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.

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.

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.


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.

A few thoughts about memory

I wrote most of this a while ago, but figured it was worth finishing off and posting here for prosperity.

I have often been told that I have an unusually good memory. I can vividly remember things from very early childhood, and have often been able to conjure up obscure and accurate facts about quite trivial things. I know the full name of every member of my family (over 100 people) and who is related to who, and I know what month and year every member of my team started. And yet I can’t remember my own phone number, or the door code to get into my office, or what I had for lunch yesterday.

These are the sort of things that fascinate me, and I have tried to work out what sort of things I am likely to remember and what I am likely to forget.

I think I am very good at remembering things that interest me, or that involve people who interest me. I know exactly which CDs I own (or have ever owned), the name of every movie I’ve watched, and probably the name of most books I’ve ever read. Which makes sense to me because these things interest me. I also replay conversations in my head over and over again, and the more I like someone the more I will do that. And as a result I memorise the conversations and the facts contained within them quite easily (I also always hear conversations even when they were originally written, and for each person I imagine where we are talking, which is almost always a real place).

As an aside, I realised whilst writing this that it doesn’t matter how important the person was to me at the time the conversation took place, it is based on how important they are to me now. This suggests that I subconsciously store things anyway, and can later recall them when someone’s role in my life changes, and that I can also forget things if people become less important (which I think might be a useful survival mechanism).

As for things I forget. They are usually numbers, things that do not follow a pattern, and anything that I don’t find particularly interesting. I am very bad at remembering birthdays and anniversaries (apart from really important ones), and I am getting worse at remembering conversations unless I really like the person I am talking to. I sometimes wonder if I am more forgetful because I’m older, or because I have more to remember, or because memory is finite. I used to equate my memory to a smarties tube full of pennies – to get another penny in to the front one had to fall out of the back, but now I think it is not quite that simple.