Sunday, 19 July 2015

- Agility -

This blog was initially called "Don't Leave your Head at Work (or your heart at home)" Having renamed it a little while ago, I have found that the original name still suits. Just as I once experimented with pronouncing my name the way others did, and found it didn't ring true, I am reinstating this blog's true name, albeit in a slightly amended form.
I have learned all manner of new technology, software and strategies to help me manage my work in the past two years**. All of these new ways of working are teaching me agility.
It's not about perfecting everything, it's about using the right tool for the right job in the right way. It's about being able to switch to the right form of communication, and adapting.

I have lost count of the number of email templates I have set up in Microsoft Outlook's Quick Parts, Quick Steps and signature tags, that mean I don't even have to think about many things any more.
I have been astonished to learn how much thought can go into even the simplest of emails; writing the subject heading, choosing the addressee, remembering (or even selecting) the right email address, deciding all the people who need to be copied in, and that's even before you have begun composing the email itself!
Then there's the salutation (do you use Hi/Dear), and the sign-off.
It was only when a colleague introduced me to Yammer, a social networking tool, that I realised this. Because on social media you don't have to spend time even thinking about any of this. It's open, and you know you are addressing the right person. If you want to create a group for a particular topic, you can and you do. It's instant and you dip in and out, and most importantly, you can connect with anyone no matter where in the world they are, and this opens up your world.
I now use a myriad of programmes, software, communication methods and technology to get my work done. In part this is due to some of the assistive technology, such as the Livescribe smartpen and MindView, mind mapping software, that I have been given to help me manage my Dyspraxia**.  

The rest has been discovering the full range of technology that was already available to me as well as everyone else in my place of work.  
Sometimes I even just pick up the phone and talk to someone.
I've heard over and over I need to be flexible and adaptable, when what I really needed to learn was to be agile.
"Agile" is a much easier word to remember, and it suggests speed *and* ability as well as quality performance. It suggests being able to switch, and bend and turn and twist like an accomplished gymnast or ice-skater. 
However, the image that comes to mind for me when I visualise myself as agile is a champion slalom skier, who needs to constantly adjust to ski in and around the flags, to stay on track to get to the finishing line. The finishing line is straight ahead, but the skier has to navigate the flags successfully to swish to the left and swoosh to the right, to stay on course. And if I can keep my balance, I can make it to the finishing line.
And that's why I am constantly learning, I have become curious about the world, especially my world of work. It has almost become an adventure, and I am exploring the landscape, mapping it out and discovering new landmarks and features.
I am constantly practising, to get better, to progress, to be better today than I was yesterday. As I wrote about in a previous blog post, repetition of a task helps me to learn, and I am always looking for ways of making a task just that little bit easier each time I repeat it.
This way it becomes fresh and a new task, and I am able to approach each task with the intention to learn from it, and I can see I have become more flexible and adaptable as a result. Since I am not tied to the way I did it the last time, I am open to learning a better way, to learning from others, to sharing that learning with them and learning in turn.
It really is a process of continual improvement and the more I learn, the more I share, the more I learn from others, the more we all benefit and grow.
What are you learning?

* (or your heart at home)
** If you are interested and would like to find out more, you can read more on my blog "Dyspraxic Pioneer" where I write about all that I have learned since being diagnosed, about the condition, about the technology, strategies and help available, as well as what I have learned about myself, which has helped me learn to work with my strengths and recognise areas of development.

Monday, 3 November 2014

- Be Yourself and Shine -

I realised recently that I hadn't written anything for this blog for the past year.
That's because it has evolved, as have I. Last year I was diagnosed with Dyspraxia and ADD*, and it's changed how I work. I've had to accept that I think and communicate differently from others, and that we don't all think the same way.
I've been given assistive technology, such as mindmapping software, and a pen to record audio notes, and I have realised that I'd been trying to think like others, and it's changed the way I work, to find the best way of doing things for me, to communicate more clearly and effectively to others, and to get my thoughts down when completing a task. 
I now use mindmapping tools, to see where everything is, and a pen to record minutes, as well as highlighting software to pick out key points. I've streamlined everything, got rid of my keyboard because typing on it slowed me down, and learned shortcuts.
I'm not suggesting that everyone needs or wants to use any of this, but I have found instances where individually, people have seen the benefits of the software - one person even got the same mindmapping software, and I plan to invest in it for myself for my home computer because it has allowed me to bring everything into one central place, so I have everything to hand. It really illustrates my thinking on screen, and I can move things around just as I wish to suit my needs.
In short, what this has taught me is that we all can evolve, and we can be ourselves at work, we can acknowledge our individual strengths and find creative ways of building on our weaknesses.
One of the things I have done as a result is to rewrite the newsletter that I used to write as part of this blog.
I now write it up on a flipchart, so I no longer type up minutes from the meetings, and I just note down key points.

This has made writing the newsletter so much easier, and fun again, where it had become a chore.
It made me realise that I wanted to reinstate this blog, that it needed a new name and new branding.
So this is my relaunch:
"Improve your Working Life - Be Yourself and Shine"
I think it's really rather apt, because Arctura is the name of a star, and each star has its role to play in the night sky.
* If you are interested and would like to find out more, you can read more on my blog "Dyspraxic Pioneer" where I write about all that I have learned since being diagnosed, about the condition, about the technology, strategies and help available, as well as what I have learned about myself, which has helped me learn to work with my strengths and recognise areas of development.

Monday, 25 November 2013

“A goal is a dream with a deadline” Napoleon Hill

This is a newsletter from one of the recent "Work Smart" lunchtime  sessions. The theme was the routes we can take to achieving our goals. 

"Do you know the way to San Jose?"*

LD handed out tickets with mystery destinations to attendees at the start of the meeting. LD had also asked members to bring along their objectives, and asked them to share what steps they had planned to achieve these goals.  

One member’s objective was a goal that required input from all members in all departments, and Members could see how this goal needed to be clearly defined, so they could know when they had reached it. In this example, each department would feed into the process.  From this, members recognised that objectives serve a twofold purpose – goals drive the business forward, and stretch us so that we can develop our skills. 

When members opened their tickets, they identified a variety of starting points – London, Oxford, Bristol – with a range of travel options:  by train, plane, car, or running as a banana for charity.

LD directed everyone to locate their starting point to find fellow travellers, and to plan what they would need according to their means of transport. 

Some requirements were the same for everyone:
- passport, money and guidebook.

Additional requirements depended on the mode of transport:
- flight times, petrol stations, rest stops, and where to buy your banana costume. 

Those travelling together could meet at the station or lift share. 

All Roads Lead to Rome

When members headed towards their destination they discovered it was the same for everyone: they were all heading to Rome, and that all roads lead to Rome, whether you are starting from London, Bristol or Oxford, and whether you are flying, driving, taking the train. Different routes and transport (different objectives/departments), but we’ll all meet in Rome. 

(not Romania)

In order to stay on track, you need to constantly review your objectives, or you might end up in Romania instead of Rome. Les Brown tells us to “review our goals twice every day in order to be focussed on achieving them”. Once you have agreed the destination and means of travel with your line manager, you need to plan your route.

Your objectives and learning management system then becomes your SatNav, and one-to-ones are traffic alerts, to check you are on track. They also flag up any potential diversions that may be needed. 

“Our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”  Don Williams, Jr.

Out of this discussion, one member related it to teamwork, where the leader is the guide, and you don’t become a team until you are bigger than what you are trying to achieve. She cited an example from "Sports Psychology for Dummies" of a baseball player who was on the bench for 5 years, and then allocated to attack, when he would have preferred to be defence. This was best for the team. Members agreed it was practical to give the map to the one who can read the best, but remember to also teach others to read the map, so they can alternate.

Similar to a jigsaw puzzle, each piece is vital to the bigger picture, and cannot be replaced perfectly, however, it is possible to minimise the risk of losing the puzzle piece. Team continues to function, no matter that is in it, because the team has a purpose. 

Quick tip – Scan or photocopy hastily handwritten notes from meetings. Email them to yourself as a PDF to save to your PC for typing up at a later date if needed. 


Effective. Efficient. Organised. Professional. 

* "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" (1968, music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, sung by Dionne Warwick)

Friday, 10 May 2013

“Every piece of the universe, even the tiniest little snow crystal, matters somehow. I have a place in the pattern, and so do you.” ~ T.A. Barron

All you need is one

We had a few days of sunny weather in the UK over the Bank Holiday last weekend, and although a pleasant change after the long, cold winter, it made me realise that even just one sunny day over that long weekend would have made a difference: 

One flower to herald the spring; one bird flying overhead to lift our spirits.

The power of one:

It's much easier to encourage best practise and bring everyone together, than it is to legislate and police all the different options that any one person might come up with. And the larger the company, the more vital it is that there is a shared vision, because each individual is a separate person with their own thoughts, feelings and perspectives and actions. One shared vision can bring together all of those thoughts, feelings and perspectives so that the actions  of all the individuals help to move the company forward in the same direction.

One small step is also at the heart of the Japanese movement of "Kaizen"*, where the focus is on making one small change at a time, to aspire to continual improvement. To be just that little bit better today than yesterday. To make a difference. 

One new idea, one different thing

One thank you card
one person telling you that you are appreciated and valued
one positive thing
one solution

One new idea is easy to remember
one new idea is easy to try
one small step
one new person

Each of us can make a difference, and the world is a different place for us having been here.

Light one candle and pass it on


Effective. Efficient. Organised. Professional. 
* "One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way", Robert Maurer, Workman Publishing (17 Sep 2004)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

“That which we persist in doing, becomes easier to do” ~ R.W. Emerson*

The focus of this month's meeting was on continually developing the skills and abilities needed to maintain our productivity, so that we can stay sharp, and up-to-date with industry trends. 

One way of doing this could be to attend relevant workshops, and to interact with colleagues from other departments to understand the wider processes and to see the bigger picture of the company within the industry as a whole. 

Work Smart - newsletter, April 2013

For April's meeting, LD had asked members to write a thank you card to a colleague. Some members felt this was unnecessary, as a culture of thanking colleagues already exists in many companies. However, it was noted that cards from managers at Christmas were appreciated and often kept as mementos. One colleague sent a thank you card for being warned about a traffic diversion affecting the commute to work during snowy weather.

“Sharpening the Saw”:
Members spoke about strategies to stay on top of work and industry trends, including learning new skills and mastering the technology. LD referred to the 7th Habit, in Stephen Covey's book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People"**, which is “sharpening the saw” -  taking 5 minutes to keep up-to-date and aware of Best Practice, so we can complete our work effectively. Often we get so busy sawing, we forget that our saws can become blunt. We get used to doing things the way we did them when we started in our role, but there are always new developments and trends.

Staying sharp would equate to the 5% of development time as part of our objectives. Members spoke about the benefits of workshops, in particular internal workshops, as an example for learning:
  • Internal workshops facilitate greater understanding of the Big Picture and where we fit into the wider process
  • Improve presentation skills and share knowledge
  • Meet colleagues in other departments, and step away from the routine. Seeing things from a new perspective can spark collaboration between departments.
  • Workshops must be relevant, and well-presented, and need line manager support, as attendance is actually part of our jobs.
  • Ideally material would be centrally available to refer back to afterwards
  • Ask the Learning and Development department to develop courses that are relevant.
Brian Tracy's book "Eat That Frog"*** compares tasks we may approach last because they are hardest or we are not skilled at, as “frogs”. He encourages us to tackle them sooner to increase our abilities and grow. Assigning a reward to such a task can be helpful to focus on achievement. LD handed out small chocolates to each member to assign as a reward to completion of a task of their choosing before the next meeting. 

Blog of the month:

For the next meeting, please share one example of Best Practice in your work. 
              Effective. Efficient. Organised. Professional

            *“That which we persist in doing, becomes easier to do. Not that the task becomes easier, but our ability to do increases” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
              **"Eat That Frog", Brian Tracy, Hodder Paperbacks (13 Sep 2004)
                ***"The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", Stephen Covey, Simon & Schuster Ltd; 1989

                Tuesday, 9 April 2013

                "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
                ~ Marcel Proust

                Last week I attended a conference in Brussels for a few days. It was a trip of new experiences: new people, new ideas, new opportunities and new connections. It was the first time I’d been to Brussels, and I’d not travelled on the Eurostar before, so that was exciting in itself. It was also an opportunity to spend time with colleagues in a different environment outside of the office, and we were fortunate enough to stay in a good hotel, along with the other delegates.

                When we spend time with our colleagues away from work, we see them through different eyes, eg my colleague James, who stood up and presented to a roomful of around 100 people rather than a group of 10, and then sat on the panel discussion. We can observe them in an alternative environment.

                We can learn much from other people who are successful, the people we admire, even if it’s just something small from each person. When I went on the life coaching taster course recently, they asked us if we thought talking to a roomful of 100 people was a stretch or a panic goal (Bev James, “Do it or Ditch it”*). I now feel that it's a stretch, because I am used to talking to groups of 10 or 20 through the groups I run at work, and going to a public speaking group in Oxford. So for me the next step up from that will be to present to a larger group next time. 

                Not only do we see our colleagues through different eyes, we see ourselves through different eyes, and the eyes of new people we meet. In such cases we may meet people from different backgrounds, whether they are from the same industry or other parts of the industry. We come together to share ideas, because we are all working to a common goal. 

                We need to recognise where we think the same as people, and where our opinions differ, but the goal is not to think alike, “the goal is to think together” (with apologies to Robert C. Dodd**)

                When we travel, we also have to remember that we take ourselves with us wherever we go. One morning, my colleague made a comment about how we treat our hotel rooms, saying in her opinion you can tell a lot about someone from the way they behave away from home. She’s right, I went to the gym before breakfast, ate as healthy as I could throughout the conference, choosing herbal teas and water, and even fruit for breakfast, a habit I may take home with me, and incorporate into my lifestyle. I felt healthier over the two days, as a result.

                There is much we can learn from any experience away from work, whether that is a meeting or a conference abroad. We see ourselves in a new light, perhaps, when we get out and about - it's really as if few are lifting our heads up for a moment, to look around us, to be aware of where we are and where we are going.

                So the next time you have a meeting, or you are sent somewhere, ask yourself, what can I learn from this?


                Effective. Efficient. Organised. Professional. 

                * "Do It or Ditch It", Bev James, Virgin Books, July 2011. 

                **Original quote, “The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.” Robert C. Dodds.

                Friday, 8 March 2013

                "Live, love, learn, leave a legacy" ~ Stephen Covey

                The focus of this month's meeting was on the ways we could create a legacy in our work so that colleagues would remember us in a positive light when we move on to new ventures. 

                One way of doing this was to find reasons to be grateful at work, both for the work itself and the people we work with every day. This month members have been tasked to write one thank you card or email to a colleague, ahead of April's meeting. 

                Work Smart - newsletter, March 2013

                In our second meeting on Tuesday, Members contributed examples of positive aspects of work, ranging from working with lovely people, teams encouraging creative thinking and new starter drinks.

                Members recommended the numbers of colleagues who had returned to work after leaving to work elsewhere, prompting them to reflect how best to leave a legacy whereby colleagues remembered them positively. LD compared leaving a legacy to writing with permanent marker pen on archive boxes, marking them with our individual handwriting, and leaving lasting proof that we had been here. Referring to colleagues returning, members raised the intention of maintaining our records and files as we would wish to find them if it was our first day in a new job.

                Members also recognised that it could be taken for granted how much knowledge someone had accumulated until they had left the company, if it was not shared, causing “Business amnesia”. Similarly, Business amnesia could apply to any situation where information was not recorded, or there was no written record of important information, which could not then be accurately remembered six months later. Written records were more reliable than oral history. 

                Members also discussed the best ways for booking meeting rooms and facilities for meetings:

                • Reserve meeting rooms by email where possible. Email requests make it possible to monitor and track requests centrally between the relevant parties.
                • Include meeting room requirements when reserving: date, venue, time, duration of meeting, number of people.
                • If IT equipment or catering will be required, include this in the request.
                • Cancel meeting rooms that are no longer needed, so that they become available for colleagues. This applies to meetings that finish early, as well as recurring meetings.
                • External visitors - Specify whether they are external clients, or interview candidates, so they can be put in touch with the relevant contact.
                • If taxis are required, include this in the request. 
                Blog of the month:

                LD handed out blank thank you cards to members during the meeting. Each member was asked to write one thank you card to a colleague before April's meeting. Members could choose to send e-cards instead if preferred.

                For the next meeting, please tell us one way that you stay on top of your work or industry trends.

                       Effective. Efficient. Organised. Professional