Saturday, December 17, 2011

Work-Life Balance

DSC07752Wrapping things up in London prior to heading to the US – the Board has set a price for our next offering (£25/share, up from £15/share last spring, pegging our valuation at just shy of £2 million), our experimental plan is in place with the Universities, my syllabus for the new term is almost ready, my outline for the Poland Business Education grant is complete.  Most importantly, my bags are stuffed with goodies and gifts from the far flung corners of my travels.  I’ll scatter them along the way as I fly back, first to see my parents in Boulder, than on to family in Seattle.  A bit of St. Nick, almost (I don’t think a flying sled fits Dutch tradition).

It’s been a busy few weeks, and looks worse going forward.  A course to teach, clinical trials coming up in the US in February and March, fundraising across the UK in January and February, development and experiments to finish by first of March.  And Dutch classes to catch up with.

So, I read with interest an article in Business Traveller about re-establishing work-life balance.  They catalog not listening, becoming aggressive, losing your humor, and decoupling from social activity as key warning signs.  DSC07753I would add sleep disruption, irregular eating, lack of exercise, and nagging guilt over missing personal and business commitments as a few more.  It doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of stress: I find that it’s just a pervasive feeling that I can’t catch up, flailing through tasks but always extending the list faster than I can cross them off.

So, the five solutions:

Designate time to your personal life.  This varies from just scheduling guilt-free evenings off to planning events you can’t back out of.  Or take Matt Cutts’ “Try something new for 30 days” challenge.  The temptation for me would be to assign it to Dutch practice, but in the spirit of “New”, I’d probably learn a new cooking technique each day.

Take care of your body:  Get regular sleep, regular meals, regular exercise.  I am pretty good on the first, a bit lax on the second, progressively worse on the third.  That’s especially worrisome because my genes have handed me a “Use them or lose them” deal with my muscles, and regular exercise is important to strength, flexibility, and endurance.  For many years, I took a mid-day break to go exercise, and need to get back into the habit.

Consider workshifting: “Work remotely to achieve a more productive day”.  In a virtual business, flung across three countries, that’s pretty much my life anyway.  Where I do fall down, though, is in travelling too much, losing a few days every month to air and train travel between three base locations.  Even cutting that by one would make a huge difference.

Turn off technology:  When we were young, our family took vacations in the Northwoods, by canoe, so that my father could escape the phone and the office.  DSC07754Today, communications are even more pervasive, breaking down barriers to segmenting any part of life away from the others.  Think about how you take doctor’s calls in the grocery, work calls on vacation, and (apparently if you’re female, none of my male-friends do it) taking friend’s calls in the bathroom (tub or toilet).  I’d seriously like to take one week-long hike or sail in the new year, with the mobile and computer unavailable except for family emergencies.

Find time to do nothing:  When I’m in the Netherlands, I take one night a week for recreation at the local bars, jazz music, quiz night, poetry. I’m searching out the same sort of venues in Britain (harder because there’s no WeekIn/WeekUit in Cambridge!).  It’s relaxation; so it taking a pleasure book to a pub or cafĂ© or hottub for a read, or the bike into the countryside.  It’s a bit of “sit still and breath” turn-your-mind-to-idle relaxation time that I probably need to do daily, but don’t.

I’d add taking time to celebrate your successes (give yourself small rewards), keeping in touch with friends (I periodically pick out an old friend that I haven’t heard from in a while and write them a note), finding something to laugh about (and share with someone else each day), and taking a reflective moment each day to keep it all in perspective.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Two Thursday thoughts

IdealismI called a friend “Idealistic” today.  I meant it as a compliment; he took it worse.  It seems odd.

Idealistic, for me, meant that he had vision for a better way of doing things and a passion for making it happen.  I knew a research manager who carried a brick around for a year, saying that a defibrillator should never be any larger than that.  He built a working defibrillator out of watch batteries once to show it could be done.  A very tall stack of batteries, to be sure.  I’m not sure how to describe someone like that other than idealistic – a characteristic we admired around the research table.

I consulted the authorities. Someone guided more by ideals than by practical considerations, declares one dictionary.  Thinking of things as ideal forms rather than as they really are, accuses another.  Having high ideals that are usually unrealizable or at odds with practical life, sniffs a third.

I see the point.  But if not an idealist, what?  Some of the most delightful people I know are people who don’t believe their ideas are impossible.  More than dreamers, they go on to demonstrate that they are right.


Brain drain reverses course, flows away from America.

I find this delightful.  6.3 million Americans are studying or working abroad, the highest number ever.  Over 5% of all Americans 25 to 34 are actively planning to relocate outside of the US; 40% of those 18-24 express an interest.

Reasons vary, but “There's a feeling among more entrepreneurial Americans that if you really want to get anything done, you have to get out of country.” 

brainmappingIt wasn’t always that way.  In the 80’s, Europe was conservative and traditional, suspicious of innovation and hostile to invention.  I remember bringing a new brainmapping device over to show to British colleagues.  “How have you calibrated it?”, they sniffed.  The Japanese, meanwhile, took turns hooking one another up and joined in speculation about what the images might mean.

Now the situation is reversed.  There is a lot of creative technical talent to hire and strong university research centers to collaborate with.  Clinical studies are easier to do; regulatory hurdles are lower: I can get innovation to patients faster and cheaper than in the US.  The EU is a common market with as many consumers as the United States: the spending isn’t as high, but opportunities have been growing.  I feel like I can get more done here, despite the euro-crisis.

I’m happy with my choices and the opportunities that they’ve provided; others are discovering the same differences.  I suppose that the main question remaining is What is the best country to relocate to (probably varies by age and profession)?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And on the boat back…

Once again gales were predicted for the Channel; once again the clouds darkened during the drove across Belgium.  After the German glow of Christmas lights and gluhwijn, the beating rain and deepening cold of northern France felt more unpleasant than usual – it would be good to get off the road and back into Cambridge to a warm night’s sleep, gathering thoughts ahead of the year-end board meetings.

4:00: pulled into the docks a half hour ahead of departure, only to find the back end of a ferry pulling out against a wall of clouds to the west.  Schedules were already disrupted, and the attendants warned that the 5 pm ferry would be at least an hour late.   I’m suspecting that NorfolkLine runs any schedule they want, dropping a boat or two along the way, when the weather gives them an opening.  Then there’s the grim alternative: an empty concrete cafeteria that never seems to open.  I bundled up and hunkered down.

A boat pulled in at 5:30, not the usual cruiser, but an old ship glowing faintly along tiny windows cut along high steel sides.  We were waved back to our cars and herded on board.  The upper decks were closed; Seating was strictly airline-style – ‘not a good sign.  The captain warned of a rough and slow crossing on a crackling intercom as we launched towards sunset.

I kept at my work, pecking at the computer as the ship bounced and heaved across the Channel.  Occasional ferries emerged from the rain, spray blown from the bows over the upper decks, then passed on into the night.   People slept or glumly focused on an imaginary horizon.  We reached Dover by 8pm, but found the tugs  busy and the slips full.  We circled the outer seawall, nautical equivalent of a holding pattern, and waited.  9 pm: out turn finally came and we dropped out of sequence and jostled into place, tumbled our cars off the boat.

I looped into Dover, freed, looking for a faster route towards the M25.  Focused ahead, I missed the road debris, maybe a stray curb, that blocked my path.  The car lurched, shuddered, pulled hard to the left.  A horrible noise pounded out of the left front wheel well.  ‘Not much doubt that I’d blown a tire, but where to land and fix it?  I punched the Tom Tom, looking for a restaurant:  MacDonald's glowed a quarter mile off to the right.  Around the roundabout, thumping up a hill, through the entry, and park – in a MacDonald’s undergoing full refurbishment.  We apologize for the inconvenience: Brit-slang for not being very sorry at all.

I popped the trunk to look for a spare, but found only a package shaped like a spare with a tire inflator inside.  Not much help for a shredded wheel. Time to think things over, preferably over a sandwich.  I stood in the queue of cars passing the drive-up window.  A Little Person leered.  We cannot serve anyone who isn’t in their car: I explained that my slumped conveyance wasn’t going to make the 20-yard run: could they make an exception?  The manager was summoned, who glared and began to apologize for the inconvenience. But then, moved by the spirit of Christmas, said he’d make a limited offering in exchange for cash. Deal.

Back in the car, I started phoning into the Netherlands, first ANWB, who bounced me to the lease company, who skipped me to Mondial, my insurance group.  Can you please find the following numbers on your tire: diameter, manufacturer, an odd code number, all black script against a black rim in the darkness.  I squatted in the gale and tried to read them by the light of my phone.  Eventually, as though exchanging nuclear codes, we agreed on the values and they disappeared to consult.  I waited, cleaning up from where the wind had knocked the Coke over in my console, flooding a camera and MP3 player (both old, but still a loss).

Callback: 2 1/2 hours to get a tire out from London.  I bundled up and hunkered down.  The car swayed in the wind, the rain sheeted over the windshield and spilled down the back.  I think I dozed a bit.  The MacDonald’s closed as the trickle of customers ended.  A bit after midnight, headlights shown through the windows: a yellow-slicked mechanic knocked and waved me to the van.  “Almost blew over three times,” he shook his head.  “Would have cost at least £250 to pay for the call.”  He grinned.  “All you need to pay for is the new tire.”  Deal.  £53 and ten minutes later, I had a new wheel and was back on the road.

The drive north was long but uneventful, the roads empty and fast at 1 am after a storm.  Home by 2:30, bed by 3, meetings at 9: I’m starting to feel used to it.  Its making the Eurostar and RyanAir look better and better.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Traditions maintained: The Koln Markets

My disappointment with Maastricht’s Christmas markets this year led to a quest for cities where spirit and tradition still thrived…and it led to Koln.

Koln has always had a sprawling market presence – at least six markets are dropped into city parks and along the rivers – I favor the crowds gathered among brightly lit stalls beneath the enormous brooding central church.  an hour’s drive from Maastricht, it’s an easy afternoon excursion, and the festive spirit still overwhelms the high prices charged for eierpunsch, stollen, foil ornaments and beanbag toys.  It’s enough to just wander and take it all in without buying lots.


DSC00874 Stitch 

DSC00856 Stitch

It seems ironic that the better markets are being fielded by the sometimes parsimonious and dour Germans, but maybe it follows their emphasis on local over central institutions and a different sense of civil / commercial balance.

More pix at my Flickr site