I had my last job in corporate America in 2007. What that means is that for the last 11+ years I’ve been working on my own out of a home office. I suspect, given the way the business world has changed over the last decade, that many of you are in the same situation. Maybe you elected to spend a few bucks on a desk at some co-working space and while that’s fine, this post isn’t really for you. It’s for those of us who absolutely could stay in our PJ’s propped up in bed with a laptop all day and no one would be any the wiser.
I will admit that I’ve done exactly that. I’ll also tell you that it really isn’t the optimal thing to do if you want to be productive. I have a few other thoughts about getting it done while working at home and I thought I’d share them with you today. What brought this on is that I’ve had many candidates looking at home-based businesses and I usually try at some point to tell them how different it is to work from home.
First, the one thing you MUST do is to pick up the telephone. While email is a great way to communicate about some things, you miss the nuance that human interaction brings. Moreover, it’s fun! Human interaction is great! When I started doing franchise consulting and found myself on the phone almost constantly, I realized how much I missed that. Very early in my career (long before email) I spent hours cold calling and setting up meetings. Phone time decreased over the years until when I was working at home it was barely part of what I did. Don’t be a monk: use the phone.
Take breaks. I believe in the 20-20-20 rule for your eyes (look away from the screen at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes) but it’s also important that you mirror the brief interruptions you usually get working in a corporate office. Be sure you eat (not over your keyboard!). Take a walk. Spend an hour hitting golf balls. Do something not work-related so you don’t drive yourself crazy, which it’s easy to do when there isn’t anyone else around to distract you.
Don’t feel guilty when you run errands or do other things that you couldn’t do if you were still in the corporate world. There are many downsides to working on your own and at home. The freedom to use your time as you see fit is one of them.
Finally, if you have space, really set up a dedicated room as an office. Besides providing a tax deduction, it’s always made me feel like the professional that I am. I’m writing this in my home office which has the same sort of stuff on the wall as I had in my corporate offices. It feels like I’m at work. Having the dedicated space also reminds me that I’m off work when I walk into the rest of the house and I should behave that way.
How do you get it done at home? Any tips of your own that you’d like to share?
It’s TunesDay and time to pause from our work day to celebrate a bit of music. Since it’s a business blog, work will be our subject today and the Rolling Stones will be our instructors. There was a lovely moment during the concert following the 9/11 disaster during which Mick and Keith came out to play a song from Beggar’s Banquet. It spoke loudly to the audience of police and firefighters as well as to any of us who have ever gone to work:
The “salt of the earth” line comes from the Bible, of course, but it’s the “salt” imagery which prompted the thought today. Salt has always been incredibly valuable throughout human history. Once people could begin to preserve food, they could begin to explore and travel long distances without worrying about having enough to eat or to go hunting or foraging. Certain cultures used it as currency and although Roman soldiers were not paid in salt (they were given money with which to buy salt), it’s the genesis of the expression “worth his salt.” People fought wars over it and many cities were built on mining, producing, and trading salt. Impressive for something so common and inexpensive now. Which leads to my thought.
In a time when technology has made productivity incredibly high, I think many of us tend to devalue work and workers. Specifically, some managers believe that the people who provide that hard work are interchangeable pieces, common and inexpensive like salt. However, it’s those hard-working people that keep businesses going. To carry the salt analogy a bit further, when a dish lacks salt, the flavor isn’t fully developed and the dish lacks brightness. When we devalue the labor force, our businesses turn out the same way.
Mick and Keith put it very well:
Raise your glass to the hard-working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads
Let’s think of the wavering millions
Who need leading but get gamblers instead
Given the economic crisis and part of the reason it happened, that’s quite well put, especially 40 years before the crisis occurred! Regardless if you’re the chef or the cook, the boss or the intern, I’m raising a glass to the hard work you do today. Who’s with me?
What would you do if you didn’t have to work? Maybe that’s the wrong way to phrase that. How would you occupy your time if you didn’t have to worry about the bills being paid and could live pretty much as you’re living now? Would you hold down a job? Would you travel? Would you live where you’re living?
(Photo credit: IMLS DCC)
I have a friend who is a little older than I am and I happen to know has plenty of money in the bank. Not enough to have a jet and a string of mansions, but more than most people will ever have. He can live any way he chooses and work or not work as he sees fit. He just started another job a couple of weeks ago. I asked him why he was working and he said because he likes it. He enjoys the challenges and has been a senior executive at a number of companies during his career. He is engaged. Most of us are not. Time reported on a Gallup study:
According to Gallup, 30% of U.S. employees are “engaged” at work, which the polling organization defines as those “who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner.” The rest of us are “emotionally disconnected” from our workplaces, making us much less likely to be productive. Fifty-two percent of employees says they are basically “checked out” at work, and 18% say they’re so unhappy they’re actually acting out their unhappiness in the workplace. “Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish,” Gallup’s report says.
So to start the work week, let’s all take a step back as figure out if we’re ready to do the work. Maybe if we’re even wanting to do it at all. Do we want a promotion because it means more money or do we want it because it reflects the effort we’ve put in at a task we enjoy? Are we interested in developing our minds or our wallets? Can we combine our avocations and our vocation? After all, while it’s not called “work” because it’s meant to be fun, I know it can be. It can also suck. The choice is yours.
I played (badly) in a golf tournament over the weekend and on the heels of that I saw an article that triggered some business thinking.
(Photo credit: @Doug88888)
The piece was from last week and was on ABC News’ site. It is about a paper written, as it turns out, in 2010 by a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and concerns what the author called the “Tiger Woods Effect” (you knew it would relate to golf, didn’t you?). The author – Jennifer Brown – explained it this way to the Wall Street Journal:
Ms. Brown argues that the superstar effect is not just relevant on the golf course. Instead, she suggests that the presence of superstars can be “de-motivating” in a wide variety of competitions, from the sales office to the law firm. “Most people assume that competing against an elite performer makes everyone else step up their game and perform better,” Ms. Brown says. “But the Tiger Woods data demonstrate that the opposite can also occur. It doesn’t matter if the superstar is an athlete or a corporate vice president. After all, why should we invest a lot of energy in a tournament that we’re probably going to lose?”
Do we set ourselves up for failure by surveying the competitive landscape and recognizing the presence of some superstars in our competitive area or is that motivation to beat them? I always make the distinction between losing and being beaten. The latter is easier to swallow in my book – you did your best and someone was better that day. Losing, however, stings – we know we were capable of so much more and didn’t perform.
It’s an easy out to discount your chances due to the presence of a superstar brand or firm or individual. Mike Tyson used to win a lot of his fights without throwing a punch because his opponents would see him across the ring and a look of fear would cross their faces. Pre-game trash talking is, in my mind, as much about bringing the opponent down to your level as it is false bravado.
We need to be fearless. Even superstars have a bad day. Once Tiger’s veil of invulnerability was lifted due to him being beaten on the course and his troubles off of it, the rest of the field recognized that they could win no matter what he did. That was the case all along, by the way – they just stopped beating themselves.
What will it be? The choice is yours.
It’s TunesDay and we’re going to the birds today.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our musical inspiration is the title of today’s screed: George Harrison’s song Blue Jay Way. It’s been on my mind since I saw a jaybird screaming at some other birds in the yard. I admit it’s a bit of a non-sequitur this week. The song is about a friend of George’s getting lost in the fog on his way to a house on Blue Jay Way in Los Angeles:
There’s a fog upon L.A.
And my friends have lost their way
We’ll be over soon they said
Now they’ve lost themselves instead.
Please don’t be long please don’t you be very long
Please don’t be long or I may be asleep
The connection, however, between the bird, the song, and what’s on my mind will be clear in a moment. Blue Jays are, in my mind, a typical office species. That’s right: there are a lot of human jays hanging around. You see, this specie of bird has a number of characteristics which line up nicely with many of the folks you just might have seen flying around your office.
For example – jays are known as being very territorial birds. They will attack or kill smaller birds and they will chase others from a feeder for an easier meal. I’m sure you see that sort of behavior all the time – I know I did – from certain misguided souls in your work space. When they perceive someone to be weak, they attack. When they can claim credit for someone else’s achievement – eating from the other’s feeder if you will – they do so without hesitation.
The other thing about Blue Jays is their vocal pattern. I think of them as kibitzers – they sit near others and squawk unceasingly. In fact, real Blue Jays copy the cries of local hawks so well that it is sometimes difficult to tell the Jays from the much bigger predators. That, to me, sounds much like the office sycophant mirroring the vocalizations of the more powerful boss.
The tie to the song? These office Jays have lost themselves. They’re wandering in the fog – not doing very much except protecting their turf and screaming from the sidelines. Do you know any? Take a look – I’ll bet you find them!
When you’re done reading this, how about you try writing your own screed? You don’t have to jump on a fancy CMS or anything – just whip out a pen and your old-fashioned pad or open up a text editor and bang away. See if you can get to 300 words or so. Go ahead – I’ll wait.
photo by Randall Niles on Flickr
Done? That wasn’t so hard I’ll bet – most of us have a thing or two on our minds or at least can assemble a few cogent thoughts about what we had for breakfast or a work-related project. Maybe it was even fun. Now do it again. And again.
Here’s the thing: doing something once can be fun. Doing it day after day can be crushing, especially if it’s not something you enjoy. Writing isn’t easy for some people just as public speaking terrifies others (and I’ve even known folks for whom speaking to two other people counts as public speaking!). I enjoy writing almost as much as I enjoy the interaction and feedback I get from lobbing it out there day after day but I’m not going to lie and say that it’s always easy to crank out the screed (which I consider part of my work). The fact that I enjoy it makes the grind of doing it bearable.
I suspect that what ever “grind” feelings we might harbor about our daily lives they’re compounded by the almost universal feeling that THERE’S JUST NO TIME. Work never stops since we’re always plugged in. Social media is a time suck. Then there’s the other media – TV, music, reading books (remember those?) . So how does one deal with it?
- If you’re not happy with your job, start to think about another one. I know that’s easier said then done but if you don’t start the journey you’ll never get to the destination.
- Unplug. Seriously. Even for a day. It’s like a big gulp of oxygen and it will all be there when you get back.
- Change your perspective. If you’re reading this on a laptop, flip it upside down. Completely different experience right? Look out a window from which you never look out. Sit in the back seat of your own car and let someone else drive you. You never know what silly little perspective change will be a major life adjustment (trust me as a guy who’s had a couple).
If it’s not fun more than once, stop doing whatever it is before it becomes a grind. You see, at some point anything we do over and over does become one. In my mind, what’s getting ground is our spirit and our souls and we need to keep those around. What do you think?
What’s the best work situation you’ve ever had and why was it so? Was it working for yourself, a start-up, or a big corporation? I got a chance to ask myself that question again Saturday night when a number of us who worked together 20+ years ago at ABC Sports got together. Most of us hadn’t seen one another in at least a decade but like most reunions of closely knit groups, it felt as if we’d just spoken last week.
Let me explain why this was the best work situation I’ve ever been in and offer some suggestions how you might try to replicate it wherever you are. What’s interesting to me is that what I’m going to say was echoed by every single one of us in the room in terms of what we experienced and how we felt. None of us are kids any more and yet we all agreed this was the best period of time we ever spent over our professional lives.
- The boss was very much in charge. That seems like a prescription for heavy-handed disaster, but in this case it means he gave us all clear, firm direction.
- The boss allowed us to figure out how to accomplish the goals. He was smart enough to recognize that many roads travel to the same place and we needed to take those which we could navigate effectively.
- There were no staff meetings or other “process” items wasting our time. Oh sure, once a quarter or so we’d get together to go over stuff but the emphasis was on results, not process.
- There was the equivalent of a very productive staff meeting every morning. Because of the next point, the senior staff would end up in someone’s office every morning an hour before work officially began going over what we were doing, opportunities for action, rumors, and anything else. It was the equivalent of a 5 hour weekly meeting and many times more productive.
- The executive team liked one another as people and respected one another as professionals. We socialized outside of work and some of the team I still count among my closest friends.
- Finally, the boss cleared away all the corporate stuff to allow us to do our collective thing. He fought for budgets, he made sure we were paid well, he took the heat when something didn’t go as planned. Like a good parent, he wasn’t afraid to let us know when we’d screwed up (BOY did he let us know) but we never doubted that he supported us and we never felt like we’d get fired at any minute.
That’s the prescription if you’re the one building the work environment. Assemble a great team, give them clear direction, provide resources, and get out of the way while staying connected. It’s 20 years later now and I think most of this team would go back to work together in a minute if the opportunity arose. Many of us agreed we didn’t realize at the time how special an environment we had but we sure do now.
What do you think? Ever been in this sort of work environment? Is this about what you had?