Monday, 29 May 2017

Writing A Mission Statement

I have taken on two members of staff which has tripled the size of my business.  I am no longer a one man band, I am now the leader of a team.  Admittedly this is literally the smallest team it is numerically possible to have, but it is nonetheless a team.  And the first thing I need to do is to establish what our mission as a team is.  I haven’t  articulated it during the interview process.  In both cases there are people I have approached to work for me so it was a case of persuading them that I had a viable offer rather than interrogating them for what they could do for me.  So as things stand, they don’t have much of an idea of what I want from them.

So I need to tell them what we are doing so they know what decisions to make on a day to day basis.  This means I need a lot of clarity about what the goal is.  To achieve clarity one of the things I often do is to write something, often with an imaginary reader in mind.  (This works well for blog posts, which generally only have imaginary readers.)  

In this case the readers are far from imaginary and at least I know that what I am going to write will be read with some degree of interest.  So it really will be a mission statement.  

I am actually more interested in the next stage which will be writing the day to day procedures we will be following.  But I can’t do that without first deciding on the mission that those procedures will be serving.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

I Need To Write More

It's true that you need to write every day and the reality is that I read Twitter every day. It is easier. What I should do is wake up and start writing   and spend all these moments of my life learning how to better express myself. I don't have a job any more so the only thing stopping me from being productive us the set of habits that I have. I need to focus them on what really matters and not on continually reading trivia.

There used to be a Microsoft application that managed blog posts. I can't remember what it was called. But something like that would be good.

But whatever I need to be writing more.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Time Blocking Draft 2

Time blocking is the practice of putting aside blocks of time for specific projects.  It is a good idea in principle.  If you have some time allocated on your calendar then you can be sure that the time will be used for that priority task.  

So why doesn’t everybody do it?  I can only talk about what goes wrong when I have tried it.

  1. The time block appears but for either good or bad reasons you find yourself doing something else instead.  You are now in a worse state than before.  You have devoted energy to creating the time block.  You now need to reschedule the time.  And you have demonstrated at least to yourself and possibly to others that you have no willpower or self discipline.
  2. You duly start the job, but find you have to do something else instead in order to achieve it.  So your block of time gets spent, but the result you wanted isn’t delivered.
  3. You are in such a state of flow on something else when the alarm for the time block goes off that you either decide it was a net disbenefit, or you simply don’t do it.
  4. It turns out that this job I was going to get finished in 2 hours actually needs 6.  I get to the end of the 2 hour period feeling like I have been going backwards even when I haven’t.
  5. You have to reschedule for some reason, so you have to move your time block adding to the complexity of your life.

The reality is that time blocking is actually a very advanced skill that only people with superb time management skills can use.  If you have the iron self discipline and the self awareness to use it, then it is a very useful thing to do.

 The interesting thing, is why it is so useful and why it is so hard. The basic resource we are dealing with here is not time, it is attention. You can't get to work on the time you have blocked out because in reality your attention is on something else. So if you break off what you are thinking about to do something else you are sacrificing one recipient of your attention for another.

Switching attention is itself work, and you never get that back again. And if it turns out that the thing you are thinking about before the time block is important, possibly even more important than what you are switching to, then you have lost out.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Making the time you spend count Draft 1

When I was a manager of a large team I noticed that it was much easier to get people in on a Saturday morning than it was to actually get them to do anything much when they got there.  Thinking about that, it occurred to me that it would probably not be necessary to trouble them on a Saturday if they had simply worked a bit smarter during the preceding week.

It is much easier to commit time to a project than it is to commit time to actually working in a systematic way.  Basically most effort is required for a reward at some distant point in time.   Hard work pays off in the end. But fiddling around on Facebook and having a chat with a colleague pays off now.   And there is no time that the mismatch between long term and short term benefits is starker than on a Saturday morning.  You have just spent five days away from entertainment and pleasure. And now you have to break your normal habits and work instead while you are at your most tired and most deprived of fun.   It is no wonder it doesn't work.

The motto is obvious to state but hard to follow through on.   The value of the time you have diminishes as the week goes on.  You simply have to schedule the important stuff early in the week and wind down steadily to some real relaxation and recuperation at the end of it.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Treat Your Day As A Poem - Draft 1

You are weighed down with work.  You can't possibly get everything done.  You are going to miss vital deadlines and have very little to show for a day of stress, activity and intense unhappiness.

That is what you signed up for by taking on too many projects.  However, that doesn't mean that you have to make today a day that has no value or meaning.  If you give some thought to it, you can turn today into a poem.  You are after all engaged in a struggle, a struggle against life's slings and arrows.  The way today turns out is in itself a story. It might be a triumph, or it might be a disaster.  But either way it can be turned into a narrative that is meaningful.

How do you do this?  First off, keep notes of what you are doing.  If possible, do this every fifteen minutes.  When you are stressed you won't remember what you did an hour ago.  But if you keep note you can see where your time is going.   There is a good chance you are wasting a lot of time doing stuff that doesn't take you forward.  But you can't be making progress all the time. You have other priorities.   For example, a phone call from a friend is actually one of life's great pleasures.  If you have one, don't regard it as a problem.  It was a life enhancing experience.

But you will also be doing a lot of stuff that actually does take you forward.

So every day is a bit of a mixture of the good, the bad and the unexpectedly beneficial.  Try and turn this into a story.  It isn't helpful to look at a day as one that is a failure to work as a robot.  You are not a robot, you are a human being on a journey.   The steps you take are important, but so is stopping to pick the daisies.  A good day is not one where you have squashed your humanity out of yourself to clock up points on your to do list.  It is a day where you have stretched yourself a bit, learnt a little, experienced some triumphs and endured some disasters.  Even when you are overwhelmed with work you are stilll a human and you can turn your day into  a very human story.   It might even make sense to write it up at the end of the day.  It doesn't have to rhyme, but it can still be very human and poetic.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Project To Get Rid Of Projects - Draft 1

So you have too many projects.  I suggest you add another one.  After all, what harm can one more do?  The answer is a lot, but this one is special.  You need to create a project to get rid of your other projects.  If you have a well defined project system then simply add this to that system.  If you don't have a system, well let's add yet another project.  You need to start a project to define all your projects.

But for now let's leave organising projects and look at how you axe projects.  First off, you need to estimate how much time a particular project has committed you to.   This is of course a very difficult thing to do.  But it is essential.  You should not take on anything without some idea of what you are letting yourself in for. There are only 24 hours in a day and if you can work solidly for 8 of those hours then you are well into the top 10% or even the top 1% of human performance.  Realistically most people do well to get to six and I would estimate from my time as a manager of a laboratory, where all the workers were well above average in qualifications and to some extent in intelligence, that 5 hours would be the best you can hope for.

So on this basis, a five hour project robs you of a day of your life.   There are many 5 hour projects around.  For example, giving a talk at a trade fair is not going to take much less than 5 hours to prepare.   So you have lost a day's work even before you have booked the tickets.   Speaking personally, if I am giving a talk at a show I almost always end up chairing a couple of other sessions and talking to some people about the talk before and after I have given it.  So the day out at the trade fair is pretty much lost too, because I don't get to walk the show in the way I would if I wasn't speaking.

Smaller projects are even more of a menace.  Small blocks of time don't seem to count, but a couple of half hour jobs knock a big chunk out of a 5 hour day.

Basically, you need to guard your time jealously and zealously and be extremely aware of what you have committed yourself to.

Five Minute Dash Tactic - 1st Draft

A five minute dash is a technique that should only be used when the situation is really bad.  When you have more work than you can cope with spread over more projects than you can cope with, then there is simply no choice.  You have to get your work organised and you don't have time to stop.

The five minute dash is a tactic that allows you to get somewhere while also getting organised.  Basically you pick a task at random - but preferably the first one on your job list.  Set a timer for 5 minutes and get as much as you can get done.  Then put the project onto the appropriate place for when you need to work on it again.  For example, if it is basically the top priority task then schedule it for after your next five minute dash.

Keep this up as you go down your list.  Five minutes isn't very long, but it is not no time at all.  If nothing else you can get a job into order.  If it is a report you can get a couple of hundred words written.   If you do practical work you can find all the things you need to do something.

The most important thing is to work at switching rapidly from one task to another, and to leave every task on which you are working in a state that makes it easy to pick up again.  As you work through it your to do list becomes more and more realistic and your work becomes more organised.  You can schedule a few five minute sessions to specifcally work on organising your work if you have to.