Women eating cheesy puffs

Longer hours don’t make for better work

Overwork is hurting us. The longer hours and later days are not increasing productivity. It’s hurting it. Building cultures where an email is sent on Sunday at 7am for a meeting on Monday at 7am is not only accepted but expected is toxic. Working 80 hours in a week is inhuman and ridiculous.

There need to be limits to work. Just because a device can receive email doesn’t mean the owner needs to check it 24 hours a day. Just because someone has your phone number, doesn’t mean you need to be available to that phone at their demand.

This week, I declined to give my personal phone number out to someone I was planning an event with, because I knew the culture of their group meant it would be abused. I already made that mistake once and I continue to pay for it.

I love to work hard when I am at work. But I need just as much time to regain my focus and energy when I’m not at work. I draw a line at where work stops and my life begins. And it’s a hard line to keep from being erased or moved when you’re not looking.

Work Hard, Live Well

Many people believe that weekends and the 40-hour workweek are some sort of great compromise between capitalism and hedonism, but that’s not historically accurate. They are actually the carefully considered outcome of profit-maximizing research by Henry Ford in the early part of the 20th century. He discovered that you could actually get more output out of people by having them work fewer days and fewer hours.

The best work perk I’ve ever had was a scheduled where I worked 9 hour days, but I got a day off every other pay period. This let me schedule appointments during the day, go to movies, sleep in and recharge during the week without having to use precious vacation days / sick leave.

Many times when I get in to work in the morning and open Outlook, I see email sent from all hours of the night and morning. I wonder to myself why these people felt it was important enough for them to send this to me at 11pm. Or 4am. Couldn’t it have waited until work started? I wasn’t going to see or act on it until the next day anyway. If these were from people who worked an alternate schedule I’d understand since email is perfect for its asynchronous nature. But they’re not. They’re at their desk just like I am.

I have a few rules that keep me sane at work and keep life balanced with work.

First, I never respond to email after hours. I may read it to make sure no one in our West Coast offices is having a real emergency. But I don’t respond, because that teaches people that I will respond after hours.

Second, I don’t give out my personal phone number at work. I made that mistake once and I continue to pay for it. When you give out your personal number to one person, assume it’s going to get passed around. Because it will. And then you’ll be receiving calls at all times and hours about work-related things.

Third, keep records in writing. I work almost exclusively in email. It not only buoys my own poor memory, but it allows me to have a record of conversations and agreements. I keep records so I can refute someone trying to lay blame on me for their lack of communication or action. It’s partly a move to cover myself. But it also allows me to keep people honest.

If you send someone an email asking for clarification, and you get a phone call in return. It can mean the person doesn’t want a paper trail of what they’re asking. For instance, I’m a government contractor. My contract has limits on the number of hours and locations where I can work (without prior approval). I am going to hit my hours for the week at noon on Friday so I have the rest of the day off.

You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much

With no limits, work becomes like a football game where the whistle is never blown.

This is a perfect description of work. It’s many starts and stops but there’s no end in sight. Hurry up and Wait may be the motto of the corporate workplace.

In similar situations in the past, I’ve been asked (verbally) to work more hours than I am getting paid for. Because the contract did not allow for overtime nor comp time. But the person asking would never ask in writing, it would always be a phone call. I would ask for clarification in writing and never get it. So I would not work over my time. They know they’re wrong for asking but also smart enough not to commit their request to paper.

The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies

In sum, the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.

Keeping a balance between work and non-work can be challenging. But it’s always worth it in the end. Rarely has staying late and killing myself at work ever benefited me or the people I work with.

Man eating a lemon

Not everyday is a success

I pride myself on success. I want every event I lay my hands on to be a success. But some days, you lose. This is one of those days.

Just as every win is made up of all the parts going right, a loss is made up of parts going wrong.

Here’s what went wrong today.

Unclear Information

First, there was unclear information available on the Intranet. This information led to an event being created and overbooked. The site can support 200 people and over 500 registered.

I found this out the day before the event was scheduled to start. In an effort to avoid disaster, I worked with the organizer to set up the event on a site that can accommodate 1,000 people.

Even with 500 registrants, my rule of thumb is about 3/4 at most actually take part. So the new site was setup, but this meant new information had to be sent to the 500+ registrants late in the day before the event.

I was able to get the registration list from the organizer and reformat it to import the list into WebEx. When I setup the event, I had WebEx send all of them an updated invitation to the event.

In addition, another email went out advising everyone of the change in web link. I also answered about a dozen emails from people who understandably had questions.

350 People on a Party Line

Second, due to the event’s size, the organizer had booked a phone line to handle the large number of people. I didn’t think anything of it, as I’ve worked with this group before and they knew what they were doing.

The moment the event started, I knew we were in trouble. I was hearing people. A lot of people.

The large phone line should have been booked to allow anyone with a Host code to speak, but to set everyone who dialed in with an Attendee Code to Listen-Only mode. I should not have heard anyone but the presenter.

I heard everyone. And everyone heard everyone else. What happened next was 20 minutes of:

  • Babies crying
  • Hold music
  • People talking over each other
  • People yelling at those people to be quiet
  • People asking everyone to mute their phones

It was a disaster. There’s no civil way to handle 350 people on an open phone line. We were handling questions over a text-chat in WebEx so there was no need to have the attendees be audible.

We got an operator on the line and she informed me she could not mute the participants as it was not setup for her to do so. She pleaded with the mob to mute their lines as well. And most people did. She was able to silence some hold music from two lines and find a line causing static.

So eventually the presentation began, 25 minutes after it was scheduled.

Poor Planning

Third, there was poor planning between myself and the person presenting. I should have contacted them beforehand and made sure they were comfortable with what they needed to do. I should also have reminded them about a bug with our WebEx setup cause by a Microsoft Patch which broke Application Sharing.

I did not. And they tried to share the PowerPoint slides, a new wave of I can’t see. Can you? and “Where are the slides, all I can see if a green screen? Is something wrong? Along with the people who knew what needed to be done providing advice.

Meanwhile, in an effort not to talk over the people on the line, I had emailed the organizer and was using the WebEx chat to relay instructions on how to solve this problem.

The presenter did figure it out shortly and shared the slides by uploading them straight to WebEx and the event could begin.

Timeliness

The organizer gave me the name of the person who I would turn the event over to. We agreed to get dialed in no later than 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.

I started the event 20 minutes before the start time and waited. And waited. 20 attendees. 50 attendees. 100 attendees.

I emailed the two contacts I had, including the person I was supposed to turn the event over to, no response, which didn’t surprise me since they were preparing for the event.

Finally the presenter logs in, about five minutes before the event was set to begin. There were over 150 people on the line when she did. Any hope I had of talking things over with her were already drowned out by the people having problems.

I tell everyone I work with to give themselves extra time before their event. And if they’re unsure of any part of anything, to allow even more time. There are a lot of things we can do to troubleshoot an event, but the options narrow drastically without time.

I made too many assumptions.

I do this all the time. I spend my days planning, scheduling and supporting events and meetings. I forgot about all the things I know and take for granted.

I assumed a level of knowledge that wasn’t there. I assumed I didn’t need to remind the organizers of certain things. I should have.

This failing was a group effort. Though the event did eventually started and the people on the phone quieted down. There was some great information shared and good questions asked.

So in the end, the event did take place and did end somewhat successfully. But it wasn’t something I want to replicate.

Fixes

I’ve gone over what went wrong. Now here’s what I did the prevent this from happening again.

  • I located and updated the information on the Intranet which gave unclear information.

The information was all correct, but it was unclear and I saw how people were assuming they could host large events themselves. I rewrote part of the page to make it crystal clear how to requested a large event and who to contact in for scheduling and help.

  • Next time I work with someone to book a large phone line, I will make sure they’ve set it up as an Operator-Assisted call.

This gives us the benefit of having Host codes that presenters can dial-in with to discuss and plan the event prior to the start. This also allows us to mute all attendees by default. If the organizer wants to have a verbal Q&A session, it can be conducted with the operator managing the phone lines and opening lines upon request and muting them again.

It’s how we’ve setup other large events and it works very well to keep the event quiet, focused and without the crying babies and hold music.

  • I won’t assume the presenters or organizers know what I know. I will review with them best practices and stress the importance of showing up early.

I need to be more proactive. I need to remember to approach every event as if its my first one. I need to look at it with fresh, beginner eyes and not assume things or overlook details. With a little extra planning and if I had been more proactive, this meeting could have been more successful than it was.

Newsletters I enjoy

Newsletters. They come in the mail. They contain little bits of news or entertainment each week. I quickly fall in and out of love with a lot of things but these newsletters I’ve enjoyed for months with no sign of that changing. Do you have one that you love? Who is creating something awesome I should be enjoying too?

Austin Kleon’s Weekly Newsletter

Every week I send out a list of 10 things I think are worth sharing — new art, writing, and interesting links straight to your inbox.

I always find something fun or interesting in Austin’s newsletter. This week I enjoyed Why “do what you love” is often a fairy tale., the original designs for Pac-Man and newspaper popouts.

Austin maintains an eclectic Tumblr collection of all things interesting to him. It’s always interesting to dip into it and see what he’s been thinking about lately.

CJ Chilver’s A Lesser Photographer

His newsletter always brings a little bits of truth to photography. You won’t find gear recommendations or reviews. You won’t find out the best ways to shoot things. There are plenty of people doing that.

CJ provides a deeper look at photography. This week he offers some truths about mistakes.

If you’re an artist, a mistake is not provoking thought.

Last week, he left us with this thought:

Unlearning photography may be just as rewarding as learning photography.

And before that he reminds us to Stop Making Photographs for Photographers.

He’s a breath of fresh air in the world of photography. Enjoy him in newsletter or blog form.

If his words resonate with you, he sells a book by the same name. It’s $5.

A LESSER PHOTOGRAPHER – Craft & Vision

Escaping the Gear Trap to Focus on What Matters

TinyLetter Forwards

This mailing list is just plain fun!

One great TinyLetter, picked by the folks at TinyLetter, delivered to your inbox every week.

Each Friday, you’ll get an issue of a mailing list by someone using TinyLetter to distribute it. It’s always interesting to see what shows up and I love the idea.

Five Song Fridays by Song Exploder

Every Friday, five songs will be handpicked by me and a few special guests and recommended to you, with links to the tracks right in your inbox.

First, if you’re not listening to Song Exploder sign up immediately. It’s a podcast with musicians talking about how they made their songs.

Five Song Fridays is a playlist hand-picked and delivered by Hrishikesh Hirway and special guests.

Here’s a few to get you started:
The Long Winter – The Commander Thinks Aloud
House of Cards theme with Jeff Beal
Bob’s Burgers with Loren Bouchard

This.

This. is where you find and share the best entertainment, art and journalism on the web. Follow the people you trust, give thanks for their links and share the links you love. Each user can share just 1 link a day.

This is a project from The Atlantic. It’s been in beta for a while and they’ve just opened a newsletter where you can subscribe and get 5 links per day, each chosen by a different person.

I’m trying it out and so far I’ve found one thing I wanted to read each day. It’s too early to recommend but I love the idea and the variety of voices it offers.

Looking at the site, there’s no way to sign up. I got an email this week offering the newsletter, so maybe it’s only open to people who already asked to be notified. I remember signing up months ago when I first learned about it.

Empathy is Feeling with People

The Power of Empathy

The audio of this RSA short is of Dr Brené Brown who spoke at the RSA on The Power of Vulnerability. She talks about the difference between sympathy and empathy and argues that to be truly empathetic you have to be vulnerable by connecting with someone’s pain in yourself.

This short video is a fantastic primer for empathy. What is empathy? How does it differ from sympathy? Are adorable animals the best at explaining any topic?

Here are the main things I took from this short talk.

  • Empathy is a choice.
    It’s a choice to connect with another person by reaching within yourself to get access to that part of yourself that hurts in the same way the other person does. It’s a vulnerable choice to make because you’re opening up.
  • Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy fuels connection.
  • Response doesn’t make something better. Connection makes something better.

Empathy is important in the world of customer service too. Showing empathy is a vital customer service tool. It builds the connection between you and the other person. It brings you together. Connecting with people is a great first step in starting to help them. You’re an ally, not an enemy. You’re showing them empathy, not sympathy. Sympathy starts with at least…

I know you lost all your work, but at least you still have a job. That’s sympathy.
Empathy is not always offering a response. Sometimes the best response is to say, I understand.

Showing a little empathy can go a long way to bettering your relationships with your customers, friends and family. At the end of the day, we don’t want to be alone. We want to make connections with each other. Build those connections with empathy.