Keeping My Feet Under Me and Staying Off My Ass

My “day job” (that pays the bills) is working as a “business process consultant” for Kaiser Permanente. Honestly, I have a lot of issues with the U.S. health care industry, particularly the for-profit part of it, because it seems to be more about profiting from illness by selling more pills and procedures than promoting health. KP on the other hand, is a non-profit company and is all about being a “health maintenance organization”. It is successful financially by doing what it can to keep its members healthy. My partner Sally and I appreciate the KP model, we have been members for the 28 years we’ve been married, and KP has helped us through raising two kids plus our occasional health crises.

So like my current employer (and since my personal cataclysm of a bad bicycle accident two years ago followed ten weeks later by removal of a three-centimeter blood clot from my skull) I am all about my own health maintenance. For me, that maintenance includes eating a plant-based, whole-food, low-fat diet; leading as balanced a life as I possibly can; and maximizing the joy while minimizing the stress in my life.

Where I find a great deal of that joy these days is when (literally and metaphorically) I have my feet under me and I am moving forward, rather than sitting on my ass! Though I have what is conventionally a very sedentary job (spending the bulk of ones day sitting in front of ones computer or in a meeting) I don’t accept that conventional framing. I am up, on my feet and moving about as much as I can wrangle at my job site during my work day.

That day starts with a half-hour walk to the train station for a short train ride to work. Particularly it is cool and crisp and gets my blood flowing and my brain processing better than any cup of coffee.

At my desk I have found I can invert one of those empty 11 by 17 cardboard ten-ream paper boxes in front of my computer monitor, set my keyboard and mouse on it, and do much of the work at my computer standing up rather than sitting down. It helps here that I’m left-handed actually, since to make room for my mouse on the left side of the box I can move the keyboard to the right with the keypad dangling off the right side (since I don’t use the keypad). I know there are expensive desk arrangements that raise and lower, but this works quite well, is simple to do and undo, and costs nothing. I generally can spend several hours a day working in this upright position, even able to move my feet in place while I do so.

Over the past few years I have acquired the ability to facilitate meetings over the phone, particularly those where all the other participants are on the phone as well. Many of the meetings and work sessions I am called on to facilitate are of this sort, involving co-workers calling in from all over California or the entire country. Even when I’m not the facilitator, many of the other meetings I participate in are such conference calls as well.

For all these meetings that I participate in on the phone, I put on my wireless headset, and since it has about a forty foot range, I can walk around the “neighborhood” around my cube while I am engaged in the meeting. I can pace, look out the nearby windows, refill my water glass in the kitchen and generally keep my body in motion. If it is a “web meeting”, where I need to see what’s on my computer screen (or I am typing things on-screen for others to see and comment on) then at worst I can stand in front of my monitor with my mouse and keyboard on box arrangement.

This works so much better for me than sitting in a meeting room, where my brain tends to shut down and I have to fight with dozing off (if I’m not the meeting facilitator). I think up to eighty percent of the meetings I participate in I am able to do over the phone.

Then I build into my day generally three twenty-minute walks around my work campus. This is where I do all my best strategic thinking, how I should proceed on a particular project, what’s on the critical path of my workload, or what I have to be most cognizant of in a work session I’m about to lead. When I am walking briskly I have the maximum blood flow to my brain and therefor my mind is working optimally. When I am outdoors and can “look long” at distant objects that somehow promotes more “longsighted” strategic thinking. I tend to be more “shortsighted” when I am staring at cube walls only a few feet in front of me. Sometimes I will even do part of a meeting, where I am basically just listening in, on my cell phone and headset while I take one of my walks.

I have found that my body is my avatar and my corporeal orientation is the metaphor that drives my metaphysical orientation to the world. So if I am “off my ass”, “on my feet” and even “moving forward” physically, it seems those metaphors play out in the work that I am doing as well. I get a lot of kudos on my meeting facilitation skills and the quality of the documents I create, and I am convinced that leveraging these metaphors helps me do so.

3 replies on “Keeping My Feet Under Me and Staying Off My Ass”

  1. What a healthy way to live. I get tired just thinking about your routine and I envy you the discipline needed.

    Tell me, is there a reason you are posting on Google rather than on your blog?

  2. You hit on a number of important issues there. Being able to conduct these meetings in a familiar environment is important. For many, having to travel to participate in meetings can be stressful, very stressful for some given the difficulties involved with flying (not to mention being away from family).

    Teleconferencing, and now videoconferencing, are starting to take over as the preferred meeting method. I have one question, and I think I can guess the answer – do you find you are now involved with more meetings because of teleconferencing than before you used the technology?

  3. Matthew… Your point about a familiar environment is important here. These new communications technologies (along with the old school telephone) allow for a completely different paradigm where you bring the meeting to the participants rather than bring the participants to the meeting. It is a completely different relationship dynamic based on facilitation rather than control, plus when meeting participants can be at their own desks with access to their computer and their network they can more easily look things up or share them electronically with the rest of the meeting group.

    And certainly many of the meetings I lead involve people who are not at my location, and since my meetings generally last an hour or less (fit in to everyone’s full schedules) it saves people so much time and stress as you say not to travel.

    As to your question about more meetings, there is a lot I could say on that. I make a real effort to set up as few meetings as possible and attend as few of other people’s meetings as possible. For every meeting I’m invited to I ask the following questions…

    1. Am I playing a role leading, moderating, taking notes or otherwise facilitating the meeting?

    2. Am I a “SME” (subject matter expert) who will be speaking to my expertise as part of the agenda of the meeting?

    3. Will I get the input I need from the meeting from the published notes in terms of info shared, decisions or action items?

    If the answer to the first two questions is no and the answer to the third is yes, then if possible I will not attend the meeting, or worst case try to just call in on the phone as a sort of “fly on the wall”.

    So IMO I think we do have more meetings, mostly because we can using all this technology electronic technology. But hopefully we can also have shorter meetings because that technology lets us exchange more information, more efficiently and with a tighter feedback loop.

    The meetings I have often been leading lately involve creating “talking points” for call center staff that take calls from our customers. I set up a Webex session for the meeting which includes an audio call-in number plus share viewing of my computer screen (or anyone else’s that I choose to pass to). Once I have everyone on the phone, I bring up an Excel spreadsheet document which I’m sharing thru Webex with other participants and I work on creating (or updating) talking point language. Everyone can see me typing the words as I do and can give me input when either I’ve gotten it right or need to change something. It is a very effective way to have many quick iterations leveraging both written and spoken word to best and immediate effect.

    I have become so comfortable with leading these phone/Webex meetings that I generally avoid having meetings in rooms face-to-face at all! Of course, since I generally hold meetings with colleagues within the company who are all part of the same project team, rather than say external customers, the phone/Webex approach works particularly well.

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