Achieving the right work-life balance

16 January 2013

Many of us don’t have the right worklife balance. Tanya Weaver discovers that although it’s difficult switching off from our current mobile devices, it will be even harder when this technology becomes wearable

I seem to have developed a reputation. Not as a design and technology journalist but as a beekeeper. It seems a bit ludicrous as I haven’t even been doing it a year and I’m still very much learning the ropes. But everyone, those I know as well as those I don’t, always ask me about beekeeping.

For instance, at a recent Teamcenter Technical Seminar I ran into Mark Barrow, business development consultant at Siemens PLM, who I’d met briefly at DEVELOP3D Live in April 2012.

The first thing he asked was not how things at the magazine are going or what’s new in the world of product development, but ‘how are the bees?’.

My being a beekeeper seems to intrigue and amuse people. So, for those who are interested, not much is currently happening in the Beehaus as the bees are clustering around the queen, not hibernating as I assumed.

An amazing bee fact is that although the temperature outside may be freezing, the centre of this cluster remains a constant 33oC through the bees generating heat by ‘shivering’ their wing muscles.

They should have enough honey stored to eat during winter, but as an extra precaution, I’ll be visiting with a Christmas present of a slab of fondant (yes, Christmas cake icing), which I’ll place directly on top of the frames.

This will hopefully see them through to the Spring when they can start foraging again.

Being a new hobby, I’ve completely thrown myself into it. I’ve bought the books, subscribed to the beekeeping magazines, gone to the honey shows, attended the apiary sessions, blogged about my experiences and recently I even went along to my beekeeping branch’s annual ‘Mead and Mince Pie’ night. It’s opened up a whole new world to me — not just through meeting new beekeepers face to face but also through those I’ve met via social media.

As it’s taken up so much of my spare time, it made me wonder what designers and engineers do with theirs. I know that James Bell, director of product design company 4D Products, takes really spectacular photographs for his sideline business James Bell Photography.

John Ewans, managing director of product design consultancy John Ewans Design, is a keen rower and actually founded a company — Active Tools — to make rowing-related products.

I also know of at least five of our readers who are beekeepers. One of them, Mike Luke, a maintenance strategy analyst at United Utilities, has been looking at taking his Swarm Catcher design, which was a runner up in our Design Buzz competition, to market.

Whilst Gary Hammond, a PLM technical consultant at Majenta PLM, has designed his own top bar beehive using Siemens NX software with the view of prototyping it.

We never switch off and it’s not just email and the internet at our fingertips but apps like Autodesk Sketch Book Mobile mean we can literally work anytime, anywhere

When I asked others on Twitter what they do in their spare time many came back saying that their work is their hobby. I suppose that this can mean that they enjoy tinkering and using the diff erent technologies available to them to design and create for their own enjoyment.

For instance, I know that Mike Willshaw, managing director of product design firm Radius Creatives, has invested in a 3D printer and as well as printing prototypes he’s also been printing his own Christmas tree decorations.

But there are others that just don’t have time for any extramural activities and literally their work is their life. In fact, the statistics are rather telling.

For instance, in a recent global business survey from Regus, a worldwide provider of fl exible workspaces, it states that for most the working day now extends well beyond the assumed eight hours. Globally almost half of workers (48 per cent) work more than nine hours a day.

But this is just what they clock in whilst at work, often today our work is wherever our smartphones and tablet devices are. We never switch off and it’s not just email and the internet at our fingertips but apps like Autodesk SketchBook Mobile, Adobe Ideas and Glovius 3D viewer mean we can literally work anytime, anywhere.

I’m a huge culprit of this and although I do work from home, the fact that my emails are enabled on my iPhone means that I never really segregate my work self from my non-work self.

In the evening I’ll sit on the couch and as well as Tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming, I’ll check and respond to work emails. It drives my husband nuts, although he isn’t completely innocent himself.

But he has set me the challenge of leaving my phone and iPad at home during our seven-night Christmas break in Switzerland. This is one heck of a challenge as my phone and I very rarely leave one another’s side.

But it is totally possible… for now. In the future it may not be that easy when you are actually wearing your mobile technology.

Two recent innovations show where this ‘wearable computing’ is heading. The first is the Pebble wristwatch. Featuring a 1.26-inch e-paper display, it communicates with an iPhone or Android device using Bluetooth.

Apps are fully customisable and as well as alerting users to incoming emails or calls, the watch can be used as an activity monitor whilst running or cycling or even as a rangefinder when playing golf. The product is in production and will be available imminently.

The second is Google’s augmented-reality glasses project known as Project Glass.

Essentially this stylish pair of wraparound glasses with built-in microphone and camera can stream information to the lenses and allow the wearer to send and receive messages through voice commands. It’s still a prototype but the technology is all there to make it a reality very soon.

So, I guess there will be a day when we can never turn ourselves off completely.

Comments on this article:

Hi Tanya, being a beekeeper myself i share your experience in the enjoyment of working with bees. Calming down while watching them work grin Great to get away from my job as a mechanical engineer. I modeled some hives an loaded them on my iPad (eDrawings Pro!) to show interested people how bees live.

Posted by Markus on Wednesday 16 2013 at 02:09 PM

It is quite frightening how hard it is to remove ourselves from the digital world - On a trip to the US I found it incredibly difficult to turn off my phone and leave it - even though I was on 'holiday'. To pose a different question though - do we really NEED to switch off completely? I often find that some of the best solutions to creative problems come not when at my desk, at a CAD station or sketching in an office, but when I'm lying in bed or relaxing on the sofa. We need to be able to access the subconscious parts of our mind to get around design challenges - that can only happen if we relax, but still have the question in the back of our minds. Isn't it better to sit back, but not switch off?

Posted by Hywel Vaughan on Wednesday 16 2013 at 02:12 PM

I wonder if project glass and it's ilk will make it so NOT wearing glasses actually puts you at a disadvantage! I don't wear glasses or a watch and kind of like being free of tech on my body - wearable tech will be the hardest to ignore- but I have a Galaxy Note and use that all the time now for ideas and sketches. Agree with you Hywel that it's often when not working that the answers come, the Note seems to be doing that better than pen and paper for me. Dropbox makes it so quick to capture and share. Normally personal stuff though - work emails stay at work!

Posted by Mark Young on Wednesday 16 2013 at 03:08 PM

@ Markus Please email me the models of your beehive. I always find a way to sneak beekeeping-related stuff into D3D wink Hope your bees are good - better to have very chilly weather than mild and damp (or so I've been told)! @Hywel Actually, I do agree with what you are saying. I think for some people, they do have the kind of job where they can switch off completely but for creatives it's not that easy. My husband is an interior designer and when he's on holiday, he always has a sketch pad with him because he says that inspiration can come anytime and it's especially when he's away. He's actually said he has the best ideas in that period just before he drifts off to sleep. Maybe that's why he wanted to have so many naps on holiday...good for creativity wink @Mark I agree - I think people are using dropbox more and more now. I use it loads for work and personal.

Posted by Tanya Weaver on Wednesday 16 2013 at 03:33 PM

Leave a comment

Enter the word you see below: