Making Work Work: New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the Office

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Maintaining control in today's hectic workplace is a challenge — everything is lean, competitive, and uncertain. What does it take to survive? Must you sign away your life in blood? Live in fear of being fired? Quit your job and move to the countryside? Not at all.

Through the mastery of nine essential skills, Morgenstern shows how small changes in your thinking and behavior will help you achieve the seemingly impossible — boost your value, increase your job security, and afford...

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Overview

Maintaining control in today's hectic workplace is a challenge — everything is lean, competitive, and uncertain. What does it take to survive? Must you sign away your life in blood? Live in fear of being fired? Quit your job and move to the countryside? Not at all.

Through the mastery of nine essential skills, Morgenstern shows how small changes in your thinking and behavior will help you achieve the seemingly impossible — boost your value, increase your job security, and afford you the time to still have a life. Morgenstern has helped clients of all levels take control of their work lives in every industry imaginable. This book mirrors the individual consulting services she provides by showing you how to start with yourself and then tackle the more complex external issues of working relationships and the job.

With insight and warmth, Morgenstern gives fresh "grab-and-go" strategies such as:

  • Avoid e-mail for the first hour of the day. It's addictive and steals your most productive time.

  • Trust your truth. Never undervalue your unique self, skills, and point of view.

  • Beware multitasking. Scattering your efforts makes for a longer day.

  • "Dance close to the revenue line." Making and saving money is where your greatest value lies.

  • "Crunch the container." Shorten your workday by thirty minutes and you will get more done.

Making Work Work transcends industries, job titles, and even economic climates. With the process taught in this book, you will feel less trapped and more in charge — you'll able to make a bad situation better, restore a formerly good situation, or search for a job that's a better fit for who you are.

With Morgenstern's guidance you can find a way to make work work.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Whether in the executive boardroom or a windowless cubicle, the key to a more balanced, productive existence, according to organizer extraordinaire Morgenstern, is PEP (physical health, escape and people), the four Ds (delete, delay, delegate and diminish) and a healthy dose of reality about what is doable, and what is impossible, at work. Written in the same to-the-point approach as her Organizing from the Inside Out, this volume espouses a combination of philosophies that not only makes a whole lot of sense but is practical and applicable to the real world, no matter what the job or office setting. Each "competency" (as the chapters are called) includes scenarios taken from actual clients, bullet-pointed tips known as "grab-and-go-strategies," from getting away from wasteful e-mails to planning your day better and always dancing "close to the revenue line." Morgenstern promises readers a significant change in their workload, productivity level and all-around confidence if they refrain from reading, replying to or even perusing e-mail in the first hour of the day. This may be a hard sell for some desk-based professionals, but it's clear that Morgenstern knows her stuff. The habits of workaholics and perfectionists, she argues, are impractical and will render one unproductive. In accessible, encouraging prose, Morgenstern helps readers learn their boundaries, limits, strengths and weaknesses. Agent, Joni Evans. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743250870
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 9/7/2004
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Making Work Work

New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the Office
By Julie Morgenstern

Fireside Books

Copyright © 2004 Julie Morgenstern
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743250877

Chapter One: Embrace Your Work/Life Balance

Picture this: You're hanging off the side of a cliff by your fingertips. Gravity is pulling, and you are slipping down, down, down. You see a large rock jutting out just above your hand. Your only chance of survival is to let go of the narrow ledge you're sliding off and quickly grab hold of that big rock above. For one split second, you won't be holding on to anything at all -- you'll be suspended in midair. What would you do?

For many people, breaking away from the gravitational pull of work is extremely difficult. In fact, it's counterintuitive. You'd think that if you are struggling at work, you should try to fix things on the job first. Certainly, improving your performance at the office will give you more leverage in asking for some work/life balance benefits, like extra time off. So why would I make "Embrace Your Work/Life Balance" the first competency rather than the last?

Because in the crazy, sped-up, pressure-cooker world of work, our personal lives are usually the first thing we sacrifice. That puts us in a precarious situation -- when our balance is off, our performance suffers, along with our happiness and motivation.

If you are feeling overworked, exhausted, and depleted, the first step is to let go at work and take care of yourself. Though it may feel like breaking away from the office could be deadly to your career, embracing your work/life balance, even with something as simple and straightforward as catching up on your sleep, is actually one of the most effective ways to improve your productivity on the job.

Not Just Nice, but Necessary

Mastering your work/life balance is not just a nice idea -- it's necessary. The extraordinary stresses of today's workplace require you to take control of your work/life balance and to make sure that the time off you do have is rewarding, refreshing, and energizing. Creating a vibrant personal life is one of the best investments you can make in your work! If you don't stop to reclaim your work/life balance first, you will never have the energy, creativity, and wherewithal to learn any of the other competencies presented in this book -- let alone improve your work performance.

The concept of reclaiming a balance between work and life may strike you as a fantasy, impossible under the stresses of the modern workplace. It's not.

Top-Tier Performers Are Committed to Their Work/Life Balance

In every industry I consult in, I've noticed that the top-tier performers are deeply committed to their work/life balance. They may be working long hours, but they are very thoughtful about their leisure, so that they make excellent use of time away from the office. This is a critical skill -- especially if you're working long hours, because you have fewer hours to play with in the first place.

The most successful workers create a balance that ensures they are energized, refreshed, and renewed every day. Their balancing act isn't perfect, and it requires constant attention -- but they are vigilant about maintaining that balance, because they appreciate the continuity between home and rest, work and productivity.

A solid work/life balance will provide you with:

• Energy. The more energized you are, the more productive you will actually be. When you are burned out, you move more slowly. You may not realize it because your judgment is off, but simple tasks can take two, three, four times longer.

• Accuracy. When you are rested, refreshed, and in balance, you think more clearly, making better, swifter choices. You don't waste time doing work over, or correcting mistakes.

• Innovation. The best ideas often come when you step away from your work and stop staring at a problem. A change in environment or activity -- going for a drive, visiting a museum, or just taking a shower -- often stimulates innovation, enabling you to solve problems in new ways.

• Patience. A rewarding, enjoyable life outside work makes it easier to tolerate frustrations at work. It's easy to lose perspective when you are working fourteen-hour days -- little problems can become treacherous monsters.

• Motivation. Being in balance enhances your overall quality of life, which makes you feel fulfilled and enlivened with a sense of purpose. By creating a life that you enjoy, you can flip the switch -- and begin "working to live," instead of "living to work."

Are You Slipping Off the Edge?

How far off balance are you? Are you hanging on with both hands, your fingers, or just your fingertips? Circle True (T) or False (F) for the following eleven questions and find out close you are to the edge:

T F I'm constantly feeling sleep-deprived. Artificial stimulants like sugar and caffeine are the primary way I keep myself going.

T F Things take far longer to do than they used to -- I'm operating in slow motion. It's hard to make decisions, think clearly, prioritize. Sometimes I'm in a daze.

T F My fuse is very short -- I've become cranky and quick to anger over even the smallest annoyances.

T F I've gotten out of shape and/or gained weight because I have no time to exercise or eat properly.

T F I haven't been to the doctor in ages -- just too busy at work.

T F Vacation! What's that? I sometimes fantasize about getting sick, just so I can take a break.

T F Many of my friends and family are often hurt or disappointed because I'm never around.

T F I'm putting too much stock in work -- it's my only source of recognition and self-worth.

T F I used to love (gardening, painting, listening to music -- fill in the blank with your favorite pastime), but I don't have the energy to enjoy it anymore.

T F I'm always too tired to do anything other than collapse at night and weekends. I'm in a constant state of exhaustion.

T F During the workday, I have to steal time for myself -- doing personal email, calls, taking a shopping detour after lunch -- because I have no time for myself otherwise, what with the twelve- to fourteen-hour days I'm putting in.

SCORING: How many Trues did you circle?

9-11 Danger zone -- need rescuing

5-8 Losing your grip

1-4 Good balance -- keep it up

Obviously, everyone works hard these days...and finding time for a personal life is a challenge we all face. Mastering your work/life balance will give you the incentive to acquire the rest of the competencies in this book, and be a happy and successful top-tier performer.

Grab-and-Go Strategy #1
Let Go and Grab Hold

When you are exhausted and depleted and don't know where you'll find energy to tackle that next project -- take a leap into the unknown. Trust that work will survive without you for an hour, an evening, or a weekend. You must embrace the fact that sometimes your best hope for getting to the bottom of your to-do list is to let go and take care of yourself personally.

What constitutes "balance"? Being in balance is about energy management -- about spending your time on things that restore and relax you, knowing what springs you back up to eight cylinders when your engine is beginning to cough and choke. It's about identifying when you're close to your breaking point, then making the choice to quit for the day while you're still ahead. If you work so long and so hard that it's all you can do to crawl home and spend the evening on the couch staring out the window at a fire hydrant as reruns of The Golden Girls drone on and on, it's no wonder you are feeling burned out.

Everyone's idea of "being in balance" is a little different. Some people are thrilled with a Sunday to themselves once a month, while others can't imagine life with fewer than four weeks of vacation a year. Some people find joy in gardening, while others just want to curl up with a good book every night. For parents, balance may mean time with their kids; for singles, it might constitute time at a spa with friends. The commonality among us is the guilt -- no matter how we define balance, most people believe we should be responsible to work before ourselves.

Yet you have everything to gain and nothing to lose from letting go of that ledge and grabbing hold of that rock above.

You may fear that letting go and regrabbing requires drastic measures. You may fantasize about quitting your job, changing careers, moving to a desert island, seeking a more peaceful existence. But if you take care of yourself in little ways on a consistent basis, reclaiming your balance does not call for radically altering your life. The truth is, even if you do make a huge change, you may not be able to leave your hard-driving impulses behind.

Look at this email sent to me from one of my readers:

Dear Julie:

I'm a classic Type A: total organization/efficiency freak, workaholic. I left working as a litigation lawyer in a big firm and became a Realtor so I could have more of a life. I moved out of New York City (where I had grown up) to a quiet place in the country. But I couldn't leave my workaholism behind despite my dreams of having time to garden, play electric bass more, and travel more. Bottom line: I need your advice BADLY!!

Embracing your work/life balance is an internal process. It is very subtle -- small changes can yield big results, and even the tiniest shift can give you a whole new perspective.

When I first begin working with my clients, many feel light-years from a healthy lifestyle and assume it will take forever to regroup and restore. But the solutions are actually quick and easy, and the payoffs for making the investment come fast and furious.

Start nice and easy, with one activity at a time. Think of three things that refresh you, that you wish you had more time to do. Now, let go and regrab, by planning to do one of them today.

Grab-and-Go Strategy #2
Balance Your Balance with PEP

People often make the mistake of dividing their lives into just two parts -- work and home. That's misleading -- there are multiple elements to your life outside work, and it's important to balance your time between all of them.

"Balancing your balance" is the real secret to being in control. You need to balance three categories of your personal life to give yourself true energy:

Physical health
Escape
People

Together, these three categories form the acronym PEP, which is exactly what they will give you. Let's look at them one at a time.

Physical Health

Lack of sleep and poor nutrition can be compensated for with caffeine, sugar, power bars, or the pure will to concentrate, but nothing substitutes for genuine physical health. Sleep, exercise, a proper diet, and regular checkups maintain your physical body. This is a basic, essential priority, which provides the well of energy from which you draw the strength to accomplish everything else you need to do. Some people, like Rita, neglect their own physical health for so long that they forget what it feels like to be healthy and rested. Making the commitment to your physical health will have an immediately visible effect on your productivity.

• Monitor how much sleep you currently get, then increase your sleep time in half-hour increments. Studies show that getting the same amount of sleep every night is healthier for your body than trying to run on five hours a night during the week, then sleeping ten hours on the weekends to catch up.

• Choose bedtime reading material carefully. Try reading only fiction or poetry before sleep; nonfiction, self-help, business books, and the newspaper tend to rile you up rather then settle your brain.

• Discover a form of exercise you love. Try Pilates, yoga, aerobics classes, rowing, softball -- anything that you enjoy and that takes your mind off the torture of exercise! Start small and don't be overambitious. Exercising three times a week is just fine.

• Listen to business tapes while on the treadmill or out for a walk. Combining the two makes you feel your exercise time is for your work, not a break from it.

• Buy a pedometer -- and walk everywhere, instead of taking the elevator or the car. Keeping track of how many miles you trek a week, month, or year can motivate you to keep on truckin'.

• Find a great multivitamin and start taking it. You'll be surprised what a difference it makes. Replace your afternoon energy booster with something more organic than sugar or caffeine -- an energy bar, juice, jumping jacks, a walk in the fresh air.

• Establish a personal relationship with each of the doctors on your core team. Know each of their receptionists -- those personal connections are key to swift appointments. Aim for the mornings -- doctors fall behind later in the day -- so you can get in and out fast. Try to bunch all your yearly checkups at the same time of year -- autumn and springtime usually present the fewest scheduling problems.

Escape

Certain activities renew us by providing relaxation, refreshment, or just sheer delight. Think about the activities that instantly transport you to a place of pure joy. It could be reading, gardening, painting, dancing, listening to music, or pampering yourself by taking a long bath or a long weekend. This element of your personal life is what defines you -- what makes you YOU. These activities -- the no-brainers of joy -- are important to build into our everyday lives.

Adding something new and joyful to a crammed schedule actually has the effect of stretching the hours and days. You will suddenly feel like you have more time on your hands than ever, because you will be energized as you look forward to your time off, and renewed as you think back on how pleasant that time was. Try starting your evening and weekends with one of these great escapes -- it will take you to a higher, more mindful state of relaxation. What takes you away?

• Remember what you used to enjoy. It's easier to escape into something that instantly transports you than to learn something new. Listen to music, play an instrument, join a dance class.

• Get pampered. Schedule a massage, manicure, pedicure, facial, or haircut, and let someone else take care of you while your mind wanders.

• Tune in to your senses. Slow down and pay attention to what's around you. A simple walk home can become an escape if you pay closer attention to the sights, sounds, and smells, and the activities of people. Every day we are surrounded with fascinating scenes and wonderful opportunities to escape; escape from your own head and pay attention to your environment.

• Get season tickets. Purchase a series of tickets to the symphony, local jazz ensemble, opera house, or sports team to build several delightful escapes into your schedule in advance. Once you have the performances on your schedule, and have spent the money, you'll be less likely to sacrifice the tickets for work. And if a real work emergency comes up, you can always give the tickets away -- a nice way to build your people connections.

• If you are a reader, escaping into a good novel can have the feeling of a vacation each time you open the pages.

• Listen to music instead of watching TV. A lot of people just turn on the TV whenever they walk in the door, out of habit, for a sense of company. The danger is, you intend to sit down for ten minutes, and don't get up for two hours. Music sets a mood, transporting you instantly. Get refamiliarized with your CD collection, and choose music to come home to, to cook dinner to, clean the house to, and so on.

• Do nothing. After a particularly intense workweek of one deadline after another, a weekend of sleeping in, lazing around, or wandering the neighborhood with no list or schedule is sometimes the perfect tonic. Just make sure you're choosing to do nothing, rather than just passively letting time pass out of a habit!

• Vacation in short bites. Schedule four long weekends, four days each, throughout the year instead of two solid weeks off. These long weekends can be a quarterly treat to look forward to, refreshing your spirit without breaking your momentum or fueling your guilt.

People

With the busyness of everyone's lives, it's very easy to take relationships for granted -- you count on the history, the good times, and familial bonds to hold them together. Yet relationships thrive on more than good feelings and memories -- actually spending quality, focused time with people lets them know they are important to you. Staying connected to the people you care about isn't only for them, though, it's for you.

There are people in your life who give you a sense of value, love, and connection. Whether they are family, friends, or people in your community, spending time with them is essential to your being. Keeping our relationships strong feeds our spirits, grounds us, reinforces our identities, and brings out our best selves. Rewarding relationships at home can help us to tolerate tensions at work more easily.

Some relationships may be easier and more rewarding than others, so make sure you're spending the greatest amount of time with the people who bring an easy joy to your life. Their support and love will help you get through tough times at work.

• Say "Hello," instead of asking, "Who made this mess?" when you first get home. Before making note of the chores, plans, and arrangements, take a deep breath when you get home and ask, "How are you?" This sets the right tone for the evening and improves the quality of the short amount of time you may have with your family.

• Balance your friendships. Don't always hang out with the same person (your most needy friend). Each relationship in our lives feeds a different part of our beings. Get together with friends in person, on the phone, via email. But do stay in touch.

• Find common interests between you and your family and friends. If you and your son share a love of music, make it your special thing to do together. If your wife loves to garden, offer to go to the annual bulb festival together. Know a friend who loves Indian cuisine as much as you do? Take an Indian cooking class together.

• Grab commuting and travel time. When traveling for pleasure or business, enjoy the contact with family, friends, or strangers. Conversations in transit offer a chance to build on relationships or to make new friends.

• Stay on top of holiday, birthday, and anniversary cards. Greeting cards that you take the time to write out and mail go a long way. Nothing says friendship like a heartfelt, handwritten card that arrives in the mailbox on time. Buy cards for the entire year, address them, stamp them, and schedule a "date-to-mail" in your planner.

• Create a routine. Establish every Friday night as a time to have a drink or dinner with your favorite group of friends, or to rent a movie with your family. Routine takes the guesswork out of planning and frees you of guilt when you are at work.

• Entertain with pot luck. It's easier to have people over if gathering a crowd doesn't require too much prep on your part. You clean your house, let your friends do the cooking. Assign parts of the meal to each person -- appetizer, salads, main course, vegetable, and dessert. Switch houses each month, and make it a tradition.

What's Getting Short Shrift?

Is your balance out of balance? Has your time off fallen into a rut, where you are always doing the same thing? Do you always just hang out with friends after work, instead of exercising or just taking time for yourself? Do you only work out, leaving no time to spend with your family?

If you want to quantify and measure your actual balance, study yourself. Track yourself for a week or two (two weeks is best to get the average). Write down how much time you spend on each element of your personal life -- the hours you sleep, time with friends or family, errands, and so on. Make a little check mark for each hour or half-hour increment. Alternatively, color-code your planner. Use a different color of highlighter for each category -- e.g., work, blue; health, green; self-renewal, yellow; relationships, pink -- so you have an instant visual picture of the balance you are creating. The idea is to get a good read on where you are spending your time off, so that you can determine if it's enough, and what would be the ideal.


Once you see the patterns of your time off, set some goals for yourself. What will it take to rebalance your balance? Which of the three elements of PEP are feeling the most depleted? What are you not doing now that would have a powerful and positive impact on your energy?

Drawing from all three categories of PEP, you can create your own à la carte menu. Dream up combination activities -- you can run with a friend (relationships and physical health), or read your book on the bike (physical health and escape!). Customize your menu. Mix it up. Have fun with it. Ask yourself, What would make me happy?

If you're already feeling overloaded and can't imagine finding time for all three categories, don't panic; it isn't necessary to catch up all at once. Just start with one or two. Everybody needs a variety of activities, and we all benefit from a different mix at different times. Keeping your life in balance is a fluid, ongoing process; find the right mix for the time in your life.

Reach for the three biggest, most solid rocks -- you'll notice an improvement in your work/life balance, even if you only make time for these three things.

Grab-and-Go Strategy #3
Break Through Your Resistance

Reclaiming your work/life balance sounds great, doesn't it? With all the tangible and intangible benefits to "getting a life," why can I already feel you digging in your heels? There's some hesitation on your part, a tape running round in your mind saying, "Yes, but that won't work for me. Balance is a pipe dream...there's no way I can pull it off."

What makes you linger at the office? You keep saying you're leaving by 6:30 P.M., but as six o'clock rolls around, you start a new project, make an extra call, start puttering...and before you know it, it's eight-thirty. What keeps you at the office after hours? What could be standing in your way? Is it you, or is it them?

Work as Escape

Many people are happier and more at ease when they're consumed by work. The practical, measurable results offered by work are more immediately gratifying than the effects of a personal life. Getting the report done, landing the contract, and running a successful meeting are tangible accomplishments, with concrete results. The payoffs of a personal life -- a feeling of fulfillment, energy, and love -- are more ambiguous, and much harder to measure, define, and access.

Sometimes work is a form of escapism -- from loneliness, unhappy marriages, oppressive family life, disturbing emotions that arise when the mind is not occupied with work. You need to ask yourself honestly, are your long work hours the result of passion or avoidance?

If you work superhuman hours, be honest about your motivation. Is this merely a vital stage in your life, when work serves as the healthiest outlet for your energy? Or are there relationship problems, or other deep-seated issues, that you should address? Do you truly love your work, or do you fear the alternatives?

Tips for People Who Are More Comfortable at Work Than at Leisure

People who thrive on the tangible nature of work can apply some of the same principles to their personal life. To get a grip:

• Think of creating a personal life as an investment in your work. If you are refreshed and balanced, you will have more energy and be more productive. If you feel uncomfortable taking time for yourself, do it for your clients, boss, and colleagues.

• Ask yourself if work is a comfortable refuge. Identify what you are using work to avoid, and find alternate, more palatable ways to spend your time off. If you are avoiding a difficult relationship, use your weekends to paint or exercise. If you hate to be alone, make plans in advance to make sure your evenings and weekends are filled with company.

• Keep a fun/leisure log to track your activities, how long you spent, whether you enjoyed yourself or not. You may need to discover what you find enjoyable, if it's been a while.

• Measure your doses. Make subtle, gradual changes in your life. You may fear that if you take a break from work, you'll lose your momentum and never get it back. It may seem scary at first, but do it. Start by reintegrating the easiest, most comfortable area of your life. As your tolerance builds, slowly increase your time off -- e.g., begin with a weekend away, then a week, then two weeks.

• Carve out one weekly oasis from work. Do something you absolutely love, that you can look forward to all week. It'll completely transport you every time you do it: gardening, dancing, cooking, a movie.

• Picture success. Visualize yourself aglow in the peak of fitness, or involved in a warm, loving relationship. Imagine how good you'll feel performing community service, or taking up a hobby and sticking with it. Set specific goals and timelines for each category you choose.

Work as Duty

For some, workaholism comes from a deeply ingrained work ethic, a powerful sense of duty and loyalty to your job. People with a strong work ethic feel obligated to their jobs -- there's always a crisis, emergency, or issue, and people are depending on them. Do you feel guilty when you aren't working? A lot of workaholics don't believe they're entitled to a week at the beach or five days wandering the Tuscan hills.

Consider why you may feel guilty. Is your own self-worth tied up entirely in your job? Do you relish the feeling that you are the office workhorse, the perennial go-to person, with the biggest work ethic and unsurpassed loyalty? Do you have a fantasy of indispensability? Or do you fear that self-replenishment is just another way of saying "self-indulgent"? Did you grow up learning that work is good, leisure is wasteful?

If Your Sense of Duty Is in Overdrive

• Consider the idea that your perceptions may be off. Working longer and harder than anyone else doesn't necessarily mean you're operating at peak productivity. There are certain points of diminishing returns when the wisest, most productive thing you can do for yourself (and for your colleagues and company) is to STOP WORKING -- recognize your limits and call it a day before you reach the omega wipeout zone.

• Let other people solve problems too. People with a very strong work ethic often automatically think that they have to solve every problem. Learn to delegate. This way you can get as much done as the job requires, and still have a life for yourself. See Competency 7 for more strategies on delegation.

• Try neglecting one small task. You'd be surprised how much your colleagues can fill in for you, if you'd only leave them a little work. You may be hogging all the responsibility because you like the role of martyr.

• Get a buddy at work who will leave with you. You'll motivate each other to get out on time. If that buddy happens to have as big a sense of duty as you do, all the better.

• Tend to your own crisis over the office's, sometimes. Caring for others is a choice. If you are the company's in-house rescue service, when an issue comes up at the end of your day, if you have personal plans, choose your own emergency instead of the office's. Your "crisis" may be your health, or your family life, or your personal relationships. It's counter to your impulse, but you must turn left instead of right.

Poor Planning

Maybe you're not a workaholic, but you just get so busy at work that you neglect to prepare for your time off. A failure to plan can put the kibosh on your work/life balance in several ways.

If your workday is disorganized due to procrastination or failure to look ahead, you can easily get stuck at the end of your day, or up against the weekend with a huge unfinished project (or more). Everyone has one customer, colleague, or boss who always comes in with a project at the last minute. You need to know what those possible obstacles are, and be prepared to preempt them so you aren't taken by surprise every time. Many times, you can let them know that you'll be gone by a certain time -- giving the last-minute Charlies a chance to get the work to you early enough in the day to get out on time.

A less obvious way that poor planning makes for late nights at the office is a laissez-faire approach to organizing your personal life. Many people put all their effort into planning their workday and then neglect to think about what they will do with their time off. No planning, or a plan you're not comfortable with, can make for lingering.

Who wants to rush home to yet another night or weekend of staring at the television, or just staring at the piles of clutter that have accumulated while you were at the office? No, better to stay at the office, where any request that comes across your desk will seem more compelling that what you'd planned for the evening.

If you get to your evenings and weekend without a plan, if you are too laissez-faire about your time off, it tends to slip away. The effect is that you aren't refreshed, you lose energy and momentum, and lethargy sets in.

Tips for Poor Planners

• Start your evening and weekends with a self-renewal activity. Listening to transporting music, playing an instrument, or getting a manicure or massage immediately after work will speed the transition from work to relaxation mode, changing the entire feeling of your evening and weekend.

• Plan something time-sensitive immediately after work. Take a class, meet a friend for dinner, have a particular train or carpool to meet. A nonnegotiable deadline will get you out the door on time.

• Fill in the toughest blanks first. If you're starting from scratch, make definite plans for immediately after work, and/or Saturday or Sunday nights. In other words, pick the times you're most likely to be stuck with nothing to do.

• Prepare the people you work with. If everyone is accustomed to your being there till all hours of the night, you need to prepare them to adjust to an earlier dismissal. Let them know in the morning what time you'll be leaving that day. If you are worried that your coworkers, boss, and assistant might come to you with last-minute requests, email them a reminder, letting them know that you'll be leaving in a couple of hours, and if they have any urgent matters that need addressing today, they should bring them to you immediately.

• Set a two-hour wrap-up alarm on your computer, beeper, or cell phone. This will help you focus on your upcoming exit time, and will force you to finish up what you are doing without starting one more big project or call.

• Be prepared. If you work unusual hours, think through what is possible to do with your time off. One producer who worked the overnight shift had to plan social events way in advance to make sure he was rested. A police detective whose shift constantly changed kept a personal list of the best barbers in the city, places to shop, and good restaurants, so that whenever he found himself with a few hours between shifts, he could get something personal done.

Company Pressure

Okay, so maybe you have no problem taking whatever time you need for yourself. You don't fear having a personal life, nor do you worry about letting down your company or your customers.

But what if you operate in a culture (legal work, investment banking) that seems to measure your value by the sheer number of hours you put in rather than by the quality of your output? What if your boss and coworkers keep totally different hours than you? What if they start their day at 11 a.m., not realizing that you began yours at eight? In other words, what if face time is very important where you work?

Tips for the Face-Time Pressured

• Understand resistance. Even those who wish you well, such as family and coworkers, have their own agenda; try to weather their resistance with grace and cheer. Your supervisor loves that you work such long hours and is less than delighted when you want to cut back. Your teammates thrive on your daily presence and are thrown when you get the okay to work at home one or two days a week. Colleagues who don't have children may resent you when you are given time off to care for them. It might be based on their own fear, their inconvenience, or their own conscious or unconscious wish to have a different balance for themselves.

• Stick to your guns. When you encounter resistance, you need to be flexible, yet strong. Make accommodations on the route, but not the destination. If you want to work a four-day week and your boss is skeptical, start by trying it every other week. Be extra energetic and prove that you can get it all done and more in four days. After a trial period, request to switch to the four-day week permanently.

• Remember your value. One of the common reasons for resistance from managers is that they're afraid of setting a precedent -- if you're permitted to work at home two days a week, suddenly everyone wants this privilege. In these circumstances, you must be clear on your value. Remind the manager of your contributions and your talent, expertise, and efficiency. This is the currency that earns you the accommodations.

• Focus. When you're at work, really concentrate; take no calls on family matters unless it's an emergency. And when you're with your kids, let your machine take messages. Compartmentalize, so that whateverflexible, yet strong. Make accommodations on the route, but not the destination. If you want to work a four-day week and your boss is skeptical, start by trying it every other week. Be extra energetic and prove that you can get it all done and more in four days. After a trial period, request to switch to the four-day week permanently.

• Remember your value. One of the common reasons for resistance from managers is that they're afraid of setting a precedent -- if you're permitted to work at home two days a week, suddenly everyone wants this privilege. In these circumstances, you must be clear on your value. Remind the manager of your contributions and your talent, expertise, and efficiency. This is the currency that earns you the accommodations.

• Focus. When you're at work, really concentrate; take no calls on family matters unless it's an emergency. And when you're with your kids, let your machine take messages. Compartmentalize, so that whatever you're doing, you're giving it your all.

There will be times you have to sacrifice your balance. If your company is in the middle of a merger or some other crisis, everyone in the office may be working triple-time. You may work in a cyclical industry, such as magazine publishing, where there are always two weeks of high intensity to close an issue when everyone works round the clock, followed by two calmer weeks. But even during times like these, you need to periodically let go and regrab, finding some way to restore your energy and recharge your battery so that you can keep on producing.

Remember, there is no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all prescription. Except that everyone needs to feed all aspects of their being (physical, psychological, and emotional) in order to stay healthy, energized, and ready to roll up their sleeves to produce results.

Once you embrace your work/life balance, a zillion things will try to throw you off. Maintaining your balance is a fluid process. It's your role to protect your balance from the "you" and "them" lions constantly clawing at you, imploring you to stay one more hour, bring one more file home, postpone that vacation, skip that class after work. Trust yourself to let go, reach up, and grab hold of that rock, to break through your resistance, embrace your personal life, and balance your balance with PEP.

Copyright © 2004 by Julie Morgenstern

Continues...


Excerpted from Making Work Work by Julie Morgenstern Copyright © 2004 by Julie Morgenstern. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2005

    Mentoring by remote

    Typically, the mentoring process is a two-way dialogue that takes place over lunch, in the gym or on the phone. But author Julie Morgenstern changes the traditional mentoring model. Speaking out from the printed page, she mentors by remote. Morgenstern offers useful career guidance and concise tips, organized as concrete 'Grab and Go Strategies.' Her colorful examples, logical chapter summaries and chatty case histories make her book outstanding. Occasionally, her advice is repetitive, but overall it¿s hard to find fault, because she is so clearly smart, thoughtful and on your side. We recommend this mentor¿s manual to every professional, including the overworked, self-employed and underemployed.

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