Cutting to the Chase

I speed-read/flicked through ‘Cut to the Chase: and 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time’ by Stuart R Levine the other night. It would have seemed inappropriate to have taken more time to read it more thoroughly, plus most of the stuff wasn’t relevant to me because it was about interactions in the executive layer of big companies.

Some points were really interesting though, and I thought I’d make a note of them here for when I lose the piece of paper I wrote my thoughts on originally. Some of them are relevant to me personally, some of them to lojoco, some of them to my new official involvement with Brightbox and some to all of the above.

  • Define your life goal so you don’t waste time – I initially scoffed at this because my life goal is to be happy and that involves a lot of what many people consider wasting time – being silly with my friends or playing video games for hours at a time. But John pointed out that it’s just as valid for me as anyone and it all comes down to the definition of wasting time. Video games aren’t a waste of time for me – they help me relax and as I’ve said before, they distract my conscious mind and let my subconscious work through tons of crap – but working a 60 hours week is a waste of my time. Sure, I might get lots of work finished, but I’ll be unhappy.
  • Thinking aloud wastes time – specifically, this was talking about thinking aloud in meetings. John and I think aloud all the time at home – we joke we have shared mind with double processing capacity – and in brainstorming sessions, it’s absolutely invaluable. But in regular meetings, it just wastes everyone’s time. Think, make a decision and present it.
  • Provide executive summaries in speech as well as writing – not necessarily sections at the start of documents called “executive summaries” but make your point early, don’t wait for the end. Make your point then sell it.
  • Analyse successes as well as failures – people often focus on why things went wrong, not why they’re going right. Knowing why things are working can stop them becoming failures in the future.
  • Build momentum – and build it into the plan – this is currently most obvious in terms of project management but I think it’s also relevant in marketing. Build it by achieving a run of smaller successes before focusing on a big one.
  • Appeal to people’s self-interest – a marketing one.
  • Close the communication loop – this is something I’m terrible at doing – receiving emails then marking them as “action needed” then not thinking about them again until it’s too late. I might have missed out on something or caused the person to worry the message hadn’t arrived. I do this all the frickin’ time. Part of this is a problem with how I treat email: I read it as it comes in as a matter of course instead of when I’m ready to deal with it. If the job will take less than five minutes, I should deal with it straight away instead of marking it “action needed” and ignoring it (and sometimes fretting about it) for a few weeks afterwards. If the job takes longer or requires some input I can’t get immediately, I should close the loop rather than leaving the other person handing – it takes just seconds to drop them an email saying “got this message, am working on it and will get back to you by x“. I’ve been trying to do this for the last few days and it’s actually relieves my stress/worry as well as the other person’s. Two thumbs up to this idea, big thumbs up.
  • Measure twice, cut once – the old craftsperson saying. It wastes less resources (whether time or actual physical resources) to plan properly first rather than fixing a mess afterwards.
  • Don’t be afraid of 10 minute meetings – this is something I’m going to write about more in another blog post I’ve got planned but there seems to be a collective idea of meetings being an hour in length by default, half an hour if it’s a quickee, and people feel bad if that time isn’t filled. Book it in mentally – and in the diary – for 10 minutes instead.
  • Stay in touch with clients and partners – and not just about the specific nature of your precise business relationship, learn about their world: there might be new ways you can work together or, conversely, if you know they’re in a slump, you won’t bank on them so much.
  • If you need a drummer, hire a drummer – not a guy who can play the drums but lives for the piano, to quote the example used in the book. In personal terms, if my heart is not into something, I shouldn’t be forcing myself to do it if there are other options.
  • Don’t be afraid to hire people who will move on – good people will nearly always move on to other things because they want to keep growing and trying new things. But that’s not a reason to hire them: better getting someone who burns brightly for a year than someone who emits a dull glimmer for a decade.
  • Recognise that good enough is good enough – something else I struggle with a lot with things I make or do: if something isn’t 100% perfect or a 100% success, I consider it a failure. This has been a lifelong affliction (at school, if I got an A, I was disappointed it wasn’t an A+ rather than enjoying the A) so it’s going to be hard to shift but perfectionism is debilitating.
  • Know when to stop when you’re struggling – when a task isn’t going anywhere, stop. Rather than focusing on the next sentence or whatever, work how what help/advice/input could help you take it forward rather than just staring at the blank page.
  • Similarly, don’t confuse activity with accomplishment – because of the perfectionism listed above, I have re-crocheted some balls of yarn a dozen times. I feel like I’m crocheting all the time but haven’t made anything. (I have, admittedly, learned a lot about tension and shaping though, so perhaps bad example.)
  • Finally, if you hear the same complaint/request from two customers, act on it – obviously it’s a good idea/serious problem act on it after hearing from the first one but hearing it from two separate people is proper confirmation that something needs to be done, or at the very very least, looked at.

All in all, the book was worth getting out of the library for a quick flick through but I wouldn’t particularly recommend buying it though – there wasn’t enough it in that I felt I’d have to read it all one day.

Recycle This redesign

Pretty much ever since we launched (How Can I) Recycle This three years ago, I’ve been wanting to redesign it – to freshen it up and to make better use of the available space.

I finally got around to doing it last month and with John’s help, we launched the new design on Sunday (and moved it onto being hosted on Brightbox).

I’ve got loads of ideas for new features – and finally got some space to fit them on the page now. Just got to find the time to implement them now…

New lojoco site!

John and I, as lojoco, have launched a new website: Things To Do Today.

To be neat, we launched it on 1st January and I added it my projects page but forgot to blog about it over here. To steal the blurb from there though:

Updated daily, Monday to Friday, Things To Do Today is intended to be the lefty, crafty equivalent of all those “buy this gadget! look at this guy getting hit in the balls!” sites: every day, we feature four interesting things for people to do or make. These could be links to yummy recipes, fun things to make, excellent articles to read or beautiful videos to watch – or just ideas, tips or reminders for things you could or should do. If you ever need a bit of inspiration for tea or for your next craft project, you might well find the answer on Things To Do Today.

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Ukepedia – our fun! new! project

ukepedia logoBack in August, I had earache. Otitis Media to be specific.

After I got back from having it checked out by my doctor, I wrote a Twitter about it. John was playing on his ukelele and looking over my shoulder at the time so sang the Twitter as I wrote it.

Then I went over to Wikipedia to read all about Otitis Media, and as I read, John sang. As it turned out, the Otitis Media article worked beautifully as a song.

So we made it into a song. And we put the song on a website. And a fun new project was born.

Like with ELER, after an initial flurry of action, we’ve been a bit slow on it of late – but other members of the Church of the Ukelele have been stepping up and the collection of videos is slowly growing.

If you can play the uke – or any other instrument – and fancy joining the cool kids club, there are full instructions on the site.

There are only about 2,576,419 articles to go – so hurry!

Zach and Jeff versus The Meteorite

zach and jeff versus the meteoriteI would like to introduce you to Zach and Jeff.

Last week, I went to Liverpool for a wire-working workshop as part of a fantastic “Recycle Into Art” week, organised by the city’s Red Dot Exhibitions.

The workshop was run by Alison Bailey Smith, a wonderful artist and thoroughly lovely person who I’d already featured on Recycle This – she makes jewellery, accessories and clothes using reclaimed wire (typically from inside old televisions) and other “rubbish”, such as tomato puree tubes, sweet wrappers and ribbon from bouquets.

The workshop was billed as learning how to decorate bags – to make better use of the time, some people chose to make jewellery instead but since I needed a new nice bag, I stuck to the original remit.

We started off with Alison showing us her knotting technique but I somehow kept forgetting how to do it in the middle (don’t ask, I can’t explain it), so when Alison suggested knitting it instead, I jumped on that. Then I spent the next hour knitting a strip – which in hindsight wasn’t a terribly good use of my time but I liked the finished strip.

I’d picked out a nice simple clutch bag from the selection of charity shop bags Alison had brought along for us to use and the copper strip looked nice against the black – but I wanted to add some features as well. I played with some of the different techniques Alison had shown us – such as wrapping scrap plastic with wire then coiling it – but nothing seemed to fit as well as Zach and Jeff. (I’d previously used their kin to make earrings. These guys were going spare.) Then someone pointed out the coil I’d made out of a lime green M&S carrier bag strap looked like a meteorite, and hey presto, a handbag with a story was born.

I sewed the wiry earth, the dinos and the meteorite onto the bag with thinner, darker wire (visible in parts on the finished item) and a curved needle – my, my, that was more difficult than I thought but everything seems pretty secure now.

When I showed John the finished item, he was sad because he thought that there was an inevitably unhappy ending for Zee and Jee but I pointed out they were plastic so it was beautifully circular.

I had a thoroughly great time at the workshop, learnt so much and was really interested to see how everyone took a different approach and came out with something different. Since then, I’ve also learnt how to crochet so when I finally get my hands on an old TV of my own, I’ll be able to do all kinds of fun stuff with the wire. Plus, I have a great new bag too.

An Eggscellent Idea

Knitted fried egg in a frying panKnitted fried egg in a frying pan

Earlier this afternoon, someone on our recycling blog Recycle This suggested using old frying pans to make fake food art.

I thought “hey! I’m THAT COOL too! I could do that!” so here is my knitted fried egg. John wanted to plastinate a real one but I thought knitting would be more fun. I used leftover white wool from knitting booties for John’s niece and the yellow wool is leftover after I knitted a stripey “bumble beeanie” hat for the man himself a few years ago. I used stuffing from an old cushion and the cardboard for the egg’s base is from a cereal pack.

The egg (which works as a really good frisbee because of the cardboard base) is just sitting in the pan at the moment but I’ll stick it in when I’ve got some velcro — and when I’ve knitted the accompanying sausages. Now, I just have to figure out how to do the beans…

(Click the close-up shot for a bigger version)