Working at Home – Fast Track to Middle-Aged Wasteland?

gray haird woman computerWorking from home, on your home, or partial telecommuting? 

This past year, with many of us working from home, what at first seemed like oceans of free time or an infinite flexibility in managing one’s own time, turned into a blur and cacophony of added duties, roles and responsibilities.

And, what often suffers in all the time constraints is one’s own physical and emotional health.  Even if your home-based reality is for the most part a pleasant one, there are going to be days when all you want to do is pull on the sweatpants, slash open the potato chips, and giggle through a marathon of Schitt’s Creek. More than once. (Just me?).

Not only is the  mind a terrible thing to waste, but your mind is a muscle that needs rebooting all the time! So, let’s accentuate the positive in looking at  how to make the WFH environment more conducive to physical and psychological health.    There are many productive and positive reasons to work at home, and many ways to offset the challenges that come with feeling “marooned” in a home office.  Here are just a few:

Some people are working in their own businesses, or working with employers whose business models enable or require working from home, whether it’s full-time at home or flex-time.   If you don’t have to report to an office even part of the time, that’s all the more reason to get out to breakfast, lunch or drinks with colleagues or other people in your industry – even if it’s in an online gathering.   

Many people are working on their homes, or inside their homes, in some way while also earning a living.  Working on a home could mean prepping for a sale, or downsizing and the clearing out that comes with both those transitions.  Or, it could involve taking care of children and elderly parents – many Gen-X women and boomers are doing both while also working full time.   

During really hectic times in your life, push yourself to carve out time just for you.  I force myself to exercise several mornings a week, while it’s still really early, just so that I don’t spend my entire morning binge-watching cable or locked to news reports on screens.  If I do that, then the rest of my day is spent doing something for someone else.

Others are working at home only until …  Here, just fill in the blanks to suit your own situation.  It’s all the more important to be in “work-style mindset.”   Job-hunters are the people I empathize with the most, because their identities are about work (work clothes, work habits, work skills), and they can’t predict how long the job search might be, especially now, even with a variety of Covid-19 vaccines coming to market.  Prepping or waiting for calls or emails about leads, decisions and other search issues is happening at home these days for more and more people.  It takes Herculean effort to bound out of bed, get outdoors, or do an online workout.  For sure, those are the days when you have to get out of the sweatpants and plan on healthful foods that will make you actually feel good, and schedule meetings – online or outside your home.

In the winter months when the weather is bleaker, it’s worse – but you have to get over it and get out!  I get invited to lots of networking events – I could be out every night of the week!  Some are well worth the outing, but others are not as productive.  Regardless, I still push myself to go out on most nights.  Engaging with other people – especially people who are different than you, is the best way to enhance your social skills, broaden your horizons and make you more productive in your work at home.

 

Are you sure you know your strengths? Try the Strengths Finder Test.

StrengthsFinder 2.0As we’re all looking for positive thoughts these days,  let’s focus on less on what we’re doing “wrong” or what we have to “do less of” or “give up”… [or insert vice of your choice] in order to lose the weight, stop smoking, find a new job, etc. and focus on what’s good, strong and forward-thinking.  

There’s a better way to focus on the positive as opposed to everything you think is just plain wrong. Focus instead on STRONG. Ask yourself: Are you doing what you are best at every day, and if so, do you love doing it? I’m not talking about what you’re told you’re good at, or the things you’re good at that you get paid to do. I am talking about your real strengths. If you are doing what you love, you are using your strengths.

But don’t just take my word for it, because it’s not my original idea. It is the brainchild of those brainy people at Gallup.You know Gallup: the people who pose a lot of questions about a lot of things to a lot of different people, from every walk of life. A few years ago, Gallup came up with a survey/test to help people discover what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about – two very different constructs.

If you’re confused about this idea, then consider taking the Strengths Finder Test. This is a test, and book, that Gallup introduced in 2001 (and again in 2007 with an updated version, StrengthsFinder 2) to help people discover their top talents and skills.

I know we all think we know what our strengths are – I mean, seriously, over 50 we have a clue, don’t we? But I have to say, I believe this test can help, if we take it every few years. It will re-inform you, or inform you in a new area, or re-motivate you in your life path, career, or job choice. Or it may simply help you focus and polish the areas in which you are strongest.

Here are a few ways the book and test can help you:

  • Career planning – You can find and polish the areas for which you are best equipped in your work or career choice.
  • Team building – You work better with others when you really understand your own individuals strengths.
  • Improving work performance – When you know and understand your strengths, you’re more able to channel your energies to work more effectively.
  • Interview preparation – You will find that the results of your StrengthsFinder test will really empower you when that interview question pops up: “Can you tell me what your strengths are?”

I have taken it once since its new iteration, but it remains valuable to me every time I look at the list of strengths, their analyses and the concomitant advice they offer. The author, Tom Rath, states that we are better off cultivating our strengths, rather than spending too much time trying to improve our areas of weakness, as we are often taught to do here in the US.I agree!

Rooted in more than 40 years of research, this assessment is a real powerhouse! Check it out!

Click here for more info: Strengths Finder Test.

 

Hello, your insurance company called. They want your baggy pants back.

The realities of working from home for many people have hit home whether we want them to or not, and whether we like working from home or not.  

Here’s a wake-up call you can’t ignore: Statistics from almost every insurance company show people telecommuting for work gain weight faster and have a harder time losing it than those who go out to work every day! We tend to underestimate the expenditure of energy it takes to get up, get showered, get ready, get dressed and get out the door – all the mundane tasks we don’t really think of as physical exercise but which burn calories. Hey, just blasting a hair dryer for 14 minutes during weeks when I’m sorely overdue at my hairdresser’s (like today) causes me to fume to the point where I just know I’m burning up some extra calories!

File:RIAN archive 555848 Testing on treadmill.jpgWe all know that 24/7 screen time not only takes away from our physical activity, but interferes with sleep, which then negatively impacts our ability to do productive work.  On top of that, not being mindful of how much comfort food we’re eating also packs on the pounds.

However, food manufacturers always get blamed for making people fat, but they could be a boon to consumers who want to think inside the box when planning healthful meals. Frozen processed foods, eaten in moderation, are a secret weapon of people who really want to lose weight but hate the whole planning, measuring, chopping, cooking and clean-up work. When I lost 60 pounds several years ago, and managed to keep all but 7 pounds off, I relied a lot on frozen meals. I would much rather spend my creativity on real work rather than cooking and cleaning. Besides, all that prepping tends to make me munch between chopping, since it takes so much time before I actually sit down to eat my meal!

The key benefit of frozen meals is portion control. If Lean Cuisine and similar lines are too “mini-meal” for you, add a big salad, cut your dressing with lemon juice and make sure you have satisfying vegetables with your meal. Bottom-line is that the food industry doesn’t lift that high calorie snack bar or bag of chips to your mouth again and again. And, if you’re not commuting regularly and your office is in or near the kitchen, it’s just too easy to grab the snacks and lose perspective.

Get dressed in clean clothes every day. Yes, seriously. I know it’s been said before – in some good ways, actually: “Get Up, Dress Up, Show Up.” You may be fighting some depression, some rejection, some anxiety, or even the stubborn remnants of winter’s SAD disorder (Seasonal Affective Disorder- try some full spectrum light bulbs for that). But this can help: put on real clothes, something that makes you look put together. It will prepare you for the day in a way that working in your secret pajama bottoms just can’t.

File:Skinny20080428.jpgHang up your “5-pounds-to-go” jeans (or slinky dress, etc.) where you can see them all the time. I don’t mean your skinny-skinny-skinny jeans that would require liposuction for you to get back into, but something attainable that will help keep you out of the refrigerator or the cookie jar. A colleague of mine hung hers OVER the refrigerator, so that she would have to actually move the jeans in order to open the door to the fridge. May be a bit extreme, but she swears it mortified her into shape.

Consider getting a Soda Stream water carbonator. No, I’m not paid by them, nor do I have shares in the company. It’s just a really good idea. Coffee with sugar and cream in it, fruit juice, lattes and sodas, all have calories that we forget to count, and come with other negative health effects. Instead, Soda Stream will help you drink more calorie-less plain seltzer water with ice, or lightly flavored with a touch of lemon, lime, grape juice, etc.

Set a timer to go off once an hour to take a break. So many of us are as focused as we are sedentary, even eating our lunch at our home office desk or table. The New York Times routinely publishes research about the importance of getting up and moving – for our brains as well as the rest of our bodies.  Every hour, when your timer dings, get up, run up and down the stairs, or do a few minutes of jump-rope. Even do ten push ups and ten sit ups, if this doesn’t leave you in a sweaty heap. It is the movement, the increase to your circulation and metabolism that we are after here. Some blood to the brain. Refresh and recharge and feel better.

These are just a few ways to accentuate the positive, focusing on the things to actually do rather than not do, to charge yourself up.  Whether you’re working from home temporarily, or for the foreseeable future, make sure you get yourself in a productive work mindset, get dressed, put on some music, keep moving and refresh your brain at least once an hour.

As for those baggy pants, tell your insurance company they’re just for sleeping – which you try to do for at least 7 hours – or the temporary bottoms of your Zoom, Webex or GoToMeeting uniform.   

 


[i]http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/12/telecommuting_may_be_terrible_for_your_work_life_balance.html

High There! – High-rise over 40!

woman trapezeThe education industry offers us literally millions of options for expanding the depth and breadth of our brainpower, from womb to tomb. Yet, there’s an assumption within some industries and organizations that when someone has reached the age of 50 and beyond, they are no longer in the classification that talent management gurus call “high potentials.” The term “high potential” refers to individuals an organization should devote the majority of its efforts to mentor, sponsor and retain.  Harvard Business Review, among others, has published numerous articles on the topic of high potentials, a recent one in 2010[1], excerpted here:

“…High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization—more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”

In some firms, it is often presumed – mistakenly – that these behaviors are most attributable to younger, presumably more energetic, employees. When I was a young, aggressive, frenetic manager I worked to my full capacity to be fiercely competitive, running a robust portfolio of business for large ad agencies yet was always on the lookout for more revenue, and was fairly well-compensated (almost) for my skills. But I was not as loyal to “companies’ culture” as the definition above would suggest. And now when I think back to all of the things I did not know when I was younger I want to laugh out loud.

The fact of the matter is that I was well into my forties when I learned the most valuable lessons of my personal and professional life. Among these is how to be a good leader of people, beyond knowing how to manage a P&L. Becoming a leader, one of my favorite business-school professors confirmed when I decided to pursue my MBA in my mid-50s, is not something that can be taught. It must be learned through experience.

brain partsScientists ranging from prenatal experts to gerontologists assert there are nine different types of intelligence. And throughout our lives we don’t need to compartmentalize ourselves into just one of them! Just because you reach a certain age and become known for your math (or juggling) skills, it doesn’t mean you can’t suddenly discover an amazing talent for painting (arts, or another form of the nine kinds of intelligence) that you never knew you had.  So, just because you’re reached “high performer” in one skill doesn’t mean you’re DONE reaching your high potential as a human relative to some other skill.

That someone over 40 may not be considered a high-potential is unfair, yes, but it is often the perception. If this is the perception you have of yourself, there’s no excuse for that! 

Here’s just a short list of ideas, articles and books that should change your mind, literally and figuratively, about how much there still is to learn and develop your own high potential:

book pen notepad1) The New York Times: OPINION: “Fast Time and the Aging Mind,” by Richard A. Friedman, July 20. 2013.  Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psycho-pharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College. posits: “Is it possible that learning new things might slow our internal sense of time?” My favorite passage is this:

“…It’s simple: if you want time to slow down, become a student again. Learn something that requires sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller when you’re sitting on the beach and break out a book on evolutionary theory or Spanish for beginners or a how-to book on something you’ve always wanted to do. Take a new route to work; vacation at an unknown spot. And take your sweet time about it.”[2]

2) The New York Times: PREOCCUPATIONS: “She Turned Her Upspeak Down a Notch, by Jessica Grose, July 27, 2013.  As the Times call out summarized it: “A freelance journalist was tired of sources thinking that she sounded like a little girl on the phone. So she set out to change her voice.”[3]  Think an “uptick” is the bailiwick of the young? Think again! I hear so many women over the age of 40 using an “uptick” in their speaking style that it reminds me not so much of the so-called “valley girls” that supposedly started the trend but of an antiquated time of deference and asking permission that smacks of pre-Mad Men secretarial pools.

3) The “Gravitas Guru,” Raleigh Mayer: One of my favorite executive coaches in New York is a woman named Raleigh Mayer,  who rightly calls herself “The Gravitas Guru.” She rightly puts enthusiastic women of all ages through paces to break out of habits that include poor grooming, ill-fitting shoes and speaking as if every sentence is a question. And, she does it with total aplomb and the utmost courtesy, even as she gets everyone to laugh at themselves.

time keeping watch4) From The New York Times: APP SMART: “To Manage Time, Track Time and Pass the Time, by Kit Eaton, June 26, 2013. As the Times call out summarized it: “When they aren’t listening to music or playing a game on their devices, people who work from home can stay on task with a range of productivity apps.” [4]  As a career-long time tracker and “billable hour” monitor, I long ago developed the habit of tracking my time for productivity and also as a planning tool before I even sit down to work. Most experienced adults know how important this is, perhaps even better than our younger colleagues do.

5) From The New York Times: BUCKS BLOG: “Helping Older Americans Avoid Swindles,” by Ann Carrns. As Ms. Carrns in the Times call out summarizes: “A new educational tool from the F.D.I.C., called “Money Smart for Older Americans,” aims to help people protect themselves against financial abuses.”[5] 

Finally: Even when – and especially if – there seems to be more of an alarming trend against hiring older workers, don’t rule out the capacity to expand your own high potential through various productive and constructive means that don’t have to cost a fortune.  

If you’re still unconvinced, lift your spirits (and your potential) by reading the cover story in the July 8-15, 2013 issue of TIME Magazine, entitled: “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  That will help you get on the high road to developing your potential. It’s likely there’s a long stretch of highway and miles to go before you sleep.

highway white line

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Ready, Douglas A., Conger, Jay A., Hill, Linda A., (2010, June) Are You a High Potential? Harvard Business Review, Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2010/06/are-you-a-high-potential/ar/1

[2] Friedman, Richard A., (2013, July 20) Fast Time and the Aging Mind. The New York Times: Opinion. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/13UmKa2.

[3] Grosse, Jessica, (2013, July 27) She Turned Her Upspeak Down a Notch, The New York Times: Preoccupations. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/13cNCQ9.

[4] Eaton, Kit, (2013, June 26), To Manage Time, Track Time and Pass the Time, The New York Times: App Smart. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/e/kit_eaton/index.html

[5] Carrns, Ann, (2013, June 13), Helping Older Americans Avoid Swindles, The New York Times, Buck’s Blog. Retrieved from. http://nyti.ms/18CtGdj.