Archives for posts with tag: Age

It sometimes seems to me that personal productivity is a rather elegant bell curve, with age on the ‘x’ axis and effectiveness on the ‘y’.

When we’re young, we’re learning how to do stuff. It takes us an age, the stuff that we take for granted and do on autopilot when we’ve got a couple of decades at it under our belt. Then, as we get older, we seem to lose some of our faculties and get slower. We can compensate for the lack of mobility and strength with experience and an agile mind, but as we get much older the routine stuff – involving major and minor motor skills – is like that of a pre-adolescent.

While I realise the concept of the circle of life is nothing new, it nonetheless amazes me how much we can get through between the ages of 16 and 60, compared to the relative plodding progress either side of that range. We have experience, expertise and energy. I for one, given the financial turmoil of the last decade, hope that my productivity doesn’t dip until I’m well past retirement age. Either that or I need to have found an income source that requires cerebral heavy lifting rather than the literal variety. This seems much more scalable, since if it’s something like books or software I’m producing, I can sell additional units at next to no extra cost.

Perhaps we’re missing a societal trick with this ageism lark. Maybe, as our energy levels decline but our marbles remain intact, we should simply move to a different type of work and productivity, rather than simply succumb to the stigma of the three score years and ten. This move would need to be at a community level, not an individual one. After all, the generation retiring now is literate, and probably computer literate at that.

I wrote recently about the so-called Circle of Life, and how it relates to our working lives in a ‘cradle to grave’ stylee.

It occurs to me that within this ‘macro’ trend there are lots of mini cycles, rather like an agile development flow if you’re from a software background.

These cycles can be weekly, monthly, yearly or pretty much any length, but before you know it they link up into a mega trend that defines us.

Here’s an image which pretty well sums up the converse ebbs and flow of the working week for younger and older workers. I hope you can relate to it 🙂

I must admit to a certain frisson of pleasure at the closing of things. Mundane, inconsequential things.

Let me give you examples. That feeling when you load up the dishwasher – surely the single greatest invention of all time – put the cleaning tab in, hit the ‘on’ button and close up the lid. So satisfying.

It’s same when you close the heated oven door after carefully preparing your dish for cooking. Here’s two more for you: Closing and locking the house front door at the end of a day, ideally a Friday, when everyone’s home, last thing at night. Closing the car door when all the family is inside after a long walk somewhere, ready for the drive home.

I know, the last ones have serious womb syndrome about them, but you see parallels in the working world. Submitting that final report, either paper-based or electronically, is a rush too. Signing off on an initiative, a project, a job even, come on, you must feel it too. Sales people – closing a deal! How good is that feeling?!

Perhaps the ultimate work-related frisson of closure is the day you fully retire, as long as what you have lined up after it is better. This post harks back to a recent post about the circle of life, which makes them both all the more valid I think.

The circle of life has a truth and completeness about it. We come into the world, we need help, support, guidance so that we can learn the ropes and participate as independent people, until its our own turn to do the same for the next generation.

Then we gradually fizzle out and eventually reach a similar stage of dependence on others, until we exit, stage left.

This got me thinking about our working lives as well, how we start not knowing anything – about a new career, new job, new company and their products and services – reliant on others to show us the way, give us the knowledge and the inside track until we can work alone, be trusted, and contribute productively.

My rule of thumb was 12 months. I felt it was a full 12 months before people were genuinely up to speed and actively leading or contributing. Then their experience of having seen a full 4 quarters play out allows them to build on the previous calendar year and improve the business. Some people think that after the second period of 12 months you start to stagnate and should move to a fresh challenge, but that has always seemed premature to me. Sure, I’ll give a new career or move 2 years, but will stay longer if I’m enjoying it and enhancing the business.

We improve as working individuals and start to climb the corporate ladder in our 30’s and 40’s, but does there come a time when we start to lose our creativity and the well starts to run dry? Do we step back a little and look to the next wave of high achievers to come up with the fresh ideas that we can help execute and bring to fruition?

I think there’s some truth to it, but conversely there are plenty of people making huge contributions well into their 6th decade of working, and a good proportion of them are at the very top of their profession, and their company.

The body may weaken over time, but the mind, the experience, and the ability to delegate the heavy lifting – literally and figuratively – to others goes the other way. As long as we have the mental energy and the curious mind to go with it.

Here’s a question for you. What if we were all born with an allotment of, say, 200 years? This was our total allowable credit at the beginning of life. The genetic hand of cards we had been dealt would immediately reduce the credit, as would our geography, socio-economic conditions and so on.

Then, what if every social occurrence reduced it further by a set amount? Smoking a cigarette, 7 minutes off. Passively smoking a cigarette, 1 minute. Having an alcoholic drink, 3 minutes. A sugary snack, 1 minute. Inhaling the fumes from another car, 4 minutes. And on and on.

Obviously, fatal accidents reduce the credit to zero balance almost immediately, and incurable diseases and other unplanned for calamities seriously eat into your allocation. Somewhat ironically and seductively, oxygen, which we rely on to survive also contributes to cell ageing and therefore ultimately kills us, so we might need to factor in something for exercise or other activities that cause us to draw in more breath than during normal breathing.

I don’t mean this to be a religious question. I think it’s an academic discussion anyway, as believers will argue that the Maker could be behind such a plan, and non-believers will probably think it paints a pretty dystopian picture of 100% scientific and medical transparency.

So here’s the question: if this situation existed, would you live your life any differently? Would you be as generous and act for the betterment of others, knowing exactly the sacrifice in personal time you were making and the added time you were bestowing on your beneficiaries? Or would it descend into a Lord of the Flies thing where we deliberately inflicted time reductions on others, small, petty reductions or big ones?

Personally, I think that even thinking about the concept makes us strive to do our best with each thing that we do.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. There are many people in the public eye, especially entertainment, who regret their entrance into the house of stardom via the less salubrious side door of their industry. I don’t know if this industry gives rise to the phrase ‘I was young; I needed the money,’ but it seems likely that it was so.

When we’re old, however, we’re not supposed to need the money and you’re not supposed to hear us utter this blog post’s title. All our assets are supposed to be paid off, we have a good pension and investments, our kids are self-sufficient – kind of – and we have time on our hands and money to burn.

That now seems a little outdated for most of us. I’ve already talked about the ticking time bomb that is populations and pensions in the next 30-50 years, but it seems to me that unfortunate timing and macro factors have scuppered the plans of many in my generation. To list a few examples:

– Those who chose a long mortgage term or who remortgaged have pushed out their liabilities further than they would like

– The global meltdown and ensuing property slump mean that for many the value of their house is likely to be less than the amount they borrowed, locking them in for longer and meaning they can’t necessarily down-size from their empty nest

– The global meltdown has seriously dented the pension pot of those who are not on a guaranteed pension, which is most of us. Throw in the property slump and those pension funds that were invested in buildings have been more than seriously dented, and in some cases wiped out

– The nature of work has changed. Jobs are more flexible, locations are more flexible, options are more flexible. People are staying at companies less often and changing more, either by design or because they have to. This brings with it great opportunity but also the risk of being in between opportunities for longer, eroding any savings built up while scrabbling around for the next revenue source

– More people are doing their own thing and moving from employed to self-employed. This increased freedom comes at a price, in the form of unpaid holidays and paying for benefits that might have been included as an employee

Even though it’s acknowledged that we’ll be working for longer, we can’t work forever. The alternative is to work until you drop, having forgone retirement, leaving someone else to pick up the pieces.

I mentioned in the linked post above that technology will probably find a way to close the loop for us, to solve or at least assuage the problem. And those of us working in or around technology will probably be able to capitalise on it first, unless it is some immense democratising force.

But my question is this: will the old have to resort to desperate measures like the young once did?


Don’t you hate it when someone younger than you tells you that?

Of course age is just a number, but it’s also an indication of wear and tear, capacity to do work, and recuperative ability. You can’t escape its inexorable march. You can stay in shape and retard the ravages of time, but you ain’t gonna stop the bus.

The other day I was at the gym, participating in a 6-week program to inject some variety into my regime. One of the routines was a lung-bursting blast for 3 agonising minutes. ‘Do you know how old I am?’ I said to the instructor. With a full head’s height advantage, and probably two decades of credit on me, he looked down and smiled, ‘Age is just a number Paul.’

‘True,’ I offered, ‘but in my case it’s a bloody big number.’

He remained unmoved, and we did the drill.

That’s the trouble with youth. Wasted on the young.

When in our business or working lives are we at our most productive?

Is it in our 20’s when we’re single and can travel the world? Is it in our 30’s when we have the energy and the focus? Is it in our 40’s when we have the experience to work smart? What about in our 50’s when we have the seniority and gravitas?

In most working environments we tend to be – or are at the very east hoping to be – tapering our work commitments and efforts in our 60’s, yet as is well documented, a constantly increasing section of the global population is working for longer. As the population shifts and it becomes increasingly unsustainable for the younger working people to support the funds that the older retired people draw from, so the retirement age increases and the state pension reduces.

For my generation, with the exception of those who have won the lotto, hit the jackpot, or robbed a bank, the equation is obvious. Take slightly older parents of kids who will probably go to college, add a couple doses of pension fund and property value collapses, and you have a retirement age of at least 70. Ouch.

As a man whose father retired at 50, it comes to me as something of a shock, I don’t mind telling you.

What this means is that the bell curve of productivity is going to have to move significantly to the right – where age is on the x axis – in order for the macro sums to add up. In terms of our age, just like in business, this means that our personal Q3 is going to have to be a big one. Even our Q4 too, if we live that long. What we have against us of course is our age and our dwindling physical and mental capacities. Failing this fairly crude maths coming up trumps, something fundamental is going to have to change in society and how we work.

I’m not downbeat though. I think technology will continue to help us save time, save energy, and reduce distances. It will change the game, invent new paradigms, banish the old ways of doing things, and any other cliché you can’t think of.

I don’t know how it will, but it will, it has to. If I did know, I’d be retiring in Q2…