The 4 Best Lessons I Learned When I Made Myself Leave Work at 5 PM

Earlier this week, I came across this article by Richard Moy about managing work schedules on http://www.workingmother.com and thought it was a great one to share:

http://www.workingmother.com/4-best-lessons-leaving-work-5-pm-daily#page-5

I, like many of us find it difficult to “leave the office at 5”, even though I know that I will be responding to emails in the evening and before I go back into the office in the morning.  Even on days where there are specific times that I have to pick up my kids, I still struggle with giving myself permission or feel ready to “leave” the office.

Here are 4 great take aways from the article to help manage your time:

1To get out of the office at a set time every day, you must be intentional about your schedule.

That means having enough structure around meetings, work time and email to get it all done in the day.  Take a step back and look at how and when you need to use your time.  I try to avoid conference calls in the first hour of my day to allow me to work on key deliverables. Schedule calls or appointments in blocks and when you can, ensure that the last call ends at least 30 minutes before you have to leave to be more efficient and avoid the stress of running late.

2.  To leave at 5, you have to get more done during the day.

Think strategically about when you are most productive and schedule your uninterrupted brain power for those times.  Avoid distractions like checking email constantly. A woman I met on a recent flight talked about how to be more efficient with email including checking email every hour vs. every five minutes or when they flash up on your screen. Ensure that you complete the action with the email once it’s opened (delete, store or respond). We lose a lot of time each day if we are constantly jumping from one thing to another and not finishing what we start. Set rules that you live by to maximize your time.

3.  The World Won’t Come Crashing Down if You Leave Something for Tomorrow

While we all know that work deadlines need to be met, it’s the self-imposed deadlines that add the extra pressure and drag us down. Few things are as urgent as we actually make them. Know when you really need to get it done today and avoid obsessing over the nice to haves that can really wait until tomorrow.

4.  Make the Best Out of the Time for You.

It’s amazing how much better we can feel when we have that extra time to get away from work. Thirty more minutes each day can make a big difference to be there for your family or to just detune and recharge for the next day. Setting limits around your schedule is not a sign of lack of dedication to your job, it’s a clear signal that you have commitments outside of the office too.

Talking Balance at The Finish Line

I recently had the opportunity to present to the leadership team of The Finish Line on “5 Keys to Managing Your Work Life Balance & Create Career Success.” Melissa Greenwell, the Company’s progressive EVP & COO recognizes the need to support their employees not only in their role in the workplace, but also in their role outside of the workplace as a parent, spouse, and individuals who want to have a balanced life. The Finish Line believes that to invest in their employees, they must go beyond giving competitive pay and benefits and create an environment where employees can be successful.

They have done this by rolling out progressive PTO (paid time off) policies that shift the responsibility to the employee to manage their time off in a way that gives them more flexibility, but still requires them to meet their role expectations. They are training their leaders to develop skills to manage their balance more effectively, so that they can thrive both in their career and personal lives.

The “5 Keys to managing work life balance and create career success” is all about learning to develop a plan and using tools to manage our balance so that we can better integrate work with life. It’s about putting the control back in our hands to create what balance looks like for us. But how do we do this?

Here’s a look at the 5 keys things that can change the way you manage your balance:

Establish your goals: Start by setting clearly defined goals for your career and personal life together to ensure that they are aligned and will make you feel satisfied. Achieving that next career step or financial goal will only make you happy if you can do that and still have a life in the meanwhile. Balance goals can be as simple as being there for your child’s sports activities, three hours of workout time a week or time for your hobby. Defining these goals helps us to create a path to achieve them.

Develop a work life balance plan inside and outside of work: Your work life balance plan creates a road map of how you will achieve your balance goals. The plan should include what you are going to do, when, and how you are going to make it happen. Scheduling time for balance activities is one of the biggest challenges. I encourage people to schedule balance activities just like a work meeting. Know your most productive times at the office or outside of the office. Schedule your time to get your work done in those times to be out of the office when you need to. Hold yourself accountable to the plan just like you would at work and see how you need to adjust over time.

Establish Cardinal Rules: In today’s age of technology and working from anywhere, it’s especially hard to set boundaries around our personal time. Set rules to live by to ensure that you protect your time so that you can refresh, recharge and have time for what’s important to you.   Is it setting up a no iPhone zone during meal times? No email from 6-9 pm in the week or a “no cancel rule” for things that you will regret if you miss? Set rules that you need to live by and do your best to enforce them.

Practice Self Care: All too often I hear stories of people being burned out, worn out and stressed out. Practicing self-care is not only important for your well-being, it’s a huge part of your success formula personally and professionally. Example of self-care include getting good sleep and engaging in activities that recharge you and help to reduce stress. Sleep is at the top of the list as it creates energy, clarity of thought and actually restores your brain’s cells. Identify the care tools you need to stay on track physically and emotionally. Use these tools to help you recharge and be better both in and out of the office.

Build Your Team: Just like the best sports team or top organizations, I believe that we need a team around us to support our success. Who are those individuals you can tap into for career advice or that demonstrate good balance? What resources can you make part of your team to ensure that you get the time for you? Who are good role models that inspire you to achieve your goals personally and professionally? Put these people together and you have established a great support system for you.

Investing in yourself and feeling good about having a plan that works for you can be rewarding both professionally and personally. If you would like to learn more about these tools either for yourself or to share with your company, contact me at chicagoworkingowomen@gmail.com.

Moving Beyond Balance

womenemployed.edited

 

This week I had the opportunity to join a panel discussion put on by Women Employed  about the state of balance in the workplace and the challenges women face meeting the demands of work and life. Women Employed www.womenemployed.com is a Chicago based not for profit foundation with a powerhouse board of directors and team focused on improving conditions for women to thrive in the workplace.

Moderated by Anne Ladky, Executive Director and Board Member of Women Employed, the conversation explored how we get beyond talking about “how tos” of balance and move to creating conditions for employees to thrive in the workplace and in their personal lives. While the panel discussed the harsh reality that we still don’t do enough for women in the workplace, I walked away inspired to think about how we as leaders invoke the conversation in our workplaces that we must do more.

This is a complex challenge. I know all too well as a business leader myself that remaining competitive is a number one priority to businesses in this economic environment. This task is so consuming that we oftentimes forget to continue the conversation of what we can do in the workplace to make it a better place to work for our employees. Human Resource Departments are facing double digit increases on their medical plans and pressures to find ways to reduce cost. Proposing more paid time off can be challenging, especially in environments where coverage is difficult to schedule.

I believe businesses and leadership teams don’t have all the answers. Women, oftentimes have the best and most creative ideas, but they struggle to propose them to their companies in fear that it will appear as though they will be shot down or viewed as if they can’t meet the commitments of their jobs. It’s hard enough to speak confidently about needing flex time or rescheduling a meeting because it’s too early in the morning, how will they change the way their companies operate?

Here’s how. Let’s open up the conversation at work. Leaders, let’s remind our employees that we need their ideas to make it a great workplace where working moms (and working parents) can thrive. Let’s treat this as a business problem, not a nice to have new benefit, because business problems get solved, but new benefits get put on hold when there’s pressure to hit numbers.

Human Resource Leaders, integrate work life balance needs into your strategy to attract and retain employees. Find best in class policies and practices from companies like yours to get ideas. Empower a committee of employees at your companies to come up with their recommendations in how we can accommodate work life balance needs. Take small steps that are not costly if the big steps can’t get approved yet and communicate the successes to the leadership team.

Women, let’s shift the conversation. Bring your recommendations to the workplace in how we can do things better. Your ideas matter. In this age of technology, our workdays are no longer 8-5, so stop feeling guilty about requesting adjustments to work schedules, or declining that 7:30 a.m. meeting because you are getting your kids ready for school. I would kindly remind you that men rarely give a reason why they can’t attend a meeting, so suggest a new time that works for you and move on to your next business issue.

Clearly, these are steps, not solutions, but it will take a lot of steps, effort and commitment from us all to get there. Thank you Women Employed and panelists, Iliana Mora, COO oat Erie Family Health Center and Women Employed Board member, Susan Lambert, University of Chicago Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune journalist and author of the column “I Just Work Here” for a thought provoking conversation in how we can do more to move beyond balance.

Ditching Perfection

 

“You are a perfectionist.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. The coach that I had been working with identified this new title on my resume that I didn’t even realize I had been working towards. Why is it that she saw it right away, but all of these years, I was blind to it? Always striving to be better, detail oriented and driven to get it right. Being a perfectionist helped me to get this far, but I didn’t know the value that it would bring me to ditch perfection in the next phase in my career and personal life.

As I sat back to reflect, I saw it everywhere. The very things that made me good were the very things that would hold me back if I didn’t figure out how to let it go. As women, we have a tendency to think that we have to do it all and be it all. Thrive in our careers, be the perfect mother, age gracefully and look good all the time. How much time had I wasted on perfection all these years and what would I gain back if I used that time to focus on how much more I could fit in if I let perfection go?

I know I’m not alone. Our society feeds this dynamic, but somehow, women tend to succumb more than men. A recent article by Jessica Bennett, contributing columnist at the New York Times and contributing editor of the Lean In Foundation states that “research shows that women are more likely than men to be perfectionists. The perfectionist behavior can hold women back from answering a question, applying for a new job, asking for a raise until they’re absolutely 100 percent sure we can predict the outcome.”  Sound familiar?

I set out on a secret mission to figure out how to balance perfection to a more manageable state. At work, I started setting limits to ensure I wasn’t spending too much time to make it exactly right and letting it go when things didn’t come out perfect. I moved on quicker when mistakes happened because even the best business leaders make mistakes, but they get smarter from it. I started delegating more to the team and empowered them to own the final result.

On a personal level, I accepted that my house wasn’t going to be as organized as the Jones’ and that that pile on the kitchen counter may get smaller or larger, but it may not go away. I limited my intake on magazines and articles that featured that perfect unattainable image of the women I would never be and I took on new personal mantras like “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.” Very quickly, it felt liberating and exciting to see the potential of an imperfect future, as I realized how much more I could accomplish and how much better it felt.

As working women juggling it all, we owe it to ourselves to strive to be our best, but redefining our best and how we achieve it without the pressure of perfection may be the perfect solution to a better you. Send me your strategies to ditch perfection at chicagoworkingwomen@gmail.com and I’ll share them on my blog.

5 Tips to Manage Workload Stress During the Holidays

We’ve all experienced it, the holidays sneak up on us before we know it. Many times, that’s also crunch time to get year-end projects done and rush to the finish line to close out the year strong. Add to this our holiday “to do” list of presents, cards, parties and more. It starts out fun, but can wind up stressful in a hurry. Here are 5 tips to manage your way through to lower stress in the holidays:

Reset your priorities: Now is a good time to take a look at your top deliverables to get done at work and at home before year end. Write out your list for both to see the whole picture, so that you can be realistic with your time management for both. Sometimes everything can seem like a priority. Now’s the time to pare it down and take it off the list until January if you can, or simplify the task where possible to ensure you get it done.

Flex your schedule: Modify your schedule to fit in the time you need to be extra productive at work and buy back time to get the holiday list done. Can you start an hour earlier at the office or stay an hour late to push project to close quicker? Schedule an hour of targeted holiday shopping online at lunch or hit the mall before the holiday parties or work meetings with a specific list that you can knock off each week. Find strategies that work for you and put them into action.

Power shop: Multi-tasking with gifts wherever possible can be a huge time saver. Find one great gift for friends that you can give to everyone and write a personal note to make it unique for each. Gift cards can be the right solution to cut out time. Who doesn’t love a gift card to Amazon, Sephora or ITunes? Make a list before you spend precious shopping time to so that you use your time and money wisely.

Find time for you: Instead of cutting out the things for you because you have no time, now is the time to do more to care for you and keep you going strong. Work in an extra power nap on the weekend to recharge, take a bath, fit in an extra workout to destress, or even a lunch by yourself to regroup. A little bit of recharge time can go a long way.

Ditch perfection: Give yourself permission that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Your best means you get it done right and on time, which isn’t always the best you have ever done. For those perfectionists out there (like me), this can be hard, but helpful to let it go so you can feel the satisfaction of getting it off the list.

Wishing all of you the best holiday season ever!