Geekamama


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Destructive myths, at work and away from it

A friend of mine on Twitter shared a link recently to an article by Tony Schwartz called Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By. It’s a really interesting read; go check it out when you get a chance.

The myths Schwartz lists are:

  • Multitasking is critical in a world of infinite demand.
  • A little bit of anxiety helps us perform better.
  • Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.
  • The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.

These sound vaguely familiar.

 

I have this habit where I’ll be working on one task, and another task catches my attention briefly, and in that moment it seems like the second task more important than what I’m doing, or that it’s something that will take “only a minute” to complete. I drop my first task to work on the second, which inevitably ends up taking longer than I thought it would, and then when I return to my first task I spend too many minutes trying to remember where I left off and what I’d been planning to do.

 

Anxiety? Yeah, I spent the first quarter of this year getting up close and personal with anxiety. Guess how that affected my performance? (Hint: Poorly.) In contrast, I’ve found that I perform best when I’m riding a wave of success. The morale boost I get from doing a project well feeds my confidence, confirming that I really do have the skills to succeed in this area, and carries me into whatever I’m doing next. But when panic and pressure start looming, I fumble and fall into what my friend Michael calls analysis paralysis: when you spend so much time trying to research, analyze and choose the “right” approach to solving a problem that you end up with no time to actually solve the problem.

 

Oh, and those longer hours? HA. Ask my family members, ask my friends (if you can find any; they’re probably still at work), ask anyone who works in an engineering field. Schwartz describes it succintly:

No single myth is more destructive to employers and employees than this one. The reason is that we’re not designed to operate like computers — at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time.

Not designed to operate like computers! No wonder this crops up so frequently in fields that spend a lot of time working with computers and software. The root of the issue is that there’s always more work to be done than there are time and resources to do it. But rather than acknowledging that people need downtime to rest and refresh* themselves, employees work late and take work home, because the expectations from above are that this project (and the three other ones you’ve been assigned) must be completed by the end of the month, come hell or high water. “Work smarter, not harder!” Uh-huh.

I fall victim to the longer-hours myth at home more than at work. I’ve been known to stay up until 2 a.m. working on a task that I feel has to be done before I go to bed or else it won’t get done before deadline. My husband urges me to go off and get some sleep. I resist, pointing out that he is still up doing work. I ignore the fact that I get up in the morning a good two hours before he does.

*Both figuratively and literally. Taking regular showers can do a lot for relations with your co-workers.

 

Obviously, these aren’t universal truths that apply to all companies. When I started at my current job, I was amazed that even though we were in crunch mode, most people actually went home at night. I tend to stick around in the office until 6:30 or 7 most nights. I’m often one of the last handful to head out. (I have an awesome job, and I can’t say enough about how happy I am that I got up the nerve to leave that last soul-sucking job and strike out on my own. But that could fill its own post; I’ll save that for a little later in the month.)

If these myths are destructive to companies, they’re also destructive to individuals who live by them. It’s often a difficult, slow process to change a company-wide attitude. But it might not be as difficult for an individual to change them in herself.

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Conversations with my son

I have drop-off duty every morning, taking Kiddo to daycare before going to my own job. It’s about a 25-minute commute. When Kiddo was small, I looked forward to when he could talk, envisioning how we’d have conversations about his day and other important topics. Instead, our conversations these days go something like this.


“I get in driver side!”

OK, hop in!

“I need boost.”

Oh, I think you can do it yourself–

“I need boost!”  I boost him into the car. He crawls halfway across and sits on the back bench. “I sit here.”

No, you’re not big enough yet to sit there. In the carseat.

He gets in the carseat. “Mommy sit here?” pointing to the seat next to him.

Yes, I sit there when we ride in the minivan. (his grandparents’ car)

I buckle him in, then get in the driver’s seat. As I get settled, I cough to clear my throat.

“You have a coughing.”

Yeah, I’m coughing.

“You need drink of water.”

You’re right, I should get a drink of water!

We go down the driveway and stop at the mailbox.

“My mailbox! It has a blue dot! I want a mail.”

I hand him a single-sheet election flyer. Moments later, he starts fussing.

What’s up, Kiddo? What do you need?

“I need this open!”

Aha. He’s used to getting folded flyers or BB&B catalogs that he can open up. He doesn’t get the idea that this one doesn’t open.

Oh, I see, that one is already open. Let me stop and I’ll fix it. I take the flyer, fold it in half and hand it back. Fixed. Here you go.

“Thank you.”

You’re welcome.

[Unintelligible babbling as we drive down the road – something about the water and boats pictured on the flyer.]

Are there letters on your mail?

“W. O. Bang bang bang boom boom boom.”

We get to a T intersection. I can go either way from here. I turn right. “We go this way?”

Yep, we’re going this way.

“My [unintelligible].”

Your eyes?

“My YEGS.” He’s pulled his pant legs up a few inches and is looking at his legs. “I found an orange!” pointing to the orange dinosaur on his sock.

I want my football mail.” This is a Comcast flyer with a picture of a football player on it. It’s been in the car for weeks. At the next stop I reach back and find it for him.

“Five. Nine. Four. One. I have my mail!”

Hey, look at the big truck next to us.

“That’s a big truck. A big bus! Minivan! I dropped my mail.”

Sorry, we’re driving now, I can’t get it for you.

“Ten nine eight seven six five four three two one, ZERO!”

Very good!

Slurping sounds from the backseat. He’s sucking on the collar of his sweatshirt. Shirt out of your mouth, please.

“No, shirt IN my mouth please!”

Shirt out of your mouth.

“Shirt IN my mouth.” I give up on this battle.

“In my eyes.”

There’s something in your eye? What’s in your eye?

Something else about his eyes.

OH! Is the sun in your eyes? We’ll turn soon.

I change lanes, catching the end of the rumble strips on the lane marker. “What’s that?”

That’s the edge of the road. (I tell him this every single time. He still asks every single time.)

“My PRESCHOOL!”

Yep, we’re here!


Not exactly quantum physics. I guess we’ll save that topic for kindergarten.


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Chill, baby

I’ve discovered an amazing fact that I’m sure will revolutionize the lives of parents everywhere. It’s so obvious that I’m surprised no one’s ever mentioned it before. And now, dear readers, I share it with you!

Kids, like some adults, get cold at night. When this happens, children often fuss until the situation has been remedied.

…what?

Yeah. I really, truly, forget that my son can get cold at night. I don’t know why he would. It’s not like we’re still putting him in summer-weight pajamas, or covering him with a small blanket that he kicks off every time he turns over. Except that it is.

For the past week or two, Kiddo was waking up whimpering between 5:30 and 6:30, which is about an hour before I want to wake up for the day. I’d get him settled, and then half an hour later we’d hear him again. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but at Way Too Early o’clock, I wasn’t awake enough to figure it out.

Then, a couple nights ago, we had a power outage. No electricity–and for us, that means no heat–for seven hours overnight. My husband and I huddled under our blankets. I had to go in and comfort Kiddo a few times, and I thought it was because he was bothered by the lack of night noises or that he didn’t like the makeshift nightlight I’d made out of a flashlight and cardboard box.

Around 7 a.m., when we got power back, I got up to take my shower. I heard Kiddo still fussing, so I brought him into our bed and tried to get him to fall asleep again next to my husband.

He slept soundly for two more hours. I had to wake him up to get ready for preschool. And something in my now-awake brain clicked: the poor boy was waking up because he was cold.

We’ve been putting him in toddler-size sleep sacks for the past few days, and he’s been sleeping more soundly. Last night, though, he was fussing again. This time I was aware enough to realize his bare feet were probably freezing. He keeps pulling off his sleep socks before I put him to bed, and I thought he just didn’t like them. Now, I think the reason he does it is because they’ve gotten too small. So tonight we’ll try putting him in regular socks just before bed. Maybe we’ll all finally get the sleep we need.

Astonishingly, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. When Kiddo was about eight months old, my mom visited for a couple days. Kiddo had been fussy at night, which I figured was normal for an eight-month old. One day my mom said in passing, “He was fussing, so I put a blanket on him and that seemed to help.” While one part of my brain was saying Nooooooo all the books say we can’t put blankets in his crib! the other part was saying DUH, JESSICA. You’d think I’d have learned from that. Apparently not.

I think the reason I overlook such an obvious thing is because I’m cold all the time. Most mornings when I wake up, my temperature is somewhere near 97.5. A temp of 98.6, the commonly-accepted average human body temperature, is a low-grade fever for me. Infrared cameras that show most people’s faces as red and yellow, like this one, only show yellow and green for me. So I’ve gotten used to the fact that most people don’t need as many layers of clothing and blankets as I like. In Kiddo’s case, I may have assumed a little too much about his tolerance for cold nights.

At any rate, we think we’ve solved this problem. Stay tuned for more exciting tidbits that are totally obvious to everyone except me.


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Otterly adorable

Last night was Halloween, and as tradition dictates, we dressed Kiddo up and sheparded him around to collect candy. Not for him, of course; he’s still young enough that we limit the amount of straight-up sugar that he gets. That three-quarters of a pound that he picked up will mostly be consumed by Mom and Dad. I don’t think he’ll mind, though. Heck, I don’t think he’ll even notice.

Halloween around here is different from what I remember as a kid. I had the stereotypical small-town experience, dressing up in a costume roomy enough to fit over my winter coat and going door to door with my friends and someone’s parent. In the Seattle area, it seems like most of the trick-or-treating happens indoors. Kids still go door to door, but it’s office door to office door. I’m not sure whether this is due to increasing parental paranoia or just a nod to the often-unfriendly weather.

We took Kiddo around in my husband’s office building at Microsoft. The weekend before, I’d coaxed him into trying on his costume by telling him that if he wore it, people would give him candy. Frankly, I don’t know whether he understood what this “candy” meant, but he thought it sounded good enough to give it a shot. And once he discovered his tail and the whiskers tickling his forehead, he was sold. 

At first, Kiddo wasn’t quite sure how trick-or-treating worked , but he learned quickly. Then he really had fun wandering around the halls with his little pumpkin, stopping occasionally to make sure the whiskers on his hood were still there. His selectiveness surprised me. He’d skip three or four offices, and then take two treats from the same bowl–often the same kind that he’d passed up just minutes before. I was happy to see that he picked up a couple Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, one of my favorites. Less pleased to discover the banana Laffy Taffy when I was sorting the candy later. Someone’s going to have to take care of that one, and I’m officially declaring Not It.

It’s too bad the otter costume won’t fit next year, because he’s so cute and snuggly in it. Next year he’ll probably want more of a say in what he wears, and before long he’ll be running through the halls snagging something from every bowl, whether he likes it or not. And we’ll be doing our traditional parental duty, rationing out his stash only one or two pieces a night , and hoping he doesn’t notice how certain kinds mysteriously vanish from his collection. Butterfingers? No, I don’t think you got any of those this year, sweetie…