Monday, March 27, 2006

How I Work

I just read an article in the March 20 issue of Fortune called “How I Work.” They interviewed some important people about their work habits. The range of responses was incredible. These folks ran from the techno addicted to the technophobic, with some in between. Imagine --- Wynton Marsalis has never written an email. Senator John McCain has his wife do things for him like print boarding passes. Other people, important people who run big corporations work hard, read hundreds and emails, and are glued to their Blackberries. Clearly, success in our modern times is not defined by how well you use the electronic tools we have. What then is it based on – honestly, I have no idea!

I am often asked how I manage to get everything done. People who know me well know that I have diverse interests, both professional and personal, and that I am involved in community work. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way! The thought of a quiet retired existence makes me shudder.

Reading this Fortune article made me stop of a moment and ask myself, “How Do I Work?” Is it a good way to work? What if I changed the way I work? Would I then make lots of money and be wildly happy? Interesting thought!

Each morning, I lie in bed about ½ hour and just think about the day ahead of me. What do I have to do? Where do I have to go? What am I going to wear? What do I want to accomplish? Often I will contemplate a solution to a challenging problem. I find this time of morning I am at my most creative. Often my dreams give me ideas that trigger solutions to problems.

Once fully awake, I grab my Treo from my bed-side table and verify my schedule. Am I really doing the things I thought I was doing? Did I leave anything out? What email has come in overnight? Did anyone sign up for an event? Who? (People sign up for things at the strangest hours). Usually there is email from Amy, my accounting consultant. I try to get her whatever answers she needs from me early in the morning.

I shower, get dressed, eat something and arrive at work about 9:30 a.m., already fully caught up on my emails, having read my email on my Treo. I typically go through the office and talk with my employees….do they have anything they need of me before I get going in my day? Usually Most days I have appointments scheduled from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m., with some breaks in between. I use those breaks to review my email, review my paper mail, review printing and Web project proofs, send specifications to printers for bids, and deal with issues that come up. More often than not I have a lunch meeting. About once a week our VP, Nancy Badertscher, and I go to lunch and review project progress.

Those appointments I have each day, who are they with and what are they about? This varies all over the place. Often they are with clients and prospective clients who want me to put together a proposal. Sometimes (though rarely) I need to meet with small groups of employees about a project. Maybe one every couple of weeks, I meet with someone who has asked for an appointment for advice in finding and job or becoming involved in community work. Of course, I never turn down an interview with the press and have one or two of those a month. There is the occasional off-site meeting, in addition to lunch once or twice a week at nearby Mezzanotte with clients and business associates.

Most of my volunteer community work I do in the evenings, as much of it involves going to meetings. Board meetings typically start at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and run until 9 p.m. Fortunately, I don't have meetings every night.

Focused time is the thing I find hardest to find. The best way for me to complete a really challenging project is to designate a day (or even a morning) to work on it and nothing else. Saturday is my “best” work time each week. I can work at my office all by myself and focus very narrowly on what I want to accomplish. I guard my Saturdays! Between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. I can accomplish as much as I could in a week at the office. Sometimes, however, I will take a Saturday and just play – just is important too!

Yes, sometimes I also work on Sunday afternoons. Sunday night is usually “family time” when our son and his family visit or we go to their home. Effectively this means I have three hours each Sunday afternoon to “get something done.”

Another technique I use is to isolate myself for a week to do the really “tough” work – the business planning in particular. I run three businesses; they interact with one another in many ways; each of them has a plan and goals. I have to stop living in “real time” in order to do the analysis and reflection needed to keep them moving forward. My strategy is to dedicate two weeks away each year for just this purpose. Sometimes my husband goes with me; other times he doesn’t. It doesn’t really matter that he is with me, as he brings similar work for himself. We can go out for dinner in the evening and enjoy ourselves.

As I write this, we are at a cabin on a hillside overlooking Gatlinburg, TN. It is snowing outside and we are inside working happily, each at our respective ends of the dining room table. We both have laptops and Treo cell phones (with good reception) and there is a printer/scanner on the table between us. There is no high speed Internet, but there is a local number we can use for dial-up. We only need the Internet to send files and search the Web, as we have the Treos for email. It works! We are in the first day of our spring retreat. I spent the morning organizing my temporary office and reviewing my work notebooks to re-sort priorities. I am doing some clean-up work on my laptop to make it run faster.

But regardless of where I work or when I work, I must be organized. I would like to say I am totally paperless, but that isn’t so. What I can say is that I don’t have any more paper than is necessary and what paper I do have is well-organized and that organization matches the organization of my laptop.

I think there are three kinds of people on the world: pile-people, file-people, and notebook-people. I never have been a pile person and quite frankly I have a hard time comprehending that approach (although it seems to work OK for those who are so inclined). I used to be a file person and still am where some things are concerned – like contracts and financial documents—pieces of paper that for sure really, really need to be kept. But within the last year I have become a notebook person.

I think notebooks are easier to deal with than files. A plus is that you can use those nifty clear vinyl sheets and stuff them full of all the papers related to a project. Another plus is that they don’t spill out all over the place.

My notebook system is really simple. I have one notebook that has all of my empty plastic sleeves and blank project/consultation forms. I have one LITTLE notebook for the stuff I must do within the next few days. That way I am not overwhelmed looking at how much stuff I really must do. I have another notebook for things I have to do soon, but not immediately. Then there is another notebook for stuff I would like to do eventually – good ideas that are not a priority. I have two pending notebooks – one for things that are simply in some body else’s court and another for things related to money that not resolved (such as pending proposals). Finally I have BIG archive notebook for all the thing I have taken care of. I have to start a new one each quarter. It takes about two hours once a month to go through my notebooks and re-shift my priorities.

Similarly, my computer is set up to focus on priorities. One nice thing about Eudora, our email program, is that it allows you to “find” any word in any message. As a result, I don’t have many folders for Archived email. Instead I have one email archive per year. I have a TO DO mailbox and a HOT mailbox. It works!

One last thing, I try to combine work and play when possible. If I have a business trip to a city, I will try to stay over another day (on my own money and time) and go to a spa, shop, and experience the city. My vice president shares this same guilty pleasure, so we have fun in our little “after-event” adventures and come back refreshed.

These are the techniques that allow me to keep sane while dealing with lots of shifting priorities. By far, however, the greatest tool that has enhanced my productivity is my Treo (cell phone that gets email and more). While traveling, or even in the average workday, I can view and answer my email on the fly. I figure this saves me two hours each day!

Am I a workaholic? Maybe, but I also play hard, on those times I allow myself to play. I may not lead a balanced life daily, but I certainly live an interesting life. In the end, I think there is a balance there – just over the course of time, not daily. Is that good or bad? Who knows?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Women in Afghanistan

When I was growing up I didn't think much about Afghanistan, nor did I as a college student or an adult. In fact, I don't think I thought about it at all or even knew where it was.

For a year or so prior to 9/11, I got occasional emails about how horrible things were for women in Afghanistan, and then shortly after 9/11 the pace quickened. This is an excerpt from an email message that was sent to me on October 8, 2001.

Madhu, the government of Afghanistan, is waging a war upon women. Since the Taliban took power in 1996, women have had to wear burqua and have been beaten and stoned in public for not having the proper attire, even if this means simply not having the mesh covering in front of their eyes. One woman was beaten to death by an angry mob of fundamentalists for accidentally exposing her arm(!) while she was driving. Another was stoned to death for trying to leave the country with a man that was not a relative.

I remember this email. It was filled with similar anecdotes, and I have to say it got my attention. It was not the first email I had received about the plight of women in Afghanistan, but it was the one that really got to me. The others I had passed off as email foolishness... nothing in today's world could really be that horrible! WRONG!

I have been to Dachau and I wondered how the people in this lovely little German village could have possibly not noticed the German death camp in the middle of town. Now we live in a Global Village and I find myself wondering -- are we just like those people in Dachau when it comes to pretending not to see what is happening in Afghanistan?

Back in 2003, I met Fahmina Vorgetts, an Afghan woman now living in the United States. She is a woman on a mission. She owns a rug shop in Annapolis and uses the money from the sale of Afghan rugs to to help the women of Afghanistan. But more than money, Fahima gives of herself -- her time, her energy, her many talents. Listening to Fahima and seeing her photos from Afghanistan left me with no doubt in my mind that the lives of Afghan women are horrible by 21st century standards -- even today when the Taliban are no longer in power.

Last week, Fahima spoke to a group of 74 attendees at a FacetsWoman event we called "Women of Afghanistan: An Insider's View." Fahima, who works as an advisor to Women for Afghan Women, has taken on the challenge of helping Afghan women build a better future for themselves. She is teaming up with women (and caring men) to build schools, provide women with computers, dig wells, build good will and more. We saw dozens of photos of Afghan women in make-shift classrooms, using improvised chalk boards, but learning to read and write. Their country is in ruins, but their grit and determination to succeed shows on their faces.

We also saw the faces of Afghan orphans. Their eyes have a vacant look that penetrates your soul. It is hard to explain the depth of emptiness found in their eyes. Their ranks continue to swell, and one must wonder what their odds are for a good future, even by current Afghan standards.

There were photos of the charred faces of scarred women in burn units. These women have poured cooking oil all over themselves, then set fire to the oil. This low-budget and horribly painful form of suicide is seen by some Afghan women as the only way to escape the pain of the lives. Some Afghan women also kill their children the same way for the same reasons. The women and children who don't die end up in under-staffed burn units as low priority patients, lost in a living hell.

Our FacetsWomen were clearly moved by what they saw. Cash donations that evening, made directly to Women for Afghan Women, exceeded $1200. Many women brought clothing and school supplies to the event, so that Fahima can take the items in one of her frequent shipments to Afghanistan.

For many of our FacetsWoman attendees, the catered Afghan dinner that evening was their first taste of Afghan food. The tasty chicken kabobs, rice, salad and baklava harkened to a happier time in the life of Afghanistan. For those who are interested, the caterer for the evening was Maiwand Kabob, 5467 Harpers Farm Road, Columbia, MD 21044, Ph: 410-992-7754 or

We hope that someday the women of Afghanistan will enjoy the same opportunities we women now have in the US. Sure, many doors are still closed to us and our salaries don't match those of our male counterparts, but we are free in so many important ways. As one FacetsWoman put it, "Tonight, before I came here, I was focusing on spending money to re-d0 my bathroom and get a new bathtub. Now I realize how fortunate I am to have a bathtub at all."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Old Age

It is amazing how your perspective on old age changes as you age. At one point in my life I honestly thought that anyone who was over 40 was getting on up there; someone at 50 was over the hill; and at 60 you were definitely old. I saw those in their 70s and 80s as really, really old.

They say that 60 is the new 40 and the 80 is the new 60. I choose to believe that. Why not? At 59 I really don’t feel old. Sure, some work days are long and babysitting the grandchildren leaves me a bit tired. But I don’t think I feel “old” the way my mother and my grandmother felt “old.” My mother died at 69 and her mother at 67. Here I am at 59 and going strong!

They had various aches and pains. I just have colds, flu and an occasional infection. My joints don’t ache and I still have all my teeth. My hair has turned grey and I like it OK that way. My face looks a bit saggy in the mirror, but it isn’t a mass of wrinkles. I am overweight, but then I have been for the last 50 years, so what else is new?

But from what I read, time is catching up with me. My bad habits (like enjoying food and not enjoying exercise) will soon take their toll. I imagine I am not too different from many of my babyboomer colleagues. We are in denial about encroaching “old age.” If we don’t give in to it, maybe it won’t happen! Yeah, right!

Life keeps going by, day after long-day. I keep working from 8 in the morning until 9 most nights. My body isn’t that active, but my mind certainly is working overtime. They say if you keep your mind agile you will keep your mind longer. If that is the truth, mine should be in good shape long after my body has given out.

Despite my protests against aging, I find myself reading the obituaries daily. Often I see someone I know – a friend or an acquaintance. Sometimes the deceased is younger than me. Most often the cause of death is cancer or heart disease. I take a deep breath and thank God I am still alive.

I wish I could look at each day as a gift; I wish I could do only those things that were good for me; and I wish I didn’t have to face the fact dying is inevitable. I saw an article in the paper the other day that said, “Test predicts odds of dying if you are over 50.” I don’t need a test – the odds are 100%. But in the meantime, let’s all us boomers enjoy life. There are no second chances!