pause

I haven’t made much progress with my thesis recently.

Telling myself not to stress out. Then feeling guilty because I’m not stressed out. Then stressing out because I’m feeling guilty.

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the square

If you find yourself having way too many wandering thoughts and distraction, here’s a tip.

Draw a square (or circle if you like) on a piece of paper and figuratively speaking, put your thoughts there. Like Dumbledore and his Pensieve, only less fancy.

Producer or Performer

Results

You Have PRODUCER POTENTIAL

You show a tendency to use the internal skills — what we call habits of mind — that producers apply to everything they do. They include:

  • Empathetic imagination: seeing blockbuster potential in the needs and wants of others
  • Patient urgency: operating simultaneously at multiple speeds and time frames
  • Inventive execution: bringing together creative thinking and operational prowess
  • Taking a relative view of risk: accepting immediate losses if they lead to a better future
  • Leadership partnership: looking for others with complementary skills that enhance their own

However, you are also comfortable in the role of a performer, working in an environment where the parameters and rules of engagement are established.

Corporate environments need both producers, who have the ability to imagine entirely new products and business models, and performers, who can navigate known systems to optimize opportunities. Performer opportunities abound in business (and greatly outnumber openings for producers), so many people with producer potential get drawn into a performer mind-set. It is distracting to try to fulfill both roles; it is better to pick one approach, and look for a partner who can complement you.

If you want to see how far you can go as an innovator, try to get involved with a new opportunity at your company and approach it as a producer would. Question standard approaches to a problem. Imagine what different designs to the pricing or business model of a product might yield. Look for a performer who can help it get the recognition and support it needs to come to life.

Are you a Producer or a Performer?

Learnings From Marissa Mayer’s Struggles At Yahoo

A great great read.

  • Being successful at a successful company isn’t the same as being successful at an unsuccessful company
  • Be a student of history
  • Blogging has never been successful
  • A failed strategy well executed still fails
  • Spend more time developing the strategy

Handling more work

To start, note which of the four p’s holds the most opportunity for development. Find that section and pick one strategy (or more) to implement. Be willing to experiment. Make adjustments until you determine the strategies that really help you claim your time. And don’t give up — you owe it to yourself to have the time and energy for the activities and people that matter most.

PLANNING

Planning is about using structure and rituals to stay organized. Consider how you relate to structure and ritual in general. Do you enjoy processes? If so, you’ll be excited to try new ideas. Or do you cringe at the thought of too much routinization? If that’s the case, then find the balance of just enough structure without feeling bogged down in it. Below are organizing strategies and rituals that can yield fast, tangible results.

• Schedule power hours. Align your energy with things that require focus. Are you a morning person? A night owl? Block out two to three 90-minute blocks (“power hours”) on your calendar each week during your most productive times. You may end up scheduling over these blocks, but you have a better shot at keeping them if you’ve consciously put them on your calendar. If you work on weekends to catch up, use the same idea of power hours to set up guardrails between the personal and the professional. Go to a private room or close your door during power hours.

• Use look-ahead rituals. As your role gets bigger or your life gets more complex, it gets harder to work and live without more intentional planning. Looking-ahead rituals can build space into your schedule. On an annual basis, populate your calendar with future vacation blocks, key events, doctor’s appointments, etc. Get in the habit of scanning for upcoming travel, key deliverables, or especially intense periods every month or every week. For a daily scan, look ahead and pick one meeting for which a little prep work will go a long way.

• Be explicit about white space. When a free hour emerges, all too often we fritter it away or we’re paralyzed by all the possibilities of what we could do — and then we kick ourselves later for not using the time well. So decide in advance how you want to use free time. Create two lists of free-time activities: a “Productive White Space” list and a “Restorative White Space” list. When choosing an activity from the list, ask yourself: How much time do I have? What is realistic to accomplish? What would be most satisfying?

PEOPLE

People is about how you relate to others. Are the people in your life a source of positive energy, motivation, and support? Or do they drain your time and energy? Below are some tools for increasing the support you receive from others while also setting clear boundaries and reducing the amount of energy you spend on interpersonal issues.

• Create a delegation table. Explicitly map out who owns what on your team, since job titles don’t always make it obvious. Have a one-page snapshot you can look at so you’re less tempted to jump in and do things yourself. Let go of the need to control, and work to shift accountability to others. Your delegation table can include activities and requests both at work and at home.

• Know your confidants. The old adage “it’s lonely at the top” is true. Who acts as a sounding board when you need to think out loud? Who is the best cheerleader when you need a pep talk? Build a network of support, and your daily life will be a lot easier. Read more about finding the right people to help you achieve your goals here.

• Say no, but enforce boundaries with grace. As you grow in your career, things you once agreed to do (or even enjoyed doing) may become interruptions or drags on your time. Don’t put up a wall when saying no. Be gracious and acknowledge the person asking. Say something like, “I appreciate you reaching out,” “It’s so good to see you,” or “I hear your sense of urgency.” Be clear about your boundaries while showing that you want to find the best solution to the problem: “It would be better for Steve to resolve this, as he’s closer to the issue” or “You’ll get a speedier outcome by going to Kate on my team.”

PRIORITIES

Priorities is about intentionally deciding how to spend your time. Consider how you feel about prioritization in general: Are you ruthless about what matters most? Or do you love keeping your options open? The tough thing about time is that it is finite. Accept that you have to make choices.

• Take a trend-line view. The phrase “work-life balance” inherently sets us up to fail because no day can be perfectly balanced. So take a trend-line view. Reflect on the past six months or the past year. Rather than thinking of things as being in competition with each other, look at all the parts of yourself that you’ve gotten to express. Do you feel satisfied with the way you’ve allocated time to different areas of your life? Perhaps you’re doing pretty well but need to work on accepting the peaks and valleys. Or maybe something is wildly off and it’s time to name the issue and do something about it. A quick way to get an overview of time allocation is to color-code your calendar. Assign a different color to the 3–5 domains you want to track. Conduct periodic reviews to see if the colors are distributed the way you think they should be to achieve satisfaction and performance.

• Use a snapshot or scorecard. Write down what matters most to you. Laminate your list, and then carry it in your bag or post it next to your computer as a reminder of your priorities. Engaging in a lot of activity does not always mean doing work that is meaningful and adding value Speaker and author Pat Lencioni talks about having a “rallying cry”: a thematic goal that answers the question, “What is most important right now?” Within the context of an organization’s goals, it’s usually the one at the top of the list. Check out The Advantage for work and The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family for home.

• Name the trade-off you’ve chosen. Once you’ve made a decision to say yes to something, name the trade-off that inevitably comes with that choice. Owning when you say yes and no will make you feel less like a victim and give you a greater sense of personal power and choice.

BEING PRESENT

Being Present means paying attention to the people in front of us, focusing on the tasks at hand, and managing our emotions in the moment. It requires us to notice and tolerate feelings of discomfort so that we don’t engage in reactive patterns of distraction, perfectionism, procrastination, or rumination. Mindfulness is a popular strategy that I support. Other tips for increasing your ability to be present include the following.

• Accept and then act. Having trouble doing the less enjoyable things on your to-do list? Write down one thing you are resisting or procrastinating on. Now, accept that you need to do it. Say to yourself: “I know I don’t like to do this, but I am wasting energy resisting it. I accept the discomfort and the responsibility.” As with exercising — a challenge for many of us — the first 15 minutes are the hardest and require that we tolerate discomfort before getting into a flow. Acceptance does not mean being complacent. It’s exactly the opposite: Accepting the difficulty diffuses our angst and frees up our energy to do something about it.

• Give yourself permission. Have you finally gotten to the gym or done something nice for yourself, only to find that you couldn’t enjoy it because of the guilt you felt from being away from the office or your family? It’s important to recognize, name, and tolerate the discomfort of guilt. Notice it and remind yourself that your own self-care is important. As you give yourself permission more often, you may need to renegotiate with others. Let them know when you are or are not available or ask explicitly for their support.

• Set a statute of limitations on people frustrations. Ruminating, fuming, or burning energy on tension with others? Set an explicit time limit for being frustrated. When the time is up, stop and shift to a more constructive action. Having negative conversations with yourself in your head, gossiping with others, or venting only drains precious energy. Go have a direct conversation, make a request, or make the conscious choice that it’s not a battle worth fighting right now.

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Managing Conflict by Fred Kofman

If you need to spend an hour doing something meaningful, I suggest this course here.

of learning

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About a million years ago, before I ever knew advertising exists, I stumbled upon an article that analysed Coke and Pepsi as brands and their brand positions and how Pepsi strategically went up against Coke and (kind of) succeeded.

I couldn’t remember the details of the analysis but I’ve got the big picture. And I thought: shit this is sooo smart that it’s actually mind-blowing.

Fast forward to a million years later, I have been working in advertising for 7 years. In my master advertising class earlier this week, the lecturer had a question about Coke and Pepsi. I answered it based on what I read ages ago. And it was the right answer.

Mike asked: so will you be able to answer that question based on the things you’ve learned and known by now? Chance is yes I probably can, but I will need 5 minutes to figure that out or perhaps never if I’m not smart enough.

When I first wrote my literature review last year, I was overwhelmed with the amount of data, research and reports returned by Google and the library portal based on some simple keywords. I thought: this is easier than I thought, I can always find an answer by searching for it.

Thing is, how do we know what we need to know or learn until the moment we actually need that knowledge for a purpose? For example, I would never have known that I would someday use the understanding about Coke and Pepsi from the analysis I read years ago until for some reasons it happened to me this week and I need that piece of knowledge at that very moment.

Secondly, how did all the great grand philosophers and scientists learn without the luxury of available materials and studies from the Internet like what we’ve got today?

This has brought me to realise that we can’t actually depend on the fact that we can always search for something. That is the sort of lazy thinking that Google and many technologies being the convenient tools that help us access information and knowledge quickly, easily, widely and cost-effectively spoil us. They don’t motivate us to pro-actively learn. We think there are always answers to everything somewhere on the Internet and we assume we will get an answer when we need to. So then we only ask questions when we need to. And we don’t ask questions out of curiosity anymore.

Having said that, I think it’s absolutely critical to be learning independently, proactively and consistently. To me, all knowledge is knowledge, doesn’t matter whether it’s general knowledge or specialised knowledge. It will either be utilised some day, or it will make people better knowledgeable ones. So if there are opportunities to learn about anything, just absolutely anything, I will make an effort to go and learn it (when I can).

 

Skills of the future

In the What are the 21st-century skills every student needs? article, some insights and predictions about future skills required for future jobs identified.

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Source: World Economic Forum.

Free online courses

I compiled a list of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for my own reference, and also for whoever wanting to learn out there.

The Careers of the Founders

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More here.