Archives for posts with tag: Work/life

A while back I wrote a post called Are You Working In or Working On? Working in the business is a ‘head down, bottom up’ thing where you’re getting stuck into the everyday tactical stuff. Working on the business is the strategic, directional side of it.

I want to tweak that question slightly in this post, to this: are you working on something, or towards something? This to me is a pretty fundamental question. There’s no right or wrong answer. In fact, I think you have to do both.

Working on something means you’re in the moment, dealing with the present tense, getting it done. Working towards something means you’ve an eye to the future, or to a destination. It’s like the difference between the journey and destination. A means in itself, or a means to an end.

If we don’t know where we’re going with something it’s hard to shape what we’re doing right now. Conversely, if we don’t know where we’re going with something we can learn from the journey. After all, we can’t necessarily see the finish line but we can see the next few hundred yards and that’s enough to keep us on track.

Keeping an eye on what we’re working on sets us up for what we’re working towards. Keeping the other eye on what we’re working towards improves the quality of what we’re working on. Sounds like a pretty virtuous circle to me.


Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Gone are the days where we work ludicrous hours, unless we have our own business, earn stupifyingly large amounts of money or have a misplaced and unrequited sense of loyalty to our employer. It’s all about work-life balance these days and so we tend to work a reasonable amount of hours.

Which brings me back to my original question. I worked recently with an SME which had two principal guys. One started very early and finished at a reasonable time. The other started reasonably late and finished late. Their dovetailing partnership worked well and they were able to provide longer corporate coverage as a result.

I find that if I’m doing intense stuff like writing then an early start brings out the best in me. If I’m doing other kinds of work, then a later start seems to pay off. When I was a student, I was a night owl – on the studying/working front. As I’ve got older I’ve found that the early bird suits my lifestyle balance better. Plus, I’m usually mentally wiped by the end of the day.

As a consequence of this I find it really helps me to plan out my working week, and even into the weekend. Plotting the early bird and the night owl requirements ahead of time means that I get the required rest and family time, as well as the work done.

The traditional approach to work for the vast majority of us, at least since national governments have been putting proper welfare structures in place for their people, is that we work for 40 years and then we retire, with a pot of money to sustain us, theoretically, for the rest of our lives. It’s the occupational pension, as opposed to the state pension which kicks in beyond a certain age.

Another school of thought has emerged relatively recently, namely that we should take regular long breaks from work and work until we’re older, enjoying these mini-retirements when we’re younger and healthier. Proponents of this version of the work/life balance call the traditional approach ‘the deferred life’, because you’re working hard and putting your life on hold until you retire. All your free time is pushed back to your most aged and infirm years. We’re living longer, which is a bonus but we’re also working longer to support the longer retirement too.

I must confess that I’ve had a few of these mini-retirements, in some cases before they were even thought of as such, but that was probably more down to indolence than good planning.

Of course, the $64,000 question that everybody asks is this: ‘how do I amass the $64,000 I need to live well without earning for a year or so?’ Clearly there are two barriers to being able to do this: money and flexibility. You need to have the moolah to bunk off every few years and tick something off your bucket list. You also need to have a work situation that allows you to do that, in the form of either an understanding and forward-thinking employer or your own business.

As many of us are faced with the prospect of working into our 70s to recoup the cataclysmic pension losses of 2008, the idea of mini-retirements and mini-returns-to-work seems more attractive with every passing month.

When I compare my generation in the developed world with the generation above us, by which I mean our parents – and I realise I’m generalising the generations here, I see some opposite dynamics in terms of when you’re on the swings or the roundabouts of life, on the peaks or in the troughs.

A friend of mine has a saying. Our parents, he says, were hard in, easy out. We are on the other hand, are easy in, hard out.

What does he mean by this? Well, it’s a factor of economic prosperity, economic swings and demographics. Our parents – I’m middle aged so assume I’m talking about the generation who are currently 70 and over – had a fairly tough start to working lives once they left school or college. These were depressed economic times and they had to graft for a long time to get on the ladder and work there way up it. Now, having worked their allotted time, and with their occupational pensions intact, they can enjoy their retirement and spend their grey pounds/dollars/euros. Hard in, easy out.

Our generation on the other hand, well we had it easy to start with, certainly compared to them. Some of us stayed with steady jobs, some of us dabbled in the dot com stuff and perhaps started our own businesses. Then there was the huge economic reversal of a decade ago, from which some countries are still recovering. For a lot of us there have been underpayments or non-payments to our pension pots, which have compounded the issue by performing badly or in some cases disappearing altogether. Add to that the huge hammer blow of an increasingly large and ageing non-working society, with an increasingly smaller group of younger adults to prop it up, and you’re talking retirement ages which seem to go up a year every year. The net of this is that we’ll have less of our lives left to enjoy our retirement, even with the increased lifespans. Easy in, hard out.

And what about the generation we’ve given birth to and raised, the millennials? They’re almost certainly easy in too. Hopefully, if we can continue to improve our global lot without blowing ourselves to smithereens, they’ll be easy out. I’m not particularly confident of that though.

As you get older, your eyesight weakens and your focal point lengthens, meaning you need glasses to see the detail.

For many people, this means a short trip to the local pharmacist to pick up a standard strength of reading glasses for a few bucks.

Unfortunately, I use my eyes for close up work a lot. I’m in front of my computer most of the day so I need decent glasses to protect my eyesight for the long term. I started out with some prescription reading glasses, and that was all I needed them for; reading a book and working on the computer. Two years later I needed stronger reading glasses and started to have to bring them with me wherever I went, or face squinting at menus, price tags and parking meters like an octogenarian.

Pretty soon they were not sufficient either. Believe it or not, I now use 3 separate pairs of glasses, each costing a few hundred bucks, to get by:

  • A pair of ‘professional’ tinted lenses that have 3 distances, to take the glare off close-up screen work, mid-range stuff and 3-metre range for watching the TV
  • A pair of varifocals for driving and general inside wandering around stuff. The professional lenses don’t have the long range view for driving – and you can’t fit them in the lens since it already has 3 ranges – and I can no longer read the dashboard numbers unaided
  • A pair of varifocal sunglasses for driving and general outside wandering around stuff

It’s an expensive business. I hope I get some longevity out of them, otherwise I’m looking at 3 replacements.

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.

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…

One of my favourite thee-letter acronyms – TLAs – is WFH. As in working from home.

I work from home quite a bit. It’s best for thinking, creating, writing, solving. Zero disruptions.

Zero commute too.

Theoretically I could get out of bed, walk downstairs to my office and start working immediately, especially if I’m not meeting anyone or having any video calls. Zero commute, zero dead time, zero waste.

Contrast this with when I’m working from my customers’ offices. Then I have to meet people so I can’t really turn up in my home civvies. It’s approximately 2 hours between getting up and getting in. That’s the normal prep time plus commuting time of an hour plus to get into central London. 2 hours where I can’t be productive, can’t get anything done. I can’t even read or do emails if it’s a jam-packed carriage.

So my customer, or your customer and your employer, gets much more out of us when we’re working from home. Of course you need office time to catch up on projects, touch base with your team and make sure you’re aligned on complicated jobs. That’s when I schedule my meetings and don’t try to do much of the thinking, creating, solving and writing stuff. There are too many disruptions so it’s a different kind of working day.

And that, for me, is the right work-life balance. I’ve always tried to live close to where I work to avoid the long commutes. Anything under 20minutes door to door is great. Living and working space under the same roof – as long as you’re good and switching off between them, well that’s awesome. And the zero commute means you can maximise your personal productivity and minimise your dead time.

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’.

Holidays are great. There’s the chance to unwind, spend some quality time with family and generally not think too much about work.

These days, however, we often can’t rely on somebody to cover for us while we’re on holiday and do the work that we would do if we were not on holiday. So what we sometimes find ourselves doing is working ourselves to a frazzle in order to clear the desk for the holiday, and then returning, somewhat refreshed, to face a backlog and the mountain of work to be done simply to get back up to speed.

When you add the fact that it sometimes takes two or three days to unwind, and two or three days to gear ourselves up for the return to work, it sometimes feels like a week’s holiday is simply not worth the time or investment. Perhaps you’re one of these people who can instantly slip out of work mode and leave all your troubles behind you. If so, you are a lucky person indeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for work hard and play hard. I need to work harder, however, to enjoy my holidays and make sure that the seams between the work hard and play hard periods are shorter so that they almost end up being seamless.