Tag Archives: productivity

Dear Americans: Don’t Work At Home; Work Less

I have no doubt that as I write this column, someone, somewhere in America, is busily stitching together her very own Marissa Mayer voodoo doll. But despite all the furor that has raged since the Yahoo CEO ordered her employees to cease working from hometo improve productivity, that debate has barely caused a ripple on this side of the Atlantic.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all sanctimonious on you and remind you of how far the United States lags behind most of the rest of the world in providing workers and their families with supports or protections. Nor am I going to point to the growing body of work suggesting that telecommuting may actually be more efficient for many work-related tasks and help keep employees around.

I’ve got nothing against offices. At heart, I’m actually that annoyingly over-zealous co-worker who rushes to Bagel Fridays and can’t wait to perform at the annual office karaoke night.

But I do think that this entire debate has largely missed the point. To my mind, the problem facing American workers isn’t where they work, it’s how.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: How to Work From Home by pwenzel via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Sabbath Saturday: Five Things I Gained From Taking Saturdays Off

A month ago, I committed myself to testing out a new personal resolution: I would no longer work on Saturdays.

I defined work quite broadly for this purpose. It encompassed anything electronic (e.g. email, Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds) as well as conducting interviews and, of course, writing. And because I’m more of an abstainer than a moderator, I gave these things up for the entire day, not just for a few hours.

I promised that after one month, I’d touch base to let you know how my attempt to celebrate a secular sabbath was going and whether I thought it was really doable. And I’m pleased to report that it was not only doable, it also gave me a huge happiness boost, in ways that I both did and did not expect.

That’s not to say it was easy. There was not a Saturday that I wasn’t tempted to do at least a bit of work. But there also wasn’t a Saturday that I wasn’t glad that I had decided not to.

So here are five things I gained from taking Saturdays off:

1. I relaxed. My main goal in taking Saturdays off was to bring a few of my favorite things (cue Julie Andrews) back into my life: specifically, reading The New Yorker and going to yoga. Of those two – and somewhat surprisingly – yoga ended up getting relatively more air time than did The New Yorker (which is only surprising because I don’t need to leave the house to read The New Yorker.) But I think something about assigning myself Saturday as “yoga day” motivated me to go down to the yoga studio and sign up for a 10-class pass. And once I did that, going to yoga was not just pleasurable…but automatic. And now it’s part of my (new and improved!) Saturday routine.

2. I was more focused with my children. If you’ve ever attended a parenting seminar, one of the first things they’ll tell you is that if you really want to have quality time with your kids, you need to stop multi-tasking. Back when I worked full-time – in an office – I was actually pretty good about switching off work when I was with the kids. Once I became a part-time, work-from-home parent, however, all that went right out the window. But in the last month or so, I’ve actually sat down and focused on my kids for hours at a clip without feeling the need to simultaneously (fill in the blank): do dishes/check my email/scan the newspaper/etc. One day, my son and I actually took out the chemistry set that he’d gotten for Hanukkah – (which, to be honest, I’d sort of filed away mentally under “great educational gift that will probably never see the light of day” ) – and – gasp – used it. And the more I focused on the kids and didn’t try to get 12 other things done simultaneously – the more relaxed I was with them.

3. I re-connected with old friends. One of the big changes that has come with taking Saturdays off is that I’m now back in touch with old friends. Close female friendships are a big predictor of long-term survival and success. Back when I was still living in the States, I used to call my friends during my daily 45 minute commute home from work in the car. (I know, I know. I could probably be arrested for this now.) But it was a reliable, daily interval when I knew that I could make those calls. Now that I don’t commute, I’ve lost that window. Compound that with a time change that’s anywhere from five to eight hours, and over time, I just started calling my friends less and less. Until now. Now that I’ve given myself leave not to use spare time on Saturdays to jump on the computer, I can usually find 30 minutes somewhere in the day to call a friend back in America. And it’s been really great to re-connect.

4. I went shopping. For myself. Yes, I realize that this isn’t such a great admission for most people, but I am not a natural shopper. And so – even when I desperately need something, a pair of new boots, perhaps…a bra…heck, even some new socks – I will always opt to get some work done, rather than go out and shop. No more. Because I’ve now given myself permission to shop on Saturdays. In the past month, I’ve purchased some running shoes, a new jacket, some earrings…even a colorful scarf to brighten up this dreary London winter.

5. I’m more productive. Finally, taking Saturdays off has also helped my productivity. I would often drag myself to the computer on Saturday – not really wanting to wade through my inbox but feeling like I ought to “because I had the time.” Now, in contrast, I think about Saturdays as “my time” – a chance to re-charge those proverbial batteries. And then, when I do sit down on Sunday morning to tackle that cluttered in-box, I actually have more energy.

*****

Here’s a piece I wrote on Friday for PoliticsDaily.com about Tony Blair’s testimony before the Chilcot Inquiry on his role in the War in Iraq.


Image: Chemistry Outfit, No. 1, 1947 by Chemical Heritage Foundation via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Celebrating the Sabbath: Making Saturdays *Me* Time

I have an announcement to make:  I’m going to start celebrating the Sabbath.

No, I’m not getting in touch with my inner Jew. (For the moment, I think I’ll continue to remain Jew-ish rather than Jewish.)

I’m afraid it’s a much less lofty goal than that. I’ve decided not to work on Saturdays anymore (read: no blogging, no email, no Facebook, no Twitter) so that I can focus more on myself. Or – to put it more accurately – I’d like to designate Saturdays as a day for doing things outside of work that also make me happy.

Yes, I know it’s a radical concept. But as Colleen of Communicatrix fame points out with characteristic wit and insight, it’s really hard to find time for the things we wish to prioritize in our lives unless we make room for them. She’s turning all of January into December so that she can take stock, clear the decks and plunge in with some new projects. Back in November, I took a self-imposed vacation so that I could send out my novel to agents.

The break I have in mind for Saturdays is somewhat different. The above projects are all about carving out space to move forward on the work front. What I have in mind is moving forward on the life front. For as I sat in a Viennese coffee house over the holidays and reflected on my life, I realized that in my never-ending quest to get on top of my to-do list, two things that  bring me true happiness had both fallen by the wayside:   doing yoga and reading The New Yorker.

You see, this is how my mind works. If something gets deemed a necessity in my life, it gets done. If it’s deemed a luxury, it may or may not get done. But if it does get done, that likely only happens around 11:59 p.m. on a Thursday evening with half an eyelid open and the corresponding amount of energy. And because I had begun labeling both yoga and The New Yorker “luxuries,” they just weren’t happening anymore, at least with the regularity that’d like.

So I’m making a change. For the next month – and I’m telling you this because one way you signal a commitment is to give yourself a time-line and say it out loud – I’m going to experiment with assigning myself only two jobs on Saturday – going to yoga and reading The New Yorker. My hope is that if I can do just those two things (with anything else a bonus), I’ll not only be happier, I’ll actually be more productive when I do return to the computer. If this strategy goes well and proves realistic, I’ll commit for the year.

Of course, I’m hoping that this new routine will incur other benefits as well. To wit:

*more face-to-face parenting, rather than shouting commands over my shoulder as I hurtle through my RSS feed

*making a dinner that does not involve something out of a jar from Tesco

*quality time with my husband so that we can watch more DVD commentaries and listen to Garrison Keillor together

*actually playing all those board games that I bought for Hanukkah (BTW: Settlers of Catan? Totally worth it…)

And who knows? Maybe we’ll even make it to synagogue one of these days…

*****

On a much more somber note, here’s a piece I did for PoliticsDaily.com about the ongoing drama surrounding the theft of a sign from Auschwitz.


Image: The New Yorker Fugitive by Rakka via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Get On Top Of Your To-Do List

Every Wednesday I post tips for adulthood.

I got a status update from a friend on Facebook last night that read something like this: “The ironing pile just never goes away! I’ve tried not ironing…but I hate wrinkly clothes. And the pile just keeps growing!”

I know. I know. Your first thought is “Don’t iron!” but it’s clearly important to her. (She confessed later on that she even irons her kids’ undershirts…Wow!) And let’s face it. Taking four people’s clothes to a dry cleaner is both absurdly expensive…and just plain absurd. So instead, my friend irons – and irons – but the pile just keeps growing.

We all have our ironing piles. For some, it’s our email inbox. (Guilty!) For others, it’s the endless pile of bills to pay. And at this time of year, the number of piles just continues to mount: holiday presents…holiday cards…holiday recipes. Calgon, take me away!

As I learned two weeks ago while taking a self-imposed vacation, you never completely eradicate your to-do list. But here are some tips to help reduce your “laundry”:

1. Take control of one thing. As my life coach loves to remind me: “Stress occurs when you feel out of control.” There are lots of things in life that we don’t control:  an ill relative…how many friends your kid has in school. But there are some things we do control and our stress is greatly reduced when we seize one of those and manage it. I recently realized that I was really stressed out because I hadn’t yet purchased holiday gifts for the kids. So one night – even though the holidays were more than a month away – I sat down for 30 minutes, went through my mental list of what they wanted/needed/I could afford – and ordered a bunch of stuff on Amazon. I immediately felt calmer.

2. Divide your to-do list in half. I read about this tactic while sitting in a doctor’s office one day. (Yes, on occasion, those brochures are useful!) The idea is to separate your to-do list into long-term and short-term items. Each day, you tick off one item from the short-term list (see #1). Each week, you take a concrete step towards something on the long-term list. So even if your long-term list contains such seemingly amorphous tasks as “figure out your religion” (mine does!), you can still phone one synagogue and arrange to attend a bagel brunch. Done.

3. Take something off your plate. I once attended a productivity seminar that was run by a ridiculously enthusiastic management consultant. What I remember most from that experience – other than the skip in his stride – was his mantra to “Get it off your plate.” He maintained that the trick to a productive life lay in figuring out where to “send” something once it landed in your inbox. In my case, I like to think of this as finding a home for the things on your to-do list. It could be a physical home – a space for those single earrings/errant socks/stray Pokeman cards. Or it could be a virtual home. (My husband has a file called “history” where he stores all emails relating to landmark personal/family/professional events.) Whatever the strategy, when there is less clutter in and around your to-do list, you’ll feel more relaxed.

4. Eliminate the shoulds. I’ve posted before that many of the things populating our to-do lists are things we really don’t want to be doing, but feel we ought to be doing. And then we feel miserable that they don’t get done. So the trick here, my friends – (much easier to preach than to practice, I’ll grant you!) –  is to be honest with yourself about which items aren’t getting done because they are a “should.” Just the other day, an old friend confessed to me that she hadn’t yet sent out her – wait for it – holiday…cookies. What?? You send people cookies? I mean, what a lovely idea. And what a huge, annoying pain in the rear. “Do you like making cookies?” I asked her. She paused. “No. Not really,” she confessed. “But I like the idea of doing it.” Exhibit A.

5. Think in terms of weeks not days. This was one of the most helpful things my life coach ever suggested. She said that rather than trying to figure out which five things you can/will accomplish on any given day (and then despair when one or two fail to materialize), figure out what it is you’d like to have done by the end of the week. Then, if you miss the yoga class on Thursday morning because you have to attend a meeting, you can still reschedule it for Saturday and check that box. Try it!

*****

I’ve gotten a lot of flack for my post on Politics Daily about why I don’t think the new mammogram guidelines are so bad. Have a look…

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Image: A Man’s Tools by Bob AuBuchon via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Tips For Adulthood: How To Make Time Off Productive

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week I took a self-imposed vacation from this blog in order to focus on marketing my novel. It was an unusual thing for me to do, but I’m so glad that I decided to do it. As the self-development guru Colleen Wainwright – a.k.a. Communicatrix – put it so well in a comment on that post:

“Hardest thing in the world, carving out time for the Not Immediately Necessary. But how else does the big stuff get done?”

How else, indeed?

So in this week’s tip list, I thought I’d share what I learned from that experience and, specifically, how to make “time off” (as in time off to carry out a specific project, as opposed to a vacation) productive:

1. Tell Other People What You Are Doing. Several people – including myself – noted that I wrote a blog post to announce that I wouldn’t be blogging for a week. Why not just…stop blogging for a week? But I did that for a reason. I knew that if I told readers what I was doing and gave myself a time-line, I’d be more inspired to hit my goal. And I did.

2. Cut Distractions. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Much of the joy that comes from being a blogger doesn’t just come from writing posts, but from reading other people’s blogs, commenting on those blogs, sharing an interesting article on Twitter, etc. Doing all that is a big part of how I come up with my ideas. And while I didn’t stop reading my RSS feed last week (perish the thought!), I did dramatically reduce the amount of time I normally spend in the blogosphere.

3. Stay Focused. Another obvious suggestion, but which also bears repeating. Midway through the week, I realized that I could easily have devoted the entire week just to clearing out my inbox. And by “clearing out my inbox” I don’t mean deleting announcements about “What’s on at The National Theatre” or the latest cure for cancer in homeopathy.  I mean attending to really useful articles and websites I’ve flagged for myself about blogging, writing, publishing, etc. that I *really must read.* But then I reminded myself: Nope, that’s not what I’m doing this week. I”m working on the novel. But that insight did motivate me to take another, future SIV (that’s “self imposed vacation” as opposed to SUV, FYI..BTW..IMHO…ha!) that will just be about blogging best practices.

4. Recognize That You’ll Never Totally Clear Your Inbox. I think I had this fantasy that once I took this large, annoying monkey off my back (e.g. sending out the novel to agents), the sky would magically part and I’d be relaxed and in control of my to-do list. But taking time off also made me realize that, much as I’d like to, I’ll never completely reduce my “to do” list to zero. Because as soon as I take one thing off the list – like “send out novel to agents” – something else immediately moves in to take its place, like “blog promotion.” Sure, there’s all this stuff floating around out there about inbox zero and the Four Hour work week. What-ever. I think for most of us, it’s about reducing our to-do lists to a manageable level and then taking it one step at a time, accepting that whatever we prioritize comes at the expense of other things we’d also – genuinely – like to be doing. That’s just…life.

5. Remember that Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder. One of the best ways to appreciate something in your life is to take a break from it. Your feelings while your away will tell you how much you either totally love it or could actually live without it. Back when I was an academic, I took a year off to work for the United States Treasury Department, precisely in order to see whether I’d miss my life as a professor. I didn’t miss it at all and mailed in my resignation half way through the year. In a similar vein, last week while “not blogging” I realized how much I love this blog and missed both writing it and being part of this community.

And that was the best lesson of all.

*****

If you’re interested, here’s my piece in yesterday’s PoliticsDaily.com about the pro-Israel lobby in the U.K.


Image: Monkey On My Back by Mshai via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Stages of Adulthood: Is Age A Number Or A Concept?

Does your actual age tell you anything about where you *are* in adulthood?

I got to thinking about this lately after two public policy proposals emerged that explicitly addressed this very question.

The first was a recommendation earlier this summer in Japan to lower the official age of adulthood from 20 to 18. The reasoning? To encourage young adults to vote, participate in society more and assume their own credit card debt. In short:  to cultivate a greater sense of responsibility, that hallmark of adulthood.

The second is a proposal thrown out at the Conservative Party Conference in the UK last week to raise the official retirement age in this country to 66 (It is currently 65 for men and 60 for women). The logic here is predominantly fiscal – to shore up budget deficits by paying out less in government pension schemes. But Conservative Party Leader David Cameron also noted that with average life expectancy at 86 (up from 81 five years ago), people can now be more productive at an older age. The upshot: we can elevate the age at which it is “reasonable” to stop working.

Me? At the risk of sounding like a Juicy Fruit commercial, I’ve always thought about the stages of adulthood as more of a feeling than a flavor. Which is to say, I don’t think numbers mean all that much when talking about things like responsibility and productivity. (Some nagging feeling tells me I’ve gotten my 1970s chewing gum commercials mixed up…perhaps another inadvertent sign of aging.)

Take middle age. As noted in this recent article in the Times On Line, middle age can technically be defined as lying anywhere between 35 and 65. But as the author points out, “middle age” is much more of an attitude than a precise time of life.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when my husband and I had a younger colleague and his wife over for lunch. They were both probably in their early 30s – maybe 10 or 12 years younger than us – so not such a huge age difference. But what really struck me most as we talked was what a different place they were at in life. To wit:

1. Choosing what kind of job best suited their career ambitions vs. rethinking career entirely.

2. Exploring neighborhoods in London to find the best fit vs. grimly routing out rodents in effort to come to peace with (exceedingly well-located) closet.

3. Sleeping in until 11 am vs. not being able to remember a time when 7 didn’t feel self-indulgent.

I don’t say any of this with envy. (OK, maybe a tinge of envy.) I very much embrace the idea of life as one giant adventure, into which we never quite “settle in.” And I like to think that this is the feeling that carries us through the different stages of adulthood. Indeed, that is – in many ways – what this blog is all about.

But that lunch did serve one of those “aha” moments in life where you suddenly realize that you’ve…grown up. To wit: as soon as they departed, my husband began grumbling about needing to change his contact lenses. And I said that my back hurt and I really needed to go home and do my exercises.

Yup, folks. We’re middle aged.

*****

One of my quiet obsessions these days is what’s going on with the European Left. Here’s my post in yesterday’s PoliticsDaily.com about Ten Reasons the Left is Failing in Europe.

Image: The Taste is Gonna Mooova Ya by Pirate Johnny via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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