work-life balance

The most wonderful time of year (to work)

Wonderful time of year imageThe past couple of weeks have been busy with Christmas, and New Years Eve holidays. It’s the time of year that lots of people take time away from work, and email inboxes quiet down. Many of the days around the holidays have fewer people in the office, and there are very few scheduled meetings. It all can amount to a unproductive environment at work.

And yet, for me the holiday weeks have always been some of the most productive times of the year. I relish the days where I don’t have any scheduled meetings, there are fewer emails to respond to, and I can focus on the big picture. For this small company CEO, these past couple of weeks are critical to success in the new year.

I’ve spent the time working through our strategic and financial plan for year ahead. I’ve pored over financials, dug deep into the strategic possibilities, and had long conversations with advisors and mentors that I trust the most. I’ve read business related materials that have helped round out my thinking, and I’ve had quiet time to contemplate the year ahead. Indeed, for me it’s the most wonderful time of the year to work.

This first week of the new year, I’ll meet with the whole Punchbowl team to unveil the fruits of my labor: a well-thought out strategic roadmap for the year. It includes not only a clear description of how I made decisions, but also a product and marketing roadmap for the year. While I can’t predict whether or not the plan will be well received, I can be assured that I’m well prepared and that the plans have not been made rashly.

Even though I’ve worked most days over the holiday period, don’t be mistaken. I also had lots of time with my family, and plenty of time to see friends. But I was in the office on all of the work days, and spent evenings and some of the weekend at home thinking about work. I never shut off work like I do on vacations.

I’m not a fan of cold weather, and I would gladly trade one day in the summer for two days working in the winter. I’d rather work hard during December, January and February than during beach weather. I look forward to this coming summer when I’ll take a couple weeks off and enjoy the weather. That will be my reward for working hard through a time of year that lots of people shut it down.

SWAMI SAYS: Did you take a lot of days off this holiday season? Next year, consider working as much as you can during the holidays, and taking more time off during the warm summer months. You’ll start the year feeling ready to go and fired up.

Six Things I Want to Teach My Dog about Work

Dharmesh Shah recently wrote a blog post about the lessons of entrepreneurship that he wants to teach his son called “12 Things I Want to Teach my Toddler about Work.”  It was an neat post which offered his typically pithy insights, with the twist that it was directed at his three-year-old son. After reading the post, I started making my own list of things I would like to teach my four-year-old daughter. I came back to the list recently to add a few items. As I was making notes, my dog Roxxee interrupted, and wanted me to take her for a walk. In typical fashion, she sauntered into my office and with her tongue sticking out and her tail wagging so hard it hit the walls.

So I took her for her afternoon walk and the fresh air gave me some new perspective. As we walked (and I spoke to her), I thought to about the things that I wish I could teach my dog about work . (In case you’re wondering, yes, I do talk to Roxxee as if she would respond to me). In the five years I’ve been bringing her to work, she’s heard and seen EVERYTHING at my office. Here are six of the most important things I want to teach my dog (and my readers) about work:

1. Always be loyal – In the business world, loyalty is arguably the most important trait. Roxxee is usually loyal, but sometimes she can be distracted or lazy. At times, she can appear like she just can’t be bothered (like when I tell her it’s time to go home at the end of the day). Employees look for loyal employers and partners look for loyal counterparts. Don’t let complacency or laziness get in way of always being loyal to your colleagues and partners. If you get a reputation of not being devoted and steadfast, no one is going to want to work (or play) with you.

2. Greet everyone in the same way – This does not mean sneak up behind your guests to sniff their…uh…shoes. It means welcome your guests and greet them all with the same level of energy regardless of how tired you are or how tasty the bone you’re chewing. You never know if the person you’re greeting is going to be someone important in your life (or perhaps your new dog walker). Make that first impression really count.

3. Focus on long-term goals (not just short-term ones) – Roxxee (like most dogs) has a one-track mind. She’s does what she has to in order to get treats. But unlike this Pavlovian response, building a company is a series of short-term goals (i.e. treats) that lead to long-term successes. Real progress isn’t accomplished by only achieving short-term goals. You’ll find success by viewing those short-term goals as stepping stones to larger, more meaningful goals down the road. Don’t just focus on the treats!

4. Get fresh air everyday – One of the reasons I love having Roxxee in the office is because she forces me to take a break in the afternoon. But I don’t check  out from work on those walks. The fresh air wakes up my mind and helps me think differently. I usually ask if anyone wants to catch up with me and they join me on a walk. The fresh air helps foster some great conversations. Whether you have a dog or not, I recommend stepping out of the office at least once a day to get some fresh air.

5. Sleep when it’s time to sleep, work when it’s time to work – Roxxee often sleeps most of the day away, and if she were an employee that would be a serious problem. To be productive, everyone needs to get 6-8 hours of sleep every night in order to be ready for work. My worst days at work are when I’m tired and sometimes the only solution is sleep. Rather than continuing the vicious cycle, the best way to be productive is to reset your body so that you can work efficiently. And when it’s time to work, you need to be alert, engaged and ready. Roxxee might need to learn to sleep a bit less during the day.

6. Only wag your tail when you mean it – Like most dogs, when Roxxee is happy, she wags her tail. It’s her way of telling someone that she appreciated a treat, a walk, or a pat on the head. But sometimes Roxxee wags her tail as an innate reaction, and not as a response to something positive. I think it’s important to provide positive feedback to employees, but not unless you really mean it. Too often managers provide positive feedback for insignificant and inconsequential milestones. It’s important to only recognize meaningful moments so that employees know what matters and what doesn’t.

SWAMI SAYS: They say that dogs are “man’s best friend” — and Roxxee is no exception. I treat her like a member of the team at my company. And while she’s an important fixture in the office, she could stand to learn a few things about work. Can I teach this dog some new tricks? Probably not. But perhaps the things I would teach her might be helpful in your startup or company.

Matt Douglas is the Founder & CEO of Punchbowl.com. Follow@mattdouglas on Twitter. 

Completely disconnected: a tech-free week

By the time you read this, I’m a few days into the one week of the year that I try to completely disconnect from all technology. Some people can’t believe that I’m able to do this (and think that I won’t actually disconnect), and this year I’ve found it to be harder than ever to wrap everything up before I disconnect. Nevertheless, after a lot of preparation, I have completely disconnected. (more…)