They say you learn something new every day.

Posts tagged ‘life skills’

100 Days Young (20/03/2012)

Today is my 100th daily “you learn something new every day” post.

100 Days Young 

It’s not the first time I’ve celebrated a 100th edition of some sort of web project (using that very Simpson’s picture, in fact). But that was with someone else. Making this my longest running public project – unlike my short running webcomic, for example. I think I managed 24 of them).

I remember downloading all of my posts from Image Dissectors once before and being shocked that I’d produced enough content to fill two novels.

It reminds me again that little and often is the way to go. To succeed at anything is a marathon, not a sprint.

Having targets and counts helps, as it makes you feel that you’re heading somewhere. Having other people comment helps too – which is why writing is such a difficult and lonely activity, since you get no feedback. It’s why so often I turn to coding to get some instant feedback and praise.

Writing this every day has changed my life. That sounds quite grandiose, but I mean it’s changed the structure of my life. I think about it during the day: what will I write that I’ve learnt today. And when I come home, it’s part of my evening. In the same way as I eat dinner every day and brush my teeth every day, I write this too.

I don’t think it’s something I’d want to do forever, but it’s made me realise that I love the idea of doing something every day for a year. Or until it’s done. I think it’s a pattern I’m going to try again. 

Management Over Heads (19/03/2012)

I went for lunch the other day with some friends I use to work with. It was interesting talking to them about work. I’m a manager now, and so my viewpoint of things has changed.

As always, we were complaining about management decisions. I realised, as they spoke, that, actually, many of their complaints were invalid. Either, their complaint was unfair (it wasn’t their manager’s fault) or was a non-issue.

I’m amazed, actually, at how bad people are at identifying whether a problem is significant or not. As humans, we seem to get fixated on a problem, and not view it in relation to other problems. For example, I have a colleague who once spent all day trying to save £10, when there was another problem he could have fixed, which would have taken half a day, and saved £10,000. As it was, he saved less money that his salary: so he incurred a net cost to his company when he was trying to save money. Basically, most people are bad at prioritisation.

There are two things it’s made me realise. 

  1. Identifying significant problems and solving those is a rare skill.
  2. If you listen to what is actually bothering people, you’ll often find that their complaints are quite insignificant, and you could make a few simple, cheap changes and make them happy.

On the subject of point 2. Someone a know was upgraded from our corporate build of Windows XP to Windows 7. When they got the new version they asked “where’s solitaire?” It turned out that the new corporate build had had it removed.

Let’s remember, this was a several million pound project to upgrade all of the computers to Windows 7. Yet for this user, what mattered more than all of this was solitaire. Had it been put in, he’d have been happy with the process. As it was, he was not.

Sometimes, we spend too much time solving problems that people are unaware of, and leave things that seem insignificant to us, but are big things to our users. 

Motivation (14/03/2012)

I’m really struggling with motivation at the moment.

Even though I’ve seen before that if I tell myself to do it, it helps me do things, and even though I know that once I get into it, it’ll usually be fine, I’m struggling.

For a start, I’m working on something, and at the moment, even when I get into it, it isn’t fine.

Yesterday, however, I planned my evening with times, and put a definite time on things (“Have dinner and mess around until 7”). That helped a lot.

Moreover, I’m reminded of a piece of writing advice that Graham Linehan gave once:

Writing is like having a poo, “it’s really hard if you don’t want to go, but there’s a time when you have to go.”

And I think there’s something key here:

All these things that I’m procrastinating and filling my time with, part of it is fear and not wanting to write – but the other part of it is feeding the subconscious.

Because if you start to feed the subconscious with stuff at that stage, it’ll build up and build up and build up, and then finally, when you do have to write, you’ve hopefully built up a store in your subconscious that you can draw from. 

Because, actually, I looked back at the project today, and had some ideas for what to do.

So, I think the thing is: put deadlines on things, work on other things, and don’t worry too much. Just make sure you keep it all under control. 

Internut (24/02/2012)

I’ve moved house.

My new flat is lovely, but I’ve spent the last four days without the internet at home. And you know what? I actually loved it! It’s really changed my life.

I remember now that I’ve felt this way a few times when I’ve been without the internet. I’ve suddenly had… time! There’s, like, five hours between getting home and going to bed.

I usually fill a good part of this with the internet. Without it, I have time to do stuff! Loads of stuff. I’ve taken up listening to Radio 3 (oooh, classy!) which is incredibly relaxing. And I’ve done some writing, and reading and just got on with things.

I don’t think I can give up the internet fully, but I think I may try to go one day without it.

But how have you been writing this without the internet, you may ask. I wrote a couple at home and posted them at work, and one on my iPhone. It’s really not that much of a problem.

Races, Marathons, Practising and Preaching (18/02/2012)

I wrote once before that this site wasn’t turning out quite the way I was expecting.

My intention was for the things learned to be relatively factual – you know, how to tie your shoelace, how to do long division etc. However, other than the occasional blasts of knowledge, most of this so far has been morals or styles of thought. I put this down, really, to the fact that I’m at home for Christmas, and have switched my brain to sleep mode. I’m hoping this will change a little next year.

Well, that turns out not to be true – most of this is ideas or ways of looking at things, rather than “blasts of knowledge”.

The thing is, ideas come cheap. Realising things, or figuring out ways of doing things is quite easy. There are books and books full of ideas. The hard thing is converting those ideas into changes in behaviour.

This has struck me quite a lot recently. There are lots of best practice things that I know. You know, each piece of data should exist only once. Minimize your code by reusing the same data. Make code portable. Etc etc. All of these things I know as concepts are good things to do.

Yet, in reality, time and time again I break these rules. Not because I forget them, but because living your life is quite different to thinking about your life. It’s so easy to unlearn things; that is, un-fix a problem that you’ve already solved in one place.

I don’t think I necessarily have a solution for this, other than lots of calibration. This blog helps, since it forces me to think about what I’ve learnt. And by adding in lots of links to previous articles, in encourages me to remember things I’ve written before.

But I think there’s a missing piece still, and that’s forcing myself to “practise what I preach”. That’s going to be my aim for the next few days.

Take Note (12/02/2012)

I’ve realised that I’m really bad at taking notes. It was sort of one of my New Year’s Resolutions to take better notes. But that hasn’t worked out so far. As you can see below from a typical meeting:

Some average notes

There’s two things that strike me about this actually.

Firstly, the “quick win” rocket, and how messy and ridiculous a lot of this is.

Secondly, how unimportant a lot of this is. It’s not that I don’t understand these notes – a lot of them were just unimportant or not chased up.

I’ve been thinking about this note taking problem. And I think it fits into a few other things. Quite a few of my projects (and projects in general at work) are dragging on. There’s a lot of scope creep and project failures.

I think all of this can possibly be solved by setting slightly clearer boundaries and “logging” things correctly.

Take notes, for example. There are a finite areas or workstreams that I am involved with. Every note I take should fit into one of them. If it doesn’t, I either have to create a new one, or not take the note. In many ways this fits back into my idea of a software solution that encourages you to work, communicate and log in the appropriate area. Taking notes on a per meeting basis is wrong, because it means all your notes are sorted by meeting, or event. But in reality, you want your notes sorted by category, or type.

Computers are very good at this sort of thing, since you can log a many-to-many relationship. But humans not so much so.

I wonder if one option here is to make a small note logging application of some type and use a computer to take notes.

Whether I do this or not, I think I’m going to have to start logging notes in a more project based way, because it’s beginning to get ridiculous.

Just do it (06/02/2012)

Last night I made myself do some writing. I was lying in bed, thinking about writing, and in the end I said, actually out loud, “Just do it.” Unfortunately for me, my motivational phrase is the Nike slogan, but it worked really well. I picked up the laptop and got on with it. And, as I’ve noted before, once I started I really got into it, and it was fine.

Sometimes you have to just get on with it. And it doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself this, it’s still hard. Saying it out loud helps, I think. 

I spend a lot of times putting things off. Often I come up with reasons for why I can’t do it. “I just need to watch this episode of 24, otherwise the thought of it will distract me.” I’m lying to myself, of course. When I finish that series of 24 I’ll just start the next one. And when even when I’ve watched all of 4 I’ll just find something else to watch.

It made me realise that I often lie to myself. Or say things to other people that aren’t quite true to convince myself that they are. I need to stop lying to myself. It’s pointless, because I know it’s a lie. I came up with the damn thing!

Negative Feedback Loop (27/01/2012)

I had to tell someone off today.

It’s the first time I’ve ever done it. All my life I’ve been the pupil, the child, the employee – and generally I’ve struck a fine line between compliance and rebellion. (My English teacher once called me “subversive” which I took as a massive compliment. And knowing him, he probably meant it as one).

In the words of Jack O’Neil from Stargate:

I have spent my life sticking it to the man. Now I am the man.

But I think this is probably good. You want your people in authority to have a healthy distrust of authority. You want them to be challenging themselves and aware of what authority does to people.

I think I handled the telling off quite well. It struck the right balance, something L has always been good at at work, between chastising without getting personal.

The one thing I did forget to say was something along the lines of “this isn’t an exercise in fault finding, we just want to make sure it won’t happen again”. But I think that was the general impression.

I didn’t bulldozer quite as much as I have before, and in hindsight perhaps I should have a little bit more. But what I did right was leave it a few days. The “incident” (I’ve made it sound a much bigger deal than it was here) happened on Tuesday, but I left it until Friday, once everyone had calmed down, to have a chat about what had happened and to give the firm message that this wouldn’t happen again.

If you can keep your cool, I think you keep your respect as well. Fear isn’t any way to manage, and if you get too authoritarian, people will start coming up with ways to bypass you.

Not Knowing and Not No-ing (22/01/2012)

I’ve been quite stressed this week. Probably most stressed than I’ve ever been in my life before. I’ve realised that “not knowing” and having to wait is probably the most stressful thing in the world. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you just have to wait. It’s even harder when you don’t know how long you may have to wait.

There’s several times you’ll have this in your life: exam results, job interviews, medical tests, large negotiations etc. But no matter how many times you have it, if it’s something your emotionally engaged with, it never gets easier.

The thing is, your brain continues to play scenarios through in your head. Scenarios that you’re helpless to do anything about. I’m no psychologist, but I suspect your brain is planning what it can and hitting a brick wall. And so it keeps running through it over and over again in an attempt to see a way round it. But there is no way around it.

The only things I’ve managed to do so far are:

  • Try to distract myself through other activities
  • Decide on what action I’ll take if things don’t work out how I want
  • Set myself a deadline for taking action

I don’t think there’s much else I can do here, other that recognise that there is nothing I can do, put it out of my mind, and concentrate on things I can do something about.

Tag Cloud