They say you learn something new every day.

Posts tagged ‘lifeskills’

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. 

Should be Prohibited (03/03/2012)

Anything invented before your 15th birthday is the order of nature.  Anything invented between your 15th and 35th birthday is new and exciting. Anything invented after that day, however, is against nature and should be prohibited.

Douglas Adams

As well as being very funny, in some ways I find this terrifying.

I notice this with people at work – people who are over 35  do struggle with this.  I’m turning 25 in two days time, so I have a little while to go with things being “new and exciting”.

In some ways, I can already feel it coming. When I first started using Office 2007, I hated it so much I uninstalled it. It was only when I was forced to use it at work, and needed certain features (the ability to view more than 65536 rows in Excel, the ability to have more than three bits of conditional formatting, sumifs etc) that I got used to it. Now, I love it, and dislike Excel 2003. But it was actually the enhancements to certain features that won me over. If there had been a version of Excel 2003 with those features in, I’d have stuck with that.

In occurs to me, again, that change is a real challenge. It’s an effort to change, and so it’s easy to sleepwalk into stagnating. I’m not advocating change for changes sake, but I think it’s important to continually examine what you’re doing. I guess, really, that’s the whole point of this site. In many ways, writing these daily “things learnt” is performative – that is, the act of writing them, in itself helps me to examine my life (“the unexamined life isn’t worth living” and all that).

I haven’t fixed all the things I need to fix (my sideboard is still a mess!) but I’m aware of it, and it’s on my list of things to do. I think, too, before putting something down now.

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.

Taking Responsibility (15/02/2012)

I was talking to my colleague today.

He and I don’t get on very well. We have different views on many things. But I realised today one thing we disagree about is responsibility. He regards any failure as being the responsibility of the team beneath us.

“They’ve not managed to do this…”

“They can’t tell us this…”


Sometimes, his complaints are completely unrealistic.

However, I realise that I’ve started sharing that responsibility. And I think that’s the right thing to do. The team does what we tell them to do. They get their attitudes and values from us. If they fail, we fail.

I’ve never thought it quite as clearly as that, but I think I will from now on.

And I think this is important when you manage teams. You have to share the responsibility. That way you get involved with the problem and help them solve it. You also remember that your attitude affects them in so many ways. In many ways, managing a team is like having children. They look up to you.

I’m reminded of the speech Daniels gives in the final episode of the first season of The Wire:

Couple weeks from now, you’re gonna be in some district somewhere with 11 or 12 uniforms looking to you for everything. And some of them are gonna be good police. Some of them are gonna be young and stupid. A few are gonna be pieces of shit. But all of them will take their cue from you. You show loyalty, they learn loyalty. You show them it’s about the work, it’ll be about the work. You show them some other kinda game, then that’s the game they’ll play. I came on in the Eastern, and there was a piece-of-shit lieutenant hoping to be a captain, piece-of-shit sergeants hoping to be lieutenants. Pretty soon we had piece-of-shit patrolmen trying to figure the job for themselves. And some of what happens then is hard as hell to let down. Comes a day you’re gonna have to decide whether it’s about you or about the work.

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.

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