Archives for category: Inspiration

Imagine a work day where your smart phone keeps standard work hours — turns on when you begin working and off it goes as you head home for the evening. Volkswagen did more than just imagine this when its German operation recently adopted a policy that turns on its email servers a half hour before the work day begins and turns it off a half-hour after the day ends (policy applies to all non-managerial blackberry users).

According to an article in Wired magazine online, Volkswagen’s intention is improve worker well-being by promoting a work culture where people should not be expected to work or be reached at all hours of the day. AMEN!

Blackberries, iPhones and their smart phone competitors keep us constantly wired, so the difference between work and play is increasingly blurred.

It has become widely accepted that for a telemarketer to call during dinner-time or at night is intrusive, if not illegal in some places, so why not a similar sentiment toward a client or co-worker that can’t wait until the morning to send a message? The task at hand probably won’t get done any sooner because we are aware of it at 11 P.M. instead of 8 A.M. the next day. The world will also likely not come to an end because we are not available to answer messages at all hours of the night.

I would venture to call the Volkswagen decision revolutionary by US standards, yet in uber efficient Germany, it is possible? The policy indicates a sensitivity to worker quality of life in a digital world that should really be present in some form in every company.

I’m sure much of the counter argument revolves around how this stunts productivity, but does it really? There are endless studies that show how workers waste at least 25-30% of their time at work messing around on the Internet for personal reasons anyway. Why not make the work day more efficient and our off-hours genuinely preserved for leisure?

So at the end of the work day, what’s more important? Reading emails during dinner or spending time with your kids? Answering questions on a Blackberry that can wait until the morning or taking a jog, cooking a proper meal, watching a movie with a friend? It seems like the answer should be pretty obvious for the non-workaholics out there, but then again, not everyone loves to log off!

Logging out now…

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For those out there with exploding inboxes taking up way too much of your time, check out TED’s Chris Anderson’s Email Charter. I don’t agree with everything written there or the overall concept of such curt email etiquette, but I certainly agree with #10:

10. Disconnect!
If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online. Or a commitment to email-free weekends. Or an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. And don’t forget to smell the roses.

For the jet-setting types running organizations and toting a smart phone into the toilet just to clean out their inbox, the Email Charter probably has worthy application.

The prevailing idea is that shorter, direct, more thoughtful emails are more efficient and easier to respond to. Anderson makes a great reference to Mark Twain in this Fast Company article about the charter: Twain once apologized in a letter, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Then again, maybe the charter is simply a way to excuse big bosses like Mr. Anderson for being jerks in their emails by writing next to nothing in response or nothing at all.

A few other pointers that weren’t included in the Charter are unsubscribing from useless newsletters, using tools like Google’s Priority Inbox to sort mail more efficiently, turning email off on vacation, or how about throwing that smart phone in the garbage disposal!

In any case, less time using e-mail can only be a good thing, so take a look at the Charter and apply what works for you — and add my #11 to the list, “be kind and courteous even if it takes an extra four seconds.”

Logging out now…


Some friends recently recruited me to help make beer from absolute scratch. It’s no easy task, requires a major investment of time and equipment and certainly qualifies as a serious hobby. But if you love beer enough to put in the effort, or love the people enough who asked you to make it with them, then it’s a whole lotta fun to do as a group – maybe even start a club?

I guess that’s kind of what we did by accident, hanging out on Saturdays cooking hops, bringing out the rich golds and reds of an IPA and brown ale. I hardly like beer, barely drink it even, but wow! it smells fantastic when it’s cooking on the stove top. Beer soup anyone?

First step to get started spending your weekends brewing the next best beer is to look out for local courses in beer making. Local enthusiasts can teach you the basics and either sell you directly or lead you to the right spots to buy equipment. Keep motivated by teaming up with fellow graduates from the course and start brewing on your own.

Alternatively, join people that already know what they are doing and learn from them.

As a last resort, Google will do the trick as well with tons of resources out there to get you started. Find a few buddies and work it out together.

brewersbooks.com
homebrewers.com
tastybrew.com

Having tasted the final product of many of these gatherings, it’s worth the trouble. The beers have a very natural flavoring that commercial beers could never achieve. They come out surprisingly very good, no matter how amateur the brewers may be. The love and labor that went into that bottle of your homemade beer probably doesn’t hurt either.

So bottle those beers and start your own local brew. Have a bottling party, supply your own beer to small parties or to a friend’s wedding. What better way to pass a weekend internet-free!

Best part is naming the beer.

Good luck!

Logging out now.

Ah, the teeny tiny plastic pie pieces, the impossible entertainment trivia questions… can’t top playing a round of the classic board game, Trivial Pursuit. Thank you Canada for this fantastic timeless export.

By now of course they’ve got digital versions of this old-school trivia challenge. The game has its own iPhone ap and there is even a Wii version – how exactly Trivial Pursuit becomes some kind of remotely controlled video game, who knows.

Apparently the Wii game is (not surprisingly) a bust; “The lack of online multiplayer and the overabundance of geographic questions means there is little reason to play this version over any of the cardboard originals…” (Gamespot review). Amen. Or in other words, Trivial Pursuit for one person pretty much deceives the point of it all, no? Proving to everyone how smart you are.

Wii Trivial Pursuit game. No thanks.

So think about pulling out that dusty navy blue and gold box from the bottom of the cupboard. It won’t hurt either that you’ve probably got about 10 more years of knowledge stacked up since the last time you played.

And now for some quick Trivial Pursuit questions to entice you even more… and think 1984 on this… the questions are fantastically dated in the older editions.

Q1. In what city was Bobby Kennedy assassinated?
Q2. What’s the capital of West-Germany? (Love this one!)
Q3. What is the biggest satellite orbiting the earth?
Q4. Where is Yogi Bear from?

Bringing Trivial Pursuit back into my life in recent months has not only improved my knowledge of what were once current facts in 1984, but brought a little geekiness and fun into Saturday’s at the in-laws where cross-generational teams has made it a successful after lunch tradition.

So dig up the ol’ Trivial Pursuit from out of the woodwork (and some people over 30) or just get a new one and bring the tradition alive again!

For those stuck with the answers to the above questions just at the tip of their tongues:
A1. Los Angeles
A2. Bonn
A3. The Moon
A4. Jellystone National Park

Logging off now.

For those of you south of the equator or for anyone lucky enough to get a warm, sunny winter day in January, there’s never a bad time for a picnic. Rainy? Stormy? Living in subzero temperatures? Just have it indoors on your living room floor. Snowing? Sunny, but chilly? Make some hot chocolate and fill up the thermoses – the cold is surprisingly bearable and the snow even prettier with a hot drink in one hand and a fresh cookie in the other. Go crazy. Dunk the cookie in the hot chocolate. 😉

This past weekend I baked some cookies, pulled on a sweater and headed out with a couple roast beef sandwiches, drinks and some friends to the park (forgive me, I do live in a climate warm enough to comfortably take the picnic outside every once in awhile in winter). The pleasure of enjoying a meal or snack in the outdoors or simply in a creative way – like on that blanket spread across your living room floor – jazzes up the daily practice we call eating and makes a regular weekend lunch a little more special. No television, blackberry, iPhone or laptop required.

To sweeten up your picnic, below is my recipe Oatmeal Nut Chocolate cookies.

3/4 c. margarine
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar (or a little less if too sweet)
1 c. brown sugar (or a little less if too sweet)
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
1tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. ground cloves
2 c. quick cooking oats
1 c. white chocolate chips (or regular chocolate, or raisins)
Handful of sliced almonds and/or pecans

Preheat oven to 375F/190C.  Mix margarine with about half the flour, brown sugar, sugar, egg, baking powder, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. Mix until fully combined, then add the rest of the flour and stir in the oat and chocolate chips. Make dough balls and take a pecan  and press into the balls as you flatten them slightly before placing on greased tray. For the sliced almonds place them like a pinwheel and flatten like before (see pic below). Bake 10-12 min. or until edges are turning golden brown. Place on wire rack to cool about 10 minutes. Then immediately place in airtight containers to keep ’emsoft!

Even the doctors agree. Turning off electronics might make you have a better day. Or so they say over at WebMD in the short advice article 10 Ways to Improve your Day in Just 5 Minutes.

#9 on the list states >>  Turn off your electronics. Just because we live in a wired world doesn’t mean you need to stay connected every minute of every single day. Staring at computer screens and electronics all day long can zap your energy and encourage inactivity. So log off your email, phones, and Internet (yes, social networking web sites count, too). This is especially important to allow you to unwind and relax before bed.

Couldn’t agree more. Interesting the part about logging off before going to bed. Not a bad tip to promise yourself at least a quiet hour just before hitting the hay. Made me realize I naturally adhere to an “after 8” rule where the computer is almost always off by 8 p.m. or earlier. That’s some sacred time there for reading, watching a movie, the late news, a glass of wine, a walk with the dog or just playing a game before hitting the hay.

The rest of the list was pretty good too, besides the making the bed bit. I’m not convinced fixing up the pillows will really improve my day all that much. But who would think to sniff a lemon when the going gets tough. The wise ol’ Japanese found that they have anti-inflammatory properties and may fight stress. Check out this post for a few thoughts about that.

Logging out now.

Ah, the miraculous printed family photograph, a lost art in the digital age. Or maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration and maybe we’re not quite near the point of extinction, but when was the last time you printed photos and really put the time into building a photo album? A scrap book? Documented your kid’s year at school?

With friends and family visiting, something about crowding around the computer to view a photo album lacks its charm (and comfort). And sure, slide shows on the television screen are nice, but something about printed photos – though it may be old school – creates actual keepsakes you can hold… physical evidence of travels, life cycle events, etc. I guess at some point we’ll be inheriting a disc on key of a person’s life rather than a stack of photo albums.

So instead of spending endless hours in front of the computer building the best photo slide show the world has ever seen or simply clicking through a Flickr account to show your friends, try heading back to the basics. Grab a friend, a kid, or maybe a sibling and take those thousands of digital photos and not only print the best of the best among them, but incorporate the pictures into scrapbooks, special photo albums, make a photo collage, etc. I’ll never forget the framed poster-sized photo collage I got for my 13th birthday packed with hundreds of cut out photos.

Better yet, think ahead and save ticket stubs, post cards, brochures and keepsakes from your travels or family events that can then be pasted into a scrap book along with your photos.

An album, a little creativity, a pair of scissors and a rainy Sunday is all you need.

Plenty of resources available here to get you started:
scrapjazz.com
scrapbook.com
the-scrapbook-store.com

Logging off now.

The most boring Saturday in a long while almost brought me to break a pact with myself to no longer log on to the internet one day of the week.

I chose Saturday this week and as the day progressed, the clock slowly ticked away the seconds of nothing to do. Organizing my desk lasted a whole 10 minutes. Sweeping the floor, another 10. Walking the dog. Watching a Seinfeld rerun. Making the bed. Tick. Tick. Tick.

The combination of a rumbling tummy and a craving for something sweet turned out to be the trick to undo my boredom. I shall bake!

A lasagna, a few trays of cookies and a fruit crisp later… time was flying and the computer still off. I’m no Betty Crocker, but a few rounds of whipping up goodies in the kitchen warmed up the house, my mood and certainly made my husband happy when he came home. The fruit crisp turning out to be a cinch to make and very tasty.

So take the time to log off and bake something for yourself this week, or for your neighbors, family, roommates…

Try my recipe below if you can’t think of anything better:

FRUIT CRISP*

Filling:
3 peeled, cored and cubed pears
3 peeled, cored and cubed apples (fuji or gala type apples)
½ c. dried cherries
1 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. honey
1 ½ tbsp. lemon juice

Crisp:
1/3 c. brown sugar (can be a bit more, can be a bit less depending on your sweet tolerance)
½ c. flour
¾ c. quick cooking oats
¼ c. finely chopped walnuts
¾ c. butter
Pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190C). Mix the filling together and lay out in an 8 in. (20×4 cm.) baking pan. Mix the crisp ingredients together and loosely lay on top of the fruit (doesn’t need to cover it completely). Bake for 45 minutes or until top part is crispy!

*make with whatever fruits are in season and for the less health conscious, plop some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top.

Logging out now…

 

I promise this isn’t a plug for the new and unusual owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire businessman caught my attention in a rerun of 60 Minutes highlighting the high life of this playboy and his new NBA role stateside.

What was remarkable to me was what he said about computers. “I don’t use a computer. We have too much information and it’s really impossible to filter it.” His desk was a mess of papers with no piece of machinery in site. My kind of billionaire.

The New York Post reported he doesn’t have a cell phone and writes his own letters. Granted he probably pays people to use computers, dial phone numbers and brush his teeth for him… it still left an impression on me.

If a Russian billionaire in the 21st Century can be so “retro” and logged off (all the time), well then so can I (once in awhile). This is probably just about the only thing we have in common, but I’ll at least be taking his lead on this.

I promise when I become a billionaire, I will do the same.

Logging out now.

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I was home all day yesterday with the spouse at work on the weekend, twiddling my thumbs searching for bad romantic comedies on television when the book I am currently reading (a real book made of paper) started glaring at me and so did the computer screen.

So, do I break my internet-free Saturday rule to send a few e-mails or aimlessly cruise the Web? Or, do I work on finishing up a book that isn’t that good but not bad enough to give up on? I thought of this blog and thought of my poor ol’ brain and picked up the book. Went outside, grabbed a chair and sat in the shade – a nice sunny 75F day didn’t hurt.

It was definitely the right idea. I think I started the work week more refreshed and less apprehensive about flipping on the hard drive yet again to start a day of work.

Don’t give up on books my friends!

Logging out now.