Archives for category: General

It seems to me slightly unfair that in the main most of us have to work 5 days for 2 days off. Your working week and your weekend; one is longer and goes slow, the other shorter and goes fast.

It’s an evolution I suppose. In earlier times we were working 7 days a week, because we were hunter-gatherers, or we were slaves. We were literally working to survive. Then comes the industrial revolution and the factory existence and it wasn’t uncommon to be working 6 days and get one solitary day off to recover. A hard life, and one which I’m sure a good number of people still have to endure.

Starting from the other end, if you’re working no days or one day a week, you’re probably independently wealthy, or you can rely on someone else to bring in the bread. If you’re 2 days on and 5 days off, or perhaps 3 days on and 4 days off, then you work part-time in my book. Nothing wrong with that at all. It works great for many millions.

Which brings us back to where I started. 5 days of work and 2 days of play doesn’t feel all that evolved to me. 4 days working, however, and 3 days to yourself – well, that feels a lot more equitable. If your work situation is flexible enough that you can fit your working week into 4 days, or if you can get by on 4 days’ income rather than 5, then that feels a lot fairer to me.

There are 168 hours in a week, of which we’re asleep for about 58, leaving 110 hours left. When you factor in getting ready for work, getting to work, lunch, getting back from work and getting changed, that’s about an 11-hour day, or half of the 110 hours at your disposal if you work 5 days. Half the hours are work-related, so my feeling is the balance of days should be closer to half as well.

We simply need to have the right culture and make the economics work for the 4:3 work:play balance.

I was watching a marketing training video the other day, produced by an American company highly respected in the area of what’s called ‘inbound marketing’ and the speaker used the word ‘ongoingly’.

Ongoingly, meaning – one would assume – in an ongoing fashion – is another great example of human languages adapting and changing all the time.

I was talking to my good lady about this recently, and about how language change spreads, and she wasn’t convinced.

‘So,’ she said, as we were walking through an agricultural show to buy an ice cream, ‘I’m going to call that bunch of stones on the path down here a ‘bubblybeg’. You can’t tell me I’ve created a new word..’ Of course it is, I replied, you just coined a new word. Now I’m going to use it, and we’ll both know what it signifies when we use it again. If we don’t use it anymore, it dies with us.

But, I continued, if you continue using it, and others adopt it, your new word is taking hold one person at a time. Throw in a couple of influencers or broadcasters with access to many more people, and then thousands of people are making that individual decision whether or not to adopt and use it too. All of a sudden the word gains critical mass and eventually becomes accepted. It starts as a verbal thing, then over time becomes enshrined in the written word, and away you go.

The same thing will have happened with ongoingly, like it did with three-peat. Language change is a constant, living thing, and that for me is the constant fascination.

Business travel – in the sense of employed business travel – is fundamentally different to self-employed business travel. This is obvious in one way, since it’s the company’s money as opposed to your money, even if you have your own limited company.

In another way, though, in employed business travel you’re essentially getting reimbursed for everything you’re entitled to within the parameters of your employer’s expenses policy. You’re reimbursed for all expenses you reasonably incur.

When it’s your own money, and your own business, you’re more frugal, both with your customer’s budget and with your own budget, those expenditure items you don’t pass on to your customer.

As a self-employed worker you want to remain competitive, so charging significantly higher day rates to cover all your expenses is sometimes not a viable strategy. This manifests itself in the difference between, for example, charging an employer mileage for car use, as opposed to charging a customer the fuel and absorbing the quasi-hidden depreciation costs of putting miles on your own, self-employed car.

My self-employed business travel is not a life of taxis to the airport, airport executive lounges, ticket upgrades and so on. For me, a typical overseas journey can be a short walk to the train station, a train to the city, a short walk to the coach station, a coach to the airport, a flight with a budget airline, a lift to a cheaper – and therefore off-campus – car rental facility for getting to meetings, following by the reverse on the way home. Some of the expenses I absorb, some of them I pass on to my customers. This agreement keeps me competitive and more importantly fosters long-term relationships.

Everyone realises sooner or later that business travel is not the glamorous pastime we thought it was before we did it repeatedly. With self-employed business travel the sheen wears off even more quickly.

What did we call life hacks before we called them life hacks? That phrase has only been around for a few years but already I can’t think of what term we used to describe the short-cuts or tricks of getting by in life that we pick up as we pass through the decades of our earthly existence.

Anything that gives us the inside track on a task and saves us time improves our personal productivity, wellbeing and happiness. There are myriad life hacks we use every day without even thinking about them.

I drive a lot of different cars. I travel overseas once a month and hire a car when I’m over there. Whenever I’m picking up my hire car I generally ask the staff member I’m dealing with if the car has blue tooth for hooking up my mobile phone (they almost all do nowadays) and which side of the car the fuel cap is on so I know how to pull into a fuelling station on the correct side to fill up the tank. If I forget, I have to get out of the car and look for it.

I’ve been driving for over 30 years. Imagine my surprise and astonishment, then, when someone told me earlier this year that on almost every car dashboard there is a little icon of a fuel pump and an arrow indicating which side you dispense fuel from. Brilliant! I’d noticed the icon many times but hadn’t registered the significance of the arrow. I’m sure most of you knew this one already, and are tut-tutting to yourself, safe in the knowledge that you’re probably oodles of life hacks ahead of me.

For me, however, it was another life hack acquired. Another micro-improvement.

Is it just me or have eyes failed to to keep up? While peace, our understanding of nutrition and farming techniques mean that we are bigger, stronger, faster and we’re living longer than ever before, the eyes don’t appear to have got the message.

Take me for instance. Into my sixth decade, but not by much, I have 3 pairs of glasses. I have a pair for screen-work, phones, laptops, TV and other devices. I have one for driving, because I can see perfectly well into the long range but I can’t read the dashboard numbers and letters. And I have a pair of sunglasses for sunny or bright-light driving and so that I can read prices in shops and books when I’m sitting on a lounger by the pool.

I’ve always had perfect eyesight, except that mid-way through the fifth decade the focal point for close-up work had lengthened to the point where I couldn’t hold a book far away enough or reach the keyboard with the target in focus. From there it’s been regular and expensive trips to the opticians. More pricier than the occasional trip to the physio.

What was life expectancy as recently as a thousand years ago? Half what is is now? The eyes don’t have it any more. We’re living too long and it’s not like we can retrain them like other muscles. I know of no exercise program focused on strengthening the optic nerve and the muscles that control focusing, if indeed they are muscles. All we can do is have corrective surgery in some cases or wear corrective equipment in other.

I’m happy to acknowledge that all my experiences and observations might be coloured by the fact that up close attention to the typed word is my life. I’m both a publisher and consumer of it, for many hours a day, so that may have contributed to the speed of the decline. But even so, if all the magnifying tools in the world disappeared overnight, or I found myself washed up on a deserted island, I would be, to use a crudity, buggered.

I drive quite a bit. Short journeys running errands and dropping kids around town, and long journeys to airports and customers. I like to drive, and I generally do the driving when Her Ladyship and the little angels accompany me. It frees up my wife to organise a bunch of things on her phone, and I don’t mind at all.

The other day, in a break with tradition, I was driven, on one of our normal routes out to the country for the weekend. My wife drives a little slower than I, but not much.

It’s not comfortable being driven! Not as comfortable as it should be. You forget, when you’re in the driving seat and shimmying through country lanes with gay abandon, that you’re holding the steering wheel, which anchors you to your seat and minimises unnecessary roll.

The kids don’t mind of course, because they’re used to it, but more importantly they’ve never driven so they don’t know what it’s like. It was for me, though, an instructive lesson that I must drive more slowly, more smoothly and more considerately when I have company, passengers, customers if you will.

I was at a second hand book fair the other day, one of those affairs where the books are strewn everywhere, unsorted and in boxes on trestle tables and in boxes on the floor under tables.

Crouched down under the tables with books in one hand and sifting with the other, scrabbling around for the authors I was interested in, I thought about how different it is being almost at floor level, like a dog, a small pet or a small child.

It’s a dog’s life down there. You can’t see anything, except the floor, people’s feet and legs, and other small people. Adults trip over you. Everything is geared to heights comfortable to the average adult. It’s almost like being a second class citizen.

I think also that’s it’s a useful exercise in humility, since it puts you in the shoes of other beings who spend their lives at ground level: small children, small animals, small people and also, to an extent, people in wheelchairs. It’s not that fun, once you’ve experienced life at a ‘normal’ altitude.

You’re familiar with the phrase ‘who’s policing the police?’. One thing that has recently taxed my brain is this: who’s watching the recycling?

As a nation, Ireland is pretty decent at recycling household waste. Better than the Brits and way better than the Americans, not as good as our Teutonic friends.

Our actual waste wheelie bin is dwarfed in weight by our recycling bin, which goes out every fortnight full to the brim, if bins have brims. We’re very good, as a family I think, at reducing, reusing and recycling.

But, just because we recycle well as a family, that don’t mean a thing once our bin’s contents are upended into the recycling waste truck. What happens then?

I sure as heck don’t know. For all I know, they might be throwing the recycling into landfill. Maybe people aren’t as judicious with their recycling and are adding items that can’t be recycled. How are the waste companies sorting the different types of recycled material? Are they removing non-recyclable stuff? Again, I don’t know. We’re trusting in a process that we have no visibility of whatsoever.

We’re pleased with ourselves at how good we are at recycling, yet we’re not actually recycling. We’re starting the recycling process but we’ve no idea how it ends, or in fact how much of it ends.

I got sick the other day. Quite sick actually, and I needed a sick bed. About once a year I get a migraine, and about once every other year I get a bad migraine. I have learned to notice signs one is coming on. I have also learned the factors that precipitate one, though it’s usually too late for me to adjust my lifestyle.

Usually I get a migraine in the late afternoon or evening, and I can go straight to bed and shut the word away until I re-emerge on the other side. When I get a bad one the symptoms kick in during the morning.

The other day, I noticed the signs of temporary oblivion around 8am as I was driving into the office where I work for about a week every month. The office is about an hour’s drive from where I stay, in another country from where I live.

After about 2 hours of taking meds and fighting the inevitable, I informed the office manager in halting English – I can’t string a sentence together when I have a migraine, and forget the names of common objects and people I know well – that I needed to lie down in the building’s sick room.

There was no sick room, and no sick bed serving the 5 floors of office space housing the handful of companies. All the rooms have lights on that came on automatically. So, here I was, stuck an hour’s drive from where I was staying and not capable of much more beyond curling up in a ball. Eventually, I found a large bean bag, and the building manager opened up a disused room in the basement with nothing in it, not even a light.

After spending 2 hours in there, I felt well enough to drive to where I was staying, at which point I went straight to bed for 5 hours, until I had slept off the horrendousness of food poisoning-like symptoms and felt semi-human again.

You would have thought a large office building would have a sick bay though, wouldn’t you?

As a footnote to this sorry story, I had to take my first sick day in ten years. I had a suspicion when I wrote that post that it might come back to haunt me…

When I’m in the UK, one of my colleagues and I travel to the office from different ends of a major motorway. I go north, he goes south, and then we reverse our journeys to go home at the end of the day.

His journey is invariably more snarled up than mine. A daily commute that regularly turns sour is a major source of mental ill-being in my opinion.

The other day I was returning to the office from an event and using the length of motorway my colleague uses, which is unusual for me. There was a stretch of roadworks on the motorway. It was about 20 miles in length and had a restricted speed limit of 50 miles an hour, with narrowed driving lanes and more traffic cones than you get grains of sand on a mile-wide beach.

The total amount of ‘road work’ activity on this 20-mile stretch, in mid-afternoon on a mid-week day? None. Not a single vehicle or worker. Zero activity.

This is the lost productivity of negligible roadworks. It’s the cumulative time lost for thousands of travellers, not to mention the increase in annoyance and frustration – increased enough for me to pen this blog 2 weeks after the fact – coming from having to drive at reduced speed for the guts of half an hour.

Who suffers? As usual, the individual. The private citizen, who is a customer of the infrastructure by virtue of having paid their road tax, and a bunch of other taxes besides.