Archives for posts with tag: Work

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.

 

When I was a school and college student, I never had music to accompany me when I was working. I preferred complete silence so that I could concentrate. As I’ve got older, I occasionally let music intrude, but it’s still pretty rare and it depends on the kind of work I’m doing.

If I have to concentrate really hard on something, maybe a tricky spreadsheet or comparing red-lined documents, no music for me, silence is better. I realise of course that there are many people who couldn’t imagine working – even the concentration-heavy stuff – without music. The contrary works pretty well for them.

There’s the good and bad of music. On the good side, it lifts the spirits and provides diversion from manual or repetitive jobs – or when you’re plain ticked off. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to pick up an accent when someone sings? It’s always fascinated me how that works, something to do with the vocal chords resonating in a different, unifying way when we sing, perhaps.

Time flies when you listen to music, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

On the negative side, music can provide too much of a distraction, damage productivity and sometimes – when you hear a song that calls to mind a certain period or event – can make you plain cross or upset. It’s unbelievably evocative, and that’s its charm and its menace.

Music while you work – good or bad? It depends, of course.