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Monday, February 28, 2005

Emergency Kit for the Over Committed

There's a lot of great time management, personal effectiveness, and personal organization material out there from books to gear. If you have that, and use it well, you don't need to read this post. This is an emergency kit for when it's all gone south and you have looming deadlines and impending doom on the near horizon. If you've gotten to that point, this is an emergency kit for the overcommitted staffer or student.

You can get back on top of any situation in four easy steps: 1. Clean up around you, 2. List everything, 3. Categorize everything as critical, social, or other, and 4. Get rid of everything that's not critical. I know it sounds simple and too good to be true, but it's so simple that many don't do it and so effective that everyone should. Read on, as salvation lies within:

1. Clean up Around You - You need cognitive peace and quiet, and you can't get it with stuff staring at you and yelling, "Put me away, clean me up, organize me!" You don't have time to do a major episode of "Clean Sweep" (I love that show), but you can simple put everything in it's place, and put everything without a place into one stack or preferably a box so you can't see it. Having all the unresolved stuff in one place, cued up to sort later, will give you clarity of thought for the organizing ahead. If you take more than 30 minutes to do this, you've done too much. We're talking desk or office or dorm room, not garage.

2. Make a Physical List - List all the stuff that's bugging you and anything else you can think of. Get it all out on a sheet of paper or a spreadsheet if that makes you think clearer.

3. Categorize what's Bugging You - Out to the side of each item on your list, write if it's critical (necessary to make a living, make a grade, etc...), social (you don't have time to meet so-and-so, but you promised...) and a catch-all category of "other".

4. Make it Go Away - Now, take every item that's not critical and make it go away. Reschedule everything so you don't feel so neglected and put upon (I'm not have any fun!), and call anyone who'll be disappointed by your absence and just beg off because work or school got in the way. Really, they'll understand or you don't want to know them anyway. Offer to reschedule, apologize, but then stick to your "no".

Now look at what's left. It's a manageable list of truly important tasks that can be ordered by deadline and attacked one thing at a time. You can sleep well and think clearly and work your way out of dread and doom. Oh, and after the deadlines have passed go get yourself a good organizational method and a church. Keeping organized and keeping your life and what's important in perspective is the best immunization against another outbreak of freakout.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

So Your Company's Insurance Just Renewed...

This is the time of year that anyone in charge of HR dreads more than any other; time to renew group medical and other benefits. This year the trend in medical coverage seems to be an 8 - 14% increase in cost, while prescription drugs continue their meteoric rise at around 20%. Why do HR heads hate this process? Because of lack of control, lack of options, and the surety that both their employer and employees will be disappointed to downright outraged over the outcome. What makes for increased costs? Why do your premiums, co-pays, and deductibles continue to increase? Well, gentle reader, read on...

The formula for insurance costs is simple: premiums = plan design x utilization + administrative fees. The plan design is what benefits you get from your plan. Some plans allow you to pay $25 one time and the rest is free, while another may require a $2,000 deductible. The richer the plan, the greater the expense. The second component in the equation is utilization, or how often people use their plan. This is usually determined by two factors: the age of the workforce and the presence or absence of a deductible. The older you are, the more you go to the doctor and thus the more you use your plan. Also, older employees tend to have serious and therefore more expensive health conditions more often than younger employees. A deductible, which must be paid first before insurance kicks in, is a deterrent to utilization in healthier employees. Administrative fees, the last component, are typically the cost of processing claims, paying brokers, and the profit margin for the insurance carrier. It's your employer's job to negotiate the best outcome for this component.

So what can you, as an employee, do about increasing health costs. Sadly, not much in the short-run. Your premiums are a function of the plan design x utilization of the employee group in which you're lumped + the administrative fees of the carrier your employer has chosen. Not much you can do but swallow the increased cost. Long-term, however, there's much you can do. Everyone in your household should have a physical annually, and sexually active females should have a well-woman exam each year as well. Women with first generation history of breast or ovarian cancer should have their first mammograms at 30, even though you'll have to fight to get it (the conventional wisdom of some groups is to start at age 40). My wife has a first-generation history and received life-saving detection and surgery at 32. Work out, walk, lose weight, stay healthy. This decreases your utilization and thus your immediate health expenses, and helps lower the claims experience of your employment group. Until a national solution is found, this is the best advise to be found. That and, whatever you do, don't blame your HR guy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What To Do When You Don't Agree

Something happened at work with which you don't agree, that you feel insults you, demeans you, upsets you, and shakes your confidence in the rationality of the universe and the existence of God. Its usually something earth shaking like not getting the promotion you wanted and deserved, or having someone younger or even (gasp) who you trained getting promoted over you. Or your title gets changed, you're moved to a smaller cubicle, or your mentor is fired and replaced by someone you don't know or, worst yet, know and don't like. Now What?

"Disagreeable" management decisions are inevitable; even good management staffs can't please everyone (including you). Coping with goofy decisions and thriving afterwards is a truly required skill for long-term corporate employment. I typically see two reactions; one common and career ending, and another less common but career making. Here's how they work.

Unfortunately, the most common response to adverse management decisions is aggression, either overt or (more commonly) passive. The most noticeable manifestations are tardiness, clock watching, gossip and/or complaining, doing only what is assigned and not one inch more (what my Japanese colleagues used to call Malicious Compliance). Sometimes the symptoms also include push back from assignments ("get it yourself") and missed deadlines. This reaction never leads to a good result. Disciplinary action leading to your resignation or getting fired is the usual result. The pity is that this all could have been avoided, and even turned to your favor.

Management wants to see loyalty and character in those who want to be promoted. Remember, the higher you rise, the more valuable are the assets at your disposal and the more costly your mistakes. Management wants a mature, steady, trustworthy pair of hands to handle valuable assets. There's not a better way to display trustworthiness than to take a figurative punch in the face and react with poise, loyalty, and character. You won't see an immediate payback. But my experience has been that 6 - 12 months down the line I start to hear admiring comments in private about the person who took one for the home team and kept their head up. And, if nothing else, it keeps you out of trouble while you look for another job! More times than not, reacting well pays off with your same employer. Learning to do this when things go wrong is an under appreciated career advancing skill.