Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rethinking work and living

When was the last time you had to answer the question - what are your successes, and what are your failures? Today was my lucky day.

Speaking to successes came quickly - awards that I had won in the past, seeing a great concept become real, helping people to succeed.

But failures - that's another matter. We often see failure as a sign of weakness. But I started to think about it in an objective sense. I asked myself, I could change something about my life, or the way I live it, what would it be?

The answer came to me a flood of memories of my children on their first day of school, their first dance recital, Halloween and Christmas, and dance lessons. I realized that those days are gone, as my girls are now young women. Now, I look forward to seeing them in between their jobs, school work and boyfriends.

I realized that if I could change something, I would take back the time that I spent working long hours in the office just to meet a deadline or impress my boss. I would spend more time listening, and teaching others to work with me more. I realized that I have spent too many hours at work, and too few hours living. And in the course of that, I have done some cool things at work, but there are other costs. The more I worked at night, the harder my team had to work to catch up. It became counter productive, and it would have burned them out. And then, where would I be, with only 6 more hours in a day.

So my answer to the question about (gulp) failures was this: "I don't really think in terms of failures, but more what I have learned - and I have learned not to work 18 hours a day. I have learned that I want more life, while still growing professionally.

This journey toward balance actually started a year ago when I did my own personal strategic planning. I made a commitment to learn to work less and live more. To breathe in and out, go home in the day light, read a book, pet my cats and dog, paint my house, and read a book (I currently have 3 on the go.) I set my commitment to my self in the most profound an permanent way possible - I got a tattoo that symbolizes balance. I started to exercise more, eat better and learn to play the guitar. I started to find myself being able in live in the moment, breathe more, and feel better. I started to appreciate my home and family more, and yep, even my job.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't leave my passion for my work behind. I love what I do, and more importantly, I am very committed to the people. A funny thing happened, though, on my own journey toward balance. I found myself becoming more aware of the way the people in my division were being treated, and how they felt. I became more acutely aware of how frustrated people became when they could not control what was happening to them. When things happened to them. So I developed and implemented a way to give the people back control of their day, or at least have a fighting chance. Of course, in doing so, I found myself clocking the hours again. But it was worth the effort. In fact, it was probably the most important thing I have done in the past 4 years because it was for the people who do the work.

I also scaled back the work in my department, eliminating all things that are not core. I realigned the roles of my team and increased productivity and employee satisfaction by increasing their responsibilities and matching their pay. And I did the organization a favor by reducing my department budget by 30% when a new opportunity arose in the company that was perfect for one of my team members, which he loves. So it was win - win for everyone.

I tracked my progress, by using the time tracker at work, and also asking my family if they were getting more quality time with me than they had in the past. On the time tracking front, I thought I was doing pretty good. In October and November, I clocked an extra 5 - 10 hours of overtime per month. That's not bad. Then in December, my overtime increased to 20 hours and in January it climbed again. I was heading back to where I was before.

So I stopped myself and said no to overtime in February and March. I took a holiday and even took 3 days off due to illness. My daughter tells me I am on the right track. And my team are just moving along as planned.

And it's good, because not only did I learn that there's a life after 5:00 P.M., I also learned that I can be even more creative than I was before. I have rediscovered my love of writing and have produced a book of poetry, which I am hoping to publish this year.

I have also had time to think about what it is I want to do from 8 to 5, and I realized that I need to do what I love to do - that is what I have been doing for the last 12 years. Strategic planning, leadership and communications. I am innately curious about why things are the way they are and what makes things work, and what something might look like if you looked at it another way. Strategy is great because it's all about unleashing the explorer in all of us. Looking to the future and then getting there, one step at a time. And of course, all good ideas need people, and that's where leadership comes in. So, I am back to where I began this journey. My career is on target, and I have a clear view of what's next. I am a little wiser in the way of work so that I spend more time at life.

Living has to be about being passionate about something and doing it. That means loving what I do from 8 to 5, as well as what I do from 5 to 12.

Stay tuned.

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