Flexible work is a win-win

Yoga Near Lighthouse

What if you, as a worker, could do the things that mattered most to your boss, all the time, and do them using your best possible skills, all the time.

What if you, as an employer, could get all your staff to work great – for themselves and together – all the time.

That’s what happens when work is flexible.

Work doesn’t happen 9-5. It happens whenever, and when people are best prepared to do it. Sometimes that’s in a spare moment on the train.

Sometimes that’s during a 2pm afternoon status meeting.

It can be whenever.

Be flexible in your work and in what work you expect of others.

You’ll be happy (and likely surprised) at the results.

You’re a consultant

If someone pays you for doing something, you’re a consultant. That’s true even when the IRS calls you an employee.

I used to put this different – telling people that every employee is an entrepreneur, for example. Or by talking enthusiastically about how everyone at the office is really a customer support representative (N.B.: The definition of “customer” changes depending on who you are and what you do).

You could also say, everyone’s a freelancer (or “free agent”? :-)).

It’s about individualism.

Maybe you know what I mean, maybe you don’t. What I’m getting at is that whatever you do, you’re responsible for what you do (your work), you have complete control over what you do, your compensation (dollars or otherwise) depends directly on what you do, and you alone carry the burden of the risk that tomorrow your “job” will disappear.

Wow – that’s a lot of loaded statements, and a few of them definitely need a bunch more discussion before they’ll make much sense. Plus, all this applies to information, knowledge, and service workers, not so much to folks who are purely manufacturing goods (although even being a manufacturing employee still involves a lot of service to your company and those around you).

The point is, work – your work – is not something you do, and then just throw over the wall while you wait for your paycheck. It’s also not something you do in hopes that your grumpy manager or cost-cutting finance department won’t whimsically decide to eliminate your position tomorrow.

Work (your work!) is something you do, under your control, and with benefits directly related to the care and thoughtfulness you put into the work. Yeah, 80% of most jobs is fairly routine, stuff you don’t really have to think much about – but still, that 80% is directly possible because of who you are and what you think about.

I always tell people that the best companies go in whatever direction their best employees (or consultants… :-)) take them – despite what those companies think their original plan was and despite how the execution of the business plan is later described in reports and press releases. Companies go where their employees take them, because that’s all they can do – the company doesn’t exist without the people and the people, even under the best guidance and most wonderfully strategic direction, still do what they do best, which is sometimes a little or significantly different from the original plan.

They consult. By providing their best service and ability to help the folks who pay them get to where they all, collectively, are able to get to, by each making use of what they individually can do best.

Yoga, Writing, and Seamanship

I used to work with a guy who would say that the holidays are a time for catching up on work projects that you couldn’t get to do during your regularly salaried hours. Yes, I know, salaried employee means you don’t have limitations on your hours. But in truth, when you are working for a decent company, you do. No good boss expects arbitrary amounts of work from you at vaguely defined times scattered throughout your life.

If at all possible, you should only work for good bosses.

This is always possible.

As much as I sometimes claim I don’t like it, my life is a big routine – one after the other. I have a long urban commute daily, and this is probably the toughest part of my routine, the part I am continually working on finding ways to tweak. I sometimes claim I don’t like routine but if that were true I would toss it all out. Overnight, I could make my life more vague.

But I don’t do that. I believe we all end up doing what we most want, on the whole, most of the time. Whatever it is, in general it’s at least kind of sort of in line with our core values and needs, or else we would toss it out. Sometimes that’s confusing because the thing we are doing seems to be something totally counter-productive to what we tell the world we are working toward.

I’m saying this because I do it all the time. I point fingers at bits and pieces of my life and call them out as nags or short-term glitches. But then years later many of those same nags are still there. There’s something else going on, there’s some core value or need that causes me to hold onto the nag or glitch, for years, even when I claim it’s something I don’t want to be doing or having.

Not to say my life is all stuck. Not at all. After all, just recently I conquered my fear of deploying a “Hello World” application to my Android phone. Just never got around to working through the details before but then I did. It wasn’t hard. Just something that I never got around to devoting the hour of focused time to that was needed to get it done.

That’s a stupid example, because nobody cares about a “Hello World” application on their phone. But you should have seen the smile once I got that nag off my mind!

So that’s not a stupid example.

For me, the holidays are a chance to take a step back and do something outside of the routine. Even though I like the routine in my life (you can quote me on that), when it never gets broken, I stop growing. I need the routine to break, pretty frequently, and not in predictable ways. So the holidays, being days where you tend to do something a bit different from the other days, are at least a tiny little basis for finding that tiny little chance of experiencing a broken routine. If any of this sounds like a recipe for disaster at the holiday dinner table, then… maybe I’m not making myself clear. Then again, that’s why I’m blogging about it instead of publishing this stuff in a hardcover book and going on a lecture tour. 🙂

It always takes me at least a day or two of routine derailment before I really start to enjoy the benefits of the routine being broken. And this time around, the long Thanksgiving weekend, I’m in a mood to do two things: To look back over past and current notes to myself, and to share what I find out more publicly than is usual for me.

Looking back, I find…

Physical fitness is important to me, but it’s something I never do a good job with.

So is home time.

And exploring creative projects.

I’ve also always got some nags going on, as I mentioned briefly above.

I’m constantly on the lookout for doing new things, seeing new ideas.

I like to get better at stuff.

I like using cool technology, and finding ways to let the best tech support non-tech goals.

I like to have fewer goals than ideas.

My work is important to me. And if something is important to you, then it is probably important to me too.

And I like to write.

But I haven’t really figured out, among the so many interests and goals and priorities I have, which of these are the ones most important to me. I have to think that the ones with me the longest – writing and fitness – are likely the most important. Maybe that’s true.

The best I can come up with this morning is that everything I do, I do it in the name of:

Yoga, Writing, and Seamanship

If you are reading this and you feel alienated by that, then that just means I need to do a better job at the Writing of it next time. Which is why this is a blog.

The Day on which I Refused to Ever Get Old

We were sitting around the table in a small and trendy apartment in a large and sometimes trendy city. Everybody at the table had the inside-track on something – that’s what it’s like when you live in this type of city. It means, the conversation sometimes turns to various and sundry of the individuals among us doing things like spouting clever one-liners, and noddingly observing longer meaningful thoughts.

I don’t mean any disrespect by saying that – it’s just the way it seems to be in a community hyped-up on individuality and personal experience. I do it, too – I can spout one-liners with the best of them. It’s like tweeting your way through a dinner with friends. It’s very 21st-century, because it’s like everybody is a blogger.

We all blog, because we can – even when there’s no computer to listen to our thoughts.

We all blurt our comments to the folks in the room, hitting “submit” or “send” before thinking sometimes. Every once in a way a one-liner comes out of a thread of comments which is worth preserving. And since the community’s human memory is not what it used to be, it’s necessary for someone to take that one-liner and go convert it into proper and eternal tweet, status, or blog. That’s the purpose of this post – to let you and all of your children’s children know about what happened back in the “real world” at a specific moment in time.

He said this:

Your forties are all about getting used to pain.

And then it was gone. Somebody made a brief follow-up comment but then we were onto new sub-threads in the conversation and even some new topics posted into the urban wine-soaked air.

I held onto it, because I didn’t believe it.

Later that night I sent that bit of thought out into the permanent world of the digital social network. I put it in quotes – because it wasn’t my thought – but I didn’t specify the author.

Immediately I saw that it was one of the more popular blurts into our digital world that night. It got a bunch of follow-up comments – mostly likely that would die down soon as people went to sleep and by morning it would be forgotten. Nothing I’ve written has ever gone viral, and I didn’t expect this to – but it was definitely a good community discussion point. People could relate to it.

The responses ranged from all-knowing confirmations that, yes, aches and pains started in your forties and just continued on from there, to snarky exclamations like “Oh shit” from a thirty-year-old. One person injected that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes – you know, I mean that the conventional wisdom on this was in fact wrong. Overall, the responses were not very surprising to me.So there it  was in the larger community, in the digital world where it gets chewed over for a few moments before getting subsumed into the next day’s concerns. I often throw ideas like this out there in this way, to get a little perspective on them before moving on to a longer blog post (this one!).

Here’s the problem, for me: I don’t believe that your forties are all about getting used to pain. And it makes me sad that many people seem to think that’s what they are about.

One Train, One World

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge – Brooklyn to Staten ...
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge – Brooklyn to Staten Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We take the train together every day – it is our mobile city. Like the urban river of the car’s turnpike, the train’s mobile city carries, each day, the long list of people who wish or need to be someplace else: the else-folk.

I used to not be one of them. Now I am one of them.

I used to call them the else-folk, since they were the folks who always wished or needed to be, each day, in a place different from where they woke up, or different from where they ended their work day. Elsewhere.

The else-folk were the anti-villagers – the folks that neighborhoods existed in spite of, not because of. For the else-folk we built highways, turnpikes, roads, bridges, and also trains – light rail, commuter rail, regional rail – and also things like airports and mechanisms like customs agencies and big interconnected cultures that flit about between continents just as easily as we used to flit about between the streets of Brooklyn, or my hometown suburban village on Long Island.

We are all else-folk, of course, to greater or lesser extents nowadays. When being “else” is done for good reasons, it’s a great thing. But I never used to be one who was primarily else-ish, to the point where it consumed my home-self. Now I see the else-folk a bit differently, even more today as I realize that I have actually been one of them for nearly twenty years without truly feeling so.

It is the evening rush hour commute, and we live together in the train’s mobile city that is like a village to us – one that moves beneath us as we wish or need to be someplace else. We carry a part of the city with us on the train, the other half of our mobile city is contributed by the place we happen to be passing through at that moment. It changes.

The train glides, urbanely, like a mobile city across the special highway of tracks that were made just for it. All the tracks connect, via walking platforms and passageways, to other highways of tracks. You enter each part of this mobile system via a secret passageway – maybe a staircase that tourists can’t find very easily, or by turning down the right street in the center of town to find the giant hump of train track and waiting area which someone plopped down in the middle of the here-folk’s living village. You enter each part of this mobile system using secret swiping cards and small pieces of cryptically embossed paper that have meaning to the people who administer the else-town. The conductor snaps an odd pattern into your small piece of cryptic paper, and that means the paper can’t be used anymore, can’t take you to any other else-places.

There are rules. Not just the written ones but also the ones that talk about things like how full the train has to be before it’s okay to cram yourself too close to someone standing or sitting on their way to their else-destination. For example, if the train is mostly empty, you know that you should pick a seat alone, away from the others, where your elbows can be kept to yourself and not be jostling into someone’s ribs each time the mobile city bounces along its track. That’s a rule.

There are other rules, more like inferences. There’s the one about how you can tell when the entire system has suffered a catastrophic failure. Some days, the crowd is so thick and sluggishly vast that it seems there is no hope of getting to any place you wish or need to be. But there is often a subtle clue which tells you it is worth waiting a few minutes – relief is on the way and the natural laws of the mobile city will work their wonders and get everyone, delayed perhaps, to the else-place where they wish or need to be.

I notice that we all know these rules. Even with all the items in the long list of else-places we travel to each day in the long list of days in the year, we all know the rules of where we are. And when someone appears who does not, that person is quickly shepherded into the mobile city, if amenable, and joins the great vast ride to somewhere.

Or if that person shows resistance, talks quietly of things like individuality and wonderful things that we are missing to see from all the villages we pass, then that person gets consumed by the ways, the rules, the unified culture of the one train – one world. The mobile city and its people can do that. That’s one of the rules that is an inference.

We are all living in one world, together.  And when we all get to our else-place, we will still be home, as we have been all along.

Attack of the 3.14-Tier System

We are taught, in the schools of software development, computer science, and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer, that programs, systems, what mortals may know as “applications”, should be designed and built as three tiers. It’s a famous notion, even covered in detail on the Wikipedia. Admittedly, the Wikipedia article talks about “n-tier” systems. Same difference. The point is, you got layers, well-defined, with harsh edges of interface between them. The nod to “n-tier” was probably just some overly-academic computer scientologist somewhere who decided that we gotta go general with this, make it abstract. I suppose sometimes you need more than three tiers.

How much more?

I was born in the World of network and system administration, and my native language is Windows point-n-click. If you’ve done that for a while, and then gone on to see other sorts of systems, you’ll probably agree that there isn’t much “tiering” going on in a typical Windows operating system. There’s bits of it, sure, but little bitty bits, I’d say. To be fair, it probably gets to feel like that in any sufficiently large computing system, eventually.
Continue reading “Attack of the 3.14-Tier System”

Metuchen – It’s a Bloody Great Town!

My local ice-cream and pizza shop (What’s the Scoop) had a Blood Drive this week. That’s bloody great!

I think some of my friends and family thought I was kidding. (People seem to think an ice-cream shop is an odd location for this.) Others said, “Gross!” But it’s true – a blood drive at our ice-cream shop, which is one of the community centers of Metuchen‘s Main Street (yes, it is called “Main Street” – isn’t that quaint?).

Metuchen is a (bloody) great town. My wife and I – who are recently transplanted from Brooklyn – love every bit of it.

We moved here to get more quiet and space, but had no idea the amount of good community we would see. I have to say, it’s more community than I saw any place I lived in New York City. We have our fill of live music, good eats, good people, whenever we want it. Other times, we enjoy the quiet of our back yard.

What’s the Scoop

There are many good places to eat, drink, get coffee, or hang-out in Metuchen. What’s the Scoop has a quality that makes it unique.

First, it’s an ice-cream and pizza place, so that’s fun. It also has a LOT of space inside, so it’s a nice place to linger while you enjoy a cone of mint chip. More lingering out front keeps the sidewalk active and neighborly for much of the day – it’s one of the nicer scenes on my walk home from the commuter train. But on top of all that, the owner regularly hosts New York Blood Center blood drives. Bloody great, I’d say.

And… you get free ice-cream and pizza for your donation. Plus, our local Irish pub (Hailey’s Harp & Pub) matches pint-for-pint on donations (limit one pint, as I recall). 🙂

Other Community in Metuchen

I am, perhaps, being overly supportive of the ice-cream industry. There are many other forms of great community in my town. For example:

  • Forum Theatre Arts Center – A restored theatre that hosts eclectic films.
  • Brewed Awakening – Our local coffee shop that is open from morning until late each night, serving great coffee and food all day. Plus, live music can be heard here many nights each month. (Shameless Plug: My wife recently started hosting a music series here.
  • Metuchen’s Outdoor Concert Series – Starting today (August 5th) and running each Thursday until a culminating fireworks show early in September.
  • There’s some sort of car show that occasionally appears the entire length of Main Street. Old, beautifully finished cars.
  • Parades for every holiday down Main Street.
  • Alessio – A good place to get some rock-solid Italian food. Great staff, and a quiet but lively community atmosphere.
  • Novita Bistro & Lounge – We go here more often than I’d care to admit. Great bar food and fancier food as well. Wide selection of drinks at the bar. Nice outdoor patio. Live music a few times per week. Highly recommended.
  • Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza – Another place I go more often than I’d care to admit. Great heroes, pizza, always a crowd hanging out.
  • Other pizza places, bagel shops, a French restaurant, some great Chinese food, Indian food, Thai food, pretty much anything you could ask for.

These are just some of my personal favorite spots along Main Street. I’ve left out many others, which you may also enjoy.

And then there’s the great websites, blogs, and Facebook groups:

  • Metuchen Matters – A blog about town.
  • Metuchen Matters on Facebook – And the blog’s Facebook page.
  • Metuchen Living on Facebook – A blog about town which has LOTS of great photography.
  • Metuchen Cultural Arts Commission – The ones responsible for much of the community activities – e.g., the Outdoor Concert Series this month.

It’s the New Urban

Soon after we moved in, I proclaimed to my family and closest friends that we had found the “new urban.”

When we lived in New York City, it always seemed to me like there was a disconnect, even between people who were close socially. A friend who lived 5 miles away was sometimes actually over an hour away by subway. Our immediate neighborhood just didn’t seem to have the same sort of “neighborhoodness” that you might see in an old movie about New York. Maybe I am being overly sentimental about a connected New York City that never really existed as it appeared in movies?

People lived one place, worked someplace else, and socialized in yet another bunch of scattered places throughout the City. Put that disconnected social life together with the fact that we had long ago stopped frequenting New York’s many museums and theaters, it really left us wondering what value the City actually held for us.

Fast forward to our move to the suburbs. Many of our friends said “Why?!?”

There were all the stereotypes of large, vapid, lawn-filled towns where people drove everywhere and never met their neighbors. Even we returned from our first few visits to the Borough of Metuchen with a very unsettled feeling, wondering if we could ever be happy again outside of the concrete walls of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Turns out – nothing to worry about. This suburb is fanTAStic. It’s got all the resources and “neighborhoodness” that one might expect in an urban environment, but it’s still not called urban (by most people).

To me, I think the true urban centers like New York have actually grown beyond their prime, big enough so that we people are scattered across them and spend most of our day trying to move from one location to another, and less of our time being connected to each other. We live where we can afford, or where our own very particular set of interests and requirements lands us, often having no common ground with our neighbors.

Not to say that common ground can’t grow, and found neighbors can’t become great friends (many did), but there is still a price paid in disconnect, and a constant running to keep up with the many disconnected “neighborhoods” which a typical City-dweller calls his own.

Perhaps there are other factors causing me, personally, to feel disconnect, like the problem of immediate families and closest friends being scattered so far geographically, even beyond the impenetrable neighborhoods of the City. Whatever it is, the urban advantages of even a city like New York are strongly out-weighed (I’d say) by the advantages of a suburb like Metuchen – the New Urban.

Others would disagree. What do you think?