flowing motion

Archive for the ‘hacks’ Category

Shooting in the dark ~ I don’t know these people!

I want you to imagine any situation in which you are preparing to work with someone who you don’t know well.

  • You are going to hire someone and you must write an advert
  • You are going for a job interview
  • You are taking a new class
  • You are going to a party and your host is relying on you to get the party going
  • You are scouting for new business and you are all but cold calling

Personas

In any of the situations, it really helps to write a persona.

We write down a little story of where the person has come from and where they are going to.  How many children do they have?  Who is their partner? What is their immediate concern?  What are the values that have guided their choice in the past?

Sometimes the persona just won’t flow

Once we start writing, sometimes we realize that our expectations don’t hang together.  We can’t make the story “come together.”

That  is the real core of our sense that we don’t ‘know’ people.  We must be able to imagine a coherent story to be comfortable.

Use a character builder

When I get stuck, I find a “character builder” online, fill out the questionnaires, and resolve in my mind all the little details I expect about the person.

The version that I use suggests a Myers-Briggs profile.   It is very good for settling on one persona.

Once I have a coherent picture of someone, then I can imagine what I am going to love about them, and also what I am not going to like.

Here is the key to resolving my ‘stuckness.’  What will I not like about the person? Where must my approach change to be reasonable?

Once I’ve got past this point, I can complete the scenario and write a few more, including scenarios of the person in the context of home, play and work.  Who else will be there and what are their personas?

Useful hack

I hope that’s useful: Use a character builder to help your write personas to understand people you don’t know well

Slowness breeds to do lists!

I hate it when I have a slow day.  Sitting around in dull meetings, getting dehydrated and eating at the wrong times, I fill the the time by making to do lists.

When I get back to my office, I see, laid out in front of me, all the things I could and should be doing.  And can’t settle to any.

When I was a youngster, I loved a to-do list labelled with A’s B’s and C’s.  I liked making calls and crossing things off.  I hate it now.  I like dealing with larger chunks of work and  I like working towards a goal that has some meaning.  “Getting things done” no longer does it for me.

My rationale now is to figure out one or two things that are very important and just do those.  As long as something important is being done, and getting finished and getting shipped, a list adds no further value.

But in times when I have a long list, these are the methods that I have found useful.

#1 Yellow stickies

I use an ordinary A5 diary.  For every little task that I have to do, I add a yellow stickie, upside down. The stickies go down the page in columns, overlapping each other. That’s why it is important they are upside down.  The top line gives the title of the task and the details are covered by the next sticky though visible by lifting up the sticky below.

As I complete a task, I rip off  the sticky with glee, and put it on the corner of my desk.  At the end of the day, I have a pile of completed stickies and hopefully a clear diary. If not, I can move the stickies to another page.

And when I need to record my actions, I record what I have done on the page itself.

#2 Access data base

Access databases are pretty handy for projects which have many detailed steps, each of which must be completed precisely and in a particular order.  Anything which needs a PERT analysis is suitable for a database.

Each sub project is put in a table with tasks, expected dates, actual dates and costs.  The report function can be used to list all the tasks that need to be done in the next day, week or month and of course to check that everything has been done.

#3 Google Wiki

I’ve recently discovered Google’s Project Wiki, on Google Sites.  It is not really a wiki – linkages from page-to-page are limited.  It’s more like an electronic filoax!  It is  a full project template where you can add to do lists, time sheets, blogs, documents and pretty much anything else except perhaps a GANTT shart and a PERT analysis.

That’s what I am using now.  I’ll store away every zany idea in my Google Wiki and add a column for priorities.  My personal kanban will become the top items that I’ve resolved to start and finish. The choice is start and finish, or start and dump.  What’s not allowed is more than two or three open tasks.

What’s more, I can add dates that I completed work so I can review my progress at the end of each month.

The front page in the wiki is also useful because it prompts you to put in a strategic plan, which after all you can do for the next quarter!

My only reservation is all the information that I am giving to Google.

Here are you then – three time management systems for grown-ups!

1.  Yellow stickies for bitty projects and a physical reward for knocking off tasks

2. Data bases for precise projects where tasks must be done in order and on time.

3.  Google Project Wiki for messy jobs where it’s not really possible to tell priorities ahead of time but it important to work on on chunk at a time, finish and ship!

It’s October. In January, I found myself with far too much to do.

I tried all the tricks of the trade. I decluttered. I prioritized. I still had too much to do.

At last, I quietened my panic by drawing each goal as a spoke, coming in to a central hub. I marked off months and quarters. And wrote down some milestones.

Bicycle spokes for planning

Inevitably (and it is inevitable), I made heaps of progress. I am sure that resolving my panic was important, if only because I could do something useful with the time that I would otherwise spend panicking!

I am still busy. Horribly busy. Work is cutting in to my sleep as well. So, I am motivated to give my planning system a thorough overhaul.

Umbrella goal

Fortunately, I am much clearer now about what I want to do. I’ve managed to phrase a super-ordinate goal and the many goals that gave me such grief in January, all contribute in their own way. When I make a decision on one project, I’m able to check in my mind how work on that project fits in with the overall goal and all the other projects.

There is a lesson in this, I think.  Don’t discard your competing goals.  Live with the strain until you can see why you are attracted to apparently conflicting projects.

Eventually the bicycle wheel takes shape as an umbrella!

From wish to intent to action

Now I am more focused, my attention has shifted from goals – to critical mass & priorities.

I could list everything I have to do.  I could even put everything on a spreadsheet.  But I think I would throw up.  There is too much to do and seeing it in one place won’t help.

That kind of planning is better when there are lots of steps that are critical, and when they must be done in a specific, and known, order. That will come later.

Impact vs ease

I had a brain storm last night. I remembered a technique which I learned from Zivai Mushayandebvu in Botswana.

Sort tasks into four piles (2×2):

  • What will make a huge impact and is relatively easy to do.
  • What will make a huge impact but is hard to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is easy to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is hard to do.

The first, we do.

The second, we see if we can buy in.

The third, we might get do as filler tasks.

The fourth, we discard.

Keeping it simple, cheap, disposable (and green)

This whole project can be done on the back of old envelopes and a set of shoe boxes. My guess is that the priorities to develop critical mass are going to emerge quite fast.

I am going to try it. Anything rather than the bludgeon of a huge ‘to do’ list.

UPDATE: In another phase of overload, I think I shall rate my tasks like this again!

A typical digital 12-hour alarm clock showing ...
Image via Wikipedia

Is there anyone out there who is recovering from a bad relationship with their alarm clock?

I don’t sleep through them.  I don’t hit the snooze button over and over again.

But if I have set an alarm clock .  .  .

  • I cannot go to sleep
  • I wake up during the night
  • I wake up before the alarm clock.

I do so hate been rudely awoken.

Does anyone have any tips for trusting alarm clocks?

Winter is coming and how does one know the time at this latitude without one?

P.S. I grew up in the tropics.  The sun came up predictably between 05:30 and 06:30 all year round.  It was no problem to be up and at work by 07:00.   I really don’t know how to do this!

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For years, I’ve been looking for a way to lay out a set of goals that are inter-dependent and possibly conflicting. Yesterday, I stumbled a text to mindmap online program.

It’s great. You type in a list of topics and sub-topics and it generates a simple mind map for you. You can have a springy free-from map. Or, you can “fix” it and move the topics and sub-topics to where you want them. And you can download the map as a jpg file.

How do I use it for defining my goals?

1. I made the title and central concept “A great 2008”.

2. I added in my various projects, including planning 2009, and grouped them – in the text list. When I was done, I had it generate the mindmap (yeah, no fiddly graphics).

3. Then I fixed my map. I thought I would fix the map to show the progress of the projects bringing projects going well closer to the middle. But I decided rather to reflect their importance or priority.

4. And I can come back to the site whenever I want. It’s free. I am going to do this periodically to review how I am doing.

5. As events unfold, I can take note of what has surged ahead unexpectedly and what is lagging and needs more effort. I can also expand sections if that is what I need at the time.

Unfortunately, we can’t edit the goals except on the text list and we can’t save. So we have to retype each time.

What I really love is that there is no messing around with graphics.

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I remember reading Dale Carnegie at High School and College.  Both times, I was able to take large steps up : once public speaking in front of 400 people,  and the other obtaining sponsorship for a student club.  I was so pleased to find it again.


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