Vacation, especially if you have almost forgotten the true sense of being on one, is awesome! I recently did a road trip through the Loire valley in France, right up to the Atlantic Ocean, with my girlfriend and the dog. It was epic! As the region is famous for its wines, we made a point of tasting the local specialties that we came across. Mix this with great French cheese and baguette… yep, I got both: Living like God in France, and a little extra weight to carry around. The latter, I want to lose now – of course whilst back on the road.
Enter my newest discovery: STAIRS! (*gasp*)
No-seriously! Try it out!
I am on a mission to avoid elevators and escalators at all cost for two weeks now, and it starts to pay off. The rule is strict – no exceptions for “but I am carrying my briefcase AND my suitcase!”. No exception for “but the office is on the 6th floor!”. No excuse for “But there are only fire stairs in the hotel!”. No excuse for “my colleagues are looking at me funny!”. I am just taking the stairs. Of course this is no complete workout yet – but lifting my luggage all over the place sure feels like on, it costs close to no extra time and serves as an instant feel-good moment.
Maybe their is a staircase just waiting for you?Read More
Working on weekends is a hot topic when it comes to consulting. Many think it comes with the job, and it sure is part of the whole consulting life myth. In reality, as with all myths, that is only partly true.
There can be situations where working on a weekend cannot be avoided – but there are many more situations where you can. Today’s post is all about how to achieve that and make sure that as many weekends as possible stay free – ’cause you are working enough from Monday to Friday.
- Scope with a hidden agenda
You have a secret plan. You do not want to work on the weekend. Of course, you don’t want your project lead to know, because you’d seem all weak and “not taking one for the team” or even “not cut out for the job” (I am joking. Mostly.) Scoping to the rescue! It’s simple in theory: To avoid working on the weekend, plan your work so that the need does not arise. In real life, that might be trickier. My best tip is: Don’t agree on Monday as deadline for a deliverable. You’ll often end up on Friday thinking “gosh, I need to finish that… but hey, it’s only due in three days!” and end up sitting on the desk the next two days while your buddies are out having fun. On the other side, your project lead – depending on their style – might think “hey, he’s got some extra time for that over the weekend!” and adjust their expectations accordingly.
There’s a thing about consulting. It’s a high-demand, always-on job. You live and breathe it. Throughout the week. It’s fine, it’s almost a necessity to be good at the job.
Being able to become a normal human again, though, is an equally important quality. You need to relax. You need to take care of the rest of your life that is more or less on pause during the week. Friends and family want their attention. If you keep your suit on (in your head), there are problems ahead:
- You don’t give yourself a break. That’s the sort of people who just keep on working on their assignment during the weekend and think it is a great achievement when they had a beer instead of a coke while crunching on the next slide deck. As a result, you burn out quicker.
- People outside of consulting don’t really get you. It might be funny for your friends the first time you squash them with consulting lingo, but it gets boring and then annoying quickly. Especially if you simply don’t notice it and think that it is totally OK to talk to your girlfriend about certain pain points that pose the risk of being a show-stopper for the next milestone in your relationship.
- You become a boring person. You will. If everything you can talk about is related to your job, that’s awful. What about all those other interests you have?
Convinced now? Hopefully. Now, on to the plan. Three easy steps you can use to transition from hotshot consultant to likeable human being:
- Establish the fact that you are not working on the weekend
Oh, I hear the screams already. “I can’t do that!” “all my colleagues work on the weekend, too!” “but I get emails from my boss!” “I need to show that I am putting in the extra effort!” For crying out loud, that’s rubbish.
Of course, there are times when you really have to work on the weekend, be it because you were a slacker during the week or an emergency came up on Friday evening. Still, these should, need to be exceptions. And it can be done. I’ll actually write a post about that, next – simply because it is such an important thing to achieve, in my opinion. And because I strongly hold the believe that if you work 7 days a week, that’s not a life worth living. [Update: Here is the post on "how to NOT work on the weekend"]
- Use the travel home for winding down
For me, this is a way of starting the weekend early. The moment I checked in for my flight home, out comes the iPod and the non-project-work-related book I am reading at the time. Take off the tie for added relaxation. Take your thoughts on vacation, and after a few minutes, you will be able to look around you and pity those worker bees who still have nothing better to do than be stressed and see if there still is someone sending them emails they can reply to and make a busy impression.
- Create little rituals that make you really come home when coming home
Everything goes here. For some, it might be changing into something comfortable, hanging up the suit and kicking the laptop bag into the far corner of their apartment. For others, it is calling up the (hopefully still existing) friends and checking for the latest news or the plans for Saturday night. Some might simply watch their favorite sitcom or pick up their guitar and play a few tunes. As long as it is not work-related and gets you back in touch with your private life, it works.
Now you are ready to kick back and relax. Plus, your friends will keep liking you because you remain a cool dude / girl. Double-plus, you will still be interesting to the rest of the world because you talk in normal sentences and have actually seen the new Bond movie.
Extra-tip for the 5-4-3 people:
(For those not in the know, that is 5 days working for the client, 4 days on client site, 3 nights in the hotel)
Hey, you got it good – things should be way easier for you, simply because winding down happens in two steps: First you come home, then there is still a working day left, but in your office, and then you can start into the weekend directly. Use that advantage! Dress casually in the office (people wearing a suit and tie on office Friday simply get a sneer from me… really, what is the use?), chat with your colleagues, and get as much paperwork done as possible (one tip that will come up again in the post on how to NOT work on the weekend).
Today, let’s talk about avoiding the vicious cycle of working late. I was inspired by this comic strip from Jorge Cham:
(Click the picture to read it in full size)
With friendly permission, copyright "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham, www.phdcomics.com
What is the vicious cycle?
You did not do enough of what you should have done during the day. I know, this is almost taboo to say – but even consultants are not free from it. Even more so, as there is almost a lot that you can do once you have finished your main projects’ deliverables for the day. As a result, you expand your working hours, and try to squeeze out some more productivity. The next day, you are not running on 100% energy anymore, because you got little sleep. So you get less done. So you make that day even longer… and with some bad luck, before the weekend (hopefully) gives you time to hit the sack and renew, you run into a brick wall. Oversleep. Make bad mistakes. Mess up that Excel sheet on delivery day. Fall asleep on the toilet – what have you.
How to avoid it?
In an ideal world, I’d say you simply only take on as much work as you can handle while still getting 8 hours sleep a day. But the job often demands more. You will not be able to leave the desk while the sun is still shining every day. When it is crunchtime, you need to crunch, and for that you can find advice here: Cranking the deadline. The key is to make best use of the phases where you are not running full speed. Don’t take on additional work after a hard phase just because there is still some time in the day. If you can get to the hotel at 6pm, do it. (You don’t believe that ever happens? Hey, read the article from the Dutch Consultant on "Consulting a honey pot?") Relax. Go to sleep early. That is not being a slacker, that is being reasonable and preserving your sanity, and your energy.
Does this sound too fluffy for you?
Alright. So you can’t balance your workload during the week, and it is too late for managing your boss so that you don’t get swamped when you are over capacity already. My last resort, and the thing I can recommend wholeheartedly because I do it:
Whenever you can, make your weekend holy. Work-free. When projects go into defcon1 and I have not slept enough one single night in the week, I need the weekend to fully recharge. Sleep in. Do fun stuff. Enjoy life. This gives me time to get back to full batteries and full motivation.
When your workload is ok, and you are not in the vicious circle trap, it might be alright to do some work on the weekend. But after a battle, I. Need. The. Weekend. Off.
So you can’t do that either?
You might want to re-read the post “Manage your energy, not your time”. Let’s see what you are up to: You are working more hours than your body can handle. You do not give yourself time to recharge, not even on weekends. You are just working, working, working. Let me tell you something, and let me make it clear:
That is nothing to be proud of. You are risking your health, your sanity and your career. Why the career? Because you won’t be able to perform. Sooner or later, your lack of energy will show, and you won’t be able to compensate with longer hours any more. This scenario means big trouble on all fronts. You have been warned.
Alright, this was quite a rant. I’d love to hear your opinion – I am sure you have one!Read More
Today’s “staying alive” is about liberating yourself from the gym. Why, you ask?
Needing a gym for your workout gives you too many excuses for not working out at all.
I mean, let’s face it. We all prefer to stay at really fancy hotels with great gyms (why not a full spa!), and of course also prefer heading to that fancy hotel while still awake and that gym is still open. But reality often speaks a different language. The hotel might be nice, but it has no gym, or one that would rather not enter. Or it is full of sweaty old men… and even if there is a gym, chances are that it is closed once you return from the client site.
Introducing: The gym-liberation-set.
First. The mindset.
It starts in your head first. Don’t worry, in a minute I’ll tell you what you can do in terms of exercise and what equipment you might like to take with you – but we gotta take care of the attitude first. So let me make this clear. Sports-is-not-an-option. It is a necessity. Without regular exercise, you will end up out of shape (fat?), you will lose well needed energy, you will feel bad and you will look bad. It just comes with the demands of the job: At the desk all day, high stress level and a bad mix of fast food (before milestones) and very good food (after reaching milestones).
Don’t make sports optional. Build it into your week. Twice, at least. Half an hour, at least. Good boy.
You don’t need a personal fitness trainer to get good info on workouts that you can do with minimal or no equipment – the internet gives you an abundance of places to look:
- Hotel room workout tips from Work&Travel Magazine
- Hotel room workout from Times Online
- On the road? Don’t skip workout from CNN health
- A plan for the road from BodyBuilding.com
- The already mentioned hotel room workout video from cbathletics
I said this was about liberating yourself from the gym, and now I talk about equipment? Right. You do not need anything except your own body (and willpower) for most of the exercises described here. But to expand your possibilities, you might want to take some things on your shopping list.
- Running shoes.
Of course, your sneakers take you around the corner well, but if you pick up the good habit and get running (especially good when you get on a project on the countryside!), treat yourself for some good running shoes. Go to a specialized store. Don’t look at brands or design, it is about function only in that case.
- The Reebok Travel Gym.
No, this is no product placement. I just happen to have gotten that as a birthday present from my loved one last Monday. It contains wrist weights, a skipping rope, a resistance band and a pair of hand grips – all in a little case that fits easily in your luggage. Can be obtained at various places, for example at Amazon - and I think it is great. With the pack you get a little leaflet that gives you many exercise options, which perfectly complement and/or enhance the exercises you can do in your hotel room without any equipment already.
There you have it. Now go, do something for yourself!
And once you tried out your new habit – come back here and share your experiences in the comments!Read More
We all know it, and still it is a tough thing to do. As sitting in a plane or a taxi does not count towards exercise (nope, does not) and eating most of the time is degraded to efficient calorie intake, there is room for improvement with most consultants. Semi-quoting a friend who has been in the industry a few more years: “I’ve seen colleagues all around me getting fat.”
So what can you do?
A good start are the seven points from Wayne Parker, who gives advice on fatherhood – but his tips for sure also apply to women and singles alike. Some comments on that:
- Drinking lots of water:
good, but make sure you are still able to survive the three-hour workshop with the customer on one break without getting nervous.
- Packing your own snacks:
works well if you have a supermarket on the way from the airport / train station to the client site. Buy a few apples and bananas (anything fruity except avocado works). You’ll like it, it is way better than chocolate from the vending machine down the hall, and you earn bonus points when you share.
- Sticking to the schedule:
well, I wish. My schedule at home does not begin before sun has risen.
- Avoiding alcohol:
do. Nothing against a glass of wine or a beer occasionally – but getting wasted during the week is a no-no. And be very careful in front of your customer. I know that it might be expected of you to share a beer at a reception. Make sure you do not get drunk, that might result in career-limiting moves, unintentional or not. Order alcohol-free beer, or just drink slowly and have water in between.
Do. Use stairs. If you have a five minute break, go outside, call someone you like, take them on a walk around the block.
That one is tough, I know, but do as told. Being fit helps you tremendously. Personally, I can’t workout in the morning at all. I think it is great that I get out of bed every morning, everything else is a stretch – but when I get back to the hotel, even late at night, most of the time I can get myself to jump on the crosstrainer, put on good music, a podcast or TV and walk the day away. YMMV. If you do not have a gym in the hotel and it is not the weather to run outside, you can even workout in the hotel room.
- Eating sensibly:
Even tougher. Have breakfast, but stay away from everything fried or baked. Try staying away from snacks – pack some fruit (see above) for energy holes in between meals. Even if you only have fast food around, there are better and worse options. Subway for example has some low-fat subs (take the small one. No cookie. Good boy.), and there is a huge difference between a cheeseburger with a salad and the BigMac-Menu with big fries and a soda.
I know what you are thinking. “Easier said than done”. Right. But if you just start on one thing – for example, exchanging sugary snacks by fruit – you already do yourself a big favor.
Of course, over the next time we will get into more detail on the various topics mentioned here, and how you can make them work for you on the road.
… because staying alive is a core competency!