Monday, 30 November 2009

Find time for Christmas

First day of December tomorrow. I’m going to try to start to get my workload under control so that I have time for Christmas. It’s a busy time and I have a significant backlog of things to do. But I do have lots of support – people who are willing to help in all sorts of ways. I’ve been trying to analyse some of the problems: one is that I underestimate how long things will take. This from an ex professional project manager is quite an admission! But, for example, I had hoped today to have an hour at 4-ish this afternoon to think about this blog entry – it’s now 10:30pm! Nothing has gone wrong – just things took longer than I thought. Another is task switching, I’m sure. Finding all the info about a particular activity takes time so with several on the go (I’m not going to own up to multi-tasking) this is a significant overhead.

I’m also looking hard at e-mail communications. There are lots of apocryphal stories: I remember hearing about a work colleague who only reacted to the second e-mail on any topic (the one beginning ‘did you get my note about....’) He argued that if it was important they’d send the second note, otherwise someone else would respond. Another suggestion was not to respond to any e-mail on which you were copied, i.e. not a direct addressee. Another is to keep the addressee lists as short as possible. I’m not sure that any of these are realistic.

I’ve already started trying to phone rather than e-mail where this is appropriate. The advantage is that usually the point can be resolved immediately. There are disadvantages, too: only one other person can take place and he or she must be there when the call is made. An e-mail has the advantage of being asynchronous. But the volume of e-mails is rather daunting: I was away from Tuesday last week, returning on Friday afternoon: I had 150 e-mails in my inbox. Quite a few were marketing ones (do you get several e-mails a day from Vistaprint?) but there were still 100-odd significant ones.

So to start, I’m going to try the following:

  • Be ruthless with the diary: plan to spend periods on certain activities and keep to the plan as much as possible

  • Manage e-mail activity down: telephone if practical, don’t perpetuate large distribution lists and don’t respond unless contributing – although a simple acknowledgement that a message has been received is often important

  • One thing at a time: complete an activity before switching; we used to call this ‘completed staff work’

Do you want to try with me?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Advent Sunday – Advent is here

Last year was easy – I tried to follow the day-by-day suggestions from Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s ‘Do nothing....’ I don’t think I can do this again so I’m going to try to try to make up my own Advent calendar.

Find Time for Christmas

We all seem very pressed these days – I had hoped to spend some time in November planning this Advent blog but I seem to have run out of time. We had a few days away last week and I came back to 150 e-mails which I haven’t cleared yet. So I thought I’d try to manage my time a little better and share my ideas. I don’t think this will cover every day so I’ll mix with some other suggestions to help us make more of Christmas.

If you have any ideas to help me, please add them as a comment or contact me directly. And of course in the spirit of the calendar, do try to join in and share your thoughts.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Risk assessment and management

Today’s reading which we discussed at tonight’s staff meeting was the second time that Risk surfaced today. The first was a request for a Risk Assessment for a situation (not in the Church) that I’m associated with.

I’ve been uncomfortable for some time about the Risk Assessment processes promoted by the government Health and Safety Executive. I have a number of concerns. Firstly ‘Assessment’ is passive: the dictionary defines it as ‘the act of judging or deciding the amount, value, quality or importance of something’ so it doesn’t suggest doing anything other than judging. I’m also concerned that Risk Assessments are viewed as a piece of bureaucracy. Once done, they can be filed away and forgotten. I was once told by a Young Enterprise student who was involved in an event at the school “don’t worry about the risk assessment, the office is doing that for us.” The HSE web site information tends to support these concerns.

Risk Management is a much better description of what needs to be done: assess the risks and then manage them. To be fair the HSE documentation does include as step 3 ‘what are you already doing’ and ‘what further action is necessary’ but the concept of actively managing the risks is absent. Risk management needs to be an integral part of the management of any initiative or activity. It needs to be balanced, so it shouldn’t take over, neither should it attempt to eliminate risks. Risk awareness is key: understanding the outstanding risks and, in particular, the potential impact of these. I regularly see people taking silly unnecessary risks – especially ones where the chance of them occurring is slim but the impact very serious. Walking along a country road with no pavement on the wrong (left) side is an example – crossing to face the traffic is simple and may avoid a fatal accident. I always give parked cars a very wide berth if there’s nobody coming the other way: the chance of a door opening or someone stepping out is small but the potential very serious. Neither of these situations is covered by Risk Assessment.

The reading, by the way, was a version of the parable of the ten pounds (Luke 19 12-28). The verse which I recognise as ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’ was quoted as ‘He said, “That's what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag.”’ The full parable can be read in the two versions here and here.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Advent is coming

Advent Sunday is two weeks away and December starts on the following Tuesday. Last year I tried following Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s advent book: Do Nothing for Christmas. That was great but I don’t think I can repeat it. So I thought I’d make up my own advent calendar with things to try each day. These will be mainly, but not exclusively, green activities. Christmas, when we all spend lots of money – not to mention time, energy and thought – on presents, food, drink etc, Christmas is a good time to be more aware of being less profligate with the earth’s resources. Whether or not you believe in global warming, I hope there’ll be some ideas you’ll find ... challenging? interesting? amusing? We’ll see. And I also hope there’ll be some comments and debate this year: perhaps I need to me more contentious.

Here’s a simple starter: do you still buy bottled water? The evidence is that fewer of us are: sales are down – maybe a recessional effect. But I still see people walking around with bottles – and how come many people can’t last through a visit to the theatre without swigging from a bottle of water?

We’re lucky here that the tapwater is pretty good. I think ours comes direct from a borehole along the Rignall Road towards Great Missenden. But is fairly highly chlorinated and doesn’t taste too good direct from the tap. However, we keep a couple of bottles in the fridge. These we fill from the tap but leave an air space for the chlorine to evaporate. After a day or so the water is wonderful. Give it a try!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Do nothing...

Did you hear Thought for the Day in Today on R4 this morning? Author Rhidian Brook complains of drowning in e-mails and even taking his laptop into the bath to catch up. It rang a bell (but not the bath bit) Last Christmas I started blogging by following Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s advent book ‘Do nothing for Christmas’ This was a follow-on to his book ‘Do nothing to change your life’ I bought this after Christmas thinking that I needed to get to grips with things... but I still haven’t had a chance to read it. So when Rhidian Brook this morning talked about trying to have some time at the start of the day I thought that I need to try that – and perhaps I’d find time to read the book.

You can listen to Thought for today here:
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