Friday, September 13, 2013

Judge Judy Ponders a Major Decision

The Honorable Judith Wizmur doesn’t have to retire. There’s no mandatory age for federal judges to leave the bench. And she adores her work.
But shortly after she turns 65 next April, Judge Wizmur plans to step down from her post as U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the District of New Jersey. 
Judge Judith Wizmur
It’s something she wants to do. She has grandkids she’d like to spend more time with. And she has friends who’ve recently experienced “life altering circumstances” that gave her pause – sudden illness and the death of a spouse.
But she’s nervous about leaving her job and what she’ll find afterward.

“I wonder if I’ll fall off the cliff?” she told me the other day.

Within the next five years, a lot of other federal judges will be facing the same dilemma, said Judge Wizmur, who last month chaired a meeting of a Retired Judges Committee. The group, part of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, met in San Diego at the Conference’s annual gathering.

Losing the connections they’ve made with each other is a huge issue.

“The judges have a blog about what’s going on in their courts. The idea of being cut loose from all that is of concern for us,” she said. The group just issued a questionnaire asking retiring judges “what they’d like to see – contact information, news about pensions, and to exchange retirement experiences.” Since many travel, one question was whether they’d like to host traveling judges in their homes.
But the far bigger issue is:

What to do next when what you’re doing now is the best job you’ve ever had or likely ever to have? 
(No matter that their salary is a fraction of what lawyers of their caliber can earn. In 2012,  federal bankruptcy judges were paid $160,080 a year, with no increase for experience.)

A lot of judges want the next thing to be the same thing, just less of it -- by serving on recall or as a Senior Judge. “People love what they do and want to continue to do it even if not full time. They’ve built up experience and a level of confidence in what they do,” said Judge Wizmur.
No matter that the remuneration is small, she said, with travel expenses sometimes not even covered.
Still, she estimates that more than 50 percent of federal district judges choose to stay around on senior status.  Serving on recall for a bankruptcy judge is more difficult, with levels of approval required for every individual case.
Other jobs to which judges are well suited include teaching, which many already do while working.
“And many,” she said, “go into ADR, alternative dispute resolution –arbitration, mediation. Judges are particularly suited to that kind of work.”
But there’s a catch to that route.
“If a bankruptcy judge chooses to do that, it’s considered to be the practice of law and they lose the chance of cost of living increases in their pension for the rest of their lives.”
 Judge Wizmur is contemplating ADR, but isn’t sure. Right now she’s focused on reclaiming time.

The life events that have befallen her friends, “made me stop and think about the basic proposition that you don’t know what’s coming around the corner. Time is the most precious commodity and I need to spend time thinking about that commodity.”

As to how she would savour it beyond precious time with her two children, two grandchildren and her mother? “I can think of courses, volunteering, and there’s always the basement and garage,” she said, laughing. “I don’t have a million ideas."
“I wonder about my ability to fall into a routine, to organize myself, to spend the day-to-day in a productive way. Many of us have been working since our teenage years and need organizational tools to run our lives.”
Yes, Judge Judy. That could be an issue. My own organizational tool box disappeared along with my parking spot, office keycard, and my desk. At home, a dozen desires distract me from my day's goals, though deliciously so. Let me know what you learn! 

Anyone have any tips on staying organized when you've left the Organization behind?


Sarah Mooers said...

This is a challenge not just for those who retire, but also for entrepreneurs, at-home parents, and the unemployed. Luckily, the same basic tools can be used by everyone:
1) Set yearly, monthly, and daily goals
2) Adjust your goals as life evolves
3) Give yourself compassion when you don’t achieve your goals

Setting goals isn’t as hard as you might think. Find a quiet spot and write down everything you can think of that you’d like to do. Dream big – just because you are not doing your “life’s work” doesn’t mean you don’t have talents, passions, and skills that could be applied in other settings. Just keep writing until you are done; this is your Brain Dump. It might take you half an hour; it might take you three hours, depending on how ambitious (or back-logged) you are.

When you’re done, you’ll see a mix of tasks that you could do right away and goals that are more amorphous (“Climb Mt Kilimanjaro” is not something for tomorrow!). Pick the ten most urgent items and put them on a To Do list for the next two days. I like the simple Reminders app on my iPhone, but I have clients who prefer Any.Do and EasilyDo. (Some people put To Do tasks on their calendars, but I am not a fan of that because if you don’t get to it, the reminder is invisible.) Then, put the Brain Dump list away. Yes, put it away. Your subconscious will continue to process the list, and you’ll see it afresh later. Schedule a To Do for two days hence to review the list.

When you take the list back out, (1) schedule the remaining urgent items on your To Do list for the next few weeks, and (2) pick three medium-sized goals for the month, and (3) pick three large goals for the year. Your choices may surprise you! Seemingly “must-achieve” goals may give way to more life-enhancing goals, when you keep in mind that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring.

For each medium- and large-sized goal, brainstorm what you’ll need to do to make that goal a reality. Perhaps this month’s goals include starting a book club, so the steps include making the list of people, contacting them to find out available dates, sending the invitations, and getting your house ready. Perhaps this year’s goals include climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, so the first steps include hiring a personal trainer and finding a tour organizer. For each goal, put the individual tasks on your To Do list on specific days. This way, you will tackle them bit-by-bit, and not feel overwhelmed.

Each day, find five quiet minutes to review your calendar for the next few days and your To Do list. Some people like to do this with their first cup of coffee. I prefer to do it at night, so that I sleep better knowing I am ready for the next day.

Never keep more tasks on your To Do list than you can reasonably accomplish on that particular day – reschedule the less urgent stuff for another day. Your energy and motivation will build if your list is manageable. Far better to get 9 of 10 things done (90%), than to have 9 of 27 (33%). Your absolute achievement would be the same, but the feeling of satisfaction lies in the percentage.

Finally, schedule a monthly To Do for yourself to get your Brain Dump list out again. Pick the goals for the next month, and consider revising your goals for the year. I do not recommend scheduling your monthly goals in January for the whole year to come. Your life may change, you may fall behind (and you don’t need the extra stress and guilt that those reminders will bring), or you may be “deliciously” distracted, or you may change your mind.

Follow those talents, passions, and skills where they lead you. After all, you’re your own boss now!

Dotty Brown said...

Wow, Sarah! What great advice. I find that I'm constantly clearing the cobwebs of my little tasks and keep putting off plunging into the big ones. It's as if I'm always trying to get mt desk clear enough to be able to focus on the hard thing. For instance, writing a blog (and responding to comments) draws me away from writing a book.