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Living Well

Build time in your day to reflect

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Building time into your day to reflect is one of the simplest ways to take stock, lick your wounds, and prepare to have a better day tomorrow.
After the last two months, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my position at work. It’s been eight weeks since we went through an organisation change and I found myself leading a team of content professionals across multiple sites. It wasn’t what I was expecting to be doing six months ago.
That’s not to say, it’s not something I want to do, just that it wasn’t part of my plan.
Reflecting on my day has been a habit for several months. I suppose if you include my weekly reviews as part of my Getting Things Done system, I’ve been reflecting on progress for several years. But to take that reflection and focus it on the day you’ve just had, preferably at the end of your day is better.
When I’m reflecting I ask myself these simple questions:

  • What went well today?
  • What have I learnt?
  • What’s my mood been like?

And to top it all, I give myself a score for the day. Nothing fancy. Just a number between 1 and 5. Then I keep these in a spreadsheet and keep an eye on any trends. The point of this exercise for me is to keep me looking forward. Changing role is stressful and I need to know that on days when I’m feeling stress, there are likely to be days on either side when it’s been absolutely fine. Or if there’s been a run of stressful days, that I can quickly identify what’s causing it and make corrections to address it.
Leo Babauta has a great post on it here.
Make daily reflection a habit and you’ll soon see the benefits.
 

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Living Well

Who really, truly embraces change?

Gummi Bears
I recently reread ‘Who moved my Cheese’. The first time I read that book, 17 years ago, I was working at a company and one morning we all came in to find a copy of said book placed delicately in front of our keyboards. The naive amongst us (myself included) were thrilled to receive a free book—I mean, I love books. Books are awesome.
It seems that this particular book is what you might call a harbinger.
(If you’ve not had the pleasure of this book, it’s a curious parable to help you deal with change.)
When we received the reorganisation emails from HR later that week, it was clear what change we were soon going to be dealing with.

Change is inevitable. Change can hurt, but also, without it, we fail to live up to our potential.

I survived that particular reorganisation and that’s led me to a successful career in my organisation, but recently, Amazon had the cheese book on offer and I fancied another read.
The me, 17 years on, is less naive and far more introspective, and reading the book again has helped me put a few things in perspective. Change is inevitable. Change can hurt, but also, without it, we fail to live up to our potential.

  • I’ve spent the last week attending high school open evenings with my daughter. She’ll be moving up to high school next year and it’s not obvious which one she should attend. Whilst she’s adapting to the idea of making new friends and taking on new challenges, all I can think about is how I’m not going to be walking her to the school gates anymore, nor giving her a peck on the cheek and wishing she has a good day. (A quick aside—the funniest event at one of the open evenings was when we asked two fresh-faced year 7 pupils to show us where the library was. After 5 minutes leading us through a network of corridors rammed with other parents we ended up in the hall. At which point the pupils gave each other a look then scarpered. Seems this particular high school didn’t have a library (shock horror) but the pupils hadn’t realised this.)
  • At work, change is the one constant we face. It’s in our products we create and our tools and processes we use to get there. I was told recently that the half-life of learned skills is about 5 years today. That means about half of what you learnt 5 years ago is irrelevant. And what’s scarier is this half-life is shrinking. We need to change to seek out opportunity and grow.
  • And as an author, an indie-author especially, I need to be comfortable with change. I have to write books that my readers love, but I’ve also got to learn and adapt to the technologies used to deliver those books. The ebook is clearly here to stay, but what’s next? Audiobooks are increasingly popular, but what then? Are we going to be consuming books through VR?

I don’t love change. I’m never going to be one of those that embrace it and seek it out. I’m most comfortable in routine. But, I no longer fear it either. After all, without change, I’d never have put pen to paper in the first place and changed from being a non-writer to a writer.
If you can learn to accept change and still be the best you can be, you’re onto a winning path.

Resources

Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life

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Living Well

Forgetting about work-life balance

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History of work-life balance

Work–life balance is a concept including the proper prioritization between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (healthpleasureleisurefamily).

Wikipedia claims the term work-life balance was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and in the US in the 1980s.
I started paying more attention to the term when I first became a project manager in the early 2000s. I suspect at that point, it became important to me as I realised how much time my job was eating into my personal life.
Work-life balance was a useful stick to challenge my managers with.

What’s wrong with it?

The term has inherent difficulties. This article on Forbes expresses it well but a key point is:

Berkeley Haas School Of Business notes the traditional image of a scale, an image often associated with work-life balance, “creates a sense of competition between the two elements.”

Does anyone else feel like this? That their work-life needs putting into check to ensure an equal distribution of time or effort between home and work? Over the last few years, that’s how I’ve felt and I’ve prided myself on keeping certain constraints on how much I’ve allowed my work life to intrude.
But perhaps that’s all wrong. Perhaps there shouldn’t be any competition between the different aspects of our lives.
With increasingly connected employees and more global teams, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw a line where work ends and life begins. In fact, even saying that assumes that your work-life isn’t something you would consider as ‘living’.
In The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (Basic Skills), the authors explain their key problem with work-life balance,

It’s a destructive form of wishful thinking that stops us from being present and focused in each moment.
Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing

And that:

Sometimes your work-life ramps up into overdrive and you have no choice but to focus exclusively on getting it done. Other times, your family will need you more than usual, or your health will start making its demands known, or you’ll face a spiritual crossroads.
Gary Keller & Jay Papasan, The ONE Thing

And this is something I’ve come to appreciate with a recent change in role.
It would be impossible for me to maintain the illusion of a balance at this moment in time. I’ve got a lot of new things to learn whilst spinning a few more plates than usual. I’m also having to be brutally realistic with myself about my publishing schedule.
It hurts. But, it won’t be forever.
Right now, my efforts are more skewed towards my work life. And I’m at peace with that because I know that in a few weeks time, my efforts might skew in the other direction.

What is the alternative?

The term work-life integration has become more prevalent over the last few years. I came across it on the Coaching for Leaders podcast. On that show, they used the term work-life integration and that resonated a little more with me.
You can argue that we’re talking semantics but for me, using the word integration actually helps.
I’m a Content Manager for a software company, a fiction author, and a father to two young children. My days are not so straight-forward that I can draw a line between them and switch from one role to the other.
So, for me to find some peace, I’m going to think about how all these aspects of me integrate.

  • My corporate job is supporting my family and allows me to pursue other adventures like self-publishing. That’s integration at its most basic right there.
  • The skills I’m learning through line-management and coaching are skills that are useful when guiding my children through their lives.
  • Creating and maintaining my author business is building my skills in marketing, SEO, and reader engagement. All of which is feeding back into my corporate job.

Life doesn’t stop when you are at work.
There is no balance.
There is only how you choose to make the most of the opportunities and challenges presented to you.

Resources

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Living Well

How I Learnt to Telecommute and How You Can Too

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I recently read a great post from Scott Hanselman on his challenges being a remote worker.
Working from home can be great-when the circumstances are right. But it’s not always great and sometimes it sucks. But the pay-off for me has been and continues to be massive. In short, I would fight tooth and nail to keep working from home.
In my career in Tech Comms working for Sage, I get to work from home two days a week; this isn’t the norm. We have some full time remote workers and a fair bit of occasional remote working in our Technology department, but on the whole, people are working from the main office.

What common problems do I face working from home?

Technology

  • We use Skype for instant messaging, but group chats can be pretty irritating. When I’m concentrating, I hide my Skype notifications as there is quite a stream of back and forth chat amongst the team. Yeah, it’s good to see the agile team communicate on progress, but to be honest, as a Tech Writer, most of that chat is plain distracting. But, if I drop out of the group, I don’t get dialled into the daily stand-up meetings.
  • Meetings used to be pretty dire for remote workers: the organiser by default using the telephones for conference calls. Over the years, with supportive managers, and forward thinking, things are getting much better. Our main problem is organisers not giving themselves enough time to set up any equipment (speakers and external mic) that will help improve the experience for remote workers. Outside of the Technology department things are different. Teleconferencing over the phone network is still commonplace, and that always puts the remote worker at a disadvantage when contributing. If you’re going to dial me in on a speaker phone, you might as well be shouting from a well.
  • Forgetting remote workers. Still happens, and I never really understand why. If you’re organising a meeting, and I’m invited, I’ll let you know that I’m working at home that day and will either need dialling in or skyping in. Despite assurances that this will happen, there are still times when it doesn’t. Physical bodies in the room trump the needs of remote workers every time.

Guilt

Do I feel guilty working from home? Yes, sometimes. But I’ve been doing it so long, and I’ve grown pretty thick-skinned so I don’t care too much what others might think. Do I tell people that whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, I’m also emptying the dishwasher? No. Do I mention that I don’t start work until an hour later when I’m working at home so I can walk my daughter to school? No (or that I work an hour later to compensate). Do I mention that when my daughter comes home from school I come downstairs and see how her day was? No.
Do I feel guilty whenever I’m away from my desk? Yeah, pretty much all the time.
But the flip-side; I’ve come to recognise is that as someone not physically in the office, I’m not having long chats with colleagues in the kitchen, or disturbing them across the partitions, or all the other social activities that interrupt our days.
And let’s not forget meeting guilt. Whenever the technology doesn’t go smoothly to connect me to a meeting, a little part of me dies inside. It should be easy. It really should. I’ve done it myself. I know it’s easy. And yet when it’s not, and it goes wrong, and you can sense the daggers being thrown from the other meeting participants, I just want to apologise, tell the organiser ‘it’s fine’ and that ‘I’ll catch up from someone else’ and generally apologise for being alive.

Visibility

Being a Tech Writer in the office can be a fairly invisible role. A lot of the time we’re working quite happily with the information we’ve got and I could easily go a whole day without needing to speak to anyone. At least being in the office means I can nod hellos to colleagues walking past my desk. Now that I’m working in Agile teams I get to go to the daily stand-ups and review meetings. This helps tremendously. Colleagues can see the work I’m doing (although I’m sure most of the time the nature of that work is lost on them), and I’m happy with that. Being out of the office on a regular basis contributes to the visibility problem.
But, it’s not just my being visible that can be a problem. Working from home I can’t just look up from my desk to see if such and such is at their desk to go and speak to. We have Skype but not everyone uses the ‘away from desk’ feature, and because people do the same as me in hiding Skype in their notifications tray, they won’t always see messages. So, if I want to speak to someone, I have to ring, or email and that makes me think twice before getting in touch. Perhaps this is a good thing, I don’t know.
The problems listed above are never enough to make me not want to be a part-time remote worker. In fact, if the opportunity came along to progress my career, with the proviso that full time office working was required I’d say no-right now. Here are some of the reasons I value my remote working so much.

  • I save 5-6 hours a week commuting. This is time I get to spend with my family instead. Easy trade.
  • I save £20 in petrol each day I work at home. That’s approx £40 a week, £160 a month, £1920 a year…This is a big deal when supporting a family with two young children.
  • I like the peace and quiet. When I’m in the middle of a piece of work, I love to just concentrate and get it done. It’s so much harder when the impromptu desk meetings go on close to you at work, or the general drone of the office gets too loud.
  • I get to see my daughter off to school twice a week, and generally see the kids when they’re not knackered at the end of the day.

How can it be made better?

I’ve seen over the last few years that more and more people are doing the odd day here and there at home. Now I’m not saying that I’m in any way responsible for that, but all of us who do get the opportunity to work from home, need to demonstrate that we are good performers when we do work from home. We have to demonstrate this in our attitude to work, to our colleagues, and yes, show some appreciation to the boss. Our managers in the Technology group do make the effort to make sure remote workers are involved. I’m grateful for that.
We should become experts in remote working technologies to make it as easy as possible for people to work with us remotely. This includes knowing how to set up video calls, record screens in meetings, and use screen sharing technology such as join.me.

We should choose our battles. Know when it’s worth fighting for more consideration and when it’s not. In our large R&D meetings, our manager when asked a question will more often than not, repeat it for the benefit of remote workers who might not have heard. If he doesn’t, or if the conversation goes back and forth, I keep my mouth shut. No one in the meeting room wants every sentence repeating for the benefit of remote workers.
Make yourself available.
  • My desk phone is always set to divert to my mobile when I’m at home. I religiously do this before leaving the office.
  • Skype is our department’s preferred instant messenger. I keep in the group conversations for the various projects I’m working on, and always have my headset to hand in case someone wants to voice chat. My laptop has a webcam so can hold a video conversation if people prefer.
  • Email. I’m not a massive fan of email and try to limit my exposure to Outlook to a few times a day, but I do check it regularly.

I’m sure that despite little slip-ups like Marrisa Mayer’s edict for all remote staff to return to the Yahoo offices, that remote working is still going to continue to be more important for more people.
If you want to remote work, be warned that it’s a considerable change in your day job. Perhaps a part time remote working arrangement would suit you better like it does me. But if you do get to have the opportunity to remote work, seize the chance to try it. And if you find it works for you, do what you can to make it work for others.
In short, become a role model and a brilliant remote worker.