Sometimes, it's not just a matter or where or when you do your work. If you want to have a family-friendly career, sometimes you've got to consider how you do your work.
Let's say you've got a big project due. It seems overwhelming to you, not necessarily because it's hard, but because you've got a deadline looming. So instead of digging in, you procrastinate. You check your email sixteen times or you kill time chatting up your co-workers, when really, the whole project would have seemed more manageable if you'd started working on it before you got to the point where thinking about it makes you want to curl up in a ball in your pajamas.
The same thing can happen in a more subtle way if you have multiple things to do. All of them might be productive and might be good uses of your time. The question is, what's the best use of your time? If you're an entrepreneur, does it make more sense to spend hours agonizing over the word placement in a direct mail ad, or to spend those same hours strategizing your online marketing campaign?
It's easy to waste time at work, even if it's unintentional. And sometimes, the waste isn't your fault--it's imposed by a manager who doesn't realize your time could be better spent or that if you streamlined a few things, it would save the company time and money.
So why not take a few hours to think about how you're spending your time? Is there a way you could work more efficiently or effectively? Do you have any ideas for how to be better organized? What would help you and your company grow the most?
Flexibility and work/life balance are so popular that they're almost guaranteed to be buzzwords in most employers' web pages and job ads.
But sometimes those good intentions don't work out so well.
Employers might say they're being more flexible, but if their flexibility strategies aren't administered very well, they're headed for disaster. It isn't long before they claim "We tried flexibility and it didn't work", when the problem was not with the idea, but with how it was run.
Here are a few classic foibles:
It's not consistent. Maybe only management is allowed to take advantage of these programs, or maybe only new mothers or salaried workers. Employees can smell unfairness miles away, and it won't be long before you hear complaints of favoritism or of some employees being overloaded while covering for others.
It's just different hours, not the hours employees need. The state of Utah tried this a few years ago. You could work 9-hour days and then have every other Friday off. That really works well for some people, and not for others. What if your kids' daycare closes at 5:30? What if you want Wednesdays off instead of Fridays so you can take your child to his standing orthodontist's appointment?
Job expectations are not well-defined. This causes every employer's nightmare. The people who are working from home are getting suntans in their backyards instead of working on their projects, and getting information or completed projects from people turns into a constant nagfest. But if every employee and every manager has a clear idea of what needs to get done and when, it won't matter much if the employee is at home or at the office.
Inconsistent management. I have heard so many stories about work/life policies varying from department to department at the same employer. Someone has the perfect arrangement, they get a new manager, and the arrangement's gone. One person gets to work from home once a week but his co-worker a few cubicles down doesn't get the same privilege. Everybody has to be on board for a flexibility policy to work. Leaving it up to somebody else's whims does not create a unified corporate culture, nor does it guarantee the flexibility the employer brags about.
So I think it's time we bring flexibility out of the warm-fuzzy nebulous regions of corporate-speak and give it some sharper definitions. It needs to be carefully measured, well-defined, and consistent. It's not just one of those "soft" values---it has the potential to really change things, and to improve profitability not just for the companies who administer it, but for the entire economy.
I may have mentioned once or twice that I don't like decisions. It's one thing to tell myself, "Oh, just decide already and stop being such a perfectionist!" It's another to actually deal with what might be holding me back.
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about career decisions. It's not always as simple as wanting more money or needing to help people and then finding the job that matches. Sometimes there are real emotional and mental issues that complicate decisions.Relationship stuff
Even if I know plenty of other people who have made similar arrangements work for their families, I worry that my
kids are going to be the ones starting up a meth lab when I'm gone. Or I might remember a disparaging comment someone made about working moms and think they won't love me anymore if I choose differently than they would. Or I might go after a career path that doesn't suit me simply because of the impressive "ooh" sound people make when they hear what I do for a living. Sometimes I forget that I have to consider what's best for me as well as my family, you know, since I'm part of the family, too. It isn't always about everyone else.
These might sound silly, but once I identify what I'm worried about, it's easier to think clearly about the possible consequences of my decision rather than letting my worries linger in the corners of my mind.Fear stuff
I worry all the time that I'll launch into my next career move and then find that I hate it. Yup, that's good old regret anticipation eating me up inside.
When I quit working to take care of my kids, I thought I would be fulfilled through them because they would listen to my wisdom with rapt attention. It took me a few years to realize my kids were just going to be people and that it wasn't their job to fulfill me. So I lowered my expectations, which is the opposite of what I usually like to do (Reach for the stars! Save the world!).
I don't want the same thing to happen again. If sky-high ideals didn't work for my kids, they probably won't work for my job, either. I worry that I'm setting myself up for disappointment, since it isn't my career's obligation to meet my every need.Raging against mediocrity
I don't rage because I'm spoiled and can't figure out how to sacrifice. Believe me, I know a thing or two about delayed gratification. But I expect a lot from myself. And so if I'm doing something ordinary, I feel like I could be doing more or doing better. I don't want to just be solving someone else's first world problems! The truth of it, though, is that even greatness requires taking baby steps, talking to crazy people, and filling out tedious paperwork. It comes back to expectations. Even boring, easy, or kiss-up busywork is part of life. Expect it.Unhealthy thought patterns
. If I can't do this now, I'll never be able to. I don't know why everyone else seems to have their lives together. What is it about me that makes me unsuccessful?
None of these thoughts is very helpful. Changing thought patterns is hard because of how fast thoughts can travel and how elusive that makes them. It might take a serious time investment in myself to make it happen, but if my thoughts are holding me back, it's definitely worthwhile to change them.Distorted view of the consequences
. I've held on to more than one job I hated for longer than I should have. But you know what? The world wouldn't have ended if I quit. And if I (gasp!) make a bad career choice, I'm not stuck there forever. I can leave. I could even turn the job I hate into an opportunity to find a job I like more! Jobs are not forever, not these days. So it's important for me to remind myself that the fate of the free world doesn't rest on my decision. I can change my mind. I can learn something from my mistakes. Decisions don't have to last forever.
I believe in frugality. I watched my mom add water to get the last of the ketchup from the ketchup bottle because she didn't want to waste it.I've never once hired a person to help with any household task (other than child care) because I tend to believe it makes sense (i.e. it's cheaper) to do things yourself rather than paying someone else to do them for you.Plus, I'm a little judgmental of people who do so. In my mind, somehow I got the idea that hiring a cook or a housekeeper is the ultimate class marker. If you have a maid, you're rich. This is not true, of course, but I personally don't know very many people without a royal pedigree who don't do their own housework. Heck, even the royals are cutting back on hired help. I've heard Will and Kate do their own cooking.So when I read about people like this who hire out their laundry,
it makes me sort of crazy. Those people are so easy to hate. "Oh, sure, wouldn't we all love to have that kind of money?" I think to myself. Just as rich people sometimes "other" the poor, those of us without a house full of servants can easily "other" the rich.Not everyone can afford luxuries like house cleaning. But then again, many people couldn't afford the "luxuries" I spend money on, either.Everyone has different ways to indulge, and sometimes doing so can benefit themselves or their families. If a dad hires someone to help with household tasks, maybe he has more time for family. If a mom's only time to relax is when she gets her nails done, maybe that's the best thing for her sanity. If mowing the lawn causes stress, it might not be a bad idea to pay the neighborhood boy to do it for you.People spend money on what's important to them, and that's what makes it hard not to judge and compare the way other people spend their money.Is there anything you spend money on that others criticize you for? Is it just out of habit or is it a priority for you?
Anybody here remember how Winnie the Pooh used to solve problems? He'd sit around and say, "Think think...think think..."
I don't know how well that worked for him, but some days, I wonder. No matter how many times I tell my brain to come up with a new idea, it refuses to obey.
It could be because I haven't gotten any sleep the night before. It could be because I'm preoccupied with what's going on with the kids. It could be because after working so hard without a break, I'm burned out. Or it could be because it's Friday (hypothetically speaking, of course).
Some days, it seems like you've got nothing left in you to get your work done. Maybe you feel physically exhausted or emotionally bankrupt. Maybe your brain is fried or your spirit feels wrung out. Yet you've got a deadline or a boss breathing down your neck, and you have to get something done.
Some people meditate. Others go for a walk. Some do some kind of craft to keep their hands busy and their minds free. Others eats lots of chocolate!
What do you do when you have to work, but you feel like there's no work left in you?
Having it all means having the same work and family choices that men do. It doesn't mean having everything you want--no one has that.
Choose a job you like and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Do what you feel in your heart to be right. You'll be criticized anyway.
You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make
“If you commit to giving more time than you have to spend, you will constantly be running from time debt collectors.”
Elizabeth Grace Saunders
In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In
conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do
what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be
truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.
I hope that business leaders will listen to Warren Buffett on this one. After all, when his company says it might be contemplating a certain stock, investors run out the door and buy that stock as soon as they can. They'd fly if they could.
His new radical idea is that companies need to start investing in women
. Not just because it's the nice thing to do, not just because it would make the office more interesting, but because it will benefit them to do so.
The United States is notoriously behind other nations when it comes to leadership in almost every kind of work. It's not because women aren't working, either. Women outnumber men in the work force. There are probably a number of factors contributing to women not leading, but I'd like to think we could eliminate a few of them.
Sometimes, this happens because of discrimination, deliberate or not. Sometimes, you can trace women's lack of leadership to a culture that says science and math are unfeminine. Sometimes, family needs win. Sometimes an unforgiving corporate culture assumes the stay-at-home spouse will deal with the children. Sometimes self-doubt prevents women from taking those steps into the unknown.
A few years ago, Bill Gates famously told an audience that Saudi Arabia could never expect to become a top nation in technology as long as they weren't using the talents of half their population.It only makes sense. Half the innovation, deal-making, discovery, and creativity is held back from leadership. Even though the field is theoretically wide open, very few women are CEOs or film directors or marketing executives or computer scientists.
But if more women in charge, I think things would change. How would women in advertising present the female body differently than men do? How would child care products change if more women developed those products? What family-friendly changes would women introduce to the corporate culture? How much more profit would companies make if women marketed to women, who are responsible for 80% of purchasing decisions?
How do you think things might change if there were more women in leadership positions?
Imaginary power trips. They don't change anything in the real world, but it's fun to be a tyrant.So, in my imaginary world, if I were in charge of higher education, I would change a few things in the curriculum.
This might seem like a lot of extra general education classes, but I think these would have been far more practical in my life than the American Heritage or biology classes my alma mater made me take. It wasn't a bad thing to take the required classes--I still hold a soft spot for Einstein after my physics class. But I think every student needs my suggested classes way more. Let me explain.Marketing is necessary for everyone. Even if you work as an employee, you have to learn to sell yourself in an interview and sell your ideas to your boss. As a parent, you can't tell me that an understanding of advertising and negotiation won't help you teach your little ones some important lessons. Many people need a second income, and some marketing knowledge could give you the know-how to take what you've learned and turn it into a way to pay for that washing machine repair bill.Sometimes in school, we're so busy studying the stuff that we forget to study what to do with it. Most of us will switch careers several times during our lives. The whole process would be a lot easier if we knew what some of the career options were.Internships, aside from giving potential future employers free labor, are a way for someone trying to break into a field to make some great connections and get some real-world experience. When DH was at school, each student was required to complete an internship before graduation (in clinical lab science). I studied music, so that might seem harder, but I think forcing students to stretch their imaginations to find a placement in their field could help them be just as imaginative later on when they're trying to earn a living.I'm a cheapskate, so maybe I wouldn't need it as much as some, but making smart financial decisions doesn't come easily to everyone. We need to teach about money. Kids living at home or even in school have very little concept of how much money it takes to raise a real, actual family in the real, actual world. They're expected to make career decisions with very little experience to know how that decision will affect them later on.Everyone should understand technology. Most kids these days get the basics. They at least know how enough to download apps, write an essay for school, and to annoy their parents by playing games all day. But how much more of an advantage will they have if they know how not just to use computers, but to create things that others can use? There is much more of a demand for computer scientists than we're supplying right now.
- I would require everyone to take at least one marketing class.
- I would require everyone to take at least one career workshop class.
- I would require every student, in every program of study, to do some kind of internship.
- I would require everyone to take at least one financial literacy class.
- I would require everyone to take at least one computer class.
If they don't want to become computer geeks, they could use their computer skills in whatever field they want to study.In the real world, I can't decide what schools will or won't require their students to learn. But I do know what I'm going to make my kids learn (You want the tuition money? You take what I tell you to take!). What do you think every student should learn to be better prepared for the real world?
Sometimes I think it would be smarter to ditch the standard employee model completely. Certainly, we're already seeing some of that. Contract work is on the rise. Some jobs value skills and/or experience more than education. More people telecommute or have flexible schedules than ever before.Yet, full-time, W-2 employment is still the standard way to go. It's embedded not just in the workplace, but in all of our social systems--schools, standard office hours, routines, day care hours...This LinkedIn article says that non-linear careers are better. If you don't have access to LinkedIn, I'll summarize. The author says college is expensive and overrated. We should focus instead on internships since experience and networks are more valuable than degrees. You could start a company instead of working for someone else. There are other ways of learning besides the clasLooking back, I'd say the idea of a non-standard career hardly occurred to me. It's not really surprising. With the world changing as fast as it does, how could I expect my tiny elementary school with one computer in the library to prepare me for the real world?I think the author is right that less traditional careers will become more and more common. This will give people more freedom to determine their own schedules and ways of working. But it could make things difficult for those who thrive on the security of having another person pay them.Do you prefer being an employee, your own boss, or a hybrid of these two? What non-traditional career or education moves have you made?
I couldn't resist the title. I love My Fair Lady.
To me, it seems like much of the working world is asking women this question. Why can't a woman work 50 hours like a man? Why can't a woman take whatever the boss dishes out without turning into a crying mess? Why can't a woman just get a nanny to stay later when overtime is required?
Often, though, this puts women in a double bind. They are often seen as less masculine or as not fulfilling their gender roles if they behave more like a man. So they can't win, no matter what they do.
Many women don't have any problem with living up to male standards in the workplace. Maybe they don't have children or other obligations.
Now, more and more men are saying they want to be more like women. They want to spend more time with their families. They are experiencing work-life conflict. They have aging parents, too. I read recently that more men than women are taking advantage of flexibility. They are leaving the office early so they can make dinner. They are taking a couple hours off at lunch to watch the school play.
I think this is great, but it's not enough. The reason that many of these men can do so (sometimes even more so than women) is because they've earned enough credibility in their organizations that this kind of flexibility is no big deal. They're in charge, or at least high enough up that they can do what they want.
Studies show over and over again that lower-income workers and hourly workers are far less likely to be entitled to flexibility than their exempt counterparts. It's as if we're saying flexibility has to be earned. And if you're lower on the totem pole, we don't trust you.
Unfortunately, whether it's due to their personal choices, societal pressure, or discrimination, women are much more likely to be in those lower-paying positions, especially if they have children, and they're less likely to have the same experience level as men. Mothers with children are consistently seen by employers as less committed to their jobs, and generally have to work harder to prove their trustworthiness, even when they've done nothing to show their work doesn't matter to them. So the ones who need it most are least likely to be able to use it.
I wish we wouldn't put people in boxes at the workplace. We don't have to condemn men or women, whether they have children or not, for not conforming to certain ideas about how men or women should behave. I wish we were grown up enough to offer flexibility to everyone without penalizing them for whether or not they choose to use it.