Saturday, December 18, 2010

In 2011, make time for you

Most New Year's resolutions center on personal improvement: Lose weight, quit smoking, stop yelling at the kids so much.

Resolutions for the 9-to-5 life usually are limited to ditching the 9-to-5 life or finding a new job. There are plenty of less drastic ways to improve your work life and, in the process, boost your career and personal happiness.

We won't call them resolutions because those tend to fade by February. Consider them work goals for the new year, set by you, not some performance review. Don't wait until Jan. 1. Start putting them into practice today.

The five work lessons for 2011:

Set boundaries

We all know the type: Work is all-consuming, the BlackBerry a constant companion, family and friends often taking a backseat to the boss. Unless you're running the country or Red Cross relief efforts, chances are your job isn't that demanding. In 2011, leave more work at work.

Michelle Hernandez, foundation and communications director for the non-profit Mountain Park Health Center, said she finds it freeing to focus on her job only at work.

In August, Mountain Park outsourced a big part of its business, including patient-appointment scheduling and other phone services. Hernandez, married mother of a teenager, was swamped with calls from confused doctors, patients and others after the switchover but stuck to her vow to finish what she could during the workday and tackle the rest the next day because the issues were not emergencies.

"In the past, I would have taken it all home with me. I would have struggled with letting it go," she said. "I can't be a good mother, I can't be a good wife, if work is going to consume me entirely. At work, you get 100 percent of me. After work, I get 100 percent of me."

At home, Hernandez said, she tries "very, very hard" not to check her work e-mail until late in the evening unless she is home by herself.

"I'm pretty disciplined about putting it over there and not looking at it until after dinner's done," she said.

Branch out

It's easy to stick, year after year, with what you know best: loyal friends, trusted co-workers, valued mentors, favorite community causes.

Make 2011 the year you add new contacts to one or all those categories.

Isabelle Jazo took such a leap this year, focusing on the community, and raves about the effect on her life.

The vice president of brand strategy for Phoenix advertising agency E.B. Lane was inspired by a presentation at Arizona State University on Local First Arizona, a non-profit that encourages residents to shift 10 percent of their spending to locally owned businesses.

She was inspired by the sense of community the group promotes, something the former New Yorker felt was missing since she moved to Phoenix a decade ago.

"It was very empowering," she said of the lecture. "When I saw this, it was like, 'Bingo, that's me.' "

Jazo said she made it her mission to get involved with the group, immediately going to meet Local First founder Kimber Lanning.

"I just challenged myself to go outside my circle of comfort," Jazo said.

She has been involved with the group for 10 months and sits on its marketing board. Jazo successfully lobbied E.B. Lane to add Local First to its roster of pro bono clients.

"This is definitely the sweet spot in my life right now," she said.

The married mother of two has made new, like-minded friends through the group.

"Once you identify how it is you want to expand your boundaries, it's like, all of a sudden, the universe just opens up," Jazo said. "It just starts connecting you to people who want the same things."

Jazo encourages others to seize on something they are passionate about.

"When you do, just say to yourself, 'I am going to do this,' " she said. "It's not a matter of if or can. It's like, 'I'm going to do this.' Pick a day and start."

Create Plan B

At some point in life, everyone wishes he or she had a Plan B. The impulse can strike after a grueling week at the office or take on urgency after a job loss.

Jennifer Stojak recommends hatching a plan while you're happily employed. The 35-year-old lawyer started exploring other career options last year while she was practicing employee-benefit law at the Chicago firm she joined out of law school.

Her dad, a retired banker, provided the spark, suggesting that it might be time to move out of her comfort zone.

Stojak had previously considered jobs only at other law firms; but after her father's pep talk, she took interest in a job posting for an in-house attorney at Tempe-based US Airways. The airline was a client of her law firm, so she was familiar with the company and some of its executives.

Stojak was interested in a more dynamic workplace and the chance to work with those outside the law field.

"Once you kind of start to think about this other option, it becomes really intoxicating," she said.

Stojak joined US Airways as associate general counsel last fall and relocated to Phoenix with her husband, also a lawyer. Her Plan B, she said, has turned out to be more fulfilling than Plan A.

"I found that reorienting my career had a really positive impact everywhere," she said. "Making a really big change just kind of brings new energy to your life generally."

Take care of yourself

The list of excuses for not exercising or pursuing a favorite hobby is unending: no time, no money, no motivation, too much laundry, too tired.

A leadership coach zeroed in on Sabine Hebert's excuses for not working out during a self-awareness session at an executive-development program offered by her employer, the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North.

"She said, 'What would make you accountable?' "

For Hebert, a married mother of three young children who was stressed and out of shape, the answer was a personal trainer. She and her husband pay for it by eating out less. She works out with a trainer at 6 a.m. two days a week and does yoga and boot camp on other days.

"I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in," said Hebert, who is the resort's director of human resources. She helped form a wellness committee at the resort.

The best part about her exercise routine: Her confidence and energy are back.

"When you have that, I think you can handle the stress of all the other stuff better," she said. "My thing was exercise. For someone else, it might be a hobby. Just schedule something. When you're more accountable to something, you're more likely to do it."

Be positive

Too often, women focus on the one thing they flubbed in a day rather than the 20 things they did well. This is the year to reverse that ratio and focus on the positive.

Michele Yates made the decision to stop dwelling on the negative years ago and counsels her employees at Comerica Bank to do the same.

One day in October, a worker was frazzled because she twice forgot to get signatures on some documents and the customer had to return to the bank. Yates, assistant vice president and banking-center manager at a Comerica branch in Scottsdale, told her to take a deep breath, apologize to the customer and move on. It was simply a mistake, she told her, sharing the blame for not going over the documents.

"I pick myself up, dust myself off and move on," she said. "Quite frankly, it's the only thing that keeps you sane."

Yates said she stays focused on the positive by keeping downers out of her close circle. Her mother is her role model for positive energy.

"Negativity breeds negativity," she said.

When something does go wrong at work, she reaches out to her upbeat friends and family for support and empathy, but that topic of conversation ends there.

"What I'm not going to do is call someone who's going to join my pity party," she said.

by Dawn Gilbertson Arizona Business Gazette Dec. 16, 2010 12:00 AM



In 2011, make time for you

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