Transitioning to WFH – watch-outs for overwhelmed mid-managers!

New times bring forth new challenges and positives. The IT services sector – a global, tech-focussed, multi-industry sector – is used to change as a rule. The COVID-resultant transition to WFH en-masse was a biggie though.

Middle managers, in particular, seem to be struggling – they suddenly find that their time is not their own. They are used to working across time-zones and extended working hours – but WFH stretches the demand by a large margin. With mobility still restricted across most cities and WFH in place, boundaries are getting blurred – no one knows when the day starts or when it ends. Weekends aren’t spared either – work seems to fill in every waking hour. 

At a closer look, this seems to derive from two significant aspects:

  1. Colleagues/ managers block associates’ time for meetings indiscriminately. Some take refuge in the reasoning of commute hours and limited mobility, providing people with more home time. And when they are home, maybe it is ok to take a few more calls? Managers also suffer from Fear of missing out (FOMO) and do more calls. Busyness is mistaken for effective-ness resulting in long days of endless meets.
  2. The number of people on emails and the number of emails – both have gone up exponentially. Again, with people always having a phone or a laptop closeby, responses (and forwards!) are faster, leading to very significant email times and distracted lives! There’s almost a movement clamouring for attention – in a sense we are becoming cry babies!

When coupling this with the massive cognitive overload due to the situation on hand with the virus (which is working on everyone’s mind in the background) – people end up exhausted. 

These are early days, and given human capacity to adapt, am sure we’d evolve some optimal responses very soon. 

However, it is worth spending a moment on a couple of assumptions that underpin the above behaviours:

a. The first assumption is that our very identity depends on our work titles and the work that we do. It’s not the case – at least for most people – identification with your managerial persona and title would be but a decade old if you were in your thirties and a few decades old if you were in your fifties. Over half your life you lived life as a non-manager, perhaps it’s time to grab some of that “identity beyond work” back! 

Those who have other identities are doing way better. A colleague who is also a gifted singer has started zoom classes for kids during non-working hours. Another friend is teaching online meditation. People are rediscovering their love for books and music afresh. Folks are discovering the joys of household work – everyone has interests, and this seems to be the best time to exercise that. Spending some time with our colleagues to understand them beyond their work personas will open us to a limitless world of conversations. It’s important to realise that this does not mean the ones with other interests do any less quality work; they are just as good and often produce even more inspired work. They are less stressed as well and more fulfilled.

Here’s a masterpiece from Alain De Botton on how to bring back our curiosity – he looks at how children do this effortlessly. A brilliant, brilliant read.

b. Secondly, there’s an assumption that our time is free. It certainly is not – it is our most expensive resource. Here’s Seneca explaining this in his inimitable style in a lovely brainpickings.org post:

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.

If this realisation sinks in, time becomes an ally, not a nuisance. 

If you are one of those mid-management people who find things a little overwhelming – I trust the above would help alleviate this a bit. If you are one of those who already have mastered managing time and the transition to WFH, would love to hear more about your experiences.

Do leave a like/ share/ comment – makes a world of difference as always.

HNY and two life-changing gifts for you!

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”

Alan Watts

As we embark on the new year, here are a couple of frameworks from two legends (one was a stoic philosopher and the other leads our ecom revolution today!) that have served me well over the years – with the wish that they prove to be key tools in your arsenal too and make the year very special.

How to overcome fear – the Seneca way

Fear is an universal emotion – while what we fear differs from person to person (security/death/illness/loneliness), the emotion itself looms heavy on most of our minds. Seneca, the stoic sage, has an antidote to fear that builds upon a simple insight that “fear of an event is often more crippling than the event itself”.

And once we accept this, then he has a simple solution to transcend the fear. Embrace the fear and act upon it – albeit in small doses!

Seneca gives us a practical example to illustrate his framework and his advice on how we can overcome the fear of poverty are very relevant even today (the fear of poverty is why we are “always” engaged in worrying about our financial security, our addition in working all the time etc.)

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” – Seneca

Seneca

Now Seneca was one of those rare philosophers who practiced what he preached – and his solutions therefore have exceptional real time validity. So do try out the framework, it has certainly worked for me in many instances.

How to evaluate life changing decisions – Bezos’ regret minimization framework

In the face of a decision that involves a significant change to our life – personal or professional – I have always had the challenge of debating endlessly between what the mind tells me is right and what the heart encourages me to do. Jeff Bezos (yes the Amazon guy) apparently faced a similar dilemma a few decades ago – he was torn between choosing to embark on an uncertain dream (starting amazon.com) or continuing with his job (which included a “big bonus” in the short term!).

In his trademark style, here’s him thinking this through and coming with a wonderful framework that can serve all of us:

I went to my boss and said to him, “You know, I’m going to go do this crazy thing and I’m going to start this company selling books online.” This was something that I had already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context, but then he said, “Let’s go on a walk.” And, we went on a two hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was this. He said, “You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” He convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.

So, I went away and was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this, and she was very supportive and said, “Look, you know you can count me in 100 percent, whatever you want to do.” It’s true she had married this fairly stable guy in a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100 percent supportive. So, it really was a decision that I had to make for myself, and the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called – which only a nerd would call – a “regret minimization framework.”


So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.” I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. And, I think that’s very good. If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

Jeff Bezos (I believe this was from “the Everything Store” – a wonderful book by Brad Stone)

I’ll leave you with one more thing (yeah!) – some wonderful advice from Russ Roberts‘ “How Adam Smith can change your life” where he encourages us to be kind and trustworthy to make the world a better place. BTW – if you haven’t read it yet, this is a must read book on so many different levels.

 “If you want to make the world a better place, work on being trustworthy, and honor those who are trustworthy. Be a good friend and surround yourself with worthy friends. Don’t gossip. Resist the joke that might hurt someone’s feelings even when it’s clever. And try not to laugh when your friend tells you that clever joke at someone’s expense. Being good is not just good for you and those around you, but because it helps others be good as well. Set a good example, and by your loveliness you will not only be loved, but you may influence the world.”

And that’s it for now – here’s wishing everyone a wonderful year. Please do share/like/comment this post – it’s the conversation that adds the greatest value to a post.