The New Work-Life Balance

A few weeks ago I wrote a post describing how Friday was no longer the end of the working week.

Well it’s also true to say that 5:30 (or 6:00 or 6:30) is no longer the end of the working day.

Jimmy and Granddad Explore the Lake DistrictFor most people, myself included, the end of the working day is not marked by the point at which you leave an office or walk away from a screen.

However much we’d like to be able to put our life into little boxes, we don’t work that way. I can’t make myself only think about work things at work anymore than I can make my brain only think about leisure things when I’m not working. I try to minimise it by making notes, or adding things to lists, so that I can focus on the area that I need to be focussing at a given time, but I can’t completely compartmentalise.

I don’t have a big switch in my head that turns it from work mode to home mode “Engage work mode” “Work mode engaged”.

Keeping a work-life balance cannot be about hours, it has to be about focus and attention. When I’m “working” I’m focussing on my work, when I’m not I’m trying to focus on something else. Focussing on something else, of course, requires me to have something else to focus on – that’s the lesson of cognitive surplus.

The level of focus is now the way that I measure my work-life balance. Too much focus on work and it’s a problem. It’s not the volume of hours, it’s the level of focus and attention. I can cope with my mind reminding me of something I was supposed to do at work, or even of fashioning a good idea in my leisure time, but I’m unlikely to let myself get dragged deep into research on  the thing I’ve thought about.

Just this weekend I thought about a good way of visualising a problem I was trying to get my head around. I took out a note pad and pen scribbled it down in a few minutes and then forgot about it until today. I could have taken the idea and built it into a fully fledged resolution to the issue, but I wasn’t going to let my weekend be dominated by it.

Like many companies my employer requires me to book my time to particular activities. Fortunately I only have to book my time on a day-by-day basis, I don’t have to account for each bit of each day. If I did it would like quite odd, and very random with 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there. That’s the nature of my job. If there were a good way of measuring focus it would be a better way of measuring my contribution.

Personally I don’t measure the hours as part of my work-life balance – I measure the attention. Too much attention on work and I take steps to make sure that I have other attentions outside of work.

Being a bit of an information addict, I need to recognise that focus requires me to remove the distractions. You’ll have noticed, if you were watching, that my twitter activities have dropped off significantly (almost to nothing) over the last week. They had become a distraction and needed tackling, my contribution may increase, but for now I’m keeping away.

Business Networking – Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and the Cigarette Shelter

I was reading  the Michael Sampson: Currents blog the other day when I read this:

Is Twitter / Yammer / Socialcast the "new cigarette?"

Your Minster in the SunshineHis question was based on a posting by Joel Stein in Business Week titled “The Secret Cult of Office Smokers

Joel observes the power of the meetings that occurring every day in the huddles of individuals sharing in the smoking habit.

One of my first bosses was a smoker and I used to marvel at his ability to know things – it didn’t take me long to work out the source of all of his inside information. If something was going to happen he always knew way before it actually occurred, sometimes he would tip us off, but on many occasions he would leave it as a surprise. He’s always be perfectly positioned to take advantage though.

I’ve worked alongside other smokers and without exception they have been well connected, and normally connected above their station in the organisation. There are times when I’ve joined them for the chat because I’ve seen the potential.

Back to Michael’s question: are the social media tools replacing this kind of interaction?

To a certain extent I have found that my connectedness has increased through the use of social media, twitter has connected me with all sorts of knowledgeable and influential people within the IT industry.

Internal connectedness is a bit different, but similar. We run a system based on Jive internally and my ability to connect across the organisational structure has been great. I’ve written more extensively on some of the topics I write about on this blog, on the internal system, resulting in a number of very valuable connections with highly connected people in the organisation.

I have to say, though, it’s still not the smoking corner. There’s still not the serendipitous moments that you get from a chat over some tobacco in a paper sleeve, and I’m not sure why. I’m sure some of it is because the level of honest and openness on the lies of twitter is nothing like the honest we’d display in a much smaller group. But I think there are other factors too.

Social Networks – Unexpected Results in the Snow

I continue to be surprised by how deeply engrained in our day to day life social networking has become. I had another example of this last week.

Snow in the TableWe’ve been having some extreme weather in the UK over the last few weeks (just to be clear, this is extreme for the UK, it’s normal for other places in the world).

We had for the third time this year a lot of snow starting last Monday, travelling from Scotland and working its way to the South – or so I thought.

We’d already had our snow on Monday evening and Tuesday morning so continued with my plan to travel north to Edinburgh on Wednesday. Having check the weather forecast and road information I concluded that I’d be fine to travel. No more snow was expected and the roads were clear.

This is where social networking kicked in – on Tuesday I had twittered:

Tomorrow I am supposed to be in Edinburgh – what do you think the chances are?

As it happened I had a lovely drive up the M6 as far as Carlisle, enjoying the view of the snow over the Lake District. Passing Carlisle, it started to snow and by the time I’d got to Lockerbie we were down to a single lane and managing to do little more than 20mph. At that point I again twittered:

Did I get to Edinburgh ? No. I got to Lockerbie before turning back.

That evening I received a phone call from my Mum – who isn’t on any social network. She was wanting to make sure that I was OK and that I was home.

I had deliberately not twittered that I was setting off because I didn’t want some people to worry, but still my Mum had found out even though she has no simple way of seeing my updates.

How did she know? She’d been speaking to my sister, who’d seen my original update in Facebook. That wasn’t something I was expecting.

I’m going to have to be even more careful in the future.
Created with flickr slideshow.

Please make me one of these: Universal read count

Crossthwaite ViewsI see information in many streams, email, IM, twitter, RSS reader, etc. Unfortunately my brain isn’t good enough to remember everything that I have already read so I regularly find myself going to the same piece of information more than once.

Within each stream I’m unlikely to go back more than once because I get visual indicators that I have already read it. The main problem is between streams. That’s not to say, though, that people won’t send me the same piece of information more than once in the same stream.

I’d quite like a service that handled the read status for me, across all of the streams.

I should get a visual indicator that a link in twitter points to the same content as the blog post in my RSS reader, and they should both show anything that I have already consumed from a browser. Oh, and while I’m at it, it needs to do that across any one of the devices that I’m likely to use, and it needs to handle shortened urls.

My RSS Reader (FeedDemon) does a reasonably good job of keeping the read count in-synch across devices, but nothing between streams.

What I am looking for is to be able to mark parts of the Internet as “read”.

I’d also like this status consolidation capability to be searchable, especially by date. I am reasonably good at remembering when I read something, but not so great at remembering where I read it.

I’m sure there are a load more functional requirements that I would surface if I had time to think about it, but for now, this will do.

Has anyone done anything like this?

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