Archives for posts with tag: Work

I came across a new word the other day, courtesy of a link from a friend of mine that I also am lucky to work with occasionally. It’s called deloading. It’s taking proper down-time to recharge the batteries and ensure that when you get back on the horse you’re still super-productive.

The link is here. It’s written by a chap called Tim Ferriss, who many of you will know as the author of the 4-Hour Work Week, and other books on a similar theme. I thought he was a good bit older than he is. Not that he looks older, but that he seems to have packed an annoyingly large amount of stuff into his CV already.

You might know from my own blog that I’ve been an advocate of deloading for a long time, although I can honestly say I’ve never referred to it by that term. I guess I’ve always been practising the exercise of taking regular breaks, but not time-wasting breaks, from more run-of-the-mill activities like writing, work or study.

I guess you could boil it down to the time-honoured phrase that a change is as good as a rest. There is so much to be said for the productivity benefits of taking regular time out. It seems counter-intuitive that you can get more done in less and with less. Perhaps that’s the reason why many employers and managers are keen to get as much work time from their people as possible. But’s never been about the hours you put into work, it’s about the work you put into the hours.

Unfortunately, many people who have to work for a living get ‘that back to work feeling’ after a break. Sometimes it can feel like the break is not quite worth all the effort clearing the workload before the break and the back to work feeling after it.

Unless you work for yourself, or you have your own business. Then you experience a different kind of feeling.

That feeling is ‘that not back to work feeling’.

That not back to work feeling is when you should be back from a break and you should be working, but you’re not working, because you don’t have any work. And when you’re not working, you’re not earning.

So if you’re employed and you’ve got that back to work feeling, rejoice, because you’re being paid for feeling gloomy. You could have that not back to work feeling, in which case you are both unpaid and gloomy.

Disclosure: I have borrowed this phrase from one of my brothers, who used it this morning…

Did anyone notable ever say something along the lines of ‘a wise man speaks less, a foolish man does not’?

If they didn’t, they should have, so I’m filling the gap now.

When you’re in a meeting with new people, I think it’s a sensible course of action to keep your own counsel first. This is deferential, which is polite and considerate, but also gives you a chance to gauge the situation, see what they’re like, assess what they know, and generally rate them as individuals, based on your early impressions.

Then, when you’ve given them a chance and you’re surer of the situation, you can start contributing from a more knowledgeable basis.

This approach certainly works well in sales and marketing, when you’re looking to get the customer to do the talking so you can learn more and propose a better solution that builds on your increased understanding of their requirements.

When you understand the situation and the new person you’re talking to better than they do you, you’re in a position to help them better, make a better first impression, and have a better chance of controlling the dialogue and the output.

There’s something rewarding about getting something off your desk, and onto someone else’s. There’s a palpable sense of completion, even if it’s a first draft or a small milestone in a large project. It’s an even better feeling if it’s the end of a project. You got it done!

These days, it’s not that it’s off your desk or in your out-tray. It’s usually in your sent items, not weighing down your inbox or your task list. For now it’s someone’s else’s problem. Someone else has to complete the next stage in the process.

And feeling that sense of completion is OK too. It’s often your internal customer or boss who’s requested something from you, and here you are, delivering it to them, for them to review and kick it back to you for the next stage.

After I’ve prioritised my work for the week and for each day, I allocate a certain number of hours or part-days to each job, depending on how involved it is. This allows me to hit my own deadlines and keep to realistic targets. This also means that if I’m on time with a job I can get it off my desk at the end of a morning, the end of a day, or before a break and the start of the next job.

When it’s off your desk, it’s a demarcation point, a chance to take a breather and re-set for the next piece of work. And when it’s off your desk, it’s on someone else’s :-). Speaking of which, I must click Schedule and get this post off my desk…

Always a good one this, to remind ourselves periodically. Not just for entrepreneurs or people that have their own business. For people who are employed, people who are volunteers too.

Are you working in the business or on the business?

Are you fire-fighting or planning?

Are you thinking long term or pre-occupied with the short term?

Are you stuck in the weeds or looking over the parapet?

Are you servicing the business you won without also looking to snare the next piece of business?

Working in the business means we’re simply getting by, doing what’s in front of us, addressing the tactical. Working on the business means we’ve an eye on the future, we’re looking at opportunities, we’re being strategic.

It’s the opposite of the golf shot. As Gary Player once said, ‘If you look up too early you might not like what you see.’ In our working and private lives, if we look up too late, well, you get the picture.

Working in or working on? Eventually, there’s no ‘in’ if you don’t do the ‘on’.

I’m quite pleased with myself. Today marks the point where I’ve gone 10 years without missing a working day due to sickness.

The last time I got sick was a rather nasty dose of viral meningitis. As luck would have it, it was over a bank holiday so I was only absent for work for 2 days. I can’t remember the last time I was sick before then. Alright, so I might have left work twice at around 4pm with a migraine, but not even a half-day ‘sickie’ has blemished my work attendance record for the last decade.

I’m not breaking any kind of health record here, and I’m not saying I’m the healthiest person that has ever lived either. What it boils down to is – yes – being fairly healthy, but more importantly it’s about culture and work ethic.

I’ve not had to suffer working in a large or public sector organisation where people play the system and take a sickie as if it’s their fortnightly right. These people are not invested in their organisation and those kinds of places would drive me mad. And as for the ‘oh, I’m staying at home, I don’t want to pass it on through the office,’ puh-lease. Those folks – and the colleagues and bosses that encourage them to do that – well, let’s just say it’s a different culture. The kind of culture that doesn’t think it’s their problem when billions of dollars of national productivity are lost annually through sickness. Plus, it’s no accident that incidence rates of sickness are far lower among the self-employed.

Many’s the time I’ve had a bit of ‘man flu’ or have poorly rebounded from a night of moderate imbibition, but you go in, you suck it up, take your meds and get on with it. If it’s a genuine illness – and I think meningitis scores quite well against that criterion – then, fair enough, stay away and get better. But if it’s not, then come on, gone are the days when organisations had the buffer to cover for a sick person. We’re all busy, we’re all maxed. Work is a team game and your colleagues are relying on you.

So I’m raising a glass to another 10 years of sickness-free work. Only the one glass though. It’s a school night and I don’t want to have to take a sickie tomorrow…

What I’m about to say – or more accurately what I’ve written that you’re about to read – is all relative. But, that said, there are some people who get through a lot.

I’m not necessarily talking about famous people who seem to present 3 series, write 2 books and produce a film in 1 year. For regular people too, the 99.9% of the population that we’ve never heard of, there are some people that seem to get a lot done. Not simply small things either, they get a lot of substantial projects out the door. Prolific, they call them.

What causes them to be so productive, so driven, apart from whatever natural ability they’re blessed with? Is it the fear of the void, the horror of the vacuum, the need to fill time and space? Are they not good at relaxing?

Probably it’s none of those. These people are the variety-seekers, the achievers, the starters and finishers. They’re the people who make things happen rather than have happen to them. They get stuff done, whether it’s work, personal projects or family-oriented events.

Whenever I meet one of them, I always think ‘must do more’. Really it’s about trying to take what they do, feed off their energy and channel it the right way for yourself, I think.

In the olden days, by which I mean in the last century when I was learning my managerial trade, the received wisdom amongst managers was that if you wanted to get something done, you gave it to the person who was the busiest.

The theory goes, I suppose, that the person with more on their plate who is better at getting things done will have more chance of completing the additional task. This assumes, of course, that busy is directly proportional to productive. It also sends a signal to the less able or less committed member of staff that by appearing to be doing less they will continue to see other people’s workload increase to a greater extent than theirs.

It is a short-term approach that has the medium-to-long term effect of alienating and burning out the very people who you want to keep in the business if at all possible. It also does not address the problem of the less able or less committed, who are clearly in need of more training, coaching, and dialogue to help them improve.

As someone who prides himself on getting things done, on executing a high volume of important projects, I can see both sides to the argument. But, as I argued earlier, it is a question of time, that most precious of commodities. Short-term gain, at the expense of long term benefit, is simply a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s not sustainable. It’s not good management either.

Those of you who subscribe to my posts and who have a good memory – already that feels like a tiny subset of our sentient race – will know that I’m a big fan of Parkinson’s Law, which states that works expands to fill the time available.

There’s also the uniquely British cock-up theory, which generally attributes things going wrong to a combination of happenstance and plain old human error. My good friend Gaz is a firm believer in the theory and indeed you can argue that some major – not to say seismic – events are the result of what might more euphemistically be called Hanlon’s Razor, or as the Americans would say, “stuff happens.”

This leads me on to suggest that there might perhaps be a variant or additional tenet to Parkinson’s Law, which goes as follows.

“The closer one gets to a deadline for the completion of work, the higher the probability of something going wrong.”

This I believe to be an inescapable truth. As we approach the finishing line for a piece of work, the chance of something going askew – the printer not working, the Internet connection dropping, the mobile signal flaking, the application crashing, a key person we need to reach urgently to confirm or approve something being unavailable – seems to increase exponentially.

What is it, that that causes this phenomenon? Is it simply the case that, as we approach the end of something, and attempt to bring all of the disparate elements or threads together, those threads get caught up in knots?

Greater people than I have wrestled with this problem, I’m sure, and come up with much more convincing explanations than I ever could. Nevertheless, I think it has real validity for us all.

 

Of all the laws and sayings that govern the world of work and play, I think it’s Parkinson’s Law that resonates the most with me.

‘Work expands to fill the time available for its completion,’ or words to that effect. It occurs to me that it also contracts to fit the time available for completion as well.

I was reminded of this recently when a project that had been running for months and had a deadline of 11:59pm on a Friday used up literally all its available time, and a few minutes the other side of the watershed too. We were in good shape mid-week, then a few extra review rounds got wedged in, and before you knew it we were under the gun.

The key thing is this: nothing’s perfect, ever. You can always find another tweak, something that constitutes a micro-improvement. This is especially true of a long, detailed document. The possibilities for a typo, a punctuation error or a stylistic inconsistency are limitless.

Which is why we have deadlines, why we impose limits.

You always have to do your best work, nor settle for mediocre. But, you gotta stop at some point.