segments of our jobs that can only be done effectively in large blocks of uninterrupted time.  When I was a database designer and developer, I did my best designing and coding work alone in my office with the door closed.  (Yes I had an office with a door — it was a long time ago.)  In my current job as a life coach, I write a newsletter, I write this blog, and I do other writing as well.  I can only write in uninterrupted blocks of time.  If I take phone calls and read email while I’m trying to write something — it doesn’t get written.

It turns out that uninterrupted is also the most satisfying way to do this kind of work.  Nice, huh?  Another good reason for good boundaries.

12 November 2012

Success Strategy: Give Yourself Permission to Fail

One of the biggest secrets to success is knowing that you have to fail sometimes. You have to fail forward in order to move forward and succeed. It sounds counter-intuitive, and it generally doesn’t feel wonderful, but failure is a necessary part of personal development.

Making mistakes or doing the wrong things helps you clarify your path and helps you learn the ropes.  You can’t move into new territory already knowing everything you need to know about that territory.  You have to learn it.  And that involves making mistakes and learning from them.  The mental challenge for many of us is giving ourselves permission to mess up rather than beating ourselves up mercilessly.

As a coach for professionals and entrepreneurs since 1995, I’ve now worked one-to-one with hundreds of of effective people who wanted to become MORE effective, busy people who wanted to streamline and improve their process in order to be more successful.  Many, many people get great value from re-framing this whole experience of “failure.”

If you are not making any mistakes, then that means that you are not making any progress. Progress and success require risk and significant investment, not just once but ongoingly. There is no way to get what you want if you are not willing to step out on a limb to make it happen. If you start a business, there is a chance that you will not succeed, but you will never know if you do not try.  Even if the business is a flop you will learn from your mistakes, and you will own that learning no matter what you do next.

The real reason people struggle with failure is that they think that it means that this is the end.  They take it as a sign that they shouldn’t even BE in this game (whatever game it is).  The truth is that failure is not the end unless you make it the end. Failure is never utter personal failure unless you personally let it define you and stop trying. Making mistakes is not an issue as long as you can do better in the future regardless of how badly you messed up.

Giving yourself permission to fail may be your most difficult learning edge.  Learning how to forgive yourself and move on is a crucial success strategy, right along with learning what the failure has to teach you.  Once you’ve harvested the learning, do your best and let it go.  The good news is there will be opportunities in the future for you to apply what you’ve learned.  The bad news  is there will be opportunities in your future to flounder in new ways.  The central task is to identify what there is to learn, recover emotionally as quickly as you can, and move forward.

Please contact me for more information about how to be more successful in your personal and professional life.

24 September 2012

Boundary-Setting: A Work-Life Balance Necessity

Thanks to technology, every dedicated and successful professional can now be on call 24/7. You can respond to emails from the pediatrician’s waiting room. You can participate in an overseas business meeting in the middle of the night from your home. Advanced degrees can be attained at night and on the weekends during “off” hours.

This level of ultra-accessibility reflects amazing technological progress. But if you aren’t actively setting boundaries between your work life and your personal life, this progress may be causing you to suffer.   If your relationships with the people you live with are suffering or if you are feeling the beginnings of job burn-out, it may be time to strengthen your boundaries, which can lead to a powerful course correction in your work-life balance.

Think about when, where, and why you are willing to be interrupted in your personal life for a work-related issue. Make a list of the kinds of urgent work issues that may need your immediate attention. Decide if you can limit your off-hours interaction with your job to those specific situations.  Decide on the hours you will be accessible.  Could 7 am to 9 pm be enough?  If so, then make those your time boundaries and only respond between those times.  If you are unwilling to take business calls after 9 pm, shut your cell phone off.  If you won’t answer emails after hours, don’t read emails after hours, either.

You’ll need to make a few more rules for yourself that help you respect your own boundaries.  When you are on the job, really work the whole time you’re there, or the whole time you’re “on.”  When it’s time to be with your family — be there.  When you’re taking time for yourself, take it with as little guilt as you can manage.  Being fully present (or as fully as you can manage) wherever and whenever you can not only makes your time spent in that arena more effective and satisfying, it can also free you from the personal cost of that nagging voice telling you you really should be somewhere else.

Once you have drawn some clear boundaries between the various domains of your life, consider how best to communicate them to your coworkers and possibly the people in your personal life as well.  They may push back a bit, but part of creating and maintaining good boundaries is standing your ground.

If you want to move forward along these lines and know you could use some individual assistance, please contact me for an initial coaching consultation at no charge.  You  will get a sense of whether you want to work with me, and you can ask whatever questions you have. The skills involved in creating , maintaining, and nurturing healthy boundaries are all very learnable.  Most of us just don’t learn them in school or from our original families!