Archives for posts with tag: Work/life

About once a year – and I know I’m really lucky and grateful it’s only once a year – I have one of those dark days when I’m really down in the dumps, as we Brits would say, upset even. The feeling of blackness when you’re staring into the abyss. Note that I’m not talking about the phenomenon known as the booze blues here, where you feel a bit paranoid and / or sorry for yourself, through no fault of anyone’s except your own.

Note that I’m not talking about manic depressive psychosis or bipolar disorder here, proper illnesses where the crushing depression, feelings of hopelessness and inner demons must be unimaginably unbearable.

On these days I find it really hard to struggle through a working day. What I try to do on these days is attempt to do a sideways reality shift, in order to escape the blackness. I have a word with myself and I consider how lucky I am and compare my current situation to another that could be a lot worse. I have my health, a roof over my head, and my family are healthy. So how bad is my current situation, really? What’s the worst that could happen to me because of this mindset I have allowed myself to slip into?

This forced comparison of perspective is generally all that’s needed to get me out of that funk. The issue is how long I’m down in the dumps for before I can remember to have a word myself.

I find from both a personal and corporate social responsibility standpoint that a day like this is enough to remind me of the charitable efforts I should be making to those who suffer these feeling or circumstances much, much more often than I do.

 

Continuing what has turned into a slightly spousal series of posts recently, I would say that in general I’m a tidy person. Things tend to be in the right place, even if they could occasionally benefit from a well placed duster. My wife, on the other hand, is a clean person. She cleans things regularly, and properly. There’s nothing slap dash about her cleaning.

My cleaning, however, is sporadic, perfunctory and only semi-thorough. But I think I’m the tidier of the 2.

Is it a gross generalisation to argue that in the main men are tidy whereas women are clean? Does a regular person with both skills exist? Can you be both?

Of course, we should all be both, or a combination of both. So what’s the right combination, the right balance? It’s the same dilemma with our working lives as well as our domestic ones. For example, from the tidy person’s perspective our emails might be filed beautifully, but how often do we clean out the old stuff, the stuff we simply will never need again? Our Linked connection invites and responses may be up to date, but how often do we prune the network and remove the people we can’t even remember?

As with many things, it’s a question of finding out the right balance to give you what you need in terms of creativity and productivity.

 

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.

Whenever I’ve gone back into the world of the employee after a lengthy period consulting, there’s always a small amount of apprehension, naturally. Will I settle back into the new routine, how will I get on with the new people, will the culture suit me, that kind of thing.

The one comfy chair I can always fall back on, however, is that I have never had more than a month or two off from working. I’ve been able to keep my eye in all the while and stay up to speed with the world of business at a macro level.

I have nothing but admiration, therefore, for women who take a sustained period of time off – by which I mean more than two years straight – to raise their children and then return to the world of work.

The world changes awfully fast, and your knowledge and confidence can take a huge knock. It takes real guts to jump onto a moving vehicle that is going faster than it was when you jumped off, and has completely changed its whole build, shape and appearance since you were last on board. It might not even be the same vehicle; it might be a totally different one in a different industry. You have little or no point of reference. Your skills, shortcuts, and muscle memory from when you last worked don’t cut it any more.

I know someone who took a dozen years out to bring up her kids. She was working in a traditional area of IT that you never hear of these days. Yes, they were called mainframes back then. She went back to college for a year, updated her skills, got her qualification, did an internship, interviewed with some companies and started a brand new career, all within 14 months. Daunting, eh?

So hats off to you returning-to-work mothers. And, as the Irish would say, in probably the understatement of the year, fair play to ye!

 

There is a terribly famous song by U2 called ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ Those of you – and I count myself among you – who don’t live to work, as opposed to work to live, may well identify with the lyric in the song.

I know people who go through an entire life without finding what they’re looking for career-wise.  Are their lives the lesser for it, do they feel unfulfilled as a result? No and no, at least they shouldn’t.

Searching for perfection in life, in work, in every single project or activity you turn your hand to, is an important means in itself, not a means to an end.

It’s unlikely we can achieve true perfection in anything, nor is it healthy or productive to try beyond a certain point, but it’s the looking for perfection, the striving for what we think the end goal is, that keeps us improving, keeps us working, keeps us alive even. Hunger for the new, the next big thing, stops us standing still and sustains the quality in the work we do.

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?

 

A Home Office

A Home Office

These days many, many people are fortunate enough to be able to divide their working hours between the office or customer and home, or to devote 100% of their time to working from their home office. For some people, working from home is tricky, demanding the discipline to avoid ‘sherking from home’ and the will-power to stay away from the fridge and the food cupboards. They prefer an office setting, mixing with fellow professionals and away from their home setting. If this is you, this post is probably not for you. Certain jobs lend themselves to a home-based solution, where the technological advances mean that everything that needs to be done can be done in calls, web meetings, and video conferences. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, but we are getting much better at managing them so that we can maximise our productivity, minimise our travel, reduce our footprint, all without getting cabin fever and going stark raving mad from isolation. For those of us lucky enough both to enjoy and thrive in a home office arrangement, the set-up is important. Here’s a picture of my home office. I thought it would be interesting to share a few thoughts on what I think is important. Most of this might be duh-obvious to some of you, to others less so. Technology first. Reliable broadband has to be a given. Invest in a decent phone with good quality audio and a good quality headset. This means you can be hands free and more productive, while not sounding distant, preoccupied or disrespectful to the other person. My phone in a previous job was not good enough and so when we went to record the webinars I was chairing, I had to drive 150 miles to the office to use a decent phone or else I had to pick up the phone and tie up one hand for the webinar’s duration. Furniture second. Again, a good, comfortable chair at the right height is key. I’m not a shining example of ergonomic best practice, but this is another area worth investing in so that you don’t get sore shoulders, wrists and so on.  We also had custom desks and shelving designed for our office – that’s me and Mrs D – since space is at a premium in this rather small room. It cost us a small fortune, but has paid us back comfortably, pun intended. Light third. Natural light is always preferable, and a decent view out of the window for when you need to draw breath or dream about your 5-year plan. As you can just about see from the reflection in the monitor, the window to my back garden is to the right, so I can keep an eye on the dogs, guinea pigs and chickens that frequent it at different times of the year. You can also see how the light has faded the spaces round the pictures of my previous wall collage. Mementos fourth. Speaking of collages, I like to surround myself with pictures of family, stuff my kids have made for me, tickets from significant shows or sporting events, as well as keepsakes from my earlier days, to remind me how lucky I am as a person and also in my work/life balance. The previous pictures have only come down in the last couple of months and now I’m starting to build up the next 3- or 4-year chapter of my life with stuff that’s important to me. Fifth, tidiness. I don’t know if an untidy office equals a disorganised mind, but I can’t work in a sea of clutter, so I always tidy up before I start working or writing. Sixth and last, books. So much of the written word is in electronic format these days, yet I still find it good to thumb through a marketing reference manual or check a diagram. I also keep my last few ‘day books’ where I religiously record everything of import that I hear on calls or in meetings. They’re so handy for going back to, to remind yourself of exactly what was said, or what you thought was said. I’m sure this post is more about my home office than your home office and says more about who I am as a person. In any event it has served me well for the guts of the last decade, so I hope the observations are useful to you too.

Do you remember in the old days of business training? There used to be a phrase, still prevalent today, that ‘to assume makes an ass out of u and me’. We were told never to assume.

This for me is not only out of date, but it’s plain wrong. It should be consigned to the era of conforming, regimentation, uniformity. The era that’s not the era we’re in.

Life’s too short, and the business world moves too fast, for us not to assume. There is too much complexity, too many variables, too little time for us to not to do otherwise, unless we want to left behind with the also rans. And who wants to be an also ran? They have neither choice nor control.

My advice on assuming is this:

– assume, whenever you can

– the first law of management is to check your facts, so do that if it’s possible, and do it quickly and effectively

– then make assumptions around what you don’t know, based on your experience, your gut feel, and preferably both

– then make that decision quickly and confidently

Assuming helps us make quick decisions, wrong decisions, fail more quickly, and learn and improve more quickly.

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…