Friday, 20 February 2015

Palatable Prioritisation

This year has started like a whirlwind – there’s so much to do, with eye-wateringly short deadlines (resulting in short tempers for some), and everyone is convinced that they have a right to pole position in the queue for my attention.

The Tornado Woman - oil on canvas, by Mark Bryan
If I am not to go pop or to tie myself in a knot, I have to prioritise, whist carefully managing relationships with those who are relying on me. So how do I do it?
  • Like many people, I write lists of all the tasks I need to complete and star those that are important either because of impact on the business or because of an time related factor that necessitates the task to be completed sooner rather than later. 
  • I tend to write a list as my last activity of the day/week - when the day/week's events are fresh in my mind. I then review first thing the following morning/at the start of the new week to "sanity check" my plans and confirm that the importance placed on each task is accurate and reflective of business/personal need.
  •  I diarise events and activities - I have in the past used a hard copy file that I put time specific tasks and relevant documentation into, so that, as I work through the weeks and months, the required tasks are not forgotten and are undertaken/completed in a timely manner. I now do this electronically, with early warnings and reminders. 
  • I continually communicate with others, asking people what else they are working on and how what I am doing fits in with/impacts on their plans.
  • I consider the anticipated time required to complete important tasks – I usually find that the more time needed to do a good job, the sooner the project has to commence, if I want to get it finished in a timely and professional manner. 
  •  I tell people what I am doing, to help set their expectations and sometimes this results in plans being changed and work being taken off my plate.
  • I make sure there is no unnecessary duplication, with someone else in another area also trying to do the same thing – one of us will be wasting our time. 
  • I sometimes have to remind myself that ”Good enough is often good enough” – so that I don’t feel that a piece of work has to be perfect when it is more important that it is done swiftly, it just has to be right, fit for purpose and of a standard that is acceptable to others.
  • I look at whether there are any areas/people where/with whom I can come to an agreement to compromise (on time or amount to be delivered) – by discussing the situation with others who are relying on me (and thereby letting them know that I can see that the outcome is important) it makes them appreciate that I am not shirking the task, and that I am trying to accommodate them in a way that suits both sides.
  • I look to see what I can delegate – it is often a good learning experience for someone in my team and takes a bit of the pressure off me.
  • As Sara said in her blog just before Christmas – asking for help is not a sign of weakness and by doing so you often build better bonds with others and make them realise that you value them and their skills.
  • I look to see if there is anything I can use to make a task easier – is there an App or a tool I can use (I’m much faster stringing and slicing beans with the French bean slicer my mother gave me than just using a knife)?
  • It is important not to be knocked off course by those who shout loudest or who are most persistent (or even annoying) - I have occasionally persuaded people to see sense by bringing small groups of people together to discuss and agree amongst themselves what the real business priorities are - this has the added advantage of making them aware of others' requirements and pressures and, if required, an understanding as to why there might be delays or a need to amend plans.

  • Change is a given - do not be afraid of amending your priorities or actions, if so required, when the situation in which you are trying to work changes, but be sure to inform others if things are going to be different, as it may have an impact on them.

  • I talk with others who have had similar challenges to see if I can learn from them – there are often better ways of doing things, problems that can be avoided or different approaches that might not have occurred to me. Do you have a coach, a mentor or know of an expert/experienced person who could help you?

  • I am learning at getting better at saying “No” – I hate letting people down, so it is not my natural response, but saying that you will do something and then  failing to do so is one of the worst ways of disappointing people.

Sometimes I try to prioritise by looking at a task or project from 3 angles – the cost, the scope and the length of time required to complete what needs to be done. You can seldom change one without impacting the others, for example, if I have 4 friends coming for supper on Saturday I can’t change the scope (we will eat supper together) but I could change the cost (for example we could go out to a local restaurant, or I could buy in a pre-prepared food or hire a chef for the night). Hiring a chef could also impact the time element, as two people can prepare a meal faster than one, especially if one of them is professional, which could free me up to do something else. Otherwise, if I need the time on Saturday and cannot afford a chef or a restaurant, I could prepare and cook after work on Thursday and Friday to make sure that I can put a meal on the table at the intended time on Saturday evening.

My final piece of advice may sound counter intuitive, but it does work – give yourself time and be kind to yourself. Sometimes it can be more productive to step away from the pressure and take a bit of time away for yourself. Many people have written about the benefits of yoga, or Street Wisdom or mindfulness. It is true that an uncluttered mind, free from distractions, is better able to come up with creative solutions. I find taking a walk helps me get things in perspective the ideas percolate through my brain, I have a friend who always goes to an art gallery when he needs to get things in perspective, my father fishes – he cannot fret about issues when he has to concentrate on not falling inn and decide how best to catch an elusive sea trout. I am sure, when you return to the problems they will feel less daunting and you will be the better for that and able to get things done.

Breathe - by Pink Floyd, from Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

Whirlwind - oil paining by Lisa Strazza

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

On-going Advent-ures

Welcome to the second half of my summary, analysis and thoughts on the Advent Blogs. Although the series has ended, many of the messages made remain pertinent and, in my opinion, all the posts merit re-reading for the inspiration and delight they offer. 
Paths and Perceptions
Unlike many blogs, the Advent Series’ contributions usually tell you quite a bit about the authors themselves, not just their stance at work, or what they do or sell – many pieces are verging on confessional. Most importantly, there is a genuinely nice feel to the series, both the posts and the readers’ responses, full of trust and goodwill. They almost resemble a confidential chat with a close friend, indeed, given the interactions I had with each writer, behind the scenes, all the contributors feel like close friends to me. Here are a few more of my observations:

  • As stated above, over the years it has become a tradition that the annual Advent Blogs series is more intimate than most conventional blogs – 41 posts were personal in content – with writers commenting on their own experiences, fears and hopes. Despite having never participated in the previously and his being a very early post in the series, Paul hit just the right tone – he has made the courageous choice to change career and clearly values the support of his loving wife (who does not require a satnav). Khurshed confessed to the initial horror he felt at being asked to sing in public with strangers but how he discovered the meaning of commitment.  Katharine told us about the tears tracing her cheeks as she sat, Zazen style, and reevaluated her life and priorities. Ali’s depiction of living with the debilitating effects of Endometriosis was searingly honest - I hope it has alerted others to the symptoms and how best to cope. What stunning photos Jon shared with us to illustrate his life and thoughts in 2014 - I found the trAIL and the lack of physical boundaries and limitations, only man made ones, in the Alps, particularly thought provoking.

  • Many of the contributors come from an HR or L&D background, so perhaps I should not be surprised that 32 people were happy to share their learning and the personal development that occurred as a result of the events that had occurred in their lives and the opinions that they formed over 2014. Trevor has realised that in order to understand others’ points of view it is important to listen carefully and to drop your preconceptions and personal baggage. Alison has come to the enlightened realisation that it is better to lead by example than to preach at the entrenched who have no desire to change. David has spent much time over 2014 contemplating his priorities and focus and has come to learn that he must let some things go, stop doing other things, tread his own path and trust it to lead him to the right destination. Rachel has learned to reconnect with the things that matter to her and as a consequence is re-enthused by the possibilities of L&D. Jo too has been on a voyage of acceptance and discovery - she appreciates that need for dark and light to experience the komorebi.

  • Mindfulness has been a recurring theme in business and the media for the past couple of years, so perhaps I should not be surprised to discover that 48 posts emphasise the importance of “being in the moment” or appreciating life, as well as being aware of the mindset you have that influences the way in which you experience the world. Vera has learned to enjoy life, to live in the moment and is content in her knowledge that the best is yet to come. Susan actually commented on the fact that “just being” was a theme in the series and that how people see you may not be how you are and vice versa, so it is important simply to know and be yourself and try to have a positive impact. In a way, Annette’s charming story of Wizard Oscar demonstrates the need for mindfulness - it is only when he sits still and breathes deeply, taking in the beauty of his surroundings by the lake, that his thinking clears and he begins to appreciate his own “magical” but not supernatural problem solving capabilities.

  • Change was a strong thread that ran through many pieces (29 to be exact) – people spoke of variations in ways of living, career changes, altered circumstances, personal loss, discovery, relocation and redirection. Ailsa shared with us her move out of London into the Sussex countryside, her beginning to gain traction at work and becoming a valued member of the community, as well as letting her now beloved canine companion, Pamela, into her life. Tim’s thoughtful piece entreated the reader to challenge how he/she look at things, as it is often our perceptions, resulting from personal biases and reactions formed from similar incidents in the past, that cause distress or misunderstanding. Karen spoke of how she and two of her university girlfriends have changed, whilst retaining their strong bond of friendship. Inji encouraged us, in her piece, to change our mindsets, away from a scarcity mentality - our lives would be better and less stressful if we learned to appreciate, give and trust. Matt’s post provided a refreshing look at attitudes toward Career Paths and how attitudes towards work have changed over the past 22 years - he advocates the use of stories to enhance understanding.

  • Acceptance was a theme for some - accepting themselves, their role in the world, the current state of their lives, their past, etc… Peter told us about how his life can be viewed in distinct stages, each connected by a Sigmoid Curve, he has a desire to consolidate on what he has been building since 2008 and, both personally and at work, achieve his true potential. Tony spoke openly about the experience of being a gay man in what has, at times, been a discriminatory and judgemental world - he asked us to reconsider our preconceptions and make an effort to make others feel included. Ryan has been through huge change, which made him question whether his life had a purpose, but he has come to the realisation that there is sunlight ahead. Who could fail to be moved by Paul’s distress at the death of his beloved cat, Robbie, and yet he himself knows that this is just a step on the path and that it is important to keep on walking. Michael too, in his short but deep piece, offered encouragement that the wheel of fortune turns and we have choices but should appreciate that “There will always be setbacks. There will always be reasons for tears. There will always be joy”

  • 22 people made public commitments to doing something new or in a different manner from 2015 onwards – I hope your resolutions are holding – Gemma provided us with a great example of what can be done it you are determined to achieve stated goals. Janice, inspired by her experiences when ill and the terrible occurrences in her beloved home city of Glasgow, made a public commitment to change her ways by acting as well as feeling compassionate. Perry, despite feeling that at times his efforts were spurned or backfired, re-confirmed his commitment to being kind and urged us all to follow suit.

The 12 most popular posts of the series, determined by the number of views, commencing in descending order were:

  1. No Longer Disorientated in the Haar – Day 34 (appeared on 3rd January 2015). A beautifully crafted post by Sandy Wilkie - your words and journey to a new route and companionship were erudite, evocative and inspiring. A link to the post was picked up on Twitter and shared by a popular author in the U.S.A. and the page views soared.

  1. Treading a Better Path - Day 35 (appeared on 4th January 2015, my wedding anniversary). Gemma Reucroft had previously touched on the ability of individuals to change their lives in a former Advent blog. This post clearly struck a chord with many people – indeed there are a few I have agreed to support, since reading the post, to help them remain inspired to get fit or lose weight and I myself have lost 5 lbs so far (admittedly, I have a lot more to go, but it’s a start…) Thank you for the inspiration.

  1. Survive and Thrive – Day 19 (19th December 2014) – a moving piece from Julie Drybrough, who had a challenging year that left her “bone weary. Soul-tired, afraid…” yet she still found the words and courage to share her thoughts and admit to being hopeful for the years to come and curious about the opportunities they will bring.

  1. Beguiled By Beginnings – Day 24 (24th December 2014). Simon Heath’s posts always make me think and this was no exception. His Christmas Eve contemplation on the tendency to clone and to maintain a rigid approach towards qualifications and Society’s limited attitude as to what makes a person fit for work - when he himself is a shining example that there are other ways to succeed - made many people reconsider how we are preparing the next generations.

  1. Choosing Paths – Day 32 (New Year’s Day) by Ian Pettigrew was an excellent way to start 2015. Ian is a wonderful example of a man who chose to walk a different path and, in doing so, has made a better life for himself and the many with whom he comes into contact (both in and outside work). His example of being prepared to give it a go, whilst remaining sufficiently self-aware to appreciate when he had made a mistake, and hence to move on to better things, is a good lesson for many of us to learn.

  1. Precious People – Day 39 (8th January 2015) by Bina Briggs made many of us smile and realise not only how much we love those close to us, but also that we should let them know how cherished they are and make time to be with them. Bina celebrated the fact that she found her prince (even though he was not the dark Indian one she had imagined as an adolescent). He (her husband) has stood beside her for 34 years and she made public commitment to spend more meaningful time, centred around him, in 2015 and beyond.

  1. Walking with the Spirits – Day 44 (13th January 2015) written by Chris Kane celebrated friendship, teamsmanship and people’s desire to belong to something and be part of a community with a purpose and a sense of place, instead of just existing. I know how hesitant Chris was about writing for the series and yet his Irish charm sparkled on the page and people loved it (it was not just a post for rugby fans and Celts).

  1. In equal 8th place are: The Meadow Walk – Day 36 (5th January 2015), a tour de force of creative writing by Neil Usher. Neil is well known for his inventive prose and poetry and for being a deep thinker. Albeit brief, his post said much about what the future could be like, if technology acts as a leveller and neutralises society, so that being outspoken becomes the bland norm and true sentiment and innovation are lost in the porridge of similitude. 
    And: Reach for a New Day – Day 42 (11th January 2015) by Steve Toft. A fitting contract to Neil’s dystopian vision. Steve, who is often criticised for being down-beat, using facts and analysis to paint a pessimistic picture of today’s working environment, confessed to being a long-term optimist. He has faith in Man’s ability to get us out of our current tight spot and overcome “the immense challenges to come”. Like many of the posts, Steve found his inspiration for the future in music, hence the title of his post, which is taken from a 1970’s song by Airwaves, a favourite of his lovely wife.

  1. The Paths of My Upbringing – Day 37 (6th January 2015) by Keith Gulliver. Keith gave us a treat for Twelfth Night, initially seeming to be a trip down Memory Lane – sharing a glimpse of his childhood – his post blossomed into an outlining of his values, forged by his youth, and some wise advice on the best ways to live an enjoyable, memory-filled and meaningful life.

  1. Known Unknowns – Day 45 (14th January 2015) was written by my son Charles. In his post he used scientific explanations, written in the press, to challenge us to be wary of obfuscation and brevity. He urges us to look deep into a subject, instead of being beguiled by first impressions and to appreciate that most statements should be taken with a pinch of salt; we should never stop questioning what we are told. Being his mother, I can vouch that he has been asking “Why?” for many years.

  1. Hooked on a Feeling – Day 58 (27th January 2015) was the final post in the series, written by the globally renown and ever-supportive HR guru, Steve Browne. Steve’s enthusiasm and love of connecting with people is almost palpable. In his piece he explains that, being an extreme extrovert, he needs to connect with others but that he has learned that the most effective way of doing so is by adapting how he interacts to get the best out of any relationship. He maintains that anyone’s life will be improved if they make genuine, emotional connections with others.

  1. In equal 12th place are: Happy Holidays – Day 22 (posted on 22nd December 2014) a wonderful festive piece by Christopher Demers that tells us all, like Dickens’ Scrooge, to see the light and take the best of the season and apply it to our daily lives to make the world a better place all year round,

    and finally Weekly Walk – Day 41 (10th January 2015) written by my youngest son Hamish, which records his weekly pilgrimage to and from the station in order to come home to visit his mother. The maternal/filial link is like a fine golden thread or a chain that links and pulls us together. This was his second guest post for me, following the success of his piece on gaming in 2012.

One thing that strikes me about the top 12 listed above is that the majority were posted in 2015. There is much to be said for the statement “standing on the shoulders of giants” – it was noticeable that the series gained momentum, with views and global reach increasing as the days went by. The calibre of posts was so high that, by being grounded on the excellent foundations created by earlier posts, it is hardly surprising the number of views continued to rise daily. On behalf of all of us readers, who gained so much enjoyment and insight from your words, I would like to thank each and every author - without you, there would have been no series. I salute you.