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

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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.

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!

A Working Mother’s Carry-on Luggage

carry on luggage

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was rushing around gathering the final items for my business trip. This  was going to be a long one. My girls were already dreading me being gone, scheming up ways to change my plans, crying tears of anticipatory sadness of those nights I wouldn’t be there to read with them and tuck them in to sleep, clinging to me for one more hug.

Although I’ve traveled my kids’ entire lives, and they are used to the routine, it hasn’t gotten a heck of a lot easier for them because any way you cut it, Mom’s gone. Skype, Facetime and cell phones help, but you can’t hug over a phone or computer. Despite my best routines and planning, it’s not always easy for me either. Mom-guilt is real and it can sneak up on you at your weakest moments. But like many Moms, I march on, try to stay positive, and work to make the best of our circumstances.

I lost track of the kids as I gathered my final items together and went out to the car. I looked around to find them to say good bye and they were nowhere in sight. I open the car door and suddenly there they were, tucked away on the floor, ready to come along. We laughed at the silliness of it all, and I did a quick good bye, which is always better for everyone, because I knew it would be a tough week.

This is the real story of career mothers like myself, who travel or work long hours, leaving behind the raw emotions of our kids, while wondering if we are doing the right thing. When we walk through the door at the office or join that meeting, we put our game face on, we redirect our energy and emotions and become great contributors and problem solvers at our companies.

Statistics show that companies need more women like us. Our instincts, attention to detail and empathy, combined with solid business skills, can help businesses thrive in the most difficult of times. We love what we do; and we love being parents.

I wish there was a pill we could take for Mom-guilt or a vitamin we could give our kids to make it better when we’re gone. The reality is, there is no magic solution. Over time, I have learned ways to manage through separation. I’ve become creative in talking about the adventure of the things I will see and the problems I will solve when I am gone. I focus on quality time before I leave or take on a big project; and I try to enjoy special times with them when things ease up. Most importantly, I try not to shut down my kids’ emotions when they are frustrated or sad, because this is real life for them.

Every time I pack for a trip, I realize it’s more than just my clothes that I bring along in my luggage. I also carry with me the plan to manage it all when I am gone. Sometimes the load is heavier and sometimes it’s lighter, but part of being a working mom is figuring it out. The best ideas that help me balance it all come from other working women like me who open up, share their vulnerabilities and realize that we’re all in this together. I’m glad I’m not traveling alone.

The Story of Ms. Ana – Passion, Purses and the Pursuit of Balance

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I met Ms. Ana four years ago. It was a fluke that I found her. For years we lived in the same town; two women with a shared passion for making purses and accessories right down the street from each other. We probably crossed paths at Joanne’s Fabrics or the grocery store plenty of times over the years, but it was one fateful day that we finally met. I tracked her down after I saw her purses at a store where I was hosting my daughter’s birthday party. There they were on display, handmade like Vera Bradley with attention to detail that only an artisan could do. The storeowner told me that she was a local designer and she gave me her number.

The next day I called her and we set up a time to get together to talk about my “purse project.” Little did she know that this “project” had been on hold for years. I developed a passion for fashion and handbags back in high school when my best friend and I would study fashion magazines and spend our hard earned babysitting money on the latest clothes and accessories. I learned how to sew and eventually started creating my own accessories. I dreamed of having a second career in fashion with my own line of purses.

Then came marriage, career and two kids. My hobbies came to a screeching halt and dreams of handbags faded into the abyss. I, like many women couldn’t justify time away from the kids and family after working all day, so I put my hobbies and part of me on hold.

Sometimes along the way we get off track, we lose part of ourselves in the pursuit of family, career goals and not enough time in the day. As women, we tend to give these things up for our families and our careers at times when we need it the most.

However, I subscribe to never giving up, just like we tell our kids and friends. I think that every working woman should have a passion they pursue. Whether it’s a cause to support, a hobby, sport or a creative outlet. We all deserve something that breaks up the intensity of career and family demands. Something that feeds our soul and is just for us.

Most importantly, I encourage women to not only find things that feed their creative side, but be creative in how you find time to be creative. Never give up on things that you need for you.

It turns out that fateful day ignited my passion again. While I knew that my career would not be in the fashion world, I needed to do something that fulfilled me. Ms. Ana was the perfect find. My handbag sketches soon became reality and she helped me to bring my designs to life under a line I named Livelle.

Today, I design handbags and accessories for friends, charity events and as gifts for those around me. Ana is Ms. Ana to my kids, and they are often with me when I meet with her on my handbag projects. She even gives them sewing lessons so they too can learn to have hobbies they enjoy.

People often ask me how I have time be a mom, have a career and design handbags on top of it. It doesn’t feel like much of a feat to me, it feels like a necessity. How can I not?