Finding balance in the second half of life

Posts Tagged ‘productivity’


In Survival on January 15, 2011 at 8:00 am

My cat Scratch works long hours in my home office, rearranging paper piles, typing cryptic notes on my laptop, making sure that my wireless mouse isn’t lazing around on its pad. The other day as I watched him bat the mouse to the floor, then drape himself elegantly across my notes and keyboard (he’s a big guy), it occurred to me that my furry assistant might actually be having a negative impact on my productivity.

Not that I would ever consider banning him from my place of work. Who else is going to pat me on the cheek with a soft paw as I labor in my endless pursuit of a fresh approach to extolling the virtues of adjustable-height tables?

Still, it got me thinking that there are probably a lot of people out there who share an office with their pet(s), and even more who wish they could. And, speaking of height-adjustable tables, mightn’t there be a market out there for furnishings — or at least accessories — designed to accommodate the special needs of the pet-friendly office?

A little bit of internet research revealed that, yes, many, many people these days face cat-computer compatibility issues. Also, I am not the first one to think that a desktop cat support device (in your choice of birch, cherry, or walnut veneer) is an idea whose time has come.

The real revelation for me, though, was the extent to which the pets-at-work phenomenon has spread beyond the home office. A recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) found that nearly one in five U.S. companies now allow pets at work. Many of these pet-friendly offices belong to small startups (my personal favorite, Small Dog Electronics, devotes a page on its website to employee and customer dogs) probably because with fewer employees it’s easier to reach consensus on issues like pet hair and squeak toys. But larger businesses are also signing on. Google, for example, has a liberal pet policy that nevertheless includes the provision “Dogs are not allowed on the sand volleyball court.”

The mental and physical health benefits of pet ownership are well documented. Studies have shown that pet owners have a reduced risk of heart disease and an increased rate of survival after a coronary event. Simply being in the presence of a friendly animal has a measurable positive effect on pulse and blood-pressure rates and reduces the intensity of stress experienced by people in such stress-inducing situations as undergoing a medical procedure or taking a math test.

But the benefits to employers who let workers bring their furry friends to the office extend beyond a healthier and more relaxed staff. The APPMA survey found that pets in the workplace improve employee morale and camaraderie, reduce absenteeism, and promote willingness to work overtime. Ninety-six percent of the pet-friendly companies surveyed said that pets contributed to positive work relations, and 73 percent said that pets in the office “create a more productive work environment.” Businesses that allow pets believe it improves the atmosphere for all employees, even those who are not pet owners themselves. In companies where people work long hours and/or spend most of their days working on computers, pets encourage employees to take healthful physical and mental breaks.

“Taking a minibreak elevates our brainpower and makes us more creative,” writes Doris Helge, pets-at-work proponent and author of Joy on the Job. “Some of us don’t take time to take the break we need until Rover reminds us.”

In a time when money is tight and work-life balance issues are hot, establishing a pet-friendly policy is an inexpensive perk that can serve as a significant recruitment and retention tool. Simply Hired, an online jobs database, provides a search option that allows job seekers to specify that they wish to work for a dog-friendly company. A survey by Simply Hired and Dogster, another online site, found that a third of employed dog-owners would be willing to take a five percent pay cut if it meant they could bring their pets to work. Two-thirds said they would work longer hours, and half said they would switch jobs.

Not everyone is an animal lover, of course, and even some who are have allergies to pet dander. Some employers try to accommodate everyone by designating certain areas as pet-free zones. Most companies that allow pets have a written policy which outlines expectations about where pets are allowed and what their owners’ responsibilities include. Policies typically specify that animals be housebroken, flea-free, and friendly, and that their humans clean up after them, inside and out. Autodesk, a pet-friendly company employing 1, 100 people at its San Raphael site, stipulates that “dogs are not to be brought to meetings” and “loud, repetitive barking or eating another employee’s food is also not acceptable.” Seems reasonable to me.

Promoters of “Take Your Dog to Work Day” (next  TYDTWD: June 24, 2011) offer tips for people planning to introduce Fido to the office that include leaving the squeak toy at home and making sure that your cubicle or office can safely and comfortably accommodate your pet. With regard to the latter, entrepreneurial types are already training their focus on the pet-friendly office market.

U.S. Patent 5934813 — “Keyboard protector having peaked configuration” — claims a unique design for a “protector assembly” comprising a “means to prevent an animal from remaining thereon in obstructing relation to the keyboard.” Under “Background of the Invention” the inventor explains the need for this device:

… individuals who are pet owners and particularly cat lovers and also use some type of computer instrument involving a keyboard have encountered the problem of having cats generally prowl across the keyboard thereby disturbing the operation thereof. In addition, cats of a particularly curious nature or those who have a habit of invading the operating area while their owners are working on the computer certainly have a disruptive effect on the operation and in fact, could, in certain instances, destroy certain work currently being performed on the computer.

I haven’t been able to determine if the protector assembly has made it into production yet.

In the meantime, BitBoost Systems offers PawSense, a software utility that “quickly detects and blocks cat typing.” The application analyzes key stroke timing and combinations to distinguish between your typing style and your cat’s. Its designers say that PawSense typically recognizes a cat on the keyboard within one or two “pawsteps” and then proceeds to block the cat’s “keyboard input.”

Or, better yet, let your cat use those keyboard skills to supplement the family income. A new book out from Ten Speed Press — Careers for Your Cat by Ann Dziemianowicz  — includes a “Meowers-Briggs Career/Personality Test” to help  you find the perfect placement for your office cat.

–Debra Wierenga

This article was originally published on

Let Them Eat… Something

In Survival on March 20, 2010 at 8:22 pm

My good friend posted this as her Facebook status last night: “doing a menu plan and grocery list for the week. Just another exciting Friday night….” What she meant to do, I’m sure, was to comment on the ordinariness of a weekend night, a sad thing, by some lights. But what she did was to remind me of the disarray in my culinary habits.

I was once as organized as she is now. In fact, I was that organized repeatedly, as I adopted new systems. I needed to be, when I was working full time away from the home where three children waited for dinner. I was an early adopter of Mangia, recipe software for my Mac SE30 that made grocery lists from what you chose. I had binders and categories and cross-references, and a plan for every week. I still have a theoretical pattern: Monday, pasta/polenta; Tuesday, salad; Wednesday, soup….

But now the kids are living on their own, eating heaven knows what (funny how they all turn out differently). I work from my home office most days, and at the end of the day, more likely than not, my husband, C, and I turn to each other and say, “What’s for dinner?”

What’s odd about this is that some of my kitchen habits have required more planning. I’ve developed a taste for homemade granola and yogurt, both of which take some scheming. I’ve gotten pretty good at whipping up a batch of granola (because C has gotten pretty good at scarfing it by the handful as he walks through the kitchen), but you’ve got to keep oats in the house. The yogurt takes a planned eight hours—or planning for an eight-hour stretch when I’m around at the beginning and the end.

This noon, while wondering what to eat for lunch, I did manage to put some beans and rice and pork in the slow cooker with some Cajun spices, so we’ll eat dinner tonight without a problem. Except, of course, that noon is a little late to start a slow-cooker dish. I meant to say that we’ll eat dinner eventually tonight.

But most days, in spite of my noted talent for frittering, I don’t manage to fritter in the kitchen. I fritter excellently at my computer, and feel oddly virtuous doing so. I can knit for hours in any room in the house. I can distract myself—I mean, think through a problem—while doing laundry, walking out to check the mailbox, or reading just one chapter in a book. I’d be better off with a reflex to go start a pot of soup.

I’m also handicapped by my desire to make things from scratch, preferably from fresh and local ingredients. It’s way less fun to cook when you’re not chopping something fresh from the farmer’s market—and I say that even knowing that I’m only seven weeks away from losing this excuse. And since we’re, shall I say, deepening our relationship with frugality, I’m drawn to improvising with what’s on hand, whether for sewing projects or a meal. This is, of course, less fun when what you have on hand is olives, egg noodles, and garbanzo beans, but the satisfaction of making something out of nothing is undeniable.

I got fresh inspiration for menu management from an unexpected source this week. A high school friend was in touch, asking questions for clients who’d published a cookbook called The Stocked Kitchen. The premise of the book is that if you keep your pantry stocked with a specific set of ingredients, you can make any of their 300 or so recipes whenever you feel like it.

This is attractive to me. To C, less so. I should note that, left to his own devices, C would eat spaghetti five days a week and fried-egg sandwiches the other two. But it’s also true that we have quite a collection of favorite foods that we’ve developed over our years together. We don’t manage, though, to get the right ingredients in the house—in the proper combinations—very often. If we want to do better at that, it’s going to take more time, from me or from him.

The first step in the “stocked kitchen” approach is to compare the actual current contents of your kitchen to the items on the standard grocery list. This is the sixth day that’s seemed like a really worthy thing to do, and the sixth day I haven’t done it. The next step, of course, is to go to the grocery store to buy the missing ingredients. After that: menu bliss.

Except that eating fresh seasonal stuff from the farmer’s market or the garden is a kind of bliss, too. As is the aforementioned making-something-from-nothing satisfaction. As is the comfort of eating those familiar Thai chicken wraps or baked macaroni and cheese.

Maybe I can migrate toward that “stocked kitchen” list. Maybe I should review all my past systems, remind myself why I gave them up. Maybe I’ll work on that soup-pot reflex. Or maybe we’ll muddle along in disarray a while longer. At least I won’t be spending my Friday nights planning menus!

–Lois Maassen