Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 71 – Finish the year strongly

We are already at the end of September and with only 98 days left to the end of the year I have to ask you the question – well several actually! Where has the year gone? And perhaps more importantly – are you on track to achieve your goals, dreams and ambitions by year’s end or are you going to end the year having failed to complete those items on your “New Year’s Resolutions” lists again?

I must admit that as the weeks roll into each other, the months come and go I can get caught up in the day-to-day detritus of things that need to be done, and end up having little or no time or energy left over for those things I had deemed important to me at the beginning of the year.

Well this year I have done something a little radical. I’ve set myself another set of New Year’s Resolutions, I wrote them for the start of my personal new year – the 14th September – the day after my birthday, and I am working my way through the mammoth list. And the reason is simple – I knew that if I didn’t refocus I would end the year in the same place as last year, and I vowed last year I wouldn’t let that happen again. So – just in time I am making a brand new start. And it’s working, with several items already underway and more on the drawing board. But what has this got to do with you?

Actually everything. If personal and professional development is important to you! If you want to be more than you currently are, do more than you currently do, achieve more than you’ve achieved to date, then perhaps my message will strike a chord with you and you will take one or two of the suggestions and move onwards to bigger and better, or just “other” things.


In this issue we will look at:
• Finishing the year strongly
• The List no one likes to write: The New Year’s Resolutions List
• First impressions and written communications
• A Thought to ponder.

Finishing the year strongly
As we mentioned in the introduction, there are only 98 days left of 2008. Just 3 and a bit months to complete those major tasks we had sitting on our “must do this year” list. But let’s break it down just a little bit further.

Not counting this week, or the last few days of December we have 13 weeks or (if you work a typical 5 day working week) 65 working days left. Do you work a full 8 hour day at work? Of course not, there are social gatherings and emails to answer, loo breaks, smoko’s and lunch breaks – to be honest we can be lucky to get an average of 6 hours “work” in a day. But if you want to test that theory, write it down – I have a time log sitting on my own website – (blatant plug for those who don’t already know about it)…. simply fill it in – honestly – for a few days and you will be able to see at a glance just how you spend your time. Of course you can carry this forwards with your personal goals too if you like and fill in the time log over the weekends too – it can be a real eye opener to see how much time we spend on those things that “only take a few minutes”.

One of the other things I tell my readers to do is to add another column to the spreadsheet and label it food – this is a great way to see if you are procrastinating about a certain task – by eating or drinking something or other. Given it can be so easy to overeat and have weight creep up on us, we can measure and monitor our actions and make adjustments if we want to.

Of course you don’t have to do any of these things if you are quite happy doing what you are doing. Like I said – these are just suggestions.

But the next one is quite interesting, and please play along with me just for a second.

If the thought of filling in a time log fills you with boredom, then this one will please the creative side of you.

Get a blank sheet of paper…A4 is fine and some coloured crayons or pencils. If you don’t have any borrow some from your kids or grandkids.

Now all you need to do is divide the paper into blocks of time and colour them in. So if you typically sleep for 8 hours a day you need to colour in one third of your piece of paper. Add a colour for getting ready to go to work, travelling, at work time, travelling home, cooking dinner and other evening activities…what white space do you have left?

That white space represents the small window of opportunity we have each and every day to work on our goals. Fill in one of these daily paintings every day for a week – keep the same colour scheme though and you will again see patterns in your behaviour you can do something about – if you want to.

Again it is up to you. Are you willing to spend several hours every night watching the soaps and chatting on facebook and MSN or could your time be spent differently? One person I know moved her exercise bike in front of the TV, she needed to exercise, but she also couldn’t give up the soaps she enjoyed…so she did both.

I prefer to hit the road – but I always take my music and / or e-programs with me as I complete my 8km circuit 3 times a week. In simple terms it’s called multi-tasking.

Now you may feel that your life is in perfect balance, and if it is – fantastic. But it doesn’t hurt to look.

The List no one likes to write: The New Year’s Resolutions List
One of the first things to go onto most people’s New Year’s Resolutions lists (after get fit and lose weight) is earn more money, and we all know how the first two generally turn out. So how can you make sure the third one doesn’t get forgotten about as well? Well as with all things motivational – it depends on your personal reasons. If you want something badly enough you will do something about it. Take those things you knew you wanted, nothing and I do mean NOTHING was going to stand in your way of achieving them – right?

And this is where most people’s health and fitness goals fall down – unless there is a very good reason to do it –

• You’ve been told to lose weight by your doctor
• You want to run a marathon
• You want to get into that outfit for that special occasion

We really don’t seem to be able to maintain the motivation long enough to make a real dent in these kinds of goals. They’re just too vague.

I want to lose weight and get fit. No, sorry, doesn’t work…. Answer the question – WHY and you might just get enough honest answers to make the real difference.

But the other one we can be a little more specific about. I want to earn more money.

You should know the next  set of questions I am going to ask you:

How much money is “more”? Let’s face it 5c is more, so is $5 – be specific – how much more money do you want to earn.

The next question has to be – WHY?

• I need it to keep pace with inflation.
• I didn’t get a raise last time round….WHY? Did every one get a raise and not you? Are you the dormouse and didn’t ask? Does your work performance leave a little to be desired?
• I deserve it – sorry – again the question – WHY? Why do you deserve it and not someone else? Be specific.

And the reason is simple. When it comes to performance reviews and pay rises you will need to offer your employer some tangible reasons as to why you “deserve” it. Of course they may already know having watched your performance throughout the year, but just in case they haven’t – it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

The WHY should have high lighted several things to you! How you currently spend your money and whether you have a few habits that need to be looked at, and if it hasn’t – it should have. Now I know the current price of fuel is horrible, but what about those discretionary spending items we don’t tend to think too hard about.

I don’t work in the city any more. But when I do have to go in for a client meeting I am amazed by how many coffee shops, bakeries and other eateries are open – catering for the early morning crowd. And because it’s a treat for me, I will forgo breakfast at home and indulge. Now a good friend of mine lives in East Perth and he will quite often see the same people walk past his home office on the way to work, morning tea, lunch time and afternoon tea time usually with a takeaway bag of something and some kind of liquid in a cup. Add those kinds of monies up over the course of a day and week and then over a year and you will begin to see if your income exceeds your outgoings and where you can make some nip and tuck adjustments if you need / want to.

Again I am not saying you shouldn’t buy it, eat it or drink it, just that it doesn’t hurt to look.

But let me give you an example:

The average price of a cup of takeaway coffee is $4. Multiply 4 by the number of days in a week (5) and again by the average number of working weeks in a year (48) ….and you get the staggering figure of $960 and that’s just on one cup of coffee per working day per year.

So if you can’t forgo your coffee, and I’m not saying you should, your first option is ask your current employer for a raise. But there are others to think about. The most obvious being – get another job that pays you more money. Or the one we don’t tend to think about – get a second job to supplement your current income.

And this is where things get interesting. Would you be able to apply for that perfect job today should it appear on the list servs? Is your CV up to date? When was the last time you looked at it?

The current job market is great for people looking to move onwards, sideways and upwards. But an employer is still looking for the best person for the job and sloppy applications and CV’s only serve to high light your “poor attention to detail” rather than the skills you say you have.

So as a good rule of thumb – try and update your CV once a year. More so if you are on contract and have a number of positions through an employment agency. But more of that in a minute. Regardless of how good you think you are, you really do only have a few minutes to make a good first impression. And because you won’t be doing it in person (unless you get to the interview) you will need to ensure your application stands out for all the right reasons.

First impressions – and written communication
What is the first thing a potential employer sees when you apply for a position with their organisation? They see “you” – so what is your application saying about you?
Is it saying, I am a professional, I understand your needs and I have demonstrated that I am the best person for the job? I have proven that I do have good written communication skills, because I have been able to persuade you by my written words that I am a suitable candidate to ask to come in for an interview, where I can then demonstrate that I also have excellent verbal communication skills.

Or does it say, well I am applying for this job because I think I can do it. My experience is a bit vague, just like the words I have used in my application. I’m not really sure what you are looking for in a person, and I’m really not sure if my skills are as up to date as I would like them to be.

Does your application scream “Pick me, pick me”. Do you hope that the coloured paper and the fancy font, and the many clichés you have dripped through your application, will help the prospective employer to overlook the fact that you are a little short on relevant experience?

Or is your CV out of date? Is your application crumpled and dirty? Does it have coffee stains on the back? Do you expect the prospective employer to read between the lines, and to work out for themselves that you really could do the job – if you could be bothered?

And what of the words you have used?

Think back to the worst job you ever had – now look at the words you used to describe the position on your CV. Does it say (without it being stated) what the job was like? Do you use negative words and emotions? Do you say why you left? – hint – take those things out. If an employer want to know – they can always ask you. It’s not cheating, but you do need to find the good in every position you held…even if it is – how not to do something next time.

And if you don’t believe me – now have a look at the way you describe the best job you ever had. I can almost guarantee these words will be different. The way you describe what you did will be more upbeat and positive.

So, a task for you as you think about why you want to move onwards and sideways to earn more money – write your CV with hindsight, but keep it up to date. Make a note of all significant projects and undertakings as they occur so that when you come to write out your application and complete the selection criteria you have good examples to use.

About working as a contractor
Just a quick mention here. If your CV looks like yellow pages, make sure you mention the fact that some / all of your positions were through an employment agency. After all they are the ones paying your tax and super, so are your true employer.