Why I like being centre stage

I’d rather be on the stage than in the crowd.

But why?

People often assume I’d much rather be in a crowd (at the back, where no-one can see me) than on a stage (at the front, with everyone looking). It’s not the case though, and never has been for as long as I can remember.

If I’m centre stage then I’m there because I’ve been asked to be, or because I’ve assumed a role that needs doing and that no-one else has stepped up to do. In both cases it suggests I’m there to do something I’m probably quite good at, and doing things that I know I’m good at gives me confidence and relaxes me. Also, if I’m on a stage then I have control over what I’m there to do – I can start when I’m ready and influence how long I’m up there.

I dislike crowds because they are full of people I don’t know; with indiscriminate connections to each other that I don’t always understand. Crowds are best encountered from a position slightly to the outside (like on the stage), and they are quite hard to escape from once I’m in the middle of one. I find unexpected physical contact quite jarring, and the thought of there being people in between me and my escape route is one of my main anxiety triggers, which makes situations where I’m surrounded by people quite hard sometimes.

Crowds are scary. Give me a stage any day.

Losing the battle to win the war

There is a lot of talk of politics right now. I think it’s inevitable, and it’s a good thing that people are talking (and thinking) about ways to make the world a better place.

It’s not that easy though, is it? Scrolling through my social media feeds over the last few weeks it’s becoming clear that there are a number of different opinions, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. That’s not a problem either though, because it’s good that I know people that have opinions sufficiently different to my own to make me think about what I believe in, and consider alternatives before making decisions. That’s the world I want to live in, and long may it prevail.

What I’m less keen on is when opinions are presented as facts, and anyone who doesn’t share those opinions is denounced as being wrong (or stupid, or any other negative word). That’s what I don’t want any part in, and why I don’t engage in politics to a greater degree. For every strong opinion there is (by the very nature of opinions) and equally strong counter-opinion, which is believed (at least as) passionately by another group of people. It doesn’t make them wrong, or make them bad people, it just means there is more than one viewpoint to consider (which to me is what makes them opinions, rather than facts).

Personally I’m all for trying to judge people on the intent of their words and actions rather than the unwitting impact they may have had on others (which is hard sometimes). And what comes out loud and clear about pretty much everyone I know is that they care about this world and want to make it a better place. How that manifests itself might be different, but the core motivation seems the same. And what’s more, I don’t think that core motivation is too different from most politicians and other public figures who speak out about these things.

Strong opinions and strong words are required to enact change, but not at the cost of our relationships with those closest to us. That’s where I draw the line, and if I walk away from something it’s generally because I’m prepared to lose the argument to save the relationship, or lose the battle to win the war.

A blog about blogging

I think I’m getting better at showing people things I’ve written. I used to be terrible at this; and at one point must have had hundreds of pages of writing that I had never shared with another person.

This is largely not the case now. There are things I’ve written all over the internet, I have three pieces of writing about to be published on a new MBTI themed website due soon, and I’m a lot more comfortable with showing people things I’ve written; including things I’ve had kicking around in some form or another for years.

There’s only really one way to become a writer, and that’s to write. And part of writing is showing your writing to other people, listening to feedback, and taking that feedback on board to become a better writer.

I’m hoping to have time to sit down and write something for this blog while I’m overseas next week, but in the meantime, I’ll dig out a couple of things I’ve written over the last few weeks that I’ve not yet got around to posting.

My travel setup

My travel kit (for non-work travel) now consists of:

If I’m working I’ll also have my Surface Pro 4 with me, but apart from that I rarely travel with a laptop these days.

A few thoughts on Macs and iPads

I went in to the new Apple Store in Birmingham today. I’ve been meaning to go for ages, but as I’m not really in the market for anything new then I’ve not seen it as a pressing task. My main reason for going was to try out the keyboards on the new MacBook Pro to see if it’s something I could live with if I end up getting one at some point in the future. It’s very different to the keyboards I’m used to (the previous generation of MacBook Pro/Air, and also the Apple bluetooth keyboard and my Logitech solar powered keyboard). There is definitely less movement of the keys as I type, but my accuracy didn’t take a hit, and I think I could grow to accept it as a keyboard for everyday use. I also thought the screen was gorgeous, and that 8GB of RAM would be enough for most of what I use a laptop for these days, especially as the SSD is so fast. I’m not going to rush out and buy one, but I wouldn’t rule it out at some point in the future (although the touch bar still leaves me cold).

I also looked at the MacBook (small, similar keyboard, would make a decent MacBook Air replacement in a year or two), and the larger iPad Pro (huge, beautiful screen, surprisingly good typing experience with the Smart Keyboard). Neither of these are things I need, but I would happily use as my main portable device if the opportunity presented itself, and actually touching the iPad made me realise why so many people are saying they can use it as their main computer. I use my smaller iPad Air 2 for a lot of what I do online outside of work, and I can see how twice the memory and a much larger screen would help me leave my laptop behind forever (although I also want to wait and see what the next iteration of the device might look like).

I’m still hoping Apple bring out a desktop computer that excites me this year (because that is something I’ll need to buy soon as I fear my 2011 Mac Mini will be obsolete within a year or so). I would use anything they currently have on the market (with the right upgrades), but as I’ve not actually bought any of them then it suggests that there is nothing currently out there that is suitable enough for me to consider an upgrade at this point in time.

Albums of the year so far

I don’t miss compiling a list of music recommendations each month. I do miss making the occasional list of things I’ve enjoyed though, so I thought I’d make it a semi-regular thing to post details of what my end of year list would look like if the year ended today.

What I’ve got so far is in the following Spotify playlist:

At some point I’ll write them all out, but that day is not today.

Data mining my working life

I’ve been collecting statistics on all sorts of aspects of my working day for a while now. I record how long my meetings last, who they are with, how much time it takes me to get to them, and also track how much time I spend on courses, at conferences, and engaged in any social activity that takes place at lunch time or straight after work. By collecting data I can hopefully spot trends (like attending far more meetings than usual), which helps me with planning my time, maintaining work life balance, and ensuring that I factor in recharging time between events that are likely to leave me feeing quite drained.

As I’ve been in my new role for four months now I thought it was worth trying to do some sort of comparison of things that are directly comparable (number of hours spend in meetings, average number of people at meetings I attend, that sort of thing). My hypothesis is that I seem to have more time for task based work than I have for a while, but I want to see if that’s actually true. I also want to try and devise an formula that will allow me to calculate the amount of mental energy any given week might require, and thus plan recharging activities appropriately.

To do this I started by listing all the activities I partake in that cost me energy (as an Introvert that’s anything involving other people). The list I came up with was:

  • Meetings involving me and one other person. I don’t find these particularly draining in general, and one to one conversation is actually my most comfortable medium for synchronous communication.
  • Meetings involving multiple other people – I find these quite tiring, especially if I’m chairing them or otherwise having to talk quite a lot.
  • Running training or coaching sessions. These can be quite tiring because I’m centre stage and talking for the duration of the session, and there may also be the added energy drain of having to field questions.
  • Attending courses, conferences or workshops. These generally involve meeting new people and taking in new skills and knowledge in an environment that generally doesn’t suit my learning style. This can be quite tiring, although sometimes I find group work exercises quite energising if it’s the right group.
  • Recruitment activity (interviews, recruitment exercises). One of my favourite activities, and although it tires me it’s always worth it.
  • Running events. Something else I enjoy, although sometimes I am far more into the planning, organising and evaluating of an event than anything else.
  • Social events that take place at lunch time or after work. These were recorded to see if there was any sort of correlation with other activities.

I have in no way done a full analysis yet, but from half a day spent plugging the data into Excel and Nvivo a few trends leap out straight away:

  • I spend about two working days a week in meetings, and have for most of the last few years. My monthly average never dips below a day and never rises above three days.
  • I work from home on average one day per fortnight, and only do planned work during this time. I’m much more likely to mark a task as finished during one of these days than any other day.
  • Travel time to meetings takes on average 5 minutes more in my current role. My commute is also 10 minutes longer. Using that extra time for thinking and ideas generation probably offsets the extra time spent walking though.
  • The average number of people in meetings I attend has risen steadily throughout the reporting period.
  • There is a definite correlation between the number of people at a meeting and whether I’m the organiser or not. Meetings I organise are generally with one or two other people; meetings I’m invited to average at least three people more. This is starting to even out a little over the last month or so though.
  • The opposite is true for social events taking place on week days, in that the larger the event the more likely it is I’ll have been involved in organising it, whereas meetings with one other person seem to be almost never initiated by me. There is probably a learning point there somewhere.
  • The key difference between my previous role and the one I’m doing now is that I don’t have direct reports and I do a lot less recruitment and training (both as a trainer and as the person being trained). That’s why I have more time to do everything else.
  • The amount of weekday socialising I’m doing has increased significantly over the last few months, and the activities I’m undertaking have diversified (although the majority is still food/drinks with one other person or a small group).
  • Most of my social activity is planned, rather than spontaneous.
  • There is a definite positive correlation between running events and socialising with people involved in the event afterwards. Even though both activities tire me, it’s rare to find one without the other.
  • There is a definite negative correlation between attending training sessions and social activity. The period in 2016 where I was juggling ILM5, Lean Six Sigma, and a bespoke training program was the period with the least social contact.
  • I leave the office more at lunch time now, and spend time between meetings in a coffee shop or quiet part of campus if it’s not worth going back to the office. I expect this will increase as the weather gets nicer.
  • I leave the office 15-20 minutes later than I did in my previous role, but my actual average working day duration has not differed significantly for years. The difference is down to the slightly longer breaks I’m taking, and the fact that my commute is longer.

There is a lot of food for thought there, and I’m starting to work out the energy requirements of the various activities (and combinations of activities) I undertake. My next step is to try and put some numerical modifiers against each activity so I can do a proper calculation, but that’s a job for another day.

How I use social media

I started this as a bit of an FAQ for strangers who try and get me to connect with them on Linkedin, or who want to post guest content on my blog, but I thought it was actually worth putting together something that articulates who I choose to follow and interact with on social media, and what criteria I use to make decisions around this sort of thing.

First things first, I have a number of communication channels that I use regularly. I have a public blog and Twitter account, locked Facebook and Google+ accounts, and two email accounts (one for work, one for everything else). I also have Linkedin profile that I largely use for tracking my professional network, and writing nice things about people I know who are engaged in job hunting, but that I don’t really use for communication as such.

I’ll start with my public social media. I’ve maintained a blog for the best part of 10 years, and anyone is welcome to read it, subscribe to email alerts, read it through an RSS reader, or consume it in any other way. What you won’t be able to do is leave comments (I turned those off years ago), or write content for my blog (because it’s mine and it’s part of my public internet presence so I want it to reflect me).

My Twitter account is also public, and I’m not choosy about who follows it, but I’ll generally only follow people back if I know them, I’m interested in the sort of content they post, or I’m interested in having actual conversations with them over social media (Twitter mentions and DMs are the only synchronous online conversations I regularly engage in). I will initiate connections, and often follow accounts that look unloved in the hope that I can help people I like see the wonders of Twitter (and thus talk to them more). I also cross-post to Twitter every time I write a blog post, and am happy to engage with people about the content of the blog post via Twitter. Twitter is also where to look for music recommendations, random snippets of life, occasional banter, and sporadic requests for social contact. It’s also the one place I’ll still post when I’m neglecting everything else (140 characters helps with this).

I suppose Linkedin classes as public social media too, although I use it in a very different way. I occasionally cross-post work-related content from Twitter, but I mainly maintain it to track my professional network, endorse and recommend people I know, and to do anything else I can think of to help other people with their job hunting and career progression. I’ll connect with anyone I’ve ever known professionally, anyone I know personally whose area of interest overlaps mine (so people who work in Universities, or are interested in psychology or personality, or work in IT, or are involved in any sort of people, project or service management), and anyone I don’t know who looks like they might be a useful addition to my professional network (although I never initiate these connections). I’m a lot pickier about people in recruitment and sales, especially if I don’t know them. I also tend not to initiate connections with people who are direct reports or where I am perceived to be more powerful than them in an organisation (although I’ll happily reciprocate invitations if they come in). That’s not a hard and fast rule though – it very much depends what sort of personal connection I’ve already got with the person. I’m also quite sporadic with using Linkedin, and have not done any endorsements for about 3 months (I need to fix that soon).

I use Google+ to communicate with a specific (fairly large) group of people I’ve known for ages. Most of the friendships predate G+, and have followed me through the IRC, Livejournal, Facebook, and Buzz days, and I suspect anyone else would regard my account as being unused, as all my content is locked. I initiate G+ connections a lot, and check the site several times a day (although I have email notifications turned off globally), and while I’ll accept requests from anyone I know, I don’t promise to post anything too interesting.

I’ve used Facebook for a long time, but these days I only really cross-post from Twitter, comment on what other people post, or use it to organise my social life with groups of people who don’t use G+ or Twitter. My friends list is a weird mix of family, friends, colleagues, and people I’ve not seen for years. I’ll generally accept requests from anyone I know (including people I know through work), although I’m fairly bad at initiating requests unless I’ve identified someone who I want to connect with and it looks like Facebook is the only option. I also have notifications turned off, and rarely use the IM function, so it’s not the best method if you need a quick response (weirdly, that’s probably still email).

I like email a lot (if you really don’t have my address then it’s somewhere on this site I’m sure). I try and maintain inbox zero, although I am quite discerning about what I’ll reply to (I get a lot of email), and a lot of what I get actually gets converted to a Trello card if it requires me to do something that takes longer than about five minutes. Before there was social media I used email a lot for socialising – now I find that doesn’t happen unless I know the person really well or the topic of conversation is confidential, but I’m not against using email for social contact if that’s what someone is most comfortable with.

One day I’ll sit down and consolidate my social networks so that they represent everyone I know (for someone with such a clear preference for introversion I know a lot of people), but that day is not today, and I suspect that it’s a job I’ll not get round to for a long time. In the meantime I hope this blog post gives people an idea of what they can expect if they choose to engage with me on social media.

Burnout, work-life balance and stress triggers

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but a couple of conversations over the last few weeks pushed it to the forefront of my mind again. What I want to talk about here is burnout (and what it looks like), how I try and maintain work-life balance, and stress triggers and how to mitigate them. What follows is a what works for me, but hopefully there is something there that would be of use to other people too.

Burnout

I’ve not had a traditional 9-5 job for a while, and I do tend to gravitate to roles where the work is never done, and where it would be easy to work significantly longer than is sensible. Jobs like that do lend themselves to the potential of burnout, and I’ve both suffered from this myself and seen it affect other people.

Wikipedia says “Burnout is a type of psychological stress. Occupational burnout or job burnout is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and also may have the dimension of frustration or cynicism, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace.”

Burnout often starts to affect the balance between work and what goes on outside of work. In my case how it usually manifests is through exhaustion, and through not wanting to do anything in the evenings or at weekends, and I can generally trace it back to times when I’ve worked long hours, felt unappreciated, or have skipped lunch breaks several times in a week. It’s hard to spot sometimes, but once I do notice it I find it’s quite straightforward to come up with an action plan to get a bit of work-life balance back.

Work-life balance – how to get it back

Things I’ve found that work are:

There are some things that related to my role, but that I’d never get round to if I prioritised them purely on importance/urgency. Some of these things are really enjoyable, allow me to use different skills and work with different people, and make me feel a whole lot more positive about the rest of my work. If the rest of what I’m doing isn’t going well, or is including too much of the same kind of task, then including a few of these types of activities make the day a whole lot more bearable.

I use my morning and evening commute to draw a line between work and non-work most days each week. My commute consists of two periods of walking (20 minutes and 10 minutes) with a 20 minute train journey in between. This gives me blocks of different sort of time to listen to music, read, and think about what I need to achieve during the rest of the day (be that at home or work). I also find the physical act of walking invaluable, as it’s probably the only point of the day where I’m not sat in front of a screen of some sort.

Occasionally I need to work in the evenings. That’s not a bad thing if it will make the day ahead easier or make me feel more prepared. But if I do have to do it, then the next day I make sure I reward myself with a long lunch (ideally with company), or an hour off at a different time of the day to walk around campus and order my thoughts.

When I work from home I work at least an hour longer because I don’t have to factor in my morning commute. I therefore spend the last hour of my working day doing something that is in some way related to personal development, such as updating my achievements log, learning about something new, or opening a blank document and reflecting on how things are going, what’s blocking me, and what actions I think I need to take to get things back on track. These internal brainstorming sessions often produce insights that probably wouldn’t have come up if I’d been in the office.

Stress triggers

I know what my stress triggers are now. It’s something I was particularly interested in when I did my MBTI practitioner training, and they are pretty much exactly what my MBTI profile says they should be:

  • Being bombarded with facts and details
  • Having to adapt to changes in my usual routine, new places, different ways of behaving
  • Encountering obstacles in the outer world – traffic, equipment failures, interruptions, flight delays
  • Extraverting excessively; having to interact with individuals and groups
  • Coping with crowds. noise, confusion, chaotic environments
  • Dealing with incompetent people, illogical systems
  • Being criticised professionally, having my competence attacked, not being recognised

If I’m feeling tense or a little burned out then I’ll look at this list and see if it explains things. It usually does, and it’s a lot easier for me to rationalise the way I’m feeling. It also helps me formulate my reaction to what’s going on, as it’s possible that if I react based on how I’m feeling then I’ll over react compared to someone of a different personality type, and so I try and bear that in mind when I’m talking to other people about things that are on my mind.

MBTI theory says that the following things should help me if I’m feeling stressed:

  • Spend time alone recharging in a quiet, calm environment
  • Engage in positive Sensing activities that accomplish something useful, such as cleaning out closets, sorting photographs, fixing things
  • Take steps to lighten my schedule and sticking to my commitment to do so
  • Step back and use logic to analyse the situation
  • Get closure on some lighter, more manageable tasks
  • Remind myself that it will pass

Based on that I think I’m doing the right sorts of things to manage periods of stress. Most of what’s listed above works well for me, and is usually enough to get my equilibrium back.

Of course, different people respond to stress in different ways, but knowing what works for me has been really useful.

Using Homebrew on macOS

Homebrew is a package manager for command line tools on macOS. It can be installed by issuing the following command:

/usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install)"

Packages can be installed with brew install <packagename> and updated with brew update.

Packages I generally install on a new Mac are:

  • wget – for command line downloading
  • imagemagick – for image manipulation
  • mas – for command line updating of (non-Apple) App Store software
  • youtube-dl – for downloading youtube videos for offline viewing

Once you have homebrew installed then it’s possible to script a software update solution that includes all Apple software, all non-Apple software, and everything installed through homebrew. It’s not quite as good as a Linux package manager, but it’s getting there.

The current script I use for this is:

#!/bin/bash
echo "updateall v.1.1 for macOS"
# Run this as a normal user. Your admin password will be asked for if required.
# Update all Apple software (requires admin password at this point)
sudo softwareupdate -i -a
# Update all software installed via Homebrew (as a normal user)
brew update
# Update all other software
mas upgrade
echo "The script has now finished running."