This month the Harvard Business Review has an article titled Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek (subscription required). This article presents all the research to show that the destruction of the family comes faster in situations where both parents work long hours, but the authors, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce, refuse to draw this conclusion. Instead they harp on what is now a baby-boomer fetish topic: Women getting equal treatment at work.

The research shows that full-time jobs are increasingly extreme jobs (more than 60 hours a week). The authors point out that most people who have extreme jobs have chosen them, and they tend to be very exciting jobs. Other reports show that some people are so smitten with their extreme jobs that they brag about how stressed and overworked they are. (Thanks, Ben.)

Hewlett and Luce write that “the extreme-work model is wreaking havoc on private lives.” However most of the reasons cited ( watching too much TV and no one taking care of the house) would be alleviated if one parent were at home. So the extreme-work model is actaully fine, as long as women (it’s almost always women) are willing to drop out of the workforce to stay at home. And, in an article that enraged many of the readers of this blog, Lucy Kellaway writes in the Economist that yes, in fact women are more than willing to leave the office to take care of kids.

Hewlett and Luce try to make an issue out of gender: Extreme workers are mostly men, women in extreme jobs are most likely to say they want to leave the job in a year, and the people who thrive in extreme jobs either do not have kids or have someone at home taking care of their kids. But who cares? There are plenty of jobs people can take if they don’t want extreme jobs.

Hewlett and Luce try to get us alarmed that the trend toward extreme jobs is increasing, but most people who are in extreme jobs are baby boomers, and Sharon Jayson, wirting in USA Today, shows that most young people don’t want extreme jobs. And young people are adept at finding work that fits regardless of what companies are offering.

I am tired of the baby boomers thinking all their research about themselves applies to everyone. I am also tired of every researcher jumping on the battle-cry-for-women bandwagon. Hewlett and Luce spend a lot of time writing about how moms cannot do extreme jobs. But who cares? If people who don’t have kids want to work tons of hours, let them. If men want to marry stay-at-home moms to take care of their kids, let them. What is the big deal here? There is plenty of work in this world for people who don’t want extreme jobs. There are plenty of men to marry who will do their part with the kids.

The real problem here is that two parents with extreme jobs are neglecting their kids. What about that? Baby boomers have been doing it for decades, and it’s terrible for kids, and people need to start admitting that. For starters, Hewlett and Luce could come out and say this, since their research supports it.

For example, the most scary part of the article is the snowball effect of working long hours while leaving kids at home:

“As household and families are starved for time, they become progressively less appealing and both men and women begin to avoid going home…For many professionals ‘home and work’ have reversed roles. Home is the source of stress and guilt, while work has become the ‘haven in the heartless world’ — the place where successful professionals get strokes, admiration and respect.”

The research also highlights one of my pet peeves in career news: “It’s extremely rare for parents to admit having problems with their children.” I cringe every time I read an interview with a “Successful Mom” who works a 70 hour week and can miraculously balance her kids and husband’s 70-hour week as well. All of this womens magazine BS is self-reported, and what mom or dad is going to stand up and say they are destroying the kids by working long hours? The only one’s who pipe up, like Brenda Barnes, quit their job before they start talking.

Here’s what the Harvard Business Review article should have said: The long-standing practice of baby boomers to have dual-career families with no one home for the kids is bad for the kids, even if the parents are enjoying themselves. Fortunately, the post-boomer generations recognize the problem and plan to not repeat it.

Look, you have to hire someone to help you with your resume. This should not even be a conversation any more. Would you cut your own bangs? If you were in sixth grade, yes, because the only thing you know about bangs in sixth grade is that they hang on your forehead. Once you learn that bangs need to be even, you go to someone who cuts even bangs. When you get older, and you really understand the intricacies of hair, you realize that great bangs are uneven in a highly skilled way, and you don’t even have the right scissors. That’s when you pay a lot of money for someone to “do” your bangs.

If you think you can write your own resume, you’re in sixth grade. A resume is a complicated sales document and also a piece of direct mail. You know who runs to the resume writers the fastest? The people who write direct mail, becuase they understand the intricacies of resumes, just like a fashionista understands the intricacies of bangs – enough to know they can’t do it themselves. Other big customers of resume writers are career coaches — because they see so many terrible resumes from otherwise very impressive people and the coaches don’t want to fall into that category themselves.

Please stop telling me that resume writers are too expensive. Sometimes I hear prices from resume writers and I think, who would trust their resume in the hands of someone who is so cheap? You should be looking for an expensive resume writer. Your resume, more than most things you buy, can earn it’s costs back ten times over.

Think of it this way: An effective resume doesn’t just get you a job. It gets you the job you want. A good resume writer can help you reposition yourself to shift careers, or make you look more high level than you have been in the past. Many good resume writers can also help you to talk about your resume in a way that will allow you to turn an interview into a job.

How can you deny this to yourself? And, by the way, don’t use your haircut money to pay for the resume. You need both.

When I was in couples therapy with my husband, I nearly died trying to force myself to listen to his ideas when I thought mine were better. But I realized that I had poor listening skills, and by dealing with my listening skills at home, I improved my listening skills at work.

We can learn how to build relationships at work by paying attention to research about how to build them at home.

For example, The Economist reports that men overestimate how attracted women are to them, and women underestimate how interested men are. This research comes from an article in Evolution and Human Behavior, and the conclusion is that the poor estimating is actually good for evolution, because men don’t miss opportunities to spread their DNA, and women make sure to mate with someone who will stick around.

I find that men and women do the same estimating at work, stereotypically speaking. Women try to make a good, solid connection with people, and men assume everyone wants to be their friend via (superficial) sports talk. This is why we read so much about how men are better at networking outside of work and women are better at consensus building at work. Understanding these tendencies can help you know how to expand your relationship skills at work.

Here’s another relationship study that makes me think of work: A good relationship hinges more on expressing joy from someone else’s good news than about how you react to their bad news. Benedict Carey writes in The New York Times that a slew of studies find that your reaction to someone’s good news is an opportunity to strengthen the realtionship. So don’t brush off your spouse when she has a good day at work, and the same goes for your co-worker’s good news — express enthusisam. (Thanks, Mercedes)

Finally, here’s a link my brother sent me, and I keep waiting for it to be relevant to a post, and it never is, but it sort of is today: The intersection of people to work with and people to have sex with – a diagram.

Time management is one of those skills no one teaches you in school but you have to learn. It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you can’t organize information well enough to take it in. And it doesn’t matter how skilled you are if procrastination keeps you from getting your work done.

How we use our limited focus and energy has always been a huge workplace issue. But we get better and better at knowing how to optimize as we get better technology to help monitor time allocation.

Younger workers understand this, and time management is becoming a topic of hipsters. One of the most popular blogs in the world is Lifehacker, edited by productivity guru Gina Trapani, and her forthcoming book by the same name is a bestseller on Amazon based so far on pre-orders.

In today’s workplace, you can differentiate yourself by your ability to handle information and manage your time. “Careers are made or broken by the soft skills that make you able to hand a very large workload,” says Merlin Mann, editor of the productivity blog 43 Folders.

So here are 10 tips to make you better at managing your work:

1. Don’t leave email sitting in your in box.
“The ability to quickly process and synthesize information and turn it into actions is one of the most emergent skills of the professional world today,” says Mann. Organize email in file folders. If the message needs more thought, move it to your to-do list. If it’s for reference, print it out. If it’s a meeting, move it to your calendar.

“One thing young people are really good at is only touching things once. You don’t see young people scrolling up and down their email pretending to work,” says Mann. Take action on an email as soon as you read it.

2. Admit multitasking is bad.
For people who didn’t grow up watching TV, typing out instant messages and doing homework all at the same time, multitasking is deadly. But it decreases everyone’s productivity, no matter who they are. “A 20-year-old is less likely to feel overwhelmed by demands to multitask, but young people still have a loss of productivity from multitasking,” says Trapani.

So try to limit it. Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users suggests practicing mindfulness as a way to break the multitasking habit.

3. Do the most important thing first.
Trapani calls this “running a morning dash”. When she sits down to work in the morning, before she checks any email, she spends an hour on the most important thing on her to-do list. This is a great idea because even if you can’t get the whole thing done in an hour, you’ll be much more likely to go back to it once you’ve gotten it started. She points out that this dash works best if you organize the night before so when you sit down to work you already know what your most important task of the day is.

4. Check your email on a schedule.
“It’s not effective to read and answer every email as it arrives. Just because someone can contact you immediately does not mean that you have to respond to them immediately,” says Dan Markovitz, president of the productivity consulting firm TimeBack Management, “People want a predictable response, not an immediate response.” So as long as people know how long to expect an answer to take, and they know how to reach you in an emergency, you can answer most types of email just a few times a day.

5. Keep web site addresses organized.
Use book marking services like to keep track of web sites. Instead of having random notes about places you want to check out, places you want to keep as a reference, etc., you can save them all in one place, and you can search and share your list easily.

6. Know when you work best.
Industrial designer Jeff Beene does consulting work, so he can do it any time of day. But, he says, “I try to schedule things so that I work in the morning, when I am the most productive.” Each person has a best time. You can discover yours by monitoring your productivity over a period of time. Then you need to manage your schedule to keep your best time free for your most important work.

7. Think about keystrokes.
If you’re on a computer all day, keystrokes matter because efficiency matters. “On any given day, an information worker will do a dozen Google searchers,” says Trapani. “How many keystrokes does it take? Can you reduce it to three? You might save 10 seconds, but over time, that builds up.”

8. Make it easy to get started.
We don’t have problems finishing projects, we have problems starting them,” says Mann. He recommends you “make a shallow on-ramp.” Beene knows the key creating this on ramp: “I try to break own my projects into chunks, so I am not overwhelmed by them.”

9. Organize your to-do list every day.
If you don’t know what you should be doing, how can you manage your time to do it? Some people like writing this list out by hand because it shows commitment to each item if you are willing to rewrite it each day until it gets done. Other people like software that can slice and dice their to-do list into manageable, relevant chunks. For example, Beene uses tasktoy because when he goes to a client site tasktoy shows him only his to do items for that client, and not all his other projects. (Get tasktoy here.)

10. Dare to be slow.
Remember that a good time manager actually responds to some things more slowly than a bad time manager would. For example, someone who is doing the highest priority task is probably not answering incoming email while they’re doing it. As Markovitz writes: “Obviously there are more important tasks than processing email. Intuitively, we all know this. What we need to do now is recognize that processing one’s work (evaluating what’s come in and how to handle it) and planning one’s work are also mission-critical tasks.”

The most significant factor in time management is one people seldom focus on: The type of work you’re actually doing. If you are doing work that’s not right for you, the work is exhausting and you procrastinate. If you do work that’s in your sweet spot, you are naturally efficient. Across the Fortune 500 senior executives take the Myers Briggs personality test to ensure they are doing work that fits into their skill set. You can get the benefits of this test by taking a four-hour course that shows you what your personality is and what the best type of work for you will be. All the productivity tips in the world can’t overcome the fact that we have to understand our personality type to do our best work: Fast-Track Your Career with Myers Briggs.

When I was applying to graduate school, I needed three references. The only work I had done was not the reference-generating kind, like signing autographs for Esther Williams and chopping heads off chickens. So the references were a real stretch for me, and I ended up asking my boyfriend to write one.

I had done work for him, technically speaking, so he wrote it as a former employer. Amost all the recommendation forms had a section that said, “How would you rank this person among all the people you have worked with?” I demanded that he say I was in the top 1%.

He said that it was absurd to put top 1% because no one would believe it.

I said he was wrong. And then I raised the bar by having a tantrum until he agreed to say in the written part of the recommendation that I was the most well-read person he had ever met.

But it turns out that my boyfriend was probably right, and the recommendation was, indeed, over the top. People do not like sterling recommendations, according to a study by Cleveland State University (via An endorsement is more believable if it includes something negative about the person. The example in the study is “Sometimes, John can be difficult to get along with.” That seems like a really bad comment, but it actually got a better response from hiring managers than a reference with no negative comments.

This rule of thumb sounds right to me. When I was hiring, if I called for a reference and the person sounded like they were reading a canned speech I discounted the whole thing and called another person on the list. I was always hunting for someone with candor.

Legal advisors tell companies to give out only the title and dates of employment. However David Perry , executive recruiter and author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters, tells me that he has never had a situation where he couldn’t get someone to say more than that after a little bit of pushing. In fact, CareerJournal provides interesting examples of how human resource representatives toe the legal line and still give a terrible reference if they want to: “They’ll say, ‘Are you sure she gave you my name?’ or “Check his references very, very carefully,” or ‘Hang on, let me get the legal file.’ ”

So even if the person giving the reference is not your boyfriend, if you know him very well, you can still do a little coaching. For example, give a suggested answer for when they are asked about your weakness. And if you are worried you are going to get a bad reference from an old employer, hire a reference check firm to check your own references. (In that vein you will be happy to know that when necessary, I still get a good reference from that boyfriend.)

A lot of people decide to put their job hunt on hold between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but that’s a big mistake. There are a lot of extra job openings in December. New budgets take effect in January, but human resources received the job requisitions for the budgeted new jobs in November, and they are filled before January 1. At the same time, you have less competition than usual, because people think it’s a bad time to hunt. These factors combine to make December one of the best times of year to find a job.

To find out the best ways to leverage December cheer for the job hunt, I talked to Cynthia Shapiro, former human resource executive and author of Corporate Confidential. (Thanks to Kay for recommending her.)

For one thing, the rules for follow-up are different in December, according to Shapiro. “You should not contact a hiring manager to follow up. It’s so annoying, that you’re better off sending a second resume than making a call.” But you can send a holiday card as a sort of follow-up. “Everyone loves a holiday card. They can put it up in their office to show how popular they are.” Here’s an example of what the card should say: I wish you the best in the holiday season. From Samara Kattal, marketing manager hopeful.

Also, send a holiday card to a hiring manager who didn’t hire you. “A lot of people don’t work out within the first 90 days,” says Shapiro. If that’s the case with the person who got the job you didn’t, you might get a second chance by being at the top of the hiring manager’s mind

Corporate holiday parties are also a good time for job hunting. Shapiro suggests that if you have a friend who works at a company where you want a job, get your friend to bring you to the party. At the party, go right to the head of the department you want to work for and say something very short and effective like, “Happy holidays. My friend always tells me how great this company is. I am [your name]. Please call me if you are hiring. Here is my card.” The beauty of this tactic is that not only is it face time with the hiring manager, but the context makes if feel like you are one of them, even though you’re not.

Some of you might read this and say to yourself, “So what? I need a break from the hunt and I’m really busy during the holidays and I’ll start up again in January.” Don’t do that: You’ll have more competition in January, because that’s when everyone who stopped for the holidays starts up, and it’s when people who make a resolution to change jobs start their hunt. “January 1 is a crush that is comparable to the June crush from new graduates,” says Shapiro.


Burnout is as much about your dreams as it is about your work, because burnout is the gap between your expectations and your ability to meet them. Jennifer Senior has a great article in this week’s New York Magazine about about burnout, which I will quote from here.

Burnout is not about how many hours you work, (contrary to Lisa Belkin’s New York Times column this week), but if the hours you work bring you desired results. For example, if you have very flexible hours and can go on an early date and then go back to work after dinner and you get eight hours of sleep, a 100-hour week might be fine for you. In fact, Ayala Pines, professor at Ben-Guiron University at the Negev, found that serial entrepreneurs, known for working very long hours, were the workers least prone to burnout. (Those most prone are pediatric nurses in burn units.)

Burnout doesn’t come from overwork but from an inability to get what you need from the work, according to Christina Maslach, professor at University of California, Berkeley. She created the wideley used Maslach Burnout Inventory to test one’s level of burnout. Senior describes the six areas of burnout to watch for:

1. Working too much
2. Working in an unjust environment
3. Working with little social support
4. Working with little agency or control
5. Working in the service of values we loathe
6. Working for insuficient reward, whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback

The effect of burnout is depersonalization, according to Barry Farber, professor at Columbia University. He says, it’s not that people are uncaring, but “their level of caring cannot be sustained in the absence of results.” Senior describes it more poetically, “People who are suffering from burnout tend to describe the sensation in metaphor of emptiness — they’re a dry teapot over a high flame, a drained battery that can no longer hold its charge.” This is no small thing, and we should all be watching for it.

What can you do? Align your expectations with reality. Senior reports a body of research that shows younger people burn out faster because of thier unrealistic expectations, and older people have more perspective based on their experience. But this is hard to control, because if you don’t have experience what can you do except build it up over years?

Fortunately there is a bit you can control no matter how old you are, because like most research about happiness, it comes down to your connections with other people. Maslach found that married people burn out less often than unmarried because a spouse provides another means for fulfillment besides a job. And Pines found that people are more prone to burnout in a society that values the individual way above the family or community.

So make sure you are reaching your goals and maintaining close friendships, and you probably won’t burn out.

When someone asks me, “What does your husband do?”

I say, “I don’t know.”

This is not an answer our society is set up to deal with. It is not okay to have no idea what you want to do, let alone be married to someone with no idea. We have two kids, and I’ve noticed that the more responsibilities you have, the more unacceptable it is to have no idea what you’re doing.

But the truth is that my husband is trying to figure out what to do. He is an artist, and a former game producer, and a former a lot of things, but right now he is being a dad who wants to be a dad-slash-something but he can’t figure out what.

There is a lot of good advice about how to craft an answer to The Question. Pamela Slim, at Escape from Cubicle Nation has a classic post titled, So, what do you do for a living? about how to talk about your new entrepreneurial escapade while you are still working for your old employer. And Herminia Ibarraha, a professor at INSEAD, shows that if you talk about yourself how you want to be, then you will probably become that person. In both cases, the advice is to answer The Question by focusing on where you are going instead of where you are.

That is excellent advice, for everyone who knows where they are going. But how do you craft an answer if you have no idea where you are headed?

I know my husband is not alone in the world because I do a lot of career coaching for very smart, talented, ambitious people, and many have no idea what they want to do with themselves. Ten years ago, if you didn’t know what you were doing, the typical response would be, “I’m consulting.” Today, you don’t need to do that. It’s okay to be lost.

For people under 30, feeling lost is de rigueur. But if you’re over thirty, it’s okay too, if you believe it’s okay. The first step is to respect the fact that you are in transition and that transition is part of normal life. In fact, with the right attitude, coping with uncertainty can be a positive experience.

The important thing is to be honest about it. If you hedge, and look embarrassed, ashamed or evasive, you will look bad answering The Question. But if you look someone in the eye and say, “I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out,” it’s reasonable to trust that people will respect you. They will ask you about your process for figuring things out. Maybe they’ll say, “What have you done in the past?” or maybe “What are you thinking about doing?” These are not personal attacks. They are genuine curiosity because we are all fascinated by the process of self-discovery — it’s the basis of our whole literary canon, after all.

Linda Chernoff is decked out in a black, floor-length gown and heels that kill her at the end of an evening. She has the conversational skills of a socialite and team building talents of a top executive. Her resume could start with her prized “people skills” as an entree to almost any career, but instead, she focuses herself more narrowly: Event planner.

Good move. The best way to ensure you’ll always be in demand is to become a specialist.

In Hollywood terms, this means you should typecast yourself. You know, action hero, funny guy, tough girl. Ezra Zuckerman, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management spent three years studying actors’ careers and concluded that even though actors see typecasting as deadly, it is, in fact, a ticket to a solid career. Actors who get typecast early on get more work, more consistently.

The typecasting rule applies to other careers; specializing is a way to differentiate yourself in a crowd. Many people describe themselves as generalists so as not to eliminate job prospects. However, specializing makes you more likely to be hired and hunted. Zuckerman explains, “Headhunters are specialized and they look for something they can package and sell. Since a candidate search is specialized, the headhunter is not set up to process people who don’t fit into a specialty.”

As with almost all career advice, solid execution requires knowing where your gifts lie. And, like most people, Linda Chernoff was not initially sure. She started out as a law firm administrator, then worked in publicity at Temple University.

Her favorite part of that job was planning events like golf outings and tailgate parties. Now she is development associate for special events at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Specialization is the goal, but be wary of too much or too early. If your specialty is marketing on Mars, you’ll be the only person in your field, but you probably won’t get paying gigs. Even a reasonable specialty can go awry if you limit yourself before you know enough.

Liz Ramos, a partner at the consulting firm Bain & Co., wrote, “At Bain, we think it is more and more important as a business person to develop one or more areas of deep expertise over time.”

The path they’ve laid out for their consultants is useful: In the beginning, the focus is on “learning communication techniques and skills for the job.” After two years at the company, Bain emphasizes learning to “manage one’s job and develop as business leaders.”

Only after three to five years does Bain encourage people to “think about if they want to continue in consulting or go to business school or another opportunity such as an entrepreneurial venture.”

Once you get to that last step, you necessarily take yourself out of the running for some jobs. But if you don’t position yourself as extremely good at something, you will never have a chance at a top position.

Opera singer Stephanie Chigas knows this intuitively. She is a Boston-based mezzo-soprano at the beginning of her career. While other opera singers accept chorus roles for supplemental income, she does not. “Some people will say, ‘I’ll do anything that comes my way,’ but I don’t want to do that. I have different goals for myself. It may sound a little snooty, but I want to be a solo singer.”

Snottiness is paying off for Chigas. She’s performed with the Boston Lyric Opera and she’s sung at Carnegie Hall. In fact, snootiness is part of specializing, because committing to a path requires an implicit revelation that you think you’ll succeed.

Conversely, generalizing often looks weak, lacking direction or commitment. Zuckerman says, “Generalizing could be useful as a hedging strategy if you are in a volatile industry.” But if you see yourself going to the top, you need to sell yourself as a specialist, not someone hedging for a darker day.

Of course, it is scary to specialize because there is the chance you’ll choose something in which you can’t succeed. But you can always try again. MIT’s Zuckerman offers hope in the form of Bette Davis. Her career began in the 1930s as a blond bombshell. But there was no spark. So her studio recast her as a vampy, man-slayer type, and she was a hit.

I write a lot about how you have to be liked to get what you want, and how people think they’re more likeable than they are. So I’m always on the lookout for what it really means to be nice, and lately I have been noticing people who are getting to the top of their field by taking nice very seriously: They make it part of their job to figure out ways to be nice.

Being nice means going out of your way to do the unexpected. If you are nice in an expected way, it is common decency. If you are nice in an unexpected way, people notice. This seems fair because to be nice in an unexpected way actually takes a good deal of thought. You have to be very aware of what other people are feeling in order to come up with something customized for them.

For example, a local reporter was trying to hit on an intern, and Barak Obama’s speech cut into the reporter’s plans. The reporter wrote about it, and Obama called him on the phone and said, “I’d like to publicly apologize for messing up your game…” It’s a fun phone call to listen to because it’s so surprising. Being nice is apologizing any time it might make someone feel better, instead of just when you would look terrible not to apologize.

Another example is a popular video blog, lonelygirl15, which looks like a girl in her bedroom posting on YouTube, but it is really an actress in a movie made to look like a girl in a bedroom. The producers of this groundbreaking movie were so conscious of the need to be nice to the audience in order to forge a connection, that Wired reports, they hired someone whose full-time job was to answer peoples’ emails and comments on YouTube.

What is remarkable about the lonelygirl15 example is that the person answering the email had to pretend to be lonelygirl without misleading people. So she didn’t talk about herself. She asked people questions about themselves, and she looked up their pages on MySpace and asked them questions. This drives home the point that when you’re thinking about how to be nice, remember that it’s not about you, it’s about other people.