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(Parent reading to young child) “Daddy has a work deadline, so tonight’s bedtime story is ‘Resolving Supply Chain Issues in Real Time: A Proposal to the Board’”

Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the Gantt chart bite

Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the Gantt chart bite published on

You may raise your eyebrows at the parenting in this cartoon, but think about the bedtime classics. What is Jack and the Beanstalk if not a parable about the challenges of scaling up? Rapunzel is about technological innovation to overcome barriers to entry. Goodnight, Moon teaches us the merits of conducting regular inventories.

Working from home in these pandemic days has meant a lot of tradeoffs as our work lives intrude on our personal lives, and vice versa. We’re taking crucial phone calls in closets (clothing, linen or, ahem, water) because they’re the only quiet place in the house; we’re fighting the temptation to bolt down dinner and get back to the laptop because of a looming deadline. Remote work has meant making often-hasty accommodations — not all of which stand up over time.

But with the prospect of remote work becoming a permanent part of the mix for a lot of people, maybe it’s time to take another look at those makeshift arrangements and build the kind of lives — personal and professional — that we really want. My wife Alexandra Samuel, co-author of Remote, Inc.: How To Thrive At Work… Wherever You Are, has offered a valuable perspective on how to keep remote work from overtaking our home lives. That includes both mental shifts in our thinking and concrete practices that take you beyond work-life balance to work-life integration.

And speaking of Remote, Inc.: For the past several weeks, I’ve had the delight of creating cartoons to celebrate and promote the book. Alex and co-author Robert C. Pozen have created the definitive roadmap to the new hybrid workplace, and I urge you to check it out. This is the final cartoon in the series, and it’s probably my favourite of the bunch.

Couple in bed: one is delivering a remote presentation, while the one who’s trying to sleep says “Remind me in the morning — we need to talk about boundaries.”

Good fences make 1) good neighbours and 2) good remote work habits

Good fences make 1) good neighbours and 2) good remote work habits published on

Remote work has always been at least part of how I do things professionally. It’s a natural part of freelancing. But even when I’ve had a job-job, doing some work in the distraction-free environment of home was a recurring trochee in my professional rhythm.

That changed last April, when I had the very good fortune to land a 12-month term as the BC Federation of Labour’s director of communications. My last day was on Friday, capping off a year of guiding the messages and communication strategy for a terrific organization representing more than 500,000 union members throughout British Columbia.

And, like nearly all of my coworkers, I did it entirely virtually. There was no migration from the office for me; I never set foot there.

Yet despite years of working-from-home practice, it was a challenge to keep my BCFED work from encroaching on my personal life. (And vice versa, with unexpected puppy Zoom-bombing being one of the least intrusive incursions.)

That was partly because of the lack of physical separation — with remote work, there’s none of that psychological break that comes from walking out the office door.

But it was also the fact that I care a lot about the work I do. (Which is a tremendous privilege: A lot of people have jobs they find at best meh and at worst awful.)

And this job was no exception. The BCFED had to take on a remarkable challenge: advocating for working people, equity and justice in a pandemic that both raised the stakes dramatically, and transformed the way we do that work. It’s been a fascinating opportunity to find new ways to connect, collaborate, mobilize and effect change. And I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

I’m delighted to return to my clients and freelance practice, but I’ll miss working with my friends at the Fed. My advice: When you have the chance to work with talented, dedicated people around values that matter to you, jump at it.

* * *

Of course, one thing that’s helped me navigate the challenges of my first-ever entirely remote full-time job is having a front seat as my wife Alexandra Samuel and her co-author Robert C. Pozen wrote Remote, Inc. the definitive guide to (as the subtitle puts it) thriving at work wherever you are.

It’s a practical, hands-on guide for employees and managers alike, and not just for COVID times: Remote, Inc. will help you navigate the fusion of remote and on-site work that’ll emerge as the new post-pandemic normal.

It launches on April 27, but you can pre-order right now.

(person photographing roses with a phone) Sometimes you just have to stop and Instagram the roses.

A well-earned break

A well-earned break published on

“Just a note that, over the next while, it may be easier than usual to find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. I’m doing a social media gorge.”

I’ve often said that the secret to not driving yourself batty online isn’t to focus on annual Internet fasts, but on taking social media and the rest of what the Internet has to offer, and making ruthlessly intentional use of it. Don’t let Facebook’s newsfeed, Instagram’s stream or Twitter’s trending topics tell you what’s important; use lists, hashtags and carefully-honed searches to set your own priorities.

But I’ll admit I’ve sometimes been guilty of underestimating how hard that can be. Because nearly every social media platform out there is doing its damnedest to lure you into their algorithmically-driven (and advertiser-friendly) stream of content. They’re doing it not just by making those streams appealing, but addictive — and by making it harder to shape those streams on your own.

That isn’t likely to change any time soon. So you might well be thinking “Hey, maybe it’s time for a new social network that won’t treat its members’ time and attention the way coal-mining companies treat Appalachian mountaintops.” And if you’re also thinking “And I’m just the visionary to build it!” then you’ll probably want to read this piece by Alexandra Samuel. (Disclosure: I’m her husband and biggest fan.) She discusses some of the daunting obstacles and tough choices any Facebook replacement will have to confront.

Meanwhile, it’s worth every effort we can make to remember that our time and attention are our own, that they have value, and that what matters is the connections we make and deepen with each other and the meaning we create. And don’t feel any shame over doing that online. When you Instagram those roses, do it with your head held high — so long as that’s the angle that works to get the shot you want.

Cartoon: stressed-out people working overtime at the Center for Work-Life balance

Life in the balance

Life in the balance published on

If you work or volunteer with a mission-driven organization — or a consultancy that serves them — it’s easy to get caught up in the “mission” and “driven” aspects. Taking time to look after yourself can seem like the ultimate self-indulgence when the world is on fire. And yet self-care is crucial if you want to be at your most effective in working for change.

Maybe it’s a little myopic to think that became a lot more important after November 8, 2016. Or maybe it’s just that a lot of people who are new to activism and organizing for change are going to find it out the hard way. Either way, there’s a book that can help. A lot.

(Regular Noise to Signal readers can probably sing along at this point. :))

It’s Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman‘s new book The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit. They promise “strategies for impact without burnout,” and the book delivers. (The fact that it also delivers a batch of Noise to Signal cartoons is, of course, a delightful bonus.) I heartily recommend it as a gift for both the grizzled campaign veteran and the activist n00b in your life.

Work-work balance

Work-work balance published on No Comments on Work-work balance

At some time or another, you’ve probably read  that famous life-work balance quotation, “Nobody ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.'” Or words to that effect.

It’s based on some big assumptions: that work isn’t fulfilling, while spending time with your family is; that any time taken from family and given to work is a mistake; and that it’s a zero-sum game: that time given to work must necessarily come at the expense of family.

But I derive tremendous satisfaction from my work life. I’m often more present, more engaging, more open and more joyous a parent on a day when I’ve felt effective at work, because I believe my work’s important — and that it springs from the same values that I bring to my personal relationships. (For the record, those are love, compassion, justice, kerning and proper spelling.)

So many people yearn to have a larger impact in the world, and that’s not always going to be through family. Yes, by all means, if you see your family life suffering because of long hours at an unfulfilling job, find a new balance. But maybe it’s not just a question of the hours you work. Maybe we should demand more from our work. Maybe meaning should be a bigger part of the compensation package.

That would go a long way to cutting down on a lot of other deathbed regrets.

Time to put the “not” in “notifications”

Time to put the “not” in “notifications” published on No Comments on Time to put the “not” in “notifications”

I’m not sure when it happened. But at some point my laptop and smartphone stopped being places of work, creativity, conversation and leisure, and started being the dashboard of a highly-strung car. Suddenly, I’m surrounded by notifications.

Three new email messages. Five things just happened on Facebook. Four people have mentioned, DM’d or retweeted me on twitter. Six Google+ alerts. LinkedIn on the iPhone now feels the need to notify me that I can always check it to see what my contacts are up to. (That has to be the ultimate meta-reminder: an app reminding you that it still exists.)

And if I still don’t feel like I have the pulse of my system at my fingertips, I can install a shareware utility to notify me of all sorts of involuntary muscle movements on the part of my operating system and applications. “Backup complete.” “Word just updated itself.” “Photoshop just completed peristalsis.”

And it’s all too much. Because every one of those notifications conveys the same red-badged “deal-with-me-NOW” sense of extreme urgency, whether it’s a DM that my house is on fire and I should do something about it, or the announcement of the new Rabid Parakeet in Angry Birds. When everything’s important, nothing’s important.

The first few times I experienced notifications, I felt like the Terminator, with that cool heads-up display constantly alerting me to my surroundings, feeding me tactical data. After a while, though, it just feels like being 10 years old in the back seat with a pesky sibling who keeps poking you in the side.

Besides, once I have badges on my iPhone apps with numbers like “62” on them, the game is lost anyway, and all that those notifications are doing is rubbing salt into the wound.

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

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