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Conquering my email, one step at a time

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk

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If you have total control over your email and it doesn’t stress you out, please stop reading now. For the rest of you, fellow overwhelmed-by-email readers, this will sound familiar:

I am in a constant struggle with my email.

There is too much of it. I feel overwhelmed by it most of the time, and just barely in control of it on the best days. I spend too much of my day answering and reading email and while I know it’s something that I have to do — for work and for life — it’s not something that makes me feel good or productive enough.

Over the years I’ve tried to develop email habits that will help me tame the animal. Here are a few of them:

  • Don’t check email first thing in the morning. This is my favorite one. When I manage to stick to it, I am more productive, my day goes better, and I am much more focused.
  • Check email at set times throughout the day. My worst email days are those when I leave my inbox open throughout the day. Then I can’t avoid the temptation of checking new mail when I see I have some and it just completely kills my productivity.
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How to get productive when you’re stuck

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk

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Confession: My to-do list is a mile long and I’ve done nothing concretely productive in the last few hours.

There was a lot of phone calls, emails, Twitter browsing, and looking over my to-do list, but it’s not far from the truth to say I wasted a bunch of time. I hate this feeling. If you’ve had it you know what I mean. So this blog post is part of my strategy for dealing with it. Because the way I see it, I could either call this a day (which I think would be a mistake, although not always, just today) or try to get some stuff done and quick.

Starting as soon as I hit publish, here’s my plan for coming out of the productivity rut:

  • Turn off my Wi-Fi. It’s maybe the oldest trick in the book but I rarely make myself do it. Without email, Twitter, Facebook, NY Times and other distractions, I know I will get more done. Or at least something done.
  • Take a tea break. I think there needs to be a physical reset from wasting time to being productive. Since I can’t change where I am right now I am going to take a mini break and make some tea. And drink it.
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“My mom likes weekends because she doesn’t have to work”

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk, Parenting & Family

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The title of this post is an actual quote my 7 year-old kiddo said to someone this weekend.

Ahem.

To be honest, it kind of stopped me in my tracks. Of course I like the weekends — who doesn’t like a break from the work grind and a chance to chill with family? But what struck me is that my kiddo has this notion in her head that I don’t like to work. Or at least don’t like to work enough that the reason I like weekends is because I don’t have to work.

Without getting into yet another stay at home or work debate (which oh, I hope we are done with!), I’ll say this: I like to work and I’ve never imagined myself not working. (Well, to be honest, I have imagined myself on a prolonged vacation somewhere warm and tropical, but that’s another story.) When I read Leah’s post, about whether she’d still choose to work if she won the lottery, I was nodding my head. I work for more than money, although money is an important necessity. I work because I love the challenge, building something, creating something, working with awesome people, keeping my brain buzzing and my sanity relatively intact.
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3 great ways to procrastinate

Categories: Career Talk, Working Women Issues, Your life

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Procrastination gets a bad rep and I can see why. I had a difficult work email to write earlier and I spent a half hour procrastinating — reading Huff Post entertainment articles, cleaning up the kitchen, staring at my computer screen and wishing it would write itself. I wasted a bunch of time, during which the email was weighing on my mind, and I wasn’t the better for it.

But I don’t think all procrastination is bad. Or rather, I think it’s impossible to avoid completely. Sometimes you have a task to get done that you completely loathe to start or are intimidated to begin. There are mornings when I come to work, for example, and feel so overwhelmed with what’s on my plate that I need some kind of a a warm-up to roll up my sleeves and get into the working mode. So my new motto is that if I’m going to procrastinate, I’m going to try and be productive about it. Here are my three favorite ways:

  • Read an article online, but just one, and hopefully not one related to the task I’m procrastinating to do. I often top to the New York Times health, technology, or style and fashion sections to find something interesting. But here’s the deal: Don’t click on any of the links in or around the article. The rule is just one article, then back to the task at hand.
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Do you hesitate to take sick days?

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk

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We’re full swing into sniffles/cold/stomach flu season and if you have a kiddo, you know how it goes: They get “it” in germ land… I mean, school or daycare, and then the “thing” makes its rounds through your family. Not the most fun thing for a family to share, but that’s just how it goes.

We’ve had a few of these rounds already, mostly with minor colds. Each time when our daughter got sick I put myself and my husband on a regime of tons of vitamin C, zinc, and other unpleasantly-tasting herbal remedies recommended by friends and Whole Foods employees. A few times I think we did this early enough that both of us coasted through the colds much quicker and with much less negative impact than we anticipated.

But my vitamin-blast strategy doesn’t always work and that’s when I end up with a choice I have a hard time making: Suck it up and go to work or stay home.
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Do you have to work harder as a woman to get ahead?

Categories: Career Talk

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I work in technology, which I feel is one of the career fields less prone to old-school stereotypes and norms than some older fields. It’s not all rosy or equal: We have a lot more men developers than women, there are too few women on the executive team, and women occupy most senior positions in areas where they’ve traditionally been more numerous, namely, marketing and HR. But I can’t point to any time when I felt like I was given less chances because I was a woman and generally it feels like if you’re good, you’ll do well, regardless of your gender.

But in a conversation with a friend recently he made a comment that caused me to pause for a bit. He said that women have to work harder to get ahead.

Do you agree?

I started to think through my own career to see if this were true. Right out of college, I worked for a top consulting firm where every entering business analyst worked 18 hours a day, without exception. I then worked in a series of start-ups where everyone on the small founding team busted serious butt, all the time. Then came the world of finance and venture capital and here perhaps my friend was right. I’d often find that my male partners would get support for their proposals without needing to back them up with as much analysis as I’d put in. And too many times I felt like I had to prove over and over again that I was smart enough for my opinion to count when I was at a board meeting with other male investors, who’d known me for years.
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Is showing emotions at work a bad idea?

Categories: Career Talk

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I’m a fairly emotional person. And by this I mean that I have strong emotions (you might call me the opposite of even-tempered) and I express most of them openly. Good or bad, it’s who I am and I guess the good news is that I’m well aware that it’s who I am and can try to adjust to different situations if needed.

Lately I’ve been thinking about whether or not I should be adjusting my tendency to show my emotions at work.

On the one hand, I’m a big believer in just being who you are, wherever you are. Sure, my mom “persona” is different from my “work” persona, and both are different from what I’m like when, say, I rock it out in my Zumba class or catch up with a friend over lunch. But at the core, I’m me, and for me this means being open about my emotions and sharing them with others. And this means that when I’m happy about something at work my colleagues can’t miss it and when I’m stressed or upset about something, it shows.

Don’t get me wrong: You won’t find me slamming doors or crying in my office when things go wrong. That goes beyond showing emotions and into the inappropriate-at-work territory. I have a fairly senior gig and also manage a team — both of these mean that I have to be aware that my emotions affect others and I can’t just let them pour out unedited. But still, my mode of operation has always been to be honest about how I feel at work and this has held true in various work environments, from small companies to bigger corporations.
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Are you happy at work?

Categories: Career Talk

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Yesterday was Labor Day, which I think is funny because it’s a day most of us spend not doing any work (hopefully!) But I did read something about work in the New York Times that I wanted to share. In this article, the authors highlight a study which “shows that Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do.”

Yikes.

I don’t think you have to love your job all the time — and sometimes loving what you for work comes with consequences. But if you spend so much of your life working I do think you should get more out of it than just money and benefits. Plus, if you’re unhappy at work, it seeps into other parts of your life, a lesson I’ve learned first-hand, several times over.
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Multitasking: A habit I’m trying to break

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk, Your life

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I was in a meeting at work the other day and at one point realized that I was doing three separate things at the same time: Listening, answering emails, and working on a presentation I needed to finish by end of day. To be honest, I multitask, especially in long meetings with lots of people. My rationale is that there isn’t enough hours in the day and I need to get a lot done, so I try to cram every hour with getting as much work done as possible.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that all this multitasking means that I’m not really doing any of the things I’m working on really well. There have been plenty of meetings where I tune out (doing other work) and miss important parts. And I bet my presentation would be better if I didn’t work on it while trying to listen to another one in the meeting.

My multitasking isn’t limited to work. When I cook I often try to catch up on work email when I have a few minutes free from stirring/cutting/pouring, which has often resulted in dishes burning or overflowing. I’ve made a conscious effort to not multitask when I’m hanging with my kiddo (meaning, no answering emails while we’re sitting in the park or having dinner together), but you’d definitely catch me catching up on emails during her piano lessons.
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Am I giving my daughter the wrong impression of “work”?

Categories: Career Talk, Parenting & Family, Your life

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We were sitting down for a Friday dinner together and as I yawned, my daughter asked me: “You’re tired, right mommy?” I told her yep, I was pretty tired from a crazy day and a pretty crazy week. She gave me a sweet smile that melted me and said: “Your work makes you tired. You’re always tired after you come home.”

Can’t argue with that. It’s not just work, of course, although if my job gets any more nutty I might need a visit to the nuthouse. (OK, I am joking, so my dear colleagues reading this, you’ll have to deal with me for a while yet.) It’s everything combined, the full juggling act that you’re all very familiar with. Most days, it leaves me exhausted and while I try to be as peppy and energized when I get home from work, I can’t hide it from my fairly perceptive kiddo most of the time.

I’ve always been a proponent of being as honest as possible with kids and not trying to color everything in positive colors. But lately I’m worried that the impression my daughter has about my working is mostly negative. I come home exhausted. I complain about having to do work late at night after she is asleep. Sometimes I work on weekends while she plays near me or in her room and tell her that I’d much rather be playing with her. If I think about it, I can’t remember the last time I told her something about my work that was positive.
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