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Experimenting With A New Blog

I’ve become uncomfortable with ‘flooding’ this blog with work related blog posts.  I’d like to keep it focused on the things that I’m passionate about, the things I would write books about if I had the time and talent.  So I’m experimenting with a new blog where I will be focused on things that are relevant to my job, but since my job is very broad, and I have limited time and energy, I’ve decided to focus on enabling productive, people, places and teams.

What I Achieved This Year And A Few Things I Didn’t

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In December last year I decided that this year was going to mark a change; a year that I needed to take seriously; to plan; and measure.  This shift in my focus came for three big reasons:

  1. My health was starting to decline again, after a few years of improvement
  2. I was about to turn 50 and wanted to avoid any kind of mid-life ‘crisis’
  3. I wanted to start to prepare myself for a good retirement in a few years time

In summary I was planning for my 50’s to be much better than my 40’s which had been defined by whole series of serious health challenges for the whole family.  I wanted my 50’s to be defined by how well I’d lived, not how ill I’d been.

I spend a lot of my time at work on strategic thinking, so it’s no surprise that I started my planning for the year by defining what living well meant to me.  In this post I share this definition in all it’s geeky glory and provide an honest appraisal of how well I’ve achieved it. 

First I’m going to start with the big picture definition that I began the year with,  a good life is one where I have:

  1. Autonomy in what I do and when I do it
  2. A chance to develop mastery, to improve myself
  3. A sense of purpose, that I’ve accomplished something and made the world a better place

and where I:

  1. Eat right
  2. Keep my body moving
  3. Sleep well
  4. Meditate

Although it wasn’t long before I added: relatedness, a strong connection to other people, improved empathy and understanding, and sustainable challenge to the list.  By the end of the year though I realised that I needed to add feeling safe, or protected something that continues to be sadly lacking in my life to this today.

I’m going to take a quick look at how well I achieved on this big picture, before I get to some specifics:

  1. Autonomy 9/10
    I’ve worked hard to achieve a considerable amount of autonomy in my life, much more than most, it’s been critical to managing my health but also to exploring new ways of working and teaching me how to break the link between hours worked and value delivered.  I have a lot of control over my personal life as well, we have enough money, the house and garden are well maintained, the kids are all independent, leisure activities are right outside the door and I have a lot of holiday
  2. Mastery 6/10
    I’ve found keeping up with the fast paced world of end-user computing to be an impossible task given the number of hours I work.  This has been made worse by huge organisational turmoil at work and many new faces in the business.  I’ve had to focus too much on maintaining mastery over existing areas of expertise, and that’s meant I’ve failed to get a good appreciation of broader issues.  Outside of work I’ve learned practically no new skills at all, even my reading is in genres that I’ve enjoyed all my life
  3. Purpose 7/10
    All the change at work; the stop/start nature of many of the initiatives and the failure of others has made progress extremely difficult to achieve.  All this frustration at work provided lots of opportunity to coach and support by colleagues though.  I offset some of this lack of clear purpose at work by rediscovering blogging, starting by writing a hundred posts in a hundred days. I finished the year having written just over 365 posts in total; I’ve had some nice feedback, but not enough, and I’ve been proud of the body of knowledge I’ve built up.  I’ve done a lot of work on the house and garden too and given a lot of money to charity.
  4. Relatedness 7/10
    As someone with Asperger’s syndrome relationships and empathy have always been a struggle.  I’ve made a lot of effort this year though; I’ve talked to strangers; spent more quality time with Debbie and the kids; we’ve had a lot more family meals; and I’ve tried to spend more time with friends at work.  I’ve talked more to the staff at cafes and to the other regulars.  I’ve worked hard to improve my empathy and I’ve been amazed at how I’ve been able to start seeing things from other peoples point of view, it’s really opened my eyes.
  5. Sustainable challenge 7/10
    This has been very tricky to achieve, if I do too much, at work or home, I flare; if I do too little then I’m bored and disengaged, particularly from work.  I’ve pushed myself intentionally this year quite a few times to check that I really can’t cope with intensity with unfortunate results.  I guess I need to just accept the joys of a low intensity life.  That low intensity life has seen me traveling more, hiking in the lakes and the east coast most months, cycling quite a bit, reading wonderful books and growing a lot of my own food though.
  6. Protection 4/10
    This year has been very uncertain at work, many people have been made redundant; lots of friends. I’ve felt personally very exposed. I’m not financially or emotionally ready to leave work yet; not clear on where my job is going and not healthy enough to have the resilience not to care.
  7. Eat right 8/10
    I’ve made a huge amount of progress on my diet this year.  After decades of eating mostly grains, often in the form of bread supplemented by meat, cheese, fruit and sweets I’ve completely changed my diet.  I now eat 80% vegetables, berries, nuts, meat, eggs, cream, coconut oil, oats, milk and cheese and yoghurt, with the remaining 20% adding pears, bananas, chocolate (mostly 85% dark) and the odd bread roll or cake. 
  8. Keep my body moving 8/10
    I’ve also made considerable progress here.  Last year I would focus my movement in a two hour window in the morning and rarely move much for the rest of the day.  Now I try to alternative one hour of sitting with an hour of movement, when that’s not possible I will take a 5-10 minute break every hour.  Movement provides really reliable pain relief and that means that I now rarely need to take pain killers during the day, although I do need to take then at night to sleep.  The biggest success has been using the exercise bike in my office for 1-2 hours a day, I can use it while on conference calls, the phone, and while watching TV or work videos, I love it!  I still need to be more disciplined with my strength exercises and stretches though and to swim and cycle out-doors more.
  9. Sleep well 7/10
    Body pain and headaches at night regularly over-power the urge to sleep, leaving me tossing and turning for hours if I don’t use some form of sleep aid.  I used to be able to take sleeping pills just on the bad nights, but even using them 1-2 times a week (more often during bad flares) gradually resulted in dependence so I had to wean myself off them.  So now I use different meds that have less dependency issues, but they have to be taken every night without fail.  On bad pain nights though I still struggle, but I’m generally sleeping well.  That said there’s hope that if I can reduce the pain next year I can get off these meds, which I’m desperate to do.
  10. Meditate 7/10
    I go through periods of meditating for 20 minutes every day without fail, followed by weeks when I only manage it once or twice.  I’ve only so much motivation and when my routines are disrupted meditation suffers.  That said I’ve practiced for so many years now that I can slip into a meditative state with  a single breath and I find myself doing that many times a day.

Some specifics that I’m particularly pleased about include:

  1. In the last few months I’ve added four of my most hated childhood foods: nuts, fish and egg yolks and liver to my regular diet and I’m gradually adding more
  2. After eating almost no vegetables for 40 years, I now eat a huge plate full every night and often eat a double serving of salad for lunch, I’ve switched mostly to healthier berry fruits
  3. By using intermittent fasting I’m finally chipping away at the last 7lbs of fat that I want to loose, it’s all around my belly, otherwise I wouldn’t care
  4. I walked a Marathon along the cliffs between Filey and Scarborough, I doubt I will ever attempt it again, but it feels good to have done a marathon once in my life
  5. Over the last 365 days I’ve only bought things for myself on 17 of them, most of those things have been books or magazines.  The total value amounts to less than £100, this is a very marked difference to the number and cost of gadgets of all types that I used to buy myself in the false belief that they made me happier.  I’ve spent a lot more money on experiences, mostly events, holidays and evenings out
  6. I’ve kept working for another year, that’s 13 years longer than expected and hopefully I have at least another 4 years left
  7. I’ve worked through every room in the house, the garage, my workshop and the shed renovating, cleaning, tidying and decorating as appropriate.  The whole house now meets my standards and it’s a very relaxing place
  8. I’ve grown a lot of my own food, perhaps a hundred meals and plan to grow more next year
  9. I’ve been on various holidays with Anna, Jennie, Steph, Debbie individually and Debbie, Anna and Thom together.  I somehow missed a holiday with Tess – to be fixed next year!
  10. I’ve actively simplified my life, a lot of stuff has gone to the tip and to charity shops and I’ve a huge stock of well ordered spares in my workshop, life is a lot more relaxed as a result
  11. I’ve only read a newspaper once or twice (to see what I’m missing, nothng) and I’ve not watched or listened to the news at all,  I get everything I need (and skip everything I don’t) from real people, twitter and podcasts
  12. I’ve read 42 books and listened to another 24 making a grand total of 66 books this year
  13. I’ve restarted my personal blog and started a new professional blog and written just over one post a day on average. I’ve reduced the rate of posting down to about 4 a week now
  14. After 18 months work with the physio and a lot more on my own I’ve finally fixed my right knee to the point where I can cycle again.  My physio says I heal extremely slowly and need to be very careful not to injure myself
  15. I bought the maximum amount of holiday my company allows (40 days in total) and took it all, as well as taking most of my monthly ‘think weeks’.  This is a big achievement, meaning I am able to pull myself away from working at last
  16. I’ve picked up a huge amount of litter and tried to find opportunities to be kind and helpful every day (holding doors, helping with shopping, carrying prams …)
  17. I’ve managed to keep on top of the errands, the housework, the garden and the DIY allowing Debbie to dedicate herself to getting her teaching diploma
  18. Most nights we eat as a family (although it’s rare for everyone to be home)

All in all a lot to celebrate, in fact there’s a lot more because the whole family has had an excellent year, but that’s for their blogs (maybe not). 

There are a few notable failures:

  1. My pain levels have gradually increased over the last year
  2. I’ve had three nasty flares and had to up my immune system suppressant medication levels again, I’ve also had many mini-flares
  3. I’m not able to sleep without sleep aids
  4. I’m still suffering from chronic migraines, having made excellent progress last year, they are back, probably in part due to the fact that I still need to take codeine a few days a week
  5. I’ve not learned anything truly new, but I’ve spent a lot of time maintaining the knowledge I already have
  6. Strength training is rarely possible and I’m gradually getting weaker
  7. I’ve pretty much stopped swimming.  The sleep meds I’m on make it too hard to go early in the morning and I’m too tired at night.  I need to find a way though, swimming is the best thing I know for my arms and shoulders which are much worse this year
  8. I’ve been absolutely hopeless at just lying back and relaxing during the day, reading a book, listening to music, playing games with the kids – I never seem to find the time

The picture at the top of today’s post was taken this morning while walking in the windy dunes.  I’d met up with Anna at Caffe Nero after finishing my reading and we walked along the promenade to the Beach Terrace Cafe for breakfast.  For the last few days I’ve been in a world of agony due to inflamed neck muscles but it’s fading now and I can walk without pain, this morning has been such a treat!

If I Ruled The World

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I’m having a bit of fun today with this post, in fact I intend to indulge myself on my blogs quite a bit over the next few weeks.  I thought ruling the world was a good place to start – although I’m not really going to pretend that I rule the world, that’s too complex a post to write.  Instead I’m going to pretend that I ruled the UK and had enough influence over the world for my changes to actually work. 

Naturally, since I have no qualifications to write this post, I don’t believe any of these ideas will work as described, consider them as playful ‘exaggerating for effect’.

First up are the things that I would stop doing as soon as practical, I’m going to need to free up some cash, so I would:

  1. decommission our nuclear submarines and any other nuclear weapons, and offer them up to be used by, and paid for, the UN to police international law
  2. dramatically reduce spending on medical treatments designed to provide short term life extension especially to the elderly, a crazy amount of the NHS budget goes on propping up the last few years of life
  3. stop the high speed rail link, the country doesn’t need to fund services for the countries highest paid citizens
  4. eliminate the opportunity for ‘bankers’ to make money by moving money around, buying and immediately selling assets and otherwise not adding any value to anyone else in the country
  5. stop all subsidies to industries that are not of strategic importance
  6. stop the escalation in house prices that provides a false sense of wealth to those that live in them, but that’s dooming our children
  7. get as many people as possible out of prisons that are costing us a fortune and back into their homes (with GPS trackers), with their children, where they belong, and put them to work (see later)
  8. shrink the armed forces and repurpose them (see later)

Then I’d start to work on some cultural changes, a very long term project, to address the things that are not easy to legislate.  Establish a culture where:

  1. rich people believe that they should give away most of their wealth before they die. Giving away their wealth should become their dominant passion, their purpose in later life.  Foundations should spring up to help rich people give this money away in a highly professional and impactful way that doesn’t disrupt the economy.  The Bill and Malinda Gates foundation is the inspiration for this.  Children of rich people should know that they are better off without too much inherited wealth and encourage their parents to ‘do the right thing’
  2. having children and claiming the associated benefits is not an alternative to working for a living
  3. over consumption is something to be ashamed of, multiple homes, massive houses that are more like country clubs, diamond encrusted anything, more cars than there are days in the week, more jewellery than can fit in cupped hands
  4. everyone understand that economic growth doesn’t lead to improved happiness
  5. living sustainably is not lifestyle choice it’s a personal imperative.  Every person should expect to make the world a better place, every generation should expect to see real concrete progress on improving the world:  happiness, top soil, pollution, inequality, poverty, resources, fresh water reserves …
  6. encourage people to take ownership of problems personally, it’s not someone else job to pick up litter, to check on their elderly neighbour, to help those less fortunate.  This is David Cameron’s ‘big society’ and I want it
  7. increase the scope of people we think of as ‘us’ and reduce those we think of as ‘them’.  It’s not acceptable for the developed world to sit back, content, behind sea defences while the rest of the world floods, well fed while others starve…. 
  8. the privileged feel empathy and responsibility, not contempt, for the under-privileged who are driven by circumstance to a life of crime or quiet desperation

These changes should free up some cash, lets spend it:

Housing and the environment

  1. Build five new towns of high quality, highly insulated, solar roofed, community rich,  homes that can only be sold for the same price (adjusted for inflation) that were purchased for and as a result are highly subsidised
  2. Change the building code to mandate the highest levels of insulation that makes commercial sense over the life of a property, funded through subsidy, and paid back through small council tax increases on these new properties over their life
  3. Retrofit most rental housing with high levels of insulation, making them safe, warm and dry – dramatically improving the comfort levels for some of the most underprivileged in society
  4. Put all those prisoners to work, on creating or refurbishing footpaths, cycle paths, planting hedges, clearing wasteland, retrofitting rental housing
  5. Mandate that any south(ish) facing reroofing project needs to be with solar roofing panels
  6. Provide high speed broadband to almost everyone

Sustainability

  1. Put a value on all natural resources, coal, gas, beaches, salt marshes, fish etc.  Any business seeking to exploit these resources needs to be better than sustainable, i.e increase the fish population, improve the natural sea defences, reduce airborne CO2 …
  2. Weigh all bins when collecting, charge for non-recyclable waste, pay for recyclable waste, spot-check the bins and fine offenders
  3. Create solar panel shaded desert farms, with water collectors or desalination and grow food underneath them
  4. Create a new international smart grid
  5. Work tirelessly towards a culture that seeks to improve the sustainability of the world each year, make the health of the planet a more important metric than GDP and Inflation
  6. Gradually move towards Cradle to Cradle certification for everything, start with everything funded by the government

Food and the environment

  1. Invest heavily in replenishing and improving the health of the countries top soil,  by changing farming methods, our food security depends on it and we are losing it at a reckless rate.  Put the Soil Association in charge
  2. Switch the focus of agriculture away from grains and oils to vegetables, fruit and grass fed meat and eggs.  Use leading edge intensive organic farming techniques.
  3. Make all set-aside land productive
  4. Provide incentives to farmers wanting to invest in greenhouses with LED lighting, to reduce our dependence on imported food
  5. Create protected ocean parks to rebuild our fish stocks
  6. Put all the out of work fishermen to work protecting and managing these parks, creating man made reefs, and clearing the ocean bed of millions of barrels of industrial waste and the ocean surface of plastic that we’ve dumped over the years

Poverty

  1. Increase the minimum wage dramatically and reduce benefits
  2. Mandate that all larger companies create a employee welfare department, separate from HR, that works tirelessly to improve working lives, provide this department with lots of government support in terms of laws, solid research on welfare at work, grants for bold experiments by companies.  Also support these welfare departments to encourage welfare at home too
  3. Subsidise supermarkets so that they can provide high quality low cost healthy foods to anyone on benefits, focusing on locally grown unprocessed vegetables, fruit, whole grains, milk, cheese, meat and eggs
  4. Link increases in pay and benefits for the highest paid employees to the pay of the lower paid employees, a rising sea really should lift all boats

Health

  1. Shift NHS funding away from treating acute symptoms when they are expensive, to a more holistic and preventative ‘upstream’ approach
  2. Make sure everyone has a comprehensive medical check-up every 6 months, we look after our teeth better than the rest of our bodies and mind
  3. Make available a 6 monthly counselling session, focused on how to live a rich purposeful life, work on making attending this session a cultural norm.  Arrange this through employers where possible
  4. Work hard to nip chronic conditions in the bud, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, diabetes etc. all respond well to intensive early holistic intervention/prevention
  5. Allow people to buy a government backed insurance policy for their care in old age care, in the home or in a home.  This reduces the need for NHS funding, but also reduces risk and anxiety for those who can afford it.  Redirect savings to those who can’t afford to buy insurance
  6. Mandate that all research results are published, regardless of whether it succeeds or fails
  7. Gradually reduce the emphasis on expensive drugs to treat symptoms and increase the emphasis on personal lifestyle, culture, working conditions and environment to address the underlying causes

Policing and Defence

  1. Refocus the armed forces on peace keeping, disaster response and national policing  (police can also be armed forces reserves)
  2. Invest more on rapid response, highly skilled, special forces with associated air support
  3. Invest more on drones and satellites and AI to monitor compliance with international law and sustainability goals
  4. Invest more on national policing, especially cyber crime
  5. Dramatically increase spending on global cyber warfare defence
  6. Reduce national armies, invest more in shared policing of international law through an effective United Nations
  7. Make all drugs legal, but well regulated.  Invest in education, research into safer drugs, managing addiction, helping addicts, no drug use in public places (like smoking), age limits etc.

Education

  1. Shorten the school day, start at 10am so that teenagers can sleep later, and always provide after school homework, sport or activity clubs
  2. Gradually shift to a model where homework is when children do individual, focused, online learning and testing.  Time in school should be about applying learning through activities and projects, ideally these should combine what children have learned in several disciplines. Teacher need to think of themselves as coaches, consultants or project managers. 
  3. Ensure that a high quality library of educational materials is created and made available, free, to the world. It should be online, compelling, of the highest standard, integrated into a learning platform that checks student engagement and progress
  4. Provide a simillar library of projects and activities and the associated resources that can be used by teachers to apply what the children have learnt online.  Teachers should have considerable flexibility in the activities they choose to suit their children’s interests and the teachers skills and passions
  5. Encourage teachers to contribute content to this library in areas where they have real passion, to complement the core content, focused on creative projects and activities that can be used when applying what the kids have learned online
  6. Remove the requirement for special schools to teach the national curriculum, instead each child should have a personal curriculum designed to support their life goals/abilities
  7. Provide everyone with better life skills education

Government

  1. Eliminate political parties, all candidates should stand alone, funding for election campaigns should come from government grants.  Candidates can still affiliate themselves with policy ideas
  2. Make available, Independently assessed, research grants to politicians who want to develop new and innovative policy ideas, but make sure the research proposals are well designed and make the results openly available to all parties.  In place of political donations allow funding of this research
  3. Make all government funded research open-access
  4. Significantly reduce the effectiveness of lobbying (not sure how)
  5. Pay politicians well to encourage the best of the best to see it as a career worth following, provide extra inducements to those with experience of science and engineering

How I Know I’m Getting Old

PICT0281I know I’m getting old, surprisingly this isn’t because my body has lots of aches and pains; because I’m forgetful; stuck in my ways; no – I know this because of how I spend my time.  A recent study bought this home to me, it found:

Retirees spend more than twice as much time watching television and movies. They spend about four times as much time reading for pleasure. They give more time to eating and drinking. They spend twice as much time preparing meals and shopping for food. They go further afield for other shopping and they’ll drive farther to dine out. While workers tend to ignore lawn, garden and houseplant care, retirees devote themselves to it.

What does this tell us? Two things. First, when work disappears people become more “productive” in their homes. They become more attentive buyers, better shoppers. And they may eat better because they spend more time preparing food. This, some researchers have suggested, is why spending on food decreases for most people when they retire. If they are better shoppers, it may also explain other declines in spending.

Although my body hurts, for a few days a month I’m pain free.  I know that deep down, underneath the Still Disease is a body that works well, that’s strong; full of energy; with a brain that’s crystal clear. Underneath the inflammation is a body that still works just fine.  But even on those good days, I’m still old because this is still true for me:

The young find their happiness in excitement. Older people find their happiness in contentment— enjoying small moments rather than big events

I’d rather be content most days of the year than euphoric for a few.  In fact every day that I’m pain free I’m euphoric anyway, so I’m getting the benefits of ‘high excitement’ without the cost, risk or planning.  On the bad days I’m looking for the small wins that make me content; the seaside walks, the wonderful books, the compelling TV series; the quiet mornings writing in my favourite cafes; the ice cold diet coke; the meals out.

Getting old’s not so bad!

I wrote this post in Caffe Nero, sipping ice cold diet coke and thinking of walking in the Lake District once the wind and rain calms down.  To keep me going I chose a picture of Haweswater on the eastern edge of the Lakes.

Optimising Working Hours And Holidays

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In recent years, especially in the USA, a few leading companies have introduced a policy of offering their staff ‘unlimited’ vacation time.  At first this new policy innovation seems to have been greeted with enthusiasm, but it’s not turned out as well as expected.  The intent seems to have been to break the direct association between performance and hours worked, which is a good thing.  The result though has left employees without the comfort of a norm to comply with.  So rather than taking more time off; to recharge; to de-stress, they have taken less – given an increasing body of evidence that links more time off with improved productivity overall, this is bad for both employers and employees.

I’ve lived through eight major variations in flexible working and variable vacation times over my career and each has had it’s own foibles and benefits:

  1. In the early years I worked a fixed 37 hour week, 9-5, with paid over-time.  Over-time had to be approved in advance so most of the time I worked my fixed hours and I took all of my vacation time.  In many ways this working pattern provided the healthiest relationship with work.  I knew exactly where I stood, I wasn’t expected to work more hours than I was paid for, In fact I was actively discouraged from working more.  I was also young, enthusiastic and ambitious, with no kids, and so when I did work more than my 37 hours I worked hard.  I always took my holidays.
  2. Then I was promoted into management and was paid a fixed salary regardless of hours I worked beyond a minimum of 37 hours.  This ‘perk’ of success didn’t go down to well with me, I no longer had any framework with which to judge how much I was expected to work.  I was just expected to “meet my objectives” which I’ve always found a ridiculous expectation; in 30 years I’ve never had a single objective that was expressed clearly enough to guide the number of hours I needed to work in any particular week. I always took my holidays.
  3. Then some enlightenment started to creep in with ‘flexi-time’.  I was able to start and finish work within a flexible time window, for example start between 7-10am and finish between 3-6pm, in this scheme it was also possible to work extra hours Monday-Thursday and take Friday afternoon off.  I loved this scheme, because it clearly set expectations that I was to work for 37 hours a week, if I worked more than this it was un-paid, but those unpaid hours earned me ‘time off in lieu’ that I was allowed, in fact expected, to take.   I always took my holidays.
  4. Then I moved companies, got a laptop and started to travel and work a lot more.  I still had minimum contracted hours, travelling time was now unpaid, the idea of ‘time off in lieu’ was no longer part of the culture.  Flexi-time was more flexible, in that there was no fixed start and end times to the day, but the culture was to come in early and go home late, not everyone did this, but the expectation was clear.  Although this was framed as “work as long as the job demands” in a job that demanded 24*7 this was of little help.  I worked too much, I never took all of my holidays.
  5. Then in a very enlightened move we were allowed to buy and sell holidays.  Still at the same company, still working too hard, I was offered the opportunity to buy extra holidays or sell some of them for extra cash.  Given that I had failed to take all my holidays in previous years I sold the maximum holidays and enjoyed the windfall.   After a couple of years though I started to realise that my free time had value again, it could be traded for money.  I started to buy additional holidays, to manage my working hours better.  I took all of my holidays because I’d paid for them!
  6. Unfortunately I became ill and could work as much or as little as I wanted.  As part of my return to work agreement I was allowed to work as little or as much as I felt able.  I was in ‘unlimited vacation’ land.  Gradually I improved and my working hours crept up again, soon I was working more than my contracted hours.  In a demanding job, wanting to do my best work, I had no framework to help to put limits on how many hours I worked.   I stopped taking all of my holidays again, I reverted to the culture.
  7. Then I relapsed.  I decided that I needed to put limits on my working time, 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, 3 weeks a month.  I found it incredibly hard, every time I stopped working I was walking away from important work that needed to be done, from colleagues that were over-worked and struggling, from projects that were failing.  Over many years I convinced myself that it was necessary for my health, but walking away was harder than staying and working in many ways.
  8. Finally I recognised that I had two important jobs.  My most important job was to work hard on my physical and mental health, my second job was to be as effective as possible at work in the few hours I had available.  As part of this deal I bought the maximum number of holidays, as a way to give myself permission to not work.  I gradually broke the lifelong association between ‘hours worked’ and ‘value added’.  I still find it very hard to walk away from work, but I’ve steeled myself to it.  It means I can’t be as engaged in my work; can’t be as invested in success; I miss the buzz of pushing myself to achieve against the odds; It’s a price I’m willing to pay.  I always take my holidays!

In all these years it’s proved difficult to achieve a sound framework for deciding how hard and how long to work and cultural expectations have been important.  Having unlimited vacations wouldn’t have worked well for me.  The following approach would have been ideal:

  1. Set a working week expectation, perhaps 35 hours
  2. Set a working day expectation, perhaps between 7-10am and 4-8pm
  3. Expect people to take lunch away from their desks
  4. Allow hours worked above 35 to be accumulated and taken as ‘time off in lieu’.  Set limits to this accumulation at one day a month
  5. Include traveling time in hours worked, therefore dramatically increasing the business case for the company to provide high quality virtual working environments
  6. Allow additional holidays to be purchased and holidays surplus to requirements to be sold, within a range of 15-40 days/year
  7. Restrict meetings to 10am-4pm to get the balance right between focused work and collaboration

In my suggestion above I set expectations, rather than rigid rules.  I think expectations, embedded in culture, allow for differences in individuals circumstances, ambition, engagement and health in a way that strict rules don’t.  I think it’s critical to make clear that working hours are tradable,  you can work hard one week and take some time off the next; you can buy extra holidays one year and sell them another to suit your finances.   It’s also key to set boundaries; make sure people don’t work too late, that everyone will be in the office from 10-4 for meetings.  Finally I’ve suggested a 35 hour week, from what I’ve seen much more than that and busy work expands to fill the extra hours.  Limiting the time for meetings and the working week as a whole forces a company to focus on efficiency, on automation, on priorities, and on looking after it’s employees.

The Most Important Change We Could Make To The Workplace

903835_10152225908355828_961911051_oI work in end-user computing and we are pretty focused on improving personal productivity, mobile working and collaboration, but the irony is that for all the buzz about mobile working our users spend most of their time sitting down and it’s not good for them.  For background I’ve linked to a good summary article, from which the following quotes are drawn:

Over 50 percent of American men, and 60 percent of American women, never engage in any vigorous physical activity lasting more than 10 minutes per week. This despite a growing body of research clearly showing that "exercise deficiency" threatens your overall health and mental well-being, and shortens your lifespan.

This isn’t an issue that employers can ignore, because unfortunately leisure exercise doesn’t really mitigate sitting down all day at work:

This study also confirms the alarming findings of earlier ones, which is that a regular fitness routine does NOT counteract the effects of prolonged sitting. The study—which followed more than 82,000 men for 10 years—found that these risk correlations held true no matter how much they exercised!

This got me thinking that if there’s one thing we could do that would improve the happiness, welfare and productivity of the ‘people we serve’ it would be to make them more effective while not sitting.  It seems to me that this wouldn’t require everything we know about the office to be transformed, but instead would need lots of small innovations. 

The key is to make sure you move your body frequently throughout the day. The act of standing up from a seated position has been found particularly effective at counteracting the detrimental health effects of sitting. I firmly believe that a reasonable goal is to get up four times every hour or every 15 minutes while you are sitting. Once you are engaged in a project, it is really difficult to remember to do this so an alarm might be helpful

In order to work while not sitting we would have to eliminate lots of little annoyances and blockers that currently get in the way of moving and working, here are some that spring to mind:

  1. Culture, the culture of most offices currently values conformity and that means it values sitting
  2. Noise, generally moving involves making more noise, whether it’s the whir of the treadmill or the exercise bike, or the heavy breathing
  3. Efficiency, a well designed workstation can be highly productive, it’s going to he hard to replace it, so working while moving would need to identify specific tasks that can be done effectively in a non-traditional way
  4. Cost, most companies partition up their costs into buckets that make holistic thinking difficult, for example the facilities departments budget doesn’t include the costs of people going off sick, or the benefits of increasing innovation
  5. Standards, changing offices to facilitate movement is inevitably going to increase variety and facilities departments hate variety, they dream of rows is standard desks, positioned in such a way as to maximise density.  Having a mix of standing desktops, cycling desks and traditional desks seriously messes with the standards.

Then there’s identifying work activities that could be adapted to increase movement, these might include:

  1. Desk working
  2. Meetings
  3. Lunch and ‘coffee’ breaks
  4. Bio-breaks

So practically then what are some of the things that we as an IT company might do:

  1. We provide standard sets of applications on all of the PCs that we supply to our users,  this standard software could include timers for scheduling breaks and apps that provide suggested exercises that people can do at their desks.  Example applications include RSI Guard
  2. We could improve peoples productivity while exercising by providing them with audiobook players/podcast players that have the ability to easily record thoughts/take voice notes while exercising.  This means for example that while walking I would be able to double click the headphone button and record a voice note.   The audio note and the title of the book it’s associated with could them be emailed to me.  As an added bonus the company might publish suggested books and podcasts, including for example company meetings and training
  3. We could design a dictation application for smartphones to be used in walking meetings.  This app might automatically associate any voice notes made during the meeting with the meeting description and attendees.  The audio notes could be transcribed automatically and all participants could receive a copy of the audio and transcription after the meeting.  The meeting dictation app could have buttons for specific voice note types, for example tapping the ACTION button would allow a recording to be made and associated with a particular attendee, other buttons might allow a deadline to be quickly set.
  4. Wireless headsets (along with unified communications software on smartphones) could be provided that allowed conference calls to be attended while walking around the office
  5. Offices could be arranged with a circuit around the perimeter to allow for all weather walking meetings and walking conference calls, 7/8” tablets could be provided for attendees to see the slides while walking.  Benches could be provided every 20 meters or so just in case people needed to stop and think.
  6. Conference call areas could be designed that included exercise bikes with laptop friendly tables and power supplies built in
  7. Mini exercise areas could be placed next to toilet blocks and refreshment areas for a quick 5 minutes of high intensity exercise

If we really took seriously the need to set the expectation that people should exercise, provide a supportive culture and the tools and innovation I think we could make a big difference to productivity and health.

Pulling Out Of The Dive

2013-01-27 10.31.38This month has been hard.  I’ve had 20 days filled with pain, struggling with brain fog and fatigue, but I’ve also had to force myself to keep working; propping myself up with pain killers, sleep meds and Red Bull.  It was not a good strategy, the myriad habits that I’ve developed over the years failed me and a cycle of decline developed,  with each days being a little worse than the last.  I’m used to this though, I know how to deal with it, I just push on trying to live each day a bit better than the last, moving forward and making progress.  This month was different though.

This time I became depressed and having spent only three days deeply depressed I now know a few new things about my life:

  1. I’ve never been truly depressed before, what I previously thought of as depression was just being in a bad mood, overly tired, a bit glum.  I have a new appreciation for people who struggle for years to break out
  2. I don’t ever want to be depressed again
  3. Looking back now I’m scared, I’m scared of being that depressed again and not being able to fight my way out of it, I’m redirecting that fear to developing strategies to prevent it happening again and to writing down what I’ve learned in case it does
  4. I did fight my way out of it this time, so at least I have one successful strategy to try
  5. I need to react quickly, as soon as I notice the depression coming on, use all my energy to fight back, don’t let it get hold

I’m fine now, but after only a week it’s becoming hard to remember those days of deep despair, days when everything looked dark, when ‘living well’ was a distant memory and seemed hard to imagine regaining.  I wasn’t scared of the depression at the time,  I didn’t care enough to be scared. 

Leave it another week and I could easily forget what it was like, no longer worry about it, dismiss it as a one off.  I think that would be a mistake, this short bout of depression was a warning; like the warning I had as a kid about my addictive personality (that means that I now never touch alcohol); like the mild heart attack that sometimes heralds a complete change of lifestyle for the stressed out CEO.

I’ve been trying to unpick the circumstances that led to this depression and it’s hard to be sure, but with the clarity of mind that I’m enjoying today I will give it a go:

  1. After many days of poor sleep, pain and working too hard I was worn down mentally and physically
  2. I had a bit of a cold, maybe Tonsillitis (with my broken immune system it’s hard to tell) I was experiencing mild fevers
  3. My brain was well and truly ‘fogged’ everything took twice and long, concentration was  limited to a few minutes
  4. At work I was seeing things that I had spent years building dismantled with abandon.  Even though I liked a lot of the changes, there was little that I liked about the process.  It seemed people were being reckless with ‘my baby’ and I had little influence over it
  5. Moving forward in my new role at work was equally hard, progress was elusive, direction unclear, my part in the changes difficult to tease out
  6. Over the 16 years I’ve been with my employer I’d built up a good network of people, it takes me a long time, it’s not easy for autistic people like me to build friends and a strong network. When I succeed I highly value them. Unfortunately that network was being decimated, many people were leaving
  7. Many new faces were taking over the roles I needed to influence.  Rebuilding that network looked like a mountain to climb, I was too tired to even contemplate that
  8. Averaged out over the year I only work a day or two a week, in that time I need to do a lot of information gathering and analysis; find time to build strategies and to innovate; test my ideas in discussion and debate; find the time to convince others to adopt them and then nurture them.
  9. That last step ‘getting ideas adopted’ was proving difficult,  it’s very time consuming, it needs influencing skills that I’m not renowned for. As a result I’ve been seeing too many of my ideas and strategies proved right, but unfortunately not adopted, that’s very demoralising, “I told you so” doesn’t add value
  10. I was worried about my financial stability, for reasons that I won’t explore on this blog

I knew I had a problem.  This is what I did about it:

  1. I wrote a blog post to try and describe how I felt, to define a baseline, to work out some kind of way forward
  2. I kept walking or cycling, regardless of how difficult this was; walking is fundamental to human mental and physical health
  3. I had a long chat with a friend of mine, a long moan really, it helped me purge the ruminating thoughts that were fuelling the depression, the blog post helped with that too
  4. I redirected what little energy I had at being really constructive,  I cleaned the house
  5. I decided to confront some of the issues at work and scheduled a review with my manager (who’s also a good friend of mine) in a weeks time (I’ve had that meeting now and it went well, he’s great)
  6. I decided to create a new blog where I could focus entirely on constructive writing about things I was passionate about at work.  The things that excite me about end-user computing.  By sharing my ideas on the blog it would help me refine them, help me communicate them and even if they didn’t get adopted at work they would live on.  The blog would evolve into ‘something to be proud of’
  7. Creating the blog forced me to start writing, the writing gave me a sense of progress, progress is a very powerful motivator
  8. I arranged for a family meal out in a weeks time, a celebration of family life,  I needed to be feeling better by then and the puddings were free!
  9. I fasted for two days, fasting is hard work, but it definitely helps me clear my mind of brain fog (when I fast I still eat 600 calories a day in the evening)
  10. I watched uplifting TV for an hour a day
  11. I listened to podcasts with energised discussions and some good comedy too
  12. I started to tease out a strategy to keep working until 55.  A good strategy needs to be resilient to uncertainty and there’s certainly a lot of that in my life at the moment
  13. I got a lot of hugs
  14. I added things to my ‘happy list’ each day, things that I’m thankful for

The depression lifted after ‘only’ three days, those three days seemed much longer.  I was still feeling physically rough for a few more.  Yesterday I woke up and most of the pain was gone, the brain fog had cleared.  It’s a euphoric feeling to be able to move my body and not feel pain; to be able to think clearly; to be able to breath deeply and feel filled with positive energy; to be able to meditate without being overwhelmed by thoughts; to have a sense of being back in control.

I wrote this blog post in Caffe Nero, the sun’s out the sky is blue with wispy white clouds; just enough to make it interesting.  I’ve written a post on my new ‘professional’ blog and of course this post on my personal blog and I’m looking forward to a long walk.  Life is good again. The photo I’ve chosen for this post shows the dunes in all their glory, I will be walking in them in 5 minutes time.  I would especially like to thank Matt and Lyn for their supportive comments on my blog post, it meant a lot to know other people cared.  When I got back to work I got a lot of support from my friends there too.

The Struggle To Find The Up-cycle

IMG_9026I’m in one of those vicious cycles of decline, no clear idea of what triggered it and no clear way out of it.  It’s the complexity of decline that makes doctors run for the door and leaves me one my own struggling forward.  As is my habit I often like to try and figure out what’s happening to me by writing and this rambling post is the result.   I say I don’t know what started this cycle of decline, but I can see its roots in the gradual slackening off of good habits over time, then a series of trigger events at work that tipped me right over the edge of a cliff and now I’m sliding down.  The scramble back up is likely to be long and painful.  Let’s take a look at where I am now:

  1. I’ve had three acute flares this year which means I’m now back on auto-immune suppressants, but those acute flares are nothing compared to the daily grind of chronic symptoms
  2. My neck muscles are painful and tight meaning that I’m having migraines every day, I’d like to take pain killers, but it’s pain killer over use that’s contributing to the migraines.  So I resist popping pills during the day but often have to give in at night because I need my sleep
  3. Pain levels are such that sleep is very difficult without sleep aids, so after weaning myself off them last year, I’m taking them again and that means I can’t stop without weeks of very badly disrupted sleep.  I’m stuck on them for now
  4. The sleep aids make me extremely drowsy in the mornings, making it essentially impossible to keep on top of my work research, my reading backlog grows every day even with constant pruning
  5. Body pain levels have gone through the roof, particularly my feet, lower legs, arms and shoulders.  This means I’m walking less (walking feels like I have stones in my shoes) and it’s a rare day that I can motivate myself to go through the pain of swimming
  6. The resulting lack of exercise makes everything (pain, sleep, mood) worse
  7. Brain fog is particularly debilitating, everything takes twice as long as it usually does
  8. My energy levels are greatly reduced, I can do 1/2 to 1/3 the number of press-ups that I can normally do with double the pain levels doing them, it’s hard to motivate myself to even try
  9. Fatigue levels are greatly increased, leaving me wiped out by lunchtime most days
  10. Depression is creeping in, it used to be with me for a day a month, now it’s probably every 3 or 4 days
  11. Motivation levels have gone through the floor, which means keeping to my special diet and other healthy habits much harder
  12. I’m getting ever further behind at work, feeling disengaged and unable to maintain and grow the network of contacts that I need to succeed. 
  13. My diet is suffering, I’ve not had a green smoothie for two weeks, I’ve not met my target for veg and fruit on a single day this month. 
  14. I finished by allocation of pain killers for the month after the first 2 weeks, so I’ve crashed through that target

The way back from here is going to involve lots of ‘one step forward, two steps back’, I’m going to need to try and live the best days that I can, trying to take small steps in the right direction:

  1. Somehow I’m going to have to survive for days on end without pain killers, which will mean many very grim days
  2. I’m going to have to reduce my sleep aid use by 50% which means lots of nights struggling to sleep
  3. I’m going to have to walk through the pain in my feet every day, which means 10,000 steps onto painful feet
  4. I need to clean up my diet, which means finding the motivation to prepare 3 meals from scratch each day using the best fresh ingredients (daily shopping)
  5. No matter how much effort I put in I’m going to have lots of setbacks, I’m going to need the mental resilience to push on
  6. I’m going to have to do all this whilst feeling weak, exhausted and depressed, like I have the flu
  7. This is going to be a long hard struggle
  8. I try to remember the good days that I’ve enjoyed in the past to motivate me, but already it’s hard to recall
  9. I feel a bit like crying

As I sit here writing this I’m bathed in pain, my neck in particular is really bad.  My feet are now ok, because I walked 12,000 steps in pain at 2 miles an hour for most of the morning, but my arms paid the price.  I’ve a deepening pain behind my left eye which is already bad enough for pain killers, but I can’t take them.  All I want to do is curl up and sleep.

I took today’s photo half way through my walk, looking towards the North Dunes of St Annes.  I’d already spent a couple of hours in Caffe Nero trying to catch up on work and making a little progress.  I did the second half of the walk with Chris, a friend from work, which made for a much more enjoyable time than listening to podcasts for work. 

Is The PC Dead? Is A Strange Question To Ask

IMG_8853CSC hosts a regular series of Town Hall discussions which are streamed and available on demand, they are well worth watching (although the quality of Google hangouts leaves something to be desired).  The latest of these discussions sought to answer the question “Is the PC dead?” which had a further subtitle “With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and mobile technologies, the very future of the PC has been questioned. Is there a place for PCs in the enterprise?”.  The question must be important, because lots of people are asking it, but it’s also a strange question to ask as no one ever seems to define what they mean by a PC, or what they mean by ‘Dead’.  This discussion is no different, it touches on a lot of interesting topics, new purchasing models, new user interface paradigms, new form factors and ways of co-creating value, but unfortunately it doesn’t go anywhere near answering the question.  It was frustrating and as is often the case when I get frustrated I write a blog post. 

This blog post is my long winded attempt at working towards an answer to the question:

No, the PC isn’t dead or at any risk of dying.

First we need to decide on some definitions and I will start with asking the question what do we mean by a PC.  Well the broad definition of a PC is of course a “personal computer” and everything we use today including the smartphone, tablet, hybrid, notebook, desktop and workstation are all personal computers, this meaning of PC clearly isn’t dead.

So we need to de-scope the definition to something that might conceivably be considered to be of at least declining importance.  So we might say by PC we mean a device running the Microsoft Windows (Windows from now on) operating system, but if we use this definition then it’s clearly not dead.  Devices running the Windows operating system still power almost all general knowledge work, and a good share of science, engineering, graphics design and other media production.  Whilst it’s true that competition is increasing from Apple OSX and to a lesser extent IOS/Android, Windows is still clearly king at work, far from dead. Windows is an operating system designed for the mouse, keyboard, true multi-tasking and multiple screens, all essential for real creative work.  Other UI technologies are all complements to these foundations, not replacements.

So we need to de-scope further, perhaps we mean a device running the Windows operating system that sits on a desk and is used for routine office work, a Desktop PC, hmm not dead.  Desktop PCs are still widely in use today and where they are being replaced it’s with thin clients that connect to virtual windows desktops running remotely.  The physical device might be of declining importance, but from a users perspective they are still using a Windows operating system, running Windows applications, sitting at a desk, the PC has changed form factor but it’s not dead!

De-scoping further, do we mean mobile windows devices (notebooks, tablets), hardly, Windows notebooks, especially Ultrabooks are still the most important personal computing devices in the enterprise when it comes to getting real work done, I’m using one now.

We’ve run out of options, there’s no definition of personal computer that used to be ‘alive’ that is now at risk of ‘death’ that I can find expect the already dead Windows Tablet, so lets look at that.  Well the Windows tablet used to be alive an well a decade ago, but a combination of cost, neglect and poor applications support meant that it became a small and declining, but still important niche.  Now though with Windows 8 and soon Windows 10 and the market creating Microsoft Surface hardware line Windows tablets are on the up, alive and well, far from dead.

So why do people keep asking, or asserting, that the PC is dead, I don’t really know, but I suspect that most people are assuming incorrectly that the massive growth of non-Windows personal computers at home, leads to a correspondingly massive decline in existing Windows personal computers at work and home, not really.

I offer up these additional thoughts:

  1. Personal computers are everywhere, they are in every form factor running many operating systems, they have never been more relevant
  2. The ‘state’ of a personal computer, i.e. the applications installed on it, their configuration and data is increasingly stored in the cloud and can be restored to a new personal computer easily.  From that perspective a personal computer is just as personal, but that ‘personality’ is no longer associated only with the physical device, resides up in the ‘cloud’.
  3. Personal computers running Windows are just as important as they ever were, they power businesses of every type, but they are being complemented by cloud services and devices that don’t run windows as well. 
  4. The cloud is increasingly the integration point for applications rather than the Windows PC.
  5. Windows as am application platform is of declining importance, but because of the huge legacy of Windows business critical applications it’s still important.  Microsoft are working hard to halt that decline through open sourcing .NET and porting it to OSX and Linux servers
  6. Windows (compared to IOS/Android) is still the best operating system for the keyboard and mouse and these are still the best tools for getting work done while sitting (or at a standing/treadmill desk)
  7. There are some use cases that were massively over-served by the power and flexibility of a Windows personal computer, for example primary education. Devices like Chrome books are being adopted for these.
  8. There are some use cases that are best served by handheld touch enabled devices, augmented reality and virtual reality headsets, these were never served by Windows PCs, they are on the rise but are mostly supplementing Windows PCs.
  9. There are many home use cases that were badly served by Windows desktop and notebook PCs, tablets and smartphones are now meeting those needs, many consumers are finding that they don’t need anything else and so Windows PCs are declining there.  Their users are finding their personal tablets and smartphones useful for some enterprise use cases, but they are mostly supplemental
  10. Windows as an operating system is being optimised for many form factors from the phone to the Xbox, although traditional Windows applications only execute on a subset of these, but Windows is unlikely to ever dominate any of the new form factors.
  11. The PC is not dying in any form factor or operating system, but desktop devices are declining on the desk and in the home.

It’s worth mentioning that some people push the boundaries of what’s possible on a tablet like an iPad to do even high end knowledge work all day long.  These people are the exception, they are either particularly talented or prepared to suffer a significant drop in effectiveness for a slightly lighter bag.

In summary:

  • the number of personal computers is dramatically increasing
  • the share of these devices running Windows is declining but Windows is still king for most creative, task and knowledge work
  • new form factors are emerging and mostly supplementing existing notebooks, desktops and workstations
  • at work physical desktops are being replaced by portable devices and/or thin clients accessing remote virtual desktops, the PC is evolving not dying
  • at home desktops are being replaced by notebooks and tablets, often both

If you want to watch the discussion that promoted this rambling blog post, it’s linked below:

Is the PC Dead?

I wrote this post on my traditional Thinkpad X230 laptop, I’ve tried so many modern alternatives but keep coming back to the trusty X230, still the best laptop for getting work done that I’ve ever used.  I’ve chosen a picture of a sunset on the beach at the end of my street, which I thought was ironic given what I consider to be the hype around the decline (setting sun) of the PC and it’s subsequent resurgence (sunrise)

Investing My Time

IMG_8855I’m not one to drift through life without a plan of action, even at school and university I was always focused on doing just enough work to succeed, but not too much as to curtail the rest of my life.  So one of the first things that I did when I started working was to segment my time to reflect the balance that I wanted.  I thought of my time and energy as investments that I wanted to make, investments in my work, my children, my relationships, my health.  I’ve continued to ‘rebalance my investment portfolio’ every 6 months or so for probably 20 years and it’s worked out pretty well.  When I look at my portfolio now it’s changed a lot over the 20 years,  some periods required intensive investment in work, others in family.  I make my biggest investment in my physical and mental health, with my work and family getting most of the rest.  Take a look deeper into any area and things get a little bit more interesting:

  1. My main investments in work are focused on finding areas that others are neglecting, picking important not urgent work that no one else is focused on 
  2. My investments in health are on mental resilience and activities that keep my body moving but also allow me to do research into health, work or relationships at the same time, by listening to podcasts or watching videos on my exercise bike
  3. My main investments in family are in supporting Debbie while she’s back at university and taking most of the burden of running the house and looking after it and the garden; strengthening my relationship with her as the kids gradually fly the nest and keeping a role in the kids lives as they become independent

In simple terms you can see this segmentation strategy at work in how I carve up my time.  For example early in my career I decided that I wouldn’t work after 7pm and at weekends.  Now my focus on health means I have a highly segmented life:

  1. Two weeks a month I focus on work:
    1. I spend my mornings doing research, curation and knowledge sharing
    2. Two afternoons a week meeting people face to face for coaching or focused group discussions
    3. Two afternoons doing scalable creative work, writing, video presentations and reviews.
  2. One week a month I take a holiday, 4 weeks with my family and 8 weeks on my own, hiking, cycling or in meditation retreat.  During my holidays I still spend a lot of time doing research, but I also read and listen to a lot of fiction.
  3. One week a month I dedicate to a ‘think week’ a time for relaxed refection and research

At work I’m always looking to design organisations and systems that are well balanced and where that balance doesn’t come naturally, I force it by segmenting our investments.  For example I might carve up an organisation to make sure we have w% invested in operation, x% in optimisation, y% in differentiation and z% in imperatives.  It’s all too easy to invest in operation or imperatives and neglect the rest.

My commitment to this approach was recently further inspired when I read ‘How Will You Measure Your Life’ by Clay Christensen, a leader in the field of disruptive innovation.  Clay points out how seductive focusing all of your investments of time and energy on work can be:

Our careers provide immediate evidence of achievement. Every day you can put your hands on your hips and look at something that you accomplished. But in raising family, on a day-to-day basis, the relationships with our spouses and relationships with our children don’t provide any immediate achievement. It takes 20 years to raise a child. It’s a very long investment.

He then goes on to describe his personal approach to finding balance:

And so people with a high need for achievement systematically under-invest in their families and overinvest in their careers. And the way that my wife, Christine, and I — the way we wrestled with that problem — we decided that Clay is an incorrigible driver of achievement, and he’s never going to change. And so let’s put a boundary around that. So we decided I would never work on Saturday. That’s for the family — and Sunday for God. And I wouldn’t work past 6 p.m. Those were kind of the rules that we made a commitment for. Then, when I worked for BCG, about a month after I started, the leader of my team came to me and said, “Clay, we’re going to meet on Sunday at 2 p.m. because we’ve got a big presentation on Monday, and this is what you’ve got to be ready for. So we’re going to do a dress rehearsal.” And I told Mike, “I can’t do this on Sunday,” and explained why.

And he just went bonkers, and he said, “Everybody works on Sunday.” And I said, “I just can’t. We made a commitment to spend that day for God.” And so he blustered away really mad. And he came back, and he said, “Look, I talked to the rest of the team. Let’s meet Saturday at 2 p.m.” And I said, “I can’t do that either. I’m sorry.” And, boy, he was mad at me. So then he came back, and he said, “Do you happen to work on Fridays?”

And it was a very important decision for me to make because the logic is just this once, in this particular extenuating circumstance, it’s OK if I do this. The problem with that logic is that your life is filled with an unending stream of extenuating circumstances. And that was just a little decision in a life of tens of thousands of moments of decisions like that. But if I had given in that once, then the next time it comes up it’ll be easier for me to get in again “just this once” until just this once isn’t once. And I decided that if you set a standard it easier to keep the standard 100% of the time than it is 98% of the time.

Most mornings I like to read and write in Caffe Nero, which is a short walk from home. Instead of taking the direct route though, when I’m well enough, I will take the long route along the sea front and I get to enjoy the magnificent views.  I took the photo adorning this post today and it’s particularly striking.