Overcoming Yourself: Review of my Overseas Work Trip

I had the opportunity to be nominated for a working trip to Indonesia which happened over the past week. The trip was an exchange program for Junior Officers and as part of this trip, I had to help host the Indonesian Officers when they come to Singapore. I was proud that my boss thought about me for this trip, but I was also rather apprehensive because mingling and meeting new people was never my cup of tea.

What I did was to tell myself to “Just Do It”. Actually, after the nomination, I had not received any confirmation for weeks and I thought I was not selected eventually. After some time, an email came to check if I was still available. I had an option: (1) lie and say that I had arranged for something else given that there was no confirmation or (2) tell the truth and accept what comes. I went with option 2. Lying didn’t feel right especially since my boss favoured me sufficiently to nominate me. So I saw it as a challenge to do something that I normally won’t do, as a means to grow up and get used to the fact that mingling and small talk are skills that I need to build up.

The apprehensiveness grew when I realised that the first meeting between the Singapore team clashed with my course. I would not have met them all before the official program and wouldn’t that be awkward if they already knew each other? Eventually the team lead called for a separate meeting and I went ahead telling myself to make new friends. So when the first person sat beside me, I initiated a conversation by introducing myself. And I don’t think I have ever done that. Usually others initiate the contact. I felt good as though I achieved something that I set out to do, and I made a new friend. That gave me confidence. Slowly I memorised everyone’s names as the time goes by, and it felt better, like more personal.

During the Singapore leg of the program, we had to engage our Indonesian counterparts during meals and bring them around. I did not manage to become extremely talkative and engaging, but slowly I managed to break out of the shell and talk to them. I suppose that is a good step forward to change myself and it felt extremely rewarding and satisfactory.

In the Indonesia phase of the programme, we were told to prepare songs as their dinner culture involves getting both sides to contribute singers. I hated that extremely because I was very self-conscious and I disliked putting myself in the limelight for something I absolutely sucked at. At the official dinner, I was quite pleased that it seemed that I would be getting away with it after all, until the Indonesian Colonel spoke to my team lead and pointed over. My team lead walked to me and said “They want you to sing”. And I surprised myself. I stood up and walked to the microphone, and I could feel absolutely nothing. I didn’t think about how weird it would be or whether my voice sucked. I went with it. Luckily they asked another friend to sing with me, and we had a great time. The heads from both Singapore and Indonesia came and sing along like one happy family and I felt very happy.

Life has her way of making you do things and getting you to experience the different side of things. The things which I was apprehensive of, Life made me do it and she made me realise that it is not that bad after all. I am very happy that I chose to go ahead with this program because I grew up a lot and learned many new things. If I were to choose again, I would still choose to attend.

My Weekly Review

Plenty of productivity articles talk about having the daily or weekly review sessions to keep track of what you have done and do projection for the time period ahead. I have been doing my daily reviews diligently to determine what I need to do for the day; however I have never started doing any weekly reviews even though I had learnt about this technique for over a year or two.

Just last week I initiated my first weekly review and I must say that it was a good break from the hectic work life to do re-focusing. Not only that, doing a review forces you to think about what is the next phase in a project. No longer is an action item just marked done and left as it is. Now, I have to think what I need to do subsequently. This meant that the possibility of neglecting the project and leaving it to rot has reduced significantly.

I would like to take this opportunity to share my current method of doing a weekly review. There might be better ways of doing a review, so do share with me if anyone has any ideas. I will also be tweaking this to make this better in future.

The weekly session happens on a Saturday because (1) I am able to have more sleep and feel more refreshed and (2) my partner is working on Saturday mornings so it would be the best time to do such reviews without sacrificing our quality time together.

The session is broken into two phases, (1) the review phase and (2) the forecasting phase.

The Review Phase

During this segment, I will write down what I have done in the past weeks. For example, I might have finalised a paper on maintenance training, or collated safety information from various departments. A good tip is to look at your calendar and go through the meetings that you have attended. Next, to think about each day (Monday to Friday), and remember what we have done out of the meetings.

After this is done, we will have a whole list of tasks performed. I will ask myself what the next step is. It could be to submit the paper for approval, or to write an email to the Safety Officer on my collated data. These “action items” are transferred to my “to do database” for subsequent planning in my daily cycle.

What I do for the above is to draw a table with two columns: (1) what I have done and (2) what I need to do subsequently.

The Forecasting Phase

The forecasting phase involves looking at my calendar to refresh my memory on what meetings I have been scheduled for in my next week. This allows me to think of the next question: “What do I need to prepare for these meetings”. I would come up with a list that might include delegating some information gathering to my team, and I would have to mentally factor in additional time slots for periodic check backs. This is because not everything can be done to standard within the first try, and most of the time additional information needs to be requested.

Next, I look at my “to do database” to determine what are the big ticket items that are (1) urgent and important or (2) important but not urgent. Such items are placed on the weekly priority and should be completed. Point (2) is key as if we do not tackle these items, these items would be elevated to the “urgent and important” category as the deadline approaches.

I’m in my second week of the review session and it has worked well for me so far. Try it!

 

The Importance of a Carry-Everywhere Notebook

Have you found yourself in a situation where you had completely forgotten what you reminded yourself mentally on your tasks? So much so that occasionally you only remember when the deadline approaches and there is nothing more you can do about it. Or that it has lapsed forever from your mind until your boss asked you about it, and by answering that nothing has been done would make you look incompetent?

Today, I would like to discuss about the concept of a “Carry-Everywhere” notebook. This notebook might not be a physical notebook with binders on the side. It could be in the form of a post it note, or for the technology-savvy, Evernote on your phone.

The logic behind this is simple. Our minds are capable of doing many things at once, and thinking is one of them. In fact, we are capable of thinking of many things at once and we get easily distracted by our thoughts. Sometimes, when we look at external objects, such as Facebook, or your colleague talking to you, we might find that our minds switch to a separate track of thought. This means that we have distracted ourselves and might have forgotten what we were previously thinking.

I find myself in this situation on my morning drive to work. Due to the plain boring nature of driving, I might be thinking about different aspects of work. I might be thinking about my maintenance work, my safety office’s deliverables, or that paper that I need to write. All of which mutually distracts my attention. What I do is to carry a post it note in my car (take note that I only write when the car comes to a stop), and scribble my thoughts, such as “Follow up with XXX on the requirements of the event YYY”. When I get back to work, I put them into my “to do database”.

You might not drive, but if you think hard enough, there are times when you have forgotten something. It could be in the middle of a meeting when your mind reminds you of an event, but if you do not write it down, someone in the meeting might suddenly talk to you and distract you. It could be when you are out for lunch and you remember something right before your colleague talks to you about your weekends. No matter what the situation, it is always good to write it down so that you can remember and transfer.

What are the benefits other than being up to date on the things that bother you? For one, you don’t have to forcefully try and remember. Your mind can return to the chatter with your colleagues about your weekend as you have safely stored the information you need somewhere – on a notebook or your phone. Having to repeatedly remind yourself about a task is tiring work and it drains all of us out.

So try this. Make an attempt to develop this habit by making it easy for it to be done. I carry my pen and notebook to all meetings I go to. I put a pen and post it note in my car. I store my thoughts in evernote during lunchtime when I do not bring my notebook. When you make things easier to write down your thoughts, you find it easier to maintain that habit.

 

Living up to the rank

Today my encik said something which gave me many things to think about. He said that we wear the rank everyday, so we have to ask ourselves if we live up to the rank, to the salary. I think that reaches into thinking about the purpose of a job, and to see the value in it.

 

We frequently neglect to think that we are duty bound to perform a job when we collect a salary. We take the salary month in month out, expecting bonuses and salary increases on an annual basis. So much so that it had become a by default. However, looking in a business point of view, why should a company pay you more? Because of the yearly inflation? Is there any altruistic reason why salary increases should be expected?

My take is that what you have done over the year has made you more experienced. You learn and adapt, and change the way you do things. You become more effective, hence you produce more output with the same amount of time spent on work. That said, the salary increase does seem worth it. Hence we shouldn’t be expecting to do the same thing on a year to year basis. For if our job stays the same, why should anyone pay you more?

The world is changing, and the effects of globalisation has hit us hard. Other people can work for lesser while doing the same work as us, due to the differences in global currencies.

Even though I am not working in a place which I need to compete with foreigners who can work for less, the spirit of constant change and improvement is the same. We need to constantly examine our assumptions of whether something is our work, and implement changes in the spirit of what makes sense and what is good for the organisation. We have to innovate and think creative; we have to value add.

The only constant is change. Heard of it?

A new direction for the blog

I had wanted to set a new direction for my blog today. The focus was on issues like enhancing productivity, leadership, management etc. These are opinions from me which I would like to share as a means of self reflection and giving others a second opinion. I thought this would be a good way which I could type my feelings and then share the link with some colleagues whom I thought could benefit.

Hence I began trying to filter off certain posts that I have written in the past which might not have been rather objective or pleasant. I was surprised though, that from 2011 till now, I did not write any posts which I would be embarrassed of that needs to be hidden. Perhaps this is a reflection of the realities of life; once I had started working, some things become too minor to be written on the blog, and as such the things that I write are things that I hold dearly and find meaning in.

I didn’t continue filtering the older portions of my blog as they would serve as a reflection of who I was before and how much I have grown since then. I might have changed my mind on many topics that I had written, and I should be judged by who I am now, not who I was in the past. Hence for those who are reading my blog, please take that into consideration and judge me by the content I am contributing now.

I started a Facebook Page in Aug 2014 titled “Productivity at Work – PAW“.I had not been very active on it, but I had shared a few articles which I thought were meaningful. If you are interested in the topics such as productivity, leadership, management, quality management etc, please do give it a like to follow it. Currently I have a single follower but I have no idea who this person is; pathetic, I know.

So here is to a new beginning and a new direction for this blog. May I be able to build a community of people who would help to share and generate ideas for the betterment of one another.

Ask not how the prospects are, aim to have a curtain call without regrets

不问前程如何 但求落幕无悔

This quote stuck with me since I watched “The Empress of China” a few weeks ago. The title of my post is literally the translation of the quote above. I thought it was quite meaningful and it reflects the continuing theme of the drama series very well as the female lead strives to lead a life that does not defy her morals or values even when the prospects might look dim.

The quote holds real life lessons for us as well. How many of us are living our lives based on who we are? Instead most of us are worried about prospects and work to please so that our future is bright. Yet when we ask ourselves, when the curtain calls, would we have lived a life full of regrets?

That got me thinking. I am rather fortunate to be able to find a job that holds meaning for me, and I try to live my life based on what I think is right. Keeping myself to my values and trying not to lose sight of myself. Doing the things that I think matter and trying to maximise my influence so people follow.

While my job aspect has been rather pleasing, I cannot say the same for the other aspects. Indeed there were things that I wanted to do but I procrastinate, and I ended up wasting plenty of time elsewhere when I should be doing other stuff. These undone tasks would indeed be my life’s regret if I continue.

So, do what you want to do, because you only live once? But I think the chinese poetic quote sounds so much better than yolo. Just saying.

The Year Thus Far

I’m taking a little bit of time to resume writing in order to clear my mind to focus on the more important things that I should be looking at this year. Last year was a more successful year in terms of keeping to my new year’s resolutions. I realised that I failed miserably this year because I was getting distracted. Another reason was that I had neglected to write down the things that I had wanted to achieve this year. Last year, I blogged about it.

Because I wasn’t focused, the time went by quickly without me knowing and we are at the end of May already. Time and tide waits for no man, yet I chose to frivolously spent my time on things that do not matter as much. Instead, I should have focused on building my career and charting out my goals.

So here goes:

[To Resume] One book Per Month

I have read two books this year and both of them are on investments. I have started reading “The Intelligent Investor” (only a few pages), and I am also in the middle of a textbook on Reliability Modelling, which I am making slow progress. Soon it will be Jun and I need to catch up on 4 books before I become on track. However what I am doing this year is a little different. I have identified a few areas that I am weak in or need more knowledge on. This year, I am focusing on:

  1. [Book 3 and 4] Investment – Two books so far and to complete “The Intelligent Investor” and my “Technical Analysis Explained” book this year.
  2. [Book 5] Edward De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats – I saw the book being sold in MPH/Times.
  3. [Book 6] Six Sigma – To identify a book
  4. [Book 7] Networking – To identify a book
  5. [Book 8] The Power of Forgetting – I saw this book by “Mike Bryster with Kristin Loberg” at the book stores and I thought it was interesting.
  6. [Book 9 and 10] Books for fun: (1) Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and (2) What Should I Do with My Life by Po Bronson – Saw these books and thought they were interesting and that I should read this for the sake of reading something different.

I still have 2 spaces for other books though. I realised I have dropped “Productivity” themed books from my reading list as there are not much extra tips and tricks that I can learn. Along the way I have come up with a method I am comfortable with although it is not perfect. I have also dropped leadership books as I have yet to even master the books I learnt last year.

[To Kickstart] Small Coaching Sessions: One Way to Improve / month

I realised I wanted to spend some targeted time coaching my subordinates. Yet I have not been effective because I rarely plan what I want to say to them. As a result I have wasted precious time making small talk when I could have delivered a small coaching session which would have been beneficial.

[To Start Doing] Investment Analysis: One case study a month

I have wanted to start doing this since last year but have never moved. I need to find a way to make this a habit. This is for the future and to achieve financial freedom.

[To Write] My Own Book

I wanted to do this since the start of the year and complete this by the end of the calendar year. Yet I have not written a single word although I have started planning the content. To make this work, I need to make it a habit. To do this, I need to write something on a daily basis before writing becomes an automatic thing to me. I have about half a year left, and I need to make this work.

I kept to only four goals this year to make it manageable. These four individual goals are important to me. I have not mentioned my other goals involving my spouse to be, for that is something we will have to plan together.

I think I got more clarity after penning down my thoughts. 🙂