Archive for July, 2010

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What is wrong with my brain?

28 July, 2010

I don’t know what’s going on.

I feel perfectly sane and normal, yet I sense insanity looming on the horizon.

I feel totally in control of my life, yet at the same time I feel completely hopeless without direction.

I feel at the verge of the discovery of wonderful freedom, yet I also feel myself slipping beneath the waves of mediocrity.

I feel like I’m almost at my destination yet at the same time I feel like I’ve just left the starting line.

I want more out of life yet I don’t seem to be making any progress.

*sigh*

I’m very happy with my life and my current situation but I’m still on a journey with much to learn and discover. I’ve bandied some ideas around but honestly I just don’t know what comes next. Everything leading up to this was more or less obvious. Beyond that … it’s like stepping off into the darkness and free-falling into I-have-no-idea-what.

I would like a brain transplant please before my brain explodes and makes a mess on the inside of my skull.

Thanks for watching.

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About CTUB

25 July, 2010

I sent out a general information email to the CTUB mailing list this morning – thought it might be of interest to non-subscribers too:

There are now ninety people who subscribe to the CTUB mailing list and I thought it was about time I just sent out a general information email about the Canberra Twitter user group and meetups.

The CTUB group was formed towards the end of 2007 as part of a national initiative to create communities of Twitter users in capital cities – for example there’s STUB in Sydney, MTUB in Melbourne, PTUB in Perth and so on.

The main purpose of CTUB is to hold events where people who mainly converse online via any sort of microblogging platform such as Twitter, Plurk, Foursquare etc can come together to meet in real life in a friendly community environment at a local cafe or pub for a drink and a chat.

We have held around 40 CTUB events since our first one in 2007 with guest appearances from interstate tweeps from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Perth.

It would be great to see more of you at our events so if you have any feedback on how we can encourage you to come then please let me know.

Please note this is an open mailing list in that any of you can email ctub@mailmanlist.net to message the whole group so feel free to organise a CTUB yourself – I’m not the sole coordinator, I just happen to run most of the events. Just make sure you keep mailing list traffic low.

We also sometimes use Eventbrite to collect RSVPs for CTUB events. Sometimes like the last one it’s just an open call for anyone who wants to turn up because we rarely get more than ten people to an event.

Thank you all for your interest in CTUB and those of you who have attended and supported previous CTUB events.

If you have any questions please let me know.

If you live in or near Canberra and want to be a part of CTUB then follow us on Twitter and join the mailing list.

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Up or across? Management vs skills in the APS

21 July, 2010

Having work mostly in the Australian Public Service (APS) for the last ten years of my career I am acutely aware of the bias in both remuneration and treatment for corporate ladder climbers versus design/technical expertise. I use the term “corporate ladder climber” without contempt – it’s simply the best term to describe a career path and goal, to advance from the lower APS ranks to EL Executive Level up to SES Senior Executive Service.

As you climb up the ladder you get perks like your own office, your own car parking space, an assistant, performance bonuses etc. For people who choose to prefer a skills-based technical role (which includes designers) you pretty much hit the ceiling at EL1 … or rather the third year pay increment of EL1.3.

Graph showing corporate ladder climbers versus design/technical careers.

I recently read an analysis of the Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration report by someone who took exception to the following:

Talent management would also be introduced – allowing leaders to proactively identify and nurture high performers.

As this person pointed out, this will almost certainly lead to the creation of a gap between particularly gifted and motivated employees and people who simply want to get on with their job and go home. It will lead to resentment as special attention is given … and what form would that special attention come in?

I don’t want to put myself or the design profession up on a pedestal. It’s just a job. I’m particularly passionate about what I do and I hold the potential of design thinking in high regard … but I’m sure plenty of people feel that about their own professions and industries. It’s nothing unique to design. So when I bring this issue up I’m not expecting designers to receive special treatment here. All I’m doing is pointing out that the only thing designers and other technical professionals may get in the APS is job satisfaction because while the APS does pay well (and for designers, better than the private sector in many instances) there is no pathway to increase your salary for long service or skills development.

You’re stuck at APS6 or EL1 if you’re lucky or take on team leadership responsibilities.

As for me, I’ve sworn to never accept a non-ongoing role again. The salary of a permanent employee with the expiry date of a contractor. As a non-ongoing I don’t get paid training which if I was a contractor at least I could afford to cover myself (luckily I’ve been accepted to attend UX Australia as a volunteer). As a designer I’m project-based which means I move on after 12 months tops. So I can’t accept permanent roles and thanks to Gershon contract roles are being phased out so I’m pretty much screwed.

If I have any future with the APS it will be as a consultant or not at all.

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Got to remember to take my meds

18 July, 2010

I felt a little odd during the night and had plenty of vivid and strange dreams then woke up this morning dizzy and disoriented. I thought I might have a brain tumour or something because it’s unlike normal illness … then I realised I forgot to take my anti-depressants yesterday morning.

It’s happened once before and I had to take the day off work because it wasn’t safe to drive. Trust me to do it on my birthday too!

It’s really not pleasant, stumbling around, feeling like I’m being mildly electrocuted and struggling to think straight. I tried to remind myself to take them by putting my box of Pristiq on top of the cereal but my system failed me yesterday, distracted by having an early morning client photo shoot.

Bit scary that I suffer withdrawals like this after just one day especially when I’m only on 50mg and have only been taking it for about five months. What happens if I want to go off the drugs? I’ll have to take a week off work and just try and sleep it off.

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Effective productivity and a sense of accomplishment

15 July, 2010

Provoked by Tim Ferriss’ discussion on effective productivity at work I embarked on an experiment this week to discover how much of my week is spent on effective work — that is, work that makes the best use of my skills within my defined role to achieve real positive outcomes. What doesn’t count as effective productivity includes interruptions, needless meetings and manual work or rework that should have been automated or handled elsewhere where I add no value to the process – aka: paper shuffling.

The result both depresses and satisfies me.

Based on activity-time recording over a week at a resolution of ten minute intervals only 10% of my time in the office was spent actually contributing to valuable, positive outcomes. Just over three hours of my working week.

Now that’s taking a pretty hard-line definition of effective productivity and I’m sure my colleagues and supervisor would think my methodology too critical but I feel it’s accurate. Obviously I’m working the rest of that time (lunch breaks are excluded from the calculations) but as I said, either attending meetings where the knowledge shared was not relevant to my job and I wasn’t an active participant or in reading emails I didn’t have to read, switching between tasks, distractions and interruptions, doing mundane copy and paste work that whilst productive in a sense could and should have been automated or integrated better into the process to make that rework unnecessary.

The reason this result satisfies me is that it explains why I struggle to feel a sense of accomplishment at work. What it means is that I still love doing what I do but when 90% of my time in the office is spent ineffectively then of course it’s going to be hard to spread the satisfaction gained from 3.5 hours of work across my entire week.

Has this been a typical week? Probably not. Recording my time in 10-minute increments is intensive so I’m not going to continue it across the several months it’d require to get a reasonable sample, but the result feels representative.

What does this mean? Well – first thing, I’m not under-performing. That’s not what this is about. If my employer had a problem with my performance I’d know about it. A low level of effective productivity doesn’t relate to performance. What it does mean is that in future I will take a more proactive approach to defining and defending the scope of my role and speaking up more when it comes to being tasked in order to propose the most effective way of tackling a deliverable. This means clearing mental negative space around me to give myself the time to think about new work and tasks prior to automatically accepting them and having a less-than-optimal approach locked in and that expectation set.

I’m sure that shifting from being an automatic “Yes” person to “I’ll need to think about that first” would probably annoy my boss and co-workers — I think it’s too late to try and implement this approach with my current organisation — but for the sake of feeling happier on the job and gaining that sense of accomplishment this is a change that I need to implement. It’ll give me the opportunity to add value to the process which as a designer is where I can add some of the greatest value I have to offer. Questioning assumptions, asking the dumb questions, helping visualise outcomes. At the moment I feel much of that value offering is being bypassed by my failure to speak up and push back.

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What next?

11 July, 2010

I finished my 12th — and for now, final — therapy session with my psychologist for depression last Friday and am in a much better place now than I was four months ago. I’ve been blogging recently about working part-time, designing your job, the failed time:productivity ratio and other work and lifestyle-related topics. I’m just finishing off Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week and have been offered three jobs in the past month plus had people approach me about three other roles. My relationship with my partner Jenny has never been better.

Life is really, really good. I’m feeling positive about myself and my future. I feel empowered.

I can’t yet put my finger on it but I feel like there’s a change coming in my life. Whilst I have strong reservations about some of the material in Ferriss’ book there’s certainly something in there that’s attracting me and I feel that part of this coming change will end my servitude and being bound to an office. It’s coming up to three years since I closed down my web design business and the itch to run a business (or do something equivalent that scratches that itch) is returning. I feel a growing need to do something more meaningful and significant with my life … but the force behind it is not the same that pushed me before and it’s not something I feel frustrated or resentful about. I feel optimistic and even excited – even though I don’t know what it is yet. Joining Ferriss’ New Rich? A career change? Starting a business? Moving overseas? Taking a year off work?

I want to put my design talent to more effective use. I feel that my talent is worth more than what I’ll get paid working as an employee so part of this change will be figuring out how to better cash in on my skills and experience. I want to spend more time working on social innovation design challenges but integrated in a way that I don’t have to choose between working billable and non-billable time or only work on my own projects after 6pm or on weekends like I do now. I want to do what I want and travel where I want without having to worry about income and bills.

I’ve had enough of accepting the status quo. It’s not good enough for me and I believe I can do better even if all my friends have given up and have resigned themselves to live inside the box that society has ordered them to live and work inside. I’m feeling foolishly optimistic and arrogantly clever and I’m going to bend and shape my world so it is how I want it to be.

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Recovering from depression is like fixing broken bones

5 July, 2010

I’m up for my second review session this Friday which means I’ve had eleven counselling sessions with my psychologist for depression since starting therapy and medication four months ago.

It has occured to me that therapy for depression — at least for the predominately Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) that I’ve been receiving — is much like fixing a broken bone. Actually it’s more than just depression, it’s any sort of trauma in your life that has not been addressed properly … much like a bone fracture that was never set properly. To fix an old and incorrectly set bone fracture the bone has to be re-broken and re-set. Thus it is with therapy for trauma.

My reason for this analogy is that whilst I’ve definitely showed an overall pattern of increased mental and emotional stability, contentment and happiness I’ve also been all over the place to the point where I was having suicidal thoughts again just three weeks ago.

As the saying goes, if it hurts then it’s working.

I say this because I just want to caution people that while I whole-heartedly endorse seeking professional help for depression you should be aware that you will likely suffer regression and lapse back into a depressive state because therapy for trauma requires digging into your past and reactivating that trauma so it can be dealt with properly. That means stirring up old emotions of fear, pain and anger that can drag you back down.

If this does happen to you while being counselled for depression (and I’m sure your psychologist will warn you of this, as mine did) don’t believe that the therapy is ineffective. It’s just a temporary slip on your way to freedom from depression and can mean the therapy is hitting the right raw nerves and sensitive spots that need to be accessed to disassemble and rebuild your understanding and feelings about your past.