Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The importance of project management.

It's hardly revolutionary; good project management ensures that projects run smoothly. Clients are happy. The team does a good job. Some newer companies haved turned their backs on this old fashioned project management nonsense. My company is one of those. We're expected to take responsibility for our own work to such an extent that a project manager just isn't need.

Fine, in theory. In practice I am three quarters of the way towards the deadline of an, as yet, unscoped, unbriefed, undefined project. I'm hoping that on the day before the deadline I will finally get a brief. In the meantime the deadline still stands; the writer (me) has to pick up the work.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

This text is predatory

This is the funniest blog I have seen all week. Even more interesting than the post itself is the blogger's follow-up comments. In questioning the judgement of the ASA's ruling that the new GHD adverts are offensive to Christians, he seems to have inadvertently tapped into people's inner conspiracy theorist and private detective.

What do you think is meant by 'predatory text'? The mind boggles. This text that you're reading right now could be predatory. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Goal setting

Having goals is crucial in both a professional and personal context. On a personal level, it’s easy to have vague desires of travelling the world, doing a PhD or buying a house but, without doing anything about it, it’s reasonably likely that you won't get there. It’s all too easy to realise that five years have passed and you have made no progress whatsoever. Visions of ending up as a lonely, unfulfilled layabout float in front of your eyes… (you know the ones). Here’s what Steve Pavlina reckons could be accomplished in five years. Look back at your last five; what did you achieve?

If you’re lucky enough to work for a good company, they’ll actively encourage you to set your own career goals. Goals that you actually want to achieve that hopefully offer some kind of benefit to the company at the same time. Is your company forward thinking enough to help you develop your skills – and even assist you in finding a new job?

The first step of goal setting is, for some, the easiest. It’s to identify your goals. Without knowing what they are, you won't know where to go or how to get there. (Insert road map analogy of your choice.) I, for one, find this rather tricky. It takes a special effort to get in touch with what I really want. I’m more concerned about others’ goals or about my department working well together. It takes more of an effort to step back and ask, what do I want to achieve?

Your goals must be:
Specific - I will manage to go to yoga at least three mornings a week before work
Achievable I will become fluent in Arabic in 5 years by taking evening classes and going on trips abroad)
Positive I will become better at dealing with feedback reviews with my manager by preparing the evidence I have to offer before hand, rather than, I will stop being rubbish at feedback reviews.

Importantly, you have to visualise yourself achieving your goal. This is not meant in some new agey kind of way. You have to actually be able to see yourself doing whatever it is that you want to achieve and wanting to get there. I used to have this vague desire to hang out more with a sports group I attended yet every Friday night, without fail, I’d pass up the opportunity to get sloshed at the local boozer with them. It just wasn’t my scene. I had thought it was cool, but I didn’t realise that it didn’t fit with my values.

The next step is to devise steps to reach your goal. There should be a time limit on certain activities and you should be working on it daily, ideally. Another nice idea is that not only should your goal benefit you in the future but it should also enhance your life in the present. If I’m aiming to enter Gladiators, then the exercise that I do from now until then should be fun and healthy.

Finally, review your goals, regularly. Put them somewhere you can see and make them part of your life. Tick off tasks as you achieve them, think of new activities and write down anything you do that is related. And while planning is great, don’t forget to appreciate what you have now. Right now is where life’s happening, not five years ahead.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why I started blogging again

First of all let me tell you why I stopped. I'd been blogging for about a year or so and was enjoying becoming part of a blogging community. I liked the thrill of tracking visitors and contributing to conversations. However, I hadn't found my niche. I was blogging about Buddhism as a general theme but I'd lost my direction in Buddhism. It wasn't what absorbed me night and day; I wasn't passionate enough. I also wasn't really interested in some of the holier-than-thou philosophical conversations that I was taking part in.

The danger with writing about something like Buddhism is that your writing gets very personal very quickly. That's fine if your blog is a diary style blog or if you can retain your anonymity. But what if your blog is public? You realise that your inner thoughts and fears are being shared with your family, colleagues and partners. I wasn't up for that.
So those are the two main reasons I stopped:
1) I lost my focus
2) It was getting too personal

I've learnt from my experience. I'm trying to find a way to write without going down the journalling style route and I'm trying to engage with the issues that grab me. The ideas that wake me up in the night, the kind of things I want to share with others.

So that leads me on to why I started again. Firstly, I love blogs. I love reading them and I love the idea of blogging. It's such a powerful and creative choice that gives you the potential to connect, network, share and showcase your ideas. It depends on your reasons for blogging but, if you're dedicated, your blog will take you far.

A huge inspiration of mine is the brazencareerist blog. It's punchy, powerful and has done wonders for the writer's career. Another favourite of mine is badscience: an important, intelligent and compelling piece of work. The distinguishing features of these blogs is that they are part of a community, they have something to say and they say it well.

Another motivation for my blogging revival is my discovery of some really rather bad blogs: poorly written and badly designed. Oh my, if they can do it so can I (and so can you).

Monday, March 03, 2008

Looking for a job

Well, I’m throwing myself back into the professional dating arena, aka looking for a new job. I’ve tarted up my CV, I’m checking out the singles sites and hoping to land a few dates soon.

It seems to me that job hunting is something that doesn’t come naturally to us coy and reserved Brits. I’m reluctant to big myself up too much. I find it all rather cringeworthy. I’m also pained to find myself saying things like, I’m passionate about the latest developments in the instructional design process or my primary focus is to become a first class dot net developer. Or whatever. I mean, these things are interesting and, if we’re good at them, they give us a bit of a buzz. But are we really passionately absorbed by them in the way that we claim we are?

What also surprises me in this recruitment process is the corporate speak we all seem to find ourselves using. Recruiters and recruitees alike… until we are recruited, at which point we return to normality and start to talk about developing the wotsit for the new server thingamajig. I was reminded of this earlier this week when my colleague was talking about a recent interview he went on. He was asked the standard, ‘why are you looking for a new job’ question. Instead of stating the truth: I’m a bit bored and my manager’s getting on my nerves; he pulled the old ‘career development’ clich├ęs out the bag.

Just once, it would be refreshing to have a proper honest chat, from both sides, instead of the traditional interview game. Interestingly, the interview process for the job I currently do was the most effective and gruelling I have ever encountered. It went something like this:

Step one: Fill in online questionnaire
Step two: Complete test and answer questions by email
Step three: Write something that would typically be used for the role in question
Step four: Three hour test at the office, doing tasks that form part of the job
Step five: Three hour test doing more tasks, responding to feedback and finally having a chat with my prospective manager
Step six: Handing over my CV

At that point they were pretty sure I could do the job and I was positive that they were the right company for me. Although it takes a fair bit of time and effort, this is a great way of guaranteeing you get a good fit for the job. In fact, my current CEO has remarked that if you were recruiting a footballer on the basis of his ability to talk and answer questions – you wouldn’t end up with David Beckham!

It will be interesting to see how other companies handle the recruitment process and how things have changed in the past two years since I last went job cruising.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Do what you love

There’s that line that we’ve all heard in the realms of career advice – do what you love. Do what you love and get paid for it! It sounds like a dream come true. What do I love? Well, I’m quite into cooking, I love eating cake and cycling on the seafront. Now, the last two are unlikely to help me pocket the pounds and to be honest, I’m sure the thrill of seafront cycling would fade if I had to endure it day in, day out; I’d be longing for a nice cosy day in front of the PC. Cooking? Well, I’ve thought about this one and I’ve come to the conclusion that me and cheffing are not compatible. I like to spend hours thinking of what to cook, cooking only when I feel like it and I hate cooking for other people.

My point, other than to give you snippets of information about my fascinating life, is that there is work and there is play and the two should not necessarily bedfellows be. I thrive on my life outside work; it makes me interesting and it gives my life meaning. Similarly, I thrive on my work, it challenges and stimulates me but you won’t catch me thinking about it on a Sunday morning. I write for a living, I play with software and I design elearning. These things interest me, bore me and stretch me depending on my current task. And I like it that way.

Having a distinct line drawn between work and play works for me. I can switch off in my play times and take off my work hat. I don’t need to be responsible, dynamic and intelligent 24/7. Sometimes I want to zone out with a gossip mag and fall around laughing on the floor. My life and personality are multi-faceted and I step into different roles when appropriate. I can be a friend, girlfriend, boss, colleague, customer, student and teacher, but not all at once.

Therefore, you won’t catch me selling my cake eating skills at the market or reviewing Vista on a night out. I think I have the balance right.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Staying motivated when working on your own

I work from home. It’s an aspect of my job that gives me great flexibility yet at the same time really challenges me to be productive and responsible. It’s a very adult position; I have no-one to babysit me, supervise or check up on me. I’m simply trusted to get the job done. Which I do. Even if I don't strictly do it between 9 and 5. Here's how:

A quick win – If I can achieve something early in the day, I feel capable and positive for the day to come. So I start by focusing on something small, even if it's something entirely unrelated to work, such as my weekly budget. That way I achieve something quickly, I feel good and it benefits my working day.

Have a target – As a content writer, it’s easy to wallow in a sea of words and while away the hours, with no easy sense of closure. I have a target of how much I should produce a day (of course, it's always a rough guide). So that's what I aim for, rather than just putting in the hours or tinkering the text beyond all recogntion.

Do what I feel like – I work to my strengths and I work with my moods. If my brain is stuck in a fog that even a hefty dose of caffeine won’t lift then I won’t waste my time trying to write. What I produce will be bumpy and awkward and I’ll have a thoroughly miserable time.

I’d rather tidy my desk, fill out my expenses or even have a nap. I’ll come back to the writing when my mind’s in the right gear and I’ll work through the night if need be. Of course sometimes the ‘can’t be bothered’ moments need to be pushed through but I'd rather work to my own pattern than just sit at my desk to make others happy.

Creativity doesn’t happen on demand (although it does require a certain discipline) and flexibility benefits workers and business alike.