The Senior who wrote a book

Recently, I got to know that a senior of mine, who was in the fourth year of university when I was a freshie, actually wrote a book. At first I did not think much of it and was just impressed that he took time off to write a book. Today, he provided a link to his website, Finding Home Inside. I realised it was a blog which contained many articles which he had written. In it, he introduced his book and mentioned why he took the time to write it. Looking at the way the book was introduced, with a photo of the book itself, reminded me of internet marketing and that I wanted to write one this year. However I did not do anything to begin this effort. As I looked through his website, I realised he used crowdfunding to fund his publishing costs. I started to look forward to see his book in the book stores. What got me thinking – and writing – was that I wanted to do something similar, although not for the same reasons. I wanted to write something based on my experiences and what I learnt, to benefit people, and at the same time, try out some internet marketing as a hobby. But the thing is, he wrote a book and sold it, while I haven’t written a single word. He wrote about how he was at the lowest point in life, with only twelve dollars in his pockets, and I guess he just went ahead to do it. Compared to him, I feel small inside. Another approach he took that was similar to my style was including some books he had read. While I see that there are only two, it reminded me that I read one book per month last year, and I wanted to share what I had learnt. There were so many things I wanted to do, but I didn’t, because I procrastinated. Hopefully I would pick up the habit of writing again, with this small step of updating my blog. To dreams and beyond. Thanks to my senior who got me thinking again.

A Sudden Lunch Appointment

So today my Grand boss (my immediate boss’s boss) called me up today and asked if I wanted to go lunch with him. I was caught off guard but agreed nonetheless because its not everyday that your boss’s boss call you for lunch. I got onto his car and just went to the hawker centre.

We chatted a lot during the ride there, while having lunch and the ride back. That was the first time I spoke so much to him. I could see that he was trying to know my workload and my surroundings. We spoke about my future possible posting plans and about possible transfers between my staff. He even spoke to me about my performance and told me the areas I could improve. All of a sudden I felt slightly guilty that I raised a point as part of a group presentation during a Command Effectiveness Programme on Monday that I think the people at my level and the enciks should be mentored more. I spoke about how it is important to know how we are doing and how we can improve.

I felt an understand between my Grand boss and I when he said that he used to be like me. He asked me to be more vocal and I asked him how did he decide that he needed to change. He told me that his perspective of life changed. Although it wasn’t a concrete suggestion on the steps to take, but I understood. I had changed over the past few years as well. Experience shaped me and slowly changed me. We make small incremental changes and slowly they become a big change. He spoke about being an introvert and how we tend to think more than speak up. It felt great, like he knows how I feel.

I appreciate that he invested a lunch time session with me. No boss had done that with me on a one to one basis for lunch before. It was an enriching session and extremely beneficial for me. But beyond that, I felt that my Grand boss was one of us, and less intimidating as someone who is your boss’s boss should be.

So today I learnt how it would make people feel to have some form of conversation and frank talk. How it would make someone’s day to just invest some time in telling him how you appreciate his work and how he could improve. I had always wanted to coach and to mentor, but I did not find the time to. It cannot be an excuse that I do not have the time; I should find time. I should spend time doing the things I think are good investments. And when I leave, I would leave behind a legacy, not just another random boss who came and left.

Hence, though the lunch wasn’t good because the food was so-so and it was hard to really concentrate on the taste, I had a great lunchtime which impacted me till now and beyond. I am thankful for the session and I will provide such sessions downwards on a more regular interval and beyond just a small chat by the water cooler.

Merry Christmas: A good time to do a stock take of the year

Merry Christmas.

I realised that I haven’t written anything in this blog since August 3rd. Unfortunately I hadn’t been very disciplined to blog and I wasn’t disciplined to follow my new year goals too. In this holiday season, I tried to pick up where I left off, and am feeling a little more motivated to see things through. Nonetheless, here is a review:

[Workplace] To read one Logistic Orders daily (knowledge gaining)

I did this with gusto with a colleague for about 5 months and this just died off when we started being so busy. This is an excuse, because I could have done something about it but I didn’t. Nonetheless I did reap some benefits and this should be an effort to continue. Question is, how to make the guys do this too?

[Fitness] To run twice a week at the earliest opportunity

This was done diligently too, at first. I can’t remember when was the last time I ran, but I really need to do something about this.

[Fitness] To regain my Silver in IPPT by May 14

I achieved the goal by May 14. I would need to put in more effort given that the IPPT test was recently revised. I would need to train on push ups and sit ups as well.

[Personal Development] To read one book a month and mindmap them

This is an area which I am rather proud of, although I can’t say that all books were completed or mindmapped. After a while, certain topics found had already been learnt and hence I tend to skip certain segments of the books. Here is the list of books I had read in 2013:

  1. Jan: The First Time Manager in Asia
  2. Feb: 5 Levels of Leadership
  3. Mar: The Fine Art of Small Talk
  4. Apr: [I can’t remember the title, but it was about Neuro-linguistic Programming]
  5. May: Clarity
  6. Jun: Secrets of Productivity Ninja [Can’t recall the exact title]
  7. Jul: Start with Why + The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
  8. Aug: 3 Minute Coaching
  9. Sep: The Power of Habits
  10. Oct: Leading Change [This was something I saw in Kino, and after reading, I realised it was recommended by HBR too]
  11. Nov: Awaken the Giant Within [I didn’t complete it. The main gist of the book is similar to the concepts in NLP]
  12. Dec: Secret to Peak Producitivty [Skimmed through as it was a entry-grade book which did not benefit me much]

Note that I read 13 books. This exceeded the 1 book a month plan. Moving on, I have also identified certain books to read in the new year. I will address that in a seperate blog post. In this year, I have also downloaded and listened to an audio book by Brian Tracy. It is titled the “21 Success Secrets of Self Made Millionaires”. While I agree that driving is a huge waste of time which could be made use through audio books, I can’t say that it is an effective means because my mind tends to drift off during the drive.

[Workplace] To do the Individual Development Action Plan with my team members (One every two weeks)

An area which I completely failed at. I didn’t find the time. Also, in the middle of the year, I read the book about the 3 minute coaching, and I tried to implement that instead.

[Investment] To research on and analyse 1 company per month. Evaluate the best price to enter into the stock market.

Another area where I did not do anything concrete on. I wanted to evaluate it more holistically, but what I did was minimal. I did make many purchases and I missed some as well. Overall I think I learnt a lot on investment through the year.

In the next few days I will review the mind maps that I have done, and also do some thinking about what I want to do with my life. Following which, I will present the new goals for 2015 and hopefully I would have a better report card in Dec 2015.

Merry Christmas all.

Living the Vision

If you had read books on leadership, you would have known about the importance of setting a mission and a vision, and the job lies with the boss of the organisation. The purpose of having a mission and a vision is to align everyone to the same goals and to let all employee know what the company stands for. A good vision inspires all to follow, and their actions in the course of their work would reflect the common values that a company has.

However, I am sure that anyone who has worked for a living would realise that it isn’t that simple. A vision could be set, but nobody would follow. An important point to note is that the managers and supervisors down the line from the boss to the lowest ranked employee is responsible for carrying the vision. They should share in the vision and their actions should be aligned to the vision so that their direct reports could be influenced likewise.

It is now opportune to introduce the concept of the Toxic Leader. The Toxic Leader can be found in most organisations. He does not believe in the vision and has a mind of his own. His character can single-handedly destroy the passion anyone below him has for the vision. If you do anything that he does not believe in, he disapproves and you feel unvalued.

An organisation may decide that it is important to conduct team communication sessions in order to build team spirit and understanding. A Toxic Leader will frown and that and think it is a waste of time.

An organisation may decide that it is important for work life harmony and introduce advisories against managers from contacting staff about work beyond 7pm. A Toxic Leader doesn’t care and still calls you anyway.

Day after day the employees get frustrated because the things that are set in place to build workplace happiness and effectiveness are not done. Some feel that the organisation doesn’t care. But doesn’t it? The organisation cares; it is the Toxic Leader that does not. Talented employees might choose to leave one by one, leaving behind people who might just be as toxic as the Toxic Leader. The company has a vision, but no one to carry it out.

The thing is, one of the more important aspects a manager or leader should have is to “Agree to Disagree”, only after due effort has been spent communicating the arguments from each side. After the discussion is finalised, the boss makes a decision and everyone else can only follow. Not only follow, but they have to live by the decision, and live by the vision.

But of course this is a rather simplified story. Reality is much more complicated than that. The boss has the responsibility to make the right decisions, but in reality sometimes the boss makes the wrong decision and the managers might be right. The boss has the responsibility to influence such that everyone is committed and hence no Toxic Leaders are formed. In reality, the boss might be too busy to do such a thing, and leave Toxic Leaders to do their work. The bosses will not know the situation, because employees under the Toxic Leader are more likely to feel unsecure enough to report their Toxic Leader’s wrongdoing.

The morale of this entire blog post is: Down the line from the boss to the managers and supervisors, we have our role to play. Many times we think of a vision as the responsibility of the boss. However it is also the responsibility of us, as the managers and supervisors, to live out the vision no matter how busy we are. Be self aware of what we are doing and saying, and make sure that we do not become the kind of Toxic Leader that we didn’t like when we started out in the industry.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

I bought this book titled “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni on Saturday. It was an extremely light book to read and I completed it within 3 hours. The book is written as a leadership fable, which means it is in a story form and easy to digest. The story follows how a new CEO observed how dysfunctional her team was and set out to change things. Naturally, at the end of the story, all was well.

But I am writing because the story seemed to reflect the way my workplace is now. Not the dysfunctional part, but the things that we do or are told to do are similar to what the CEO does to build her team. This means that my workplace had it all thought out and provided the resources and efforts required to make us less dysfunctional. So much so that if we are still dysfunctional, it would be our fault and not the organisation’s. And if you know where I work for, you would understand that there are many complaints about it. However, my opinion is that it is the people that made it this way and if we want to change the organisation, we should change from within.

The story starts off with a series of retreats being planned where they discuss personality types. In the fable, the Myers-Briggs personality model was discussed. People talk about one another’s personality and how they would like to be treated. Drawing a parallel to my workplace, we had sessions called the Command Effectiveness Programme where the boss bring us all together to chart the way ahead for the next year. In this programme, we go through a personality “test” called the Tetra Elements. Briefly speaking, the test groups us into one of the four elements and each elements have some specific personality and character. Each element have a special way of doing things and a preferred way of being approached. That the reactions you get from your colleagues are based on their personality and not what you think by standing in your own shoes.

I won’t go into detail of what the five dysfunctions are, but I will briefly talk about the few which had impacted me.

The first is “Absence of Trust”. Trust does not mean the belief that your colleague will do the things he need to do. Trust is a little less straightforward in this example, but what it means is that you do not feel comfortable enough to have constructive criticism and discussions with one another. Meetings are spent feeling bored because people keep to themselves. They do not trust each other well enough to voice out; nor do they trust each other well enough to know it will be appreciated or taken the right way.

When I first read the “Absence of Trust” chapter, I thought that it was quite an easy dysfunction and that it does not happen in the workplace. But upon further thought, this is the bedrock of how we have been conducting ourselves for the longest time. Most teams we form do not have “trust” in them. People still feel guarded and do not contribute. I reckon part of it is due to our Asian values and the other part is the structure; the rank that tells you he is your boss and hence he knows best.

As leaders we need to foster “trust”, but it is not an easy task. We need to build the culture and show that it is alright to have constructive criticism. That no criticism only leads to failure and not team success.

The next and final dysfunction that impacted me the most is “Absence of Accountability”. Without trust, we don’t criticise. We don’t exert accountability on people and make them responsible for their actions. This “Absence of Accountability” can happen because of two reasons. First, the person is someone you didn’t want to bother about. You do not feel close to the person to want to hold him accountable. You might be afraid that he will lash out and conflict will arise.

Secondly, it can happen because the person is someone who had contributed a lot but had that one little time where he didn’t perform well, but nobody held him accountable. It is difficult to criticise someone who had put their heart and soul into something. But if you do not hold him accountable for his misgivings, he might not be able to learn and overcome this weakness of his. It doesn’t matter what type of person he is; we have to hold everyone accountable. Thing is, to do it in a respectful way.

I am quite glad that I can rattle off 2 out of 5 dysfunctions easily to a certain depth. It might mean that I have slightly internalised the lessons. With the lessons on the five dysfunctions, I will try to build a team who will work for one another and bring us into greater heights.

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available

The book that I have read for the month of Jun is “How to be a Productivity Ninja” by Graham Allcott. I borrowed this book from the National Library (had to reserve it because it was that popular) after reading some bits of it in Popular Bookshop. I borrowed it last night and read throughout the night. Today, whenever I have breaks during the course, I read it too. I just completed it after reading the last bit at home. I also drew two mind maps!

But the main point of this post isn’t about the book. Rather, it is about this interesting concept which I have learnt from the book. It’s called the Parkinson’s Law and it goes like this: “Work expands to fill the time available”. When I read about this concept, I recognised it instantly because it is true for me. There are certain tasks which could be completed in X number of hours. Yet because I had Y hours to do it, I took my time, got distracted in the middle, and I only completed those tasks in Y hours.

It was a serious waste of time and productivity.

When we know our deadline is not today, but next week, we will tend to procrastinate and take our time to do it. Soon, we have spent too much time on this single task and only manage to hand it up on the deadline and not before.

It is interesting to note that the human mind is a lazy one and will seek to be distracted when you give it opportunities to. Linking it to the concepts I read in “Thinking Fast and Slow”, I realised that this is because the brain does not need to work much when we engage in activities that distract us easily (like Facebook, Twitter, replying messages etc) as opposed to activities that require much thinking and effort to pay attention to.

Looking back on myself, I realised that there were many times which I took my time to do certain things because I didn’t like doing it, whereas for activities that I enjoy doing or see the purpose and hence develop passion for, I find it easier to complete those tasks in a single sitting. The effort for both tasks are the same, yet for the ones I dread, I take many times longer. I could have done it faster and used the remaining time on other task, yet I didn’t because the rest of the tasks weren’t urgent. Yet by the time I completed the original task, these tasks then become urgent and require immediate attention.

As a result, I constantly feel tired and overwhelmed to the point I feel as though I have burnt out.

But need it be like this? No!

The lessons from the book could help me escape this, but I need time to try those out and see how effective it is. Will write another post on it if it is effective. There are a couple of concepts which I had already known but did not diligently do though; these concepts are from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. The Productivity Ninja book also gave me an awareness of the Pomodoro concept, which is to have 25 minutes of focused do-time, followed by 5 minutes of rest. I shall explore it and give my verdict in the future. Stay tuned!

Clarity

Clarity is the solution to many problems in a young graduate’s work life. Before a graduate starts work, he is involved mainly in academics. In a day, an undergraduate will have much free time to do as he pleases, to relax and recharge before going for the next lesson. When a young graduate transits to work, this free time would be suddenly robbed from him and there isn’t any time to sort out your thoughts. You just have to continue doing the work that you require to be done.

We get inundated with work and things pile up. Nobody taught us how to deal with these growing piles or to manage this sudden spike in intensity. We lose sight of the things we need to get done and a vicious cycle develops. Because we couldn’t clear the work on time, we end up with having more work and again less times to sort out this growing mess. Less time to prioritise means the wrong things get cleared and the important things become more urgent. And more work piles up and less focus and so on and so forth.

The solution to this entire issue is simple, but not easy. The word is “Clarity”. I’ve searched for “Clarity” throughout the 3 years that I have started working. There are much material online that teaches you various ways of achieving the required focus. Heck, I even bought a book called “Clarity” which I thought would teach me how to become focused. Yet the same book ended up confusing me as it was more of being aware of how we perceive things rather than how to actively sort things out.

I’ve managed to achieve “Clarity” on good days but on bad ones I lose sight again. It isn’t difficult to achieve clarity; it is difficult to sustain it. However, on the days that I manage to get clarity, I end up having an extremely productive day. On days which I lose clarity, I get negative, I feel overwhelmed and I end up thinking, FML.

But what is Clarity.

Clarity is:

  1. Being aware of all the things you need to do
  2. Being in control

There are different ways that one might use to achieve clarity, and the same method might not work for all. Hence, the purpose of writing is merely to share and encourage others to try it. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, well that’s one less method to do.

I manage my clarity through a combination of several mechanisms, but all of which have the same purpose: to be aware of the things I need to do. Here are the things that I do to keep my clarity; I will not go into much depth because that might be a post for another day.

  1. Managing my “Baskets”. These are not physical baskets but metaphorical ones. I have baskets where I store my to-do lists and the basket serves to group the task by projects. Some examples include “Things to Research”, “Safety” (because I am the Safety Officer), “Mess” (because of my role in the mess) etc. With these baskets, I know what I need to do.
  2. Managing my “Inbox”. The email inbox can be a daunting mountain to climb. I get an average of 50 emails a day. To fight the email inbox, I try to apply certain techniques (which coincidentally, another blogger had described here) to move through my emails. There are certain things that do not require attention, and there are some which requires more attention. I sort them out into “baskets” based on urgency and at the same time, write them in my project “baskets”. Things that require less than 2 minutes, I do them immediately and for those that require more time, it is off into the sorting hat they go. We have to make it a point to have 0 mail at the end of the day. It is do-able, we just have to believe in it. Things that are good to note for information, I scribble them into a big notebook full of interesting tidbits that help me recall what tasks were done previously but not yet closed.
  3. Making use of the Trusty Moleskine. I just got my first Moleskine, but previously I was using a notebook from Typo. Whatever works. My personal preference are notebooks that open fully at each page, so both Moleskine and Typo filled the job. I learnt a technique from the internet which I use for my Moleskine. I divide the notebook into segments. You must have at least 2 segments: Tasklist and Scribbles. Tasklist are to account for your baskets and scribbles are what you write in meetings, in short, notes. At the end of the day, the tasks that arise from notes must be transferred to the Tasklist. To manage the scribbles, you can paginate each page. This helps when you have scribbles of the same nature but are not running consecutively as perhaps, another meeting took up that page in between. You can then put “transferred to page 5″ for example. Yes, if you read correctly, I have two notebooks (point 2 and point 3).
  4. Doing Reviews. Reviewing all the things you have written on a periodic basis is important. Your mind cannot remember everything; that is why you wrote them down. If you didn’t review them, you wouldn’t know what you forgot. Reviewing makes you remember what you need to do. There are 2 reviews that we should do, one on a weekly basis and one on a daily basis. The weekly basis review is to consolidate what has been done or what has to be done to give you an overview. The daily review enables you to plan your day. I use a 1-3-5 method to be discussed in another post.

Now, it does seem like a lot of work to be done for clarity. Doesn’t it contribute to more work? Yes it does, but the productivity gained from clarity would offset it. You don’t need much time for review. A 10 minute period each day to look through your task list would help. What you have to take note is to diligently fill up your baskets and review them so you can lessen the tasks listed inside.

Try it and you will see. It worked for me; it might work for you. What is the more difficult thing is to sustain these actions. Personally, I have yet to find a solution to sustaining this effort. If you know of any solutions, share it with me.