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But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep

September 1, 2008

Tom Davenport has an apposite post (well from my point of view at least) about the fact that holiday and work these days are difficult to separate. He also references an article about IBM which resonates with my own experience; no one much worried about time keeping as long as you turned up to meetings and conference calls and got the job done. If course the downside was you never got away either. The one time I ignored email for two and a half weeks was towards the end of my IBM period and I have never repeated the experience.

I was staying in my favorite part of France namely the foothills of the Pyrenees in Cathar country. There was no internet access where we were so I decided to leave it. Breaking the long drive back to the UK south of Paris I hooked up in a hotel to receive several thousand emails, and reading through them realised that I had been completely and utterly politically shafted. My failure to respond to some emails had resulted in a realisation that I was away and the forces of darkness assembled. I returned to a fait accompli which took months of work to overcome (and I never recovered completely). I also suffered extreme and aggravated stress through trying to catch up on a massive backlog.

Since then I have also made sure that I am within two days of email, ideally daily just to keep on top of things. OK at the moment, after a week in Italy with little free time the backlog is there, but urgent things have been handled. Its going to take some late nights and early mornings to clear the in box and then there are admin, project and writing tasks that are stacking up. To make matters more difficult the Rugby season is on us so the pilgrimages to Cardiff Arms Park for the Magners League, and four hopefully glorious weekends in November (Wales play South Africa, New Zealand, Cardiff and Australia on successive weekends and I have tickets) will intrude on time. Its not just vacations after all, its also weekends and evenings. I tweet, email and blog sitting in front of the television at home while chatting with son. That chat is often virtual by the way, I remember on crazy weekend having in effect a conference call with the kids who were both in their rooms chatting with me and friends on line.

The world we now live in has fewer boundaries and is more fluid in nature. Of course its different for different people and I always get irritated when people lay down universal laws about what you should do. I have been very lucky never to have worked on something which I did not enjoy, or about which I was not passionate. Others want a separation. When my sister started to work at home more or less full time (she was also acquired by IBM and is still there) she got up, had breakfast and changed into work clothes then went for a walk around the village arriving at the “office” ten minutes later to work for the day. For her work and play are more separate. In contrast I have been know to stumble out of bed at 0500 feed the cats (they like it when I am home they get to eat earlier), make the first americano of the day and then realise that time has flown, its midday and I am still wearing a dressing gown.

Now I have always been in the service sector, how this would work in other professional or non-professional environments is more difficult to say. What is clear is that the nature of work and play and the boundaries between them are changing beyond recognition. If I look at this and the multiple virtual interactions of my family and various clans then I am reminded of the dictum of the evolutionary psychologists; 98% of our genetic history is as pliocene hunter gathers. If I look at emerging work patterns then we are very close to a modern version of that environment, which maybe why it feels natural.

The title of this blog by the way is from Robert Frost, up there with Ted Hughes and Dylan Thomas in my frequently thumbed books of peotry. Here it the full poem and it seemed apt.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

And on that note, in Amsterdam I will go to bed

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