Archive for June, 2010


The failed time:productivity ratio

30 June, 2010

If a mail sorted turned up to work only 3 days a week they’d get roughly 40% less mail sorted. If a security guard turned up to work two hours late then the physical security of the premises would be negatively impacted for those two hours.

However this straightforward ratio of time does not apply to all occupations and certainly not design.

I could have a flash of inspiration in the shower which might be my only contribution to my work for that day that could have a great effective impact than a week of busywork: dead-end work that someone thinks is important but will probably just result in an unread report in a desk drawer.

Yet that millisecond flash of inspiration will be seen from the traditional organisation perspective as far less valuable than a day full of busywork. Thus as a designer I often find my really productive and really short bursts of activity needlessly padded out with other work where I’m contributing no more than if I just put my feet up on the desk and had a nap.

I often say there aren’t enough hours in the day but the truth is there are enough hours in the day – but under this old Industrial Age process worker view of employment my 17 hours of available time every day is not spread evenly across effective work but stretched and squashed into blocks of high-intensity highly-effective work dotted across a backdrop of thumb-twiddling or unsatisfying busywork.

As I blogged recently, remunerating based on performance is a tricky issue but we can’t continue like this. I can’t continue like this. It’s silly that a momentary flash of inspiration that results in massive business efficiencies earns me less than one cent and it’s criminal that the very next day in the same job I can be paid hundreds of dollars for doing essentially nothing.

There’s nothing fair about this “fair” system of value recognition. However in the big scheme of things it kinda works out because I get offered more interesting jobs and have to invest less effort in finding work because my value is recognised – so not all is lost.

But I do think we need to be more creative about how we attract, engage, task and retain non-process creative talent. I know there is a solution.


Checkvist – My new favourite task list manager

28 June, 2010

As much as I loved Todoist there were just some minor things that after a while meant we had to part ways. That follows a long list of switching task managers, from Remember the Milk, Nozbe and more.

At the moment I’m playing with and absolutely loving a new web to-do list manager Checkvist.

Basically everything works as a series of checklists, but it’s all hierarchical so if you want you can just have one list. The progress bar on the Checkvist home page has encouraged me to break up everything into chunks of work that will actually conclude rather than bottomless lists. Hence a few of my lists have the month appended to them so further work on those things will be put into a new work batch and checklist:

Checkvist home page.

The purple scheme is not default. I have already upgraded to the paid account so I can receive daily digests – something which Todoist couldn’t do and thus was the final straw for me – but also means I have the option of customising the colours. Even allows me to code in custom CSS which is pretty nice!

“!temp” is just a list I dump small things or tasks I need to tease out into properly planned sequences of actions.

The checklist view shows the list heading and then your tasks. You can order them how you like or sort by due date or colour. You can automatically move completed items to the bottom of the list and show numbers next to the items to reinforce sequence if you want:

Checkvist checklist view page.

I was particularly excited about the import options including indented lists. That’s just beautiful! For someone like me where ideas come screaming into my head at gigabytes per second and then vanishing I appreciate this quick add option that allows me to build a complete hierarchical list in seconds. It’s one of the main reasons MindApp is my preferred mind-mapping tool, because it does not get in the way of quick map creation:

Checkvist import box.

The keyboard shortcuts – just brilliant! Add task, add subtask, cut and paste tasks, extract a branch into a new checklist, go to home page, go to checklist list, add notes, load hyperlink, make due today, tomorrow, ASAP, colour coding (something that Todoist supported but clunkily) … oh and did I mention you can either colour code the text or the background? I mean seriously this thing has it all … but it’s just so beautifully integrated into this minimalistic interface so nothing is there you don’t want but everything is just a key press away.

Seriously, I couldn’t have designed a better task manager application for myself.

The Due view is nice – shows what tasks are due today, ASAP and tomorrow along with what checklist and branch they belong to … I would make one tweak here and enable the completing of tasks from this view but it’s a minor detour to click through to the checklist from here and press spacebar to complete the task.

Checkvist Due view.

Moving all my tasks from Todoist to Checkvist has given me such a massive boost in productivity and in the last few days I’ve felt more in control of my task list.

I like the GMail integration: When viewing an email you click the 2Checkvist bookmarklet and it loads a box confirming the adding of a new task in the format [link:subject|url] which you can customise before adding it. Works on any web page … plus you can select text on the web page first and it’ll make that the title of your new task.

I’ve set up GMail filters so it redirects my daily task list digest to my work email address so when I arrive at work in the morning I have my list of things to do for the day. It just works. I haven’t been able to think of a single new feature I would request or anything significant I would like changed.

I know I’m only on Day 3 of using it so still in the honeymoon period but I think I’m in love.


Organisations are elastic. People aren’t.

26 June, 2010

I blogged recently about effective and responsible illness management in the workplace and why taking as much leave as you need is better your employer than rushing back to work before you’re well, thus delaying your recovery. In the case of contagious diseases it’s not as simple as your employer losing your productivity for 3 or 7 days but potentially losing productivity across dozens of employees and potentially entire business capabilities for weeks.

Another important and related issue is the false perception many employees have of their importance, value and indispensability to their employer. They survived just fine before you came along and they’ll survive just fine when you inevitably leave. In most occupations no one is going to die if you don’t turn up to work today.

If you have low self-esteem then I suggest you don’t read on because I’m going to make you feel pretty worthless. That’s not my intention, but organisations are generally pretty elastic and could survive without you.

If the entire Australian Public Service was halved tomorrow, the whole thing wouldn’t collapse. Some low-priority functions would be cut, others would be modified to cope with lower resourcing, business processes would be adapted and some things would take longer to do … but I’m confident the job would still get done, like a lame dog learning to balance and walk on just three legs.

People needlessly take upon themselves the risk that the organisation accepted when they recruited them. Often that’s because organisations do a pretty shit job of managing that risk but it’s not your responsibility. What you do need to do is to report changes in operational pressures to your manager and thus the organisation so they can be informed of what’s happening at the front line but you should never feel you need to do the organisation’s job of managing the resourcing of your role or business function or creatively interpretation business procedure in order to get the job done because you’re not being properly supported.

If the documented procedure calls for a maximum case load of 15 clients and because of poorly-managed recruitment, staff retention and resource management you end up with 25 clients then you should not just grit your teeth and accept the increased load. The “invisible hands” of Rasmussen’s risk management framework will push you towards and maybe even over the safety boundary … and who’s culpable when the organisation performs an investigation into why things broke or went wrong or why lives were lost? As Sidney Dekker points out in his book The Field Guide to Understanding Human Error the prevailing approach by even experienced investigators let alone the average manager is to look at the closest person at the pointy end of failure and blame them personally for screwing up.

Taking on responsibility for compensating for an organisation’s failure to shoulder that risk management will only hurt you in the end. The job won’t get done properly and you’ll burn out from high stress and long hours.

Recognise the boundaries of your role and do not give in to implied or explicit pressure from your employer, manager or colleagues.


What annoys me about Masterchef

23 June, 2010

The scoring.

It’s just not transparent to the competitors. There needs to be more rigour around the weighting that judges give to different elements of evaluation of a dish.

For example, the competitors may think that presentation is really important when in fact the judges in some cases rate a good tasting but terribly plated dish over an ordinary but well presented dish.

And tonight with the competition set in Paris: Marion and Callum presented a non-French dessert which in my opinion should have significantly affected the scoring of the dish or even had their dish disqualified but in this case the judges decided to suspend that rule because they liked the dish.

How the fuck are competitors meant to figure out how to work with such flexible rules?

Perhaps they’d be better off just ignoring any cuisine guidelines if it means so little and just cook whatever the fuck they want?



Why do telephones get priority?

22 June, 2010

For some strange reason people will jump to answer a ringing telephone. There’s something about the urgency of that shrill ring and the knowledge that if you don’t pick up it’ll stop ringing that compels people to ignore logic and go running.

For example, in the video store today I wait in the queue for a few minutes then it’s my turn to be served. I present at the counter and hand over my DVDs when the store phone rings. Suddenly I’m forced to wait while the customer who’s calling gets priority service and essentially jumps to the front of the line. But no one else sees it that way. It’s treated like something different, that it’s ok. If someone jumped the queue in the store they’d get anything from an evil eye to a punch in the face. But if you use the telephone it’s fine.

I don’t mind, I’m not impatient … but it just strikes me as really odd.


Off to Sydney for the weekend

16 June, 2010

It’s been a while since I’ve made it up to Sydney so I decided to just head up there for the weekend and take care of some business and catch up with friends. Twitter, email and online chat is great but it’s no substitute for having a beer down at the pub or catching up for yum cha on a Saturday morning – speaking of which there are still a few seats available!

I’ve got a meeting on Friday with a highly-reputable Australian design agency which I’m terribly excited about, discussing the possibility of doing freelance work for them. Then catching up with my friend Zara for coffee, wandering around town doing some shopping and taking photos then hopefully convincing a few peeps to do beers with me Friday night (hint hint) before a busy Saturday of catching up with Yuval about a possible project, then yum cha brunch and then heading up into the hills to see OpenAustralia colleagues Kat and Matthew … then driving home!

Looking forward to it – should be fun. Then I’ll probably be back up in a few weeks for someone’s birthday 🙂


Why I quit Facebook

15 June, 2010

Several weeks ago I closed my Facebook account. Why? Because enough is enough. Facebook has proven to be an arrogant, irresponsible company and even though it hurts me to close my account and lose the convenience of contact with some of my friends I refuse to allow that to work in Facebook’s favour to do what they want, knowing that everybody has too much invested to pick up and leave.

I blogged at recently about the boiling frog analogy and how social networks change from what you signed up for, cautioning you to be mindful of this and know when to draw the line and relocate rather than as Homer Simpson would say “It’s just a little airborne, it’s still good, it’s still good!”.

People were amused that I was concerned about privacy when I own six blogs and have published over 60,000 tweets through 15 accounts over the past couple of years, all of them public. It’s true that I’m a very open person and share a lot of my life online with friends and strangers alike. But when I used a service like Facebook I don’t appreciate having my expectations undermined by changing privacy models that are implemented without consultation and warning. If I post something on Facebook that I want to be private with my friends I expect it to stay that way. I don’t want to find out the next day that Facebook has decided on my behalf to reveal parts of my profile to more people or share my personal data with third parties without my knowledge.

They have the right to alter their terms and conditions and I signed up acknowledging that Facebook’s policies would change. That doesn’t mean I signed up to automatically accept every change they make! To do so is foolish – it’s like signing a blank cheque. I chose when to get on the train and I chose when to get off once they deviated far enough from my expectations and out of my comfort zone.

Does that mean you should close your Facebook account too? No, not at all.

As someone working in social media I have a responsibility to set an example and to be a trusted source of information on social networking technologies and companies. Part of my decision to leave Facebook was to make a statement and get people’s attention to the issue of Facebook’s less than desirable behaviour and attitudes.

So no, you don’t have to quit Facebook too. But now that I’ve got your attention, you should think back not to the latest tweak Facebook has made but right back to the start when you signed up and think about how far it’s changed and whether you’re still comfortable with how Facebook is handling your private information. If you’re no longer comfortable with it then think about how much you have invested in Facebook and whether the risk of continuing to use Facebook is worth it for the benefit it brings. If so, turn a blind eye and carry on. Otherwise, I suggest you close your account too.

I also suggest you read Stilgherrian’s excellent blog post on why he deleted his Facebook account, along with some great links to other related articles.


Equitable remuneration? I don’t think so!

3 June, 2010

Before I launch into my rant about salary spines, I first up want to say my problem is not with how much I’m being paid to do my current job. I believe I’m being paid well. My problem is with the system. Sure, I could earn at least double my salary as a contractor, triple or more as a consultant but as long as I have enough money to pay the rent, buy food, petrol and the occasional music CD I’m happy.

Imagine if every house on your street was valued at $300,000 regardless of size, location, landscaping, age and condition? Doesn’t seem right does it. But that’s essentially how structure salary scales in corporations and government work. In government you might start around APS4 level, work up to APS6 and if you show promise then you might get EL1 technical or lead promotion and if you’re smart, persistent or a sociopath then you might get EL2, even SES1. Some manage to get to SES2 and higher.

If you stay past the first 12 months and then past 2 years you’ll get a “point increment”, APS5.1, APS6.2 etc. A pay-rise of a few thousand dollars.

Whilst moving between levels such as from APS5 to APS6 requires that you demonstrate additional capabilities, responsibility, awareness, all people at any one level in an organisation are remunerated the same. But just like the houses on the street analogy employees are not robots and will demonstrate varying levels of commitment, passion, expertise, effort … and value.

How does an organisation evaluate an employee’s value? It doesn’t, not really. You can’t measure an employee’s value by how many emails they send in a day, how vocal they are in a meeting, how many hours they’re at their desk or how many phone calls they make. Even with people who handle incoming correspondence or run a service desk, you simply can’t work with the numbers. So instead we’ve gone to the other end of the scale and lumped nearly everyone into five main categories from APS4 to EL2 (who make up the majority of staff) and expect standardised performance.

It’s not that simple.

As I said, I’m happy with how much I get paid and I don’t compare myself to other EL1 staff in the organisation – I just do the best job I can.

But the question does have to be asked, is this attempt by organisations and government to implement fair scales of remuneration actually inequitable? Are we shying away from performance-based pay and genuine performance evaluation and management because it’s too hard or because we’re scared? Are we just taking the easy route?

It’s not a big issue; I don’t often hear people complaining they do more work and contribute more (in their eyes) than people who are paid more than them but it does happen.

Whoever says that measuring employee value is impossible is either lazy or not thinking creatively enough. It can be done.