Chris Croft's Personal Blog

June 23, 2014

Which communication method to use?

Which communication method to use?

Use the urgency and the importance of relationship building to choose the best method.
Consider moving up a level or two on the arrows.

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April 14, 2013

The question of what to do next – finally solved?

I’m working on the Ultimate Jobs To Do list, which will be on your phone and syncs with your computer. Working with a computer genius friend of me we’ve really had to think hard about how we think, how we live our lives, how we should organise ourselves and how we actually tend to organise ourselves. If the list is to work in practice it has to cope with the fact that humans tend to be lazy, weak, cowardly and short term in their thinking (or is that only me??). This list app must be a servant rather than a slave driver, it’s got to help with planning, and be so quick and simple and intuitive that it doesn’t get in the way of the planning process.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Tasks can be listed by category, sometimes known as Context, so you can have Home, Work, House, Band, When I See Dave, etc. and you can filter by those.

But more importantly they will have levels of Importance, Urgency, Size, and Fun. All of these influence, or should influence, the order we do things.

For example, it’s easy to do the most fun things first, but if you do that you will probably under-achieve, but also your list will gradually become full of things that aren’t fun, to the point where you hate your list. So the system needs to give you a mix of fun and less fun tasks to do.

Similarly, if you always do the most urgent job, it’ll be a very short-term way of living your life, and the things that really matter will never get done, or at least not until it’s too late. Spending time with your parents or your children is important but not often urgent. The system needs to give important things some weight above the urgent ones.

But importance alone isn’t a reliable guide either. You still have to get the urgent (but unimportant) hassle-type stuff done in order to keep the rest of the world at bay.

I’ve added size as well, because you might only have a short window of time so you could pick something small, and also, doing quick wins is good but you also need, occasionally, to tackle the big ones. It’s important – because of how humans are – to have some variety between large and small, fun and not fun, important and urgent.
I’ve not added “Time on the list” because that’s also not a sensible way to prioritise. The date when things get added is fairly arbitrary in the first place. And then, after a while, the things that have been on the list a long time are still not necessarily the things you should do next, because they have been neglected thus far for a reason – maybe they’re just not important, or fun. Time on the list is really a result of the other four factors.

So many ways to get it wrong! – To do all the small ones or all the urgent ones or all the important ones or only the fun ones. Or none of the important ones or no urgent ones or none of the big ones.

So – no single factor is enough to prioritise your life, but a combination of them might be!

For example, (Importance/Size) is a measure of leverage, and jobs with greater leverage should be higher up your list. And the classic (Importance x Urgency) gives you a measure of what just can’t be ignored (if it’s not important you can leave it for a bit, and if it’s not urgent you can leave it for a bit, but if it’s both important and urgent then you really can’t). Then there’s (fun/size) – if something is fun and small (ie low effort) then that’s a quick win, especially if it’s important. But those large jobs, even if they aren’t very fun, do need to be done since they are the most prone to procrastination.

So I have a formula, a secret algorithm, that calculates all of the above and produces a list of what you should do, in order. Amazing! Ideally you would promise yourself that you’ll do whatever job, from your list of jobs, the formula tells you, and then press the button…

The formula / magic button is available on my free iphone app called JobsToDo – download it today!

Video of it here:  http://youtu.be/pcbQNs-nOvQ

 

Chris

 

PS – Worn out after reading that?  Then have a look at this to cheer yourself up…..   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SleYHOcLjOg

March 28, 2013

The key Time Management issues faced by Project Managers

Project Managers have to be good at managing time – theirs and other people’s – as it’s one of the big three variables at their disposal: time cost and quality. In fact they have two types of time in their project planning – actual hours worked, which is really money if you think about it, and elapsed time. Both of these can be managed.

The biggest issue they face is that urgent problems tend to cut in and reduce the time they can spend on important tasks like planning, and monitoring progress and quality. These urgent tasks might be from the same project, other projects (maybe the one you’ve started is affecting your planning of the one you haven’t yet started) or from The Day Job. How easy life would be if we were just managing one project, but usually we are managing several projects and a day job, and probably DOING most of the work on some of the projects! So juggling and prioritising is a key area to master. And of course finding ways to control interruptions, be they by phone, physical, or email, is key, or they can steal 20-50% of your day away.

Linked to the above is an ability to not forget any tasks, however small. The small ones have the ability to stop a whole project, so everything must be kept under total control, by writing it down on lists of some sort. Project Management systems have lots of lists – risk logs, issues logs, change request logs, monthly progress summaries, etc, but as we know the problem with multiple lists is that you can easily forget to look at one of them. So the PM needs a system where all jobs-to-do can be accessed and remembered, and the system has got to be very easy to view and update or it just won’t get done.

Of course not every task has to be done in life, though in a project they pretty much all do have to be done. So skills like Saying No are important mainly in order to keep the rest of life at bay so that the project can be done.

Negotiation is a key skill for PMs since most of the people they deal with, from team members and other functions within the organisation to customers and suppliers, don’t report directly to them. PMs often feel that they are always asking for favours and help and often don’t have much to offer in exchange, but they have to find some negotiating strength if they are going to get all the resources they need in order to complete on time.

Procrastination is another factor in projects; if you postpone sorting out tricky problems, perhaps telling yourself that the might fix themselves or go away, then they will probably get worse, and will almost certainly end up resulting in there having to be a last minute confession of lateness and overspend, which is never popular. The sooner problems are addressed the better, but that’s not human nature, so we need systems to reduce our natural tendency to put unpleasant things off.

Meetings are a key part of project management, whether they be a brainstorming meeting at the start to get all the tasks listed, meetings with your team to plan the order of tasks (maybe based on post-it notes and a critical path diagram), meetings regularly during the project to discuss progress and sort out problems, or the review meeting at the end. The PM needs to chair these meetings with authority, keeping them efficient and short, while getting everyone to contribute, and getting clear minutes out as soon as possible after the meeting.

Delegation is also a key part of any project where the PM has anyone apart from themselves working on the project, and delegation can certainly be seen as a time management skill. In fact I would say it’s the number one skill that ‘ordinary’ managers need to master, and if you care about the quality of the work, and/or enjoy it, it can be hard to let go. In the case of a PM I think planning is the number one skill, (and finding the TIME for planning) but on larger projects delegation comes pretty close. Certainly if you’re too busy, and you have people working for you, delegation would be the first thing I’d look at. Are you doing too much of it yourself? Are you monitoring progress closely enough but not micro-managing?

The ideal project manager would be pretty hot on quality and detail, verging on OCD in fact, but there are times when you can be too fussy, and a time management skill that helps is to be able to determine what deserves lots of your time and what can be done “Well enough”. For example you’ll never get EVERY risk listed, but if you can get the main ones then that’s going to cover 90% of the problems. You’ll never estimate every task 100% accurately, in fact you probably won’t even manage to list every task, but if you can get all the main ones listed and estimated reasonably accurately then your contingency factor should take care of the difference. Spending twice as long on listing or estimating may not be worth the time, when you remember that every hour you spend on this is an hour you could have spent on something else.

So to summarise, as well as learning about Gantt charts, estimating, risk analysis etc, Project Managers need to know about:

• Prioritising urgent vs important
• Handling Interruptions and emails
• Listing jobs to do
• Saying no
• Negotiating
• Overcoming procrastination
• Chairing meetings
• Delegating
• Being able to do things ‘well enough’

Good luck – check out all these subjects on my blog (index at the right of this article) and you’ll be fine!

March 14, 2013

The top ten time management mistakes:

Filed under: Lists, Time Management — Tags: , , — chriscroft @ 11:30 pm

1. Unclear goals
If you have clear goals for your home life and your work then you know where you’re going and you will be much more likely to do the things you need to get you there. If you don’t have clear goals you will end up letting others control your life: you’ll be reactive rather than driving things.
So the answer is to sit for half an hour and write down your goals – keeping them in your head is not enough. They can be a mixture of big and small, a mixture of enjoy and achieve, and a mixture of have do and be.

2. Putting urgent before important
Urgent tasks shout for our attention, and it’s tempting to get them all out of the way first, but if you try to do this you will never finish them, so you’ll never get around to the non-urgent but important things in life. Then you won’t make progress towards your personal goals and after a while you’ll feel frustrated.
The answer is to start by keeping a list of important tasks to be done, and then plan half an hour into every day (actually put it in your diary) for working on important tasks. Also, mix urgent and important tasks during your day so you get some of each done.

3. Keeping things in your head instead of writing everything down.
If you keep anything at all in your head it will block your creativity. Ideally you would focus fully on the task in hand with no distracting thoughts of what needs to be done in the future.
As well as blocking your creativity, keeping things in your memory will mean that you forget some of them from time to time, and even a small failure rate is unacceptable where customers (and bosses) are concerned.
So free your mind and set up a system where you can write everything down. For this I recommend a master list of the big projects, a daily list just for today, and a diary for time-fixed tasks and appointments.

4. Mixing master and daily lists
Ideally you would have a master list of all the big tasks you plan to do at some point, even though the exact time when you’ll do them isn’t known yet.
You would also have a daily jobs to do list, with a maximum of ten items on it. (Any more and you won’t do them). This list helps you focus during your day, and should include some small parts of big important projects as well as the urgent tasks you need to get done today.
A common mistake is to have one list with all of the above on it, which results in you cherry-picking the easy tasks and leaving the big ones, and then the list gets messy and unmanageable and you get depressed because you never tackle the big tasks.
If you keep the lists separate you will have a tidy master list and a doable daily list, and you can gradually move parts of the master tasks across onto the daily list when time allows.

5. Jobs to do list not done every day
You should have a jobs to do list every day. Most people only write these when things are out of control, and then, once it has worked and they have caught up, they discontinue it again.
The result is that half the time they are out of control, and, more importantly, they don’t ever get around to the important tasks, only the urgent ones.
If you write the list every day, ideally written the evening before, you can fill any space on the list (on quieter days) with jobs that are important rather than urgent. This will encourage you to nibble into those big projects that you really want or need to do.

6. Filling up your diary completely
If you book appointments into the next available slot, without any gaps, you will have a full diary by the time you reach each day. This will result in you running late for your appointments, because extra things always crop up, and you may even have to cancel some appointments.
Much better to keep some free space in your diary every day for things that come up. This means you need to say no to appointments BEFORE your diary is completely full, not after. Remember, you’re not lying when you say you have no time available, because that spare time in your diary will be used up on the things that are cropping up on the day.
Appointments can always wait till the next day – indeed they would have to if the day was full, so push them into the next day anyway.

7. Worrying too much about being liked – leading to not saying no
We all want to be liked, but in the end you have to look after number one as well. If you let guilt, or fear of others’ disapproval, push you into saying yes to things you don’t want to do then your life can get filled up with things that don’t make you happy.
Saying no is important if you are to maintain control of your life. And you’ll probably find that saying no doesn’t make people think any less of you – this is an unfounded fear.

8. Letting procrastination exist in your life
Procrastination is easy to allow to become a habit, but it comes with a large cost because it’s the important but non-urgent tasks that are affected, and they are the ones that would add most value if you were to do them.
So it’s important to develop an ability to notice that you are putting things off and then to have strategies to get yourself to do those tasks. It’s an internal battle between your conscious and subconscious mind, and tricks like doing just the first part, booking a time in your diary, or bribing yourself with chocolate, can help you to win the battle.

9. Being a perfectionist
If you allow a habit to develop where you take longer than a task deserves, because you want to make it perfect, then you end up being obsessed with the small details which aren’t important, and you’ll then neglect the things that matter in your life.
Therefore it’s important to realise that you are doing this and that it’s not productive, and to set time limits, allocating time according to importance, and to tell yourself that letting it go as it is won’t kill you, in fact probably nobody will even notice.
Suddenly you’ll have more time for the things that really matter – and you might even be less annoying to work with!

10. Trying to fit too much in
Going faster and faster isn’t what time management is about. You’ll never finish everything, so you just end up going faster and faster and then never smelling the roses. The answer is to force yourself to take some leisure time, maybe go for a walk, or sit in the sun, or take some exercise.
Also rather than planning to arrive with seconds to spare, plan on arriving really early so you have less stress and get some time at the far end to think or chat to people. Maybe this is what life is really about?

January 5, 2013

Megaphone Selling

Judging by The Apprentice, Alan Sugar’s idea of a “great sales person” seems to be someone pushy and loud, who has no shame when it comes to hassling passers by.

And I want to say “NO!”

The two most important qualities of a sales person are

a) being liked

and

b) being a good listener

and often the Apprentice “sales people” have neither.

Walking around the streets heckling people with a megaphone isn’t selling. Barging in to a customer’s office and ramming your proposition down their throat isn’t selling. Selling is getting to know your customers, understanding them, and based on a knowledge of their needs, giving them what they want. Or at least showing them how what you are offering can help them. Louder isn’t going to be better, and you can’t win arguments by being louder – listening is the only way to turn someone around.

And of course my two sales qualities are related, because being a good listener will make you more likely to be liked. The objective is to be liked by as many people as possible, because every customer who doesn’t like you is almost certainly a lost sale.

—————————————————————————————-

And by the way, on The Apprentice they don’t do their brainstorming correctly either – as soon as the first idea comes in they judge it, often negatively, so the creative people soon give up. Ideally they would collect as many ideas as possible, sparking off each other, recording everything good or bad, and then, after that, select the best one. And the manager should keep out of it rather than pushing their own pet idea.

There we are, that’s the end of my rant, I feel better now!

Onwards and upwards

CC

PS Have a look at 45 minutes of good stuff from David Allen, the time management guru, for free on youtube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qo7vUdKTlhk&feature=related

October 31, 2012

Why I feel tired when the hour changes

Filed under: Happiness, Time Management — Tags: — chriscroft @ 9:19 pm

In the Spring it’s obvious – I have to get up an hour earlier but I still stay up just as late, so instead of midnight I stay up till 1am because I don’t feel tired at midnight (it’s really only 11pm).  By the end of the week I’m stuffed!

In the Autumn it’s more tricky – I like the hour lie-in but instead of going to bed at 11 (which was midnight before the hours changed) I stay up till midnight because that’s what I always do.  And TV and pub hours etc etc all tempt me to stay up an hour later.  So it’s as if I have a week of partying late but then having a lie in, and that’s not very good.  Also I wake up an hour before the alarm clock, it’s lighter in the morning, and people with young kids get woken up at 5am instead of 6am – really bad!  And then my working day ends up at effectively 6pm instead of 5pm, (it’s called 5pm but i know it’s 6) and I’m TIRED.

So either way it makes me tired – so I say keep the clocks the same all year round……

October 22, 2012

Why I don’t like the Lottery

Filed under: Careers, Happiness, Lists, News and Politics, Time Management — Tags: , , , , , , , — chriscroft @ 6:29 pm

It’s a free country, but still, things like the Lottery are bad for the people and this is why:

  1. It builds false hopes which lead to frustration – “Why isn’t my life better?”
  2. It’s based on a lie – that you might win. You won’t! It relies on the fact that we exchange £1 for maybe getting £6 million, which sounds good, because we are human and can’t comprehend numbers over 100, it seems like 100:1. If we really could comprehend 6million (e.g. betting on a horse race with a slug in the outside lane) we wouldn’t bother.
  3. It replaces real plans and real actions – “I won’t bother to do anything except buy a lottery ticket, and hopefully my number will come up|” as opposed to “It’s my life, I’m responsible for it, and if I want to change it then I’ll have to face up to doing some real work”
  4. Once a week you’re told you’re a loser
  5. It’s a tax on the poor and the gullible – over time they gradually lose half the money they put into it, and it has been shown that it’s the less well off end of society that spends more on the lottery and scratch cards
  6. The government appears to be spending less on charity, sports and the arts because the lottery is paying for those things instead, so I don’t think it’s proved that the Lottery has increased the money available for these three good causes
  7. The addictive stress of having to bet each week in case your numbers come up on a week when you didn’t bet.
  8. Winning own’t even make you happy! – it’ll ruin your social life and within a year or two you’ll have blown all the money. Yes, that’s what happens.

Conclusion – get real, you aren’t going to win the lottery, and make a plan for whatever you want, and do the work yourself to get there.

August 13, 2012

The Olympics – POD or POA?

Were you inspired by the Olympics?

They certainly were brilliant – the organisation, the crowds, the stunning opening ceremony, and of course the performance of the athletes – what amazing people they are, yet also strangely ordinary people – just people like us, who are somehow doing amazing things.

So many thoughts swirling in my mind about it…
Do I want to be like those athletes? If not a track cyclist, then at least a gold-medal-standard trainer! Do I want to be the best in the world? Do I need to be? Do I have the talent, the ability? Or the motivation? Would it make me happy?

I think the question is: What should a normal person do having seen the Olympics and been inspired by them?

Let’s take it apart a little:

Reasons for Post-Olympic-Depression

• It’s been really easy and fun just putting the TV on and wallowing in the spectacle
• Our normal lives and all their problems have been suspended for two weeks
• Now it’s back to reality
• We hope that the Olympics and their after-effects will somehow improve the country and our lives, but of course they won’t. Reality is still there.
• “I’ll never have a body like Tom Daley or Chris Hoy or Usain Bolt, and I’ll never get a medal in anything or be cheered on by an 80,000 crowd. I’m a failure compared to them”.

Reasons for Post-Olympic-Achievement

• “I can see that ordinary people can achieve their dreams if they are prepared to do the work”
• All it needs is a small step to get onto the Spiral of Achievement: motivation leads to effort which leads to results which leads to more motivation which leads to more effort which leads to more results which…… and the Olympic Effect just might be enough to get people to take this first step.

Are the Olympians ordinary, just like you and me, or not?

Well, with the possible exception of the godlike Usain Bolt, my belief is that they are ordinary people who had the luck to get onto the Spiral of Achievement, and then, perhaps with the help of others or through their own strength of will, had the strength to persist and keep doing the work to get there. And to reach the very top that work is very considerable. Did you see the video of Chris Hoy training, to the point where he collapsed off his bike and lay on the ground in lactic acid agony, groaning in the foetal position, while they just put a blanket over him and left him to recover. THAT’s doing the work! If you tell any successful person they are lucky they have every right to be annoyed – they have done the work!

It’s possible that to be the best in the whole world you need great talent as well as doing the work, but seeing interviews with the boxer from Hull, the canoe medallist, the Taekwondo and judo winners, and the rowers, I got the distinct feeling that they were ordinary people who had just really really focussed and then done the work. And certainly, if you wanted to be very good at something, as opposed to the best in the world, then it’s really not about talent, it’s about work. Anyone, including you (yes you reading this) really can do anything you want if you’re prepared to do the work.

I used to think that the challenge was to find the thing that you have a talent for. But maybe the
challenge isn’t to find the thing that you’ve got a talent for, but to find the thing that you enjoy enough to then be motivated to do the work required. If you have a talent but you don’t enjoy it then you’ll never do the work and so you won’t succeed.

So maybe the legacy of the Olympics will be that lots of people will take that first step onto the Achievement Spiral and find that they can get results. All that undiscovered talent! Maybe there is a future Usain Bolt living in Hull! However I suspect that

1 -the greatest evil of all, laziness, will again triumph and most people will plan to do something and then not bother, (like all those people who join the gymn in January and then stop going by February) and also that

2 – most people won’t make the leap from Sport to Everything Else. Why not decide to be really good at computers or music or languages or selling or…..? They are all the same, they just require you to do the work. But will people realise this?

I do hope that all over the UK people decide to be better at all sorts of things, and they get onto the Achievement Spiral as a result of the Olympics.

But then I think about Victoria Pendleton (or Queen Victoria as some commentators amusingly called her) – who is retiring from cycling, saying that she doesn’t enjoy it any more. She’s the best in the world, how can she not?? And I think the answer is that she is paying such a massive price to be the best in the world that it outweighs the happiness. Quite right Victoria, you’ve achieved enough, and you deserve to have some fun! We all remember Steve Redgrave saying after Sydney “If anyone sees me getting into a boat again would they please shoot me” and then within 2 weeks he declared himself in for Athens. It’s great to see him enjoying himself now, he’s more than earned it!

So, bearing in mind that you can achieve anything if you do the work, but you want to avoid the Pendleton Factor, here is my overall conclusion from the Olympics:

1. Set yourself at least one goal, based on something you enjoy doing – don’t worry about talent. It doesn’t have to be in sport, it can be anything you like.

2. Make your goal large enough to be exciting, but not so large that in order to achieve it you’ll have to give up the rest of the things that make you happy. So Olympic gold is probably out! (e.g. to be able to run 5k in 45 minutes, or to play in a band in your local pub, or to speak good enough Italian to joke with locals, or to be good enough at tennis to hit the ball hard and it still goes in).

3. Focus reasonably strongly on achieving your goals – this means giving up some things and fighting against the demon laziness. Focus strongly but not obsessively. Obsessive focus will reduce your overall happiness.

Onwards and Upwards like a lightning bolt (imagine me assuming the position in front of my flip chart)

CC

May 23, 2012

Thoughts about lawn mowing

Filed under: Assertiveness, Happiness, Time Management — Tags: , , , , — chriscroft @ 8:47 pm

Three things I want to say about this:

First – it goes against my No Crap Policy (NCP) but then again, there is my “Make Wife Happy” policy to consider as well.  There is a theory called the total utility of happiness which says that you should do whatever maximises the happiness of the whole system.  So if it makes me only a little unhappy to have to mow the lawn, but makes her very happy, then I should do it. Otherwise I would be being selfish. (Conversely things which I really hate and which only make her a little happier should not be done – otherwise SHE would be being selfish).

Second – mowing the lawn may be urgent (getting long, almost too long to mow, and rain coming soon) but it’s not important (spending time mowing isn’t one of my life goals).  The fact that it HAS to be done doesn’t make it important.  So because it’s not important my objective is to spend the minimum time on it.  An example of something that is the reverse, i.e. important but not urgent, is phoning my mum for a chat.  Let’s suppose I usually spend 45 minutes on the lawn and 10 minutes on my phone chat with my mum, this is not ideal as the less important thing, the lawn, is getting more time.  But that’s unavoidable as it HAS to be be done and is a longish job.  But if I could reduce it to only 35 minutes by efficient methods (or reduced quality) then I could have 20 minutes with my mum, and that’s the essence of time management: identify what’s really important rather than just the junk that has to be done, and maximise the time you spend on the important things. So it’s not about absolute time spent, it’s about squeezing the less important things in order to maximise the more important ones.

Third – I should get the most happiness from everything, even the unimportant things, perhaps by making them fun.  I could listen to my favourite music through loud headphones as I dance my way around the lawn, or use my (usually bad) personality drivers to advantage – use the Be Perfect driver to enjoy doing a really nice job, and use the Hurry Up driver to try finding the most efficient mowing pattern so there is minimal double cutting and easy turns at the end (e.g do rows 1 and 4, 2 then 5, 3 then 6, because doing 123456 means turns that are too sharp…etc!).

… and that’s what I’m thinking about today!

CC

PS – Lawn mowing fits perfectly with my 5 options for unimportant tasks:

1 – say no to it (rejected in this case for reasons given above)

2 – negotiate (maybe get something back for it or avoid something else instead?)

3 – delegate it (pay kids or a gardener)

4 – more efficient systems (e.g. good mower, good mowing pattern)

5 – do it less well (less often, less carefully)

Hmm, maybe I need to add “Make it fun” as a sixth option….

February 10, 2012

Why I don’t care about my birthday

Filed under: Happiness, Time Management — chriscroft @ 11:22 am

It’s my birthday on Sunday and people are very kindly offering to do special things on that date.

But

a) I don’t really want to think about age and the inevitable corollary of how little time I have left,

b) it’s just an arbitrary date really – every day I’m a day older (Engineer speaking!)

but the biggest thing is

c) – I don’t want my birthday to be special, I want EVERY day to be special. I want every Sunday, at least, to involve doing things I like doing, with the people I like seeing.  If I had to wait a year for that then something wouldn’t be right.  And I don’t think I’m that far off that point, so I don’t want this Sunday to be any different.     Scrooge? Lucky? Deluded? You decide!

 

PS – What AM I going to do on Sunday? I hear you ask…   Walk the dog on the beach, go and see some bands playing at The Sloop in the afternoon, have a curry in the evening. My idea of a great day!

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