Archive for the ‘Ideas and opinions’ Category

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Design thinking for relationships

31 August, 2010

It dawned on me this afternoon that IDEO’s three-lens model for human-centered design are applicable to relationships and finding a partner too.

Desirable: You like her, she likes you.

Viable: A long-term relationship work, with both of you having a good mix of similar and different interests, similar values and be able to live harmoniously together.

Feasible: Available (as in single) and preferably able to live together.

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Progress with routine

23 August, 2010

Inspired by recent reading The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working I decided last week to try implementing a routine that would assist me in my goals of exercising and meditating more frequently and preparing for work better rather than being rushed and having to rely on coffee to get me started.

The first week of trying this out was a disaster. Well, ok, it worked – but it left me absolutely wrecked by the Friday which luckily I had off. I crashed hard on the Friday and slept most of the day.

The funny thing was I should have been getting more sleep as I was ensuring I was in bed by 10:00pm and with my morning routine starting at 5:30pm it meant I should have been getting over 7 hours sleep. Clearly I’m just not compatible with early mornings.

I’ve scaled it back this week to a 6:00am start and dropping from two exercise slots to just one walk around the block with the dogs and cutting out in-bed reading time.

My morning routine is broken up into eight (formerly ten) 15-minute slots that ensure I get through everything I need to do in the morning without getting snagged on any one task or distracted. It now means I leave home for work at the same time every morning by 8:00am and can thus get a free car parking space in the employee park instead of paying for parking. It’s only $3 but that’s now $15 on parking I save each week plus one less coffee a day as I’m using exercise to wake me up instead of caffeine.

I would still prefer to get some decent exercise bike riding time in before work so I’ll try phasing that back in. I just don’t want my Monday to Friday be nothing but work, sleep and preparing meals. Some people can work 12-hour days on a long-term basis. Not me. Don’t misread that as a sign about my commitment to my job – I love what I do but I value my downtime and work-life balance. I enjoy driving but I’d get sick of driving eight hours a day every day. Everything in moderation. A well-orchestrated life with deep dynamics, oscillating from intense highs to relaxing lows. Ideas need time to incubate and swirl around, embed or detach, socialise with other threads and objects of thought. I’m always working 24/7 whether I am conscious of it or not, in the shower and even in my dreams.

Anyway, it’s 10:00pm and I better get to bed. I have a conference to get to the day after.

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Bye bye Jenny

2 August, 2010

No don’t worry. She’s still alive and we’re still together. She’s just off holidaying in Alaska for the next three weeks – so it’s just Toby and I. Misty is recovering from an illness and bad back so she’s staying with Jenny’s mum.

Surprisingly I’m not missing Jenny. Ok, that sounds bad. I am missing her, but I’m not really down and depressed about it. I know the feeling I would have felt if I weren’t on anti-depressants. I was anticipating it but it didn’t happen. Fingers crossed I’ll stay above the yellow line for the next few weeks.

I’m treating this time as a freeze and a time-out. Not that I needed Jenny out of the house but I’m hoping to use this alone time to help address some of the questions and issues that have been bothering me recently. I want to break my typical routine in the evenings and weekends and spend more time reading, meditating, exercising, researching, listening to music, playing music, thinking about my future and blogging. It’s not that Jenny was getting in the way of me accomplishing this change – it’s just that her absence has caused the disruption that will shake me out of the rut so I can get all meta about my life and rethink my position and goals.

For example, last Friday a recruiter called me about a potential role which I automatically put myself forward for. Luckily the fax didn’t go through because today I woke up to myself and realised I absolutely didn’t want that role. This is part of my problem! I don’t have a strong idea of where I want to go with my career and thus even less idea of how to get there – so I’m just jumping sideways from one role to another without moving forward. Career isn’t the only aspect I’m concerned about but it is pretty important to me – it’s not just my 9-5. It’s how I play too. Design is my passion. I’m always thinking about design, blogging about it, living it. I don’t even like using the word “career” … it makes me feel so dirty giving such high priority to career because our society isn’t particularly kind to “career-obsessed” people who it is assumed choose career at the cost of shunning responsibilities to their families.

There are other things too like where do I want to live. Jenny and I have tossed around the idea of a 12-month working holiday overseas and have been looking at Christchurch, New Zealand. Sounds great, but I haven’t taken the time to really think about what that means, what impact that’ll have on us now and in the future and whether it’s a strategically good move. I know it sounds wanky to be talking about strategy when you’re talking about your own life but that’s exactly what I want to be doing more of, to have a clearer picture and enjoy life more. I’m feeling pent up about the lack of creative outlet in my life and that’s something I want to address by spending more time practicing art such as music without regimenting it and setting aside a one hour slot every evening.

So, some stuff to figure out.

Ideas, my wise friends?

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Please don’t call the fire brigade

1 August, 2010

Sign: Please don't call the fire brigade.A sign I saw on a butcher’s door up at the Belconnen Markets. I find it slightly objectionable – I don’t think it’s wise to dissuade people from dialling emergency when they see smoke.

Please don’t call the fire brigade. We are only making smoked hams.

Wasting their time and paying callout fees is no laughing matter. They have more important things to do.

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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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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.