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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Break dilemma

I remember my first year out of college, when my younger friends came home for Spring Break. There I was in my new job, with no vacation time in sight. What a dose of reality!

As a mother, Spring Break brought a new dilemma - what to do with my kids. For workers who get little or no vacation, taking a week off in Spring can be difficult. I have tried many options -- babysitters, bringing them to work with me, shipping them to friend's home, working from home. At one point, my company had Spring Break camp at the office for working parents. No more.

At some point, I gave up. It became too expensive and too complicated. I now take the week off. As this year's break neared, I had many conversations with other parents, struggling to figure out how to give their kids a break while holding their job.

I figure as long as I'm taking off work, I want to spend the week doing nothing. NOTHING! Spending the entire day in my pjs with my kids in theirs. My hubby wants to go to Disney for a few days. It's all still in negotiation but I'm stocking up on pjs.

Read to hear how others are juggling Spring Break and work schedules. Working parents, how are you handling Spring Break? Are any of you lucky enough to be able to take the week off, too? What does your fantasy Spring Break look like?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Surviving the slowing economy

A few weeks ago, my company told me I must stick to my part-time work schedule. No overtime. The mandate has forced me to be as productive as I can, give up some task, and to watch my personal budget more closely. But I'm far from alone in my need to adapt to changes from the slowing economy.

My Miami Herald column today explored what employers and employees are doing. Some workers are carpooling, working harder and longer, updating their resumes and considering second jobs. Some are giving up some free time to concentrate on learning new skills. At the same time, employers are scrutinizing expenses, eliminating overtime, cutting some perks and postponing projects.

I asked Dale Carnegie's CEO Peter Handal to weigh in with his advice for coping with the financial pressure we all feel right now. Here are his tips:

For the employers:

*Do not fire top talent. Top talent is the single most important variable in innovation. When you fire experienced employees, you are not only cutting costs, you are cutting revenues.
*Re-research your customers. Successful companies do not abandon their marketing strategies in a recession; they adapt them. Instead of cutting your market research budget you need to know more than ever how consumers are redefining value and responding to the recession.
*Emphasize core values. This is the time when CEOs should go out of their way to spend more time with employees, which will effectively elevate their sense of importance to the company. Studies have proven that employees who are engaged are 43% more productive. A recession is the perfect time to pull out all the stops.
*Keep in touch with your clients. As the main source of income, keep up with your clients. Ask if you can’t help them in more arenas or offer more services. Think beyond your usual menu of offerings.
*Spend money only if it makes more money. Regardless of economic conditions, never spend a dollar unless you feel certain it will result in a sales return of $1 plus something for net profit before taxes.
*Inspect your internal operations. Conduct thorough analyses of your organization’s operational procedures to determine how to cut costs, reduce duplication of work, increase productivity and improve fiscal oversight. Money and time are always saved in reviewing operations that could be accomplished by fewer people with the same or a greater level of proficiency.
*Outsource. As a last resort, look into outsourcing some of your business processes including payroll, IT and other operational processes. If these areas can be handled on a part-time basis by a freelanced entity, you could save a bundle.

For the employees:
* Network, network, network. While networking is always important, during tough times we must raise our visibility and keep our radar wide open to be aware of as much information as possible. This is a time to differentiate ourselves by interacting with more people.
* Be a good listener to your clients. During economically challenging times, people have fears and concerns. People need someone to listen to their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and desires. If we become too focused on the near term business and are not listening to the full needs of our clients, they will begin to feel that we only want their money.
* Be prepared. Build an emergency fund. Continue contributing enough to your retirement plan to get the full employer match, but consider putting any extra savings in your emergency fund until it is sufficient.
* Do due diligence. Do homework on your company, or the company you are thinking of applying to work for, to learn how well positioned it is to survive a downturn. You can prowl the Internet, check out the business press, visit a business librarian or go talk to a stock broker. However, if you are already losing sleep over the economy, you’ll want to explore a move to an industry better able to withstand turbulence.

Are you feeling the economic pinch? How are you coping?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Dad's Guide to Anger Management

Great story in Best Life Magazine. Ted Anthony asks, "Am I a scary dad?"

Anthony says after giving his son a tongue-lashing, the 4-year-old said, "Dad you're really big and scary when you yell." For days after his son's comment, Anthony says he did't feel big and scary but rather small and useless. Yet, he admits, a part of him relishes the ability to intimidate. Anthony gives these tips for helping a guy control his inner Hulk while making sure Bruce Banner never takes a long vacation. (I can't wait to pass them on to my husband!)

  • Use anger as a tool, not an outlet. Personal anger usually has nothing to do with your kid and everything to do with your bad day -- deal with it among adults.
  • Be consistent and predictable. When parents are consistent about what makes them mad, it's easier for kids to adapt.
  • Apologize to your kid. When you lose your cool unfairly, let your child know you were wrong.
  • Find temperament role models for yourself, then benchmark your anger (Fred Flintstone?)
  • Be a color commentator for televised anger. When you see it on TV point it out.

I really enjoyed Anthony's truthful insight: "Managing our own male anger is complicated. Managing it through the next generation is downright terrifying."

Here are some other ideas from the article to tame your wild one without raising your voice: Leave the room, learn your trigger, plan ahead, try humor, offer limited choices.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Use 10 minutes well

In my quest for time-management tips, I want to pass along my latest find --a new book, 100 Ways to Motivate Others. I particularly like the tip called, "Use 10 minutes well."

Author Steve Chandler says what separates a great leader from a lousy manager is the ability to use 10 minutes well. He says you will never "find" time for anything. If you want time, you must make it. Sometimes, that item we have not found time to do will fit into that next 10-minute window -- while you are waiting for a call back or your next appointment.

I also like Chandler's suggestions to be more productive by creating a routine. He gives the example of a leader whose apartment was a mess. The man made up a routine -- Mondays, while coffee was brewing, he would do his living room. Tuesdays, his kitchen. Wednesdays the home office. After 90 days, the routine became a habit. He suggests we try this at work. Make up a routine for checking e-mail, preparing for meetings, responding to phone calls -- and follow it for 90 days. If you have a routine that's not working for you, replace it.

To read more tips from his book, click here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What women a car shares "What women want in a car."

While it's not surprising that women want different things than men, I would bet money that working mothers want really different things. In my case, my SUV is telling of my lifestyle. On any given day, there's my work tote, a Starbuck's cup, magazines waiting to be read, dirty soccer socks and a dog leash. Between commuting and chauffeuring kids, if I ever sat down and added it up, I actually may spend more time in my car than in my bed.

Ford's Sheryl Connelly says, "Women want the same things as men, but they want more. For example, they want performance, package and design, but they also want safety and more features. We are taking that into consideration in all of our new products."

I have confessed to my hubby on numerous occasions that my car is what suffers from my attempts at a balancing act. There are explained dents, dings and scratches as well as unexplained carpet stains as I dash from place to place. Yes, I want more in my car than a man would want. I want rubber bumpers all the way around, lots of cup holders and storage, hands-free talking devices (for those calls on the road), scratch free paint and a garbage can. Of course, I need the DVD player, too. And did I mention a huge gas tank that burns through gas VERY slowly. I also want my vehicle built extra-tough for safety.

I agree completely with Liz Pilibosian, chief engineer for the 2008 Cadillac CTS, who said she believes "when you make a car for a woman, you are going to satisfy everybody." So, women do you agree with Liz?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Who has time to shop around?

I heard an ad for Verzion Wireless on the radio this morning. The company is offering great deals on cell phones. My Sprint contract almost is up. So, I scribble call Verizon and Sprint on my to-do list. Also, my DSL line at home gets constant interruptions. Someone suggested I switch to Comcast and told me they are offering a six-month special price. I scribble call Comcast on my to-do list. Wow, shopping for good deals is awfully time consuming.

As most of us feel the economic pinch, comparison shopping makes sense. I'm sure I could be saving lots of money if I made the time investment. Any cell phone user knows a call to one or both of these providers could take an hour's time (on a good day, with minimal hold time) .

My latest fixation is wondering when people find the time to make personal phone calls. Perhaps some people have a phone call routine. As a working mom, when I'm at work, it's all about work. When I'm at home, it's all about the kids. Am I crazy to rely on commute time for tedious phone calls?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Work-space induced stress.

Do you walk into work and feel stressed just looking at your desk? I do. In her new book,Miami organizer Diane Hatcher asks, "How do you feel when you walk into your work each morning?" If you feel stressed, get organized, she says.

I know Diane is talking to me. She must see the piles of mail and magazines clumped in the corner of my desk. I'm so busy most days, it's hard to take the time to declutter. But Diane insists clearing away the clutter will not get us organized. She wants us to create a system that will keep us from accumulating again. And, most important to realize being perfectly organized is unrealistic. (That's a relief!)

Here are some time-management/organization tips Diane gives in her book that I will put into action and pass on:
* Answer routine letters on the original letter.
* Stop piling -- create a place for everything except piles.
* Be ruthless about throwing things out.
* Break the habit of just laying stuff down where there's space. Put it away where it belongs.
* Purge file annually.
* Take reading materials with you to read while stuck in traffic or waiting for an appointment.

Diane's new book is Don't Agonize, Organize Your Office. Visit her website at I'm convinced I'm more productive and less stressed when I take control of my work space. Do you think clutter, maybe even your co-worker's clutter, affects your stress level at work?

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's my birthday and I'm looking for wrinkles

Over the weekend, I celebrated my 43rd birthday. Wow, that sounds old. When I woke up, I immediately looked for wrinkles (Isn't that what everyone does on their birthday when they get past 40?) I found some, but I'm not sure they are new. What I know for certain, is that this balancing act is aging me. I can't remember to-dos or phones numbers for more than a few minutes. I have to write everything down. And, when I go to sleep at night, I'm much more exhausted than I was in my 30s.

My grandmother is 100, so by comparison, I'm young. But my grandmother never worked outside the home. My sister and I have searched Gram's cabinets in her apartment for her secret "Fountain of Youth." We have decided her secret potion is not necessarily an easy life but one without the stresses of trying to please a boss, c0-workers, a husband, kids and herself. As a working mom in an industry going through change, I'm juggling a dozen job responsibilities with Girl Scout meetings and soccer practices.

Today, it is very rare for us working parents to actually take five minutes out of our busy day to look after ourselves. When was the last time you went to the gym, or read a good book with no interruptions? That makes you and me susceptible to the dreaded -- stress wrinkles!!!

Apparently, stress wrinkles are common in this day, where people are constantly trying to juggle many different aspects of their lives. I read all about them on the website, Friends of Vista.

Here are a few things that website suggests: Laugh in the morning in front of the mirror and try out a few facial exercises. Giggle more. Take a break from work (play hooky for a day). Or take a break from family (hit the beach for a few hours alone).

One of the toughest things for me to do is “shut off” the work part of my brain. Sometimes, I have to force myself to relax and forget about all that needs to get done. But when I do, I invariably enjoy the downtime and discover I'm more refreshed. Now, I have the added incentive of slowing down the aging process. Do you believe the balancing act is aging? What are your tips for fending off stress wrinkles?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Companies target moms-to-be with wellness programs

Most of us know that telling the boss you are pregnant can be tricky. But now, there are new reasons to blab: benefits. Ten years ago, many employers viewed pregnant employees as liabilities. But today, companies are seeing the potential for cost savings by reaching out to this group with new wellness programs.

*Pitney Bowes has a Great Expectations program for its pregnant workers. Once women sign up for the program, they are given a dedicated nurse who will call to check up on them throughout their pregnancies and after.

* AOL has a WellBaby program for pregnant employees. It provides pregnant employees and beneficiaries with a case manager who works to answer questions and provide support. AOL also offers a lactation program that lets employees receive lactation counseling both in-person and over the phone. The program makes sense for AOL, which has a large female population. Thirty-eight percent of benefit-eligible employees are women, and the average age at AOL is 37. Eighty-six percent of participants in the WellBaby program had high-risk pregnancies. In 2007, AOL saved an estimated $400,000 in just preterm labor prevention. Of the five sets of twins born last year, only one set was born prematurely.

With women having babies later and using fertility treatments, births and complications are more costly. The stats say it all: Maternal care services account for one out of every five dollars large employers spend on health care, according to a recent report by the National Business Group on Health.

The business case for these programs is even more pronounced for companies that cover fertility treatments under their health care plans, says Patti Freedman, a senior health care consultant at Watson Wyatt Worldwide. “If I was an employer with fertility benefits, I would tell employees that in order to get these benefits, they have to take part in the wellness program,” she says.

To read more about this trend, click here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Finding what you are meant to do in life

Are you having fun at work? Or do you dread where you are going and what you are doing for a living? For those of you who aren't having fun, you might want to seek a life coach to help you find that right career.

What's a life coach, you ask? A life coach is an objective person who over the phone or in person will help you learn more about yourself and what you are good at. Check out the CBS4 interview this morning with Bill Dueease of Coach Connection. His website is He mentioned his company works with coaches in 41 states.

Here's the link: . If you have had a successful session with a life coach, tell me about it. If you think they are a waste of time, let me hear about that, too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Eliot Spitzer where did you find the time?

Where o where Mr. Spitzer did you find the time to hook up with a high-priced prostitute?

As the Governor of New York, I would think Mr. Spitzer would be pretty darn busy. This man has three teenage daughters at home and runs an influential state in the free union. Really, where is he finding time for a high-priced call girl? Isn't he constantly tied to his Blackberry like most men of influence? Doesn't he have fundraisers to attend, soccer games to get to?

Now, I'm left wondering... is cheating part of the work week for politicians? Is it something they schedule on their electronic calendars? While the rest of us struggle with work/life balance, Mr. Spitzer must have mastered the art of delegation. Though he obviously knew which tasks he personally needed to handle. He even found time to hide his payments to the prostitution service. Mr. Spitzer, your time-management skills must be superb. You found time to do it all. Now, you can clear your calender and forget about work/life balance. You're going to be awfully busy with your defense.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Losing an hour stinks. So does losing a friend.

Here it is Monday and most of us are out of sorts. We've adjusted our clocks forward and lost an hour of our precious weekend time. Even worse, I took a nap yesterday, which I consider completely unproductive. In fact, I felt mad about losing an hour and guilty about taking a nap until......

I read yesterday's newspaper and saw an obituary that shocked me. It was for a 50-year-old man named Howard Glass. As a young reporter covering real estate, Howard was one of the first sources I made. He was smart and knew a lot about the deals going on in the South Florida market. But in my pre-kids days, I was taken aback when mid-conversation about a new project underway, Howard took a phone call from his wife who was home with their newborn son. Howard insisted she put the baby on the phone and he proceeded to talk baby talk to him. I didn't know what to make of the whole scene.

Many years later, I ran into Howard again. I asked about what he was doing in his career and I asked about his son. His face lit up the same way it did that day when he spoke baby talk in front of me. He had another a few years after the first and told me all about his kids' accomplishments. I had a hard time finding out about his work life because he was so excited telling me about his kids. Howard's obituary said he died of an inspirational battle with cancer.

In my struggle for work/life balance, I gained some perspective just thinking about Howard. I am sure Howard made the most of each hour he had with his family. He may have taken naps, he may have had some unproductive hours, but overall, I know without doubt that Howard knew family was as important as work.

Some of us work extremely hard and never have time for our personal lives, and particularly, our own families. Perhaps, however, it's time to change that. What changes have you made to emphasize family over your career? I love this blog post with balance tips from freelancer Allan Branch. Let's hear your best moves.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

When a man loses his job is he still successful?

Despite juggling work and family and personal pursuits such as golf, most men proudly talk about what they do for a living. Lately, a number of my girlfriends have told me their husbands have lost their jobs. The scenario has not only created turmoil financially, it has created emotional havoc for the entire family.

So I had to wonder when I learned of a new survey by American Express and Best Life Magazine that found men increasingly are defining success by their family's health and happiness, work/life balance, and time they spend having fun.

Are these men who never lost their jobs?

Some interesting stats from the survey of 1,000 affluent men:
* Only 10 percent of men consider themselves both happy and successful.
* Nearly all of the men (95 percent) believe that to be successful, a man must achieve work/life balance
* Only one out of four men will take a sick day to enjoy their personal interests.

Best Life Magazine also outlines the secrets of the 10 percent of men who are extremely happy and super successful. Some characteristics that set them apart: The ability to have fun, having clearly defined goals and navigating change well.

It's that last thing -- navigating change well -- that will be crucial in the upcoming months for executives who may suffer in the souring economy. Does this topic hit home for you? Do you consider success tied to your career? And, how can you keep job loss from emotionally affecting your entire family?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Women need to network with men

At age 70, Loretta Cockrum is one of the most interesting businesswomen I have spoken with in my career.

Her business career took a path with many twists. Cockrum was only in her 30s with two kids when husband became ill and passed away. She became her family's sole breadwinner. Though she was a homemaker for 14 years, her education and training was as a dental hygienist. She knew she needed a more lucrative profession. Off to real estate school she went and while there, she rubbed elbows with just the right contacts. Before long, she became involved in the investment side of real estate. "I shifted my energy to work,'' she says.

Today, Cockrum, runs Foram Group in Miami, a successful real estate investment firm that also is developing a large piece of property on Brickell Avenue. She says she learned along the way that business is a man's world. And, she has learned to navigate it.

While female professionals today are networking with each other, Cockrum thinks it is as important they put in the time to network with men. "Women need to have male mentors and friends. They bring a balance and perspective sometimes,'' she says. "I don't think you should alienate them. They have been supremely helpful to me.''

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Dogs don't belong in offices

As a dog owner, it's been a slow adjustment for me. I was never crazy about animals but I have come to love my sweet Cocker Spaniel. This week I am writing about work/life balance issues pet owners encounter. At times, the issues are the same as they are with kids. Dogs need attention, food and walks and long hours away from them cause them to act out. As I looked at all the arrangements people make -- pet sitters, dog walkers, dog day cares -- I came across some employers that allow pet owners to bring their animals to work.

As I admitted earlier, I am not an enthusiastic pet lover. But even in the realm of work/life balance, I can't understand allowing pets in the workplace. Some people are allergic, others completed distracted. And, I don't consider having pets at work to be professional. On the occasions I have been to a jeweler in my neighborhood, I noticed three small dogs roaming the stores. They are cute dogs. But they take away from my shopping experience, just like screaming children take away from a fine dining experience.

What are your thoughts on pets in the workplace? Does it make the workplace more fun or do you feel it should it be prohibited?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Have you had a Pokemon moment?

Argh!!!! At six a.m. this morning, my 6-year-old woke me up to play Pokemon cards with him. I was furious. I love sleeping late on Sundays. I quickly rolled out of bed so he didn't wake the whole house but I wasn't happy about it -- at all. And I let him know it.

Reluctantly, I sat down and played with him, just the two of us while the rest of my family, neighbors and fortunate people in town were sleeping. As we were playing this ridiculous card game, he looked at me with such joy and chatted about the cards with such enthusiasm that I began looking at the situation much differently. I call it, "my Pokemon moment." I realized it was just the kind of time together I need to savor. I can sleep late years from now when I have an empty nest and my son no longer wants to play Pokemon with me. (Though I made it clear to him, this isn't going to become a regular routine) Still, I'm all for blogger Amy Dunkin's idea of trying to get marketers to package sleep in a bottle.

So, have you ever had a Pokoman moment -- on a date, at a party, with your kids or co-workers -- when you went into the situation with a bad attitude and later realized it was a worthwhile way to spend your time after all? Should we leave ourselves open to Pokemon moments or is our off-the-clock play and sleep time too valuable?