career management

Five Benefits of the Work From Home Model

The coronavirus pandemic is now shining a light on the work from home concept. Organizations large and small are sending their people home, either as a preventative measure, or while they disinfect their buildings. Working from home, once seen as a concession or as a luxury, is now coming to the fore as a leap forward. Why? For the very same reason it has been largely ignored over the past decade: trust.

For much of the past decade, the work from home model has relied on a laptop computer and and email connection. This meant that knowledge workers could do much of their work from their own kitchen table or home office, checking in on occasion, but working largely in isolation. This has not been its most greatly appealing feature. And one of the reasons for this is trust. Managers will ask, how can I trust that my employees are actually working and not watching TV? But this attitude is perfectly human, but perfectly wrong.

It’s a human thing to do because people still bank a great deal on face-time. It is assumed that if people are at work, they are actually working. Although most of us know that is not entirely true. Entire TV series, like The Office, reflect the realities of office life. A great deal of time is spent not working, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes du to the need to socialize, and sometimes due to the hard fact that the human brain and body cannot work at full production for hours on end. We zone in and out based on energy levels, sleep, hunger and the natural rhythms of the human body.

Eve the most diligent and dedicated professional, pounding out material hour after hour on the keyboard will end up with substandard work sooner or later if they don’t take a break.

Smoke breaks, coffee runs, even meetings and training days are great opportunities for people to take a vacation from work while at work, and the addictive call of social media is always just a flick away, whether hidden temporarily on a browser tab, or on an employee’s phone. No one can truly prove they have put in 8 full hours of work in an 8 hour day. It just isn’t possible.

But still, the idea of someone working from home in their jammies, just doesn’t seem like real work. So  here are five reasons why managers should relax and let at least some of their people work from home as part of ongoing management and future proofing your company.

  1. Not trusting your employees is not healthy. Leaders and managers take all types of courses and consume all kinds of books dealing with leadership and team management. To then turn around and dismiss the work from home model as being untrustworthy because people might not actually be working reveals a mistrust that will permeate an entire team. If our manager doesn’t trust people to work from home responsibly, what else might this manager have problems with? Leadership and trust go hand in hand. People need to trust their leaders and leaders need to trust their people. When this doesn’t happen, and things revert to command-and-control, the good people leave. The old expression has never been more true. People don’t quit their jobs. They quit their managers. In this age of increased career mobility, where having three or more employers on your résumé per decade is no longer a bad thing – but actually a good one – it is no longer a issue or daring an employee to quit. It’s about daring them to stay.
  1. Trusting your employees is very heathy. Whether it’s a work from home thing or something else, like delegating work, or giving people free reign to run their projects their way, a clear demonstration of trust is a powerful way to build loyalty and productivity. Most people take pride in their work. They look to their managers for opportunities to grow and develop. They want to show what they can do. Most people, when given the chance to fly free, will return to the corporate perch because that’s where the freedom comes from. Demonstrating trust in an employee is like the adrenaline for a project. Establishing a culture of trust again reverberates through the entire organization. It’s not just for the work from home people.
  2. So what if a work-from-home employee does watch some TV? Or goes and takes the dog for a midday walk? Or stops by the store to go pick something up? That’s part of life, and it’s the same type of break that employees do at their workplace already. Knowledge workers are paid for the application of their knowledge to tasks and projects. They research, they write, they plan, and they do. And unless the project at hand is a crisis event that must be resolved in an hour, a responsibly measured break within the workday actually supports high productivity by focusing it into the hours when a person’s mind and body are best attuned to it. When it comes to knowledge worker, metrics of work is not the hours spent sitting at a desk, the way sweatshop workers are assessed to this day. The metrics must revolve around quality, accuracy, promptness and relevance and these are better handled on a responsibly managed flexible schedule.
  3. Access. So, what about the meetings? The spontaneous interactions in the hallway? The office chats and feedback? These things are fundamental to team management and office life. But now they are just as available, even remotely, through applications like Slack, Zoom, Skype Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex. Video conferencing is no longer just for formally scheduled boardroom meetings. They are available whenever and however – the perfect visual version of the intercom.
  4. Finally, the people who are able to work from home effectively are definitely the ones you want to keep on your team. They are motivated. They know how to get things done. They know how to manage their time and their technology. And in many cases, thanks to the fact there is no commute, they are able to deliver more than a day’s worth of work per day even with a lunchtime walk with the dog included. When this is rewarded with trust, you stand to retain the best of your disciplined and motivated employees simply by letting them work where and how it fits their life better.

Of course, not all employees are suite for work from home. Many like to interact with their colleagues and may find work from home to be too isolated and quiet. OK, so those people are best staying at the office. During crisis times such as the current pandemic, they will need some training on how to do it effectively.

Many managers fear that one bad apple who will sleep through the day and abuse the trust and privilege that work from home offers. Yes, those people exist, but the reality is they exist in the office as well. But they know how to hide it. It becomes a strategic management choice as to whether to forfeit the entire remote work operation and its benefits on account of such individuals.

Finally, there is the comfort level among managers and team leaders. Many people grew up professionally during a time when remote work did not exist as a viable option. So it does not seem right, or feasible that people can get work done from home. It is difficult to shake off those preconceptions. Yet when one looks at what knowledge workers actually do, their time is often spent between keyboard work, meetings and email, all of which can now be done – including the communications part from anywhere. Private, focused time is easier to get when you are in the privacy of your own home, yet direct, fluid conversation is also available in video and chat form whenever its needed.

It’s not about replicating the office experience – it’s about redefining what work is. What productivity is. Frankly professional work is about quality and output, not time served. Even if you bill hourly, your capacity for maximizing productivity and profitability comes from a balanced approach to work and life. Even those professionals who are able to bill out at hundreds of dollars an hour know that if the quality isn’t there, sooner or later the customer is going to question that bill.

Here are a couple more things to think about. According to a recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder nearly 80 percent of American workers say they’re living paycheck to paycheck. Many people in the workforce have little backing them up. Not all of these workers are knowledge workers, of course. Many belong to the service industry or manufacturing, or places where interaction with customers in a central place is essential. But for those we call knowledge workers, who can do their work equally well from anywhere, the opportunity to work from home even some of the time provides an economic benefit in the best of times, and may be a life saver on days where absence would be the only alternative. Snow days or teachers strikes for parents, or days when you are sick, even with normal colds or flu.

But in addition, it must be noted that people of all ages are becoming aware that work, as essential as it might be to life, is a different beast than it was 20 or more years ago. Professionals are growing used to life online – many have grown up with it, others have grown used to it. But the ability for work to be done anywhere at any time is far more attainable than at any other time in history, and it’s an attractive part of the entire employment decision.

As such, the decision to not only encourage working from home, but to develop it as a skill can be seen as a highly proactive and timely investment in the future of any organization. An idea whose time has truly come.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Five Benefits of the Work From Home Model. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. or search for it on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, etc. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill.

Whenever I give a presentation or a speech, I always start out by giving the Twitter hashtag for the event. This is not merely an act of housekeeping – it’s also a teaching moment that starts with crickets.

Yes – the sound of silence – a room full of blank faces when I ask the assembled audience how many of them use Twitter as a daily tool of professional development. Out of a room of a few hundred, I might get a dozen hands that go up. So, I ask why, and the answer is usually, “I have nothing to say,” or “There’s already someone on our department who does the tweeting for us, or even Twitter is passé. It’s Instagram now.”

Those are good answers – in fact there should only be one person in charge of tweeting on behalf of a company or department. And social media outlets like Instagram have their place. But that overlooks two of the three main benefits of using Twitter. People assume it’s just for outbound activity, sending notes and opinions out to the world. But that’s only useful if you have an established audience. That’s why celebrities and politicians use it.

But there’s a far more valuable use of Twitter that often goes overlooked, and that has to do with inbound information. When properly tuned, Twitter is an excellent tool for keeping up to speed on what’s going on in your business – the facts and development you need to know.

Yes, Twitter is awash with garbage and hate. That’s very sad and says a lot about people in general. But inbound Twitter is an ideal tool for lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is just what it sounds like. You keep learning every day of your life. That’s not a new concept, but for many of us, such an idea paints pictures of having to go back to school, take formalized courses and write formalized exams and paper to get formalized degrees. These are all still good, of course, but in between those events, other things are still happening: Industry news. Innovations. Events. Opportunities.  Being aware of these developments in real time is what gives people an edge or even a lifeline.

How else can you know what you need to know? It doesn’t matter if you never send an outbound tweet ever. Maybe you don’t need to. But by following a handful of carefully chosen experts, and checking your twitter feed once per day, you will receive vital, career enhancing knowledge without having to wade through all the garbage.

The Knowledge Base

The other reason I promote the Twitter hashtag at my session is that it allows me to talk about its service as a shared knowledge base – something that can and should also later be translated into an internal, intranet-based tool.  When I have a group of people in front of me, there is bound to be someone with something valuable to contribute – maybe a thought, an idea or a resource, like a link to a website or online article or video. But they are unwilling to speak up. Often times, the quietest ones are the ones with the most profound observations.

By tweeting a comment or a link, using the event’s hashtag, every participant, even those who were not there, are able to read ideas and suggestions from people they don’t yet follow, by simply searching for the common hashtag online. This use of Twitter hashtags is a public activity using a public, non-confidential forum – but it represents a powerful way of sharing information and building on synergies that more and more people find more appealing than out-loud dialog. It is the Wiki approach – a shared knowledge base, built out of the contributions of many.

Internal Wikis

As powerful as shared knowledge through hashtags is for public events, it also highlights the power of internal Wikis, that every company should embrace. I come from an age – not that long ago – where policies and procedures were stored in vinyl binders, updated every quarter or so by a new raft of 3-hole punched papers intended to replace the older ones. It’s all we had at the time, and their quality and relevance were dependent on the person or consultant who wrote them.

But when an organization takes on the Wiki knowledge base mindset, capitalizing on the interaction and ubiquitous access that Twitter and Wikipedia offer, the collective wisdom and experience of a wider swath of employees is tapped – and that’s a significant development. People may not always be willing to speak up. But they are often more willing to both contribute and learn, when given the chance.

Centralized knowledge bases give people a renewed opportunity to learn new skills, reaffirm procedures and best practices by enabling employees to look it up online – to read a short article or watch a quick video. Having a Wiki means updates to knowledge bases can happen quickly, helping ensure no-one is referring to an outdated copy of a policy or procedure that has been sitting in a binder for years.

This again, is digital literacy – centralizing knowledge – taking full advantage of the accessibility of online material and ensuring the right message gets through.

The Scuba Diver Factor

An additional benefit of digital literacy comes from social media in general, which is why many employers and HR departments will routinely scan the social media sites of employees and candidates, like Facebook and Instagram, not to snoop, but to better understand the passion that drives employees.

For example, imagine that you discovered through Instagram, that one of your employees was a passionate weekend scuba diver, and in addition, is certified to teach scuba diving? What relevance would that have to the job he/she currently has? Some might note that someone with these passions might be a natural leader with the brains to learn complex procedures and the abilities to teach and lead others. But that might not be obvious as a line item on a C.V. or even on a LinkedIn page.

The potential within every employee needs new avenues to reveal itself. People who make hiring decisions take a huge risk. The cost of attracting, onboarding and training an employee is huge. Knowing more about who they are and what makes them tick – or more precisely how they can best fit into a company culture, is of enormous value. And the information is right there.

In many cases, 90 percent of an employee’s potential goes unseen, untapped and unappreciated. This is serious, especially given the career mobility that professionals of all ages now recognize. People know that there’s something else, something more fulfilling out there. It’s up to HR and hiring managers to know fully and completely who they have at their disposal and where their passions truly lie.

Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking

Finally, there is the vital component of corporate survival: critical thinking. The experts who research and discuss the future of work regularly describe the skills that employers will be looking for, the skills that people will need more and more in the months and years to come. This is especially prescient as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over many parts of many types of jobs and professions.

These skills are very human in nature, not surprisingly. They include – but are not limited to – critical thinking and empathy. People in general are becoming increasingly emotionally disconnected the more their technologies connect them. Think for example, how many of us would prefer to send an email or a text than pick up the phone and talk live, out of the fear of what? Time being wasted? The fear of confrontation? Social awkwardness? Disinterest? Well, these aforementioned skills are coming into high demand very quickly. Here are just two examples:

First, critical thinking as it applies to phishing. Phishing and spearfishing emails are getting much more sophisticated. Cybercriminals have figured out ways to mimic the web pages and two-factor authentication techniques that we have started to rely on as a defense. The truth is that any and every communication that an employee at any level might have, whether with an outside agent like a supplier, customer or job applicant, or even with an internal colleague, must be suspect. That colleague’s email might not actually be from that colleague after all. This is why data breaches are so scary. Impersonation of people is easy once the bad guys have access to the types of personal data that accounts use for verification.

So that’s one reason why critical thinking is so important. The need to not trust anyone. The need to second guess each email when it arrives, and the need to not click out of reflex – these all confirm critical thinking as an essential skill, if only to help keep the company safe.

Then there’s empathy. As one of a collection of social interaction skills, these will come into greater focus as more and more people choose to use video conferencing and telepresence as their ideal method of communication. Video conferencing means body language, facial gestures and eye contact reestablish their prominence in the art of human interaction. Being self-aware is equally as important as being aware of the body language in others, when you can see them through high definition video. Some people shy away from this technology for those very reasons, but as videoconferencing technology becomes more ubiquitous, it will become the norm, in the same way that email replaced physical mail all those years ago.

Conclusion

Digital literacy is not just about known how to install and use an app. It’s about understanding how to parse information and non-information from an infinitely growing ocean of data. It’s about finding meaning and delivering meaning through an understanding of just how these technologies work and how they affect and influence people.  It’s fitting, in a way, to see humanity become the primary skill in a world dominated by technology.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Go Back to Freelancing? I’m not Feeling the Burn

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Go Back To Freelancing? I’m Not Feeling the Burn. It discusses the gig economy and the future of work, of which freelancing will play an even larger role. People who mock it have a surprise coming. It is the future of work, and it’s one of the most secure career paths you can choose.

Let me start with an insult. I remember reading a comment someone made online about – well you know I can’t even remember what the comment was about. But I remember the burn. Some troll disagreed with the writer’s comment and wrote in reply, “go back to freelancing.” I remember being initially confused by this remark. What was wrong with freelancing? What did he mean by that? I have been essentially freelancing my entire career, and I feel I’ve done pretty well. What was the stigma that this troll was trying to push? That freelancing isn’t real work? That you only freelance if you can’t find a proper job?

I questioned the troll’s comments from three perspectives. The first was my own experience: two and a half decades of adventure, meeting new customers, devising new products and solutions, setting my own calendar and career path. Exhilarating and rewarding. Never dull or repetitive. What could be better than that?

Then I thought of the other freelancers I know. They, too, never stop improving their product. They are masters at finding work. They might change customers from month to month, but the work never stops for those who know how to find it. It’s job security anchored by your own talents and motivations, not those of an HR department.

Thirdly, I thought of the people I had met during one of my long-term contracts, where I taught groups of recently fired executives how to cope with the depression of job loss and the resulting loss of their identity. These people were truly at sea, with no compass and no hope. This is what happens when people get buried in their salaried jobs and allow no time for the entrepreneurial networking that is at the heart of freelancing. They don’t know who they are, and they don’t know where to go, because they never built the safety net that every freelancer owns. That’s why I wrote my third book, which is entitled, “Is This the Day I Get Fired?”

Go back to freelancing. Did that comment reveal a deep-seated fear held by the writer, who like most other bullies, projects his insecurities on those he tries to intimidate?

Well, I have news for that bully as well as everyone else, including worried parents, who fear that freelancing is not as secure as a career job or a unionized job. Not only is it more secure, since the power of mobility and self sufficiency rests with the individual rather than their employer, it is also the future of work. I remember a comment that a guest speaker once said at a networking session I was hosting: He said, “the chief difference between a salaried employer and a contractor is that a contractor knows when his or her last day is, and can do something about it.

We are in an age of profound transformation. Technology continues to change jobs and indeed make many of them redundant. It balances this out by creating new jobs in their place, as well as making it possible for networking and freelancing to flourish. But to anyone who grew up watching Dad and/or Mom leave the house every day at 7:00 a.m. and return home at suppertime year in and year out it becomes difficult to envision any other lifestyle, regardless how secure it ultimately is.

The Future of Work: The Gig Economy

Heavy hitters like RBC and McKinsey have publicly declared the following facts, for the benefit of employers and experts who are carefully watching the changing world of work:

McKinsey and Co. has stated:

  • 60% of all occupations have at least 30% of activities that are technically automatable.
  • Automation could affect 50% of the world economy

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) envisions:

  • 4 million Canadian job openings in the next three years, of which
  • 50% will undergo a skills overhaul.

The skills that will be required include soft skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy and social perceptiveness. The ways in which these will be learned will be more about lifelong learning in place of traditional linear education.

But to take this even further, consider these three rather stunning facts delivered recently at the World Economic Forum.

1.) Less than a decade from now, by 2027, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelance.

2.) Artificial Intelligence and robotics will create more jobs, not mass unemployment as long as we responsibly guide innovation.

3.) Cities will compete against each other to attract top talent, as they see economic ecosystems grow and flourish.

Image courtesy of UpWork

These comments were made by Stephane Kasriel, who is CEO of UpWork, one of the largest and most successful freelancing websites around. It would be easy to assume he has a vested interest in saying such things, being the boss of a company directly dependent on the fulfilment of this vision.

But it is important to recognize that freelancing is not a cottage industry. Large multinational companies like Pfizer and Samsung are part of this rising breed of enterprises that have turned online to find freelancers.

And there are others out there, looking for highly specialized talent and paying well for it. One of these is Innocentive, a company that “enables organizations to put their unsolved problems and unmet needs, which are framed as ‘Challenges’, out to the crowd to address.” In other words, it is seeking innovation through crowdsourcing; putting the bounty on a solution. Maybe it’s an industrial challenge, like how to get toothpaste into a differently designed tube, or how to economically prevent oil from freezing when stored in cold climates. You would think large companies would have all the engineering brilliance it needs to solve these problems from the inside, but sometimes they just don’t.

Very often I win writing or project management contracts from companies who have all the right people already in-house. The problem is the backlog. It might take six months to appear on these peoples’ radar, and the client needs something done now.

Similarly, it’s those experts on the outside, the ones who must stay constantly ahead of the knowledge curve, who are the ones who come with the solution, more quickly and more cost effectively.

It’s the As-A-Service Economy

Let me draw a parallel distinction. Companies the world over have, over the past few years, become familiar with cloud, and with it, related technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. What are these innovations doing for them? Far more than simply storing your data. The accessibility and data flow that these technologies have enabled has given rise to the as-a-service industry.  Where once companies shipped boxes of their products to their customers, they now see the value in many cases of actually giving the basic physical product for free, and then monetizing the services needed to support it, along with the data that becomes collectible.

Individual consumers see this daily when they use their computers. Products like Microsoft Office used to arrive in a box and required individual installation from disks. But now, Microsoft, and all other software applications are subscription based.  Sometimes even free. The manufacturers are responsible for testing and upgrading and they do so remotely via your internet connection.

The same principle applies to every other as-a-service enterprise, which is what makes cloud storage and security so attractive and practical in the first place. The supplier stays responsible for the upkeep of quality. It need no longer remain in house, where it might be prone to delays and budget cuts.

So, back to the workforce. I can speak from direct experience, when I teach new topics to a group of employees, they admit that they spend so much time closeted away, working on the internal problems of the moment, they never get the chance to look up and around at what the outside world is doing.

This becomes one of the key value propositions of the as-a-service freelancer. Just like cloud providers and software manufacturers, the freelancer is responsible for maintaining the skills and knowledge that a company needs. And now, with direct and immediate communication and the capacity for working remotely, there is no reason for them to ever physically visit the company’s brick and mortar operations if need be.

None of this is truly new. There have been freelancers for centuries. The very word freelance denotes a mercenary fighter whose weapons, including their lance, were available to whoever wanted to hire them. They weren’t free from a price perspective, but they were free from fealty to any specific lord, king, or country.

Companies have long outsourced work to other countries – call centers and tech support, for example – and even the notion of as-a-service machinery has its roots in leasing and rental programs.

But it’s more now. We have passed a tipping point. As-a-service is more than just leasing. It is about servicing, maintenance and aftermarket opportunities that go well beyond any physical machine. And freelancing is far more than hiring warm bodies to cover peak periods.

Freelancing is a new type of work, fueled by communications and data technologies that help bring customer and supplier together more efficiently. According to a study commissioned by Upwork, half of the millennial generation is already freelancing.

There is an inherent security in the freelancing business, reinforced by the ever-present reminder that you are personally responsible for your future. This might strike many as the opposite of security. After all, how can that compare to the permanence of a salaried position, especially when it comes to qualifying for a mortgage? But ask any salaried employee what their biggest fear is: it’s losing their job. And that is not a healthy way to live.

So, back to the insult that started this monologue. “Go back to freelancing.” Many people reveal their own fears in the insults and swear words they use against others. As I tell my audiences, I have been looking for work for 25 years now. And I keep finding it. It’s always interesting, it always adds something to my skillset, and it always keeps me in demand. It called, colloquially, the gig economy, and it is the future of work.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Go Back to Freelancing? I’m not Feeling the Burn. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Managing Your Metabolism

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. It describes how moving from reactive to proactive is a positive brain-body exercise that will help you do things right, do things better, and foster more constructive relationships.

Imagine you won that big lottery. No more worries about making money, no need to get up when the alarm clock tell you to do so, what would you do with your life? Not so much in terms of your hobbies and interests, but how would you structure your day? Would you continue to get up early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise or would find yourself rising later and later and enjoying the evening nightlife instead?

When you look at this ultimate situation where you have complete control over the coming and goings of your day, you get to see what your metabolism is really like; how you would be ideally suited for a 24-hour cycle. Some people are morning-oriented. They are naturally able to wake up in the morning, while others are night owls who find themselves doing their best work as the sun goes down and as the evening moves on.

So, who are you? How do you operate? What you do with your time reveals a lot about you and becomes the beginning of an understanding of your metabolism – how you operate as a person.

We can’t all win that lottery. Most of us have to go back to work some way or other, but when it comes to getting things done, managing time, seeking out a balance in life, it’s essential to look at your metabolism. This is your vehicle that carries you through time; your brain, your body, your “self”.  But it is so often overlooked. You can make it work far more effectively once you understand it.

The Metabolic Blood Sugar Level Chart

redline

This wavy rollercoaster line that heads in an overall downward direction throughout the day, represents, in simplified form, your metabolic blood sugar level. Your personal metabolic blood sugar level will vary based on how well you slept the night before, as well as what you ate for breakfast.

Your Golden Hour: 9:00-10:30

Most people, on a busy workday, have a breakfast that consists of coffee and some carbs, such as toast, bagels, muffins or cereal. These tend to burn off extremely quickly. So the blood sugar level moves through the day with its peak around 9:00 a.m. That is the best time of day for getting things done: 9:00 a.m.

This high blood sugar level period is a result of a confluence of three significant activities:

  1. Your breakfast
  2. The presence of morning sunlight – Sunlight is a natural stimulant that removes the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin from your bloodstream. These three stimulants, working together, make the period between 9:00 and 10:30 the most productive period of the day, at least for the 8 out of every 10 adults who are morning oriented. It’s when most of us are at our intellectual and attentive best. For learning, strategy, research focus, sales… whatever it is that you do, that’s the best time to do it.
  3. The energy and mental shift expended in getting to work

Unfortunately, it is often overlooked, and we spend that time doing more mundane things like checking and returning email.

The 10:30 Crash

For many people, the first blood sugar crash of the day happens around 10:30 p.m. This is when the coffee and the carbs have been completely used up, and you hit a blood sugar low. Traditionally people take a break mid-morning to get more coffee and more carbohydrates to get themselves through to lunchtime. So the rollercoaster continues. We buoy ourselves back up wit this energy until noon.

The Tragedy of Over-Lunching

Noon is a difficult time because if you are already hungry by lunchtime, you will fall into the trap of overeating, which is something that fast food restaurants exploit hugely. It’s a hunger urge brought on because people do not eat in a regular and controlled fashion. If you fast between 10:30 and 12:00, the hunger urge will make you want to eat more than you need to at noon.

Moving from the 10:30 crash to noontime, the ideal approach is to graze, to take food in in a more regular fashion. This means grazing on healthy foods not junk. The idea here is to keep hunger at bay by satisfying your body’s nutritional needs like stoking coal onto a fire: smaller more regular amounts work much better.

The 2:30 Crash

This mid-afternoon time is a double threat to productivity. First, we tend to echo the deep sleep period of 12 hours earlier (called the ultradian rhythm), and there is a tendency to lose focus and abilities somewhat at this time. In some countries, this was culturally accepted as time for a siesta. It’s an energy trough initiated by the ultradian echo and then compounded by the demands on the digestive system brought on by overeating at lunchtime.

These troughs can be substantially lessened in their depth and severity. One of the easiest ways to do this is to change your choice of foods to include a morning protein source. There are many types of food to choose from:

  • Yogurt
  • Protein smoothies
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal

An intake of protein in the morning will allow your blood sugar to stay much more level throughout the entire day, even long after breakfast has been digested.

What about Taking a Nap?

Is it OK or even advisable to take a nap in the afternoon? For the North American and growing globalized working communities, a nap is not looked upon favorably as an ideal use of company time, even though I would venture to disagree, assuming the napper returns to a more alert state immediately afterward.

It’s ironic that being stuck in a useless meeting where 20 minutes or more are wasted, is seen as a normal part of doing business. But spending those same 20 minutes having a nap may be career-limiting.

Ultimately, if you are a natural napper, you would know this by now. It will already have inserted itself into your daily ritual. If napping does not come naturally to you, then it’s not worth pursuing, because the opposite reaction can occur. A nap can rob you of part of your natural sleep cycle later that night, which can rob you of quality sleep and make the following day less productive.

What if You are a Night Owl?

The proportion of night owls in any group of people anywhere in the world is generally 20% or two out for every ten people. For this group of people, their circadian wiring extends into the evening and the night.

If you know this about yourself, perhaps you can find or create a line of work that matches it. That’s not so farfetched. This is an age where work-life integration is a reality. It may be very possible to negotiate a job starts at 2:00 p.m. and ends at 10:00 p.m. It might also be very useful.

When I graduated and joined the workforce, I joined a temp agency who would send me to work at banks. I would start my “day” at 5:00, taking over the typing and number crunching that a 9-to-5 staffer could not finish. When they arrived at work the next morning, the work was ready and waiting for them. Although you could argue that this work could have been done by a person halfway around the world for less, the fact was, they hired me because I immediately understood the job, and was physically onsite to talk to the stakeholders face-to-face before they left for the day.

There are many types of work that require people to be available on a different schedule. It might be up to you to find them and make your pitch.

However, this might not be possible, at least for the moment. So if you are a night owl stuck in a day job, what can you do to compensate? Negotiate with your “morning person” colleagues and managers to schedule morning meetings a little bit later in the morning or perhaps opt out of the meeting and read the summary instead. Or schedule the meetings in the afternoon, after making sure the meeting room can contribute to productivity, as we described in the previous podcast.

Why is This Nutrition Lecture Important?

The reason for talking about nutrition here is because this is the fuel for your metabolism – your body and your brain. You cannot expect this device to work at a constant level of standard energy throughout the day. Blood sugar ups-and-downs are a fact of life. Knowing how to work with them is an amazingly powerful way to ensure you get the right things done at the right time.

If the morning is the best time for you, then that should be the time for you to assign yourself your most important tasks of the day. If the afternoon doldrums are particularly hard for you, then assign the less challenging work, such as returning emails, or if you have meetings at that time, make sure you can compensate for the doldrums with:

  • Natural light
  • Good ventilation
  • Exercises
  • Breaks

This is something we covered in a previous podcast, The 55 Minute Meeting. You can listen to it here or read it here.

So What About Exercise?

For people working a traditional workday or wok week, it can be very hard to find time to put exercise into your day. Many people think that exercise must be formalized in terms of going to the gym and working out. This again is a personal thing. If you are someone who can exercise at 5:00 a.m., or 5:00 p.m., if that feels natural and good for you then go for it. But if it doesn’t, then don’t, because that‘s not the right form of exercise for you.

Instead, figure out what things do work for you. Do you like to cycle? Or walk briskly? When you connect your wireless headphones or earbuds to Spotify where you can download cardio-friendly music, it becomes very easy and very motivating to take five or ten minutes to squeeze some exercise into your day.

There’s always a way that will fit you. Take that lottery-winning vacation dream, observe how your body would prefer to work if there were no rules, look upon the way you like to do things and identify what really works for you, your metabolism and the context of your life.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Managing Your Metabolism. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

Those Annoying LinkedIn Reminders

A short while back I read a comment on LinkedIn concerning those “annoying” work anniversary reminders. The complaint was about LinkedIn jamming people’s inboxes with needless reminders that “nobody reads or cares about anyway.” The comment had thousands of “likes,” suggesting many other people feel the same way.

But hold on a second. There’s so much reason to read and care about these notifications, if you just take a moment to to consider who they are there for. They are there for you.

These anniversary/achievement announcements provide each of us with a reason to reach out and reconnect with a person in our networks. Don’t forget: your personal network of the people you know, trust and respect, and who feel the same about you, is your greatest career safety net.

Too often the people we meet in the course of business fade away through neglect. We are all too busy to keep in touch, go to events, have lunch with people in a proactive manner. It all seems like a huge waste of time. But it is these people who provide leads, references, guidance, mentorship, and maybe even that next job opportunity for you or someone in your family. Your network is a net. No one should work without a net.

Those Notifications are for You, not Them

When an anniversary notification appears, either on the LinkedIn home screen, in your in-box, this is your chance to say “hi” once again. To keep the memory of you alive in the heart and mind of that individual. By sending them a quick heartfelt message (not just clicking the “Like” button, but an actual message), you are acknowledging that person’s dignity, hard work, and achievement. Even if they themselves have forgotten that it is their “5 year anniversary,” your reminder will touch them on an emotional level and will mean a great deal. As the expression goes, it’s not what you do with people, it is how you make them feel, that counts the most.

If the person whose work anniversary it is, is someone you don’t know, then they either a.) should not be in your collection of contacts; or b.) should be contacted in order that you get to know that person better. It is the Achilles Heel of LinkedIn that you can connect with anybody and everybody, for that is not its purpose.

Your Little Black Book

The value of LinkedIn is in the pedigree of your contacts. Every person you connect to should be someone you know, trust and respect. Someone who you would recognize if you met them on the street. Someone you would gladly shake hands with. LinkedIn is not a phonebook. It should not be a directory of every person you have every encountered or who has asked you to connect. LinkedIn should be your little black book, consisting of those people who are special to you – people with whom you have a great history.

If there are people in your collection that you do not know, then they should be pruned out of there, or improved. Not left as anonymous, meaningless people.

When these people mean something to you, the notifications will no longer be annoyances, clogging your inbox or screen. They will appear as what they should be: opportunity knocking. They represent a chance for you to quickly refine and add value to that most important of career assets: your network.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

The Future of Employee Engagement

This blog post, written for HP’s Business Value Exchange , entitled The Future of Employee Engagement is available for review at CloudTweaks.com. This post looks at collaborative environments, face-to-face communication, and how these activities influence engagement and productivity.  Click here to read.

CloudTweaks

Surviving the Corporate Wilderness

logo-lawyers-weeklyThis article was first published in the January 16, 2015 issue of Lawyers Weekly magazine. To read it there, click here.

Like navigating a jungle with few tools, finding your way through the corporate structure can be a challenge if you are not prepared. One of the main reasons for this is that too much focus is placed on the trail and not enough on the sounds of the jungle itself.

The art of managing and furthering a career has always been about people, and not tasks. It is easy to think that a lawyer’s job is about getting work done, about submitting files on time and taking care of to-do’s and e-mails, but the truth is, at the end of each of these tasks, there is a person waiting and that is where the attention should go.

An ambitious professional should think very hard about applying the 80/20 rule to the work week; specifically, giving 20 per cent of every given week over to planning and communication. Planning is important because it allows you to schedule your most important and lucrative work to the times of the day when you are at your best (for most of us, this points to the morning hours).

However, communication is where the future actually happens, because this is where relationships are built, along with the credibility and reputation that will put you in good stead for the next stage of your career.

Talk and listen

Talking to colleagues and clients, and listening to what they say gives you the opportunity to understand their interests, their personality type, and their style. This does three powerful things.

First, you learn what motivates them. It allows you to hear what their problems and fears are, which in turn empowers you to help resolve those fears. Are they procrastinators? Poor delegators? A-type personalities with no patience? Unable to trust? The issues that burn within a colleagues’ emotional space are the issues you can help solve.

Second, conversations demonstrate acknowledgement. You are acknowledging the hard work, fears and issues that this person deals with. To acknowledge someone is to give them dignity, which is the essence of leadership. They will warm up to you, since you have demonstrated care. They will want more of that good treatment and will act differently in order to get it.

This leads to the third benefit: influence. People will do what you want them to do when there is something in it for them. They will also be open to negotiation regarding timelines, delegation, payment or other task- or career-related matters. They will leave you alone when you want to be left alone and they will arrive ready when you want them to be available.

The reason communication is important from a career management standpoint is that all the people that surround you — your clients, your managers, your colleagues and your direct reports — have influence on your career. What you learn from them might alert you to an actual opportunity.

More importantly, you might be better able to create your own opportunity — your own advancement on your career path — by talking, listening, learning and teaching, and then offering solutions. Even something as simple as negotiating shorter meetings means more time for you to do more valuable work.

To extend the jungle analogy further, it is important to become a hunter, rather than a grazer. Instead of waiting for a job posting to appear, it is up to you to hunt down the type of work you want and that can only happen when people know about you and when they value you. A person who works 100 per cent of the time on billable work might appear valuable as a revenue generator, but they allow themselves no time to identify better methods of using their talents and no time to communicate their potential to others. They are simply a cash cow and will move no further up the line.

Stay valuable

What do you know about the world outside that you can share with others? Do you have a Twitter account that feeds you information about trends and developments in business that you could use to solve peoples’ problems, or have you dismissed Twitter as a meaningless toy?

Twitter is power. By choosing to follow relevant, proactive thinkers and commentators — other lawyers and journalists, for example — you stand to know more than the people around you. You will become a centre of influence. It will be you who proposes better, cost-saving alternatives to current work practices, or who learns how to deliver more up-to-date proactive solutions and guidance to clients, which is what every professional firm strives to do.

Twitter is the drumbeat of the business jungle. It is there to tell you what you need to know. You are free to ignore the 99.9 per cent of users whose content is meaningless, but to ignore the remaining 0.1 per cent means cutting off your career lifeline. There is good, valuable information out there: valuable to you, but more importantly, valuable to others and deliverable through you.

Plan and keep alert

Life is too short to wait for things to happen. You must make them happen. Allow time in your schedule, per the 80/20 rule, to give yourself time to think and strategize.

First, strategize forward: What are you looking for? A management position? A more balanced life? A fixed number of hours? A larger departmental budget? Do you want to lead a team or work alone?

Your goals should be clear, measurable, specific and linked to the firm’s focus. Once your goals are set, set a timeline: when do you want this by? For example: “One year from now I will oversee a team of four, I will work no later than 5:30 p.m., and I will have moved up one pay grade.” Do this by writing your ideas down across an axis of time. This makes it far easier to motivate yourself to identify the people you need to network with and to justify the time required to be with them.

The execution of any plan demands review. Mistakes will be made, but gains will also be made. Connect with mentors. Share your plan with them, and share both your successes and failures to date. No plan is — or should ever be — rock-solid and inflexible.

When roadblocks appear, the solution will come from communicating with those who created the roadblocks, perhaps, but also with those who have the power to remove those barriers. Mentors, too, play a great role in providing an alternate perspective or simply a voice of experience.

If you were in an actual jungle, the best thing you could do to find your way to safety would be to get to higher ground. A hilltop gives the lay of the land, reveals pathways and traps, and transforms the voyage from an unknown to one that is at least partially knowable.

The corporate jungle is much the same. Lift your gaze up from the trail immediately in front of you and pay greater attention to what is around you.

What can BitCoin teach about Teaching?

Have you heard of BitCoin? It’s a virtual currency that is taking the word by storm. In the course of just the last 12 months is has transformed itself from a mysterious tool used largely by international organized crime rings to an increasingly legitimate form of money that is being accepted in by a range of businesses from airlines to pubs. Whether BitCoin itself actually becomes the new world currency remains to be seen, but close on its heels are about a thousand other sophisticated virtual currencies, all vying to become the new age alternative to gold, the US dollar or the pound sterling.

What can BitCoin teach us about change in the workplace? A great deal, with the simplest lesson being that change is happening. As new generations enter the workforce for the first time, their expectations around professional development, career advancement, loyalty to an employer, relationships with managers, clients and colleagues, and work-life balance will differ substantially from those who have ten or even five more work experience.

When it comes to your Professional Development strategies for 2014 and beyond, it is essential you choose a company that understands the needs of today’s learner. Interaction, customization and learning according to one’s own personal style have never been more critical. Many of the old-school “training centres” remain stuck in a 1970’s style of classroom delivery, using PowerPoint, canned breakout exercises and paper handouts in an effort to ensure at least 10% of the curriculum remains in students’ heads by the end of the day and beyond.

At The Bristall Group we have always focused on the fact that every employee sent for “training” is an individual, with specific approaches to learning, and that one size does not fit all. We always encourage pre-session input from employees and managers, we continue to maintain our two-decades-old tradition of unlimited mentorship, and our use of social media and wifi connectivity allows individuals to learn, maintain dialogue, and retain information far more successfully.

Please consider us as a viable and highly efficient alternative to traditional large-scale training centres. We have been around long enough to have built a strong curriculum of highly effective and useful courses, but we remain young enough to ensure that the information is delivered in a method that connects with students of all ages, as individuals and as teams.

How to handle email: Stay Conscious

I write for Time Management for iPad Magazine, an authority on Time Management. This article was originally posted in the November 2013 issue.

Email, thaTime Management Magazine - November 2013embert world-dominating missing link between the age of the typewriter and the age of the cloud, is still a central component of the modern workday and sadly, one of its greatest vandals. It was devised and marketed as a marvellous tool for speedy communication – and indeed it is, once the Send button has been clicked; the speediness is due to the physical structure of the network, but that does not make it a speedy tool while it is sitting on the computer screen.

In fact email has done the opposite; it has clogged people’s days with endless interruption, compounded by unnecessary CC’ing, BCC’ing and attaching of documents. People who look with bemused nostalgia at the dot-matrix printer or IBM Selectric typewriter lurking in a darkened storage closet somewhere might be surprised to find they will be doing the same for email in a few short years.

The problem with email comes from its false sense of urgency, which itself it triggered by the innate human fear of the unknown. Although the two concepts might seem unconnected at first, human beings are instinctively aware of the need to address an unknown such as a moving shadow or a darkened room, in case they present a danger. Although most emails are not really sinister, the same reflex kicks in, and in so doing, actually redirects all of the oxygen and nutrients that the thinking brain needs for thinking, and sends it to the urgency centre of the brain in case a danger truly is present. This happens every single time an email arrives into an in-box. To compound the problem, even though it takes mere milliseconds for the brain to shift its fuel in this way, it takes five or more minutes to move it back, after the “urgency” has subsided. Therefore every person who has an email system on their desk spends much of the day working at sub-par thinking capacity, basically due to the reallocation of mental fuel in this fashion.

If email has to be used, it should ideally be used in block form, not ad hoc. This makes all the difference. Responding to a stimulus just because it is there is reactive, and the detrimental results are described in the paragraph above. However, choosing to respond to email on your own terms is the opposite; it’s proactive, and it allows the user to undertake the action consciously and by choice. This is very different and results in far more consistent levels of focus, concentration and stamina, because no urgent reaction is present, but instead, a genuine sense of control is.

Block form responding means assigning times in the day to respond, for example, 10:00 to 10:30 and 1:00-1:30, and so on, rather than immediately when the messages come in. Sure, there are some emails that may supersede this rule, like the ones from the boss, but most people can live with a delay of an hour or so before receiving a response, and even if they cannot, it is easy to educate people and manage their expectations by reassuring them that their emails will be responded to reasonably promptly.

Depending on a person’s job and workload, it may not be possible to do this block response technique all day, but it is highly effective during those periods where true concentration is required. It may be possible, for example, to perform a focused task from 9:00 to 10:00 and then stop to check and respond to emails upon its completion at 10:00.

This block response technique has an additional benefit, which comes from a concept found within Parkinsons’s law. This law of action states that “work expands to fill the time available,” and indeed email is a chief swallower of such time, since it generally operates without a fixed schedule. Email for most people, simply takes as long as it takes to complete. However, when people put themselves inside a box of perhaps 30 minutes to reply to 10 emails, this changes the approach to writing, allowing for shorter, clearer responses.

And what of those people we fear – the ones who send a follow-up email just five minutes after their first one, wondering where the reply is? These people need to be conditioned – trained to understand that they will indeed receive attention in due course. Such a reminder might be sent to them as part of your autoresponder message, or in your signature, or perhaps it need simply be inserted into the body of an email. Most people can live by a reasonable set of rules, if those rules are actually, proactively made clear.

In a few years email will be replaced, in large part, by the cloud-based collaborative workspace in which messages unfold in a singular fashion, much like the comment stream on FaceBook. Documents, too, will live in a commonly accessible secure cloud-based folder, where edits can happen in real time and the need for both CC’s and attachments is largely eliminated. Many organizations already work this way, so far from being speculative, the workplace with the vastly-reduced email queue is already here. It just takes time for such improvements to spread across a community.

In short, the benefits gained from using collaborative environments, and the downsides to using email revolve around one singular and ancient tool, the human nervous system. So long as stimuli continue to take people by “surprise,” productivity will always remain suppressed. Collaborative environments will not solve all problems, of course, but any time a human can move from reactive to proactive, productivity and full mental capacity follow.

 

Time Management Magazine for iPad

You’re On Your Own

aloneIf there’s one thing that the U.S. Government shutdown proves it’s this: you’re on your own. In the hours before the deadline, companies and departments were asked to draw up lists of essential and non-essential personnel. Imagine commuting back home at the end of the day and asking yourself, “after all the schooling I completed, after all the work I put into this department, after all the team-building events, motivational speeches and training days, all of the emails I returned on weekends, I may still be a non-essential part of this organization.”

You’re on your own.

Not every working person is subject to the furlough, of course, but every working person is subject to the fear. What if I am no longer needed?  What if I lose my job?

I work with people like this – people who have recently been “let go.” We laugh grimly at the terminology. “Let go.” Like a dove or a handful of balloons, passively released to rise from the tedious bondage of a secure job, taking with it any vestiges of guilt that may be harbored by those who remain.

I know that the individual people who do the firing or the furloughing or the laying-off will, in most cases, agonize over the action. Most people are not, after all, made of stone. However the company as an entity feels far less pain; it has liberated and freed an individual whose value, it seems was not enough to warrant its continued care.

I talk to people about fear all the time. I ask people what fears they hold and how they react to them. Many people fear for their own health and safety. All people fear for the safety of those they love. Fear is an instinctive reaction that forces a person to turn or run away from a threat. Fear can cause panic, but it can also elicit courage.

The fear of losing one’s job sits very high on this list. The loss of a job means more than a loss of identity, it represents failure – financial, career, family and health. Yet most people, working as hard as they do, for the employer they currently have, push this fear to the back of their minds, believing that careful and diligent adherence to the plan, answering all the emails, taking on the extra work of an atrophied workforce, sacrificing family time and vacation time to get things done – will buy their safety and keep the axe away.

Part of my role is to help people confront fear through action. If you fear something, the best thing you can do is to take an action that helps dissolve the threat. When it comes to the fear of being let go, left behind or shut down, the action is to ensure you have the network and the knowledge in place to ensure your value to your industry is clearly visible.

This is what I have been teaching through my endless and wonderful Wolf On Wheels tour. When it comes to career management, you are on your own. But this time in a good way.  The tools to connect you with the right people are available online. The tools that will help you continue to learn the trends in your industry from the experts and analysts are online. The tools that will help you announce your value and establish credibility are online, too.

The age of cradle-to-grave employment has long passed. We are in an era now where jobs are hard to find and hard to keep, and where it is projected that a significant portion of the workforce will be freelancers in a very short time.

This, I believe, is a good thing. This is why I gave my book the title Work Like a Wolf, because I believe we all have the capacity (or must develop the capacity) to hunt down opportunity in an active fashion, rather than wait and hope for someone to hand it to us. Those “someones” are getting fewer and further between.

So yes, you are on your own. You are your own best ally when it comes to the battle to survive, because you are the one you can trust the most. Let the furlough deliver a dividend to you in the form of this wake-up call: you are responsible for your own future, and there has never been a better time in all of human history to take advantage of the tools and methods availble to help you.

Go and hunt your destiny. You deserve the best, but only you can find it.

For more information on the Wolf On Wheels Tour – Putting People Back to Work One Town at a Time, visit the website here.