Festivals and illness

At some point I’m sure I’ll manage a week away from work without coming down with some sort of illness – this is not that week though. Yesterday started with a visit to see the festivities associated with the local holiday to celebrate the Canary Islands. There were stalls, singing and dancing, and far more people than I’m usually comfortable with. It was OK, but by the end I was starting to feel like I was coming down with some sort of head cold (although I did manage to wander around and take some photographs). This feeling continued throughout the day, and the evening ended up involving little more than watching a film (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – which I actually found quite entertaining) and then going to bed fairly early. I then woke up in the middle of the night with a really sore throat, and this morning I’ve got most of the symptoms of a heavy cold, although my energy levels suggest I’ll be fine to do something today so I’m not going to let it stop me.

I’ve been here a few days now, and I’m really enjoying the weather, the pace of life, and the fact that it’s possible to spend a whole day moving between different cafes and bars, drinking reasonably priced coffee and wine in a visually impressive environment. I don’t think I could live like this, but I certainly plan on coming back here in the future to see all the things I’m not going to get round to on this trip (not least the volcano, which I really would like to stand at the top of at some point). It looks like we’re going to have family here for the foreseeable future, so I don’t mind too much if illness or the relatively short duration of the trip leads me to not doing everything that there is to do. There will be time, and I do not plan on knocking myself out on this trip as I’ve got another week of (business) travel straight afterwards.

Settling in

The second day in any new place is generally when I start to settle in. Yesterday was no exception, and included a trip to two supermarkets and several shops, an evening in a lovely outside bar, and then the first film of the holiday (Dr Strange, which I actually enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would). Everything here seems reasonably priced, with even quite decent wine significantly cheaper than the U.K.

I also did a little research into some of the interesting sights from yesterday, and found that the odd juxtaposition of iconography I noted in yesterday’s blog was actually due to the monument being created long after any of the historical periods it referenced. There are a lot of older things here (including churches and a ruined castle), but there certainly don’t seem to be any historical or mythological treasure maps that I can find at present.

It’s a holiday here today (Día de Canarias), so shops will be shut and the streets will be full of celebrations. I suspect we may go and join them at some point later, before planning further excursions for the rest of the week.

First impressions of Tenerife

Getting up at 3am was a bit of a culture shock. I usually get up at 6, so early mornings are a thing I’m used to, but even so I found it quite hard. We got to the airport just after 4, and grabbed breakfast at the airport. The food was slow to arrive, and slightly cold by the time it did, but was still very welcome. Coffee was also achieved, following which there was a painfully slow crawl from the gate to the plane, which ended up taking off about 20 minutes late due to what was described as “carnage” at the airport, but which just looked like mild disorganisation.

I’ve never flown with Monarch before, and I was pleasantly surprised. the seats were comfortable, there was a handy slot for my iPad in the back of the seat in front, and I largely managed to escape into four hours of familiar music (Belle & Sebastian and Cardiacs), as well as taking a few photographs through the window as we were landing. The landing was quite bumpy, but it wasn’t long before we were out of the plane, had collected our baggage, and were standing in the Tenerife sunshine waiting to get a bus to Santa Cruz.

We drove along a coastal road for around 50 minutes, with the sea to our right and a series of impressive looking scenery to our left. One day I will come back to this island for a waking and climbing holiday, but this is not that trip. As we headed north the scenery changed from arid and water starved earth to something lush and greener, and soon we were pulling into Santa Cruz, which I later learned was the capital of Tenerife.

Staying with family always makes for a different sort of holiday, with the differences in this case being reliable internet, a large black cat, and having people around who can show us the sights from the perspective of a local. That quite useful for me, as I usually treat holidays as an opportunity to try and live in a new place for a week, and to make a judgement as to whether it is a place I would want to live for a longer period of time at some point in the future. The jury is still out on Tenerife, but it’s good to know I’m getting better quality data than I manage in a lot of places.

Our first wander around Santa Cruz involved looking at a couple of interesting old buildings, and some statues and sculptures that seemed to combine standard Catholic iconography with something more nautical (as I would expect for an island). There is more history on display here that I had expected, and plenty of things I want to read up on either while I am here or once I get back home. There are also plenty of small cafes and bars to grab a relatively inexpensive coffee or glass of wine, and we grabbed one of each before calling it a night relatively early (getting up at 3am will do that).

I was awake before dawn, and have in fact learned that dawn happens much later than in the U.K. at this time of year. if this is the pattern the week is going to follow then I should have chance to sit and write for an hour or so before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, which should be plenty of time to keep my blog up to date rather than posting a big long essay at the end of the holiday as I’ve done on previous trips abroad.

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.