Monday, July 21, 2008

Is Working Overtime Killing You Too?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 45 - ninja attack

Japan—that island super-nation that gave us such innovations as karaoke, Super Nintendo, and Ice Cucumber Pepsi—has a bit of a problem. You see, the people in Japan just work too damned hard. Whereas the typical American 40-hour work week consists of 20 hours of coffee breaks, 10 hours of unproductive meetings, 7 hours of sexually harassing your gorgeous secretary, and 3 hours of actual work, the Japanese work week averages 60-70 grueling hours. What happened was, a while back, Japan realized that the only way it was going to overtake the United States (a country with more than twice its population) in areas like technology, education, and pornography was to work roughly 17 times harder. And that’s just what they did then and continue to do to this very day.

Sadly for Japanese workers, working yourself to death has the unfortunate side effect of sometimes actually killing you as one unlucky engineer at Toyota found out recently. The occurrence of overtiming oneself into an early grave has become such a frequent happening in Japan in the last half-century that they’ve even invented a word to describe the phenomenon: karōshi which, roughly translated, means “happy fun hard-working death time.” There have been dozens of well-publicized karōshi deaths in Japan since the phrase was first coined around 1970, though many other cases likely go unreported as companies pay surviving family members quiet settlements. The typical karōshi death is a direct result of a heart attack or stroke caused by sheer overwork.

While 80-hour work weeks aren’t as common on this side of the Pacific, there are nonetheless plenty of Americans who are prime candidates for exiting this life karōshi style. You might know a few people like this yourself. Heck, you might even be someone like this—toiling thanklessly for the good of your employer with little regard for your own self-preservation. If that sounds like you, then there are some steps you might want to start taking right away to help ensure you don’t drop dead from overwork.

  1. Um, stop working so much, eh? If you don’t realize this is the best option, then you’re probably too far down the karōshi path to turn back now. Don’t worry, I’m sure your boss will take good care of your spouse after you’re gone, if you know what I mean.
  2. Get paid more. Believe it or not, knowing that you’re fairly compensated for your job can make it less stressful. If you’ve got plenty of money coming into the household, you won’t have as much to worry about outside of work, which means you’ll be able to pull off a few 80-hour work weeks here and there without dissolving yourself into a puddle of overworked goo.
  3. Get paid overtime. If you already get paid well for your first 40 hours, but you’re working 70 hours a week, then you’re giving away 30 hours of your time for free. Ask your company for overtime pay or work somewhere else that already offers it. You’ll still be working as hard, but you’ll know in the back of your mind that there’s a small reward for your efforts.
  4. Use your vacation time. Another good sign that you’re on the karōshi death spiral is if you have a habit of never using vacation and/or letting vacation time expire without using it. There are very few workplaces that give “too much” vacation time, so you should be using most or all of whatever you’re given.
  5. Change careers. Maybe your current job is too conducive to overwork. You might want to start looking for a job somewhere more relaxed. And if your line of work is such that you’ll be overworked no matter who your employer is, then it may be time to completely change careers to sometime a little less suicidal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go show those Japanese that us American engineers won’t take their 80-hour work weeks lying down! Oh no no no, I’ll be sitting upright in my comfy chair, sipping my coffee… maybe take a long lunch, leave a bit early… take the rest of the week off…

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Doing Everything When You Just Don’t Have The Time To Do It

Author: Nick
Category: Money

yeah, because stabbing an hourglass will give you more time, stupid

[I’ll finish writing this article when I have a chance. Just kidding…]

There comes a time in everyone’s life when, likely thanks to the screw-ups of nearby idiots, you have so much stuff to do that there’s no way you can possibly do all of it without violating the fundamental temporal laws of our time-space continuum (more on how to do that another day). I’ve had a lot of experience in this area. Thanks mostly to my inability to say no to people, I’ve found myself with a workload approximate equivalent to three full-time jobs. Fortunately I enjoy most of the work I’ve volunteered to do (in addition to my regular day job, which is work I have to do because I like to eat and not freeze under a bridge). Unfortunately my day now consists of waking up in the morning, working, sometimes eating, occasionally offering my services to the CIA as part of their international sting operation to take down the secret President of Antarctica, and then going to sleep for 43 seconds before repeating the whole cycle.

When faced with such overwhelming amounts of “stuff to do,” I find that normal strategies for “getting things done”. (about which there exists over 800 books of material) or “hacking my life” (as they say on the internet) just won’t cut it. But I have found the following strategies applicable to almost every occasion when I’m in a time crunch, so perhaps we’ll call this set of strategies something like “time-saving tidbits” or maybe “shut up Nick and get on with the damn list already; you’d probably have more time if you didn’t open all of your articles with such long introductions; we’re just here for the bulleted lists anyway.”

  1. Write your to-do list on a slice of ham. As you complete tasks, instead of checking off the items, simply eat that part of the ham slice. This way you’ll save time by managing your task list at the same time you eat. For writing on ham, I would suggest using either a sharp knife to carve the words or a squeeze tube of cake frosting to inscribe them.
  2. Set your e-mail to auto-reply with a more useful message. It’s always a good idea to ignore your e-mail when you’re trying to do real work, but you should consider going a step further. Try setting an auto-reply message to something like: “If you are receiving this e-mail, then I have been captured by psychotic kidnappers who won’t release me until you’ve performed the following tasks: 1. Go to the store and get some bread. 2. Pick up my kids from soccer practice. 3. Take out the trash. Please save me!”
  3. Learn to write or type two items simultaneously. It is a difficult skill to master, but it is possible to split your brain into two fully functional yet independent units, each one capable of addressing a separate task. I’ve gotten pretty good at it myself. For example, right now, while my left hand is typing this article, my right hand is writing a letter to the editor of my favorite magazine. Thanks to some advanced intelligence training I’ve had, I am able to perform both tasks at the same time without error.
  4. Dear Highlights Magazine, I’ve been a loyal reader of yours for 20 years, but I’m afraid I must finally address an issue with your magazine that has bothered me for quite some time. You see, I understand that your characters Goofus and Gallant are supposed to help children learn the difference between right and wrong. What I don’t understand is why Goofus, the character who is always wrong, looks exactly like me. I kindly request that you change the appearance of Goofus to a more accurate depiction of a person who is likely to be wrong all of the time. Included with this e-mail are several pictures of my friends, family, and co-workers so that you have a wide variety from which to choose. Sincerely, Nick.
  5. Do a half-assed job if possible. This strategy serves two purposes. One, it helps you get things done quicker. Two, it helps ensure nobody will ask for your help again in the future. This is not a strategy you should employ with any sort of paying job, assuming you are like me and are a fan of living.
  6. Do something else instead. Yes, you have a to-do list with 47 items on it. One of those items is definitely not “take up ballet.” So you know what you should do? That’s right, you take up ballet and you kick its ass. You’ll find that breaking out of the rigid structure of to-do lists and schedules can reset your mind, help improve your focus, and rebuild your resolve.
  7. Let fate decide. When you have enough time to do five things but you have seven things to do, simply write each item on a piece of paper, drop them in a hat, pull them out one by one, and leave it to chance what you get done. Of course, it took you two hours to find a pen, paper, and a hat, so now you only have time to do three things. Nice job, slowpoke.
  8. Give up. Okay, hear me out. If you really, truly cannot possibly get done everything you need to do in the time alloted, and there’s nothing you can do about it, then you must throw in the towel on some things so you can salvage the others. If your to-do list includes picking up the kids from school, going grocery shopping, and filing your taxes—you know what, those kids have legs and can walk themselves home.
  9. In the name of all that is holy, stop accepting more work. I wish I’d learned this one a lot sooner, but I’ve had to basically say no to any new requests for assistance until I complete the projects I already have. It helps a lot to have somebody (especially a spouse) help you enforce this. If you know you’re going to be in the position of being asked to do something, bring your helper along so he or she can interject when your assistance is requested and say, “No! You’re not allowed to take on any more projects, and that’s final.” And then you say “Yes, dear,” and everything is great.
  10. Ask for help. I have an even worse problem with this one, but I have a good reason: I am a hardcore “do it yourself if you want it done right” kind of person. So don’t learn from my example. Instead, find a group of people you trust to do at least as decent a job as if you were to half-ass it yourself, and ask them for help. If you ask them to paint your house blue and they paint it green, take into consideration that you probably would have fallen off the ladder anyway.

Now that I can cross “Write today’s article” off my to-do list, it’s on to the next item: shovel snow from sidewalk. Hmm… I think I’ll take up ballet instead. Watch me plié and pirouette!

(New item on to-do list: schedule doctor’s appointment for dislocated leg.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Punny Poll #23: Do You Pick Up Pennies?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

honest abe has fallen and he cant get up

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on our guest writers by answering the last Punny Poll. Nearly half of you didn’t notice that we had guest writers; I guess those “by [SOMEONE WHO IS NOT NICK]” lines at the start of the guest articles didn’t help. Another 30% didn’t really like what they read. You may continue seeing a few guest articles here and there in the future, perhaps with extremely large pictures of my face with a red X across it so you know I didn’t write it.

The other day, I picked up a penny from the ground and thought to myself, “Awesome, I’m one cent richer!” What I didn’t consider at the time was that the single penny represented 0.0000001% of my net worth and that I had probably picked up more germs than wealth. Perhaps it’s in my best interest to never pick up pennies again and stick with nickels and above, but I could miss the opportunity to score hundreds of dollars in free change. So instead I’ll turn to you for guidance, like I always do with my big important money decisions.

Do you pick up pennies you see lying around?

View Results

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Mo’ Free Time With Mow-Free Lawns

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

live webcam footage of grass growing

I can count on one finger the number of people I know who find any sort of enjoyment in mowing their lawns. Yeah, that person is me, and that’s because I have a tiny lawn that I mow with a push reel mower. It’s quick, quiet, and quite a workout!

As for the rest of you lawn haters, put down that gas mower and check out these alternatives to your weekly yard march.

  • “No-mow” grass formulas. While science is still a few years away from cranking out no-grow varieties of every grass, there are already some special seed blends that’ll greatly reduce your landscaping labors. Prarier Nursery’s No Mow Lawn Mix promises to reduce your mowing to just once or twice a year, while Fleur de Lawn features adorable pink flowers that will attract birds and possibly hot women.
  • Native grasses. Switch to native short grasses and you can toss out those fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Clovers all overs. Contrary to popular belief, clovers are not weeds. Instead, they’re short-growing, don’t need fertilizer, smell great, and are soft on the feet. Plus I hear they attract leprechauns.
  • Artificial “turf” grass. You don’t need to be a football or golf fan to appreciate the low maintenance requirements of synthetic turf. Putting green not included.

Friday, March 9, 2007

How Much Will You Save With the Longer Daylight Saving Time? About 86 Cents.

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

no, sunset, you have to wait another hour

As if you don’t already have enough trouble getting up in the morning, Daylight Saving Time is starting three weeks early this year. The reason: more daylight in the evening will save the U.S. 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

Or will it?

The change moves sunrise and sunset each an hour later, shifting an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. That means you’ll need one hour less of lighting each night which could translate into savings on your energy bills. At least that’s the rationale behind the clause of the 2005 Energy Policy Act which extended Daylight Saving Time by three weeks in the winter and one week in the fall.

But will the extra Daylight Saving really mean savings on your energy bills for the three weeks in question? For some, it may. For many others, I expect the change will have no impact or end up costing more in the end. Here’s why:

Why An Early Daylight Saving Might Cost Your More

  • That extra hour of daylight isn’t coming from nowhere. No act of government can lengthen a day. All that’s happening here is that an hour of morning light is becoming an hour of evening light. So instead of having your lights on for an extra hour each night, you’ll simply have them on while you’re getting ready for work each morning.
  • Schoolchildren in the dark. With sunrise pushed back so late, some kids may be waiting at their bus stops in complete darkness. You can bet a lot of worried parents will either wait there with their gas-guzzling SUVs running or simply drive them in for a few weeks.
  • Software reprogramming. You Microsoft Windows users out there likely received a software patch for the earlier Daylight Saving start without realizing it, but Microsoft probably spent a good bit of money putting that patch together. Likewise many other computer systems will require adjustments to their calendars, and those adjustments often come with a hefty price tag for software makers.
  • Schedule changes. Some businesses will have to alter their operating schedules to compensate for the earlier change in daylight. Airlines have already complained that flight rescheduling will cost them millions.

Ignoring all of these factors, and assuming you use the same amount of lighting in the morning that you normally do, how much can you expect to save thanks to an extra hour of evening daylight for four weeks? Not much. Let’s do the math, assuming you have five 60-watt light bulbs you regularly use every evening:

28 days * 1 hour * 5 light bulbs * 60 watts = 8.4 kilowatt-hours (kWh)

Using the average residential cost per kilowatt-hour of 10.22 cents from November 2006, here’s how much you’d save:

8.4 kWh * $0.1022/kWh = $0.86

So after an act of Congress, millions spent in computer reprogramming and schedule adjusting, and kids waiting for buses in pitch dark, you can expect to save 86 cents a year thanks to the extension of Daylight Saving Time. And if your house already made the switch to energy-saving CFL bulbs like we did, cut that savings to 19 cents.

I feel richer already and Daylight Saving doesn’t even start until Sunday.