Count Your Blessings #1

Emily (and Waterfall)

This week has been the Preston Schools Music Festival; Emily has had a part as a dancer – dressing up as a space-man. We went as a family on Wednesday nights. Emily was buzzing. She had this huge smile across here face and it was all she could do to not burst out giggling. The evening is held in the Guild Hall across three nights so he has been performing in front of several thousand people. They definitely got the best gig of the night dancing to a jazzed up version of the Star Wars them with everyone clapping along.

Priceless is the only word to describe an occasion like that. May even be one to bring up at some future suitably embarrassing occasion.

I love my kids they are great.

(Sorry, no pictures, we weren’t allowed)

An Approach to To-Do Lists that would even appeal to Unstructured Workers


43 Folders has this great little approach to dealing with a to-do list.

As I’ve said before, items can sometimes linger on your TODO list a lot longer than you’d like, and it can be tricky to understand exactly why that is in each case. I’m convinced cringing is often a factor.

Being that it’s Monday, and a lot of us are planning this week’s activities, why not join me in a modest exercise.

  1. Print out your TODO list (alphabetically, if possible)
  2. Read it over—beginning to end
  3. Go back and circle each item that makes you cringe, or that causes you some kind of existential angst
  4. Per cringe item, think honestly about why you’re freaked out about it. Seriously. What’s the hang-up? (Fear of failure? Dreading bad news? Angry you’re already way overdue?)
  5. Now, again, per cringe item, add a new TODO that will a) make the loathsome task less cringe-worthy, or b) just get the damned thing done
  6. Cross the original cringe items off your list
  7. Work immediately on the new, cringe-busting TODO

If you could do this for just one item on your TODO list today, wouldn’t you be a little better off? Is there a quick call you could make, a draft you could edit, an email you could return, or some other piddling 2-minute task that would plane some cringe off of your hated tasks?

Imagine if you did this today for five items on your list. Now imagine you began each Monday with a Cringe Bust. Might be a handy way to pick off old items and let some unnecessary anxiety out of your working week.

(For extra credit, find the item on your list that’s been making you cringe for the longest. Anybody else turning up items that have been inducing cringes for over a month? Ouch. I suck.)

I like this approach because it appeals to the semi-structured/unstructured Graham Chastney. I’m definitely not one of these people who can look as a to-do list and prioritise it and then work through in priority order. It just doesn’t appeal and it’s in that word that the true me is revealed. There are loads of other tasks that may be more important but that just isn’t enough, they have to appeal in some way or another. And I’m OK with a philosophy that defines one of the factors as the cringe factor. Of course I also assess my to-do lists from other appeal factors.

  • Is this task interesting?
  • Does this task have value (as defined by me of course)?
  • Is this task for someone I like working with (because I don’t suffer fools)?
  • What is the reward for this task (that is rewards to me of course)?
  • Do I know that in completing this task that I will just get another one given to me (so actually there isn’t any point in completing this one)?
  • Do I think that if I don’t do this task the reason t do it will just disappear (as so many do)?
  • What is the pain involved in not doing this task (because life isn’t without pain anyway)?
  • Is this task overdue yet (because I don’t need to worry about it if it isn’t)?

Yes I know this list should be something more like:

  • Is this task of value to the company?
  • Has this task been requested by my superior?

Tough, it doesn’t. Those two narrow factors just don’t appeal. And yes I really do believe that my employee should give me tasks that appeal (if they want the best out of me).

Home Working Productivity Assessment – Stalled

Children's Play AreaMy home working productivity assessment has stalled because of a complete lack of days in the office in a ‘normal’ way. I have been doing a little bit of travelling or my working day has been interrupted by some other external event (need to go to the doctors for instance). Thought I would give you an update though because I am not going to be in the office for the rest of this week and next week I am on holiday.

Feeling Effete – Feeling Joyful

Another glorious sunset

Sometimes life conspires to make you feel a bit low. That’s me today. I try to broaden my mind so subscribe to wordsmith.ord word of the day; today’s word is effete:

effete (i-FEET) adjective

1. Worn out; no longer fertile or productive.

2. Weak, ineffectual.

3. Marked by decadence or self-indulgence.

4. Effeminate.

I have also been to the doctors this morning because I have a number of aches and pains. I am currently suffering from a sore ankle, lower back and shoulders. These things make me feel old (I’m only in my 30’s). While there we get into the classic conversation.

Doctor: “Let me look at the ankle first. That look like a form of tendenitus, it needs resting. What exercise do you do?”

Me: “Tennis once a week and walking most days, I try and get my 10,000 steps in” (the 10,000 steps a day is a big initiative in the UK encouraging people to be more aerobic)

Doctor: “Well I’m sorry Graham but you are going to have to give it a rest for a month. Now lets look at your back. Well your biggest problem their is your posture.”

Me: “Yes I know I don’t have good posture, that’s why I try and walk daily because my posture is good when I walk and that gives everything a break and a chance to straighten out.”

Doctor: “You also need to loose some weight”

Me: “Yes I know I do, but it’s a struggle which is why I try and exercise regularly”

Doctor: “Yes”

Me: “Is there some kind of exercise I can do which my ankle will be OK with but will still be aerobic”

Doctor: “No not really”

That’s about the point that the conversation break down because we are clearly in a cyclical argument. Doing exercise is a problem, not doing exercise is a problem. I’m clearly effete.

However; the Bible says that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” so I’m not going to sit and wallow in my effete because I know that I am rich beyond my wildest dreams and that makes me joyful. Now I know that some of you who know me might find that difficult to believe but I am, really. Actually the other day I was in Tesco and God showed me something and it was all I could do not to burst out laughing.

Another Car Metaphor – Security and Servicing

Rusty Fence

Mary Jo Foley has been commenting on Microsoft’s OneCare (A1) initiative and stating:

What do you think? Will Windows users — consumer and/or corporate — flock to Windows OneCare? Or will Microsoft have to go back to the drawing board, as it did with Hailstorm, to find a more palatable way to sell subscription services to its users?

I’m not actually going to seek to answer that question here, but I am intrigued by our view on these things. Many people seem to be inferring that because Microsoft have created the problem perhaps they should fix it for free. While out walking this lunchtime the madness of this situation occurred to me.

Those of us who drive cars expect to have to service it, some of us can service a car on our own, but the number of us capable of doing that is reducing all of the time. Most of us take our car into a garage, in doing so we have a choice. We can go to the manufacturers dealer or we can go to an independent garage. In car servicing we expect two things, we expect the mechanic to look after our car and try to ensure that it isn’t going to break down in the near future; we also expect the mechanic to undertake any safety work on the vehicle. Just because Ford have made a car with tyres that wear-out doesn’t mean that we expect Ford to come and replace them for free every six months. If we don’t change the tyres you can be fairly sure that we will have a crash at some time in the future. For me security software on PC’s (anti-virus, firewall, ad-ware, etc.) are just another mechanism of delivering safety servicing. Some people will choose to do the safety servicing themselves, some will choose an independent garage, others will choose the manufacturers dealer.

Carrying this metaphor forward. We all know that an independent garage will give us a cheaper service than the manufacturers dealer. Yet, millions of cars are serviced at manufacturers dealers every year. Why? Well some of it has got to do with warranty. Some of it has got to do with bulk deals. Some of it has got to do with the ‘peace of mind’ that a manufacturers dealer can provide. In offering security servicing, perhaps Microsoft could learn a lesson or two here.

While I’m on a role, lets push it a bit further. In the UK you have to submit your car to an annual test (MOT) for safety. Other countries have a similar thing. Cars also get tested before they are allowed out onto the road. Don’t you think it’s about time we did a similar thing for the IT industry. “Your IT equipment can stay on the network for another 12 months as long as it has got to this standard of safety”

And then finally. There is a roundabout near me called Ladyewell Roundabout. There is something wrong with the way that the road is built there. I don’t know what it is because I’ve never been caught, but most days someone has. In travelling from the motor-way towards the local Asda something makes cars carry straight on straight into a bunch of trees rather than moving further around the roundabout and staying on the road. If the road is the network in our metaphor perhaps we should try and make sure that all of the roads/networks are safe for vehicles/PC’s that adhere to the safety tests.

Gates Warns on Information Overload – Structured and Unstructured Working

Beach Stones

So even Mr Gates has noticed that information overload may be a problem.

The news release states:

"It’s overwhelming," Gates said Thursday at the software company’s ninth annual CEO Summit. "Nobody’s paid to do search or just find information. At the end of the day you’re paid for designing a new product, having a satisfied customer and doing that with the minimum amount of time, the minimum amount of people."

And then is goes into doing a little bit of a sales pitch about technology. My own view is that technology has a way to go in order to enable people to manage the mountains of information that is given them every day. For me though the key issue is about training the individual and the team.

Is Technology the answer to the problem?

My last blog was asking a question of technology, whether it was really tackling the right issues when it comes to collaboration. I did go on a bit of a rant about the way that technology tends to devalue a process while automating it, but fundamentally I still think that technology is answering the wrong question.

In either of these two things, information management and collaboration, the real issue is the working practices that individuals go through. People work in lots of different ways, and build their working practices around their personality type.

At present the technology world seems to be really nice to people who are structured in their working, for those of us who are naturally semi-structured workers it’s OK, for people who are naturally completely unstructured in there working the technologies don’t help them at all. As a semi-structured worker I know that I am effective when I follow certain processes which for me have been technology enabled, but these are structured processes and not ones that I do naturally. I need to be told why I need to do a process. Sue is the other way around, she is a structured worker and needs to be told to stop doing a process. I have a friend who is completely unstructured and naturally kicks back against anything that looks like a process.

Email kills the unstructured worker. A structured worker looks at a list of emails and does one of two things. They either starts at the top and work down, or they use a two phase approach whereby they look for the important emails first. An unstructured worker may start at the top and work down but after about five emails will be bored of that method and move to another method, and then to another, and then to another. these people end up with hundred of unread email. Take the way that systems deal with calendaring, for instance. It’s an appropriate thing to give a structured worker control of their diary by enabling them to make a decision on every appointment sent to them. This is probably not an appropriate way to deal with an unstructured worker. It would be much better for the system to tell the unstructured worker what their appointment for the day are, to give them a choice over whether to accept an invitation or not puts them into a place which they can’t handle particularly well.

Why should IT care about unstructured workers?

IT should care about unstructured workers – because they are the future.

Collaboration – Automate or Reevaluate

Celtic Cross


  • To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.
  • To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country.

One of the things I have pondered in my many years experience in the collaboration technology arena is whether collaboration should simply automate the ways that humans already collaborate – meetings, conferences, etc. or whether our role is to find a completely new mechanism for working together, especially in a joint intellectual effort.

This afternoon I have watched this video on Microsoft’s Office Communicator. The Office Communicator technology seems to be another piece of technology aimed at extending the reach and improving the experience of our normal communications. It’s about video conferencing for people who are too lazy to walk to the next office; and enables people to use the phone without putting their mouse down (only kidding, I know there is more to it than that ). But it’s not about a radically different mechanism for working together. If you think about white-boarding applications they are only extending the reach of what humans have been doing with a piece of paper (or wood, or slate) for thousands of years. I‘m not saying that this technology hasn’t got value, but it’s not really delivering a new or richer way of working together.

Let’s think about one of the other things that we do in the standard office – meetings. Technology has enabled to extend the reach of meetings massively, especially with teleconferences. But my own view is that teleconferencing systems have been to meetings, what office application have been to the document. They have increased the volume of them to unbearable level and massively reduced their value. We are not working together on these things, we are not collaborating, we are wasting people’s time. I personally dread the phrase “Graham we just need a quick teleconference to chat about issue xyz”. When I here this phrase my heart sinks because I know that I am going to be siting on a call for at least 30 mins, or more normally an hour, adding about as much value as a slug does in my garden. This is where the human predicament is fascinating, because we all know this to be true and yet we all do it, over and over again. In the past, when meetings cost us lots of money to host (travel, hotels, etc.) we made sure that the value was high, we did our homework, we put together an agenda and a plan. We made sure that we completed our actions because we knew that other people were investing in being their.

By making meetings easier and cheaper we have decreased their productivity and hence decreased the value. The worse thing about this being that we are wasting peoples most precious asset – time.

Perhaps there is hope though, a long time ago people had to invest lots of time and effort in producing presentations. They had to think about them weeks in advance so that the material could be reproduced and the slides created. In investing this effort people made sure that the quality was high. Then along came the laptop, the video projector and PowerPoint. Now presentation were cheaper and easier to do the value went into terminal decline. But now there is a ground-swell calling for an increase in the value of presentations characterised by the like of Cliff Atkinson and Beyond Bullets. We are on the same curve with email too, I think, with people like Dave Allen and GTD.

Can we avoid this cycle with collaboration, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just inbred, it’s something that we humans have to go through.

But here’s the real question. Is automating and extending the reach of the interactions we already undertake really what we want to do.  Is that really all the IT is good for – automation. I’m not sure I know what the other ways we could collaborate are, but I’m sure there are plenty of people out their with good ideas. I do know, though, that collaboration is about work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort and that educators already know that we all learn in different ways. I also know that the vast majority of our collaboration effort is focussed on text based collaboration, on documents and the like. But how does a kinaesthetic learner participate in that type of collaboration, and where does that leave the auditory learners. If each of the collaboration techniques only appeal to one of the learning styles then only a few people in any collaboration are going to truly collaborate.

here’s n example for you. My son Jonathan is dyslexic (don’t you think it’s a bit sick that we use a word that is so bizarrely spelled to describe something that involves difficulties which include an inability to spell) his particular difficulty is with writing and spelling. Yesterday was Parents Evening at school, I dread these occasions, for two reasons. The first, but secondary, reason is that parts of me regress to my own childhood and I sit there in front of these teachers as if I am 12 again. The second, but primary, reason is that I get so frustrated with the way that our society is so stacked towards the ability to write and spell. Every teacher says something like “It’s great to have Jonathan in the class, he is so bright, he answer questions and really contributes, but (and here it comes) I have had to give him this negative mark because I couldn’t read his answers in the exam.” In other words Jonathan is valued by us but not by the education system. This is an extreme example, but we do the same with collaboration technologies. The person who initiates the collaboration gets to choose the collaboration (learning) style whether it is the most appropriate mechanism for the others in the collaboration or not. That is really where I see that technology has a massive role to play – bridging the gap between the collaboration (learning) styles. Draw me a 2D diagram of a building and I can picture it, draw Sue the same thing and it means nothing, give her a written explanation and she can see it. Ask Jonathan to write an explanation of something and you won’t be able to read it, ask him to do a drawing or even carve it in wood and you will get something very different. Surely we can do something.

Why don’t we hear anything about learning styles in business? Because we don’t regard collaboration as learning?

As a last remark, IT will have truly achieved something when at every level in education we overcome peoples learning difficulties and enable assessment on the basis of peoples knowledge whatever their learning style; rather than assessing them on their ability to draw lines and circles in a way that a teacher understands as words.