Fast Company Blog–Flex+Strategy

How to Communicate, Collaborate and Coordinate for Flexible Work Success

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

Life was simpler when we worked 9-to-5, in the same office, on the same days, and we had the evenings and weekends to take care of the other parts of life. Today, more of us work from different locations and across time zones, and, if we aren’t careful, our other priorities get lost in the shuffle.

We can telework from home two days a week to avoid sitting in traffic, or shift our hours to meet the plumber before going to the office. But to do this successfully, we have to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with others in a way that wasn’t necessary back in those simpler days.

My experience is that many people still don’t understand what this extra level of effort looks like in action. Here’s how three people recently figured it out and found satisfaction on and off the job.

“I’ve Accepted That I’m a Coordinator”

Rich is the owner of a small accounting firm, and divorced father of two who shares custody with his ex-wife. He has office space, but for the most part he and his staff work remotely from their respective homes.

He’s a believer in work flexibility. But he had to read my new book, TWEAK IT, before he understood that the coordination he did on a regular basis was a necessity, and not an annoying burden:

“One thing I’ve accepted about my work+life fit is that I’m basically a ‘coordinator.’ I feel like I spend a decent part of my day organizing things. In the beginning, it made me mad. But now I realize that part of my life really is about arranging my work, my kids, friends, girlfriend, my own stuff, etc. It’s very key to getting everything done. And if I don’t take the time to get it right, then many things can suffer.”

“It Never Crossed My Mind to Collaborate with My Colleagues”

This past week I got a call from a senior level administrator at a nonprofit. He didn’t want to retire completely for a while, but he was interested in proposing a plan that would allow him to work remotely for a period of time each year in order to be closer to his grandchildren.

We talked about his job responsibilities, and whether or not they could be done well if he weren’t in the office regularly. For the most part, the answer was “yes,” except for the rare instances when a particular issue flared up. His physical presence would be required; however, another senior person could step in initially until he got there. Although these events were infrequent, they were important. And if he couldn’t figure out how to address them, his superiors would have trouble supporting his proposal.

I suggested that he reach out to a few of his peers at similar levels and ask if they would be willing to play the “on call role” for him. And then, to make it fair, offer to cover for them on vacation, or in a way that would be most helpful to their work+life fit.

He paused and responded, “It never crossed my mind to collaborate with colleagues, but that makes complete sense for all of us.”

“I Could Ask My Team to Call Me If They Really Need Me”

The truth is that we don’t talk to each other when we want to work flexibly throughout the day.

In our national 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey, we asked, “When you make those occasional changes in how, when and where you work, who do you discuss those changes with?”:
• 79% said “your supervisor”
• 63% said “your spouse, family or partner”
• 52% said “your colleagues”
• 45% said “those you supervise”

Imagine how much easier it would be to come in a few minutes later in the morning so that you can meet the plumber, or leave a few minutes earlier to attend your son’s soccer game, if we communicated with and supported each other more openly.

For one woman who recently attended a speech I gave, the challenge was to stop always eating lunch at her desk. She genuinely felt that if she walked away for 30 minutes, something would happen and, therefore, she could never leave.

I challenged her. “Is there another way you could be available but not necessarily at your desk eating?” She responded, “Well, I guess I could bring my phone with me, and I ask my team to call me if they really needed me.” She hadn’t thought to ask.

If we want to take back our life, we have to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with each other in a way that wasn’t required in the past. And many of us still don’t understand what that means or looks like. As the stories above illustrate, the potential personal and professional payoffs make the effort worth it.

How do you coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with others so that what matters to you–on and off the job–actually happens?

For more, I invite you to: Connect with my on Twitter @caliyost and “Like” our Work+Life Fit Facebook page.

NPR’s All Things Considered: My Thoughts on Yahoo’s Telework Reversal

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Yesterday, I was interviewed by NPR’s Laura Sydell about Yahoo’s decision to revoke the ability to telework. She shared my thoughts on All Things Considered.

What do you think about Marissa Mayer’s surprising choice to bring everyone back into the office?

In my new post on Fast Company, I explain why I think she’s actually done us all a big favor.

5 Insanely Simple Work-Life Balance Shortcuts from People Who “Have It All”

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

As the clocks and walls that used to divide work from the other parts of life began to disappear, I started to search for new modern ways to make what matters happen on and off the job.

For almost two decades, I’ve worked in the trenches with hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of individuals. I’ve helped make workplaces more flexible and given people the tools and skills to manage the fit between their work, career and personal lives. And, in the process, I’ve discovered a group I call the work+life fit “naturals.”

The “naturals” are the people whom you would describe as “having it all.” I estimate they represent about 10-15% of the people I encounter. They fit work and other parts of their lives together, seemingly, with ease while the rest of us struggle.

There are two ways I spot a work+life fit natural. Whenever I engage with a new company, I ask to be introduced to “two or three people who seem to manage everything they need to get done without breaking a sweat.” The client will say something like, “Oh, you should meet John. He has three kids. His wife works. He’s a triathlete and runs a not-for-profit on the side. Honestly, I don’t think he’s human.” Then I meet John. Usually, he’s less super-human than his colleagues perceive him to be from the outside, but he does consistently make what matters happen as often as possible.

I also pay attention to the people who come up to me after I give a speech or workshop. Naturals approach cautiously and ask, “I’m sorry, please don’t be offended, but I am confused by why this is so hard for people. Isn’t it pretty straightforward.” To them, it’s as if I’d given detailed instructions on how to get out of bed and brush their teeth in the morning. After I probe further, it’s clear that they’ve intuitively figured out how get their job done, and still have a life, while their colleagues in similar positions flounder.

What are the secrets of these work+life fit naturals? How do they “have it all”? What I discovered is that most of them follow these insanely simple steps:

The naturals realize it’s their responsibility to make what matters to them happen, day-to-day, in the face of competing demands. They know that no one is going to tell them when to finish a work project, get the gym, learn a new job skills, get their car serviced and take their son to the movies.

They don’t run separate work and personal calendars and priority lists. They keep everything in one place; therefore, they make day-to-day decisions based on a complete picture of their commitments on and off the job. If they receive a meeting request at work, the natural will think twice before saying “yes.” Is it urgent? What else do I have planned? If there’s a conflict, can I suggest another time, or do I have to miss lunch with my friend? Sometimes the answer will be to agree to the meeting and miss the lunch. Other times, an alternate time and day will work for everyone. The point is that their decisions are intentional.

The naturals consistently and frequently check in and reflect: What’s happening at work and in the other parts of my life? What do I want more of? What do I want less of? What do I want to continue? They realize that the actions that keep them healthy, their career network and job skills up to date, their personal relationships strong and their personal finances in shape won’t happen by default and are always changing.

When they see a gap between what’s happening on and off the job, and what they want, the naturals take small, manageable steps in the areas of their life they’ve identified as important. They’ll put it on the calendar to:

  • Call the insurance agent to make sure their coverage is adequate and current.
  • Schedule a day off with their partner to catch up.
  • Gather their siblings who live in different cities on a Google Hangout to make sure everyone understands their parents’ caregiving wishes.

They don’t expect perfection. Naturals focus on and celebrate what does get done, even if it’s only part of what they had planned. It’s better than nothing and over time creates a solid foundation of well being and order we all crave.

“I already do that.” Actually, most of us don’t, but we all can!

When I first started to share these insanely, simple secrets a few years ago, people would push back and say, “I already do that.” I knew they didn’t but I needed proof if I was to convince them to embrace this practice of small changes with big impact.

I decided to have people who attended one of my events complete a basic, four question pre-session questionnaire. Over the course of a few months, more than 240 answered the questions and this is what I discovered:

  • 75% agreed that “on average, I actively manage my work and personal responsibilities and goals daily or weekly.”
  • 40% agreed that “I always keep a calendar with all of my personal and work to-dos and goals in one place.”
  • 26% agreed that “On average, I set time aside daily or weekly to check in with myself and answer the question, “What do I want?”
  • Only 15% said, “When I see a mismatch between what I want in my work+life fit and what’s happening I make adjustments, always.”

In other words, yes, they thought they managed their responsibilities on and off the job deliberately and with intention. But most made their everyday choices using an incomplete picture of what they had to accomplish at work and in their personal lives. Even fewer regularly reflected on what they wanted, and almost no one always took the small steps to close the between what they want and what’s happening on and off the job.

The good news is that we all can become work+life fit naturals. Their secrets are translated into a practical, commonsense weekly practice found in my new book, TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day (Center Street/Hachette) and on the mobile-friendly site www.tweakitogether.com. Join me! Just tweak it, and make what matters to YOU happen every day.

Are you a work+life fit natural? Take this simple, four-question quiz and find out.

Also, I invite you to follow me on Twitter @caliyost and “Like” the Work+Life Fit Facebook page.

 

How I Finally Went Cold Turkey From Working on Vacation

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com 8/15/12.  Not only did it inspire many interesting comments from readers, but subsequently, I received a number of “out of office” response emails where the sender said they were on vacation and declaring “email bankruptcy” upon return.

The best part was that, in a couple of messages, the sender had embedded this post to explain how they were trying to disconnect from work and take a true break.  Maybe we’ve started a movement!)

How do you take vacation and then actually disconnect from work when you are away?  These are two of the most consistent and, seemingly intractable, including me.  But, I’m proud to say that I just completed my first vacation in years where I almost totally disconnected from email (99%) and didn’t engage at all on any of my blogs, Facebook, or Twitter for two weeks.

Not only did I survive this true break from work, but I feel more energized and focused than I have after most of my previous days off.

How did I do it? I used three simple vacation tactics–day blocking, email bankruptcy, and social media fasting. I explain each tactic below. But first, you might be interested in finding out what finally motivated me, after countless failed attempts, to figure out how to truly separate from work for a few days. (Click here for more)

(Image from FastCompany.com: Flickr user Brian Uhreen)

3 Ways to Break Out of The “All Work” Or “No Work” Death Trap

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

As I observed the debate ignited by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” article in The Atlantic from afar over the past week, I witnessed person after person, including Slaughter, fall into the classic “all work” or “no work” trap.” It’s a death trap that immediately kills any productive conversation about creative, innovative ways to work differently. And that’s the real conversation we need to have.

But we won’t until we figure out how to avoid the “all or nothing” landmine that everyone seems to run into whenever a discussion about how to manage work and life in a modern, hectic world begins. Here are three simple steps to get us started:

First, understand what it looks like when someone falls into the trap. You’ll begin to recognize what to avoid. Here are a few examples related to the Slaughter article debate:

The truth is that Slaughter did not leave her senior position in the State Department to not work. She went back to her very busy, very prestigious full-time job as a professor at Princeton. The difference was at Princeton she has more control over her schedule.

Unfortunately, in many of the responses to and interviews about her article, the conversation quickly devolved into the unwinnable debate “should mothers work or stay home.” That’s not what Slaughter did or what she was talking about. And yet, that’s where we ended up.

Few were able to pull themselves out of the trap. It would have meant acknowledging that some people do choose to work all the time, or not work for pay at all, but what about everyone else? How do we take advantage of the countless possibilities in-between and do it in a way that works for us and our jobs?

Watch how Slaughter herself falls into the trap in this video from her interview at The Aspen Ideas Festival. She tries to explain how we should praise women who make work+life decisions in part to care for their families. But then assumes men can’t be guided by family concerns because they have to make money.

Actually, men could and often do make tough work choices based on family considerations as long as the default assumption isn’t that the only alternative is to “not work,” but to work differently.

Again, Slaughter did not choose to work less. She worked differently. There’s no reason a man couldn’t do the same. But in the “all work” or “no work” trap it’s impossible to stay in the grey zone of work+life possibility for all. What about the men who turn down promotions that would have required more work or take lower-paying jobs closer to home? I see it happen all the time, but because those choices don’t fit our rigid “all or nothing” work dichotomy, we don’t see or celebrate them. We should.

Very few people, men or women, can afford to not work even for a brief period of time; therefore, working smarter, better and more flexibly is the solution. Hopefully knowing what the trap looks like will help us avoid falling into it. And we can finally focus our discussion on the countless flexible ways of fitting work and life together.

Second, the issue is how to reset your unique work+life “fit” not work-life balance: If you have a few minutes, go back and re-read The Atlantic article. Everywhere you see the phrase “work life balance,” substitute “find a work+life fit that works for me and my job.” It’s almost magical what happens. All of sudden the unwinnable search to find “balance,” turns into a series of deliberate choices based on work and personal circumstances at a particular point in time. And much of the drama disappears. (For more,  click here to go to FastCompany.com)

3 Signs Flexible Work is Strategic–And Not Just Window Dressing

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(Post originally appeared in Fast Company)

Research shows that a majority of employers offer at least some type of informal, day-to-day and formal work flexibility, and a majority of employees agree that they have access to it.

Therefore, the question is no longer simply, “What is telework, flexible hours, etc.?” We get the concept. The focus must now shift to “How do we use work flexibility strategically and deliberately to achieve our unique business and personal goals?”

Unfortunately, too often the flexible work that exists is either random with no clear, coordinated, widely understood goal behind it. Or it’s a program or policy that sounds and feels good but hasn’t infiltrated its way into the day-to-day business.

So how do you tell if an organization’s approach to work flexibility is deliberate, strategic and targeted, or if it’s random, window dressing? Here are three signs:

Sign #1: When a business challenge or opportunity appears, managers naturally ask themselves, “How can we address this by being more flexible in how, when and where work is done?” And then they understand how to pull the team together to make that flexible work solution succeed. For example:

  • The group is covering clients across all time zones and is burning out; therefore, “How can we be more flexible with our work hours so that if you are on a call with Asia or Europe overnight, you don’t have to be at your desk by 9 a.m. the next day?”
  • Business is down and we are getting pressure to cut head count; therefore, “How can I reduce schedules to save labor costs and the valuable talent we’ll need when the business turns around?”
  • An employee has to care for his mother who lives in another state and was recently diagnosed with dementia; therefore, “What if we let him telework so he doesn’t have to quit?”
  • There may be a new business opportunity in a market but there isn’t enough revenue to justify renting an office; therefore, “We can have the initial start up team telework from their homes until revenue grows?”

Sign #2: The organization consistently connects the dots between all of the tactical, siloed applications of work flexibility. (Click here for more)

How to Get Middle Managers To Support Flexible Work

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

Last week I attended a fascinating forum on paid family leave at the Ford Foundation. As is often the case in any discussion about the demands of work and family, the need for work flexibility was front and center, with the primary challenge being, “How do we get middle managers to support it?”

Middle-manager support can be the difference between success and failure of a work flexibility strategy and, yet, it remains elusive. The advice on how to solve the problem ranges from “Put the policy in place. Tell managers this is the way it is. Reward those who do it and punish those that don’t,” to “You can’t lead a horse to water. I guess you need to wait for the dinosaurs to die off [sigh].”

In my experience, a top-down policy and an ultimatum will fail. It only creates more resistance. And waiting for a generation of managers to leave is not only inefficient, but it unnecessarily leaves money on the table as the organization and its people miss out on the benefits of flexible work.

Over the years, we’ve succeeded in getting even some of the most skeptical middle managers on board the work flexibility train. But it requires a larger upfront commitment of resources (e.g. time, money, and people) than it takes to write a policy or rely on attrition. However, the return on that investment is a group of middle managers who not only accept work flexibility but understand how to use it as a powerful tool to run their business.

Here are five the ways we’ve gotten middle managers to support flexible work:

Ask middle managers to help articulate the “why” or business case for work flexibility in your organization, and then let them participate in determining what that flexibility will look like. Interview middle managers–the supporters of flexibility as well as the naysayers. Ask them why they think it is or is not important to be more flexible in the way work is done. Encourage them to tell you how it will solve their business challenges. Gather groups of managers and employees together to expand this shared vision they’ve created. At the end of the process, people feel invested in this approach to flexible work that they developed themselves, bottom up and top down.

Allow middle managers to freely express the “prices” they fear they will pay, while also helping them to focus on the payoffs of work flexibility. I love naysayers. When I am consulting to a group of managers about work flexibility and one of them has the courage to say, “Yeah, but I’m going to be left doing more work,” I want to hug them. They are articulating one of the very real fears many of the middle managers have about changing the way work is done. When you give middle managers a chance to share those concerns freely, they are able to move beyond them. They start to see the long list of benefits from having a more flexible approach to work. But if they can’t, they get stuck behind the fears.

Make sure that work flexibility in the organization is built on a partnership model where employees have as much responsibility for the success of it as the managers do… (For more, please click here)

I invite you to join me on Twitter @caliyost.

How To Uncover Blind Spots When Mapping Your Career Path

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(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.)

Do you ever read career advice, especially for new entrants into the job market, and feel like the important qualifiers, “Yes, but…” and “So…” are too often missing? For example, “Yes, do what you love. It may translate into money, but not always or it may take a long time. So what can you do to avoid going broke…?”

Author Alexandra Levit agrees. In her thought-provoking new book Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, she reintroduces the long-absent and important, “Yes, but…” and “So…” to some of today’s most common career beliefs.

Some of the blind spots that Levit highlights in her book include:

  • Yes, overnight success might happen to the rare person, BUT more likely it will take years of mastery and resilience. SO, here’s how to get started and to deal with inevitable setbacks.
  • Yes, employers recognize and hire you for your unique skills and experiences, BUT they also have an organization to run with rules and guidelines that have to be followed. SO, how do you function professionally and diplomatically in the workplace.
  • Yes, it’s important to perform in order to earn more money, BUT performance isn’t the only factor in determining pay. SO, learn to understand how performance, business realities, HR mandates, and office politics all impact how much you are paid.

And, as an accidental entrepreneur who knows how much work it takes to create, run and grow a successful business, this is my favorite:

  • Yes, leaving corporate America and starting your own business can be the right option for some people, BUT it’s harder than it looks and is not for everyone. SO, how can you evaluate the many often hidden benefits of working for someone else versus entrepreneurship?

I worry that without these well placed reality checks people both miss opportunities and undermine their long-term success. For me, it happened my sophomore year of college. My father responded to the news that I was going to be an English major and become a writer with, “Yes, but…you also want to move away from central Pennsylvania and live with your friends in New York City after graduation. So, you better find a major that will get you a job with a good starting salary and benefits.” That led to my double major in Economics and English and the discovery that I also love business. And today I write books, articles, and blog posts about my work, creating more flexible work environments and helping people use that flexibility to manage their work and life balance.

I’ll confess that it felt good to show my father my first book contract and relish in a moment of, “Ha, I told you so” satisfaction. But then I had to admit to myself (and to him) that moving to New York after college, finding work that I love and being able to write about it wouldn’t have happened if my father hadn’t inserted a valid, albeit painful, dose of reality into my early career decisions. Hopefully, Levit’s book will do the same for others.

What were some of the helpful, and perhaps painful, “Yes, but…” and “So…” qualifiers that helped you along your career path?

For more from Alexandra Levit:

· Buy her book Blind Spots.

· Check out her blog.

I also invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

Embrace Uncertainty, and Ride the Butterflies

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In the early 90’s, I turned my back on a successful banking career to go to business school and become a work+life strategy consultant.  This was before most people had even heard of telework or flexible hours.  Yet I walked the halls of Columbia Business School in 1993 confidently stating this seemingly crazy goal.

Many, many people thought (and said) I was nuts.  Armed with incomplete information, intuition and support from key people, I did achieve my goal…and more!   But it would have been much easier if someone had charted the course for me.  Now someone has.

In his new book, Uncertainty, creation, marketing and innovation expert, Jonathan Fields, lays out the path that everyone can follow, and not a moment too soon.  The level of ambiguity that pervades our lives and work seems to increase daily.  Uncertainty breaks down the steps of how not only to survive but thrive, personally and professionally, in a world where the unknown is the new normal.

Recently, I spoke with Fields about his important, timely new book Uncertainty.  It’s the guide that I wish I had when I jumped, feet first, into the abyss of ambiguity.

Cali Yost:  Jonathan, let’s get started with why it’s so important to embrace uncertainty today?

Jonathan Fields: We live in a world where uncertainty is now the rule.  It’s all around us.  Either we learn to live with it or we suffer.

Nothing unique is created if you wait to have perfect information.  Great art, new and innovative ideas all happen in the face of uncertainty.  If you wait to get all of the information before moving forward then you aren’t creating.  You are just repeating because someone else has done it before.

Cali Yost: According to the research throughout the book, we avoid uncertainty even at our own expense.  I loved how you reframed the two aspects of uncertainty that trip us up most often—Fear and Butterflies.  Can you talk about Alchemy of Fear and Riding the Butterflies?

Jonathan Fields: Research shows that when we experience uncertainty the parts of our brain related to fear and anxiety light up.  Often we experience it as the sensation of having butterflies.  But butterflies are not comfortable.  In fact, we want to hunt and kill the butterflies!  We back away from where we’re trying to go and shut down.  But instead, as I discuss in the book, we need to harness and ride those butterflies toward our goal.

In terms of fear, you need to train your mindset to succeed in the face of that fear in the same way you would pursue mastery in a particular field.  It’s what I call the Alchemy of Fear.  You do this by focusing on four key areas that I describe in the book:

  1. Workflow optimization, through single tasking, etc.
  2. Personal practice, like exercise and Attentional Training
  3. Environmental and culture change, by creating “hives” and judgment leveling opportunities
  4. Outlook optimization or behavior, by reframing and growth.

(Click here to learn more about how to get one of Marty Whitmore’s limited edition Ride the Butterflies or Alchemy of Fear illustrations commissioned by Jonathan Fields for FREE)

Cali Yost:  I’m glad you mentioned judgment leveling opportunities.  I realized as I read your book, that you gave me the gift of a judgment leveling opportunity a few months ago when we had lunch.  You patiently answered all of my most basic, potentially embarrassing questions about marketing.   By allowing me to test ideas and clarify my base knowledge, you gave me a foundation from which to take what I learned to the next level, and then the next.  How can others create judgment leveling opportunities for themselves?

Jonathan Fields: Judgment is important because you want and need the data to guide your mission.  What you don’t want is the emotion that too often goes along with the data.  That’s what causes people to stop experimenting.

You can either join an existing group or create the environment yourself that gives feedback without the shutting people down.  The good news is that today you can even do this online.  There a many stories and examples in the book but here are a few things to look for:  (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)

How to Create a “Big Enough Company” That Fits Your Unique Work and Life Goals

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When I work with the employees inside of a company, I’m often asked, “So, Cali, what’s your work+life fit?”  I’m more than happy to explain that, “I’m a mother of two, a wife and I work full-time for myself primarily out of my home office unless I’m at a client site like today.”  Someone in the crowd will inevitability shout out, “What do you know about conflict between your work and life?  You have the perfect situation.”  I respectfully reply with a smile, “It may look perfect to you, but working for yourself isn’t always the work+life fit nirvana you might imagine.”

I’m an accidental entrepreneur.  I never imagined that I would work for myself.  I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, but I made the decision to strike out on my own in 1998 and start my consulting firm because I wanted to:

  • Develop and implement corporate work+life flexibility strategies in the way I wanted to.
  • Have the ability to write my first book, and
  • Have control over my schedule to also take care of my new daughter (who is now 13 years old, yikes!).

I did achieve all three goals but I also learned a hard lesson.  As an entrepreneur, I had to be even more vigilant and rigorous about when, how and where I worked or I wouldn’t have time and energy left over for the other important parts of my life.  Work could easily consume me because there are no boundaries unless you set them.

While I fumbled and stumbled my way to creating a business that “fit” my unique professional and personal goals, the good news is that you don’t have to follow a path of trial and error.   Now there’s a roadmap, The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business That Works for You (Portfolio, 2011) by Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams (Disclosure:  I received a copy of the book from the authors because I’d given it a blurb—see the back cover–that’s how much I like it!)

Lancaster and Abrams are the founders of In Good Company, a community business learning center, and workspace for women in New York City.  They also consult and advise entrepreneurs who want to create and succeed in a business that is just right for their goals—from the sole proprietor to the venture-funded start-up.

Their message is clear: One size does not fit all. (Click here for more)

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.com)